Prioritising wellbeing isn’t the soothing, candle-lit, rose-petaled bath we might picture it to be.
Contains reference to suicidal ideation.
“This is it. I may never bounce back to some previous or future state where I’m well. I can no longer wait to heal. With this version of me and the limited opportunities it offers, I have to do something with my life. I have to give up the desire to be who I used to be. I miss myself. Every day feels like another mountain to climb.”
In February 2019, after years of trying to bounce back, I made this note in my journal. Three years on, I am still living under a mountain of doubt: Is my life worth living? Will things get better or worse? Will I find joy, belonging, and meaning again? Or is all this effort futile?
On the other side of the mountain is possibility. If I make it there, I can have a day. If I don’t, I feel like I’ll never find what I’m looking for.
This mountain, I have learnt, has a name. Anhedonia. A pretty name to compensate for what it means: ‘reduced interest in activities and decreased ability to feel pleasure’. This definition is limited to sources of enjoyment, but work and play aren’t compartmentalised in today’s world. Anhedonia’s influence on my life is all-pervasive — it affects my ability to want, to like, to pursue, and to experience the reward in any activity.
Nudging my living meter
Each day I wake up to find my living meter at zero, or worse. I am exhausted in mind, body, and spirit. I try to nudge myself into engaging with life, something I always presumed instinct would take care of. I drag my dead weight off the bed and start with easier tasks like brushing my teeth and sipping my tea. By mid-morning I get a sense of how low my mood and energy are going to be. I know if I’m going to attempt the climb. Somewhere between 0 and 4 on the meter, I’m either ready to bear my burdens or back away.
If I decide to attempt the climb, I might reach a 5 by the evening, feel more active, and pick up complex tasks. Occasionally by sundown, I get close to 6 or 7, but it’s too late to put all the energy to good use.
By nightfall my mind is over-stimulated, and my body exhausted all over again. It’s a weird combination that makes it impossible to relax, as if I’m in a warped time zone where I can neither sleep nor operate. I need the sleep but I don’t welcome it, because I know what it’s about to do to me.
I know I will wake up to find my mental, emotional, and physical resources drained. Sleep makes my progress disappear as if it were a hopeful dream. My brain defaults to its injured state. Grief takes centre stage and walks back my evolution. My list of failed attempts at fulfilment grows.
Day after day, it is a frustrating cycle of seeking, losing, and grieving myself. Momentum empowers me, but I lose it every time I stop and start over.
Sometimes the whole day isn’t enough to move from minus to plus. I have to let it pass as a bad day. I block it out in red on my calendar. Sometimes my calendar has long red streaks. It’s like being on a 10-day vacation, except it’s nowhere I like to go.
And do tell your friends about Sanity.