Depression is like …

This is a photo of a person behind a sheet of fabric or cloudly glass, so that only an outline is visible. It illustrates how cut off from the rest of the world I feel when I am depressed.
Photo by Stefano Pollio on

An old friend who’s won every brutal, aching arm wrestling bout with depression so far was writing today about how this brand of mental illness hits everyone differently.

For her, it knocks out her concentration, clarity of thought, and sense of self-worth. I can identify with that. My executive function splashes down in the toilet too when I’m depressed.

So I wondered if I could list how depression looks on me. Turns out, I have a pretty clear picture of what I’m like when I am wrapped in that suffocating gray cloud.

This is a photo of a person standing alone and still in a heavy fog.
Photo by Brunel Johnson on

For me, depression looks like:

  • Wearing earplugs a LOT. Because I’m irritable and very, very distractible.
  • Constantly having a pillow creasemark on my face because I can barely keep my eyes open most of the time. (For me, excessive sleeping is my number one red flag for a slide into depression.) Having the concentration to do my desk job becomes so exhausting that I come home and take a three-hour nap before having a home life at night.
  • Scowling, because I’m irritated that I’ve forgotten what I’m doing, where I’m going, that important thing I needed to do, the person who I’m calling and that thing I needed to add to the grocery list. This happens a lot at my age anyway, but it’s a LOT worse when I’m depressed.
  • Smiling, because I read once that just taking on the facial posture of someone who’s happy can be a bit of a mood lifter.
  • Staring, because I will often startle and realize I’ve just been paused, looking at my computer screen, or book page, or phone screen, or TV for an extended period without really processing what is going on in front of me.
  • Startling very easily, because my nerves feel like they’ve been through the cheese grater. And then the food processor.
  • Feeling bored and restless because I’m not doing the things that normally keep me mentally engaged. Because when I’m depressed, I stop reading anything that requires more than a modicum of effort. Books? Nope. (I’m someone who normally might read 4-5 books a week.) Magazines? Nuh-uh. Movies? (Who can concentrate that long?) Short YouTube videos are about my max effort.
  • Repetition, repetition, repetition. I find it comforting to do small mindless things over and over again. Like playing solitaire on my phone. Or cleaning the lint out of my computer’s air vent with a toothpick. Or pulling the mountain of abandoned Tupperware out of the work kitchen cabinets and tediously matching up all the containers and the lids.
  • Time feels like it’s passing very slowly, but then I look up and it’s passed by in a blur and I feel robbed.

I’m also recalling now the way I’ve often described my brand of depression: You’re not dead, but it’s like having your lungs full of steel wool. You can still get air in, but every breath is difficult and hurts, and you have to think about whether you want to take another one. It’s like: Breath. …. pause … (guess I’ll do another one) … Breath. ……… pause ……… (okay, again, I guess, for now) …

What is depression like for you?

This is a photo of a small tea candle in the snow, with the wind blowing the flame and almost extinguishing it.
Photo by Siora Photography on

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