For most people, feeling some degree of apathy towards certain subjects is pretty normal. I feel apathetic about football games; it’s not something that I’m interested in, so I really just have no interest or care about it. However, apathy can be an insidious bane; it cuts you off from important emotions and feelings. I have quite a storied history with apathy.
What Is Apathy?
While apathy is an emotion that we all feel from time to time, it is also a neuropsychiatric syndrome. Apathy is a lack of passion and emotion; a complete lack of interest, enthusiasm, and concern for the things that you love. The things that you used to love no longer make you happy. You don’t feel excitement or joy; some even struggle to feel love. Many who experience apathy no longer feel motivated toward their goals.
Common signs of apathy include:
- lack of the effort and desire to keep up with daily tasks
- this can include everything from showering to going to work and being productive
- you depend on others to make all of your plans for you
- you rarely initiate contact, let alone making plans with your loved ones
- no desire to create new experiences and meet new people
- you no longer care about your problems
- feeling no emotion when good or bad things happen
Some causes for this state of indifference are:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Persistent Depressive Disorder
- Huntington’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
Apathy and Me
I have a story to tell and one of the main characters is apathy. In my 20s, my depression was crushing at times. The emotional agony was almost too much to bear. I spent weeks and months of my life in depressed stupors, lucky if I could drag myself out of bed to go to work. I wore my pain like a shield; people couldn’t hurt me with it if I held it out front. I wallowed in my misery, allowing myself to feel every ounce of pain to my psyche.
As I grew into my adulthood, I started to learn to mask my disorders better. I no longer found myself surrounded by a large support group of friends and family and it no longer felt “safe” to be so open about what was happening. Honestly, for many years, I stuffed it all down deep. I was in a new relationship and I was terrified that my brain would be the end of it. It never occurred to me that I should be certain the person I was with would accept all of me, just that it had the propensity to scare them off.
I still had terrible depressive episodes, I just hid them better or they looked like something else altogether, so I was able to hide it well. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was struggling to fit into a mold that I was never going to be able to squeeze into. I had a good job, a new relationship, and a steady schedule, but I was still on and off of antidepressants. I was still in denial about the fact that I would likely need medication for the rest of my life.
Then, when I was 32, “the big trauma” happened. My life blew up and then slowly unraveled. I lost complete control over my brain. Thing came to a peak right before my 33rd birthday. My marriage as I knew it then was in shambles and my best friend had betrayed me in a heinous manner and was no longer in my life. I had several long-term friendships that were coming down in flames and most of my other friends and family had moved out of state.
I could feel myself unraveling. It started becoming harder and harder to get out of bed and I was calling out of work a lot. I would take my daughter to daycare and then come back home and get back into bed and stay there until I had to go pick her up in the evening. My anxiety was at obscene levels; it had gotten so bad that my skin would start to burn while I was having a panic attack.
I was falling apart and I knew it. I also knew that I couldn’t allow myself the same privilege that I had when I was younger. I had a tiny human who was depending on me now. She needed me to be okay. So, I found a new doctor and I reached out for help. They got me on medications as soon as possible and the crushing weight of depression started to lift. They got my anxiety to a semi-manageable level.
Here’s the thing: I said the weight of depression started to lift…it didn’t left all the way. It became a low hum in the background of my life. Ever present, no matter how many pills I took. It wasn’t overwhelming me, but it was always there. Then the apathy came. I wasn’t ready for it.
A Comfort Blanket?
Here’s the thing, my OCD was in full effect at this time (though I wasn’t aware that I had OCD yet or what was happening to me), so there was a lot of obsessive worry and intrusive thoughts. Persistent Depressive disorder, which was causing the buzz of depression, was also ever-present. I was negative and angry and obsessed with the things and the people that had hurt me. It came through as a sort of frenzied mania to my friends and family.
But other than the rage and the occasional, intense sadness, I felt nothing else. At first I thought it was from the medication I was on. At that point I was on the combination of 2 different antidepressants and an anxiety medication. The only instances that I had felt this type of emotional numbness was on other medications I had take for depression, so it was the only logical thing that made sense.
I went off the medications. They weren’t working and, to my mind, there was no point in taking anything if “nothing” was going to work. I didn’t even talk to my doctor about it. I just stopped going to therapy and stopped taking my meds. I don’t recommend either; it was a fool move on my part. What can I say? Sometimes I make impulsive decisions.
Anyway, once I was off the medications…nothing changed. The apathy started to grow around me; I felt insulated from any positive feelings. I could still feel anger, anguish, bitterness, and offense…but I couldn’t access the part of me that enjoyed things. Even my propensity for love felt hindered. I could still feel intense love for my child and certain members of my family, but everything else seemed vain and unreal.
I remember going to visit my family out of state during that time. I don’t get to visit as often as I would like and usually only end up going about once a year. It’s always very exciting for me and I’m beside myself for weeks beforehand. I just couldn’t feel anything about it. I faked it. I talked about it a lot and I told everyone how excited I was. Inside, I felt nothing. I remember thinking that if I kept faking the excitement, I would eventually feel it. I didn’t.
Eventually between the intrusive thoughts, the low-level depression that seemed to be worsening, and the apathy that now wrapped me from head to toe, I found a new therapist and reached out for help again. In my first sessions with Dr. W I would complain. “I’m so numb,” I’d tell her, always aware of the concern on her face when I’d say it. She knew something was very wrong.
Finding My Way Back
We eventually found a medication that treated my symptoms well and my emotions came back, slowly. To this day, some of my emotional capabilities seems blunted. Some days, the old feelings of numbness feel like they’re starting to creep back in. I usually have to ask myself is this really apathy or are you just feeling more “normal” because your meds are working? It’s usually the latter.
The thing is, I never want to feel that level of apathy again. It was just as excruciating as the intense emotional pain of my 20s, only this time I couldn’t feel any good feelings to counteract the bad ones. It stripped me of who I was and what I loved. I knew I was in the clear when I started having dreams and ambitions again; when I started to see a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.
The apathy of my depression had stripped me of all the things that made me happy and all of the things that made me, me. It stole my ability to feel joy with with child and get excited with my friends and family. It made me negative and bitter. No, the depression of my young-womanhood was a long way from what I had become. I hope that my brain never does this again.
If apathy is plaguing your life, know that there is help out there and it won’t be like this forever. Here are a few things I recommend if you’re feeling prolonged apathy:
- Contact your doctor or therapist and let them know how you’re feeling. It isn’t “normal” to feel this way for a prolonged amount of time.
- Reach out to your support network. I know this is tough advice, but force yourself to pick up the phone. Push yourself to show up at dinner. Get out and around the people that you love. Isolation will only make your apathy worse. I know from experience.
- Track your successes. I don’t care how small they are; we all have success in our lives. Maybe even on a daily basis. Start keeping track of them in a visual way.
- Get plenty of rest and remember to eat!
That’s all I’ve got for today, folks. I hope that you learned a little bit about apathy and depression and how crushing they can be. I lost my sense of self and several years of my life to it and I hope to never experience it again.
Don’t forget to check out The Winter Of My Discontent podcast. A new episode will be out on Wednesday and this week Dorene and I are talking about ADHD and some of its various symptoms.
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Love and light! Keep fighting the good fight! 💜💜
Writing about living with ADHD and mental illness and my journey down a thriving path forward. Breaking stigmas and creating community, one post at a time.