Depression is widely stigmatised in society. People who don’t get it keep stating it is a choice, that our lives are in our hands, and all that guru-like advice that not only excludes people who struggle with their mental health but also invalidates their feelings.
Depression symptoms are real and valid. I dream about a world where it’s OK to not feel OK.
My depression makes me feel embarrassed all the time. The constant tiredness, lateness, demotivation, mood swings, and everything that revolves around it create an image of myself I am not proud of.
Reading about other people’s experiences helped with my sense of belonging. So finally, by the end of the Mental Illness Awareness month, I got the courage to share my own experience. What does living with depression feel like? I gathered a list of my top 5 symptoms of depression, in no particular order.
I am tired all the time
People constantly ask me what time did I go to bed because my yawning rate suggests I was awake all night. I wasn’t. I usually go to bed before midnight. But my fatigue is independent of my sleep quality. It’s quite possible that yawning is also a side-effect of my antidepressants.
At work, this is a serious problem. I had one team leader who actually found it funny and joked that I immediately started to yawn when he approached me for something. It was funny in a friendly way, so I got lucky that time.
But I also had the opposite. When I started to work in a new role during the pandemics, my colleagues got seriously annoyed from listening to my yawns through the microphone and rudely told me that I should go to bed earlier tonight. No, it was not a healthy environment and I’m glad I’m not there anymore. The point is that yawning is still considered by many people — particularly in the professional sectors — as a rude gesture and is linked to a lack of organization to get enough sleep. I know it’s not something in my control, but it still embarrasses me to feel like yawning constantly.
When I don’t have to set an alarm to wake up early, I let myself sleep during the morning. Everybody does it right?
However, when for some people sleeping late means waking up refreshed at 10 AM and going to have brunch somewhere, for me it means waking up at 2 PM feeling like a trainwreck.
During college, I blamed this on my hangovers. I partied a lot, drank a lot, smoked a lot. Consequentially, I would spend my weekends in bed eating pizza and watching trash TV. I eventually found out that those self-destructing habits were also a symptom of my mental conditions, particularly my troubles fitting in. I thought this would naturally change when I graduated, but it didn’t.
I quit the parties and the associated habits years ago. But my body seems to ignore that and continues to want to stay in bed. It’s like I’m a smartphone with an old battery that doesn’t fully recharge anymore. I can always sleep some more.
What about the week?, you may ask. It wouldn’t be so embarrassing if this only happened during the weekend, but unfortunately, my depression doesn’t discriminate against dates. Morning is a synonym of pain for me. I still haven’t found a way of waking up effectively. Most of the time, the anxiety of having an appointment makes me jump out of bed at the last minute. But when I have a bad night of sleep — as we all do, sometimes — nothing will get me out of bed. I sleep over my alarm clock, the sun entering my window, my cat meowing by my door, and, probably, a zombie Apocalypse devastating my entire neighborhood.
Sleep issues are a common symptom of depression. In my case, they manifest through oversleeping (also called hypersomnia) but it can happen as insomnia, difficulty falling asleep, or even revenge bedtime procrastination. In a society that prioritizes productivity so much, these conditions are commonly mistaken for laziness and disorganization.
I lost count on how many times I was mocked by my friends and family for being asleep all morning instead of joining them in some activity. They simply cannot understand it’s not a deliberate choice but a clinical condition that causes me a lot of worries.
Being always late
Being late in the morning is a direct consequence of the situation I described in the last point. With my unbelievable capacity to snooze to the infinity, I am constantly getting late for work. Due to this, the home office has been quite a blessing in my life.
But even during most of the day, I easily get late for things. It’s actually ironic because in my teenage years I used to get annoyed for always being too early for any event and consequently, having to wait for everyone else.
If you ask me why am I chronically late, I have no idea. Most of my time I feel zoned out. My mind easily wanders and I get immersed by useless things like scrolling to the infinity in a Pinterest board until I don’t even remember what I was looking for. Sometimes, I am doing a task, let’s say, writing an article, and I get stuck on a paragraph.
My mind easily starts rambling. Remember that shirt we’ve seen on sale yesterday? I wonder if it’s still on sale, let’s check out and stay scrolling on the website forever. Once I notice, 2 hours have passed by and I still have the article to write before my singing class that is scheduled for the next 20 minutes.
So, I start to write, don’t have time to finish it, stay a bit longer to try to finish but don’t finish it anyway. Then I get late for class, skip the voice warm up, have a mediocre performance, and feel bad about myself, as someone with low self-esteem and depression does.
Low productivity, focus, and drive
I constantly wonder how is life for people who don’t have brain fog. I have some faded memories of not having it, but they’re impossible to rebuild.
I used to be the student who sits in the front, answering the teachers’ questions fearlessly, and always had my homework done. I know I used to listen to my teachers’ explanations in every subject from beginning to end, almost 90 minutes straight. I used to make the visual arts projects for half of my class. I was elected the synchronized swimming team leader because I was the most assiduous and punctual athlete of our 6 times a week training! I have no idea who is that person anymore.
Now, I take ages to complete simple tasks. I do it, eventually, but not without a huge amount of procrastination first. I can take 40 minutes only to choose the playlist or the podcast I’m going to listen to during the workday. Then, I do everything in a numb state. I hated working in an open space because I was constantly being interrupted by people talking or moving around me and once I get out of focus, it is really hard for me to get back to it. Meetings are really painful for me because I get lost after 5 minutes. I am very insecure about committing to goals and checkpoints because I don’t trust myself anymore.
It comes off as I’m uninterested and unprofessional. And honestly, I don’t think there is a way I can prove that I’m genuinely interested in something but my brain simply cannot collaborate.
I get angry all the time. I get angry with others, I get angry with myself, I get angry with everything. I’m usually not a smiling person, even when I am around friends or doing something enjoyable — whatever enjoyable means.
I get infuriated with myself when everyone around me is enjoying something — a movie or a concert, for example —and I cannot feel absolutely anything. I also get really frustrated when I show someone a song, a movie, or a book I believe describes exactly how I feel and they don’t understand. I feel completely defeated when I’m going through a tough time and they suggest calling my mother or going for a walk. I know they are only trying to help but that only makes me feel even more misunderstood.
I get really disconnected from the World when people don’t understand that important dates usually are the worst for me. Christmas, New Year’s Eve, or even my birthday usually reminds me of trauma and made me even sadder for not feeling as happy as I think I supposed to be during these days.
Consequently, when someone gets enthusiastic around me, I cannot give it back. It makes me really unlikeable and hard to fit in. That is one of the reasons I actually prefer to spend time by myself and people find it quite confusing because I am not shy, I’m actually very talkative when I’m around but then I often don’t want to join them on many occasions.
What does living with depression feel like?
Maybe you cringed while reading my honest words. That was exactly the point of this story: how depression is an embarrassing condition to have in so many ways.
The fact that I’m always tired, late, sleepy, and angry makes me be perceived as rude, lazy, irresponsible, and unprofessional.
Depressed people struggle with particular obstacles in their mundane lives that manifest differently for everyone. It’s about time to break the stigma with mental issues and be more understanding with people.
If you know someone who is struggling with depression, check yourself on how you respond to their unconventional behaviors and habits.
If you are the one struggling, I hope my words have made you feel some validation. I invite you to also share your experience if you feel like it.
Have a wonderful day!