What It’s Like When You Can’t Find Joy In Anything
On an average day, I’m a social kind of gal. I have friends. I have activities. I even go out and do activities with my friends. When I say “average day,” I mean an average day when I’m healthy and happy and not suffering with a bout of bipolar depression. When I’m in the middle of a depressive episode, I’m the opposite of myself. I isolate. I don’t do anything. And I don’t want to do anything. That lack of desire to live a happy life is the worst part of having depression.
A unique symptom of bipolar depression is that it generally comes with some periods of mania or hypomania. For me, hypomanic episodes are when I’m myself, only better. I feel better. I think faster. I hang out with my friends more and I’m the life of the party — or at least I feel like I’m the life of the party because bipolar mania makes you think you’re great.
After the hypomania is over comes bipolar depression, with feelings on the opposite end of the spectrum. Instead of thinking that I’m great, I think that I’m worthless. I don’t hang out with my friends because I can’t get out of the bed. That’s can’t, not won’t. The depression almost literally chains you down and prevents you from thinking anything good or doing anything good.
When I’m in the throes of depression, I feel so bad about myself and about life that I basically can’t even remember a time when I liked anything. Activity is good for combating bipolar depression, so my therapist often asks me what I enjoy doing. When I’m very depressed, I can’t answer that question. It’s as though the part of my brain marked “fun” has been erased. Now that I’m well, I know that I like to read, but when I’m depressed, I can’t concentrate long enough to read and understand a sentence, so I forget that I liked it. I know now that I enjoy running, but when I’m depressed I can’t see my way to taking a shower and getting dressed, let alone running a few miles, so I disconnect from the joy I experience during a good run.
Then there’s the social aspect. Right now, in a healthy state, I know that I have friends and loved ones. But with a depressed mind, I am ashamed and afraid to let them see me in a bad state. I think they won’t like me if I’m having issues. I convince myself that my friends aren’t good friends because they won’t understand what I’m going through and will only reject me. Then, when things get really bad, I stop caring about having people around me because I believe that I’m unworthy of their interest. Not that I’d have the energy to answer their phone calls or go somewhere to meet them anyway.
Clearly, having bipolar depression is not an enjoyable experience. It makes you think badly of yourself and of everything around you. Depression can make you reject happiness and any means to pursue it. For me, the important part of getting back to enjoyment has been forcing myself to have experiences. The surprise of joy in an unexpected place is often a good enough reminder that I’m still capable of experiencing pleasure. And that’s a good enough experience to make me want to fight for a future full of happiness.
Tracey Lloyd lives in Harlem, where she fights her cat for access to the keyboard. You can find more of her experiences living with bipolar disorder on her personal blog, My Polar Opposite.