What's It Like to Be Depressed?

Depression - Invisible Yet Intolerable

Some people never seem to even be downhearted. In Happy Holidays, the story is told of two church elders. One was always “up” and expressed difficulty in understanding why other people, “let themselves become depressed.” The man simply did not have a problem in that area.

Another elder in the same church, suffered frequent bouts of despondency. His business life was stressful, and he internalized those feelings. He also struggled with conflicts left over from childhood. Both men were committed to their church, and genuinely loved other people. Yet, one often experienced depression while the other managed to cope with whatever setbacks came his way.[1] Both were good men with significant influence. The man who did not fight depression was not better or stronger than the other. He simply had a different sort of life path to walk.

Hidden Hurts

Illness is generally hidden within the human body. The symptoms are not. Pain is felt though there is no physical trauma. This is true of appendicitis, kidney disease, gallstones, cancer or a headache. People sick with these conditions do not wear a cast or walk with a limp. The invisible illness still disrupts their life. An invisible sickness tends to be more destructive than a broken bone that requires a cast.

In a similar way, depression is an invisible pain. 

  • Depression is as real as a migraine headache.
  • Depression may be as destructive as kidney disease.
  • Depression can destroy – productivity, healthy relationships and result in a loss of life.

Novelist William Stryon wrote, “Depression is a true wimp of a word for such a major illness.

What's It Like to Be Depressed?

It is hard to describe depression fully. Each person's experience is different. But there is a universal trait: while enduring depression, nothing comes easy. Every single act and decision requires more effort than normal.

Jack Dreyfus founded the successful Dreyfus Mutual Fund empire. Dreyfus fought depression. He recalled trying to explain to others about his depression. “It is almost impossible to convey to a person who has not had depression what it’s like. It’s not obvious like a broken arm, or a fever… It’s beneath the surface. A depressed person suffers a type of anguish which in its own way can be as painful as anything that can happen to a human being. His brain permits him no rest. His mood is low; he has little energy, and can hardly remember what pleasure means.”

During depression, “The wonder and awesomeness of being alive slowly erode. We find ourselves slipping into a gray mood, then a long ‘flat’ stretch in which not much appeals to us.” [2]

Words fail, but here is a start on what it is like to be depressed. Some of these observations reflect my experience. Other observations come from people who have traveled the same path. Unfortunately the list of painful experiences is long.

  • Getting a car in gear, and turning it around usually happens instinctively. Depressed people have to think about each step.
  • Life is gray and cold.
  • Visiting an ATM - only not being able to remember the PIN. The same PIN used for decades.
  • A “black cloud” hanging just over my head.
  • "Watching your own feet," thus minimizing eye contact.
  • The shower is a place to cry with nobody the wiser.
  • Losing interest in self-care. Why shower or shave? Why dress up for the day? Even if I did, it wouldn’t matter.
  • I feel flat.
  • Desperately alone.
  • Everything is drab, lifeless, and tired.
  • A black hole.
  • When reading, by the bottom of the page, I cannot recall what I read at the top of the same page.
  • My days are dark.
  • I am numb.
  • I am in slow motion. Everyone else is at hyper-speed.
  • The word or phrase needed in conversation or while speaking to a group - just won't come.
  • Following a conversation is a challenge. The ability to concentrate is not there.
  • I am unable to move, both literally and figuratively.
  • I am my own worst critic. Put an “L” on my forehead for loser.
  • Self-hatred.
  • Mental self-immolation. It feels like my brain is on fire.
  • Anger turned inward.
  • I go to bed tired and get up tired!
  • An unknown season of intense doubt.
  • My enthusiasm is at best feigned.
  • Malignant sadness.
  • Phone calls are not answered, and calls go unreturned.
  • You grocery shop late at night. There is less likelihood of running into someone you know.
  • The dishes pile up in the sink.
  • Feeling despicable, stupid, and unlovable.
  • To smile, even at a grandchild, requires conscious thought.
  • Feeling less and less capable of making good decisions.
  • Agitation is often near. There is anxiety about what is happening. I lash out in anger because I’m anxious.
  • A gray monster lurks within.
  • I have no energy.
  • Walking, waking dead.
  • My desire for anything, even things I really enjoy is gone.
  • I died a few weeks ago and my body hasn’t found out yet.[3]

Depression Affects Everything

A child told her depressed mom, "You act like you are dying." The child was not far from correct. The mother acted like she was dying because emotionally, she felt as though she was dying. Lack of sleep, and in some instances a constant flow of tears indicate that life is horrid.

Depression has a wide-ranging impact. It affects body, mind, spirit and soul. As a culture, we seek a quick fix. For depressed people, there is seldom a quick fix.

Thinking is slowed, and mental acuity is distant. This is one of the more horrible aspects of depression. Without your normal mental resources, the world is frightening.[4] In depression, something is out of balance. The wonder and awe of life and living are gone.

Depression Has No Logic

Depression is irrational. Grief, hardship and disappointment can cause some traits described earlier. Grief is a normal and healthy process following any loss.

A study clarified the differences between grief and depression. The one major difference: Those battling depression struggle with self-denigration. Grief does not cause a person to feel bad about themselves. They feel pain over their loss. People who are depressed will often have a sense of worthlessness.[5] This sense of worthlessness is a major identifier for depression.

Depression is different in another way. Depression happens contrary to the concept of cause and effect. Depression may have no easily discerned cause.

My life has been full and fulfilling. Millions of people would love to trade stories with me. Our family enjoys good health. People read my books and listen to my sermons. Don't misunderstand; my life is not a fairy-tale. There have been disappointments and personal failure. But on balance, no reason comes to mind to explain me ever being depressed.

Yet, for decades I’ve battled depression. For decades my experience was identified as “clinical depression.” In recent years, the terminology has changed. Mental health professionals tell me the present term is Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). With that in mind, MDD or Major Depressive Disorder will be used for the remainder of this book.

A person struggling with depression may then be classified as Mild, Moderate, or Severe. A person who had "clinical depression" would today be given a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder; Severe. Regardless of the terminology, when at its worst, this condition colors the entire world.

The darkness of depression could define my life. I don’t plan for that to be the case. 

Depression Deteriorates Life

Depression causes life to deteriorate. Physiologically, depression slows the metabolism. It lowers the body’s immune response and weakens resistance to disease. Spiritually, depression cuts a person off from the awareness of God and His presence. We lose the sense that God is present.[6]

A depressed person misses God-moments because such moments are not seen for what they are. Depression leaves people exhausted, hurting, and hopeless. Offering gracious hope and help to such people, whether saints or sinners, should be part of the mission of the New Testament church.

Depression is Common

Millions of people battle Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). It is said that 1 in 4 people who attended church Sunday was struggling with some level of depression.

The late Tim LaHaye wrote several books and booklets on depression. He also provided seminars on overcoming depression. LaHaye wrote, “During the past few years, I have taken polls in audiences totaling at least 200,000 people. In each poll, I’ve inquired, ‘Is there anyone here who has never experienced depression in his entire life?’ Not one person ever indicated, that he has escaped the problem.”[7]

The preacher who preaches to such hurting people will never lack for a congregation. The commonness of depression reflects the observation of Joseph Parker, a British pastor in the 1800s. Parker said, "There is a broken heart in every pew."

Depression Does Not Happen in Isolation

Depression is a family illness. In varied degrees, the presence of depression affects every person who lives at an address. If one person in a family is dealing with depression, the impact is unavoidable. The child who said her mother acted as though she was dying was experiencing depression alongside her parent. Those who live with someone battling depression, will also suffer.

If you have a depressed family member, you may want to shake the person, or scream at them, "Snap out of it." My family members were never that harsh – though there were times when they communicated their frustration about what was an untenable situation.

People who were not family members have used such techniques trying to "heal" me. They did not work. Instead, they tended to make my life even darker.

Foundational Responses

If you have a family member who is depressed, pray for yourself and for that person. You will need grace! Pray for the person’s healing. Pray for your patience. Pray for wisdom to understand how to prevent the depressed person from becoming irresponsible. When a person stops fighting depression, it can produce what the late inspirational writer Zig Ziglar called a “loser’s limp.”

Second, if you have never been depressed, realize that you have no point of reference for what your family member is experiencing. An elder who had a hearing problem said, “When someone is blind, others are sympathetic. But if a person has a hearing problem, people are irritated.” People respond to depression in the same way. If you have a heart condition or thyroid difficulty, there is sympathy. Depressed people don’t receive that same level of sympathy.

John White warned that we should “be cautious of judgmental attitudes toward men and women struggling beneath the weight of depression, and of glib and inaccurate explanations of their condition . . . the godliest of men and women have been gripped by profound depression.”[8]

If a person has high blood pressure, ulcers or some other disease, people are sympathetic. Those conditions may even be caused by depression. But if depression is mentioned, people have a tendency to say, “I don’t know what you have to be depressed about. You should be grateful for your blessings.”[9] Don’t make that statement. Such statements harm more than help. Instead, seek the ability to see beyond the moment. God is interested in your family’s situation. He is listening.

The book of Revelation tells of golden bowls that hold the prayers of the saints, (Revelation 5:8). Perhaps all you can do is pray for your family member. Pray on. Be as the woman whose importunity got the attention of the unjust judge. Pray again. Jesus treasures prayer. As you fight this battle alongside your family member, remember, "Your high priest can be touched with the feeling of your infirmities,” (Hebrews 4:15). 

Depression is not weakness, laziness, a lack of will, or a character flaw. Depression is a disease.  

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Over 2/3 of Light in a Dark Place is devoted to suggestions on how to fight back against depression. There are not as many reviews on Amazon as there should be, but do check out the reviews that are there. 

 Light in a Dark Place – Encountering Depression is available for:

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A discount is available for bulk purchases and for wholesalers. Contact me at carltoncoonsr@gmail.com.

 

To host a session or seminar that addresses Encountering Depression contact me at the same email address.

 

 

[1] Minirth, Frank; Hawkins, Don; Meier, Paul. Happy Holidays – How to Beat the Holiday Blues (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Book House, 1990) P. 26

[2] Hazard, David, Breaking Free From Depression (Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Oregon, 2002) p. 5

[3] Solomon, Andrew. “Anatomy of Melancholy,” The New Yorker, January 12, 1998 P.54

[4] Welch, Edward T. Depression:  Looking up from the Stubborn Darkness (Greensboro, NC; New Growth Press, 2011)

[5] Kramlinger, Keith M.D. (Editor in Chief), Mayo Clinic on Depression; Mayo Clinic Health Information; Rochester MN. P. 7.

[6] Hazard, p. 14

[7] LaHaye, Tim, Ten Steps to Victory Over Depression, (Zondervan Publishing; Grand Rapids, MI, 1974) P. 9

[8] White, John, The Masks of Melancholy (Downers Grove, Illinois; Inter-varsity Press, 1982) P. 63

[9] Maughon, Martha; Why am I Crying (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1983). P. 72

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