What it's like to have depressive disorder

My last 3 posts (see here, here and here) were about laying out a basic understanding of mental illness. I'll be taking on some of the more common mental disorders, beginning with one of the commonest and under-recognised: depression.

Don't say that later will be better Now you're stuck in a moment And you can't get out of it —U2

Today, I want to offer an idea of what depression feels like, so you can more easily recognise it in yourself or in someone you love.


Akunna lay on her bed, thinking about death. Or rather, not fighting the thoughts of death her mind spontaneously bent to. She'd been like this almost three weeks now, eating little, sleeping even less—her boss had given her a compulsory leave off work, thinking maybe the stress was getting to her. It wasn't that, of course, but it was good for an excuse to be off.

She glanced at the window. It was grey outside, the sky heavy with rain that wouldn't fall. Like her heart. She normally hated grey days, but she couldn't help but be grateful for this sky that gave her an image for something she could hardly describe.

That was the worst part. Kingsley was worried to death, but every time he asked her what was wrong, "I don't know," was all she would mutter. When she was able to even get the words out, that is. Mostly she didn't even feel like talking. Poor guy. She knew he was trying his best to be there for her…but she was hardly there to be "there for." He should just go. She didn't deserve him, anyway. She didn't deserve anything.

Except maybe to die. If she even deserved that.


Know anyone like that? (It's not a real story, by the way, I made it up; I'd never use the real story of my clients or anyone I know, or of anyone else that isn't already public knowledge.)

Depression is not just sadness. It's something more. Oh yeah, we all talk about, "I'm depressed." That's okay, it's normal language, and it's not really wrong, but it's not what we mental health specialists mean when we say someone "has depression." (A more technical term would be "clinical depression" or "depressive disorder.")

It's hard to describe to someone who doesn't have it, and various people over the years have described it differently:

John Staurt Mills (an English philosopher) termed it "a dull state of nerves." Samuel Johnson (and later, Winston Churchill) named it "the black dog." Ben Carson's mum (Sonya Carson), in the movie adaptation of Gifted Hands, called it "a darkness I can't control."

We all feel sad, of course. That's an inescapable part of being human. No one is a walking ball of unending joy (you'd probably be pretty suspicious of such a person if you did meet them, wouldn't you?).

But imagine that sadness lasting, say, a week. A month. Six months. Maybe a whole year.

Getting the picture?

Even Superman gets the blues by Darwin Bell, on Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  Even Superman gets the blues by  Darwin Bell 

And yet, depression is even more than just a sadness that doesn't go away. It's a whole change in how life looks. (Tweet that!) I've heard it described as being like a dull grey day, like living a life that's like rice without salt. Like a heavy cloud hanging over a person's life, or like being in a deep pit and you can't get out.

Here are two other descriptions, from literature. The first is from a great English poet, the other from a Canadian author.

A grief without a pang, void, dark and drear, A drowsy, stifled, unimpassioned grief, Which finds no natural outlet or relief In word, or sigh, or tear. —Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Dejection

I don't want to see anyone. I lie in the bedroom with the curtains drawn and nothingness washing over me like a sluggish wave. Whatever is happening to me is my own fault. I have done something wrong, something so huge I can't even see it, something that's drowning me. I am inadequate and stupid, without worth. I might as well be dead. ―Margaret Atwood, Cat's Eye

Are you beginning to have a feel for what it feels like to be clinically depressed? I really hope so.

In my next posts, we'll dig more into the details of how to actually recognise depression. (Later on, I'll talk about whether depression actually occurs in Nigeria—yes, some people still doubt that!—and what treatments are available. If there's any aspect you'd like me to tackle, or another subject entirely, hit me up in my email or let me know in the comments!)

For now, I'd like to know if this has helped you in any way. And if you'd like to share your own stories, feel free. And if you liked this post, please share using the buttons below! Together we can change the conversation!