I’ve touched on this subject before, but I thought I’d provide some proper insight so that people can understand the mindset that those who suffer from depression can find themselves in.
Being depressed doesn’t necessarily mean being sad. I mentioned in my Five Signs of Depression post that sadness is an emotion, whereas depression is an illness. We equate sadness and depression, but they are two different beings. Sadness is what we feel after an unfortunate event, but depression is a mindset that is actively harming you for weeks after.
I’ve certainly been sad during my depression. I get sad when I think about the mistakes I made because of my mindset, how I took things too far because I was becoming paranoid and anxious all the time. I get sad thinking about the relationships I probably ruined. It’s an expected symptom of depression. But there’s another feeling that I find to be just as damaging and worrying to our own mindset during the depression, and that is apathy.
What is apathy? It means to have little to no concern, interest, or enthusiasm. It’s derivative from “without feeling”. Many people are apathetic towards politics, they don’t care what goes on in that world. When you’re apathetic towards everything that happens around you, it can create a dangerous place for you to find yourself in.
My apathy started a long time ago, with people. It’s a slow and sly transition, I started seeing my friends less, I started making less of an effort to have meaningful conversations or any sort of conversation for that matter. I didn’t go out as much, in fact, I started to become scared and anxious about the idea of going out, something that I’m still building myself back up from. My friendships and relationships were greatly damaged, and I’m grateful to the people who stuck around and gave me another chance. But that decline in social interaction had an impact on my outlook towards others.
Humans are social creatures. At a biological level, we are creatures of social habit, and we have depended on one another for thousands of years. Intrinsically, we find comfort and happiness in others, even if we do like spending time alone, like me. I’ve always said this and after talking about it with others, I see it’s true with them too. We like to be alone, but we do not like to be lonely. What I mean by that is, we like having our own spaces, our own things that make us happy, and finding comfort in our own presence. But we also crave companionship, whether that’s in the form of a friend or a partner, family etc. We like to know there’s an alternative when we get fed up of being by ourselves or we need to support of others. It’s a hard dichotomy for some people to understand, but for those who recognise it, it’s very important.
So why am I talking about this? Well, when you understand that some of us do like to spend time alone, apathy is like the key that locks us into our mindset. When you don’t care about others, or the events happening around you, and you just slowly drag yourself through life, day-to-day, it’s hard to ever find any help because you don’t care about the opinions and thoughts of others.
My apathy extended to my hobbies and interests too. Reading, watching television, writing, sports, cooking and so on, whenever I started doing these things I’d immediately lose interest. During my third year of university, I decided to do my dissertation in the form of a film magazine. I’m a huge cinephile, I love cinema and films, I’m obsessed with the way people can tell stories so differently and creatively, I love comedies, horrors, musicals, documentaries, everything. If I could sit, watch, write, and make movies all day for the rest of my life, I think I would be a happy person.
But at some point, maybe I overdid it, maybe I burnt myself out, but I completely hated what I was doing, and scrapped the entire thing with about a month or two to go. And I started again, and I was completely apathetic towards what I was doing, which was awful. If I hated the films I was watching and hated the stuff I was writing, at least I could convert that hatred into passion and maybe it would reflect in the work, but just not caring about it was incredibly difficult and so much worse. I eventually struggled through it all, submitted my magazine, and I haven’t even looked back at it since the deadline day, I just can’t.
Not caring is worse than being sad or hating something. Those two feelings, sadness and hatred, have specific causes. You can locate what is making you feel that way and attempt to deal with it. But when you feel absolutely nothing, when you have no emotional response to people or situations, it’s worse. And that’s the side of depression that many don’t understand.
This doesn’t even begin to cover the introspection that comes with apathy, getting lost in your own thoughts, trying to figure out why you don’t care about anything, blaming yourself, feeling guilty for not feeling anything. But that’s another topic for another day.
That apathy is a void, an indescribable feeling of nothingness, which is often why sufferers can’t talk about it, because they just don’t know how. You don’t want to do anything, everything you used to love doing you now don’t, and you wake up waiting until you can go back to sleep. It’s a hole that cannot be filled and leaves you feeling empty and with contempt for yourself.
So, what’s the solution? There’s no perfect answer obviously, we’re all different and we respond to things on an individual level. In therapy I learned the word “Anhedonia”, that’s the word for when you no longer find socialising, exercising, or generally pleasurable activities enjoyable anymore. I find that once you define something, it becomes easier to understand and resolve. I’ve attempted to treat this anhedonia in the simplest way possible, continuing to do the things that I know I used to find enjoyable.
The films I love to watch, I would view the first ten minutes and find myself bored or irritable, turn it off, and repeat with another film, and again, and again, and so on. But I found that if I just continued watching, with no other distractions like my phone or laptop, I slowly start to enjoy it and become engaged. I then applied that logic to everything else. I loathed the idea of cycling somewhere because it’s a lot of effort, but I get dressed, get on my bike and after ten minutes I forget what I was feeling. With writing, I spend ten minutes trying to get something down, and if I feel like giving up, I continue to write whatever comes into my head and rewrite it later. It’s messy but it gets the job done.
The truth is, for the depressed and apathetic of us, sometimes the action of doing has to come before wanting to do. Again, for those that don’t understand, they’ll be confused by this. We have to trick ourselves going out. I get anxious in the hours leading up to going out, what I’m wearing, who’s going to be there, what am I going to talk about; but once I’m physically there, drink in hand with a friend, I’m fine. We know that these things are beneficial to us, and we feel guilty when we don’t do them and stay at home or in bed.
Find where your apathy stems from, perhaps it’s doubts about your future like I’ve had for years. And once you find where it comes from, challenge the assumptions you’re making about yourself. It’s never too late for a career change, it’s never too late to start doing something else, or pursuing your interests on a larger scale. Identify what fulfils you, or what used to and remember why; travelling? Writing? Photography? Painting? Apply yourself and move past your own negativity, setting short-term goals for long-term plans. Think about problem-solving instead of the problem itself. But if it’s not working out, don’t change the goal, change the plan.
Apathy is a paradox, it is the feeling of not feeling, and I would not wish it on my worst enemy. I don’t know how we combat it or prevent it. But if you have something you are passionate about, please continue to do that. Whether it’s a career aspiration, hobby, activity, whatever. Keep doing it and do it when you don’t want to do it, and you’ll find yourself coming through to a better place.
Stay safe, and be well.