Anhedonia – A Loss Of Pleasure


Depression (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the things people find hard to understand with major depression is how debilitating anhedonia can become.

I’ve previously mentioned anhedonia here on this blog but just to remind you anhedonia is defined as the inability to experience pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable, e.g. exercise, hobbies, music, sexual activities or social interactions. It is a symptom of major depression, indeed one of the defining symptoms.

Think about the things you do to relieve stress. Do you have some sort of hobby or pastime? For me, my hobbies were papercraft and Lego. I also enjoyed spending time watching good movies and high quality TV such as David Attenborough documentaries or “The West Wing”. I enjoyed riding my motor scooter and bicycle.

Most people when they are “depressed”, sad or stressed have something they can turn to. When those things, our hobbies, no longer give pleasure then it becomes harder to cope with the stresses of life. I’m still capable of those things, and sometimes still do them, but they no longer bring me joy or pleasure. They are at best time fillers and at worst another failure, a task I can’t complete.

Boredom also becomes a problem. If you no longer gain any pleasure from your pastimes then it is difficult to get through a long night. You can’t settle down and do anything and I often find myself starting to watch a half dozen movies without being able to settle down and watch one.

All of this adds up to a life that is at best grey. I end up defining a good day as “not unhappy” and a good experience as “not boring” rather than “happy” and “exciting” as those possibilities have left me.

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Immersed In A Culture

crane and papers of the same size used to fold it

Origami crane and papers of the same size used to fold it (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt: “If you could pause real life and spend some time living with a family anywhere in the world, where would you go?”

When I first read this question I immediately leapt to an answer that was made from a view of tourism. Then I realised that the important part of this question is the phrase “with a family”. This phrase implies that I will be immersed in more than the usual tourist life, that I will become part of the real local culture.

This then pulls me in two different directions.

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Shiver With …

English: Anticipation Deutsch: Erwartung

Anticipation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt “When you’re giddy with excitement, does time speed up? Slow down? Tell us about the experience of anticipation.”

Anticipation. That precursor of pleasure.

I’ve previously written about anticipation. In my post “An Ideal Saturday and The Science of Optimism” I quoted Dr Tali Sharot “We prefer Friday to Sunday because Friday brings with it the thrill of anticipating the weekend ahead.” That post talks quite a lot about anticipation (and optimism).

When I’m excited, when the anticipation is strong, my mind is creating an image of the pleasure to come. A scenario is building inside me of what is to come. I imagine good things happening. Dr Sharot mentions that too, she calls it the “optimism bias” – our tendency to overestimate the likelihood of good events happening to us in the future.

I find that time can both rush and slow down. A great example can be found in the hours before I go to a dance party. Most good dance parties don’t start till nine or ten at night and the last few hours between dinner and leaving can seem to take forever. By the same token sometimes it can rush by, I find the last few days before I go overseas just zip past.

Anticipation is one of the great joys in life. Excitement almost requires it. I think about what stimulates my senses, what excites me and they all have an element of anticipation to them. Just think about sexual arousal, it is almost entirely built upon anticipation of the further pleasures to come. It’s also the perfect example of subjective time, a hand across your cheek can seem to take minutes, a kiss can last forever.

Giddy with excitement.

Giddy, frivolous and light hearted. Anticipation so strong that the excitement about things to come makes you impulsive. Sounds a lot like that first flush of romantic love doesn’t it. I really like that feeling.

So far I’ve assumed that anticipation is looking forward to something good but this isn’t necessarily the case. Dr Sharot tells us “people with severe depression tend to be pessimistically biased; they expect things to be worse than they end up being.” So we have anticipation of the negative.

At the moment this is quite familiar to me, when I anticipate the days ahead I don’t build a picture of pleasure and success but one of pain, problems and failure.

At it’s worst this is the dark side of anticipation, anxiety. The Wikipedia page on anxiety has a good phrase, “feelings of dread over something unlikely to happen”.

There is a difference between simple pessimistic anticipation and real anxiety. A common example of the former for me is that sometimes before I sit down at my drum set I am anticipating a hard, unsuccessful practice session. This is qualitatively different to my social anxiety, which is stronger and tied in to fears of things much less likely such as people laughing at me or telling me I’m stupid.

Anxiety can really make time drag. I have anxiety about dealing with government bureaucracies and the time I sit waiting in the dole office waiting to see someone is the slowest time I know.

However, I think we should stop talking about anxiety. Let’s anticipate a weekend of nice weather, nice meals and nice friends.


English: Comfort in Grief

Comfort in Grief (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday on Richard Glover’s Drive program he had Susan Wyndham, who has collected a number of stories about losing a parent from a number of Australian authors into the volume “My Mother, My Father”.

As I listened to the callers talking about their grief I thought about losing my own father.

It had taken many years to develop a strong relationship with my Dad. When I was a child he wasn’t really there much. He came from a tradition where it was his role to work hard and provide well for his family and he did that in spades.

In my teen years we started to spend more time together, we went skiing together a lot while I was at high school and ended up quite close.

He was, however, never a demonstrative man. I’m not sure he ever actually told me that he loved me and was proud of me. Somehow, though, I grew to know it.

There were the small things. When he was in Sydney almost every weekend he would drop in on his way home from shopping to deliver some food he had cooked. Dad was never happier than when he was cooking for the people he loved. When I dropped him off at the airport on his way out of town he would have to get a hug. The one time I forgot to give him a hug he started fiddling with his suitcase and briefcase and wouldn’t go inside until I realised and gave him a hug, then off he went happy. He couldn’t ask for or start the hug though.

Then he died of cancer. We knew he was ill and knew it was probably terminal but he went fast in the end so it was a bit of a shock.

At first I just felt an intense grief but then it changed into depression. I couldn’t understand why it felt as if my entire world was wrong.

Then after some months I realised what it was. My central pillar had gone.

No matter the turmoil of my life, no matter what else happened or what I did, for many years there had been one unswerving, unchanging constant. Subconsciously I had known that nothing would ever change the love and pride of my father and I had built myself around that. It had never been said, never really been known but it had been the core.

Now that had gone. As I went through some problems that next year I didn’t have that strength.

So my grief over losing my father was not just for him, but also for me. I died right along with him and then had to spend some serious time being reborn.

I’d like to think that I internalised that central pillar and became a more grown up, a more adult person. That doesn’t mean I don’t miss him almost every day, it doesn’t mean that I don’t yearn for just one more meal at his dinner table.

Thanks, Dad.

Not A Chance

think stencil art & graffiti cat

(Photo credit:

Today’s Daily Prompt: “You receive some wonderful, improbable, hoped-for good news. How do you celebrate?”

How do I celebrate? Wonderful news comes along and what do I do to celebrate? Wonderful news?

I’m suffering from major depression. According to DSM IV “Depressed people may be preoccupied with, or ruminate over, thoughts and feelings of worthlessness, inappropriate guilt or regret, helplessness, hopelessness, and self-hatred.”

So the hard part of this question is not thinking about celebration. The hard part of this question is imagining a world in which I get good news. I just don’t believe it. It was only a few months ago I was telling my psychiatrist that I could find no evidence that I wasn’t in a universe that God had created for the sole purpose of torturing me and causing me pain to punish me for not believing in Him.

It starts with having no hope. I don’t even have any hope that I will get better. Nothing good can possibly happen to me because that’s not the way the world works, maybe it’s because I’m broken, maybe because I’ve had a life where at the moment all I can see when I look back is bad decisions.

Then there’s the constant feeling that nobody wants to help, nobody can help, nothing can help.

How can good news intrude into that? Where is the space for it to actually be good news? At the moment if I received news that you thought was good then I’d find a way of turning it into pain or anxiety. A million dollars? I’d find a way to lose it. A better job? Probably just more stress. A long lost relative? What do they want?

So, celebration. I don’t think so. I guess I’d tell Jessica my daughter and leave it at that. Oh, I know, blow a few dollars by going out somewhere nice for dinner with her.

One Tiny Change

English: Johnny Depp in Cannes in the nineties.

Johnny Depp in Cannes in the nineties. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt: “For a moment today, time stands still — but you can tweak one thing while it’s stopped. What do you do?”

A myriad of possibilities open up. From the almost infinitesimal to the huge. I think about the day I had today and what changes I might make.

There are, of course, the fantasies:
– Make me as rich as Rupert Murdoch
– Make me as handsome as George Clooney
– Make me as sexy as Johnny Depp

Then there are a few philanthropic ones:
– Reverse the Federal election results
– Give the illiterate Aussies the ability to read
– Trash all the poker machines in Australia
– Abolish nine out of ten liquor licenses in Kings Cross and the Sydney CBD

They all have their appeal. Are they really the “one thing”? “Tweak” implies a small change not a huge bunch of wholesale changes so it doesn’t allow us ot go for the really big ones, the almost impossible, such as
– Make cancer disappear
– Make poverty disappear
– Fix TV so there’s always something worth watching
– Give the Liberal/National Party Coalition a heart

Then there’s the elephant in the room. The one I’m not talking about. The big one. “I am wounded with knife, sting, and tooth, and a long burden. Where shall I find rest?,” as Bilbo asked Gandalf.

So while time is stopped, all motion ceased, reactions halted I reach inside my bruised and battered brain and tweak those hormones and proteins and structures and erase a little, adjust a little and cure my fevered mind. Major Depression gone.

It would be nice if it was that easy. That’s not really a “tweak” is it? That’s a big change. It’s a lot of tweaks all together.

Small changes, minor adjustments or tiny alterations just isn’t going to do it. If I can’t have the one change that will actually effect some change in my life, some change in my future and make tomorrow even a little less lonely and painful then you can keep your “tweak”. Nothing, thanks.

Have A Talent?

Talent Show

Talent Show (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt: “Tell us about a talent you’d love to have… but don’t.”

The first thought I had when I read this question is what the difference might be between a “talent” and a “skill”.

So it turns out that a talent is innate, it’s something you have, while a skill is something you can acquire.

The last time Daily Prompt came close to this topic it asked about learning something that came hard. In that case I talked about drumming.

Most of the things I’d like fall into “skills”. In that post I also mentioned Italian and Haskell programming. They are skills.

What talents do I already have? I think I have a talent for writing with some experience and skill in editing. I’ve also shown a talent for computer support.

What would I love to have that is a talent not a skill? Quite a lot of my desires are skills. A talent? I don’t really need to know how to dance, paint or sing – none of those artistic talents.

Where I sit at the moment I’d have to look at my life and say “relationships”. I’m not good at relationships, both platonic and romantic, and there are parts of finding and maintaining them that I think are innate. Some are skills, skills like knowing how to care for people and being a good listener.

Other parts of it I’m sure are innate, they are a talent. Making friends, understanding people, even seeing problems in a romantic relationship. These seem to me talents rather than skills. I’ve tried over the years to learn these things but they never seem to come to me. I lack the talent. I try hard, I’m a good friend to anyone, I’m always the first to help in a crisis and don’t mind doing any of those small favours. In a romantic relationship I always try to make the other person feel loved, I always make sure I say it and I always do a range of small things to make the other person feel good. It just doesn’t seem to work, I just don’t have the talent.

There is another talent I seem to lack, particularly at the moment. I’d like to be able find pleasure and happiness. As I sit here writing away with my major depression leaving me grey and lifeless I look back on the last thirty years and it seems that happy has been a fleeting state of affairs, never with me for long and always far too fragile. At the moment with major depression there are medical reasons I can’t find it – anhedonia, the inability to experience pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable, is one of the defining symptoms.

People tell me that finding happiness is actually a skill rather than a talent, that it can be learnt. I wish I believed that. It’s another thing I’ve tried to acquire, I’ve read any number of books, tried meditation, yoga, positive affirmations and all manner of things.

Could It Be?

English: Katy Perry performing "E.T."...

Katy Perry performing “E.T.” in Budapest on October 1, 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After seemingly an improved mental state on my current medication for quite a while I have suddenly this week felt myself slipping back, felt myself slipping away into black moods. My insomnia is back with a vengeance, I’m waking early with no chance of getting back to sleep. It has left me wide awake but physically tired and shaking. I’m also back to weeping a lot over the past few days.

So what has caused this? Why suddenly are the old problems back? I can think of three possibilities.

The entire time I’ve been on my current medications the one thing I’ve continued to feel is anger and frustration. I’ve described the mental state the two combined have given me is “grey” and still leaving me without will or desire and still unable to find pleasure or fun but at the same time I find myself angry at the silliest things.

It could be that the anger and frustration have built up to make me say and do things I then turn into a black mood. I’m certainly harder to live with and I’ve said some things to Jessi that have upset her which then makes me feel terrible. The thought of driving off the one person who has stood next to me through all this is pretty upsetting.

The second possibility is that the stress of a job interview last week and anxiety about the preparation and now the outcome are weighing more heavily on me than I thought. I really want the job but truth be told I am lacking experience in Linux support for it and probably wont get it. That’s not good for me considering how I had to build myself up to get through the interview prep and the interview itself. Every rejection hurts a little more.

The third possibility is the one that interests me most since it deals entirely with the subconscious.

Last Sunday out of the blue I received a totally unexpected email. It was titled “Thirteen parts of the puzzle” and was just “I miss walking by your side, up the steps to The Wharf.” It was obviously from my ex, Sonia, who had left me in such a bad way that it triggered my descent into full blown major depression.

I had fired off both a quick reply and then a few hours later a quick short poem:

The Wharf
Ancient boards beneath 
My feet, white walls on
One side and bare bones
Of a mercantile
World long gone to sea
On the other lead on.Beside me the clack
Of heels and soft hand
In mine as we pass
Posters and photos, on
To an evening
Of shared art and joy. 

(A creative way of saying I remembered doing the same thing.)

I then pretty much dismissed it. It’s not the first time I’ve had a similar email out of the blue. Last October I got a link to Katy Perry’s song “ET” out of the blue. Back then it seems I quickly forgot about it.

Certainly there is a huge amount of mixed stuff associated with Sonia inside my head that has yet to be properly dealt with. The big one is the usual with a messy break up of dealing with the two different “people” – the one that you loved and made you happy while you were in a seemingly good and happy relationship and the person that caused so much pain and unhappiness at the time of the breakup that is so easy to hate.

A while ago, when the pain of major depression and loneliness was at it’s worst, I couldn’t help but yearn for the love and care of the first person while knowing that going back to that was impossible.

I had thought that while that stuff hadn’t really been dealt with that it had no effect on me stuffed away in it’s box.

So right now I’m wondering if right now, when truth be told I do feel a little lonely and friendless, that email has triggered some feelings that are not quite at the conscious level, that my subconscious is back to that yearning and churning up the old pain.

A couple of interesting data points.

I had no real trouble writing this post, I’m not sure if writing it made me feel better or just that the change from the early morning grey outside to a sunny day is responsible but when I went back to start the edit I found myself getting weepy when I was fixing the paragraph about Jessi.

So Jessica has quietly left for the day and won’t be back till after dinner she tells me.

Now I find myself finishing this up and totally stuck. I just started to call or SMS three different people to see if they were free for lunch or dinner but stopping before making a call or sending a message as I’m not sure I could cope with them saying no. Instead I sit here feeling lonely and weeping.


English: "Sight" - First of a series...

“Sight” – First of a series of 5 engravings illustrating the five senses (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt: “If you were forced to give up one sense, but gain super-sensitivity in another, which senses would you choose?”

The first question this raises for me is what do we mean by “senses”. The five classic senses? These are hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch. (It was the medieval recognition of just these that got us the idea of the “sixth sense”.)

On top of these senses we actually have at least five more.

  • The ventibular sense of balance and acceleration.
  • Thermoception of hot and cold temperatures.
  • Proprioception or kinesthetic sense of the relative position of the parts of your body. This is what allows you to close your eyes and touch your nose.
  • Nociception is the technical term for the recognition of physical pain.
  • Chronoception is our sense of time.

We also have interoception which is a range of sensations about what is happening inside our body. It is these that controls such things as vomiting and our gag reflex, among other things. The Wikipedia page on senses has a good explanation of it all.

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Break Those Chains


The first image on the Google Image Search

Today’s Daily Prompt: “Grab the nearest book. Open it and go to the tenth word. Do a Google Image Search of the word. Write about what the image brings to mind.”

So I grabbed ‘A Feast For Crows’ the fourth novel in ‘A Game of Thrones’ series by George R.R. Martin and the tenth word on the page was ‘break’.

A multitude of meanings for that word and the image search echoes that. The first image is a chain breaking, the second a Reese’s Fast Break chocolate bar, a “coffee break” sign, a cartoon of a broken heart, a cartoon of a young man signalling “time out” and then a break dancer. Interesting that you have to get all the way past the fortieth image before you get an image of a broken object. Before that all the images of “break” are positive.

It should come as no surprise that, by comparison, the images for “broken” are almost entirely negative. They are dominated by the “broken heart” meme but other negative images are there such as death (the 13th image is a man in a noose) and broken dreams and broken people.

When we think of “break” we tend to think of a vacation or gap in our schedule. I think one of the good things about the human condition is that we seem to be such eternal optimists, always seeing the positive. It would be entirely possible when hearing “break” to think of “break a bone”, “break a heart”, “break a relationship”, “break a friendship”. You could even think “break a mind”, as happened to me.

One of the things about most people suffering from major depression is that the optimism is one then things broken. Depressed people tend to see the negative.

So when I heard the word “break” what did I think of. Well it must be an incredibly positive word because I thought of coffee break. Of course it is entirely possible that this can be explained by my coffee addiction rather than the word “break”.

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