To me it describes a person trapped in a situation from which there is no apparent escape. It may be someone in a loveless marriage or abusive relationship who can't or won't leave either out of fear or "for the sake of the children". It could be someone in a dead-end job who can't quit because they need the money. To make matters worse, the individual may fear sharing his or her feelings out of humiliation or concern that such a confidence may be revealed and make things worse. Instead of seeking the help they need, they soldier on in the vain hope things will somehow resolve themselves and get better.
Generally, it's only when the person makes an effort to change their situation, that's things take a turn for the better. The horrible situation with the three women in Cleveland comes to mind. After ten years of unimaginable abuse, it was only when Amanda Berry took a chance and called for help that they were finally rescued.
In "Halifax" ( http://www.amazon.com/Halifax-ebook/dp/B00AVME2R4 ), Ellie's the one who's desperate, quietly despairing of anything ever changing. Little does she know that events beyond her control and the resulting decisions she makes are about to turn life as she knows it upside down.
Life often shakes things up in ways we can't begin to imagine. It is our response to those changes that makes all the difference.