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The Breakout Issue

A Day in the Life With Depression

Picture someone with depression. What’s the first image that comes to mind? Lying in bed all day? Crying? These aren’t wrong, and they may be fully accurate for me or someone else actively going through a depressive episode. But day-to-day life with chronic depression doesn’t usually look like that. Not every day threatens to crush me, but many days I feel like I carry more weight on my shoulders than most. (And I wonder why my shoulders are always so tense!)

I am in grad school right now to become a therapist, and one of the ways we assess the severity of one’s mental health condition is to find out how much their symptoms affect their day-to-day life. As a person with depression, there’s a low hum of how my daily functioning is affected some days. Other days, it’s a deep guttural internal scream, imperceptible to almost everyone else.

Like many others, I try to mask it as well as possible. I would never judge a client or a friend for feeling depressed, but there’s obviously a double standard for myself, deeply rooted in internalized stigma.

Here’s a look at what one day of life with depression looks like for me.

Depression Diaries

3:37 a.m.: Rouse from a dream that all of my friends left me. It felt so real that I wake up feeling incredibly unsettled and sad. I contemplate making a note of it on my phone, but I decide that I don’t actually want to remember it, and I’ll leave this one for my subconscious to deal with. I blearily pad into my kitchen and have a cookie before attempting to sleep again. I use a meditation on the Insight Timer app for going back to sleep. I try to take long, deep breaths and hope for the best. 

Sleep trouble and high stress often go together.

Verywell / Catherine Song

6:15 a.m.: Wake up in the morning definitely NOT feeling like P. Diddy. I have been having a harder time getting out of bed lately, so I roll over and hit snooze several times, internally battling with myself: you need the sleep vs. c’mon, get the hell out of bed.

7:00 a.m.: Even before the pandemic, I was working from home, so my therapist suggested becoming a regular at a coffee shop to talk to at least one human in real life every day. I have a dog now, and one pandemic perk is that some of the coffee shops in Santa Monica, where I live, have outdoor ordering. Getting coffee is a good incentive to walk Lucy a little longer than I might without that caffeinated treat. 

7:20 a.m.: I am in grad school full-time (to become a therapist!), working two internships right now, and doing freelance writing, so I am super busy and stressed. I am also lucky to live across the street from the beach, and I try never to take that for granted. I fight with myself over whether I have enough time or not, but I end up deciding to go sit on the beach with Lucy. One of us meditates; the other eats sand. 

7:45 a.m.: I have so much to do today. I don’t know when I’m going to get it done. When will I work out and shower? I don’t have time for that. (I am perpetually convinced I don’t have enough time for things when I probably actually do.)

8:30 a.m.: I’ve f***ed around too long, and I have therapy in 30 minutes, so I can’t really start doing anything productive now.

9:00 a.m.: Zoom with my therapist. I really love and hate her in equal parts. She is frustratingly good at her job, and I tell her this often. Almost every session, she has some mic drop statement where I just look at her and say, “OK, wow, how did you see into my brain?” She is as direct as she is caring. Sometimes I literally squirm in discomfort about confronting truths about myself I haven’t wanted to face.

10:15 a.m.: I used to make the mistake of trying to start being productive right after therapy, but sometimes I’m still reeling a little bit and need time to transition back to using my brain for things other than processing feelings. I get sucked into Instagram and texting for a little longer than I planned.

Some days when even 25 minutes feels like a lot of time to focus, I’ll just search YouTube for a timer for five or ten minutes to work. (Or sometimes I’ll just set one for five minutes before I start working if there’s life admin stuff or—let’s be real—shopping I want to do.) 

10:30 a.m.: I sit down and try to get to emails and work on a paper that’s due tomorrow. I get distracted easily, so I put on my headphones and a good binaural beats playlist and start a Pomodoro timer. It’s 25 minutes on, 5 minutes off, and is incredibly helpful for me.

1:00 p.m.: Depression headache? Tension headache? I’ve been having chronic headaches for a while now and haven’t found many good remedies. They’re not migraines, so migraine medicine doesn’t help.

I realize I forgot to take my supplements this morning, and I feel annoyed about how much I need to do just for my head to feel ‘normal’ physically and emotionally, and this quickly spirals to a dark place. Will I always feel this depressed and headachey? What’s the point of life feeling this way?

I text my dear friend Morgan, my number one mental health support (outside of those I pay!), and she asks if I am due for a ketamine infusion. I have what’s considered treatment-resistant depression, which is a fancy way of saying I’ve tried a whole bunch of meds, and some of them got part of the way there, but they didn’t work as well as I’d hoped.

Thankfully, ketamine has bridged that gap for me. I currently still need monthly booster infusions—something I hope not to need forever—but if it makes me feel better and functional, then it is what it is. 

1:05 p.m.: I lay down for a little bit with a stupid headache ice pack hat and another one under my shoulders. I try again to meditate since that does help sometimes. I look at my calendar to make sure I have an acupuncture appointment coming up soon. It’s one of the few things that helps the headaches.

1:17 p.m.: I wake up from my kitten nap and once again feel the weight of everything I have to do. I want so badly to just get back into bed, but I make myself some espresso instead and order lunch from Sweetgreen. I spend entirely too much money on takeout, but cooking is still one of the tasks that evades me often. Depression or (elder) millennial? It’s hard to tell where one starts and the other begins.

1:20 p.m.: OK, just a few more minutes of f***ing around online… 

1:25 p.m.: I throw my phone across the room, a little angry at myself for wasting so much time on it. I complain I don’t have time, and then I scroll Instagram. I try to remind myself that social media apps are literally designed to be addictive.

1:30 p.m.: I spend some time working on my paper, vacillating between thinking it’s terrible and thinking, I got this. However, thankfully once I get going and into the groove, I actually enjoy myself. (I’m weird, I know.) I love writing papers because I live for poring through studies and learning more about why we humans are the way we are.

However, one of the dangers of dealing with depression and studying clinical psychology is that sometimes stuff hits too close to home. The paper is an outline for my group therapy class, and I’m running a group on loneliness. My mind drifts back to feeling so alone, as someone single, who lives by herself, and is an only child.

My mom died four years ago, and I really wish I could call her just to have someone to keep me ‘company.’ I have plenty of friends, and I’ve become closer with family since my mom died, but nobody fills that mom-shaped hole quite right.

4:00 p.m.: I am so, so lucky that one of my best friends lives in my building. We met just before the pandemic through our dogs, and we’ve now walked hundreds(?), thousands(?) of miles together with our little buddies. At the beginning of the pandemic, we walked on the beach with them every single day for miles and miles because what else was there to do when we all thought the world was ending?

We still try to walk as many days as we can, although we’ve both gotten a lot busier than we were then. If I’m having a rough day, sometimes I’ll just say, “Hi, I need a hug” when we meet up to walk. After a few minutes of either word vomiting on her or listening to her talk about her day, I usually feel at least a little better…

6:00 p.m.: I have Zoom training for my internship. I sometimes hate that the pandemic caused everything to be from my computer and that I’m missing out on these things in person...and also appreciate that I can stress-clean with my video off during this.

7:00 p.m.: I just hate nighttime. When the day starts winding down, my thoughts start spiraling. Will I be alone forever? Will I be a terrible therapist? Why have I gained so much weight? What if my dad drops dead from a heart attack? I’d love to tell you (and my therapist!) that I try to sit with those feelings, but that would be a lie.

Depression can be treated without medication.

Verywell / Catherine Song

I usually loaf around in existential anxiety on my couch, doomscrolling, or start pacing my apartment, cleaning, frustrated by how messy I perceive it to be, and become more frustrated with myself for not being able to do anything right. I become too hungry to cook and succumb to takeout again, kicking myself a little bit for ordering out again and getting something “not healthy enough.”

But I remember something my therapist tells me often: “If you’re going to feel guilty eating the chocolate cake, then what’s the point of eating it? Enjoy the damn thing!” This applies to basically anything we guilt-trip ourselves for. And so, I enjoy the damn tacos! 

7:30 p.m.: With tacos in my belly, I take Lucy out for one more walk. I started taking long evening walks during that extra-bleak time of the pandemic earlier this year, and I’ve come to really enjoy them. Some nights, I walk on the beach, and some nights I just walk around my neighborhood, sometimes turning down a different street. With life still feeling like Groundhog Day at this point in the pandemic, sometimes I just need a little novelty. 

8:30 p.m.: I try to finish a little more reading for class, but I am just exhausted. I give up for the night on getting work done. I know what a disaster I am without sleep, so if something’s not immediately due, I’ll give up. I am a little frustrated, but—strangely adaptively and self-compassionately for me—I tell myself, well, I’ll just try again tomorrow. 

9:00 p.m.: I get into bed with a book for pleasure. For the first half of grad school, I wouldn’t let myself read books for pleasure outside of school breaks, but now it just feels like the best little escape. I have such a hard time turning my brain off from stress and rumination, but reading a page-turning thriller keeps me engrossed and unable to think about anything else.

10:00 p.m.: Lights out! I have a hard time sleeping often, so sometimes I will take an edible, and I float off to sleep.

In Closing

The outside of my life probably looks fairly similar to yours if you don’t deal with depression or another mental health condition. And sometimes the inside feels that way too—and sometimes it feels like I am dragging around this heavy sandbag on my back that I just can’t get rid of. 

At this point, most of my days overall are better than not, but depression is that constant companion. I can’t get rid of it, but I am learning more and more how to live with it. My mom used to say, “This, too, shall pass.” The good feelings may not last forever, but neither will the bad ones.

If you or a loved one are struggling with depression, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

By Theodora Blanchfield, AMFT
Theodora Blanchfield is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist and mental health writer using her experiences to help others. She holds a master's degree in clinical psychology from Antioch University and is a board member of Still I Run, a non-profit for runners raising mental health awareness. Theodora has been published on sites including Women's Health, Bustle, Healthline, and more and quoted in sites including the New York Times, Shape, and Marie Claire.