Depression takes away the ability to live in denial about anything. You can’t put things ‘out of your mind’. You can’t, no matter how hard you try, escape from thoughts regarding failure, things which hurt you in the past, disappointments or even thoughts like – I am going to die one day and there is nothing I can do to change that.
A common misconception is that depression is ‘feeling bad’ or ‘feeling sad’. It is more about a lack of feelings.
Where feelings used to be there ends up a void, a nothingness. When you feel sad or in low spirits, you can do something to alter your mood. You can go see a friend, watch a movie or distract yourself with work by making yourself very busy. You can do things to change how you feel.
But what will you do if the part of your brain that allows you to ‘change how you feel by doing different things’ stops working? This is the reality in which depressed people live.
You see your friends – you feel nothing. You go for dinner to a nice restaurant – you feel nothing.
You do things that you used to find fulfilling or meaningful: paint, write, play sports, cook, sing, dance, and none of it registers on an emotional level at all.
You want to care. You remember what it feels like to care. You keep doing things in the hope that something will work. Nothing works.
The single defining characteristic of depression is that you’re bored all the time. You have to live in this constant state of numbness day in and day out. Since you get no emotional rewards like happiness, pride or a sense of accomplishment from doing things, you lose all motivation and drive.
Why is depression so depressing?
This is where it’s important to understand the point about denial. Depression doesn’t let you live in denial about what your life is. You can’t lie to yourself. You see the truth of your situation all the time. You see all the ways you are failing all the time. All the intricate details of everything that is wrong with your life play like a movie inside your head.
Usually, in this situation, non-depressed people distract themselves with something. However, as I mentioned before, depressed people don’t get any emotional rewards from ‘doing things’, so the distractions do not work. This point is worth repeating over and over. The distractions DO NOT WORK.
This means that all those negative thoughts in your head: there is no escape from them.
Your brain refuses to allow you the kindness of denial, of ignoring the bad stuff, and of creating a barrier to protect you from the worst-case scenarios in your head. Not a single comforting thought is allowed to survive.
It is an illness that induces passivity. You slowly become a person that stops trying because your efforts don’t yield results. It is a state of exhausted numbness. You don’t wish for extraordinary things. You wish for little things like – I wish I could derive some feeling of comfort or pleasure from this cup of tea that I’m drinking.
When nothing comforts you, it can feel like living with never ending shell-shock. I know people think that other people have the ability to make them feel better, but that’s not really true. Other people can sympathize and empathize but primarily what matters to us is our ability to console ourselves.
Depression strips away all internal and external ways with which we comfort and console ourselves. Suddenly, you can’t rely on yourself anymore. A question keeps haunting you. What can I do? The emphasis being on the ‘I’ here. It feels like there is nothing that you can do. It may not be true, especially if you’re hiding your depression and not asking for help, but that is how it feels.
It feels like no solutions exist.
This article was written for Inside-Out. The present version has been edited by and for The Shrinking Couch. Read the original version here.