What depression and anxiety feel like

Image is of a young Korean man (Lee Hong Ki) outside the window of a home or building. Only the very top of his head is visible at first. He slowly peeks over the windowsill until the top half of his face is visible. He looks a bit sneaky.

So. Hi. I’ve been gone for a bit. Some of that was because I got a fellowship, and then a job, and was doing more freelance writing. And in the last few months, it’s been because some pretty heavy stuff has been going down in my personal life that has made blogging and in fact all writing outside of my day job take a backseat.

The last month has probably been the most difficult. It’s been…bad. Easily the worst depression and anxiety spiral I’ve experienced in years. I kind of disappeared for a few weeks and didn’t really see or talk to anyone outside of work and home. At home, I basically alternated between hysterics…

kristenbell_crying

And feeling totally numb.

Chris Pratt as Andy Dwyer in "Parks and Recreation." He's standing stiffly in front of a glass wall and staring blankly. "I'm fine," he says, "it's just that life is pointless, nothing matters, and I'm always tired."

I think–I hope–I am starting to emerge from the haze of all that.

The thing about depression is it’s hard, at least for me, to explain what it feels like. What it actually does. And I think part of that is a misconception of mental illness as being literally that—as in, all in your mind—rather than a whole mental, physical, and emotional gauntlet of misery.

How it goes, at least if you’re me:

First off, there’s the sleep situation. Some days, you do almost nothing but sleep:

Frankie Muniz as Malcolm in "Malcolm in the Middle." He's lying down with a blanket pulled up to his chest. He says, "Sleeping is the only thing that makes my life worthwhile."

Or you might stay up for most of the night, whether in the futile hope that you might actually accomplish something, or because you’ve tumbled headfirst into some random internet rabbit hole.

Seo In Guk as Kang Woo in "Master's Sun." He's staring off into space, blinking slowly. He looks extremely tired and has dark circles under his eyes.

Either way, your sleep is fucked.

You lose all interest in, oh, pretty much everything.

A white cat on a computer desk knocking items of the desk as soon as they are placed in front of it. Captions: "Fuck this"; "Fuck that"; "Fuck those too"; "Fuck all these"; "Fuck this thing in particular"

You start getting a bit…lax about cleanliness.

Doojoon as Goo Dae Young in "Let's Eat." You can only see his right foot and a little bit of one hand. He's using his toes to get a wet wipe.

Your new best friend is crushing despair.

Jun Ji Hyun as Song Cheon Yi in "My Love From the Star." She's wearing a t-shirt and holding two pairs of shoes in her hands. She's sobbing and flailing around on her knees, in front of an apartment door opening into a hallway.

Also, rage.

Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner in "The Avengers." He's looking back over his shoulder as he says, "I'm always angry."

And apathy.

Cookie Monster from "Sesame Street." He's sitting at a desk with his chin on his left hand and left elbow on the desk. He's drumming the fingers of his right hand on the desk as he stares blankly into space.

Basically your feelings go completely haywire.

David Tennant as the Doctor in "Doctor Who." He's standing in a glass box, with his palms on the walls, and grimacing in great pain.  Caption: "I'm in a glass case of emotion."

 And as if that’s not fun enough, there’s the weird time-distortion effect, where ten minutes feels like an hour and each day seems to go on f-o-r-e-v-e-r. This is great, because it allows you to experience every wretched moment in excruciating detail.

Gloria Stuart as old Rose in "Titanic." Her eyes are closed and she's got a wistful, nostalgic look on her face. "It's been 84 years," she says.

You don’t want to see anyone. You’d rather not have to get out of bed at all, much less venture outside.

A dog pulls down a blanket from the top of its kennel and lies down in the corner with the blanket completely covering it.

When you do think about seeing your friends, you immediately veto it because you’re afraid you’ll be a downer and things will end poorly:

 Choi Jin Hyuk and Song Ji Hyo in "Emergency Couple."  Choi takes Song's hand and says "Just go home! Please stop drinking!" She shakes off his hand and yells at him to go away.

You don’t really feel like telling people what’s going on, so you might get a bit…creative.

Doojoon as Goo Dae Young in "Let's Eat." He's wearing a tracksuit and puffer vest and walking down the hallway of an apartment building. He's talking on the phone and smiles while he tells the person on the other line "Of course, I'm in the car now!"

 Doojoon as Goo Dae Young in "Let's Eat." He's in an elevator, wearing a tracksuit and puffer vest. He's talking on the phone and smiles while he tells the person on the other line "Right now? I'm out playing golf. The field."

 

Problem: when all you want is a dark, cozy place where no one will bother you again ever, you still have to, like, work and stuff. And work goes about as well you’d expect when you have no energy, focus, or self-confidence.

A cartoon animation of a girl seated at a desk, seen from the back. There's a stack of papers in front of her. The papers slide off the desk she falls out of her chair, onto her hands and knees, and collapses.

For one thing, motivation is basically nonexistent.

"It's not that I'm lazy, it's that I just don't care."

When you do muster up enough give-a-damn to work, your brain refuses to cooperate:

Sofia Vergara in Modern Family. She's looking with dismay at the laptop computer in front of her and says, "Please come back."

You put off work and then you feel more anxious about work, which makes it harder to work, but you can’t even enjoy the time you’re not working because you’re desperately anxious about the work you’re not doing, then you have less time to work…

Rob Lowe as Chris Traeger in Parks and Recreation. He's wearing a blue shirt and an apron. He smiles widely as he says "My anxiety has kept me up for over fifty hours."

Rob Lowe as Chris Traeger in Parks and Recreation. He's wearing a blue shirt and an apron. He smiles widely as he says "My anxiety has kept me up for over fifty hours."

The things you’re supposed to be doing pile up and the folks who need you to do those things start wondering what the fuck is going on:

 Donald Glover and Danny Pudi in "Community." They're in a classroom. Pudi is sitting in a chair. Glover looks frustrated as he stretches his arms out towards someone out of frame and asks, "Why—What is taking so long?!"

You think everyone thinks of you like this:

 Jennifer Garner in "Alias." She's wearing a green-brown, vaguely military-looking shirt and black undershirt. She has a blood-stained bandage on the right side of her neck. She says: "I am through being disappointed with you."

 

You get pretty down on yourself. Your mental soundtrack is an endless loop of you being incredibly mean to yourself.

too stupid

You wonder what is wrong with you. It shouldn’t be that hard to regular things that people do every day, right?

stop whining

But that’s not how depression works.

Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope in Parks and Recreation. She's wearing a pink blazer. She looks into the camera as she says with a smile, "Everything hurts, and I'm dying."

In short, your life is kind of a disaster.

Will Smith as "Will Smith" in "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." He's in an enormous kitchen. A pot on the stove in the middle of the kitchen is on fire, shooting at least 2-3 flames into the air. Will is getting mouthfuls of water from the sink, which is several feet away, and spitting it them the direction of the fire to put it out.

Eventually things get so bad that you realize that maybe you need some extra help. Perhaps professional grade.

 Gif is of a young woman with dark hair and olive skin, head and shoulders in frame. Caption: "I'm tring this new thing called being honest with myself."

You get help. You tell friends what’s going on. You try taking it easy on yourself. You start to feel a little better.

After a while, you begin to feel like maybe you can start venturing out again.

Park Shin Hye as Go Dok Mi in "Flower Boy Next Door." She is looking out a window through binoculars.

Slowly.

Park Shin Hye as Go Dok Mi in "Flower Boy Next Door." She is looking out a window through binoculars. She's suddenly alarmed and backs away from the window, shutting the curtains quickly.

What matters is taking that first step. And then the next. And the one after that. For the first time in what feels like ages, you’re hopeful that better will come.

Elevator doors open to reveal seven identical figures of Kim Soo Hyun, a young Korean actor. They're all smiling and looking around curiously. The Kim Soo Hyun in the center smiles confidently and strides out of the elevator.

That’s about the sum of it. It’s not pretty. I’d say I’m at about the slowly venturing out stage. But I have family and friends looking out for me, and access to quality mental health care (which, frankly, should be considered a basic right).

So things are looking…better. Bit by bit. As for the depression and anxiety, well:

Maisie Williams as Arya Stark in "Game of Thrones." She's got an intense look on her face as she says, "Someday, I'm going to put a sword through your eye and out the back of your skull."

22 Comments

  1. Love you, dear. This post is pretty accurate to my own experiences, and I applaud you for climbing out of that hole. <3. You're a wonderful human being and I appreciate having you as a friend so much.

  2. This is exactly what I needed right now.

    I have depression (though no anxiety), and it’s… hard. It actually doesn’t take much to trigger me, and I ended up getting triggered when I made a mistake with my client/freelancing work. It’s so hard – I was intensely suicidal, and felt that I was an idiot who couldn’t do anything right because I shouldn’t be making mistakes. I feel like at a certain point, I need to stop making mistakes. It’s all I can think about. It’s so hard.

    My friend recommended that I see a therapist, which I hope to do really soon because my immense self-hate combined with my chronic depression makes life difficult. My thoughts can’t be trusted, but I rely on them all the time, and I can’t tell what’s real or not. Is this thing really destructive? How do I get clarity around this?

    Anyway.

    Thanks for writing this post! I feel like the only way to deal with my depression/self-hate is to not deal with people – so just sleep all day, don’t work or have any responsibilities (since I’m also easily stressed when things don’t go well and that always results in a downward spiral). But, it’s not helpful. I don’t get to take a break from life. :/

    <3

    • Tatiana—I can definitely relate to how hard it is to get out of the habit of dwelling on your mistakes. It is hard. And it is definitely true for me that my thoughts are often way out of sync with reality when I’m really depressed or anxious.

      This won’t work for everybody, but at least for me I found that having my therapist or my friends giving me a little push and some accountability has helped me take concrete steps towards getting better. Maybe your friend who suggested a therapist might be willing to help with that? Like check in to see if you’ve done certain things and give you a gentle nudge if not? It might help.

      Wishing you the best.

  3. Carole Kennedy says:

    Thank you for sharing this. Beautifully written and spot on.

  4. This is absolutely perfect.

  5. Aw Grace, much love to you right now. I have definitely being feel super depressed as well and that whole not really working at work but still constantly thinking about working so perfect encapsulates my state lately.

  6. LittleCrazyGirl says:

    Thank you very much for this article. Very good description of how feelings change.
    I guess a lot of people appreciate your effort.
    Here is another very good blog which you might like, too.

    http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.de/2013_05_01_archive.html

    All the best to you!

  7. So this captures pretty much my entire depression/anxiety journey over the last six or so months. Thank you for being brave and honest enough to share this. I wish you the very best.
    (Also, I applaud you for making a post that not only details the intense pain of anxiety/depression, but somehow still got me laughing at the gifs).

  8. This is my life. Well excluding the help part.. I’d have to get dressed and drive for that.. So I stay in bed with the iPad.

  9. Thank you for sharing this. I know it is not easy. I’m wishing you the best.

  10. I have felt exactly like this. I venture out to work and hide under the sheets a lot. Sleep patterns are erratic and I am always tired.

    It comes and goes this. Sometimes I feel better at dealing. Sometimes worse.

    Today, it has been the slowest train wreck. But I found this and I feel a little better. Thank you.

  11. …true; true…thanks for being real

  12. What a great post. :) I think most if not all of us have felt like this.

  13. Thank-you so much for sharing- I can relate to this so much. I’m glad you are doing well enough to write.

  14. This is incredibly accurate. Thank you for putting the atrocious combination of anxiety and depression into words.

  15. You did a wonderful explanation with the memes but you might want to listen to this description of depression. http://www.ted.com/talks/andrew_solomon_depression_the_secret_we_share

  16. Dear dear u r spot on! it seems someone made a video of my days n gave it u seriously . luvd ur post.

  17. Thank you for this accurate and humorous post. Couldn’t have said it better myself. I’m going through similar since February and am on a medicine dance trying to find the right one- annoying! I’m 43 & have had a couple of bouts with this in my adult life but I had the luxury if just taking the first pill they gave me and got better in a month or so. This time I was on a med that pooped out so still trying to find the right combo.

    What I can say to anyone reading- it’s not a matter of IF we’ll get through this (bc we will), but WHAT will we learn from it (self help skills, sharper coping skills, self love, regular exercise etc).

    Thanks again for the humor for such a sucky affliction! Peace to all!

  18. Don’t know you but I can TOTALLY relate. Such a fun club to be a part of! (This is about me now. Just kidding… It’s just letting you know you’re not alone.) It helps a little knowing other people feel the way you do, even though you wouldn’t wish the feeling on your worst enemy. It’s so hard to get going… To get into the car, to get out of the car, to carry things, to make a phone call, to put your feet on the ground when getting out of bed, to shower. Glad you’re at the point where you finally gave up and talked to other supportive humans about what’s going on. Good for you. May each episode be shorter and shorter and further and further apart. I think your insight will get you to where you would like to be. Depression will always be there, but it can take a back seat and life becomes more doable (sometimes even enjoyable) than ever. I hope your depression takes a backseat. Like a way fucking back seat. All the way in the back. So small, you can’t even see it anymore.

  19. Oops… Didn’t realize this post was old. Hope you’re doing well.