Using Metaphor to Describe the Pain of Depression

February 12, 2015 Erin Schulthies

Metaphors can describe the pain of depression better than stating the symptoms can. Read this depression metaphor and share your own depression metaphor here.

I am having one of those days where my depression is so impenetrable that I can't believe I'm able to sit upright. It feels like the force of my traumatic past is colliding with a bleak future that promises nothing but the same amount of pain. Yet here I am, sitting at my laptop, writing. How is this possible?

The truth is that I don't know how it's possible for me to be coping with depression as well as I am. Over time, however, I've learned that my brain tires itself out by trying to reason its way through depression and my thoughts quiet. I am thoroughly numb from depression.

Perhaps it's this numbness that lets us survive depression, or rather, the fluctuation between feeling overwhelmed and feeling nothing. Our brains constantly try to make sense of what they don't understand and depression is so complex that we may never fully understand it.

A Metaphor that Describes the Pain of Depression

I live in Canada, near Toronto. At the moment we have four feet of snow coating the ground; at the end of driveways where we pile the shoveled snow, we have almost six feet of white-grey slush-turned-ice. Every day it snows a little more and every day we ask ourselves, "How can it still be coming down?"

Using metaphors can describe the pain of depression better than we can. Read this depression metaphor and share your own depression metaphor here.

Some say it's global warming, but no matter who is talking, they neither fully understand or have any control over the snow. By this far into the winter, we learn to weather it, literally.

I was diagnosed with depression at the age of 16. By 30, I am used to shoveling pain and numbness, day after day, trying to clear the driveways of my brain so that I can try to make it out of the house.

I don't know how I've done it, but I have, one day at a time.,one snowflake at a time.

Use Metaphors to Describe Your Depression Pain

This post shows one way I process all the symptoms of depression: metaphor, which involves making a comparison. When my depression feels too dense to describe logically, I liken it to overwhelming amounts of snow. Sometimes I compare it to the ocean and say that I'm drowning.

Most frequently, I choose a metaphor based on nature and climate. This planet is huge, as is my depression. Yet we all live here, surviving what we can, and living to tell the story.

Maybe one day I'll be 90 years old and talk to my great-grandchildren about the depression blizzard of 2015. It may be painful to think back to this time in my life, but I'll gain strength from telling the story. I'll teach my great-grand-children that storms can be weathered, as can the pain and numbness.

How do you weather the storms of depression? Is there a different metaphor that makes more sense to you? Share your depression metaphors, opinions, and survival tips in the comments below. We'll make it through together.

You can also find Erin Schulthies on Twitter, Google+, Facebook and her blog, Daisies and Bruises: The Art of Living with Depression.

APA Reference
Schulthies, E. (2015, February 12). Using Metaphor to Describe the Pain of Depression, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 19 from

Author: Erin Schulthies

Greg Weber
February, 12 2015 at 7:46 am

I think your writing is also part of the way you survive depression. I've never read any one else who communicates the soul crushing weight of depression better than you do.
I wonder if, through your writing, you are able to move some of that pain from the inside to the outside, like shoveling snow from the driveway into the street?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Erin Schulthies
February, 14 2015 at 5:42 pm

Hi Greg,
Wow, thank you so much! Writing is most definitely part of the way I survive my depression. It really helps to put my feelings on a page so that I can look at them in a different way. One of my favourite quotes is by SARK. She says, "Expression is the opposite of depression." I really believe it and I think it applies to absolutely everyone, whether they're a writer or not. Writing is my snow shovel!
Take care,
<3 Erin

Rain Gill
February, 21 2015 at 8:10 am

I also use metaphor to describe something that is, most often, indescribable. I often compare my Depression to drowning. I saw an image with a quote one day that showed a person underneath the water with the words "Depression is like drowning. Except you can see everyone around you breathing." Another one says "I'm drowning, and you're standing there screaming 'learn how to swim!'"
I agree with Greg, I love the way you use your words to share your story. You are a beautiful wordsmith.
As always, thanks for sharing :)

Pam Dickhaus
February, 21 2015 at 1:24 pm

Excellent post, Erin. One of the metaphors I use also comes from outdoors. "My depression is a large hole in the ground. I try to climb out but the dirt gives way with every grip of my hands and I sink even further." I use others, too. Still, a lot of people just don't understand what it's like, what a person with depression feels or is going through. I hope one day, through more education and perhaps some empathy and compassion, more people will understand and try to come up with better solutions for this illness. Thank you so much for sharing.

February, 21 2015 at 11:22 pm

Thank you for posting this. I've never used a metaphor to describe myself but I've still done exactly what you write. I use music to get through my bad episodes. I was only recently diagnosed with depression but I suffer from it since I was a teenager. How did I turn 40 without getting noticed? I guess it was shoveling snow...

February, 22 2015 at 2:44 am

Sometimes I have described my bouts of depression as a fog. It's like I'm slower, and it's harder to get through everything.

February, 22 2015 at 6:00 pm

I still don't really see my depression or can't describe it. I am lonely and I think I too have always felt this way. Just know I don't really feel happy deep down. Don't feel love. Its a struggle to feel anything

Rhonda lloyd
February, 22 2015 at 8:08 pm

i think of depression as walking In a tunnel through the mud. Everyone knows tunnels end so you keep walking waiting for the end or the opening and the light but it remains dark and difficult. Sometimes there is a bend in the tunnel and just enough light gets through to cause you to keep walking. But the mud makes every step difficult and arduous. Others think they know what you are experiencing because they know about tunnels and mud. But they don't understand your tunnel just keeps on going and the sun never shines bright enough to dry up all the mud.

March, 9 2015 at 4:28 pm

I was always a happy go lucky guy. One day at work " WHAM" I felt like a home sick child, and so sad. I went home early thinking I must have the flu. I miss the next 3 days of work. I go to my doc. Major depression. To me it is like having a really bad toothache. With meds it still hurts (sad) but I can now function. I keep looking and waiting on a dentist that will pull that tooth

March, 15 2015 at 12:02 pm

Depression is like Sarte's description of death. That is when you die you don't really go anywhere. You are in a room with people and you never go to sleep, lay or sit down or even blink your eyes. Because the "blink" is like a very small break. And sleep, well that's like heaven.

Rakhee Patel
March, 31 2015 at 1:07 am

Please read my story on the blog I have just started, as well as a few posts. I have found writing to be the best therapy yet. It is my mental outlet and makes me feel less alone. People can take the time to read and understand something that is almost impossible to capture through verbal conversation.

Frances Dale
April, 2 2015 at 8:35 am

My problem isn't the depression side of the bi polar, it's the manic self defense system that kicks in and deprives me of sleep. And when I haven't slept for a long time, there's the crying. I guess shoveling snow works for this too. It's good to read what everybody is going through. Frances Dale author Little Porcupine Goes to the Psyche Ward (You can google that.)

November, 9 2015 at 5:09 am

I have come up with the metaphor of a stale cake. I admit that I have many things to be thankful for, and many people have told me how they wish they had my life. What they don't understand is how hard it is to keep going when I have depression. Prior to getting depression in my teens, my life was a happy one, a fresh made cake. But slowly my depression set in, and the cake became stale. My grades fell. It was hard to keep going. Sure I could put icing over it, act like I was happy, but underneath life was hard and crumbling. Sometimes I would have big mountains of icing, like those big roses on a cake, and life would seem ok for a while. These times were things like going hiking with my dad, watching a movie that made me smile, having a sleep over with my best friend and her keeping me in laughing fits, but as soon as those ended, I was right back to my stale cake. As I went on, it got more and more crumbly, and eventually a huge crack had formed. It felt like I couldn't piece my life back together, like ending it was the only way out. But I got help and am putting my cake back together. Maybe I will always have a stale cake, maybe I can bake a new one and open a new chapter in my life. I suppose we will just have to see. That's my metaphor anyway.

December, 10 2015 at 7:58 pm

I have depression/anxiety, so for me depression feels like melting, and I'm going to be a liquid, but I'm still a solid- only I'm not quite sure what being solid feels like. And anxiety is like gas, I have the energy of a gas trapped in a solid.

February, 17 2016 at 5:45 am

As one who tries to hold down a full-time job despite a constant battle with severe depression for the past 16 years, I found your post encouraging. Your snow metaphor is so apt. Thanks.

April, 25 2016 at 6:23 pm

Just last year October 2015 I was was diagnosed to have a major depression... It's like I'm falling into an endless ravine of nothingness with sharp thorns cutting and bruising my heart and soul, devoid of love and happiness....bleeding...hurting excruciating pain one can never have imagined. But somewhere along that fall my hand had caught into didn't stop me from falling but it paused me a second or two before falling again..I'm still falling now but not as fast as before ..I would think of it as hanging on to what I call it a branch of hope...I do slip once in a while but as I grab another branch it's like a little bigger and sturdier than the last one...
I'm grabbing every branch of this hope..for every branch I grab a leaf grows...soon there may be a bud ...soon... With hope...

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