Depression is NOT being sad

Many people think depression is feeling sad. That is not altogether true.

Depression is not sadness. In depression, we lose the ability to feel ANY emotion strongly. The true opposite of depression is vitality — the ability to feel a full range of emotions, including happiness, joy, pride, but also including sadness and grief.*

I have found this to be so in my own experience with depression. While I have experienced some sadness, it could best be described as a numbness.

Another pervasive problem among the depressed is a condition known as acedia. It is characterized by the gradual withdrawal into isolation and indifference. And even worse, it can sneak up on those of us who are depressed. Many look from the outside and think that a depressed person is just lazy and doesn’t want to do anything. This is NOT mere laziness, it is an actual closing down of their world.

Our depression causes us to lose pleasure in things and relationships, and the scope of our activities decreases. We stop taking chances, we play it safe, we avoid uncomfortable situations, and we cut ourselves off from anything that might shake our world, including loved ones. And the more we withdraw, the deeper we sink.

Drawing into my shell

Most depressed people actually have a fear of feeling emotions. It is probably subconscious. I know it was for me. When presented with a situation I was uncomfortable with, I would draw into my shell like a turtle. 

I don’t know which comes first, the loss of being able to feel emotions strongly or the actual fear of emotions. Regardless, it is something that one we need to address if we are going to overcome depression. 

As a reminder, I believe that overcoming depression can require multiple steps, which may include medication, therapy, nutritional supplements, exercise, prayer and meditation, as well as working to overcome some of the bad habits which would continue to support our depressed state.

To work to overcome this drawing in to oneself to avoid the pain of our depression, or of actually being presented with emotions we don’t know how to feel, we must fight to take steps of progress.

Stepping out anyway

One of the hardest things for me has been to do things I feel I cannot do. I was encouraged by my doctor and my psychiatrist to take my anxiety medicine and go do them anyway. That would be the only way to help me to overcome the fear of being in an uncomfortable situation.

I am talking about things like going to the grocery store, going to a ladies meeting for church, going to actually work out at a gym, and I even recently started attending a small bible study that a few friends are holding each week. I find that the more I make myself do, the easier it becomes.

Another thing I had difficulty with was sharing with my loved ones how I was actually FEELING. I would have conversations about my depression but never express what I was dealing with deep inside. I found that if I actually opened up, and poured my heart out, tears and all, I actually felt better. It was a very vulnerable feeling, but worth it in the end.

I have also pushed myself into doing things around the house I had let slack. Cobwebs and clutter that needed taking care of. Closets that needed cleaning. I fought those fears holding me back and just got up and did these things.

stepping stones

Many times I have had to have a conversation in my head, asking myself WHY a certain situation is a problem? What is it that I am afraid of finding or feeling?

And then learning to address those fears. Sometimes I needed to give myself a pep talk. Sometimes I point out that what I was afraid of is based on false assumptions, that I had come to a faulty conclusion. And, sometimes I have to deal with these fears on a spiritual level, taking them to God in prayer and asking for help to overcome them.

While I empathize with those of my readers who struggle with depression, I am beginning to see that while we cannot just “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps”, there are baby steps that we can take to slowly raise ourselves out of that darkness. We have to realize and accept that as painful as it may be, doing the work to heal is much better than staying in the pain where you are.

Do you feel sad, or do you actually shy away from feeling anything at all? 


This post is linked up with Shell’s Pour Your Heart Out

*Undoing Depression by Richard Carlson - Dr Carlson’s website

The book, Undoing Depression has some really great steps for doing just what I am writing about here. I will be writing more from this book, however, you may want your own copy. You can purchase Undoing Depression here.(affiliate link)

*If you are not sure if you are depressed and you are not critical, or if you are suffering or numb, please call your doctor for an evaluation asap!
*If, however, you are in critical condition, call someone today! Here is the number for The National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255.
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25 comments to Depression is NOT being sad

  • Bobbie

    Boy is this me!!! My mother was so depressed when I was a child that she had to be hospitalized multiple times. I took care of her in my home for the last 6 years of her life. I realize now that I used taking care of her as an excuse for not being able to do other things. She passed away 8 months ago and I am still sitting here, not getting much of anything done… Now what!?

    bernicewood Reply:

    I am so sorry about the loss of your mother! That had to be difficult, but even more so because you had taken care of her for so long!
    Not to sound indifferent to your grieving, but it is time to do something for yourself. Start thinking about what you want to do with this next phase of your life. Try to picture where you would like to be, in a year or 5 years. Open your mind to the possibilities.
    And if you find you need medication or therapy, don’t neglect getting the help for you rise up to what you can become. And take care of YOU. Your physical needs. Your spiritual needs. Emotionally.
    Please keep in touch!

  • Donnie

    This really speaks to me. Someone pointed your site out to me, and thought it would be good for me, and boy were they right!! I was diagnosed with moderate depression 2 months ago and I’ve been having a hard time coming to grips with it. It’s been a rough winter!! Thankyou for all these resources, I’m reading up on your previous posts, only problem with that is I let the computer absorb my time to avoid the things I need and should do!
    Asking for prayers!!!

    bernicewood Reply:

    I will definitely keep you in my prayers!
    Yes, it can be easy to let the computer steal our time away. Try setting a timer. When the timer goes off, get up and do some of the tasks you were avoiding. When you complete them (or a portion if it is a large project) then allow yourself back on for an allotted time. This is the only way I get my housework done!
    Please come back and comment occasionally so I know how you are doing!
    Big hugs to you!

  • Wow, you really pointed some things out to me in this post. I’ve suffered from depression for most of my life and have been on medication for about 3 years now. The meds work for the most part but I still have my bad days.. the days where I hide in my bedroom because I don’t want to face the world. When I am in an uncomfortable situation I instantly clam up.. I never thought of it that way though until you talked about it in this post. I don’t like any kind of drama or disagreements. When my husband and I argue about something, I usually break down in tears and hide in the bedroom. Or, when friends are upset and crying, I tense up because I don’t know what to do or how to act. I would like to go off of my meds some day because I don’t like the side effects but I’m too scared to.
    Deanna recently posted..Way Back Wednesday!My Profile

    bernicewood Reply:

    I can so relate, Deanna. Being unable to handle or process those emotions that come up is a big part of depression. Start by trying to look at the situation and your feelings from the perspective of someone looking from the outside. Try to figure out exactly what you are avoiding. I personally do not like conflict either, and I think that is because I never learned a healthy way to resolve it. I think that is something I am going to try and work on myself.
    As far as the meds go, if they are keeping you on a somewhat even keel, don’t be too quick to throw them out. I used to feel the same way, and went off of them for several months. I sunk SO LOW, I felt so bad for what I had done to the “me” who was suffering so badly because I went off the meds. I decided that if I had to take them til the day I die, so be it. While it is a personal decision, consider that if you had diabetes you wouldn’t withhold insulin.
    I would consider discussing with your doctor if you are on the best med for you. And they are always coming up with new ones (although I don’t want to be the guinea pig!) and sometimes it takes a combination of meds to work the best.
    I encourage you to do some deep searching the next time you feel compelled to lock yourself in your room. You might be surprised at what you find.
    Please come back and visit me again!

  • I can SO relate. Having battled depression on and off for as long as I can remember, I am always interested in other people’s stories and experiences, thanks for sharing this.
    Meredith recently posted..The Green MonsterMy Profile

    bernicewood Reply:

    Unfortunately, depression tends to hang around, waiting to rear its ugly head again and again. I think, however, the smarter we get about how depression works, the better prepared we will be when it does!
    bernicewood recently posted..Why overcoming depression can be so hardMy Profile

  • Your post is so right on. When there are uncomfortable things going on in my world I retreat to my own safe world. Usually I curl up in bed and sleep. With the exception of my Mother’s recent passing, I have not cried in at least 3 years. I will do anything to avoid uncomfortable emotions. I make myself sick to avoid doing something out of my comfort zone. Just talking about it here makes my stomach churn. But I am working with a therapist, with the help of meds, to one-by-one overcome my fear of emotions. We have made some progress, but I know I still have a long way to go. Thanks for your encouragement.

    bernicewood Reply:

    So sorry about your mother’s recent passing!
    I know it is not much, but I hope it is helpful to know that you are not alone, that there are others who deal with this too. I will pray for you, that you will make progress with your therapy and healing.
    bernicewood recently posted..A different type of clutterMy Profile

  • Depression is a truly unique feeling from sadness. In sadness there is an aspect that you will feel better about an event as time and events pass. There is a solution . In depression there is a feeling that there will never be a solution, and it is not always based on anything specific – it sneaks up on you and stays. It’s a sick, done-for feeling, for lack of a better word. Entirely different from sad. Depression needs help, sadness needs time. Read Feel the Fear and do it Anyway. My copy is so used, and it’s a life saver when you do the steps included in the book. Just do it and you will get used to doing it. This helped me in moving to Australia where I needed all my reserves going to get me out in the world here…

    bernicewood Reply:

    I understand what you mean about the sick, done-for feeling. You have no hope that tomorrow will be better. As I have learned to fight my depression, I can see the lies it has told me. And I become more and more aware everyday. By being able to see these lies, I am better able to fight them.
    I have not heard of the book you mentioned, I will have to find it.
    I also want to commend you on stepping out and moving around the world. I know it was a tough time in your life and to be able to do that was amazing.
    Blessings to you!

  • I sometimes withdraw. Staying hidden because I hope everything that’s stressing me out will go away on its own. Um, yeah- that never works. Yet, I keep trying.
    Shell recently posted..Pour Your Heart Out: When It’s Always Your Child’s FaultMy Profile

    bernicewood Reply:

    I think we hope that by hiding from the stress that it will get better on its own, and it rarely does. And putting off dealing with it makes it weigh even heavier on us. Oh, if we could just see the benefit of facing our struggles head on!
    Thanks for coming by Shell!

  • thank you for linking this up, I agree with a lot of what youve said. *HUG*
    Frelle recently posted..Where You BelongMy Profile

    bernicewood Reply:

    Hey Frelle!
    I was going to share this post with you, but you made it by before I did!
    Hope you are doing well, and making some progress, bit by bit.
    Hugs back to you!

  • Pam

    Thank you so much for posting this. I found you over on “pour your heart out.” This is a subject that a lot of people don’t like to talk about, and like you said people think we are just lazy.
    I told my mom that I don’t know why I can’t do anything. I know that when I do, I feel so much better, but it just takes everything that I have to do it. I have had a doctor’s order since November (’11) to go back to physical therapy and I have not made an appointment to go. Which I KNOW that would help tons with my depression.
    Thank you again so much and first thing tomorrow morning, I am calling my physical therapist and my primary physician to talk about switching my meds and also calling a counselor.
    Pam recently posted..Busy DayMy Profile

    bernicewood Reply:

    Oh Pam, I know where you are coming from! I am glad this post helped you, that is why I go beyond my comfort zone a bit and share from my heart and from my experience, so that I may possibly help someone else.
    Good for you for making those phone calls! Keep in touch!

  • Thank you so much for sharing your story. Unfortunately mental health issues still involve a lot of shame for people and I feel like speaking out is so important to fight that mentality.
    I’ve struggled with depression on and off since my teens, but it wasn’t until after my daughter was born that it became unbearable. Besides being at risk for postpartum depression because of my history, my daughter was born 7 weeks early and had quite a few health issues to overcome. So much of what you said applied to me! The numbness, the inability to do anything, hiding from the world…I look back now and can’t believe how bad it was, but I didn’t realize how truly bad it was until I started to get better because it became my new “normal.”
    I waited over seven months before I finally hit the point where I could not function anymore before a good friend finally stepped in, helped me realize how bad things had really gotten, and kept me accountable to actually take action. Through counseling, medication, prayer, and the support of the people that I finally let back into my world I am now healthier mentally than I have ever been in my life! I’m due in 6 weeks with my second child and while I’m a little anxious I have a plan in place in case I begin to struggle again. I have made a promise to myself and this baby that I will get help if I need it and not be ashamed.
    Emily recently posted..Made It!My Profile

    bernicewood Reply:

    I am so sorry you suffered, but thank God you had a friend who stepped in to help! I am sure it is a little scary preparing to have a second baby, but being prepared is key.
    My youngest daughter has struggled with anxiety and she is pregnant and due in about 10 weeks. I am concerned about her as well. Unfortunately she lives 3 hours from me!
    Take care and I will pray that you do well with the birth of this beautiful child!

  • Heidi19

    Great post! for me depression is a clinical illness which has a lot more symptoms than sadness and can, if not treated, lead to suicide. Sadness is a natural reaction to something painful that has happened. Thanks for sharing this to us i’m looking forward to read more from you!
    Heidi19 recently posted..Arowana – a prized investment catch or …My Profile

  • B.L.P.

    Just minutes before I came upon this post I was wondering if there’s hope for me, for my depression. I have come, more or less, to the end of my life, just waiting it out until it’s over and I can “leave”. I don’t feel sad, just resigned. I was diagnosed with depression and bi-polar disorder over 20 years ago. I have been hospitalized, been to numerous therapist and groups, been on several meds. I could probably write a book on the tools and strategies to use for helping to overcome depression. But, I stay inside my house for days and days at at time, only going out when it’s absolutely necessary, and usually neglecting the important until it becomes urgent. I’m even “afraid” to venture out and seek help from a doctor. I rarely answer my phone. I wear the same clothing for days. My house is a disaster. I have no friends left as I have deserted them. When my family comes around I never let them know what I’m going through. I have learned to put up a good front and pretend everything is fine. I don’t want to burden them with my illness. Anyway, there’s nothing they can do to change who I am and what I’m experiencing. Sometimes I wonder, when they see me, if they really see me, how can they not know?? I am so tired of trying to fight it and find ways to fix it. I feel absolutely stuck, and that’s something I’ve learned to do well. Not complaining, just venting.

  • They are different feelings but one can lead to another, that is my opinion :)
    anna recently posted..Cheap kitchen islandsMy Profile

  • I agree… being sad is normal but being depressed isn’t… we should learn how to understand our emotions if we want to have a healthy mental and emotional disposition in life

  • I don’t think I am depressed, because I usually feel joyful and happy most of the time. BUT sometimes, usually when I am overwhelmed with life,and can no longer balance everything or it just gets to be too much… I sink into a depression of sorts. I become very anti-social, rude, some-what uncensored (I dont’ swear, but I will say negative things I normally woulnd’t say) Heaven help me if it is a parent teacher conference, and the teacher has been rude to my child. I am wondering if mine is more hormonally based…? I could relate to that picture of the turtle! I don’t want to talk, I want to close everyone out, and I just sink into a “depression” of sorts. It seems to be circumstance related. I guess this is just life more than a depression. My heart goes out to all those who feel this way all the time. Life is heavy and hard. You are in my prayers.