I learned a new word today, which I suppose isn’t surprising given how my line of work dictates that I keep expanding my vocabulary whenever possible.
In all honesty, I figured the typical identifier for such a state of mind was Depression, which I know all too well, but in our need for constructing more privileged and elitist sounding words to loom over the rank-and-file, I suppose Anhedonia will work too.
I was having a conversation with one of my friends recently, and she’s been going through the not-so-fun process of rebuilding and reinventing herself after the end of a long relationship. Having seen what she’s posted on social media and the demeanor she’s seemed to take on as part of what she’s attempting to do, I mentioned in my own snarky way that should she pull it off, one of these days she’ll have to indoctrinate me on how it was done.
“It’s not that hard, really,” she said. “You just have to find joy in the things that matter to you.”
In the week or so since we chatted, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and contemplating of how I’m feeling in the moment as I do the things which constitute my life now and have realized a rather scary conclusion.
My case of anhedonia seems to have become chronic. Or to put it another way, I don’t get any real joy out of doing anything any more.
I know there was a time not too long ago when I did. When I could sit down to write, or go out and take photographs, or play a video game or read a book, or even be in the space of friends and/or people in general, and get some form of positive emotional feedback from it. It may not always be much, but it was something, which is always better than nothing.
Over the past few months, though, I’ve come to realize that the majority of the time I spend doing the things which constitute my life now are done without any real sort of emotional connectivity or meaning.
At work, I’m just a mechanism, really. Just going through the motions of having employment so I can have a paycheck, pay my bills and keep myself from having an even worse existence. But I go to my job for the same reason I will come home and watch YouTube or play Skyrim for hours on end, instead of pushing myself to be more proactive on things like going back out and seeing what I can capture with my camera or cranking out another chapter of my book.
What I do doesn’t seem to matter to anyone, so why should it matter to me?
Now before you say anything, I already have a good idea of what’s coming, because I’ve heard it before. “It doesn’t matter what other people think, Dev, and you can’t count on the opinions of other people to make you happy.”
Perhaps not, but in return, I ask you this question. Just how happy could you really be if you knew that whatever you did was unlikely to ever change the opinions of those people who matter to you?
Just give it a think for a minute, if you will. Put yourself in that spot and try and figure out how long it might take you to maintain an atmosphere of happiness and fulfillment of your existence, in what amounts to an emotional vacuum. My guess is it would take a hell of a lot longer than you might be willing to accept.
And here’s the unpleasant kicker of truth that no one really likes to admit, because we’d rather tell ourselves that we can exist in such a bubble. Happiness and joy in our existence is predicated on receiving the positive acceptance and appreciation of those who’s opinions and feelings matter to us.
It’s a universal reality of who we are, from the time we are babies seeking the approval and affection of our parents and everyone needs it on even a basic level in order to function with some level of positivity and optimism. It starts with our parents and relatives, then moves onto the friends we make, and the lovers we choose, and ultimately onto our own children, who repeat the cycle ad infinitum.
Anyone who says they can operate without that is deluding themselves, because the symbiotic dichotomy of human relationships is that the external stimulus reinforces the internal. It’s why we have such a rampant obsession with fame and celebrity, especially in this country, even though the greater majority of those celebrities are miserable because the price to be paid for being the constant center of attention and widespread affection is so steep that it consumes so many of them through self-destruction and cognitive dissonance.
One of the biggest things I’ve had to come to grips with as I continue to battle my Depression is coming to the realization that for a very long time now, I’ve operated predominately in that anhedonic vacuum. I’ve lost even the most fleeting sense of joy or fulfillment I used to get in doing things that I like to think I was pretty good at.
On Sunday, as I sat here trying to figure out how I can finish the latest chapter of my second draft, I found myself grappling with the fact that the only person who seems to care that I’m even trying to accomplish this is me. That my family and those who mean the most to me emotionally, just don’t seem to anymore, and my natural inclination is to presume that that’s somehow my fault because that’s how this works.
Were I somebody else, this would likely be a non-issue. But I’m me, so this is the deal.
Except I can’t exist like this. Nobody can. While there is joy and satisfaction to be found in taking the time to do a thing, the real emotional treasure to be hoarded comes when you show that thing to someone who you look to for affirmation and confirmation that you haven’t wasted the hours, days, months or years of your life you invested in the work to create it.
That is as basic as the first time you draw a picture that goes on the family refrigerator or the first time you turn in a school project and it comes back with a gold star. That external return on your creative investment matters and it always will. It’s what keeps us going to create even greater things because we are given the impetus to keep going through the self-confidence we gain when we understand that what we do matters to someone else.
I wish the things I did mattered to someone. I wish I still mattered at all, really.
From where I sit, though, they just don’t feel like they do. I know I’ll keep doing them because it’s something to pass the time and to keep myself from going even crazier, but I can’t say for sure if I’ll really enjoy them as much as I could have if things were different than they seem right now.