Living in the Land of Anhedonia

canstockphoto28843846The gray slides over me. It is neither friend nor foe. It just is. Like the autumn leaves, my edges curl in and I get as small as possible. I pull back from friends and family. I say less. I go dark. My life becomes one slow, forced choice at a time. Ah, depression, it’s you again.

When I talk about depression, I get a lot of well-meaning advice. Meditation, yoga, therapy, medication. Even in my brightest moments, I resent unsolicited advice. Medicine, in general, messes me up. I take half dosages of everything to prevent intestinal derision and buzzing in my head. I end up with half a headache, half a fever, half a cold, half pregnant (okay, maybe not the last one). Even my depression is half-assed.

For some people, this season kicks in a melancholia that eases at the first snowfall. Melancholy carries a bittersweet richness. It is, for me, a welcome feeling. It feeds my creativity, serves as fertile compost for my soul.

canstockphoto15341298Where I’m at now, is neither bitter nor sweet. It is nothing. The landscape is colorless and flat, but not endless. This is where I am fortunate. I know there is an end. That it will pass. This knowing is a gift. It is my fallow time, like the fields that lay bare in anticipation of next season’s abundance.

I have a lot of friends who suffer from anxiety and depression. They work hard to find a balance of medication and therapy that makes life bearable. For some of them, it’s been years of trial and error. It’s been trial and error for me as well, except I didn’t go to the experts. I can be ridiculous that way. My experts were booze, cigarettes, bad relationships, food, shopping. Then I did the exercise, yoga, therapy thing. I learned new coping strategies. I now have a full toolbox. Which I occasionally ignore.

“Depression lies” is a mantra to remind people in the midst of disordered thinking, that they’re not hearing truth. My depression doesn’t lie. It’s just the worst spin doctor ever. Every thought is taken and turned into something that resembles the truth, with a negative twist. It’s a bad public relations consultant.

canstockphoto11627768I sat through a Halloween event last night. Even on a good day, Halloween is my least favorite holiday. As a kid, while smacking into others on dark sidewalks, wearing my cardboard box/robot costume, I only wanted to go home and eat my candy. Now, as an adult, candy-eating feels like desperation. Let’s stuff those feelings down, until they feel like they might all come up at once. Yes, I’ve already purchased and eaten some of this year’s candy meant for the door. I feel sick.

Surrounded by little Elsas and grownups in Star Wars paraphernalia last night, I felt isolated and dull. My costume was that of a caring parent who delights in the laughter of children and the silliness of grownups. I wanted a drink, a smoke, a dark corner and potentially nachos. Anything not sweet. Anything that would allow me to sink into myself and be alone.

Fortunately, my brain has some off-roading neural pathways that don’t lead to self-destruction. I sent sardonic texts to friends. I watched little blue dinosaurs and witches spin around and giggle and bounce off walls. My isolation melted at the edges. A little color came into the room. I remembered all the costumes my daughter has worn over the years -a police officer, mountain climber, the ladybug, a giraffe suit that blocked her sight making her run into things, fall down and giggle. I breathed deeply.

canstockphoto2012059

I can’t decide between ghoulish gray, shitty sepia or bland brown.

This morning, it is apparent that the moment of color has passed and the weather has decided to agree with me. It’s rainy and gray. The irony of my dulled sensory perceptions is that we’re remodeling the kitchen. I am picking paint colors and lighting and a chef (well, in my fantasy kitchen).  I’ve put it aside for the moment. I keep picking tans and grays. When I started the project, I was picking yellows and soft peach colors. Interior design seen through the lens of depression.

So I write here, hoping to let some light in, to relieve the build up of negativity, to say out loud that I know I’m depressed and that I know I’ll be okay. I’m reading a lot. I’m ignoring the phone and emails. I’m pounding nails out of old cabinets. I’m working on the darker scenes in my novel. One thing at a time, and then the next and the next, until the shadows recede and the world goes full color once again.

54 Comments on “Living in the Land of Anhedonia

  1. Hang in there. At least you have writing as a way to express yourself. I totally get the “not taking advice” thing. I don’t have depression, but I do have epilepsy, and as with every other ailment in the book, everyone’s experience is unique to them. It’s rainy and dark here too. The perfect day for those dark scenes 🙂

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    • Thanks – writing does provide a measure of relief. I think it’s human nature to not enjoy getting advice, especially since people love, love, love to give it. It is definitely a “mood” setting for writing today!

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  2. As a fellow depressed artist I can only take my hat off and take a deep bow out of respect (used to be an actress hence the big body language). I would be a fool giving you any advice. I’d better take yours.

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    • Ha – it sounds like a club I’d like to be part of – Fellow Depressed Artists.

      It’s often hard to talk about depression in a neutral way without people wanting to fix you. For me, the writing is the palliative, easing things enough to prevent a further downward spiral, but there are so many different ways of coping. Today it included me belting out Adele tunes in the shower. My cats did not appreciate it.

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        • About so many ways of coping: I think one needs a lot of ways because when one thing seems to work one day, the next day… well you know what I mean. Today it really is the most powerful thing to use your voice with no holding back and tomorrow one feels like an idiot doing the same thing. I think this makes it so unbearable to get all the well meant advises. Unless someone goes through the same thing those advises send me into orbit as well.
          Only the sense of humor you express I think is essential and always has at least some effect. (Sorry for my quirky way of writing – I’m not a native speaker.)

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  3. Beautifully written description of a not beautiful reality, except that your reality gives you this gift of expression and understanding. Thank you for sharing your reality and your art. This helped me.

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    • Thank you – I’m glad you could find something helpful. I think really, that’s the point of writing experiences out loud. We learn that we’re not alone. I’m always grateful that so many people are writing about mental issues – it can be an isolating experience.

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  4. You have “we” in there, a daughter, and a home. If it’s any consolation, there are those of us who are alone and dealing with depression. Get beyond narcissism. It’s easier with others around. All is relationship. That is the gold in life.

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    • Normally, I’d try to be circumspect and gracious, especially since you seem to be suffering your own experience with depression.

      This is my experience. Narcissism is innate to the human condition, but no more apparent than when telling someone what they should be experiencing. Mental issues affect humans in all conditions – in relationships and out of them, with people or alone.

      I have lived with depressive tendencies most of my life – much of that time alone. I found depression itself easier to handle alone and have had to work at developing and maintaining relationships that don’t implode every time my brain slips into the gray. I am grateful for each and every person in my life, but they’re not an easy fix. I still have to do the work.

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  5. I love that you know that you’re okay and that it will end, no matter how bad it gets. I also love the brilliant clear way you write about it. Not going to say “chin up” or any of those cringe-worthy platitudes. You’re far too self aware to heed or need them. Will send a hug though 🙂
    Alison

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    • Thanks, Alison. I always feel that I enter dangerous territory when talking about depression. I can only speak to my experience of it, knowing that it can be much more debilitating for others. I am very grateful to be here, at this point in my life.

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  6. I don’t know exactly how you feel but I know that inside of you, there’s a power. It’s stronger than the negativity you feel and I pray you find it, even early, an wield it well.

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  7. My daughter used to always get depressed (starting around puberty) in the fall. We didn’t live in a cold dreary climate, but still it was fall and there it would loom until winter. Very mysterious.

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    • There seems to be so many variations of depression – seasonal, situational, hormonal, biochemical – it would be hard to untangle the threads to pinpoint reasons. Seasonal reasons affect a lot of people up here – changes in temperature and lack of exposure to sunlight really have an impact.

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  8. I left class quickly yesterday, trying to escape the after lecture chit chat. However, my plan was thwarted. I was almost to the double doors on the first floor when I heard, “Did you take the back stairs?” It was a young woman from my class. We’d parked in the same lot. Naturally that meant a conversation was inevitable. For nine minutes or so we talked about the struggle to function – in public – among others clawing their way across campus, trying to dodge the clench of depression. As I sensed we both were.

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    • This is what I was trying to explain to another commenter – that being depressed while having to interact with others is sometimes more difficult. The contrast often makes me feel worse and of course, it’s just exhausting to engage in chitchat. Sometimes, though, meeting someone on the same road really helps.

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  9. “a bad public relations consultant”…….like that idea, had me smiling.
    I like gray days and mood sometimes. Lets me appreciate the bright days but also lets me be a bit moody or quiet introspective, and maybe a bit down. I kinda like that sometimes, to tell you the truth. Sounds like you manage the grays just fine.

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    • I can enjoy moroseness and melancholy. But to me, that’s something different than a depression that leaves one exhausted and disconnected. Fortunately, the gray is getting lighter and I see an end in sight.

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  10. I hear but do not understand you. I feel but have no pity. We are the same but inexplicably different. How can I share your space. How can you share mine. We work to a script from the same play but as all great thespians our interpretation and presentation of the role differs. You and I may be in the same play but the season and the production separate us.
    I cannot claim to understand the real you. But your skill as a writer brings forth the message of hope. Something that can be seen in the mire we call depression. Hope never leaves me and it is my sincere wish that hope will always shine through your writing and your life.

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    • I’m glad that hope is an underlying message here. As dull and listless as I can feel, it is knowing that this is fleeting, that eventually I will be engaged and content again, that gives me hope. I know that this is not always the nature of depression for others, so I am grateful to have that knowledge. Best wishes to you.

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  11. Well, bleak as you might feel, this is techni-colour. Reading it live from Inverness, with a view to the black open mouth of the River Ness, night. Cheers to you and yours Michelle, – Bill

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  12. I love your choice of the word ‘anhedonia’—for me, it evokes not the deepest hell of hopelessness but simply the opposite of giddiness and mania. This kind of depression, as you note, can be greatly wearying and even sorrowful, but it can also be a time of re-set, a time in which one’s not distracted by the sparkly and colorful stuff but can sit back and observe, if a bit harshly, from a uniquely removed perspective how one’s own life is unfolding.

    As long as you can keep hold of the sense that this state is impermanent, and acknowledge that your grim perception of the moment is more critical and sardonic than is absolutely necessary for balance, I don’t think there’s any harm in stepping out of the popularly expected stream of happy-shiny-perfection-seeking. In fact, for me periods of no-contrast only heighten the beauty and intensity of contrast and its concomitant passions when they return. Depressed grey is not the same as pleasant melancholia, but it can serve a purpose as well, if only in teaching us to retreat from unacceptable demands for a time so as to recollect our energies and interests.

    But I’m still glad that I’m one of the very lucky ones for whom there *does* seem to be a magic combination of meds and therapy and general health that allows me to—more important than experiencing any mere Mood, to me—feel I’m truly Myself most of the time.

    Safe passage, and may the grey be suffused with light and color in due time.
    Kathryn

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    • Thanks, Kathryn. Finally coming out of it and with new energy – I think that’s always a surprise to me. It makes me think depression is a sign post: shut down and let things ferment. However, still very glad to be coming out of it. All I wanted to do was sleep!

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  13. Pingback: Living in the Land of Anhedonia | FormulaicMadness

  14. It took me forever to read this one, so I know you’re probably not in this exact place anymore. I knew you’d be eloquent and spot-on. I think I was afraid I’d identify too closely and do some kind of shape-shifting merger. Who the hell knows? It’s that PR Hack from Hell whispering in my ear. But, I’m not cycling, just sick—hopped up on steroids and albuterol. Sometimes I can’t tell the difference.

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  15. Has it ever occurred that you might be bipolar 2? Or cyclothymia? Sometimes mood disorders make an amazing writer such as yourself.

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  16. My bleak moods (my doc calls them depressions, I call them…other things) feel like I’m wearing big ol’ steel toes boots — Doc Martens-like but less nice — and all I can do is tramp over every thought I have as if it’s a flower in a garden that I, and my giant boots, keep demolishing. Any kind thought I have? Any supportive words from a friend? TROMP TROMP TROMP. FLATTEN FLATTEN FLATTEN.

    All of which I share, just to say: I’m sorry you’re feeling isolated and dull.

    I get the frustration of being given advice; no one knows the textures and temperatures of your depression but you. I hope the writing has eased your discomfort, and I hope you find yourself moving to another mental space soon.

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    • Fortunately, much of the gray has lifted. Now I’m my usual cantankerous self in full color. Yours is an apt analogy regarding the stomping about and wrecking things. This is why I’ve learned to cut down on contact with people when I feel this way. Small talk seems torturous, because I want to yell “shaddup, shaddup, shaddup!” and then run away.

      I think having a high level of self-awareness makes any advice land with a thud, although I try to remind myself that people’s intent is usually kind. “Try” being the operative word!

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  18. Congratulations on pushing through and functioning while depressed. I manage very little, and am unable to write at those times. Giving a hefty boost to the Depression, and making IT quite happy–the dear.
    🙄

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    • I’m just barely emerging from what has been a longer depression than I imagined. I tried to spend more time outside of my brain – lots of physical labor and less engagement with others. It helped, I think. There is one thing I repeatedly had to say to myself when I felt frozen: Just do one thing. That’s about all my brain can manage – sometimes even on a good day!

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  19. Pingback: Anhedonia Definition, Signs & Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

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