/ˌanhɪˈdəʊnɪə/ – noun – Inability to feel pleasure in normally pleasurable activities.
On my cycle up Tasmania I met a doctor who taught me the medical name for a symptom I’ve had for a long time: ‘anhedonia’.
This doctor had worked all over the world, including in developing countries and even in Antarctica, and he experiences anhedonia as a symptom of his depression, which he’s been dealing with on and off for years. He asked his psychiatrist if there’s such a thing as ‘existential depression’, as he’s been going through an existential crisis since his retirement and questioning “what’s it all for?” But the psychiatrist was doubtful.
I’ve had varying degrees of anhedonia ever since I first started burning out, but I don’t experience the sadness typical of depression. I’ll see a magnificent view and I’ll know it’s beautiful, but inside I’ll feel… very little. This emotional numbness has become the norm for me; I won’t say I’ve completely accepted it, but I’m used to it now. I’ve learnt to seek other things such as contentment or satisfaction, rather than pleasure and happiness, and I’m driven by what gives me purpose in life.
It’s now known that anhedonia is also a symptom of PTSD and of burnout, where it’s described as ‘emotional fatigue’. It’s as though, with all the chronic stress, mental overstimulation and heightened emotions, the emotional part of the brain just gets worn out.
Knowing the link with chronic stress, it makes sense to me that the doctor’s anhedonia might be caused by all the angst, self doubt and inner conflict he’s going through as a result of his existential crisis.