What is it like to NOT be depressed?
September 16, 2015 7:26 PM   Subscribe

Either versus being depressed, or not (what I'm saying is, I'm fine with answers from never-depressed people but also comparative answers from those who have gone through depressive periods and recovery).

I have been diagnosed with depression before but I'm not at all convinced I have it or have ever had it; regardless, I don't feel like I have a baseline for depressed vs. not-depressed so I was curious to see what others had to say. Additionally, it's always seemed to me like a ton of people are depressed, or even like most people are depressed per the classical definitions. So I was wondering what a life without depression was actually like, since it's obviously not Literally Happy Always. What is it like to not be experiencing some sort of clinical depression (whether major depressive disorder, dysthymia, depressive phase of bipolar disorder etc.)? I understand different people will give vastly different answers, I'm just looking for individual experiences + commonalities.
posted by hejrat to Health & Fitness (48 answers total) 114 users marked this as a favorite
For me pregnancy lifted my depression. I explained it to my husband that even though we went through some terrifying stuff and I was crying in the shower at one point I was also marvelling because I was crying but I was also baseline happy? It was odd for me, but I didn't have this dragging sad-exhaustion, even though I was scared at times, or sad, and obviously exhausted! but it was situational. Feeling those things as discrete emotions, not as overwhelming states of being, basically.

And it's similar to when I am depressed - it isn't that I am unable to laugh, or feel happiness sometimes, it's that my baseline is sad exhaustion and when there's no happy-making then I'm back to that again.

I'm back on medication after a long time off it, and some of my depression/anxiety is situational (hi grad school!) but I'm finding something similar beginning to happen now - not as sudden as pregnancy was, but this slow realisation that when I go to baseline I just am. Not happy, not sad-exhausted, just me. I am often tired or exhausted (see: grad school. working PT, primary carer for my child, new meds, pre-existing physical conditions) but they have a reason and a fix available.
posted by geek anachronism at 7:39 PM on September 16, 2015 [5 favorites]

I have pretty severe depression unmedicated, but I am generally not depressed when I am. I think the single biggest difference is having hope, or the ability to hope for anything. I'm not always happy, obviously, but things stop seeming like a never-ending parade of shit even if my immediate circumstances aren't always great. I can better carve out a path to at least a little closer to where I want to be rather than immediately seeing a thousand paths to things getting worse and saying "why even bother."

A big part of getting better, for me, was being able to let myself hope for stuff even though depression had trained me to that hoping for stuff was futile and dumb and ultimately pointless. And obviously just as you're not always happy, not everything you hope for you get, but you do get some things and it becomes a virtuous circle of reinforcement. And being psychologically able to allow myself to enter the waters and get caught up in it is a big part of not-depressed for me.
posted by griphus at 7:41 PM on September 16, 2015 [16 favorites]

For me its more tangibly physical. Restless unsatiable boredom. And nothing ever at all not possible sounds good to break the boredom. And the malaise and boredom feels physically crushing. It's very .... It's a very sense thing for me. I physically feel it long before i realize that it's depression.
posted by chasles at 7:45 PM on September 16, 2015 [10 favorites]

I have experienced a few episodes of a fairly immobilizing depression, and will get low-grade depression during periods of stress and especially in winter. I notice the difference when I come up out of it: it's literally looking around one day and feeling something like "ah, this is right. This is how I feel when I feel healthy." It's not some caricature of happiness, it's a calm, non-reactive, balanced feeling, that there is energy present to have ideas and act on them, that I feel well disposed to talking to fellow humans (rather than wanting to avoid them), that I can enjoy thinking about the future and feeling hope, that I can josh around and see my problems in context rather than as disastrous, that I don't overreact, that I get up and think about what I might want to do today rather than not getting up or being preoccupied with the lousy things that are probably going to happen, that I walk around and notice things and people in the world and find them interesting, that I get curious about thigns, that I think of ideas and reach out to people. It feels really different from my depressive times, but during depressive times I almost wholly forget what it feels like.
posted by Miko at 7:46 PM on September 16, 2015 [42 favorites]

You get up in the morning. It's not hard to get out of bed. You shower, eat a healthy breakfast, and walk the dog. You go to work. You actually get things done and can sustain thoughts. You smile and greet your coworkers. When some work crisis happens, you deal with it without feeling like a complete failure and without feeling your coworkers are out to get you. You go home. Eat a healthy dinner, listen to your child patiently. Put her to bed, putter around, then go to bed yourself. It is easy to go to sleep and you sleep all night uninterrupted.
posted by crazycanuck at 7:49 PM on September 16, 2015 [90 favorites]

For me, when I'm not depressed I find myself getting excited about projects and wanting to commit to things I care about. It's easier to take care of things as well - basic responsibilities like housekeeping, staying on top of work, etc - are all just more manageable. I don't feel happy all the time, but happiness is more accessible, if that makes sense. I'm more likely to be creative as well. Reaching out to others feels more easy and natural, and while I don't feel confident all the time I am more likely to feel confident. I can still get frustrated and overwhelmed, but it happens less frequently.

This part sounds odd: but I also want to shop more and feel motivated to put more care into my appearance when I'm not depressed.
posted by bunderful at 7:53 PM on September 16, 2015 [9 favorites]

Simple example:

I'm not depressed. I decide to text a friend because I'd love to hang out soon. They don't respond for a day or two. I'm bummed, but my non-depressed brain figures they must have a lot going on so I should try again or call and their silence has nothing to do with me.

I'm depressed. I force myself to text a friend, because it's been forever since I did so and I'm afraid it's making them mad at me. I hope they don't suggest we go do anything, because I'd rather not leave the house. They don't respond for a day or two. I convince myself that indeed they do hate me. I cry for a while about how I'm worthless as a human and a friend.

So for me it boils down to resiliency, desire for interaction, self-esteem, and my threshold at which I become overwhelmed with life.
posted by cecic at 7:54 PM on September 16, 2015 [55 favorites]

You're thinking the diagnoses were wrong, and that you're just low-key, or maybe that you've got a left-of-centre "set point" for happiness? (I think that if such a thing exists, the biological baseline can probably be nudged up a significant number of notches with good health, nutrition, sleep, and fitness, and down a good few when those areas are lacking, or that's been my experience.)

When I've been depressed, I've felt full-body sad, heavy (to the core - pained). Or just numb, indifferent to everything. Cognitively slow - I'd have to read a paragraph several times to penetrate it. Physically lethargic. Resigned - well past even frustration at things not working out. Irritated by people, and alienated from them. I don't think I ever quite completely let go of hope, but the mechanics of getting out of the pit (or rut) were beyond my imagination.

When not depressed, I feel just ok - usually emotionally neutral when alone or working on something (also - I am working on something); uplifted after visiting with friends, or seeing something inspiring, or engaging in physical or creative activities. Sometimes just randomly, when it's sunny or I hear a good song. I can a) decide to do something and b) just do it. I can read and think without difficulty. I can laugh freely. I feel sad when something upsetting happens. In terms of physical energy, I'm variable - it comes and goes in bursts, interspersed with low-key times. (I'm not bipolar, to my knowledge, it's never been suggested - seems to be more related to sleep issues and just sensitivity to stuff in and out of my body.) I enjoy communicating with people most of the time.

Depression came after anxiety, for me - I do still have anxiety about things, but it's about particular things for reasons that make sense, and I can let go of it when I find solutions to the problems I was worried about.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:03 PM on September 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

This part sounds odd: but I also want to shop more and feel motivated to put more care into my appearance when I'm not depressed.

Oh this is actually a really big deal for me in a more general sense: self-care of any sort becomes a manageable, beneficial activity instead seeming like of a pointless waste of time (and therefore often neglected.) The invisible but very real impediment to self-care I get because of depression goes away. Self-care is still hard work, but I'm more inclined to do it and I have the strength to do it. I can better see the benefit from eating well, maintaining good hygiene and caring for and rewarding myself, and, at the most basic level, feeling like I have inherent worth.
posted by griphus at 8:05 PM on September 16, 2015 [18 favorites]

During the parts of the day when I'm required to or have chosen to be out & about, I'm not constantly thinking about what it'd feel like to be laying in bed just kind of staring at the wall.
posted by augustimagination at 8:05 PM on September 16, 2015 [6 favorites]

This part sounds odd: but I also want to shop more and feel motivated to put more care into my appearance when I'm not depressed.

Yes! I can usually tell I'm falling into depressed patterns when I have a couple nights in a row when just brushing my teeth before bed feels like a giant awful burden, rather than a normal two-minute easy task that I just automatically do.
posted by augustimagination at 8:07 PM on September 16, 2015 [8 favorites]

Biggest fix for me has been exercise, in this instance strength training. I still sometimes feel grey and exhausted but for the most part it keeps it at bay. Quitting drinking (quite so much) helped a bit as well.

Depression for me was a complete inability to focus on anything other than how sad I felt. "Sad because I'm so sad all the time" was basically the start of it, which quickly spiralled into self-disgust, which quickly spiralled into self-destruction, which takes you from sadness to hate. Depression is hating yourself. You can't get to sleep at night but you don't want to get out of bed. You just lay there in the darkness wanting to kill yourself but not having the guts to do it because what if you fuck it up? Then you'll hate yourself and have severed nerves to boot and you won't be able to use your hands. Then you hate what an incompetent coward you are.

It's rubbish, all of it.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:08 PM on September 16, 2015 [8 favorites]

I knew that I no longer felt depression when I had an ability to feel pleasure. I had not realized how thoroughly depression had sucked joy from my life. For example:

- Being able to laugh at funny things whereas before I would just nod and think, "Yes, this is funny."
- Listening to music and wanting to dance.
- Enjoying social interaction instead of skipping straight to full throttle social anxiety. I'm still nervous sometimes but it doesn't blot out all of my enjoyment.
- Better orgasms. A normal sex drive. Feeling physically attracted to other people. I actually thought I had some deeply repressed homosexual urges but it turns out that depression squashed my sex drive to almost nothing.

It's also not as if I couldn't feel pleasure at all but it was greatly reduced and as soon as I stopped doing Fun Thing, any joy I had would instantly evaporate and I'd be left in the same dark hole as where I started. Now doing fun things fills me and satisfies me in a way it hadn't before.
posted by joeyjoejoejr at 8:09 PM on September 16, 2015 [10 favorites]

I've definitely had extensive years-long depressive periods, but they were caused by external factors (i.e. ongoing ostracization/bullying/abuse by classmates, or the death of a parent as a teenager, or shitty job conditions, or extended unemployment, etc). So not a chemical imbalance, despite the fact that my dad is SO convinced I'm clinically depressed and one therapist I saw as a teenager seemed intent on putting me on meds that did nothing for me.

Anyway, during those depressive periods I felt much heavier and more tired. I always felt anxious, like there was something eating away at me but there was nothing I could do. Also I'd often feel a twinge in my stomach, sort of like butterflies when you're public speaking. My mind would obsessively hang on particular topics that stressed me out, even if they weren't related to the cause of my depression. For example, when I was unemployed/underemployed for a year and struggling financially, I became obsessively distressed about my teeth being slightly crooked. I became more easily annoyed by noises caused by my roommates. It was harder for me to get into a comfy position in bed. So basically small things bothered me to a much greater extent than they normally would.

When I'm not depressed, I don't feel those things. It's not that I feel 100% happy all the time, I just feel more "neutral" than depressed. The little things like my teeth being crooked or roommate noises don't bother me as much, I don't feel as heavy or tired, and I don't feel anxious all the time. When my mind wanders I'm more likely to think of neutral things and not dread over things. Sure there might be moments/situations where I do feel anxious (like if I drop something expensive at work or say something embarassing) but the feeling passes as soon as the moment is over. My emotions are more transient and in-the-moment.

I think, since most of my childhood was spent being depressed, I initially thought that my depressive state was "neutral" and normal, but when I was finally able to find myself in a better life situation, I realized what my real "neutral" is.
posted by picklenickle at 8:15 PM on September 16, 2015 [8 favorites]

Love so many of these answers, relate to so many things here! Also wanted to add ...

Depressed Me finds the slightest problem overwhelming and un-surmountable. e.g. need Ingredient X for a recipe, none available at the grocery store where I am, the thought of going to a different grocery store seems like too much to bear, it's so far away, it means more time in the car, the other store might be closed, even if they're open they won't have Ingredient X there either, I can never find what I need in any store, what's the point in even trying to cook anything... I remember literally standing in a Publix crying in front of a blank spot on the cereal aisle where Honey Nut Cheerios should have been.

Non-Depressed (Medicated) Me can cope with such setbacks and experience small annoyances without becoming mired in despair. No Honey Nut here, I can eat regular or multi-grain or just get some next time, no worries. Embrace the Crispix instead.
posted by mccxxiii at 8:29 PM on September 16, 2015 [22 favorites]

The many wonderful answers already here are overwhelming. But, for me:

-- serious depression: routine thoughts of suicide, that fantasy being a regular feature of life, plans on how to go through with that; any worst-case scenario (and many transient things could fall into that category) has that possible answer

-- depression: can't derive happiness from what are, to a non-depressed person, clearly fabulous parts of life; occasional thoughts of offing oneself, some understanding that that's not rational

-- recovery: seeing where things were wrong, where your brain lied, in the depressed mode; still "depressed" but can empathize with and understand "depressed" problems sometimes in a non-"depressed" context

-- "normal": able to experience joy, especially experiencing it without the idea that "this won't last!" but with confidence that joy is a routine part of life, even if there are dark moments

-- on the other side of the fence: difficulty understanding what happened to you in those years, limited ability to understand "depressed" modes of thought, recognition of stuff like "I am tired and hungry and feeling bad -- I need to eat and sleep" instead of "I must be depressed again," and, the only bad part about that space is you no longer fully grok it. Your coping skills hit a point where you have trouble understanding why you didn't have those coping skills before.

I remember but I don't understand. I have some situational upset going on right now, but it is handled in the way you see non-depressed people handle it: this stuff is really bad, right, but obviously it's not the rest of my life, so, let's take whatever small steps are available to go forward and get out of this bad thing, because there are always those steps. It is that belief in the way out, I think, that is the hardest line between "depressed"/"not depressed."
posted by kmennie at 8:31 PM on September 16, 2015 [9 favorites]

I spent the ages of roughly 15 to 23 suffering from severe depression (although clinical was not my primary diagnosis; the depression was more an extension of other diagnoses/issues). I am not currently depressed, and I haven't been for a few years.

One of the biggest differences for me is that I'm actually capable of enjoying things. When I was depressed, I couldn't find pleasure in any of the things I used to love. For example, I grew up riding horses, and it was (and now is) one of my favorite things. But when I was depressed, I would go out to the barn every day (had to take care of my horse), but for weeks at a time I wouldn't have the energy to ride. Sometimes, I would sit on the floor of the stall watching my horse eat hay, because I just felt too depressed to move. After awhile, I convinced myself that maybe I just didn't love riding anymore.

But when the depression finally lifted, I remember going back out to the barn (at this point I was living in another city), and it was like I was 12 again. I remembered what it felt like to love everything about being there. To have the energy to ride, to feel engaged, to feel joy. It was like night and day. I remember crying that day, not because I was depressed, but because of a combination of happiness, relief, and a certain sadness, because it wasn't until that moment that I realized just how much depression and mental illness had taken from my life.

On a physical level, I have energy to do things. Not everything feels like a struggle. I can do things I enjoy, and discover new things. It used to feel like I was just carrying this huge weight on me. I didn't want to be anywhere or do anything. I would be lying on my bed, convinced that if the house caught on fire, I would just let myself burn up because I didn't feel like I had the energy to move.

I also remember feeling like everything was so bleak. I hated myself. I thought I was the worst person in the world. I figured everyone hated me. I already felt so overwhelmed by life, that even the smallest setback was insurmountable. Like, having to call the landlord to fix the sink. I just couldn't cope. I was convinced that none of this would ever get better, that there was nothing I could do to make anything better, and that there was no point in trying. I vacillated between actively thinking about suicide, passively wanting to die, or just hoping that a car would hit me or a tree would fall on me. I couldn't imagine what it was like to want to live or to imagine a future that was anything but terrible.

Other things: Self care was huge. Having the motivation to shower, get dressed, put on makeup, do anything other than the bare minimum. When I was depressed, I always washed my hair at night (even though sleeping with wet hair sucks), so that it could dry while I slept, because I didn't have the energy to use a hair dryer. Now, using a hair dryer is no big deal, but back then, it felt like hardest thing in the world.

Now, I enjoy doing self care stuff, and even when I don't, it's not a big deal. I do it anyway. I can handle things like my car getting a flat tire.

On a cognitive level, I often felt like my brain just didn't work. I felt slow and stupid. I had no inspiration for anything. I used to love to write, and now I do love to write, but back then, I would just look at a blank page and have nothing to put on it. In a span of about 5 years, I only worked on one short story. (It was about someone committing suicide, not surprisingly.)

It's not like things are great all the time. I still get stressed out, discouraged, unhappy. But the feelings fade and change. I don't want to die. I can imagine a future that's full of positive things. I feel like I can respond and change when things don't go the way I want them to. I don't hate myself. On the whole, I think I'm a pretty decent person, with my share of flaws, but also plenty of good attributes. I also don't assume other people hate me. I used to find it unfathomable that someone would actually genuinely like me. Now, I don't.

Anyway, this is a long and somewhat disjointed answer, but I hope some of it's helpful.
posted by litera scripta manet at 8:41 PM on September 16, 2015 [13 favorites]

For me, being depressed was being too close to the world, feeling too exposed if it rubbed me the wrong way. If something made me want to slam my head into the desk, it was skin and bone against hard, unforgiving desk. There was no give, no room to maneuver, and no relief.

Being happy, conversely, is having a buffer against life's rough edges. Happiness doesn't make shitty things or circumstances go away or never happen, but it allows you to accept/handle/withstand them a little better. My happiness* is like an ergonomic wrist rest between my skull and the hard, cold desk of life.

*A very specific thing I figured out about myself and will talk to you about if you wish, but may not apply.
posted by carsonb at 9:31 PM on September 16, 2015 [5 favorites]

For me it was simple. I didn't get upset about stupid stuff anymore. When I did get upset it was more reasonable and in-control. The little things I used to obsess over like bad drivers or rudeness just went away. I can now deal with conflict in life with a loving and positive heart.

God, pills are AMAZING!
posted by irisclara at 9:32 PM on September 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Like wearing a concrete suit under your skin flipped inside out, so all your nerves are exposed, and you're carrying a massive crushing weight, and all of this is invisible to everyone else.

I have been a Not Depressed person in Very Bad Situational circumstances, and I used to find imagining being peeled slowly back into a skeleton very peaceful, as in to have everything slowly removed and have only clean smooth bones left behind in silence. The other day, I realised in surprise that I hadn't thought of that for months and trying to imagine it now gave me no quiet sense of content relief because I wasn't so miserable horribly sad.

I've also had periods of clinical depression, fortunately brief, usually hormonal-related, and they were different in texture from the external sadness because they felt like the universe had tilted and it was quite sensibly true that I was simply the worst possible person and this was all pointless and grey. It just felt true. When that lifted, either through medication, hormones fading or time, it was like a click-click ah-hah, duh, no. Like the way a hangover clarity fades and something that seems brilliant when you're drunk becomes silly when you're sober. You have to trust in other people's judgement during the bad seasons, which is hard.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 10:06 PM on September 16, 2015 [6 favorites]

for me, depression meant that my only actual desire was to stop whatever I was doing, no matter where I was, and lie down on the ground and be very small and not move. I would feel that way all the time, although I might only be aware of the desire when I paused my thoughts for a moment. (I remember walking to class one day and seriously considering lying down while crossing the street- not to hurt myself, but because I just wanted to stop.) Depression expressed itself as a lack of feeling, with the physical desire to physically feel nothing as well.
posted by samthemander at 10:12 PM on September 16, 2015 [7 favorites]

Sorry, I focused on the depression part.

Anyway, not being depressed means that I no longer think about holing up into cabinets or lying down on the ground. It means my thoughts are free to control my body in forward action, with no impulse to cease. It is so different, and sure it's not always wonderful, but there is just so much more once you lose the desire to not exist!
posted by samthemander at 10:14 PM on September 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

My depression manifested as a mysterious inability to act or plan. Everything else - the stress, the frustration, the self-doubt - stemmed from that problem in an understandable way. Not being depressed is simply the absence thereof. Being unable to act caused a variety of problems, as you can imagine. I say "mysterious" because that inability never felt like a part of me, and I never had a sense that I could feel its source. It was simply there, blocking me.

So when I changed my diet and my depression disappeared, it was about a week before I noticed. I had been getting to work on time all week, which was unheard of for me. Getting up, getting to work, and doing errands and such had all been a huge hassle before. Now I was getting things done without much fuss. I felt like exactly the same person... just more capable, and less stressed, because I was taking care of things.

Since that time, I've been getting more cheerful and accomplishing better and better things in my work and family. My brain has been under the stress of depression (there's a lot of stress) for at least a decade, and it's recovering as much as it can for someone of my age.

In summary: What it is like (for me) to NOT be depressed is a change in behavior.
posted by yath at 11:25 PM on September 16, 2015

Seconding that it's about resilience and hope, and kmennie's point about not being able to understand the other state when you're not in it.

I've been depressed for a sizeable chunk of my life - maybe severely depressed roughly third of the time over the last fourteen years, and low-grade depressed for a bunch more time on top.

When I'm depressed, the smallest setback feels insurmountable. I will cry and yell about how I should kill myself and everything is futile after very small disappointments. I have no ability to tolerate things not going smoothly - if stuff goes fine, I feel shitty; if stuff doesn't go okay I feel unbelievably shitty.

When I'm depressed, the idea that I might ever not be depressed in the future is not believable, even though I know intellectually that every episode, no matter how deep and long, comes to an end eventually. When I'm not depressed, I can't imagine being depressed again, even though I know it's happened almost every year since I was twelve. It just doesn't seem possible - the two mindsets are alien to one another. And when I'm hypomanic, I tend to feel convinced that I'm cured somehow and I'm going to feel extremely energetic forever. It's very situational, I guess.

I've never had the feeling I hear a lot of people talk about in medication threads where they took a particular drug and it made them feel the startling absence of depression and like their true self - the closest I've ever come with medication is "I am less depressed and more functional", and I've still had a bunch of mood episodes on lithium, just less extreme than they would have been before.

Something else I've noticed is that it's very easy for depression to be my default response, particularly to life stressors, maybe because it's been happening for a long time & since I was pretty young. Over the last few months I've been pretty stable, but we recently found out that we're being evicted into a crushingly brutal rental market because our landlady doesn't want to rent out the house any more. This has shifted me from "not depressed, can't think what it would be like to be depressed" to "not depressed, but I can definitely see how this situation might make me depressed, better add that to the list of things to worry about". Any peace feels fragile at this point, essentially, and I don't trust a good or neutral state of mind to last.
posted by terretu at 12:02 AM on September 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

A lot of other answers are really ringing true here. But having really recently shifted from depressed to not-depressed (I'm talking the last three weeks), I have a pretty close perspective on the differences.

Depressed me would spend most of my days off in bed, only dragging myself out if I had somehow been able to make plans with the few friends I could bear to be my depressed self with. If I didn't have any I would literally spend the entire day in bed, not eating very much, not doing very much. Sleeping a lot. I would sleep until the last minute in the morning, and when I finally woke up, wonder if I had the strength to go on living for another day. I'd remind myself that it wasn't actually true that no one would miss me if I were dead, even though it felt like it. I would ration my phone calls to friends because I didn't want to exhaust and drain them with my misery. I'd spend hours sobbing helplessly into my pillow. I spent a lot of time developing detailed plans of how I could kill myself while causing the least amount of pain to other people. Then I would feel guilty about leaving behind all the mess of an unfinished life (closing bank accounts, etc etc) for someone else to do and think, well, better not commit suicide then because I don't have the energy to do any of that. And under it all, the seething, roiling mess of self-loathing, of what a horrible person I was to feel like this, how much I have that I should be grateful for. An intense desire to somehow transfer my life to someone who would do something useful with it. A complete lack of conviction that anything would ever get better for long enough to outweigh the misery of being alive. Still.

Now? Now I can point to the things in my life that aren't great and identify them. I can realistically say, I can't do anything about that one and that one, but this thing here I could do something about. And then I can do it. I still spend a lot of time in bed, but now this is with my sweetheart having endless conversations about everything and nothing. I am gradually starting to believe that I am a person who deserves to live, to be loved, that I am not a waste of space. I have hope for the future. I randomly sing in the shower. I haven't wanted to be dead in three weeks. This is the longest period of time I haven't wanted to be dead in ... I can't even remember how long. I can see myself as a person who is flawed, but also has a lot of strengths and things to offer other people. I feel like I want to know what happens next in my life, and that I have a chance to actually make that happen instead of silently enduring. There is not enough time in the day. I am kinder to people, quicker to laugh and quicker to make others laugh. I connect ideas more quickly. I notice more. I smile more. Sure, sometimes I am still sad or unhappy or angry, feel frustrated and helpless. But I am no longer trapped.
posted by Athanassiel at 12:55 AM on September 17, 2015 [8 favorites]

Major depression: could not think about anything other than how depressed I was, wondering if I would ever feel "normal" again, time became excruciating and long, days felt like weeks. Thoughts of suicide. Plus everything included below.

Base level depression: don't get chores done, don't shower, wake up at 2pm on a good day, watch a lot of TV but only stuff that doesn't require a lot of attention like reality tv, sitcoms, etc.

Self help CBT has saved me in both situations.
posted by hamsterdam at 1:15 AM on September 17, 2015

sorry missed part 3 of my post

Not depressed: Living "in the moment", no thoughts about thoughts, I do the things I enjoy doing without really thinking about them
posted by hamsterdam at 1:18 AM on September 17, 2015

For me depression is mostly a state of mind and also a type of self-perception. I had an intense depressive episode which led to being put on anti-depressants, and it was only when they started working that I realised that depression had been essentially my default state for most of my life, and this episode was just an acute spike in a chronic illness. Feeling consistently good for days- weeks!- at a time has allowed me to see the difference with clarity.

Depressed: I feel evil, simply put. I am only capable of seeing my flaws and weaknesses, and they seem unforgivable out of all proportion. I'm not really religious but it feels like how I once heard a Christian describing hell: The absence of god. It feels like everything is just awful, bleak, lonely, hopeless, and will be for eternity. Another good description that fits my experience: in Infinite Jest David Foster Wallace describes Kate Gompert's suicidal depression as a feeling that something absolutely dreadful, the worst thing imaginable, is perpetually about to happen and you're unable to stop it, but also that it's already happening and there's no way to escape it. The present is unbearable and the future offers no hope of any reprieve. It feels like homesickness with no possibility of there ever being a home to go to. At my worst it really feels it would be better to die, 1) to rid the world of my presence, and 2) to escape this awful feeling of dread, chaos, and utter doom and hopelessness. And guilt for feeling this and being ungrateful to be alive is the cherry on top of the horrible sundae.

Non-depressed: My flaws are seen in perspective, and I have courage that I can work on them. I am able to see that everyone has weaknesses and strengths, and appreciate mine for being what makes me me. I feel happy about my individual place in the universe. Religiously speaking, I can feel content about the grand scheme, of being a mote of dust in a sunbeam. I still think about death a lot but in a comforting, almost happy way. Creatively, I am able to work through problems and work through doubt and low-self esteem instead of giving up. I can see my life as a whole and feel like an actor within it, capable of making choices and shaping the future. I can see what I really value and what I really want, what really is good or bad, appealing or unappealing, instead of absolutely everything feeling exactly the same shade of dreadful.
posted by mymbleth at 1:32 AM on September 17, 2015 [7 favorites]

For me when I'm depressed, everything is really hard and seems like monumental effort. As an example, just throwing stuff in the trash versus putting it on the countertop seems akin to running a marathon. So stuff accumulates on the counter. And then I have more stuff to beat myself up about, being so lazy I can't even open the cabinet to throw things away, god, the whole place is disgusting because of me. But at no point does that extend to opening the cabinet door and throwing things away, because that seems like more effort than standing in front of the trash can mentally berating myself for five minutes. The various Hyperbole and a Half comics on depression really do capture what the experience is like for me.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:53 AM on September 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

One night last week, I was in a pretty bad mood and kinda felt like I needed to lay down and cry a little. I flopped on my bed and found myself trying to wedge my feelings into the sort of catastrophic self-loathing thought patterns that used to run freely throughout my brain when my depression was untreated: I suck, I'm selfish and lazy and a burden, I don't know how anyone puts up with me.

It didn't take. The healthy voice in my head replied with: Nah, none of this is true. I'm having a bad day and I'll feel better tomorrow. I do have some things I could be doing better, so I'll work on them. That was far more believable.

That's the main difference I've found. Without depression, I'm much more aware of what's going on with my mind and body, and I can figure out what I need and take care of myself accordingly. With depression, every rational thought automatically goes down a convoluted flow chart that inevitably ends in "I suck."
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:50 AM on September 17, 2015 [6 favorites]

Depressed me is obsessing to the point of despair (uncontrollable tears in public places, hiding in bathrooms because I just can't stop crying) over my real or imagined flaws. Self hatred so bad that I can't stand being in my own skin. No sleep. No sleep even though it's been weeks since I've slept more than a couple hours a night. I fall asleep immediately when I go to bed, but wake up only a few hours later, my mind racing with thoughts of how f***ed my life is.

It has been YEARS since I felt this way.

Normal me functions fine. Sometimes worried, sometimes sad, but not always, 'cause my life is good and sleep is good and there are so many adventures yet to be had.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 5:30 AM on September 17, 2015

I've called depression the "Yeah, but..." disease, because any suggestion that you or someone else makes to help you improve your situation or feel better is met with "Yeah, but..." From a previous comment of mine:

"It's OK, Rock Steady, you'll find a job soon."
"Yeah, but then we are going to have to pay for child care, and I'll barely be earning more than that is going to cost."

"You should try to sell your art, Rock Steady."
"Yeah, but then I'd have to buy a lot of supplies, and I can't afford that."

"Whatever else happens, Rock Steady, you have a great family that love you."
"Yeah, but they will probably end up hating me because I am a miserable failure."

It just makes your brain convinced everything is bad and will always be bad. When you are not depressed you still have problems and frustrations and sadness, but you can see and believe in solutions and improvements. It is a subtle, but still very distinct, difference in the feeling of your day to day life. Like how you think your house is quiet, but then the power goes out and the refrigerator and computer and TV stop humming and you realize just how loud the quiet really was.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:33 AM on September 17, 2015 [7 favorites]

It's waking up on your own and wanting to get out of bed. It's feeling like you weigh next to nothing because the saddle bags of misery aren't holding you down that morning. It's having energy and curiosity and focus. It's wanting to go outside and play in the sun. It's the feeling of reaching out to friends and loved ones out of love instead of need. It's wanting to eat fruits and veggies because of how they make you feel. It's almost like falling in love, just without the angst.
posted by myselfasme at 5:35 AM on September 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Another way I like to think of it that I just remembered, which I'm sure I've mentioned in a previous AskMe but can't find right now: imagine a room that's lit by one of those light fixtures with four or five bulbs. When half of them are burned out, you probably don't notice that they're out. You may notice that the room looks dim and dismal and you don't much like being there, but you figure that's just how the room is.

But when you replace all the burnt out bulbs, the room is markedly brighter and cheerier and you can see everything more clearly. You wonder how you managed for so long with your lights burnt out, and how you could have gone so long without noticing. That's what recovering from depression feels like.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:50 AM on September 17, 2015 [22 favorites]

When I'm depressed, any difficulty, no matter how minor, feels like a huge, sometimes insurmountable burden, and often like I'm being uniquely targeted for difficulties. When I'm not depressed, most difficulties, no matter how major, feel like something I know I can deal with, even if I'm not immediately sure how, and most often I realize that bad or hard stuff happens to everyone and this is just one of life's things that I'll get through and be ok.
posted by jaguar at 6:47 AM on September 17, 2015

Depression: F-ing towels are folded wrong AGAIN why why why why why.....nothing else happens that day because all I can think about is the one very wrong thing

Not depression: Oh, I should fix that.... and then I can.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 7:05 AM on September 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

What is it like to not be experiencing some sort of clinical depression?
Having experienced depressive episodes in the past, here's what it's like on the other side:

I wake up and get out of bed because I have things to accomplish. I look around me and see tasks that need to get done, and I make a plan to carry them out. Let's say it's a Saturday, so OK, I'm going to make the bed, get dressed, and tidy up. Now I'm hungry, so I'll make some eggs and toast for breakfast; oh, I need milk, OK, I'll hop over to the corner store and grab some. Then I'll go clothes shopping because it's fall and I need some new boots. Whatever. If something goes wrong, I might get frustrated, but it won't stop me from taking care of other needs in my life. I also think more about the future and my long-term goals: I aspire, daydream, plan ahead.

Also, I experience lots of feelings, both physical and emotional. I can tell the difference between hungry and not hungry, sleepy and not sleepy, angry and not angry, excited and bored. I laugh so hard I can't breathe because I'm watching a funny YouTube video. I don't remember when I last cried, but it was probably because something was actually sad! Also, I'm able to identify the source of my feelings, so OK, maybe today I'm feeling cranky because I didn't sleep well and anxious because I'm worried about this one project at work, but the sources of my feelings are all individual, discrete things that are ultimately surmountable.

So I was wondering what a life without depression was actually like, since it's obviously not Literally Happy Always.
Far from it: in fact, it's a lot easier to understand that all of your emotions are temporary. I think at my core, I'm not A Happy Person or An Unhappy Person, I'm just a person, and emotions are like changes in the weather that come and go; "this too shall pass". That's harder to understand in the depths of depression, where it just feels like you're trapped in a particular state and can't even really imagine what it would be like to get out.
posted by capricorn at 7:14 AM on September 17, 2015 [6 favorites]

Without depression when you feel awful then you wait for it to pass or do something to push it along like call in sick or drink a lot or spoil yourself with sweet foods. Without depression if you find yourself miserable a lot then you look at the life changes you can make like moving or being with someone else or getting healthier or changing jobs or adopting a pet and pick your best option. I think depression gets you stuck in place with no energy to do anything.
posted by meepmeow at 7:36 AM on September 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

When I was taking Prozac, I would have bad moods but I felt as if there was a sort of floor I wouldn't go below. For the most part, that has stayed with me since I stopped. I may wake up feeling horrible but there isn't the sense that I have no idea how bad it's going to get or how long it's going to last. There's more of a sense of equilibrium.

I also felt actively good for a while after I started the drug, but now wonder if it wasn't a kind of high. I would laugh more spontaneously; perceptions seem heightened at times. Was that a normal state and depression made things dull? I don't know. I do sometimes feel that way when not on Prozac.
posted by BibiRose at 7:42 AM on September 17, 2015

I think for me the biggest difference is sensory; it's like going into widescreen and hi-def.

If depressed: I am aware that factually I have a window that faces south and there is a tree in front of it. It is sunny/it is not sunny; it is warm/it is cool.

Not depressed: I am aware that the window gets just the most incredible sunlight and that the tree is exceptionally lush this year, must be because of all the rain, wow, it really smells great, and look at how the sunlight pools on the wood floors; this is a great morning, man.

The second most notable difference is that when I am not depressed I can look forward to the future. I don't just mean, "think about the future without dread," I mean think about it at all. Depression for me is moving forward through a fog while all of my past torments are crystal-clear in the brain.

Also this, from mymbleth above, really resonated: It feels like homesickness with no possibility of there ever being a home to go to. When I am not depressed I still often feel that homesick kind of sadness, but it has a different and less pernicious quality; it is recognizable as an adult feeling sad that the security of childhood has gone, or that the warmth and beauty of a moment has passed. It's sad but not lethal.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:38 AM on September 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

Depressed for 15+ years, now depression-free. Enjoying my reasonably priced drinks and snacks.

What others have said about not having to focus on small day-to-day tasks because you can just function normally and perform them without huge effort is true. I can schedule commitments or social engagements and more or less count on attending them because I know I'll have the physical and moral energy. Sleep is normal. I feel refreshed after 8 hours, I can get by on 6 or 7, rather than the 13-15 I used to sleep every day. I can walk to the shower instead of having to crawl. I eat when I'm hungry and drink when I'm out with friends, not to self-medicate through sugar.

I still have feelings. In fact, I think I probably have a broader palette of feelings than when I was depressed (this is the big difference from antidepressants, which just made me feel numb) because having a negative feeling doesn't immediately drive me to drop off a cliff into Everything Is Terrible Forever; I can sustain it, observe it, maintain some distance from it, even sample whatever sweetness it carries. The biggest difference is that the feelings are inside me now, instead of me being inside the feelings. And that I no longer feel my self to be a cancerous thing. I am an ordinary, flawed human being with ordinary human feelings. It's kind of nice to be ordinary.

Worry, stress and fear of my own and other's deaths are actually more present than they used to be because I'm now living a life that is meaningful and that I would hate to lose, with deep and close relationships. The fantasy of suicide is no longer an escape from thinking about future consequences. Similarly, because I am no longer constantly in emergency, I have mental space to care for and worry about the people I love.

I still have negative thoughts about myself, self-criticism, feelings of discouragement etc., but I experience them as the regrettable remnants of bad past relationships with significant others, not hostile self-attacking parts of my identity. The calls are coming from outside the house, if you like. I no longer feel chronic crippling shame about who I am and what I want.

My resting state of mind is thinking about... well, stuff. Not how lonely and desperate I am and how my life is over and wouldn't mind if this bus crashed right now, etc. More like things to do, or the ramifications of the last textbook I read. Yes, I can successfully commit to study too!

I find that underneath all the negativity that depression forced me into, I am actually kind of an optimist. I believe things will be more or less okay. After all, I've been severely depressed! The Worst Thing in the World has already happened to me, and I'm still here. Nothing else life could throw at me feels like it could be nearly as bad as that.
posted by stuck on an island at 10:04 AM on September 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

Seasonal depression here. Anti-depressants don't really work for me, but vitamins and exercise help.

If you imagine all the thoughts and feelings you might have, and think of the edge of that mass as a kind of horizon. For me, depression setting in is like that horizon rolling towards me, losing the ability to think some things and feel other things. I don't realize I'm missing them, really... they're not in my range any more.

Then spring rolls around, and that horizon starts rolling back out, and the full range of thoughts and feelings start reappearing. And I have that moment when I realize what I've been missing.

It's more complicated than that, of course, but that's the best I've been able to come up with to describe it.
posted by underflow at 11:34 AM on September 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have a lot of ups and downs, and I found out that in my case, what keeps me from being hyper depressed is to dance (endorphins help a lot). I noticed that if I manage to go out and dance (or have dance classes) at least 3 times a week, for a whole day afterwards I don't feel as sad, in fact I feel elated (the only other time I feel elated is when I'm laughing with my kids or singing at karaoke joints). Vitamin B also helps, without it I may as well crawl under a rock. Seasons don't affect my mood.
posted by dragonbaby07 at 11:53 AM on September 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have low-grade depression and anxiety that comes and goes, and the best way I can think to describe it is that when I'm not depressed, everything just seems so astonishingly simple. Things that seem utterly overwhelming when you're depressed are suddenly, miraculously finite and surmountable when you're not. A few corollaries:

1) How close the two states (depressed and not-depressed) are
2) How easily and often arbitrarily you can flip from one to the other
3) How difficult it is to imagine the other state when you're not in it

In other words, it is nearly impossible for a depressed person to imagine being not depressed, or for a not depressed person to imagine being depressed. Even if that person is the same person.
posted by speicus at 4:11 PM on September 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Lots of the above comments resonate for me, but there's a very particular memory I have of The Moment That The Meds Kicked In. I'd been depressed for most of my life, and when SSRIs came around, I was--not eager to try them because I didn't know what "eager" felt like at that point, but I figured I'd give 'em a shot, what the hell.

Fast forward a couple of weeks; I'm putzing around trying to clean up the kitchen (i.e. piling dirty dishes in the sink and gazing at them blankly). On the countertop is a plastic deli tub containing about a half-dozen kalamata olives. I took the tub out of the fridge perhaps a week and a half ago to assess whether the olives were still good or not; after some interval of staring at them and thinking You useless twat, you waste everything, just make some tapenade with them you'll be fine and at the same time That's fucking brilliant, give yourself food poisoning because you're too cheap to throw away a few rancid olives, I'd set them down on the counter, and every so often in the next week and a half I would look at them and have another round of paralysis and self-hate and utter helpless inability to do anything with them.

Anyway, as I was putzing, I became aware of a weird faint hum in my head, rather like when you're near a fluorescent light that's about to burn out; I thought huh, and listened to it for a minute, and then took a breath, turned, looked at the tub of olives, and thought Oh for the love of GOD, and picked them up and tossed them in the trash. There was no will or effort involved; it was, rather, like that moment when a very stubborn and disgusting clog in a sink FINALLY gives way, and the putrid old greasy water empties out and the fresh water flows through the pipes clean and free. (And then I went in the bedroom and sorted and matched all the tumbled-together socks in my sock drawer and put them back grouped by color, which was something I had never done before in my life, but which I've always been able to do since then, without effort. )

So, yeah, like speicus said; that ability to just do things, to just act, energy moving up and through and out like clean water flowing through clear pipes.
posted by Kat Allison at 8:06 PM on September 17, 2015 [14 favorites]

I think that rather than comparing being depressed with being happy/content it might be more helpful to compare it with being unhappy but not depressed. So... unhappy people cry, talk to people, write, get angry, try to figure out ways of getting rid of the thing that is making them unhappy, or if it can't be fixed find distractions and ways to live with it, know exactly why they are unhappy, carry on with essential tasks, cancel things they can't cope with at the moment in a considered and planned sort of way, see a light at the end of the tunnel. People who are depressed struggle with doing anything and feel like nothing is ever going to get better and sometimes can't even explain why they feel the way they do.
posted by intensitymultiply at 3:07 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

When I'm depressed there is just an overwhelming sense of ennui and malaise. I feel unmotivated to do anything, from making dinner to working out to working on projects I'm truly passionate about. When I'm not depressed, I am enthusiastic about the things I love and the things that are important to me. Depression is like being meh about everything. Depression is just not caring either way what happens, when normally those are things you'd care about.
posted by Brittanie at 12:51 PM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Bipolar III here. (My Pdoc insists that it's Mood Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. I figure, I've got symptoms of BP I and BP II, so I'm adding them together.)

Depression: I can't even. I just.....I just can't even. Can't.

Not-depression: Huh. I might could. I just might could.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 8:45 PM on September 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

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