Anhedonia and Alienation

I have a hard time feeling pleasure. That’s anhedonia – the inability to feel pleasure. I have a wonderful life and I’m really satisfied in many ways. But I find that I really don’t ever get truly excited about much of anything anymore. I can remember times in my earlier life – before I had The Episode that wrecked my life at 44 and I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder – when I was joyful and full of energy and had a great time living my exciting life. I may not have been the life of the party like so many BP folks are, but I sure did love to party and I had fun doing it. Now I rarely get pleasure from even the simple things of life – a smile sent my way, a cool piece of art, or a song I once loved. These can still humble me but they don’t give me the same level of enjoyment they once did. It’s hard to muster up the energy to be pleased anymore. I fake it a lot.

I know this is a common issue for people with bipolar, yet it’s still very discouraging. Even tho I know my diagnoses and how they play out, sometimes it just sucks bad. I don’t mean to whine. But this is so overwhelming to me that I just have to write about it. I really try to walk with beauty over the Rainbow Bridge, as the Navajo (Dine) people sing so movingly about. I try to follow the advice of Gandhi and live the change I want to see in the world. But now I don’t really care much if I succeed or not. Before The Episode I was very socially engaged – managing a food co-op, founding a non-profit educational center where I met hundreds of people, producing concerts where I affected even more, and working at a lively collective cafe where we made our own ice cream, which I got to make. Yum!! Lots of good people came thru that place and I met my first real boyfriend there from behind the ice cream counter. Good times.

Which is why this is so fucking hard on me now. I was used to a different way of life than I lead these days. Now I live far away from the bustling world of gay society I was such a part of for so many years. It’s more peaceful here, and I have a wonderful home and a loving partner to share it with. But it lacks a certain energy and queer sensibility I was used to and I’m starting to miss it a lot. Last night we went out to the Gay section of town for the first time in years. We saw a hot Drag Show. Wow, those girls (and boys!) can really dance and sing (Lip synching really, but who cares…). It was so Very Queer – it was amazing. I lived right there for over 20 years, at different times, and it was my life. But I haven’t been in that area of town for a long time now. It made me feel so nostalgic I wanted to cry. In fact when I got home I stayed up till 1:30 writing in my journal. I had to stop often to cry. I haven’t cried that hard in years. It all hit me – how far I’d come from those days of merriment and engagement. How I didn’t feel the joy of it all anymore.

I’m a very social person, but I’m an introvert too, so it’s always been hard on me to socialize with other people. But I was so damn hypomanic so much of the time back then that I overcame my insecurities and went out and did cool things. Now I’m too scared to interact with anyone, and I just garden at home. Don’t get me wrong – I Love it and it nurtures me greatly. But there aren’t any People there. It’s all just plants, and tho I used to relish that alone time I got with them, now it feels more like a trap. I’ve tried to join gardening circles, but I have little luck because I get too insecure and scared and stop myself before I even get going. Another common thing we folks with bipolar do. I want to but I just don’t Feel like it. Even tho I’m a very sexual person (even at 67 – never give up!) there are so many times I just don’t give a damn about it, tho not always. 🙂  Not my usual self at all. I just don’t feel sexual and I hate it so much. I hate not being able to always laugh at my partner’s silly jokes. I hate not being able to engage with the neighbors when we go out for a walk. And I hate feeling like nothing will ever make me feel again, ever.

Yeah I’m blowing it all out of proportion, but that’s what it feels like to me, and if there’s anything we Bipolar folks do a lot it’s to live thru our feelings, much to our dismay at times. Emotions are tricky to live with and when you have bipolar they trick you even more. They may always be real, for you, but they aren’t always reflective of consensus reality, if you get the difference. When you live thru your feelings instead of your intellect you often mistake your feelings for the reality others experience. It’s not! It can really fuck you up bad. You mistake simple social cues and you interpret things thru your own lens too much and it’s not always what may be really happening. You may feel awful when there’s no need to. You aren’t being talked about behind your back and you aren’t being thought of as “lesser than”, the way you feel about yourself. People may actually like you, despite your horrible sense of self and lack of ability to take in any compliments that may come your way. It’s kinda stupid and kinda sad when you think about it, but it’s all too real to me.

You can see how anhedonia and alienation can intersect here and how they’ve so harshly impacted my life and the lives of so many others. If you can’t feel anything you feel disconnected and alienated. Duh. It makes sense but it’s an awfully hard thing to live with. For me they seem to go hand in hand, but it may not be that way for everyone. I don’t really know. But I do know that many people with bipolar feel both of these things, whether in tandem or not. We just don’t feel good about ourselves so how can we feel good about life? It’s not easy. We feel that we’re not good enough to even deserve a life full of joy. And that hurts us terribly in many ways. It makes us unwilling to engage in things that may hurt us more. We shut down. You can only handle so much pain at any one time. Why ask for more? That seems crazy, but it may be the only way to get over it. There are potentials for joy on the other side of it if you can just hold on.

Maybe it’s just my age – I’m almost 70. But I see so many older people still loving their lives that I don’t think that’s all of it. I feel young at heart really and I look and act like it. I’m not a couch potato or a slob. I take good care of myself and try to do the right thing always, even tho I doubt myself and don’t really know if it’s right all the time. I second guess myself with people so much it drives me crazy. I’m sure none of them like me or want to hear anything I might have to say. I feel alienated from them. But if I could still feel their energy it would be so different.

I do still remember, tho it’s been so long, what it feels like to really enjoy life. And I do enjoy it sometimes, I’ll admit. I’m not totally shut down – not yet. I still feel love and give it in return. And I know it’s real and not in my imagination. So I have some hope that things can change. I always try to end these posts with something positive and this is the best I can do. I’m attempting to believe that if I keep trying to feel, that eventually I’ll get there, at least sometimes. I just can’t give up. I have to stay present in my life to integrate this and to find peace and serenity, which may be far better than happiness anyway. So I’m still hanging on, but it’s by the skin of my teeth, and my teeth are getting so sore…. 🙂

I hope you’re feeling something good today…

Steve

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4 comments on “Anhedonia and Alienation

  1. Keep it going there, Steve! It is very good to write of these things. Sometimes unconditional acceptance of whatever the state brings a natural or quiet state of joy and relief. As we grow older our expectations and energy changes, and the feeling can be subtle. It’s funny – we have to woo it but not to grab it, let it be! (like the Beatles song). I have to say, I guess medication dulls things somewhat.

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    • Thanks for the encouragement Jane. You’re always so insightful. I’ve definitely noticed the changes in how I deal with things as I get older. I’ve had to adjust my expectations many times, and I guess I still have more work to do. And yes, medications do affect the situation, and not always in a pleasant way… 🙂

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  2. This is my first time on this site and it was an unexpected find while I was searching for any fucking answer to why I am the way I am and how in the absolute hell do I manage me. How can I explain this unbearable shit to people who can’t relate? I don’t know.

    What I do know is that I have NEVER had someone else’s words hit me on every fucking level. Ever. You wrot this devastingly accurate entry most beautifully. I actually felt something. I’ve been so EMPTY for so long that I actually long for the days I was at least numb. I’m rambling. I don’t know how to express what I’m thinking. Ive been awake, going on day 3 now.

    I guess, for lack of anything better, just fucking thank you.

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    • I was very moved by your comment. I’m honored that you would share such raw feelings with me and that my words have touched you. I’m saddened to hear you’re experiencing such misery. I can relate all too well. At the risk of sounding glib I do understand. Your pain is so visceral to me that it actually hurts to read your words. You’ve expressed your thoughts very clearly and they make sense. I don’t think you’re rambling at all, even given your lack of sleep, which I hope improves soon.

      The emptiness you describe is all too familiar and real to me. Not being able to “feel” your life is unbearable. Explaining this to those who don’t “get it” is both exhausting and ultimately impossible. I’ve been where you are too often in my life, but I want you to know that it can get better. Just reading my post seems like it might have made a little difference to you and maybe it’s a start towards feeling less alienated and alone. I truly hope so.

      I rarely say this, but if you need to talk please feel free to click on my gravatar profile, where you’ll find my email address. If it would help you to write me privately I can at least listen to you and see if I can help validate your experience. Sometimes just sharing with a sympathetic person can give us some perspective on our own situations. I’ll do my best to help.

      Thank you for your thanks. You’re most welcome. I know I can’t “fix” anything for you, but maybe I can support you where you’re at now and help encourage you to move beyond it when you can.

      Take good care of yourself – you matter!!
      Steve

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