the walking depressed


This is a repost from Alison Gresik’s blog. I found it compelling, and describes so aptly my days before major depression that I would like to share it with my readers here, so they too, might avoid clinical depression.

Let’s play a little word association.

When I say someone is DEPRESSED, what comes to mind?

How about: Gloomy unshowered schmuck. Stuck and unmotivated. Unable to work. A drag to be around. Broken. Victim. Complainer. Crying all the time. Never leaving the house.

That’s the stereotype, isn’t it? And there’s some truth there. Allie at Hyperbole and a Half draws a vivid picture of this kind of depression.

But depression has many different faces and manifestations.

I was one of the walking depressed. 

We don’t collapse and stay in bed all day. We keep working, keep writing, keep looking after our families. Keep blogging and tweeting and going out with friends. Keep taking our car to the service station. We just do it all while being profoundly unhappy. 

Because we’re strong-willed creatives. We are so strong that we endure unendurable situations far longer than we should. We are deeply committed and we want to do our best for others.

Jen Lee has coined the term Dutiful Creatives to describe those of us who are inclined to take care of our responsibilities before anything else.

“If life were a meal, you’d consider your creativity as the dessert, and always strive to eat your vegetables first. Pacing and knowing how to say No are your strengths, but your creativity is more essential to your well-being than you realize.” from Jen Lee’s Quiz: What Kind of Creative Are You

Too many years of denying ourselves the pleasures of our creative pursuits and it’s no wonder we blunder into sadness.

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10 Signs of Walking Depression

“I once read that succumbing to depression doesn’t mean you are weak, but that you have been trying to be strong for too long, which is maybe a form of denial. So much of life happens somewhere in between being okay and complete breakdown—that’s where many of us live, and doing so requires strength.” ~ novelist Matthew Quick

Walking depression can be hard to recognize because it doesn’t fit the stereotype. But it’s just as dangerous to our well-being when left unacknowledged.

This list isn’t meant to be an exhaustive diagnostic. But these are some of the signs I’ve observed in myself and those I’ve coached:

  1. Nothing is fun. You root around for something to look forward to and come up empty.
  2. You can’t find flow. Working on your creative projects feels like a grind, but you keep plodding away. There is research that shows that neuroticism (the tendency toward negative moods) is associated with lower rates of flow.
  3. Your energy is low. Maybe you’re not getting enough rest because you’re too anxious to sleep, or you’re trying to cram too many tasks into a day, or you’re punishing yourself by staying up. Whatever the reason, you are effin’ tired.
  4. You feel worse in the morning and better at night. I remember explaining this to a friend, who found it mystifying. In the morning I felt the crushing weight of all the things I had to do that day. In the evening I was temporarily free from expectations and could enjoy a moment’s respite.
  5. You have simmering resentment toward the people you’re helping. Sure, you’re still doing what everybody asks of you, but you stew in anger the whole time.
  6. Your self-talk gets caustic. You say nasty things in an effort to shock yourself into action. You use shame as a motivator.
  7. You feel distanced from people around you. It’s hard to have genuine, intimate conversations because you have to keep up this front that you are alright.
  8. You deprive yourself of creative work time (the artist as sadomasochist). This helps you exert some control and stirs up feelings of suffering that are perversely pleasurable. Also, taking on new projects that prevent you from writing or making art lets you prove to yourself that you’re still strong and capable.
  9. You notice a significant mood change when you have caffeine or alcohol. A cup of coffee might make you feel a lot more revved-up and optimistic. A glass of wine might make you feel really mellow and even ~ gasp! ~ happy. (That’s how I finally realized that I was depressed.)
  10. You feel like you’re wasting your life. Strong-willed creatives have a high sensitivity to the inherent meaning in what we do. Creativity coach Eric Maisel calls this our “existential intelligence.” If our daily activities don’t carry enough significance ~ if they don’t feel like a worthwhile use of our talents and passions ~ then soon we are asking ourselves, “What’s the point? Why should I keep going?”

Why is it hard to admit that you have walking depression?

You may recognize many of these signs in your life but still be slow to admit that you are depressed. Why is that?

Because it feels presumptuous to put yourself in that category when you’re still getting by. You feel like it would be insulting to those who are much worse off than you.

Because your pride and your identity take a hit. You have to admit vulnerability and allow that you are not the all-conquering superwoman you thought you were.

Because you realize that you and your life need to change, which feels like more work piled on your plate.

Because you are admitting your own responsibility for your unhappiness and that can trigger self-judgment.

Because you might uncover grief or anger at those around you for not seeing and taking better care of you.

Does this sound like you? Stop denying yourself treatments and recovery.

Alison works with depressed creatives so please check out her website too!

25 Responses

  1. 0ddly though, when I’m depressed I seem to create my best work.

    not super depressed, but just generally going through tough times.

    funny how that works

    • nochnoch says:

      Thats same for me! I can write like a flood when I’m down but not too bad. Once i get too bad then I hide in my bed 🙁
      Noch Noch

  2. Justin Mazza says:

    Thanks Noch for sharing this post on depression. I have felt this way many times in the past and the root cause for me was not taking care of my own needs first. It’s too easy to get caught up in helping others and forgetting about ourselves.

    • nochnoch says:

      Hi Justin
      How are you? Yeh I think lots of us forget to take care of ourselves. So its good we have people like you to remind us as well 🙂
      Noch Noch

      • Steve says:

        Thank you Noch Noch. This is a great article that a lot of people are embarrassed to admit including myself. I just keep pushing forward very similar to you. Sleep is my biggest issue and I’m definitely going to try fish oil and multivitamin before bed. I currently take them in the morning. Thanks again and good luck!

        • nochnoch says:

          Hi Steve

          Thanks for your note. Sleep indeed is paramount. Once I got my sleep right, things started turning up. I had to take sleeping pills for a while to regulate my sleep, but my husband had to guard them for fear what I would do with them 🙁
          Good luck with your recovery too and hope to hear from you again!

          Noch Noch

  3. Steve says:

    Hi Noch,
    During your depression, did you feel detached and feeling like you didn’t know what was going on around you? This symptom really scares me because I feel like I’m losing my mind completely. Thank you for redponding and talk to you soon!

    • nochnoch says:

      Hi Steve

      Yeh I did, and part of it was I did not have interest in my surroundings and I was hiding from people, turned my phone off, wiped myself off social media and I was simply scared. I thought I was losing my mind too. But I think it’s part of the symptoms. My psychologist really helped me out though to control my thoughts better so I don’t go crazy…
      Do you have someone taking care of you?

      Noch NOch

  4. TonyB says:

    This is me. Exactly.

    • nochnoch says:

      Hi Tony

      Sorry to hear this and you feel the same. Is there anything you could differently in your life to minimize the walking depressed feeling? 🙁
      Please write to us any time you want. We would listen!

      Noch Noch

  5. Amy says:

    i took the creativity quiz, i got: Mostly B’s: You are a Distracted Creative. With a hundred ideas shooting in a hundred directions, it’s easier for you to think up creative projects than to actually sit down to do them. Ideas and inspiration are indeed your strengths, but if you learn how to drop down into your ideas and dwell with them, you could slow down enough to enjoy the other part of the creative process: making.

    Thats all true lol, but i do get down to writing some of them, i just never finish them because i get different ideas XD

  6. Amy says:

    I can be really hyper and not have to eat sugar or drink caffeine…but because of the hyperactivity i have…i go so high, then just drop like weights and i mean i’m quite a negative persona nd always seeing the flaws in everything…i mean we all try to get on with our lives. It’s not simple and even if we are surrounded by loved ones, doesnt mean we wont feel lonely just because we’re not alone literally. I really like all your posts, i’ve read them. It’s really good to find someone who understands so well and has experienced it all. I used to drink when i was 12-16, but now i’m 17 and i’m kind of put off by alcohol now…i guess its because i used to keep drinking and drinking till i threw up and always had to be carried home or carried onto my bed by a friend. The worst thing was my mum got blamed for it, bless her heart. But she wasn’t anything to do with me drinking, i snuck the alcohol out of the cabinet and i went round mates and pretty much asked for alcohol. (I was obssessed o.o) See, my mum has M.S (Multiple Schlerosis/many scars) and she cant walk at all and can only stand up for about 5 seconds before falling and it was horrible seeing her get the blame for something I did…i finally stopped after realizing alcohol was making me worse. When i hit 11 thats when i started feeling depressed and out of control, insane. (Sorry, putting my life story on here! xD) now i just self harm, using a compass needle and nothing else and i have thoughts about burning myself with a really hot teaspoon after leaving it in hot water, but am reluctant. Feel as if i should be punished and that i’m a terrible person, all this guilt and i don’t know why it’s like this.

    • nochnoch says:

      Hi Amy

      Have you diagnosed by a psychologist as to what kind of depression / anxiety you have ? I cannot say but you are young and have lots of good years ahead of you after this life challenge. Maybe a shrink can help you identify and recover in a systematic way? I got along well with my shrink and he has helped me lots!
      It hurts me to know you hurt yourself. But I understand. Still i hope you will not, but slightly hard for me to convince you when I have similar thoughts. Anyways, I hope you find some comfort in my writing and carry on
      Noch Noch

  7. Amy says:

    Thankyou so much, this really means alot. 🙂 Well the good thing is i’m able to sometimes stop myself from cutting, but other times things get unbearable and i just kind of do it. I have a shrink, she’s rea;;y nice and she’s even referring me to a a team of people who deal with self harm and paranoia. Well i was told i have just normal depression but abit more than average and the anxiety is Generalised anxiety disorder, ocd, panic disorder and phobia disorder. I guess they all link in to one thing. Yeah, talking to someone makes you feel like you’ve gotten a heavy burden off yourself and they dont tell you what to do either or make you feel bad. I’ve had quite a few bad experiences with psychiatrists before, but the person i’m seeing now is really helpful and kind. Thankyou and i think if i keep up what i’m doing, like keeping contact with my friends, going for little walks and looking after myself properly, plus seeing my shrink then things should start improving more. I mean theres always a downfall but everyone has those i guess. 🙂

    I hope i can help you too! 😀

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  9. Ru says:

    Hi Noch Noch,
    I was reading your list and realized I fit in 80% of those descriptions… something happened in the past 2 weeks seems like a triggering event. and ever since friday last week, i can’t go on a day without crying. whether at my cubicle quietly sniffing or just home on my couch sobbing.

    There’s this intense amount of ‘feeling’ inside me that i dont even know how to process it. Is it anger? is it resentment? is it fear or is it feeling lost? i have no clue.
    So before i left work, i called my doctor to make an appointment. i think it’s time to do something about this. I have had the same feeling for the past 14 years of my life. I just know this is it, if i don’t take care of this now, it’s going to plague every job i have in the future, every relationship i have now and nothing good will come out by staying silent.

    I hope this isn’t a burden of too much sharing for you. it’s just my mind is currently numb. I am still crunching away a memo for tomorrow’s deadline. i don’t know how long i can keep going like this

    • nochnoch says:

      Hi Ru

      Not a burden at all and kudos to you for sharing your story. Speaking about it definitely helps! I hope you find some solace and a good doctor / mentor to guide you through the changes in your life to come.

      Noch Noch

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about Noch Noch

Enoch Li, (pen name: Noch Noch) was born and raised in Hong Kong and Australia. She has also studied / worked / lived in the US, France, UK, Japan, The Netherlands, China, and has travelled to more than 40 countries. She loves travelling and her curiosity in foreign cultures and languages has led her to enjoy her life as an international executive in the banking & finance industry. However, she was forced to take time off work in 2010 due to her illnesses and after spending time in recovery, cooking, practising Chinese calligraphy, reading and writing – in short, learning to take care of herself and letting out the residual work stress, she has transitioned into a Social Entrepreneur and founded BEARAPY to help corporates make workplaces mentally healthy, and support executives to become more resilient.