When Depression Feels Different


If you’ve ever seen a commercial for an anti-depressant medication, you probably remember something along the lines of a sad person walking around, with a gray cloud following them.  And if you’ve ever experienced a textbook type of depression, you may be able to relate to that a little.  Loss of interest, little to no motivation, and extreme sadness are all definitely depression symptoms.

But what about other types and symptoms of depression?  What about the type where you “function” but still don’t feel well?  What about the type where it feels like you’re not an active participant in your own life?  Or when it feels like it’s impossible to focus?  Or you just feel angry all the time?

Today I’m going to talk about other versions and symptoms of depression.  It’s important to note that if you are someone who has battled depression before, each episode may look and feel very different.  I have personally witnessed clients who have battled different types.  Maybe the first time they experience it, it is the “typical” type of depression.  But sometimes the next depressive season feels very different.  In fact, they may not even identify it as depression.  That’s why it can be important to seek professional help.  Depression can look and feel different for each person.

Traditional Depression Symptoms

For a depression diagnosis to occur, there are set criteria you must meet.  These criteria don’t change but how it feels to a person can.  Loss of pleasure and joy are huge indicators of depression.  Changes in sleep (sleeping more or less), and changes in appetite are also symptoms.  Feeling sad, struggling with motivation, and having a hard time “getting going” are all indicators.  Also suicidal thoughts, thoughts of self-harm, loss of purpose, and hopelessness.

Simple things like doing the dishes can seem impossible.  You try to convince yourself that you can get off the couch and get it done.  But it takes so much energy to do even the simplest tasks.  It’s like you’re moving through molasses.  Sometimes people who battle depression struggle to shower or take care of themselves physically.

I often describe depression as a black hole.  It’s like you’re stuck at the bottom, and you can see the light at the top.  You just don’t know how to get there.  And it’s difficult to have hope that you ever will.

Non-Traditional Depression Symptoms

I’m going to try to describe some of the less common symptoms that could possibly be depression.  Keep in mind, this is not an all-inclusive list.  But if you find yourself fitting some of the criteria below, you should consider reaching out for professional help.

One of the big symptoms I look for is numbness.  When a client describes their feelings as muted and numb, I typically assess for depression.  Why is this?  Although depression can make you feel extreme sadness, it can also make you feel nothing.  No joy, no sad, no anger.  Just blah.

Some people may also describe this as being in a funk.  They feel stuck, don’t have direction, or feel like life is just too hard.  Funks are sometimes just funks.  But if the funk lasts for a significant amount of time (daily for two weeks or longer), and it begins to impact your life functioning, it may not be just a funk.  It could be depression.

If a client describes feeling like they are not living as an active participant in their life, I usually rule in or rule out depression.  What this can look and feel like is almost like you are invisible, or just feeling like life is happening and you are just an observer.  Sometimes I will have clients describe it like they’re watching their life happen but they don’t feel like they can talk or participate because it takes too much energy or they feel inadequate.

Another non-traditional symptom of depression is withdrawing from social interactions.  This can also be isolating and spending a lot of time alone.  If you find yourself declining invitations, missing meetings at work because you don’t want to be around people, or even pushing away your family and friends, you may be battling some depression.

It’s not unusual for people who struggle with depression to say they cannot focus.  This can almost mimic a sudden onset of ADHD.  People who once felt sharp and able to churn through a to-do list now can barely get the simplest things done.  Your focus may feel fuzzy, and you may get easily distracted.  It may also be hard to begin a new task, or find the energy or focus to start.  Sometimes this can also mean not finishing a task or project to completion.

A more less-common symptom of depression is actual physical pain.  Sometimes this can be in your muscles, joints, stomach, etc.  Sometimes clients will seek a doctor’s treatment for physical pain, only to find out that all the tests come back normal.  It’s amazing the mind-body connection.  If your mind is unhealthy and not well, there is a chance your body also is not.

Sometimes the way depression is displayed is not through being sad, but rather through irritability and anger.  Being short-fused, having no control of your emotions, and snapping at others can all be indicators of a bigger problem.  Especially is this is not your normal personality.  If you find yourself being annoyed more frequently, or having anger outbursts, you may need to be assessed.

Finally, if you find your head full of negative self-talk, you may be battling depression.  Using yourself as a punching bag and spiraling with negative thoughts may be symptoms that emotionally you are not in a great place.  If you cannot find anything positive about yourself or the world around you, I would recommend seeking professional help.  While this can be more than depression, it’s important to figure out the root cause.

Final Thoughts about Depression

If you are reading this, and any of the above-mentioned symptoms resonate with you, please reach out for help.  It’s important that a professional assess you for depressive symptoms or other possible causes of why you may feel the way that you do.  It can get better, all you need to do is take the first step.

Written by Christy Fogg, MSW, LCSW

*Christy Fogg, MSW, LCSW is a licensed therapist at Journey to Joy Counseling in Carmel, Indiana. Christy enjoys doing marriage/couples counseling, individual counseling, premarital counseling. She also provides family counseling, teen and adolescent counseling.