Why Depression Is So Gripping
Updated: May 16
Do you feel depressed or know someone who feels depressed? Do you wonder why depression is so hard to overcome? Here’s what I wish everyone knew about the many confusing feelings of depression. I hope you find at least one thing here to help you or someone you care about struggling with mental health.
Feeling depressed is not something you choose. Sometimes the feelings of depression come at predictable times – the morning dread when you’re supposed to be getting out of bed; the dead of night when you wish you were sleeping; the long, hard days it’s hard to do anything at all. Sometimes the feelings come unexpectedly – with the weight of responsibility, the fear of conflict, the pinch of hurtful words, a painful memory, when things don’t go right. Sometimes the feelings come in the everyday moments of life – seeing a mess, sitting on the couch, driving, brushing your teeth, date nights, out with friends, times you want to be feeling happy.
You hear the voice of the part of you that is depressed, you see the darkness approaching, one by one the thoughts you’ve tried to erase consume you, and the light fades. In the varying shades of dark, the feelings of depression change. Sometimes…
…you just feel sad, tired, lonely, distracted, irritated, fatigued, unmotivated, or frustrated.
…your chest aches, there’s a pit deep in your stomach, or you feel heavy and weighed down.
…your body radiates pain in a place where you hold your emotions, or everywhere all at once.
…you wish you could escape your own skin, clear the fog in front of your eyes, or quiet the chaos and noise blaring so loudly you want to scream and silence everything.
…there’s pressure behind your eyes, like a dam holding back a flood of water but no tears come out.
…you weep until your mouth is dry and your body is drained.
…you feel like an empty shell of the person people see, hollow or sucked in by the void of the hole inside, and you have nothing left to give.
…the feelings come like waves crashing over you and you’re drowning from the voices of negative self talk.
…you’re being held down under anger and unfortunate circumstance.
…you’re wrapped in a tight embrace, and you eventually surrender to it’s hold, collapsing into the walls that close you off from everyone and everything.
…you’re crushed with guilt for feeling these ways when there are good things in your life you’re supposed to be enjoying and appreciating.
…your body is exhausted from having to work so hard through every step of life like dragging yourself through deep, sticky mud.
…you feel trapped as though you were stuck in quicksand or gripped by chains, and it seems there’s no escape.
You fight off the feelings, you cope. You try the things you’ve learned and been told you can do to be happier. The list is long (but seriously useful – try something you haven’t yet):
eat good foods (even the yucky but healthy ones), limit the fake delicious stuff
drink water (skip the chalky powders), avoid you know what ones
breathe slow and deep into the belly
do yoga and meditation
read blogs and books
choose what you watch and listen to and prioritize
take classes (I even bought those courses you find on Facebook advertisements)
get a dog, a cat, or any pet (cuddle and take good care of them)
walk, run, climb, hike, swim, dance, or move your body any way you can
swing and play like a kid again
hum and sing in the shower, car, or anywhere you please
connect with greater powers
check hormone and mineral levels in your blood (and pee tests in case you’re pregnant)
supplement with vitamins, plants, or medications
say positive affirmations and express gratitude
write it down
color, draw, and paint
smile and laugh and love yourself (even if you don’t feel it yet)
do self care and things that increase happy hormones (my favorite is eating dark chocolate)
garden, get outside, feel the earth, and soak in the sunshine and vitamin d
get some hobbies and join a club
help others and volunteer
share your gifts and talents
exercise and play a sport
nap and take time off to rest
get off your phone (not right this moment, but later, when you’re scrolling)
go to bed early and get up early (kudos to anyone who actually can)
talk and hang out with neighbors, friends, or strangers
take yourself on dates and enjoy your own company (yes, it’s okay to go to a restaurant or movie alone)
go on vacations (even minis and staycations)
treat yourself (anything counts if it brings you joy)
get massages and find good health professionals (shout out to the doctors, chiropractors, acupuncturists, naturopaths, and other healers)
get b-shots in your ass and pins poked in all places (the only one I haven’t tried is getting a tattoo)
give long hugs and cry on shoulders
ask for help, talk to someone, and please, go to therapy (I practice what I preach)
and the list goes on (tell me what I’m missing)
And sometimes something works. Maybe you backpedal out of the quicksand, break free, ease your way out, get pulled from depression’s grip, or at least keep your head up, breathing. By some reason or surprise the darkness lessens, ranging from the briefest flash to days or weeks or months in brightness. You try to enjoy the moments of relief, but your body’s learned it’s not safe to feel when you can’t protect yourself.
Sometimes the light fades, but other times it just flips off and you fall into blackness, trapped deep in a pit of quicksand stealing breath from you, and you’re terrified of losing everything and suffocating. Sometimes your struggle to escape the feeling sinks you deeper.
Hold on. Pause. Put the list away. Against every urge in your body to fight or flee, sometimes to get out of quicksand you need to lean back. Just relax and trust you will not be submerged. Even in the darkest moments, it can be safe to sense inside and experience the feelings of depression. Your feelings will not hurt you.
You hold sadness in your body. You grieve lost loves and dreams, mistakes and imperfections. You feel the shame of believing you are bad and wishing you could disappear.
You feel the loneliness of hiding and finding shelter in despair. Connecting with others brings up more painful feelings. You avoid the bitter sting of relating to people, whether they are harmless, hurtful, or want to help.
You feel the burn of anger because you have been hurt. You are not always in control, things are often harder than they seem, very little comes easy, life isn’t fair, and you can’t change what you most want to.
You dwell in the pit with the feelings of depression. In the darkest places lives hopelessness…never going to feel better…can’t do this anymore…don’t want to be here…they’d be better off...you just don’t want to suffer anymore. Of course. You were never meant to feel this way. But your feelings are real and valid, and they have meaning. They are asking you to tend to the wounds beneath.
Even in darkness, there is light within you. You can float in quicksand. Know you are seen exactly as you are, and you are worthy. You are not alone. You matter. People care. Acknowledge all the difficulty you have survived, get help even when it is hard, look to where you still can go, and keep making tiny movements forward. You can find safety, build secure relationships, and create moments of joy and peace and happiness. You can love and be loved.
It’s okay to feel depressed. It’s okay to feel all the things. You are not weak. You are human. Living, breathing, feeling, hurting, and healing. Together.
If you or someone you know struggles with depression, be kind. Reach out for help today. We're listening.
Carol is a psychologist and the founder of Therapy Alberta, a private group practice with local psychologists, social workers, and counsellors offering individual, couples, and family counselling and therapy in Calgary and across Alberta.