What does depression feel like?

Andrew Solomon, a journalist and author who has suffered with severe depression wrote, “The opposite of depression isn’t happiness, but vitality.”

The self you’ve known yourself to be has either vanished suddenly, due to some kind of horrific loss or trauma, or it’s slipped away slowly, the natural result of stress, conflict, or inner voices chanting that you’re worthless or unacceptable.

Your body can hurt. A yawning emptiness can pervade what you think and feel. “I don’t care,” begins to come out of your mouth. A lot.

But what if I suggest to you that you have to accept your depression before you can heal?

The role self-acceptance plays in healing from depression...

You hate feeling the way you do. The self you once were has disappeared, and has been replaced by someone who struggles to brush their teeth, or wants to stay in bed instead of facing the world. To make matters worse, you can blame yourself because you don’t understand what has invaded your mind. You can’t laugh, or if you do, it can feel false and pressured. You can’t even muster up a believable smile, because everything feels bleak.

Why would you want to accept something that’s so devastating?  Does self-acceptance mean you give up trying to change for the better? 

No. It doesn’t. Acceptance is very different from apathy or resignation. Self-acceptance means identifying your strengths and your vulnerabilities, the total package of who you are.

Think for a moment about the people you love. You’ve most likely loved them not only for their talents, their wit, or their caring, but you’ve also accepted their vulnerabilities. You know they get impatient, or they can’t cook, or they get nervous at parties. You’ve understood their battle with insecurity or self-doubt. You’ve accepted the entirety of their being. That’s love. That’s what knowing someone, truly knowing them, is all about.

Self-acceptance is the act of doing that same thing for yourself. Your strengths are not all of who you are, nor are your vulnerabilities. No one fact about you — defines you. 

How acceptance confronts denial…

So why is accepting depression so vital? Because it means you’re no longer denying it. You’re seeing it for what it is. Acceptance isn’t resignation. Far from it.

You have to accept having cancer before you can fight it. You have to accept an addiction before you can find the humility to admit its power over you. And you have to accept depression before you can learn to understand and alter its hold over your mind.

You can find your self again.

But what if you don’t realize that you’re depressed? What if you’ve learned to work extremely hard to cover up any emotional struggle? You’ve been yelled at for crying. You’ve been ridiculed for looking sad. It’s your job to please. You’re quick to suppress painful feelings and put immense pressure on yourself to be successful.

No one would ever guess depression lies underneath that facade. No one.

I’ve termed this Perfectly Hidden Depression — a syndrome or group of behaviors that can fool mental health practitioners. It doesn’t look like emptiness, or loss of engagement. There’s no seeming vitality missing. It’s been carefully concealed with years of practice, or the coverup has become second nature and slid into an unconscious strategy. You may have learned to hide pain so well, you may even have a hard time remembering how to feel it.

The role of self-acceptance in Perfectly Hidden Depression…

How does self-acceptance come into play with PHD? It’s the antidote for PHD. It’s the opposite of constant self-criticism.

If you identify with PHD, two of the things you may fear most are exposure and loss of control. When you begin to consider dismantling the carefully executed life that you’ve created, you can gently confront that fear. You can balance a perceived loss of control with a new definition of safety – the safety found in vulnerability and openness.

As you acknowledge your own ability and habit of covering up who you are, and as you begin to taste the freedom and fulfillment in honoring your entire being, powerful change is inevitable. What can unfold is your own complete emotional and mental potential, perhaps for the first time in your life. You can choose how and when to make these changes known to others who you trust. Yet as you step out of the prison of the perfect persona, you can discover the peace of self-acceptance.

You can hear more about mental health and many other topics by listening to my podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Subscribe to my website and receive one weekly newsletter including my weekly blog post and podcast! If you’d like to join my FaceBook closed group, then click here and answer the membership questions! Welcome!

My new book entitled Perfectly Hidden Depression has arrived and you can order here! Its message is specifically for those with a struggle with strong perfectionism which acts to mask underlying emotional pain. But the many self-help techniques described can be used by everyone who chooses to begin to address emotions long hidden away that are clouding and sabotaging your current life.

And there’s a new way to send me a message! You can record by clicking below and ask your question or make a comment. You’ll have 90 seconds to do so and that time goes quickly. By recording, you’re giving SelfWork (and me) permission to use your voice on the podcast. I’ll look forward to hearing from you!


This was originally published on October 29, 2016 and was updated on January 26, 2019.

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