Depression. Part II


[When I was young] I remember being endlessly entertained by the adventures of my toys. Some days they died repeated, violent deaths, other days they traveled to space or discussed my swim lessons and how I absolutely should be allowed in the deep end of the pool, especially since I was such a talented doggy-paddler.

I didn’t understand why it was fun for me, it just was.

But as I grew older, it became harder and harder to access that expansive imaginary space that made my toys fun. I remember looking at them and feeling sort of frustrated and confused that things weren’t the same.

I played out all the same story lines that had been fun before, but the meaning had disappeared. Horse’s Big Space Adventure transformed into holding a plastic horse in the air, hoping it would somehow be enjoyable for me. Prehistoric Crazy-Bus Death Ride was just smashing a toy bus full of dinosaurs into the wall while feeling sort of bored and unfulfilled.  I could no longer connect to my toys in a way that allowed me to participate in the experience.

Depression feels almost exactly like that, except about everything.

At first, though, the invulnerability that accompanied the detachment was exhilarating. At least as exhilarating as something can be without involving real emotions.

The beginning of my depression had been nothing but feelings, so the emotional deadening that followed was a welcome relief.  I had always wanted to not give a fuck about anything. I viewed feelings as a weakness — annoying obstacles on my quest for total power over myself. And I finally didn’t have to feel them anymore.

But my experiences slowly flattened and blended together until it became obvious that there’s a huge difference between not giving a fuck and not being able to give a fuck. Cognitively, you might know that different things are happening to you, but they don’t feel very different.

Which leads to horrible, soul-decaying boredom.

I tried to get out more, but most fun activities just left me existentially confused or frustrated with my inability to enjoy them.

It’s weird for people who still have feelings to be around depressed people. They try to help you have feelings again so things can go back to normal, and it’s frustrating for them when that doesn’t happen. From their perspective, it seems like there has got to be some untapped source of happiness within you that you’ve simply lost track of, and if you could just see how beautiful things are…

At first, I’d try to explain that it’s not really negativity or sadness anymore, it’s more just this detached, meaningless fog where you can’t feel anything about anything — even the things you love, even fun things — and you’re horribly bored and lonely, but since you’ve lost your ability to connect with any of the things that would normally make you feel less bored and lonely, you’re stuck in the boring, lonely, meaningless void without anything to distract you from how boring, lonely, and meaningless it is.

But people want to help. So they try harder to make you feel hopeful and positive about the situation. You explain it again, hoping they’ll try a less hope-centric approach, but re-explaining your total inability to experience joy inevitably sounds kind of negative; like maybe you WANT to be depressed. The positivity starts coming out in a spray — a giant, desperate happiness sprinkler pointed directly at your face. And it keeps going like that until you’re having this weird argument where you’re trying to convince the person that you are far too hopeless for hope just so they’ll give up on their optimism crusade and let you go back to feeling bored and lonely by yourself.

And that’s the most frustrating thing about depression. It isn’t always something you can fight back against with hope. It isn’t even something — it’s nothing. And you can’t combat nothing. You can’t fill it up. You can’t cover it. It’s just there, pulling the meaning out of everything. That being the case, all the hopeful, proactive solutions start to sound completely insane in contrast to the scope of the problem.

I started spending more time alone.

Perhaps it was because I lacked the emotional depth necessary to panic, or maybe my predicament didn’t feel dramatic enough to make me suspicious, but I somehow managed to convince myself that everything was still under my control right up until I noticed myself wishing that nothing loved me so I wouldn’t feel obligated to keep existing.


To read the rest of this, including the cartoons, please visit Hyperbole and a Half.


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  • Thanks for posting that Pete. It is probably the best description I have seen of what it is like being me when the black dog strikes.

  • Whafe

    A very good piece, it gets so hard to explain the whole topic to those that don’t understand it… The key for me is to know the signs early of the “black dog” and try to prevent it from striking, of which sometimes is successful other times not….

  • Mediaan

    A survey of hundreds of pieces of research shows that the most effective treatment is regular exercise. It beats all forms of “therapy”.

    • It is an important element in a mix of strategies. To write off “all forms of therapy” is probably a bit rash. It may not have been relevant for you, but that doesn’t mean others can’t benefit. (downvotes not mine)

      • Mediaan

        I believe it is right.

        This was a massive “review of the research literature”. From memory, hundreds of people, students at a university, worked on it.

        They just straight-out compared studies of the results of “exercise” with every form they could find of “therapy” including medical methods and talk methods. They had a statistically reliable method of approach.

        The problem is, exercise is free. It doesn’t make money for anyone.

        People need to realise that the public can be misinformed to suit financial interests in various parts of psychiatry and its attendant industries, including sales of pharmaceuticals. I know it sounds cynical, but we have also to avoid being unduly naive.

        Our government spends $11bn a year on health.

        • Whafe

          I agree that regular exercise is a huge benefit. It may not benefit all…

          But to run 3 times per week, cycle twice per week and try and fit a swim in is awesome therapy for me…. Hard to do that each week, but the runs are a must and at least one cycle.

      • Mediaan

        BTW it is not something I have tried personally.

  • Mediaan

    Interesting theory on depression:
    (Seligman). It is the same as “learned helplessness”.

  • thor42

    An excellent article.

    I find that one of the most annoying things about depression is that it sucks the motivation out of you.

    I’m a programmer and I have always enjoyed doing a bit of coding at home too, but depression means that I often just can’t be bothered. Same with running – I used to do lots of that but gave it up a couple of years ago because of no motivation.

    • Travis Poulson

      Get back into the running again, I have been. I’m not calling it a magic bullet for depression, or even claiming it to be any kind of remedy at all, but it sure helps me with motivation with all aspects of life not just physically.

      Hardest thing is getting the shoes on for the first time and getting out there again.

  • Polish Pride

    I would also agree this is the best explanation I have seen on how it felt for me. Interesting that so many commentators on here suffer from it just as a side note.

  • PlanetOrphan

    Diet is the biggest contributing factor for me.
    Without enough calcium my ghost gets tired.
    Exercise makes it worse , because my guts don’t work and are heavily scarred.
    I now live alone, spoken word can’t torture me when I’m alone.
    Everyone has different “cards” they live with, understanding them and living with what you have and not what someone else has is the best answer to depression I’ve found.