There is a lot that mental illness adds to life, albeit not necessarily in a good way. There is also much that it takes away. When it comes to my own depressive illness, those things depression has stolen from me have probably had the greatest overall impact on my quality of life.
As my illness has become treatment-resistant, one of the most pervasive symptoms I experience has been anhedonia, an inability to feel pleasure. While on a day to day basis it’s not as difficult to manage as other effects of depression, in terms of overall picture it’s really hard.
At one point in time I had friends. We would go out to eat and try new restaurants, we’d have afternoon drinks on a sunny summer patio, we’d go see live theatre, we went to writing festivals, we took road trips… Now, not only are the friends gone (because I pushed them away), but none of those activities hold even the slightest bit of appeal for me. It’s not that I’m anxious, although I do get over-stimulated easily. Mostly it’s just that I’m totally indifferent, and trying to do even small bits of those activities offers no enjoyment at all.
I also used to enjoy work. I’m a mental health nurse, and I was one those slightly annoying people that actually really loved their job. I liked spending time with colleagues, including some social time outside of work. Now work has become just something to do for the sake of a paycheque, and I have no desire to spend time with my coworkers even at work, much less outside of it.
I’ve lost the ability to feel happy and to feel hopeful about the future. The best I get now is an unemotional neutral.
I have stopped caring about how I look, and not really in a good way. I used to enjoy putting a bit of effort into my appearance, not for the sake of others but because it made me feel good. I’ve since devolved into a rather shaggy buffalo because I just can’t make myself care.
The biggest loss, though, has been my passion for travelling. That used to be my biggest passion, my raison d’être, what made my world go ’round. I thought I had a very realistic goal of visiting 40 countries by the time I was 40 years old.
Except then the treatment-resistant form of my illness kicked in. At first the biggest issue was that I simply wasn’t well enough to travel, but then a couple of years in I realized that the passion just wasn’t coming back. I thought perhaps if I did a trip it would re-ignite some of the fire within me. I planned a trip to Italy for last fall, thinking that would be a good combination of a place with amazing things to see and do that would also be relatively easy logistically.
I was glad that it did work out to be no problem logistically, but the passion just wasn’t sparked. I was seeing spectacular Roman ruins and priceless Renaissance art, but my reaction was a decided “meh”.
One of the things that makes all of this difficult is that pushing ahead and doing things makes no difference. If anything, it stirs up greater regret around the things I’ve lost.
There are things I’ve gained because of my illness, and writing is an important part of that, but I’m still not quite done mourning what I’ve lost. There’s also an undercurrent of frustration with depression for being the thief that it is.
Maybe eventually I’ll regain some of what has been stolen away, but maybe not. I will be able to gain new things, but I will never forget, and never stop appreciating, those things I used to have.