As I flip through my old journals from primary school, I find a page which brings me great sadness. The question the teacher asked was “What is the best thing that can happen today?”, to which I answered “I invite a friend over and they say yes.” As a child, the thing I loved and valued most was spending time with people. But as I got older, and anhedonia crept in, I lost the ability to enjoy what I used to love the most. Or, at least, it became greatly diminished.
In Greek, the word anhedonia translates to “without pleasure”. People with anhedonia talk about no longer being able to enjoy music, sunsets, food, and other things that people without anhedonia take for granted. Some cannot cry during movies. They don’t look forward to things, and just feel “blah” about just about everything.
As Interesting Psychology puts it in their video, anhedonia feels like the moment in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy steps from her black and white world into technicolour, except in reverse. When we have anhedonia, the days are long and excruciating. In order to get through the day, I sleep all morning and often go back to bed.
One of the areas my andehonia has struck hardest is my social life. See, truth be told, I don’t really like or look forward to seeing people. Not nearly as much as I used to anyway. Often I feel pressured to say I do, especially with close friends. When together, I laugh and smile and on the outside it appears as though I am enjoying myself. It is common for people with social anhedonia to feel like an imposter. We fake emotions we don’t feel, and go along with things to please other people. But really, these things mean little to us. Hugging is one thing which I usually do just for other people. I have a friend who asks for a hug whenever we see each other. Yet rarely do I get any “feel good” chemicals from this myself. It is an empty, one-way gesture. Lifecoach Jackie Kelm advises that we continue to “fake it till we make it” in order to keep our relationships intact. But I am not so sure.
Anhedonia makes it hard for me to keep up social contact. It is exhausting, especially when socialising does not elicit reward circuits in my brain. I withdraw from my friends. I stop answering messages. And the more I withdraw, the harder it gets to engage.
My social anhedonia hurts people, especially people who are interested in me romantically. “It hurts to love someone who doesn’t give a shit about you” were the words of a guy I met when I first started university, “I made the mistake of believing you when you said you loved me”. I didn’t understand the meaning and impact of those words back then and I have since learnt never to say I love somebody unless I mean it.
WebMD describe the impact of social anhedonia on relationships.
“Relationships also thrive on positive feedback, and without it they can wither: Imagine not being able to tell someone you love them or that you had a great time spending the day with them. But if you have anhedonia, you can’t, because you don’t have those feelings. Meanwhile, loss of libido can take a toll on a romantic relationship.”
Sometimes I don’t see the point in seeing people. I do get lonely, but I still feel lonely even when I’m with people. I can be standing in a room full of people and feel lonelier than ever. Often I find myself waiting for it to be over, especially phone calls. I don’t have anything better to be doing, but at least I can finally breathe.
Anhedonia can be part of depression, schizophrenia, PTSD, substance abuse, and even Parkinson’s disease. It can also occur on its own. Sometimes medication can help, but medication can also blunt emotions even more. I do not have all the answers, but you may find How to be Miserable’s video and also Interesting Psychology’s video helpful.
I hope one day I can enjoy the things I loved as a child once again.