If depression were a word cloud…

If depression were a word cloud, it would be made up of a few words, repeated again and again. Because depression shrinks your world, narrowing the focus of your life down to a few, miserable feelings. No matter how vibrant and complex someone’s normal personality, depression takes that personality and compresses it, squeezes most of the life out of it. I’ve only been back in the land of depression for just over a week, yet it feels like all that’s left of me is this same old cloud of feelings.

Trapped. One thing that never ceases to amaze me is that it takes no longer than a single day of low mood to have me totally back in the cupboard. After over a quarter of a century of practice in being depressed, my mind has some kind of mental shortcut – like a shortcut on a desktop – that takes me right into depression mode. Although my partner reassures me that it’s not the same this time, that I am older and wiser, have better coping skills now and a functioning recovery plan, it feels the same. The same as it did two years ago, 14 years ago, 20, 25.  And once I’m trapped in the cupboard time loses meaning; going through another day depressed is as terrifying a proposition as going through another year, and I can’t see any way out.

Hollow. Empty on the inside. Missing all the interests, the drivers, the energy that keeps me writing, connecting, going out, trying new things. I can’t handle new and I can’t handle different. It’s a struggle enough to cope with the familiar; even that quickly separates out good familiar (comforting, safe spaces, safe people) and bad familiar (anything reminiscent of past depression, anything anxiety-provoking).

Bored. Things that ought to be entertaining are just too much mental effort to get into. I can’t focus. I can’t learn the basic rules of a casual video game. I go to a web page only to sit staring at the screen with no idea of my original intention in clicking the link. My eyes run over the same pieces of text.

Frightened. “Only boring people get bored!” my mother used to tell me as a kid, and now I fear she’s right. I fear than in my depression I am both bored and boring. Capable only of chalking up such splendid achievements as doing a little washing up, I know I can’t be fun to be around. So I begin to fear that my partner, my children, my friends – no-one will want to be around me. Especially as this depression goes on and on, as I fear it will. I have already started to think that I will never get back to work, that the plans I have made to get back into the workplace will just fall by the wayside and disintegrate.

Lonely.  I feel cut off, shut off in my flat while my partner’s at work. Outside the front window, life goes on. Dogs are left tied up outside the Co-op to yap or whine. Preschoolers zip up and down on scooters. Acquaintances bump into each other near the flower shop, ask after partners, chat about how work is going. I could go down and be among them, but there’s a snag: despite my loneliness, I am frightened of people. Down at pavement level, I would be terrified that somebody would speak to me, that I would be expected to reply. My phone has rung twice this morning and both times I have watched in terror, panic building in my chest, my breath becoming rapid and shallow, trying to pull myself back from a full on panic attack. It doesn’t really matter who it is. Even if it’s someone I know and love, right now I’m just not capable of engaging in that obvious conversational opener, “How are you?”

Tired. I woke up at 11am this morning, having gone to bed around midnight. I was in bed so long that my back started to hurt, but even that only pulled my close to consciousness rather than all the way there. I dragged myself to a standing position, went to the bathroom, looked at myself in the mirror. There’s been a change, even in a week. My skin seems sallow, and there are grey bags underneath my eyes. I don’t look as alive as I did a month ago. Since 3pm I have been fighting the urge to nap, but I’ll continue to hold off if I possibly can.

Bleak. Last week, my partner took me to an exhibition of Ansel Adams’ stunning black and white landscape photos. Usually such gorgeous shots of the waterfalls, mountains and geysers of America’s National Parks would fill me with amazement. Nature, I would think, is astonishing! Walking around the exhibition, I began to feel that nature was not so much so much astonishing, as indifferent. The mountains of Alaska or Wyoming do not know that human beings exist. Nor would they care. We might well all die, I thought, of plague or famine or even of nuclear war, and these great protuberances of rock would carry on, implacable, testament to our utter insignificance.

Guilty. So guilty, about so many things. I feel guilty staring a the dusty and dirt around me without being able to summon up the energy to address them, guilty that the flat will still be in such a state when my partner gets in from a full day at work. Perversely, I feel guilty both about being as depressed as I am (putting my partner through this yet again, feeling unable to complete important work tasks, not being the mum I want to be) whilst also feeling guilty about not being depressed enough. For I have been so much worse than this, so many times. I have so many online friends who are in so much deeper, darker places. And the usual pattern is that these down swings last a short time. Most likely I’ll swing up again, to normal or beyond, within a week. And yet I whinge on, to my partner, to Twitter, about how miserable I am here in this pathetic, moderate depression. What right have I to complain when others are locked in a dark and lonely room for months or even years?

Even now, I’m worrying about how dull this post is, how self-centred and tedious. There’s nothing I’d like more that to step off of my cloud and feel like me again, to stop being this way. But I don’t know how.

About purplepersuasion

40 something service user, activist, writer and mother living with bipolar disorder. Proud winner of the Mark Hanson Prize for Digital Media at the Mind Media Awards #VMGMindAwards
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30 Responses to If depression were a word cloud…

  1. phylor says:

    “Even now, I’m worrying about how dull this post is, how self-centred and tedious. There’s nothing I’d like more that to step off of my cloud and feel like me again, to stop being this way. But I don’t know how.” You have written a post that is fall from dull — it is a powerful description/explanation of depression and it’s affects on your life.
    All my life, I have been depressed and apologetic. My mother used to say my first “sentence” was “sorry, sorry, sorry,” and my bad bouts of depression are like the black holes in space. I have to focus on the stars so I don’t fall all the way in.
    I plan/say I will do something, go somewhere, but I get overwhelmed by the scope of the adventure, figure folks would rather I wasn’t there, have no right to a voice, and the list goes on. I’d add inertia — I get overwhelmed and I just sit there — staring.
    Your post was not tedious, dull, or self-centered; you’ve provided a way to express/understand the mechanics of depression.
    I hope that you’re not back in the cupboard for very long!

  2. Mel says:

    Agreed. Your words are a great comfort to me because when I’m where you are now, or similar, I don’t have any words, so seeing those feelings written down makes me feel less alone, less boring, less tedious, less self-centred and less guilty. Thank you.

    • I am so sorry that you suffer the same way. If reading my post helps in any way, I am very glad. Maybe depression is the place where we really are “all in it together” x

  3. Sadie says:

    I think this is a brilliant post – you’ve really managed to sum up how depression feels. And it doesn’t really matter if it only lasts a few days, or weeks or months or years, because time loses all meaning – to me depression often feels as though I’m stuck in the moment, and I can’t look back to happier times or forward to anything at all.

    I hope that your depressive episode clears soon!

  4. electronicbaglady says:

    Your post was not boring at all. It was an articulate expression of what I have felt when depressed but could never have said so clearly or well. So thank you for saying it for others like me who cannot.

  5. kjosie says:

    You’re such a good writer. You describe how depression is perfectly.

  6. Kate Blair says:

    This a very moving piece as I read it I was saying to myself I can relate to that. I certainly could not have explained so eloquently or so aptly. I find trying to explain depression is like trying well basically trying… it is not about being miserable or unhappy it is almost about nothing. All that I was, that I achieved or could do has gone to be replaced with an emptiness a lack of feeling, desire , energy and enthusiasm. To add to the fun the medication they prescribe is designed to reduce you to that state not to mention their nasty side effects.

    As I see my life shrinking away I share your concern that I am somehow not ill enough (not helped by union rep constantly telling me during my dismissal hearing that I was not well but not ill enough and that due to my illness I percieve things).

    I berate myslef as I struggle each day to do things that once I took for granted like going out , getting dressed or answering the phone. Now I have all this time to do all the things I never had time for and used to enjoy like crafting or gardening. So why am I 5 hours later still sat on the sofa playing mindless facebook games. As I told my CPN this week I don’t want to to be playing farms on facebook I want to be able to go to my partners farm and not get in a state when the lams bleat or the dog barks.

    I have to sit through people telling me they understand what I am going thru as they have friends or fifth cousin twice removed who has depression, and nod sagely when they espouse the trite sterotypes , questions or answers about depression. And suddently they have the answer- get out more, to exercise, to socialise, self sooth with bubble baths or meditate and to well pull myslef together (sorry not a pair of curtains).

    I have grown up with a mother with severe depression and suffered with it myself for all of my rememebred life so forgive me if I think I have a fairly good working understanding of depression. I have not suddendly had a brain transplant with with a gnat . I know what I need to do and understand what happens if I don’t but I swear somebody put superglue on this sofa and just have to match these three cubes or grow wheat on facebook.. It is almost as though I have become depression not I have depression .

    Maybe should start a cupboard club for those of us who have stored our life away in the closet and put on the mantle of depression.

  7. As a fellow sufferer, your post resonated with me. I have experienced all of the above and usually raining down on me at the same time. Your take on loneliness was compelling and I remember feeling the same many times. Thank you for a great post x

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment – so sorry you have been through it too. At least the loneliness is not so awful now I can connect with other people though the internet. Nice meeting you x

  8. johnbarri says:

    Hi Charlotte, I have some experience of the effects of mental instability and therefor have an inkling of what you face, probably every minute of every day. You seem to be doing just fine, given the circumstances. Just want to say ‘hang in there’, we’re rooting for you.

  9. Lou says:

    I followed the link from your blog on the BBC website and spent the last hour or so reading your blog (back to front, but what the heck!) I’ve found it a humbling, engrossing and very enlightening experience. As you and others continue to raise awareness of this awful illness it can only help to remove the stigma and ignorance that surrounds it. I am also sure that your posts provide much comfort and reassurance as well as useful advice to others with bipolar and their friends and families. My very best wishes to you.

  10. Bex says:

    Thankyou for putting into words how I feel but can never explain xxxx

  11. Joe Cox says:

    Hi Charlotte

    Do you have regular swings up for a week /down for a week or can it vary?

    • Hi Joe, most bipolars have mood states that last for weeks, if not months, at a time – that’s one of the ways of recognising that moods are abnormal. That being said, some people switch mood states four or more times in a year and are known as “rapid cyclers” – “ultra rapid cyclers” can have several mood swings in a week or even a day, very hard to live with! Since this current episode began I am mainly versions of up (could be elated, panicky or irritable, but always agitated in some way) for weeks or months, but then have occasions downs like this past week. Sometimes they last as little as 3 days. Technically then I guess that would be rapid cycling, but that doesn’t feel like it’s the best description for me, because the highs so massively outweigh the lows. Interestingly, before this episode it was the other way round! I guess one thing I have really learned is that even if you think you know your own pattern it can change and you have to learn to manage it all over again…!

      • Joe Cox says:

        Hi Charlotte

        Sorry I should have mentioned I have BP,My swings are very regular I have highs for 6 months ish (it’s had to say when it actually start as in the beginning I just feel better) then crash and have depression for 6 to 8 months ..Then a calm period for 2 yrs …this has happenned since 2001 .I do know people with rapid cycling and wonder how they manage at all . I have a blog http://www.bipolarjoe.com it is being rebuilt after a hacking ..its just videos that I have made and other links to media that i find of interest

        thanks for your blog its great


  12. richard brown says:

    Very recently i’ve realised that I have bi-polar, though I have not had an official diagnosis. All your descriptions and analysis prefectly describe how i feel often, especially the sudden drop in mood, for no apparent reason. I can have the most fantastic day, and feel really optomistic, happy, relaxed, beautiful, go to sleep, have a lovely nights sleep, then wake up the next morning and I feel hollow, empty, anxious, all that positivity has TOTALLY dissapeared for no apparent reason. That in itself is so depressing.

    What is also hard is trying to keep up the appearance that I don’t feel as badly as I do. I often cance going out, and events as I feel I can’t face people, don’t have the energy, and then the GUILT kicks in.

    I feel very isolated, all my family live over 100 miles away, I’ve few friends and no partner, its a daily struggle, so I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being so honest in these posts…..I think the next step for me is to get a proper diagnosis but I fear being put on pwerful drugs that turn me into a zombie. I’ve been on anti anxiety drugs and anti depressants and hated how they make me feel, it seems there;s no real answer. Even drinking alcohol doesn’t really work……

    • Hi Richard,

      I would *always* recommend trying to get an accurate diagnosis. Once you known what you are dealing with, it makes things so much easier. Even if you decide that drug treatment is not for you (and one of the best points about diagnosis is that you would most likely be tried on the RIGHT drugs for bipolar – I tried antidepressant after antidepressant for years, of course without great success!) being able to understand your emotions, thoughts and behaviours makes things a bit better. It was a breakthrough for me to start thinking of myself as bipolar again, after another, incorrect diagnosis. Things I thought were just me being weird turned out to be abnormal, yes, but normal FOR A PERSON WITH BIPOLAR! Amazing! I wasn’t alone. Also as I am sure you know there is a spectrum of bipolar, and it may help you to work out where you fit on it. It sound like your mood switches can be very sudden, you don’t say how long each mood states last but maybe if you have such quick switches you fit somewhere around rapid cycling or cyclothymia. The challenges for those forms of BP would be different to those faced by people with BPI or BPII,so it can good to get someone to take an overview and discuss with you where you might “fit”.

      My post https://purplepersuasion.wordpress.com/2012/08/11/i-think-i-might-have-bipolar-tips-for-approaching-healthcare-professionals/ may be of help – it has tips on obtaining an assessment and what you can do to help the process along.

      Good luck!


    • HORUS ALLEN says:

      0 Hi Richard
      1 Horus Allen here
      0 The right medication(s) work
      1 Taking medication is not a weakness
      0 Managing your health is a strength – self-leadership
      1 Self-leadership leads to you leading others – or at best – leading yourself
      0 Seek a professional opinion – you will start feeling happier already from that moment
      1 And please know, if you believe in the years that lie ahead for you, execute the moment

  13. Pingback: This Week in Mentalists – Hello Mumsnet Edition | The World of Mentalists

  14. Kate says:

    When people ask me what depression feels like I often use many of the words you have listed, as well as empty, apathetic and desperate. You have really hit the nail on the head with this post. I have especially been struggling with guilt of late (which I attempted to describe http://ebbsandflowers.com/blog/depression-finds-you-guilty, although admittedly, not quite as elegantly as you have done!).
    I am so glad I have started blogging – it has made me start to seek out other bloggers, like yourself. I can’t wait to explore the rest of your blog. 🙂

  15. “Even now, I’m worrying about how dull this post is, how self-centred and tedious. There’s nothing I’d like more that to step off of my cloud and feel like me again, to stop being this way. But I don’t know how.”

    I am writing a diary of my feelings, and feel exactly this way. I can’t bear how I come across in my writing – but I suppose that is to be expected!

    • HORUS ALLEN says:

      0 Hi Rachel
      1 Horus Allen here
      0 Well, let’s laugh at ourselves
      1 If my outcome is dull – I make fun of it
      0 If my outcome is awesome – I make fun of it
      1 Laughter works – reconditioning matters help clarity
      0 Proper, sustained medical treatment helps clarity too
      1 Combining these with astute psychoeducation rebuilds the you that you want to be
      0 I don’t even know you, but I feel that your post does not match your value system
      1 Your value system is your most relevant variable
      0 Switch your stimulus to that variable – with medical help
      1 And put a frequency towards your happiness


  16. Yes! Trapped, hollow, lonely. It’s incredible how the loneliness hang on, so heavy and THERE. New fan, and it’s about time I started reading other blogs that talk about depression. This certainly wasn’t a boring post, and I’m glad you wrote it. It’s so difficult to convey to my husband how I feel when I’m in it that for the most part, I’ve given up trying. But I know that’s not the answer.

    Anyway. Thank you.

  17. HORUS ALLEN says:

    0 Good Morning – Horus Allen here:
    1 New Goal: To execute a new process.
    0 If you don’t have health insurance, no problem.
    1 Contact your State’s mental health department – they will assist you immediately.
    0 You Lithium and Adderall will cost under $7.00/month total.
    1 Adderall will raise your Serotonin levels out of depression.
    0 Lithium will cap your Dopamine levels inhibiting mania – to a certain extent.
    1 Psychotherapy will teach you the art of Cognitive Reconditioning.
    0 Lithium + Adderall + Cognitive Reconditioning
    1 Emotive Control
    0 Emotive Control
    1 Manic/Depression trigger awareness.
    0 MDTA
    1 Relevant vs. Irrelevant Action Potentials (Thoughts)
    0 RIAP
    1 Switch stimulus to Relevant Variables and execute what will produce a positive memory.

    We as Bipolarites are no longer burdened by this mood disorder that we did not ask for. For whatever reason, we were all selected randomly as those entrusted to produce more neurotransmitters than normal.

    And we were all taught that “everything happens for a reason,” and that “there’s a purpose for everything.” So these truths apply here as well – I believe.

    OK – so regarding our newly embraced mood disorder: When your adaptive behavior returns to you a positive memory, your mood becomes reconditioned to a positive state. It is memories that shapes our moods. So feed your mood with positive outcomes and over time, you will find it impossible for maladaptive action potentials to enter your mind. And then when they do at times, you will mark them as Irrelevant and simply delete them.

    My strict and astute care for my Mania – and knowing the warm humming sensation in my brain will never go away completely – has brought my Mania into equilibrium with Me. And now, I control my Mania, and my Mania does not control Me.

    I will help anyone I can self-realize themselves to doing what Must be done to lead a productive life.

    My name is Keith Allen Wright. I’m here to help. I am qualified to help.

    I am a Quantumanic.


  18. Katey says:

    Hi there, I am intended on using the opening paragraph to this post as a quote in my new blog post; cited and attributed, of course. Firstly, is that okay? And secondly, if it is, is there a particular way you would like to be cited?
    Thanks 🙂

  19. Lou Fiander says:

    About 3 years ago, I went into a deeper depression than usual. For years I was on a series of medications that worked for a few months then stopped helping. Eventually I was told I was medication resistant! Wonderful! Eleven years + of therapy hadn’t helped. Seven years + of medication hadn’t helped.
    Long story short, I found a new psychiatrist and we eventually found a meds ‘recipe’ that works really well right now, though it involves 7 different psychotropic meds. The thing is, EVERY morning I wake up with that same despair, that same feeling of utter hopelessness.
    And yet, I put off taking my meds for as long as possible. But knowing how much this combo helps me, I force myself to observe a deadline of 9:30 a.m because within 15-30 minutes of taking them I feel well, energetic, eager to start my day. Depression, gone. Oppression, gone. Anxiety, mostly gone. Lethargy, apathy, hopelessness, gone.
    And yet, there I am again the next morning, fighting my need to take them. How weird is that?

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