Thanks to the internet and the world generally being more connected than it was several years ago, we know more about depression and its symptoms than we did before. Growing up, I remember thinking that depression was just a general period of sadness, nothing as serious as it was, until I developed depression in high school. The feelings of self-hatred, suicidal thoughts, fatigue, and loss of appetite are just a few more symptoms of depression that we’ve become more aware of.
However, there is one symptom of depression that I don’t see talked about as often, and it’s one that I struggle with the most: anhedonia.
Anhedonia is the inability to feel pleasure. It’s a common symptom of depression, but it is also a symptom seen in other mental disorders (such as schizophrenia). You lose interest in activities you used to enjoy, such as reading, talking with friends or something else that used to bring you joy. With anhedonia, hobbies and even sensory details like eating (known as physical anhedonia) no longer hold an appeal to you. You also generally find it harder to find pleasure in anything you do, regardless of what it is.
What makes anhedonia so insidious is that it’s often akin to feeling emotional numbness. It’s like the colors have all been muted around the world and there is absolutely nothing you can enjoy. Even if you want to enjoy what you’re doing, such as talking to loved ones, you can’t. You’re emotionally incapable of feeling pleasure, a basic human emotion. In a way, you may not feel human at all.
I remember being in the throes of anhedonia, and it’s one of the worst feelings in the world. Anhedonia makes you feel numb. And if nothing excites you, gets you out of bed in the morning, or makes you look forward to the day, it makes life feel pointless. I spent more time sleeping or just not getting out of bed because, in addition to the physical fatigue symptom, I didn’t see any point in doing anything if I didn’t enjoy anything. And when it got worse — when I didn’t treat my depression because I didn’t recognize it or didn’t know I needed help — I became suicidal. It made life feel insignificant in a way that not even my feelings of self-hatred did. If I had hobbies, I could distract myself from my negative feelings. But when I felt nothing at all, there was nothing to distract me and I was left alone in the darkness of depression.
The only way I climbed out of anhedonia was by getting treatment for depression. But depression is still something I deal with, and, for me, that means anhedonia is still something I struggle with from time to time. It sucks, and living through a pandemic certainly has pushed these feelings to the forefront of my mind. It’s not easy.
But I am better, and I am getting better. As scary as it sounds, talking to people really helps. I ignored anhedonia for so long because I thought it was just something life handed me, but when I found out that others experienced it, too, I felt immense relief. I was not alone, and I wasn’t doomed to feel this way forever. I could still feel joy. I could still smile and laugh, talk with people close to me, write, read and do all the things I love, and discover new passions along the way.
Anhedonia no longer controls my life; rather, it’s become an obstacle that, while burdensome, is something I can overcome.
Knowing I’m not destined to feel nothingness all my life has given me the will to move forward. If you struggle with anhedonia, too, I hope you can hold on to the fact that it’s something many people struggle with, you’re not alone, and it is something you can overcome.
Image by Ezekixl Akinnewu
Fairley Lloyd is a bisexual writer and editor passionate about mental health education and accessibility. She earned her BFA in creative writing from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her work appears in The Mighty, Thought Catalog, Spoonie Magazine, and elsewhere. You can find her sporadically on Twitter (@fairleylloyd) and Instagram (@fairleywords).