What Depression Actually Feels Like


I’m not depressed. That’s what I tell myself. Well, that’s at least what I hope for myself.

I think part of being depressed is that it’s hard to remember the times when you were just plain happy. I do remember times when I felt really happy, but for some reason those times feel more like flickering images on an old film reel and less like, I don’t know, reality.

It’d be too dramatic to say those happy times didn’t have their own stains of frustration and pain, too unfair to say I don’t think others are living a similar reality. Still, peering around this coffee shop that’s humming with espresso energy and immense idealism, it’s hard for me not to slink back to my keyboard and wonder if I’m the only one stuck in a winter that can’t be changed by a date on the calendar.

The way we typecast depression in America would be a funny thing if it weren’t so tragic.

Before I encountered it myself, depression felt like ghost sightings: I’d believe your sincerity if you’d experienced it, but I’d also secretly think you’d only see it if you had the desire to find it.

But here I am, and depression feels like anything but a mathematical equation sprung out onto the streets of life. It’d be easier if it was; if x circumstance plus y conflict plus z relationship equaled depression, I’d tinker with the left side to change the result on the right.

I see now that depression ain’t like mathematics. I don’t know my bout with depression like I know that 2 + 2 = 4, but more like I know when I have a headache. I can tell you what it feels like but I can’t spell out the logic.

So let me invite you into a vulnerable space of what this season of depression is actually like.

I co-founded a campus movement that ended up spreading nationally when I was in high school. I had just become a Christian a half-year ago and had a Disney world experience of Christian faith. I secretly had a standard for myself that I’d be launching Jesus-movements, delivering dynamic messages, and orchestrating life-change for the rest of my life.

Well, I quickly fell short of that standard.

Have I become less than who I used to be? There’s honestly no question that makes me more afraid. That’s because the question shutters a self-evident yes.

Have I been hiding behind hurts? Have I avoided confronting insecurities? Have I avoided confronting the beautiful gifts still inside? Do I have the strength to stop sleeping next to Mickey Mouse and waking up expecting a fairy tale, needle-in-a-haystack life?

Questions are what this depression feels like, but they feel less like questions inviting a journey and more like questions standing above me like a playground bully out to make me feel ten inches tall.

It wasn’t until I almost died of pneumonia last fall that I realized how much change had begun to take place. There, in a world where I was stuck to a hospital bed and had to ask for permission to pee, I realized that I had officially come out of this happy and passionate Jesus-craze I’d been on since high school.

This depression didn’t feel like night and day, but more like a nightmare for which I can’t remember the beginning; a story I didn’t pick, and an ending for which I only hope.

Maybe it was the Bible classes I took at college that shook a little bit of the kid out of me and made me wonder if any of the stuff in the Bible really happened. Or maybe it was being worn down by family conflict. Or realizing that, in the “adult” world, people have to worry about financing more than just foot-long Subway sandwiches, 99-cent Arizona teas, and Twins tickets. Or maybe it was just a matter of time.

Either way, if what I’m living now is still authentic, it’s the kind of authentic that’s impatient, frustrated, and self-focused.

It’s the kind of authentic with wounds balmed up in half-smiling and passing conversations where we wouldn’t know how to describe how we are even if the person asking cared to actually know.

It’s the kind that knows it should pray but wonders how and why; the kind that wants to be caught up in that big, grand Bible story but still struggles how to make the 2,000-year jump from then to now.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t know what it means to have the blues, and I’m not sure I could even give up hope long enough for it to truly sound like having the blues. But that’s the point. Maybe sometimes depression is pitch-darkness, Spaghetti-O-stained sweatpants, nonstop weeping, and visceral self-hate.

But experience has taught me it’s lots of grey, Guess jeans, a feverish heart, and wondering why I don’t smile as much as I used to.

And I wonder what it’d be like to lift that veil and shatter caricatures, calling them stupid and unhelpful when they make us islands drifting further apart instead of ordinary people sharing a common humanity; wanting good things but tripped up by all kinds of brokenness, both inside and outside ourselves.

I’ve got no pretenses. My hands are emptied of lessons to teach. But I’ve got a space you and I can share together. Together, we can break caricatures and confront winters beyond the calendar.

And we can even hope for springs beyond the calendar, too.