The experience of depression isn’t uniform. No two journeys look the same, but symptoms can be managed whatever it looks like for you.
Slogging through a pool of molasses, wearing a heavy trench coat, donning a pair of grey-colored glasses… These are just a few of the ways someone might describe what it feels like to live with depression.
But, in truth, depression is different for everyone.
There are a range of possible experiences you can have if you live with depression — sadness is not the only symptom.
No matter how you feel right now, it’s valid and real. And it doesn’t have to be permanent. Support is available to help you get through it.
“For example, one person can lie in bed all day and cannot gather the motivation to leave their apartment. Meanwhile, another person must be out all the time because they cannot be alone with their thoughts,” she explains.
In general, a healthcare professional may diagnose depression if they identify several “typical” symptoms that have been present for at least 2 weeks. These are outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5).
Some of these symptoms of depression include:
- low mood
- loss of interest in activities
- reduced libido
- changes in cognitive functioning
- sleep disruptions
- eating more or less
- thoughts of self-harm
Different types of depression
Some types (whether included in the DSM-5 or not) include:
- major depressive disorder (MDD), aka clinical depression
- depression in bipolar disorder
- persistent depressive disorder (formerly known as dysthymia)
- “high-functioning” depression
- postpartum depression
- premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)
- seasonal depression (aka seasonal affective disorder and formally called MDD with seasonal patterns)
- situational depression
- smiling depression
There are many possible ways to experience depression symptoms, depending on your age and particular circumstances.
These are some ways that common symptoms of depression may feel:
Depression feels like there’s nothing to hope for
The loss of hope is a common symptom of depression.
You may feel like you’re always taking one step forward and three steps back. This may lead you to wonder, “So why try?”
Or maybe you look at your calendar and see nothing to look forward to.
A sense of hopelessness can also manifest as guilt or shame for something you’ve experienced.
Depression feels like everything is upsetting
Maybe you snap at loved ones for things that didn’t bother you before, like blocking your car in the driveway or eating the last of your favorite comfort food.
You may also find yourself ruminating over social interactions or fearing the worst possible outcome in relationships, work matters, or school.
You might feel overwhelmed — things that didn’t bother you before are now a big deal.
Depression feels like sleeping too much
…or too little.
Your sleep is often affected when you have depression, along with your appetite.
You may find yourself wanting to sleep all day, even though you had a full night’s rest.
Or perhaps you lie awake at night with racing thoughts, thinking intensely about the past and future. Your body is tired enough to sleep but you just, well, can’t.
Depression feels like crying all day without a reason
Many people with depression can experience intense sadness or crying outbursts.
You may find yourself shedding tears during commercials, songs, or out of the blue while sitting at your desk.
As you navigate this, Cramer says to try to find a way to process your feelings.
“Some people may enjoy listening to a song that identifies with their emotions. Others may find writing in a journal extremely helpful,” she says. “It is important to do some trial and error here to determine what is successful.”
Depression feels like no longer knowing who you are or what you like
You might find that you’re no longer interested in things you used to enjoy.
Anhedonia — decreased or absent pleasure in everyday activities — is one of the hallmark symptoms of depression, says Dr. Lindsay Israel, a psychiatrist in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
This can be experienced differently from person to person, she explains.
“For example, a grandmother might not be able to feel the joy in spending time with her grandchildren playing right in front of her,” she says. “A musician, on the other hand, might not bother picking up a guitar because he does not feel it makes him happy to strum the strings anymore.”
Not finding pleasure in what used to be enjoyable could make you feel off or like you want to return to “your normal.”
Depression feels like not being able to get out of bed
It’s not in your head: Fatigue is a common symptom of depression. According to 2018 research, this is possibly due to inflammation and reduced oxygen supply.
From the outside, your low energy and lack of motivation may look similar to “laziness.” However, this isn’t a personal choice.
If you live with depression, little tasks like sorting the mail or brushing your teeth can feel downright overwhelming.
Depression feels like not getting anything done
If you feel like your brain is firing differently lately, you’re not imagining things. There are many cognitive symptoms of depression.
“Low energy, lack of sleep, difficulty concentrating, and low motivation can all lead to difficulty in accomplishing tasks for the day, such as going to the gym, grocery shopping, or even balancing your checkbook,” says Israel.
Depression feels like body aches
The neurotransmitters that play a role in pain perception, such as serotonin and norepinephrine, are the same ones that play a role in mood regulation, explains Israel.
“With depression, the threshold for pain decreases, so you may experience pain in the joints and muscles,” she says. “You may experience more frequent headaches, joint pain, muscle pain, or fibromyalgia.”
Depression feels like considering self-harm
Suicidal ideation exists on a spectrum, from thoughts of suicide to suicide attempts.
This may be just a thought, like wishing you wouldn’t wake up tomorrow or feeling at peace with the idea of getting into a fatal car accident.
It may also be more active, like coming up with a plan or setting a date to harm yourself.
Whatever you’re feeling, you can get through this. This is the depression talking. There are resources available to cope with this pain.
You’re not alone
Help is available right now:
- Call a crisis hotline, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
- Text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
- Call or text the Postpartum Support International Help Line at 800-944-4773 (#1 Español, #2 English)
- Contat the Trevor Project if you’re LGBTQIA+ and under 25 years old. Call 866-488-7386, text START to 678678, or chat online 24-7.
- Contact the Veterans Crisis Line. Call 800-273-8255, text 838255, or chat online 24-7.
- Use the Befrienders Worldwide database to find a helpline in your country.
- Contact the DeafLEAD Crisis Line. Call 321-800-DEAF (3323) or text HAND at 839863.
Yes, there is a difference between untreated and treated depression symptoms. You might have more severe symptoms and side effects when you live with untreated depression for a while.
Untreated depression may be difficult to manage on your own. With professional support, it’s possible to improve how you feel and function.
Depression is more common than many people think, and you’re not alone in this, says Cramer.
“The fact that it is often not openly discussed makes some people think they are the only person that feels this way, but it is something that a lot of people experience at some point in their lives,” she says.
In fact, it’s a condition that many folks have learned to manage effectively. A mental health professional may help with this, along with support groups.
“There is no shame in going to therapy and sharing your feelings with a neutral person,” she says. “When you feel as though your depression is too much for you to handle alone, seek professional help.”
The symptoms of depression are as diverse as the folks experiencing them.
You may cry more, sleep fewer hours, or feel detached from what used to be important to you. You may find it hard to get things done or have unexplained aches and pains in your body.
All of this, and any other experience, is valid.
To begin the healing process, you may find it helpful to reach out to a therapist who “gets” depression.
You don’t have to go through this alone anymore. Help is available and recovery is possible.