Mental health

Depression giveth and depression taketh away: Anhedonia and apathy in depression

person in darkness silhouetted against sunshine
Spencer Pugh on Unsplash

There have been a lot of horrific events in the news lately.  Hurricanes, the mass shooting in Las Vegas, terror attacks…   As I saw these events on the news, I knew cognitively how terrible they were, but on an emotional level, I just felt nothing.  I am not a cruel, heartless sort of person, but I still felt nothing.

But that’s not me.  It’s the direct effects of my mental illness.

Many people have some idea of the “gifts” that depression gives, like low mood, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.  There’s often less familiarity with what depression steals away from those who suffer from it.  Anhedonia refers to the inability to feel pleasure, and apathy refers to a lack of interest.  These deficits that people can experience due to depression may sound relatively minor, and perhaps in the short-term they’re manageable, but when they persist over time, they can be truly soul-destroying.

Part of what makes us human is the ability to feel things in response to what is happening around us, both good and bad.  If depression takes that away, what does that do to our humanity?  I feel like a monster for not caring about tragic devastation and loss of life, but it’s as though the ability to feel in that way has been turned off in my brain and my heart, and for the life of me I can’t figure out how to turn it back on.  While I say I feel like a monster, it’s not in the sense of feeling guilty, because it’s not in my control.  But I recognize that this is not me; this is not how the core of me interacts with the world.

One of the things that’s frustrating with anhedonia and apathy is that there isn’t really a target to work on.  With negative thoughts and emotions, you can do therapy and work through them.  When the issue is a lack of capacity, though, what are you supposed to do about it?  It’s not as though I choose not to feel anything positive, and adding positive external stimuli doesn’t do anything to address the capacity issue.

Depression can leave a darkness and emptiness on the inside that can’t be lit up no matter how bright the sun shines.  Perhaps that is harder to understand than that which depression giveth, but the greatest impact on my life has, without question, come from that which depression taketh away.



book cover: Managing the Depression Puzzle: Putting the Pieces Together by Ashley L. Peterson


My new book, Managing the Depression Puzzle takes a holistic, everything up to and including the kitchen sink look at how to put together the pieces of your unique depression puzzle. It’s available on Amazon and other online retailers, as well as the MH@H Store.



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