18 November 2009


Someone hugged me a while back, looked me in the face, and said, "You're looking a lot better than you were a few weeks ago." I was a bit surprised, because I didn't know I hadn't been well, besides the onslaught of the usually unnoticeable health problems (seriously, who notices from your face that you're not doing well when your back hurts?). A week later, this picture was taken on a day when I thought I was doing really well:

And now I understand. I could say it's just a bad picture, or that I'm just really pale, or that I should have learned my lesson wearing white a long time ago (an institute teacher thought I had been really sick and said it must have been the white), or that I was tired, or that I'd been reading too many vampire books (Dracula and The Historian), or that I was busy concentrating on the piano piece. But take a look at my eyes.

I look like I'm on the edge of a breakdown.

And maybe I was.

Maybe I am.

Maybe I'm already deep in it.

Why do I tell you this? I have no idea. I certainly don't want pity and I certainly don't believe anyone can help me out of it, when I can't get myself to want to do anything to get out of it.

People seem to think that depression has to have one big reason, and that that reason is usually individuals having too high expectations of themselves. In other words, they think that perfectionism has driven them over the wall, meaning they are now eternally sad. But that's not my experience. My experience involves repeated bouts of complete lack of feeling for what seems like no reason.

Anhedonia would make a beautiful name, if only it didn't indicate what it does. I only recently found out about this term for this recurring depression symptom of mine. I'd just been thinking of it as "absolut keine Lust." It's a numbness that gets to me and threatens all well-intended plans, because all I want to do is never do anything ever again. The word "crippling" is too physical. "Debilitating" as well. Maybe "emotionally deadening" would be closer, but it doesn't do justice to how harmful anhedonia's effects are. (And for me it's accompanied by dissociation, depersonalization, and derealization. I guess you could say I have ADDD.)

I wish I could really share with you what it's like. Think of all those book characters that just stopped living, though their hearts were still beating, and you might get an idea--Esther Greenwood (The Bell Jar), Holden Caulfield (Catcher in the Rye), M.S. Fogg (Moon Palace), and Anna Morgan (Voyage in the Dark), and last name-less Jack (American Purgatorio).

I want to be able to deal with this recurring issue instead of always being again and again reached by it. I want to be able to figure it out now, without medicine, because I won't always have five or six months where I can just crash and isn't the purpose of life to have joy?

But being so numb that nothing appeals to you and nothing has a purpose doesn't help you figure anything out. And it exacerbates every other normal problem. For example, your money dwindles but you have no motivation to do anything about it. You know that having someone there for you might help, but you're not attractive to people in that state, and they can't awaken any feeling in you either. And these problems turn into vicious circles. If you don't want to do anything, your health turns bad because of lack of exercise, and because of your bad health, you are even more deadened to the world (a.k.a. depressed) and less inclined to exercise (which is supposedly a mood booster, though I think of it more as a temporary stress shedder, but who has stress when they have no feeling?).

And there are all these levels of thinking, where you know that things are getting worse, but you have no desire nor ability to react. And somewhere deep inside you wish you could do something, but you are too indifferent about everything to be able to do anything. You think of the real you, who likes to get things done and who now avoids any responsibility and shuns any social interaction whatsoever. But anhedonia has become you. You have become anhedonia.

Sometimes you don't even look at your planner to see what is scheduled or what you could get done on your to-do list. You have days where you know you should be proud of yourself for accomplishing something, anything, but the next morning you spend full minutes looking into your eyes in the mirror and you find nothing there. No reaction. No emotion. No passing thought. And you spend the day lying still, looking up at the ceiling, or gazing at nothing at all out the window. And something inside says that you should do something, that you should be disappointed in yourself, but you can't move. So much of it is about time. Passing. Passing. Passing. All you can do is wait.

I realize all these things should be negative, at least by the standards of the world, and that's why I can only write about them in negative terms, which throws you off. You think, "But she sounds really frustrated, she can't really be without feeling, can she?" But feeling that frustration is not possible. It's like watching a slow-motion movie from under water and being able to make some slow-motion thoughts about what the characters are doing, but not doing anything about it or being able to. How do you explain, on terms that aren't related to frustration, that you can be frustrated without being frustrated? Here is where language fails.

This is my battle. But again, that word is too active. This is my passive surrender that doesn't feel like a surrender at all. It is happening without me being involved in the matter and without any clear enemy. I have an understanding now somewhere inside me of what others I know have gone through, not that it "comforts" me to know others have gone through the same. (Yet another word attached to emotion! It's not to be escaped. It is a part of life. It is a part of language.) Maybe that's why I have to struggle too, so that I can learn to be more sympathetic in the times when I have feeling.

I've always noticed that when I least want to be with people is when I need them the most. And my strong beliefs force me to be with people at church at least three times a week where I can forget about myself and smile at people, so no worries there. I'm forcing myself to take care of myself. I'm training twice a week and eating more vegetables than I ever have in my life. I'm not going to die from this, at least not physically. But am I going to be able to really live and feel it? Even asking that question evokes no feeling. I'd just like a "no" and a way to live off of no income and with no schedule and no social interactions. (Hello, not possible.)

Or a "yes."


  1. it's so weird how common this feeling is because i know exactly how you feel. i will keep on truckin' with you, sister.

  2. You commented on my blog once and I don't even know you (apparently you know people I know?), but this post reminded me of myself. A lot. I've been to that place. I'm not sure I would say I've experienced anhedonia, but the feelings sound the same. I don't have any advice because I know from my experience that the only cure is hitting a breaking point. You should give yourself some credit: you have enough feeling to take care of yourself. That is something, seriously.
    I should mention that I loved your post entitled "I saw a pink leaf today" because of the part about women growing bitter. All I can say is, "Word." I even read it out loud to my roommate. But I feel sort of compelled to share one of my favorite movie quotes because I think it has a lot to it:

    "What's so great about depression?"
    "Nothing. Unless it holds the key to something you compulsively avoid, so it will never be examined or felt."

  3. Wow, Michelle, this is an excellent description of this symptom. I've certainly felt that way before, but I like how you acknowledge the way language fails to capture this mood.

  4. Hang in there.

    I don't know you -- I just stumbled upon your blog -- but you've described what I've been feeling but have been unable to name.

    I've been seriously, clinically depressed before. Right now, I don't feel depressed, just numb. I keep going through the motions, but I can't get anything of substance done. The motions include going to the gym, cooking and eating healthy meals and all that, so I've not gotten into the downward cycle. Still, I feel so passive about doing some vital things. Writing. Doing the needful to keep money coming in. Seriously important things.

    For me, part of the problem is that, like you, I'm an American living in Europe. I've been here two years now. People keep asking me if I've 'settled' yet. And I have. At the same time, it seems there's an enormous hole where my Self is supposed to be.

    As a former Californian (near Los Angeles) who hates heat, I thought the adventure of short winter days and lots of rain would be a nice change. It certainly is change, all right, but it's more of a challenge than I expected. I wonder if that's affecting you as well.

    Thanks for writing so honestly about this. You've helped me this morning. Maybe that's something.

    Hang in there.

  5. And, hey, the lighting in that picture was horrible.

    And this may sound trite, but have you thought about getting a pet? I've noticed a change in my overall mood now that I hang out with my cat Fitzgerald all day.


    Taylor, I'm your sister's friend Scott Gunther, I think Michelle heard about your blog from me or Lauren. Mystery solved!

  6. Not trying medication to help these depression symptoms is like telling someone who needs glasses to do these eye exercises and you won't have to wear glasses...The body chemistry needs help sometimes too. Try a low dose of a recommended med and see if it makes any difference. Don't be ashamed of using meds to balance your chemistry. Good luck.

  7. Thanks for all the comments. It seems like depression is one of those things that most people try not to talk about. I'm glad I could be open about it and have such a supportive blog community.

    Lorraine: I'm glad I could help in some way and I hope things get better--for both of us.

    Scott: I've thought about getting a pet, but that would also require money, which is not something I have right now.

    Lisa: funny you should make that comparison, because a student of mine told me she's taking a class to strengthen her eyes so she won't have to get glasses when she's older.

    The whole medicine issue is still a huge debate in my head. I just don't like the idea of having to rely on a pill to improve my mood for the rest of my life. And the side effects do not sound lovely.

    But as I talked to my sister today, she made a lot of good points, and she confirmed the fact I've noticed recently. A big change needs to occur, and I need to be the one to make a step. No one else can make it for me.

  8. All our bodies are in a fallen state, and that includes our brain chemistry. You take sudafed all the time because your particular fallen body has a weird relationship to allergens. I agree with Lisa, brain chemistry really is no different.

  9. Hang in there girl! I've been there too...hey maybe I'm still there. But that's the beauty of this gospel. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. And if you don't feel like taking the meds is right for you, hang in there. And pray.

  10. Michelle, you have my sympathy and I only wish I could just come give you a hug, or something. Just be there.
    Michelle @ MW

  11. that really is it. No feeling, and no desire to do anything. It's worse than actual sadness or anger or fear... those feelings are relief because you are feeling. I read this post and see it's several years ago and hope that things have gotten better. Thank you for coming to comment on my blog.