I did not even want enough to want to want again
February 7, 2018 10:33 AM   Subscribe

My wanting was the leash that pulled me through my life. It kept leading me to the right things. Until one day the leash was off. I can’t identify what occasioned it, I don’t think it even works that way—with a single, switch-throwing moment—but at some point in the last year my urgency to sustain or possess something (an emotional state, a relationship, a milestone of financial success) evaporated, and my me-ness along with it. I can still put one foot in front of the other, but without conviction. I recall what goals used to be important to me—making a home in a city I love, establishing myself as a writer, arranging a life of regular adventure—but those lures aren’t baited anymore. I am radically disincentivized. [Heads up: some discussion of depression and ideation.]
posted by perplexion (38 comments total) 78 users marked this as a favorite
A close friend of mine and I both suffer from depression and anxiety. Our situations are remarkably similar- we both grew up the oldest of conservative immigrant families, we're both college students in high-pressure STEM majors, both introverts who've struggled to find a social support system. While both of our lives have suffered due to mental illness, she's managed to keep things together far better than I have. There are a billion reasons why that might be so, but I suspect part of the reason is that the depression has never affected her fundamental capacity to desire. She wants to become a neurosurgeon, she wants to move in with her fiance, she wants to make her parents proud- wants it badly enough that she can push through everything else, even if it's much harder for her than it would be for someone neurotypical.

Meanwhile- I can want things in a vague sense- want to see this well-reviewed movie, want to get a job, want to learn to play piano- but there's something hollow in that wanting. It's like my desire for a certain $10,000 Rick Owens leather jacket that caught my eye once- it seems like it would be nice to have, but it's certainly not something worth putting any actual effort into obtaining. It doesn't fill me with longing, the thought of not having it doesn't hurt. Which is a good thing in the case of extremely overpriced articles of clothing, but that indifference extends even to things as essential as secure employment- why does one want secure employment? It's necessary to survive. But why does one want to survive?

I've spent the past few years basically looking for something, anything, that I want, that I think is worth desiring, and failing. I've stumbled upon a tiny handful of people who have written about losing that fundamental animating force that makes life worth living, but I've yet to find anyone who's written about getting it back. I'm starting to think that it isn't possible to get it back.
posted by perplexion at 10:35 AM on February 7, 2018 [76 favorites]

I have a lot of desires, some of which I cannot have, but I still consider myself rudderless. There are plenty of things in life I enjoy and have an interest in, however, I don't know what to do with my life and I never have. I have no long term goals, or hopes, or dreams; I merely exist, and it's always been like this. When I was in the worst part of my most recent depressive episode, I didn't enjoy anything. I know I'm doing better now because I am enjoying and participating in my hobbies again, but I still don't know what I want to do with my life. And even if I did? I'm almost 41. It's kind of past time to start over.
posted by elsietheeel at 10:44 AM on February 7, 2018 [15 favorites]

I don't read a lot of poetry, so when I first encountered "Late Fragment" by Raymond Carver as part of an art installation in a Berlin gallery a few years ago I almost broke into tears right then and there. I've never really known what I want out of life in terms of ambitions or achievements, and in the past it caused a lot of anxiety and contributed to my depression, but I always wanted this and at that moment I realized my life was already a success:

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

The other, equally important, side of this is that I am confident I make my wife feel the same way.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:54 AM on February 7, 2018 [36 favorites]

I had a meditation about this once. my parents, too, are conservative immigrants. obtaining wealth is crucial to them. it isn't to me, at least not beyond my comfort. but when you have that survival mentality, I think it's fine to worship financial stability especially if you realize that it is the source of your largest and most enduring pains. financial stability dictated their identity from childhood through adolescence - and it did so in painful, traumatic ways. but it didn't for me

I mean, we were poor, by American standards, but we weren't impoverished - this wasn't the Great Leap Forward or the Cultural Revolution, this was simply having somewhat less when the people around you have a lot more than they really need. living in America provided them that security so they grew to love it for all of its capitalist, individualism-celebrating norms. and for them, adopting that philosophy just meant a shifting of the goalposts - not just financial stability but also the ability to be comfortable while obtaining it and with systems that would ensure stability for the longterm, long after your labor is no longer needed by society

that's the lesson that they pass down to us - that money is the end all, be all. but I don't think that that's useful for us, though, because of our privilege. our motivation has to come from elsewhere - in something that gives our lives meaning, in the ways we see ourselves, in the people around us who support us and whom we support

because, to be frank, nothing from financial security ie capitalism beyond necessities and a few luxuries will bring you intrinsic happiness. neither does following culturally normative routes to success and well-being because that notion is predicated on the same terms. these are suggested paths towards meaning but not only do they not fit for everyone, they're also sometimes actively harmful for others

I think that in order to find meaning, you have to be able to have real, honest, emotionally fraught, and many times very painful insight - in thinking about who you are, how you talk to yourself, what motivates you to do the things you do, what influences you do to those things, and all the time trusting that there is a core you that's worth nurturing, valuing, and growing. otherwise you're just living, day to day, with no reason for it. you get pushed along by a current not realizing that you're in the water

which is to say - it seems like you've noticed that you're in the river. now you're just on the path to figuring out how to steer
posted by runt at 11:01 AM on February 7, 2018 [13 favorites]

These are really interesting concepts, and I can really relate to that feeling of a lack of want - but it never occurred to me that it may be a deeper malaise or actual depression.

In the past - my life and ambitions were to a certain degree driven by fear and anger. Fear that I did not measure up (as a closeted gay dude) and anger that I had to fucking prove myself in the first place. But man, oh man, was I going to prove people wrong! I traveled the world, have had high paying prestigious jobs, acquired many nice things and experiences. All good - but also I knew that fear and anger would lead me to an early grave if I was not careful. So I did a lot of work and unpacking - and now I am in a much more peaceful state.

But I also knew that my anger was my rocket fuel for so many decades of my life - and if I turned it off, I was worried that I would not longer have any forward propulsion. So now I lead a deeper, more examined life - but also a much less motivated one. I am waiting for my new means of fuel - but in the meantime - this space in between has been a strange place to be in.
posted by helmutdog at 11:05 AM on February 7, 2018 [18 favorites]

I've only crossed paths with the work of Pema Chodron, but my impression is that roles that are played are roles at which one may fail. To practice mindfulness is to be strictly one's self.
posted by mr. digits at 11:11 AM on February 7, 2018 [4 favorites]

Did a CTRL-F for "depression", "anomie", "anhedonia," no results.

Sure sounds like depression feels, though.

I'm struggling to convince my spouse to look into antidepressants; his stance is "Things ARE terrible, I'm not chemically depressed, I'm just reacting logically!" Well maybe. But who cares? You can't fight the bad stuff if you are dead inside. Or thinking of being dead, period, all the time.

This piece is beautiful and eloquent and so was my depression. I wrote some fine words in my darkest despair. I also thought about dying constantly.

Then I got some chemical help and occasional talk therapy.

Now I write fewer poetic descriptions of my own internal landscape, but I also don't crave an ending to my life, and that's a fucking good tradeoff.
posted by emjaybee at 11:14 AM on February 7, 2018 [33 favorites]

(Could the discovery of my body by someone who loved my body, for instance, be circumvented? I thought yes, I could die at home and still figure out a way.) I imagined some people who were particularly close to me would be devastated, and I would have liked a way to convey to them that they shouldn’t be sad because I wouldn’t be sad, that against the background of a meaningless universe, my coming and going was deeply meaningless too. But I knew they wouldn’t understand.

This paragraph made me smile, because I've had this conversation with myself so many times. I guess, no matter how much I've stopped caring about my own life (and at times it has been not even not caring, but hating the act of living), I've not had the..whatever it takes...to quit caring about the people I'd leave behind who'd mourn. The desire for one's own life ebbs and flows, but it's not like you can tell everybody else they're meaningless.
posted by TypographicalError at 11:18 AM on February 7, 2018 [20 favorites]

Glad to know of this writer, now. Thanks for the post!
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 11:33 AM on February 7, 2018

I've been wondering about this lately, as part of my usual struggle to Get Through January in Canada. There's a set of behaviors even outside of Buddhist denial-of-self that are viewed as positive -- reducing your carbon footprint, "not being a bother", dieting -- where lessening oneself, figuratively or literally, is implied. But all of them lead, to varying degrees, to the logical next step of not existing at all.
posted by Quindar Beep at 12:09 PM on February 7, 2018 [17 favorites]

The absence of desire is the beginning of spiritual enlightenment. Judging "A" as better than "B", is the beginning of suffering. Judging anything in the world as imperfect or needing changed is the beginning of suffering. The enlightened mind is at peace with all that is. It does not desire; it does not judge.
posted by theorique at 1:10 PM on February 7, 2018 [8 favorites]

Thank you for posting this. And thank you all for sharing your stories. This hits way too close to home right now. I've been working with my own tendencies towards aggression over kindness and transforming those tendencies. Within that, I've been seeing just how much my motivation depends on 'this doesn't feel good/comfortable/right' and must be fixed. Alternatively, there's not fixing and allowing (I'm not talking about social injustices or dangerous behaviors that must be faced). And it's so hard to do that, remain alive to it, and not layer on 'why aren't you doing something?' when all my life I've been 'doing something' for misguided reasons and hurting people along the way. That's a bit of a ramble and I'm not sure I've made any sense.
posted by kokaku at 1:11 PM on February 7, 2018 [4 favorites]

If you are feeling suicidal or in need of help, please call the National Suicide Hotline: Call 1-800-273-8255.
posted by fueling depth at 1:11 PM on February 7, 2018 [15 favorites]

Oh yeah, life goes on / Long after the joy of living is done.

I think we should replace 'And they lived happily ever after' with 'OK, so now what do we do?' in all our fairy tales, except the Disney versions, where it would obviously change to 'OK, let's all go to Disneyland and blow a fat wad of cash.'

Also, isn't the goal of at least one Eastern religion to let go of all your wants and desires to achieve inner peace? (On preview, tips hat to theorique's eloquence)
posted by zaixfeep at 1:15 PM on February 7, 2018 [5 favorites]

Desire is the actual essence of man.-- Spinoza
posted by No Robots at 1:30 PM on February 7, 2018 [5 favorites]

Hyperbole and a Half Adventures in Depression and Part II
posted by CheapB at 1:39 PM on February 7, 2018 [13 favorites]

everything means nothing to me
posted by Ansible at 1:54 PM on February 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Also, isn't the goal of at least one Eastern religion to let go of all your wants and desires to achieve inner peace?

There are moments when I've felt that sense of inner peace. Washing the dishes or cleaning the bathtub and idly humming. Kneading dough. Walking a path I'm familiar enough with that I can turn off my mind but not so familiar that I've memorized every step. And it's nice. It's a nice feeling. It's better than despair.

It's just nowhere near as good as wanting something, badly, working for it, and finally getting it. And not even because of that something itself; but because of the byproducts of truly, genuinely desiring it: enthusiasm, drive, vitality.

But it's far better than wanting something, badly, working for it, and then not getting it. The byproduct there is crushing pain.

I'm reminded of another essay on this particular flavor of depression, The Crack-Up, where F. Scott Fitzgerald writes, "the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function." Maybe the ideal way to experience life is to be able to deeply desire things but at the same time recognize that those things are ultimately unimportant. I don't know if that's possible. Fitzgerald was only able to sustain his contradiction for so long and once it cracked he, too, never found a way to uncrack it.
posted by perplexion at 2:20 PM on February 7, 2018 [7 favorites]

But it's far better than wanting something, badly, working for it, and then not getting it. The byproduct there is crushing pain.

Indeed. And what of wanting something, badly, working hard for it, then getting it and feeling no satisfaction or closure?
posted by zaixfeep at 2:33 PM on February 7, 2018 [6 favorites]

Put another way:

“...Desire, a function central to all human experience, is the desire for nothing nameable. And at the same time this desire lies at the origin of every variety of animation. If being were only what it is, there wouldn’t even be room to talk about it. Being comes into existence as an exact function of this lack.”

- Jacques Lacan
posted by kitcat at 2:48 PM on February 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Indeed. And what of wanting something, badly, working hard for it, then getting it and feeling no satisfaction or closure?

That sucks too.
posted by AlSweigart at 2:51 PM on February 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Alexithymia came to mind when reading this--the inability to give words to wants. I was struck that Shane could journal about this at all; those few brief entries must have taken so much to write down.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:26 PM on February 7, 2018 [4 favorites]

This all sounds familiar, except I can't remember a time when I had those wants and drive. You can just sort of coast a long long way, it turns out.
posted by rodlymight at 4:21 PM on February 7, 2018 [7 favorites]

I was really impressed by her willingness to come right out and say what I think is the one and only specifically female manifestation of depression. purely cultural and nothing to do with hormones or anything like that, but exclusively, though not universally, female:

and that sign of depression is the beginning of a fear that what men have always said about women might really, literally, soberly and seriously, be true. this is probably a more shameful secret than any number of people's private problems getting out of bed or keeping a job, because uncountable hundreds of people have talked about those things in public; I've heard them. there's shame, but it's got a different quality. but how many depressed women have lain awake thinking what if Alexander Pope was right? and not said anything? a whole lot more than you'd think, I bet. I am sure there are analogous experiences among members of other classes of people who have been told for centuries that they are fundamentally and biologically sick, incomplete, and inferior. the pressure of keeping out of your mind two thousand years of contempt from the wisest men of letters, whom you know well and even love, becomes intolerable and sometimes impossible, when you aren't at your best and strongest.

it may not sound to other people like depression because it's about all women, not just you. but that's the point, like she says; the refusal of the world to sanction a You that isn't a mere cluster of cells in the larger organism that is all womankind. but not, as she also notes, all mankind. humankind. both/either, you know. being lonely and miserable/desireless is a time when anyone deserves to feel like a miserable individual -- depressed people are supposed to be selfish! but this specific pressure denies even that consolation to many women. I think.

also, the idea that she doesn't know what being depressed is because she didn't use the most popular and search-engine-optimized lowest-common-denominator vocab for it is COME ON.
posted by queenofbithynia at 4:31 PM on February 7, 2018 [34 favorites]

“Teach us to care and not to care”
posted by sjswitzer at 5:32 PM on February 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the author is clearly writing about depression, not simply everyday aimlessness.
posted by eviemath at 5:43 PM on February 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

So, the author is writing about anhedonia, which is a symptom of depression. She might be depressed.

But there is a deeper existential truth here, right? There is a perspective in which each of us is worthless and there's nothing fundamentally wrong with that perspective except that it makes it intolerable to live. So you have to make this functional choice that you're not going to engage with that idea seriously ever if you want to be a healthy adult. The Myth of Sisyphus by Camus is a long, long work on this very topic.

So, I think that a bout of anhedonia that's inspired by this terrible quality of the world in which we live is maybe depression, bundt something bigger and more important also. Maybe I'm romantic about it because otherwise I'd find it hard to live with myself, but it feels reductive to slam that depression label on this. Great thinkers have engaged this existential struggle for thousands of years and you don't have to be depressed to write an essay like this (but it helps).
posted by TypographicalError at 7:39 PM on February 7, 2018 [4 favorites]

I just started a new job after an extended period of unemployment. Thank you for giving me the word (anhedonia) to describe what the entire unemployment period felt like, a feeling which only snapped into focus as it started lifting (right after I signed the job offer.)
posted by davejay at 7:59 PM on February 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

As perplexion first describes and is echoed by others on this thread, there seems to be no point in living, especially when you know that even 100 years from now, no one will know you existed and will not even care. Even if you were famous, its very hard to get the recognition of an "inspirational leader."

Not even our footprints remain in the sands of time.

Man has been asking this question for a long time and I believe Religion evolved to prevent society from falling into mass depreciation, since this could quickly wipe out humanity and civilization.

I decided long ago that we have to die and there is nothing we can do about it - just that some of us are going to die earlier than others. So, let me wring all happiness from this life without making others unhappy. I will also help others as much as possible, leave as little impact on the land as possible.

Also, some of the philosophical writings are worth reading, especially around re-birth, although no one addresses why we are created.

I have no prescription for you, except may be to read different spiritual literature and see if any resonate with you. This piece on Hinduism is a good start - Meaning of life
posted by theobserver at 9:05 PM on February 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Here's the thing about desire: when you can't get what you want, you will eventually give up wanting it. If you've been hungry for whatever for a long time, eventually your body/mind/soul will get the hint that it's never going to get it and it will stop wanting it. It's a reasonable coping strategy. I definitely want less than I used to because I'm never going to be able to get what I want. I've wanted some things since birth and it's been decades and I am no closer to getting them in this lifetime, I have no idea how to get them, and I sure as hell can't find cooperative people to help me get them either. It's just Not Working.

Is it "depression?" Sure, but also it's what happens when "I want it" doesn't work as an engine to get you what you wanted. Eventually you're going to learn to stop wanting.

Searching for the Self-Loathing Woman Writer:
"But did those women hate themselves, or did they write about their relationship to a world that hated them? ...
I would make myself uninterested like Anne with Gilbert, or Jo with Laurie, so that my affection would be a better prize; hold fast to my virtue like Jane Eyre, so that my eventual acquiescence was more deserved."

Hunger Makes Me:
"To desire effort from a man, we are taught, is to transgress in several ways. (This is true even if you’ve never had or wanted a romantic relationship with a man.) First, it means acknowledging that there are things you want beyond what he’s already provided—a blow to his self-concept. This is called “expecting him to read your mind,” and we’re often scolded for it; better, we learn, to pretend that whatever he’s willing to give us is what we were after anyway.
Second, and greater, it means acknowledging that there are things you want. For a woman who has learned to make herself physically and emotionally small, to live literally and figuratively on scraps, admitting that you have an appetite is a source of cavernous fear. Women are often on a diet of the body, but we are always on a diet of the heart.
The low-maintenance woman, the ideal woman, has no appetite. This is not to say that she refuses food, sex, romance, emotional effort; to refuse is petulant, which is ironically more demanding. The woman without appetite politely finishes what’s on her plate, and declines seconds. She is satisfied and satisfiable."

This is what my shrink is referring to when she tells me to play it "cool and casual" with someone who wants less than I do. Cool and casual means "I don't care and I don't give a shit," and as far as I'm concerned, if I was genuinely cool and casual, I wouldn't bother to make any effort. I hate having to play it "cool and casual" because it means I get nothing. I am pretending not to care, I am pretending to not be bothered by the promise someone made me that they are not living up to because they are genuinely cool and casual and don't care.
I can never call out a dude for being all Mr. Flinchy because god knows, you'll scare their boners away and they will never talk to you again, or whatever, because then you're Too Much. But the truth is that whether or not I go psychotic on their asses, or politely ask them to communicate more often, or give up and say nothing at all, I'm gonna get the same result of NOTHING, the only thing that changes is the last view he has of me is "psycho bitch" or "cool girl."
Last night I was listening to a girl freaking out because her LDR boyfriend only contacted her once or twice a day within the last few days. I was all, "Um, that is more than any guy has managed to contact me like, EVER in a day," but she's already terrified he's going to back out of the relationship. But can she say anything about that? No, because flinchiness and scaring him away, you know the drill. We're always drilled that we're going to scare him away. I still think I scared a guy away because I left him a message saying "Tag, you're it" and he never called back and that was at least 20 years ago and I still kick myself a little even though I think he'd decided to flake and bail on me even before I did that.

If you get used to eating less, you will stop wanting more and stop being hungry, eventually. We all learn.

"Women talk ourselves into needing less, because we’re not supposed to want more—or because we know we won’t get more, and we don’t want to feel unsatisfied. We reduce our needs for food, for space, for respect, for help, for love and affection, for being noticed, according to what we think we’re allowed to have. Sometimes we tell ourselves that we can live without it, even that we don’t want it. But it’s not that we don’t want more. It’s that we don’t want to be seen asking for it."

And if we ask for what we want, we tend to still not get it (if we're lucky, that's all we get), and at worst, we get yelled at for asking. No, worst is we get abandoned for asking.
So why want anything? What's the point? If I can't get it all by myself and need someone else to provide, it's not going to happen.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:24 PM on February 7, 2018 [28 favorites]

Sometimes it feels like the only thing that I want is cessation. For as long as I can remember I have wished it were possible to just sleep for a period of time, put myself into stasis, some sort of respite from the business of living, and particularly of feeling so much all the damn time. These days, depression turns that into wanting to die, but it's not really death I want, just an end - however temporary - to the pain.

So in some ways I am completely the opposite of the anhedonic author, but the response is eerily similar. I too have planned the disposal of my worldly possessions, tried to think how I could die and cause the least distress to my friends and whoever finds my body - because of course no one finding my body would be more distressing for my friends. And then I get mired in the particulars and realise that there isn't any way to do this, and resign myself to staying alive still. I resent them sometimes, the people who love me. How dare they? If only they didn't then I could just end it at last. And there's nothing I can say to make them understand. Even if they did, they couldn't fix anything.

I never really cared for Beckett when I was younger but I increasingly have his words like a mantra: "I can't go on. I'll go on."
posted by Athanassiel at 2:59 AM on February 8, 2018 [14 favorites]

So, the author is writing about anhedonia, which is a symptom of depression. She might be depressed.

But there is a deeper existential truth here, right? There is a perspective in which each of us is worthless

Yes and no. Extreme sadness is also a symptom of depression, and sometimes people (especially, like the author of this piece, good and self-reflective but not myopic writers) can derive greater existential truths from that experience. That I can derive some value or greater understanding of my own experience from that writing does not mean that my experience is equivalent, though. It would still be tone-deaf of me to say something like, "oh yeah, I feel sadness too" when I am not feeling the sort of depression level sadness.

Likewise, there is a significant difference between intellectually contemplating worthlessness (or intellectually attempting some sort of Buddhist indifference, or rejecting motivations or desires that parents or your culture tell you that you should have in favor of the ones that you do have, or being motivated by fear or anger rather than a positive desire) and the emotional state of actual anhedonia. Good and self-reflective yet not myopic writers from either side of that may distill existential truths that others find useful, but equating one's intellectual contemplation with the emotional state can be a bit dismissive of the experience of the latter.

An internal locus of motivation of some sort is what distinguishes us - conscious, self-aware humans - from computers that can also reason, but do nothing without external stimulus or program. Losing that is, as the author describes, akin to losing the self. It is, as I understand it, on a continuum with having an existential crisis, but considerably more extreme.
posted by eviemath at 3:54 AM on February 8, 2018 [5 favorites]

I'm counting a blessing-- I'm not in great emotional shape, but my reflex when I saw " “Impossible to conceive a female life that might extend outside itself,” writes Chris Kraus" was to think that he's talking about the limits of his imagination, not about women.

I'm not saying a little cognitive work might solve things for someone who's caught in the trap, though sometimes it helps.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 4:03 AM on February 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

jenfullmoon, thank you for the link to Hunger Makes Me.

I used to believe that men had desires and women have emotions. The difference is that desires are wanting something and emotions are reacting to getting or not getting it.

I figured out that men have emotions-- all it took was looking at their faces, but now I'm wondering whether I'm clear enough about women having desires.

Also, why did I ever believe something so weird? I might well have been picking up on something in the culture.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 4:27 AM on February 8, 2018

and that sign of depression is the beginning of a fear that what men have always said about women might really, literally, soberly and seriously, be true. this is probably a more shameful secret than any number of people's private problems getting out of bed or keeping a job, because uncountable hundreds of people have talked about those things in public; I've heard them. there's shame, but it's got a different quality. but how many depressed women have lain awake thinking what if Alexander Pope was right? and not said anything? a whole lot more than you'd think, I bet. I am sure there are analogous experiences among members of other classes of people who have been told for centuries that they are fundamentally and biologically sick, incomplete, and inferior. the pressure of keeping out of your mind two thousand years of contempt from the wisest men of letters, whom you know well and even love, becomes intolerable and sometimes impossible, when you aren't at your best and strongest.

I feel breathless when reading this comment, and when reading the new FPP on Brigid Hughes being intentionally erased from her own career, because some of the common wisdom about depression is that "your brain is lying to you. You have value."

But it can be hard to square that with a lifetime of experiences where a woman says "I think, therefore I am," and so many of the men around her and our culture collectively reply "You do not really think, and therefore you are not." When your experiences and your feelings and your instincts are erased and mocked and smothered at every turn-- is it REALLY disordered thinking to want to fade away? Or is it just a logical reaction to a world that wishes you would sit down and be quiet and stop wanting things and just vanish? Decades of instruction in being a passive object might eventually result in becoming one.

If you choose to keep making noise, it will be silenced. If you keep writing words, they will be erased. If you get the dream job, your name will still be deleted from the wiki. Your hard work saved us twenty-thousand dollars last year, but a promotion just isn't possible. We're a pro-family company, but maternity leave just isn't in the cards right now. We really loved this candidate for the assistant professor job, but she'll probably just get pregnant if we offer her the position. She made this huge decision, but it was probably just hormones because she was going through menopause at the time. What do you mean you don't want to watch a movie with [famous abuser] in it, who cares? What does it have to do with you?
posted by a fiendish thingy at 7:49 AM on February 8, 2018 [34 favorites]

I read this a few days ago and it affected me deeply. Then tonight I came across the poem "Adult" by Linda Gregg that seems to encapsulate this so beautifully:

I've come back to the country where I was happy
changed. Passions puts no terrible strain on me now.
I wonder what will take the place of desire.
I could be the ghost of my own life returning
to the places I lived best. Walking here and there,
Nodding when I see something I cared for deeply.
Now I'm in my house listening to the owls calling
and wondering if slowly I will take on flesh again.

As I am approaching 60 I find myself somewhat rudderless as the desires and passions that enthralled and directed me when I was younger have faded; and although I'm fighting this, I have noticed I have gained by this loss a heightened joy and wonder of the world around me now that I'm less preoccupied with myself and all my desires. I used to laugh at old people who sit and watch birds and squirrels delightedly, but I'm beginning to understand it. Desires fade, our sense of selves dissolve with them, but as that happens a new beauty appears in the world that carries no reflection of ourselves in it and it's quite stunning.
posted by SA456 at 10:13 PM on February 8, 2018 [6 favorites]

I feel moved to share my experience with anhedonia and the insights that arose from it.

I was deeply in love with a hobby, that had me itching for the weekends when I could race out and play with folks who were also into my hobby. I was good at it, good enough that I was able to help other grow in their understanding of the hobby. I got very good at it, so that those I looked up to as tops in the hobby I was able to meet and exchange insights and approaches to the hobby with. I was even able to travel to the birthplace of the hobby I loved, and meet some of those that had familial lineages that traced back to the roots of the hobby. I found myself at the pinnacle, but the main thing I loved about engaging in the hobby was my growth in understanding of it and that had reached a plateau. I felt a bit sad/trapped.

I'd heard of a top level hobbyist (I'll call them The Dragon) who was unconventional in their approach and tended to upset most of the top level hobbyists I knew. I decided to seek out that person, and after a long long 'courtship' I was able to apprentice with them. The more time I spent with The Dragon the more I found that there was a strong destructive impulse in that person's approach. So much so that all the things I'd relied on for bliss were questioned, dismantled, and discarded. After a year I realized that the path there was simply one of removal and dismantling of all that normal people rely on. I left The Dragon.

I spent the next year going to work and coming home and staying alive for my family. When nobody was around I would lie on the sofa in the dark, awaiting a reason to get up (someone coming home). My lake of joy had dried up and I was staying alive because my absence would cause too much pain to others.

After a year of destruction and a year of emptiness I sought out something that could give me an external perspective, as I felt trapped by loss and ambivalence. I was able to find a group that had a certain quality that I didn't know I lacked. I spent an intensive weekend with them in hopes of having an Egoic Death. The dramatic experience I'd hoped for did not arise.

Days later in the shower I was turning over a well worn conceptual framework in my mind that had helped me in the past. The idea that Anger is a sort of 'electron shell' of an energetic state that 'pops' one out of the state of Fear. When angry one is protected from (and can't properly feel) Fear. I'd used this framework in the past to help dismantle my anger and reduce the harm to myself and others by finding the Fear that underlies it. Asking what the Anger was seemed to dissipate the 'electron shell' allowing me to drop into the underlying state of Fear that I could explore. I could ask "What am I afraid of" and then reduce the impulse to harm out of anger.

In that shower it suddenly became apparent that Fear is also a type of 'electron shell', so I asked myself "What is Fear keeping me from feeling?" I had some initial answers arise, but out of what felt like nowhere an answer that felt of myself and not of myself arose: Tenderness. In reading that it may seem like a simple thing, but for me it was like a bolt out of the blue that struck me deeply. There was a kind of insta-grok that happened in a way that felt like an internal shift. It wasn't that I fully understood the answer that arose, but it was that I had a foundational shift in my orientation to seek out the understanding of what Tenderness means.

So, the tl;dr of it is that my anhedonia was rooted in my bouncing between the states of Fear and Anger - not allowing myself to be/feel Tender/Open/Soft/Responsive/Growing/Vulnerable. My instincts to protect myself were preventing me from feeling present and alive and making everything grey and meaningless.

Since that insight arose (along with another complex one that was also 'of myself yet not of myself') I've been able to re-engage in the hobby I loved with the approach of an addict - One Day At A Time. With this new Foundational Context of Tenderness I can be more present, make mistakes, explore myself, encounter others, and live again.

Best of luck and love to all who may read this and feel trapped by/in the grey cloud of anhedonia. My hopes are that it offers sustenance in a way that can help reduce your suffering.
posted by CheapB at 8:43 AM on February 9, 2018 [5 favorites]

But it can be hard to square that with a lifetime of experiences where a woman says "I think, therefore I am," and so many of the men around her and our culture collectively reply "You do not really think, and therefore you are not.

oh yeah. and another problem with uncontextualized amateur -- or professional -- mental health diagnoses for women is that one thing you are supposed to come to realize in therapy, or on your own in a world heavily influenced by psychotherapeutic philosophies, is that if everybody you meet treats you a certain way, it is you who make them do it. that is, when it's not you imagining they're doing it all in your own head. you "train" people in how to treat you, in what they can get away with doing to you. the common denominator in all your relationships is you. you can get this pithy little gem from any advice columnists or any friend or forum, anywhere.

but there is another common denominator in all relationships a woman has, and that is her gender. and that is very different from her self. your womanhood teaches people how to treat you, and your womanhood is not you, although you cannot remove it or leave it home when you go out to meet new people. so this great pop-psych lesson we all more or less believe, what it does is aggressively alienate women from their own perspectives. if it is "me" who makes men belittle me this way and talk about me and to me this way, then "me" is not what I thought it was -- me is not a human being, a mind located mostly in my brain and carried about by my limbs and influenced by my various physical systems. "me" is a pair of tits and a walking inspiration to contempt. but I know from my fundamental inner experience that's not true! But I know from logic and consequences that it must be true.

so, you know. the instinctive reaction many people have to a thoughtful essay like this is "lol obviously you're depressed, take a pill and stop trying to make it mean something." and certainly we should all take more drugs, in a spirit of adventure if nothing else. but suppose you break your arm because someone pushed you down the stairs, should you set the bone and get a cast put on it? sure absolutely. but should you be sighed at for your mock-profundity when you act like it matters who pushed you and want to talk about that more than anything? I would say no. and especially I would say these are questions that should not be treated as strictly medical and/or be quarantined off in therapy where only trained professionals have to endure listening to women talk about it.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:54 AM on February 10, 2018 [12 favorites]

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