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What Does Depression Feel Like?

What Does Depression Feel Like?

This material has been reviewed for accuracy by: Renee Albers, PhD

Woman with hand to her face laying on a gray couch, showing signs of fatigue, which could be a symptom of depression

“Just snap out of it.” “Look at all the things you have to be happy about.” “I have down days too.”

How many times have people suffering from depression heard something like that from a friend or loved one?

For many people with depression, it can often feel impossible to explain why everyday tasks – like getting out of bed – can feel like such huge victories. Likewise, it may be difficult for those who haven’t experienced depression to understand how depression feels because many of its symptoms cannot be seen.

The symptoms of depression are not the same for every person. While there are commonalities, no two people experience the exact same combination of symptoms and experiences.

“Depression is fundamentally a uniquely personal experience,” Drew Coster wrote in PsychCentral. “Often when I’m running group sessions, the thing that quickly unites a group is when they start sharing about how their wife, husband, boss, or mother just doesn’t understand what they are going through.”

To help people understand the impact that suffering from depression can have, below are some examples, in people’s own words, of what it was like for them.

Depression and Fatigue

Amy Thurlow writes in a Scary Mommy blog post how extreme fatigue associated with depression could weigh down someone throughout the day.

“You try to go about your daily activities, but every movement requires tremendous effort. You want to move. You try your best to move. It’s just completely exhausting. No matter how hard you try, you seem unable to take off your lead body armor,” writes Thurlow.

According to an article published in CNS Drugs, fatigue affects more than 90 percent of people with major depressive disorder, often making daily activities and routines difficult to manage.

Depression and Self-Esteem

Button with GeneSight logo and text learn more about the GeneSight testKatie Prieto compares depression to the “soul-sucking” dementors from J.K. Rowling’s best-selling Harry Potter series in the blog, Blurt:

“The dementors are such a great image, it’s like a creature sucking out the best and happy memories whilst telling you you’re rubbish and making you relive the bad. It then uses the bad as an attack against your self esteem to make you believe you don’t deserve better. Eventually you just become numb and disconnected.”

PsychCentral writes that more than 80 percent of people suffering from depression express a feeling of dislike of themselves. Dr. Aaron Beck describes feelings of depression as the 4 D’s:

  • “Defeated,
  • Defective,
  • Deserted, and
  • Deprived”

Further, PsychCentral reports that “most counselors find that depressed individuals see themselves as deficient in those qualities of life they most highly value: intelligence, achievement, popularity, attractiveness, health and strength.”

Depression and Mental Clarity

Car with red brake lights driving through a dense fog, illustrating how depression can result in cognitive dysfunction.Bee Moore shares on the website, The Mighty how her depression left her feeling like she was driving in a dense fog she just couldn’t escape:

“When I’m in a depression fog I drift through existence at an abnormally slow rate and it can be frustrating to those who I interact with because of my slow responses and lack of being able to properly process what is happening around me. It can affect work production, social and familial responsibilities and physical health … When I am confronted with something, it seems to come out of nowhere, like suddenly coming up on a car you didn’t see in front of you and slamming into it at full speed.”

More than 85 percent of people with depression experience some form of cognitive dysfunction, according to an article published in Annals of General Psychiatry. Sometimes referred to as “Brain Fog,” depression symptoms can include trouble concentrating, remembering details and making decisions.

Depression and Sensitivity

“It can be like having the top layer of my skin removed. Everything feels much more sensitive,” describes Maisy Karavidas in Blurt.

Similarly, Thurlow in Scary Mommy likens depression to a sandpaper bed:

“You climb in and are startled by the feel of the sheets on your skin. They are rough, like sandpaper. Your pillow is hard as a rock. You roll over; nothing changes. The sandpaper sheets hurt your skin and the rock pillow makes it impossible to relax. This is what irritability is like. You know you should not be bothered, but everything annoys you, angers you, makes you very uncomfortable. You wish with all of your might you could relax and feel peaceful, but it just won’t happen.”

Button reading Find a ProviderDr. Mark Zimmerman, a professor of psychiatry at Brown University, and his colleagues surveyed thousands of patients at the Rhode Island Hospital’s outpatient psychiatric practice.

“Two-thirds of individuals reported notable irritability and anger,” Dr. Zimmerman told NPR, “and approximately half reported it at a moderate or severe level.”

Further, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association – Psychiatry, found that more than half of depressed patients showed “overt irritability/anger.”

Depression and Clutter

Cluttered sink of dirty dishes, demonstrating how depression can interfere with the ability to complete everyday tasks.“A sink full of dirty dishes,” Brittany Ernsperger wrote in a viral Facebook post published on The Today Show website in 2018.

“I walked by them morning and night and all day long and just looked at them, telling myself that I could do them. Telling myself that I would. And feeling defeated every day that I didn’t,” Ernsperger wrote. “Three days ago I sat on the kitchen floor and stared at them while I cried. I knew they needed to be done. I wanted to do them so bad. But depression pulled me under.”

Messy surroundings might reflect the negative internal feelings that are so prevalent with depression. When experiencing constant fatigue and trouble concentrating, or a sense of despair or lack of self-worth, simply tidying up may not seem worth it. It may even seem impossible.

“Although it appears to be a mundane sort of thing, I find disorganization and chaos to be one of the biggest problems reported by depressed and anxious individuals,” writes Audrey Sherman, Ph.D. in PsychCentral. “Emotional baggage has a way of building up, and then expressing itself in an outward display of turmoil — as if a tornado had let loose in your brain and your surroundings.”

Depression and Trial-and-Error Treatment

In addition to the everyday symptoms of depression, some patients, like Ronni ,patient from New York who received the GeneSight test, may also find it difficult to find a treatment plan that works for them. She says her treatment felt like “throwing darts at a dartboard, except I was the dartboard.”

As Scott West, M.D., wrote in a National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) blog post, “treating depression is historically a slow process. Individuals often start their treatment journeys by using the trial-and-error process with medication, dealing with unwanted side effects as they wait to see if the medicine is working.”

One tool that doctors may use to help inform their patients’ treatment plans is a pharmacogenomic test like the GeneSight test. The GeneSight test analyzes a patient’s genes to determine how the body is predicted to metabolize or respond to medications commonly prescribed to treat depression, anxiety, ADHD and other psychiatric conditions.

Depression can impact people in many different ways. We’d love to hear how you would describe how your depression looks or feels. Feel free to send us a message on Facebook with your thoughts. You can also hear more stories from patients and clinicians who have used the GeneSight test at: https://genesight.com/patient-stories/

Image instructing patients to learn more about the GeneSight test

Our articles are for informational purposes only and are reviewed by our Medical Information team, which includes PharmDs, MDs, and PhDs. Do not make any changes to your current medications or dosing without consulting your healthcare provider.

The GeneSight test must be ordered by and used only in consultation with a healthcare provider who can prescribe medications. As with all genetic tests, the GeneSight test results have limitations and do not constitute medical advice. The test results are designed to be just one part of a larger, complete patient assessment, which would include proper diagnosis and consideration of your medical history, other medications you may be taking, your family history, and other factors.

If you are a healthcare provider and interested in learning more about the GeneSight test, please contact us at 855.891.9415. If you are a patient, please talk with your doctor to see if the GeneSight test may be helpful.