Fizzled Out on Passion
July 21, 2008 2:36 AM   Subscribe

Depression has knocked my passion (for everything) out. Gwargh. What do I do while I get therapy sorted?

I've been diagnosed with depression and anxiety for about six years, and have been on and off treatment for that time. Last year (after about 3 years of being treatment-free) I had a bad relapse and went back on medication (Effexor XR) and counseling. They helped, and I was getting better, but recently I had a big setback and never managed to recover properly.

I've found that this wave of depression has robbed me of the ability to feel passionate about everything. I was once really passionate about changing the world (in various ways), and was invited to an exclusive summit last week for 100 other young passionate people. I felt like a dullard next to them - I didn't feel like I had anything of substance, and at one point I sat alone in a room crying and declaring that "I'm done". Surprisingly, even though my only contribution was wise-cracks in lectures and a Thank-You card for the organizers, the rest of the group accepted me wholeheartedly and felt that I was one of the most memorable people in the whole summit.

After I came back from that summit, my boyfriend and I went on a weekend vacation, but I couldn't muster any sort of enjoyment whatsoever. My boyfriend's showing me so much affection and love and care, and all I could do is go "meh". This got worse in the following week, and I felt really guilty that I couldn't feel as much love for him as he obviously does for me. (According to the Triangular Theory of Love, the companionship and intimacy is strong, but the passion's gone missing).

For a while I felt like I was holding him back, that I wasn't the best person for him, even offered to find him someone else that could treat him better. In all other respects, our relationship is actually going great - we communicate well, we deal with ups and downs maturely, we respect and care for each other deeply. I just am an emotional wreck, and I didn't want him to suffer because of that. Nonetheless, he still insists that he loves me, and that he doesn't mind the lack of emotional passion. (For example, I like cuddles and embraces, but felt guilty that I was being selfish and not bursting out with love for him. He told me not to worry because he didn't find it selfish at all.) It's good, I guess, but I still can't help but feel guilty that the only emotional response I can muster to anything is "blaaaaaaah".

I went to see a GP (my regular one was away) and made appointments with my usual counselor. It's two weeks away though, so I have some down time. I have work placements this uni semester (my last!!) and I'm still waiting for those to be sorted out so I've got nothing to do for a while. I'm already wallowing away in sorrow and despair, and find it hard to do stuff - I'd rather nap all day (and indeed do sleep a lot) and it takes a lot of effort to make myself shower or prepare a meal. I have things I could do, but I'm too lethargic and bored to do anything other than think about them. My boyfriend and I are also looking at relationship counselling to see how else we can deal with my depression - we're talked out and we're out of ideas.

How can I cope with the lack of passion and energy? Should I feel guilty for not being as romantically inclined towards my boyfriend? What about my current apathy towards making a difference, when I once was such a passionate worldchanger? What can I do in these two weeks (until my counselor appointment) so that I don't drag myself down into further despair and actually feel better?

(I'm doing a little better now as I write this, but my moods change so quickly and intensely that I'd rather have some practical ideas for when I get another "sad attack". Also, I've found lots of relationship questions about dealing with a depressed partner, but not much about being the depressed partner itself.)
posted by divabat to Human Relations (13 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
IANAP, but if you care enough & can muster enough energy to write so much, instead of just rolling over in bed for the fourth day running, thinking "what the hell is the point of even bothering?" then I'd say you've still got some life left in you, and you presumably know that yourself.

I'd suggest a way of making it through such days is to concentrate on just getting things done - go to your classes or work, do your cooking & housework. Keep the basic blocks of your life in place, without concerning yourself so much about feeling flat. It'll pass, you know that. Even if it takes meds and / or therapy.

This is intended more as a friendly hug from somebody who's been there, rather than anything like serious professional advice, but I place a lot of stock in that idea of trying to keep your regular routines in place as far as you can. That's the foundation of your life. The dazzling superstructure can always be put back on it when it comes back out of winter storage.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:19 AM on July 21, 2008 [4 favorites]

I've dealt with depression a lot myself - both as the depressed partner, and the partner OF a depressed person. You have a boatload of empathy from me, this situation SUCKS.

The best advice I can offer you in the next two weeks is to fake it 'till you make it.

When you get a sad attack, the best thing you can do is acknowledge it for what it is. Tell your partner flat out - "I'm feeling really sad right now. It has nothing to do with you, it's just my brain feeling sad."

Make yourself do at least ONE of the things you could do every day. It will help to have a small feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day. The most recent time I was depressed (this past winter), I got into a daily exercise routine (swimming and/or yoga) and while it was a huge effort to actually MAKE myself do it, I felt so much better once I had. The benefits, for me, weren't just from the exercise itself, but also from the feeling that hey, I did *SOMETHING* today. Don't try everything at once, it's so easy to be overwhelmed when you're already feeling down, just give yourself one thing. Maybe it's the same thing every day. Maybe you pick one important task each day, but you should make sure that there is ONE thing that you get done every day.

Your partner sounds like he is dealing with this admirably. Don't let yourself get bogged down with guilt, it will make everything worse. When he tells you that he's ok, take his word for it and be thankful that you've got someone to be strong for you when you need him to be. That will make the feeling of love/passion that much more intense once you've slogged through this depressive bout.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 3:26 AM on July 21, 2008 [4 favorites]

You might want to fake it a little. You can't help that you don't feel passion for your boyfriend at the moment. If you love him and feel like you're in a down spot because of your depression, but want to stay with him, fake it. I'm not talking about faking orgasm, I'm talking about putting some effort into reciprocating hugs, asking about his day, etc. even if you don't feel it.

I don't know if you're doing this, but you don't always have to communicate to him that you are sad. There's no reason to hold your feelings back and you shouldn't put on a nice face just to please him, but being blah and miserable and constantly telling him you are depressed and apologizing for your depression is not helpful to either of you. I understand, it's hard to get out of your head when you're depressed. You're hyper focused on your feelings. You say your moods change frequently. When you're having an up time try to make an effort to sit down and watch a movie (or another enjoyable activity) with your boyfriend and try to enjoy it for what it is. You have your appointment. In these two weeks I wouldn't worry about anything more than bathing, making as many meals as you can, and getting some outdoor time. Go outside, walk a little. Get some sun on your head. It helps me. Take a shower and go to the store and stock up on some groceries. If you're feeling up to it, force yourself to go out on a date with your boyfriend. If you don't have a day job, get outside as many days as you can. Go get your hair cut or visit the museum or a bookstore. Go to the library. Walk around. Window shop. Try to get out of your head as much as you can.

I wouldn't worry about changing the world at the moment. I commend you for your world changing efforts. When you're feeling better you might try volunteering a couple days a week in your community.
posted by LoriFLA at 4:27 AM on July 21, 2008 [4 favorites]

I can share my story with you, but to fight your own demons, you really need to speak with a professional. You must also realize that getting well takes time. There is no quick fix. It does not happen overnight. There is no silver bullet. It takes time, patience, diligence, and most importantly belief in yourself.

I have battled two periods of depression in my adult life, both after age 40. The first came in 1994 when I was about a year sober in my recovery from alcoholism. The story of my life as an alcoholic isn't really germane to this discussion, suffice to say my life had become completely unmanageable. In that first year of recovery, things seemed truly great. I finally had the monkey of alcohol off my back after nearly 25 years, I had become very involved in AA as a tool for recovery, and the crumbling relationship with my wife had improved considerably.

Then something totally unexpected happened to me. I became sad all the time. I didn't feel well ... always tired, totally without energy and motivation. I lost my libido, my desire for socializing, and my work ethic. After a few months of this, I decided it was probably time for a visit to my family doctor to see what was going on. His diagnosis was simple. I'm sure you recognized the symptoms as well ... classic depression.

To get to the gist, I embarked on a multi-method treatment program. I visited a psychiatrist to talk about medication. We settled on Wellbutrin which really seemed to help me remain on an even keel rather than suffering highs and lows. I began seeing a counselor to determine what brought on this depression. Turns out I was missing my best friend, alcohol. That was my coping mechanism. When I was happy I drank, when I was sad I drank, when I was mad I drank. You get the picture. She helped me to understand why I was feeling depressed. Now, how to deal with that.

I poured myself even deeper into AA. I attended meetings every day for the amateur psychology. I became a leader involved in district and regional matters in the national AA organization. But most importantly, I began practicing the 12th step of the 12 steps of AA. That step is simply helping others. I became more involved in working with other recovering alcoholics, those who were just starting out. It helped me get out of myself, become less selfish, and share my experiences, strength, and hope with the others. It helped to recognize my own fears and my own resentments. When listening to other people's problems I was able to realize that I wasn't terminally unique. We all share many of the same dependencies, irritations, disappointments, even tragedies. That knowledge really set me at ease and began the process of obtaining serenity. Eventually, with hard work and focus, over about a two year period I was able to become well, or at least better.

Fast forward about five years. I was still doing well with staying sober. I had even quit attending AA meetings a couple years earlier because I needed to devote more time to my step-kid's college years. Then I got hit with a triple whammy all within about a four month period. First, I lost the job I had for 28 years because of a corporate merger and layoffs. It was the first time in my adult life I had ever been unemployed. Second, my wife and I finally came to the conclusion after 18 years of marriage that it was time to call it quits. It had been kinda rocky all along, but we had mostly worked it out. What really came as a surprise was that the breakup became very ugly.

Which leads to the third thing, after living in the same place for over 20 years, I found myself displaced and basically starting over. Oh, and in the meantime I found out during the discovery phase of the divorce that I was financially ruined. I was aware we were about $10,000 in debt with a home equity loan, car loan, etc. Unbeknownst to me though, my wife had run up an additional $30,000 of credit card bills that I never saw. In the state I lived, divorces are settled 50/50. You split all the assets and you split all the liabilities. So here I was responsible for $20,000 in debt that I didn't know anything about. No job, no marriage, no home, and no money.

Despite all the good things I had done to improve my life, that was my dilemma. And as you can imagine, I fell into depression again. The good news was this time I could recognize it, so I knew how to react quicker. I immediately got back into counseling and back on Wellbutrin. I made arrangements with creditors to pay off the debt over time. I moved about 500 miles away to start a brand new life for myself. I started a new career totally unrelated to my first. Most importantly, I became aware of a book that espoused a philosophy that made a whole lot of sense to me. I have been trying my best to practice it ever since.

The book is called The Four Agreements and was written by don Miguel Ruiz, a Toltec master. Here are the four agreements:

agreement 1

Be impeccable with your word - Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

agreement 2

Don’t take anything personally - Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

agreement 3

Don’t make assumptions - Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

agreement 4

Always do your best - Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.

Again, it took about two full years to get back on my feet and out from under the black cloud of depression. Eventually I got all those bills paid off which was a major stress relief. My new job transferred me to three different places in the U.S. southeast over a four year period, so I was able to focus on that rather than my past. I now try to always look out the windshield rather than in the rear-view mirror. I can't do anything to change the past, so I try to live without regrets.

Working on those four agreements a little bit every day has helped me to be more confident, content, and serene. It didn't happen all at once. I have to constantly remind myself when I'm in challenging situations to think of how I should react, rather than just reacting. Repeating, it doesn't happen overnight, it takes practice. Most importantly, it absolutely does work as a philosophy for achieving serenity.

I am not perfect, far from it. However, I am probably happier at this point in my life (age 55) than I have been since I was a child. I have my own home in the mountains of North Carolina. I am debt free. I have a job that won't make me wealthy but is very easy, and I don't have to bring work home with me, I leave it all there. I've met someone that I've had a long distance telephone and internet relationship with for several years, and I really don't have a care in the world. I'm more involved in charity. It really all boils down to getting out of ourselves and into helping others.

I hope this will help you. You are worth it.
posted by netbros at 5:26 AM on July 21, 2008 [172 favorites]

divabat, it's only been two weeks or so since you posted this: "I know intellectually that I'll get better, but it's just been the first few days and I'm hurting so much. How do I heal?"

And now you provide a little more background:

I was once really passionate about changing the world (in various ways), and was invited to an exclusive summit last week for 100 other young passionate people. I felt like a dullard next to them - I didn't feel like I had anything of substance, and at one point I sat alone in a room crying and declaring that "I'm done". Surprisingly, even though my only contribution was wise-cracks in lectures and a Thank-You card for the organizers, the rest of the group accepted me wholeheartedly and felt that I was one of the most memorable people in the whole summit.

First of all, don't underestimate the value of wise-cracks.

Secondly, don't sell yourself short. I will bet you that you were not the only person feeling that way at that summit.

Third, don't confuse a single bad experience with any permanent inability on your part. The real dullards are the people who are so sure of themselves they stop learning. You took a beating at a conference. So what? Sometimes you have to take a few lumps before you get the feel of the ropes. Get back in the ring.

Hang in there. Cuts, bruises, broken bones, and shattered spirits take time to heal.
posted by three blind mice at 5:45 AM on July 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

Honestly, I think that having the goal of "making it through" is perfectly sufficient for the moment. By that I mean basically doing the minimum -- having a shower, eating lunch, giving your boyfriend a hug (if he is in town) or a brief email (if it is long distance), going for a walk, etc. Changing the world, figuring out your post-college trajectory, being the most awesome girlfriend/daughter/friend/person ever -- all that can wait a few weeks until you get back with the therapist, things even out, etc.

In the meantime, though, your goal needs to be to just do the minimum of taking care of yourself and remaining minimally connected to those you care about. It's ok if what you are doing isn't really adequate for the long term, or if your long term plans remain totally unformed. Just focus on the day-to-day effort of doing the minimum until you can get the help you need to do better.

You are at a really unsettled and stressful point in your life right now, and I think you need to accept that it will likely remain unsettled for some time to come. Not all that many people go straight from college into a really narrow track that they will stay on their entire lives, and very few people who are as bright and ambitious and socially-motivated as you are will find a narrow track satisfying, anyway. It's a lot easier to say "accept the ambiguity" than it is to do so, I know, but I doubt that simply looking for clarity is actually going to produce it right now -- there is just too much in flux.

So focus on the day to day, make sure you are taking care of yourself, and see if there is any way to move those appointments up -- calling and asking if they have had any cancellations sometimes works, if you have the flexibility to make it in on short notice. Good luck.
posted by Forktine at 6:21 AM on July 21, 2008

How can I cope with the lack of passion and energy? This is one of the main hallmarks of being depressed. This is what the antidepressants will help with (maybe not the passion, but they will help you function and get out of bed in the morning and help you get through the day). Don't feel bad about not being your former self, not having the passion -- it will come. You sound very self-aware and have a good grip on depression and how it effects you, and this will go a long way.

What can I do in these two weeks (until my counselor appointment) so that I don't drag myself down into further despair and actually feel better?

A lot of people in the psychiatric community believe that medication, talk therapy, and exercise together work better than any of the three used separately. You could try calling a hotline in the meantime to talk, but I would bump up your exercise quotient in the meantime. And you'll just have to accept that you aren't going to feel motivated to get out and exercise, but just go through the motions. Force yourself. Do some kind of exercise you really enjoy, and push yourself if you can. The endorphins will help.

Trust that your passion and energy will come back. Right now just focus on getting through the day, getting as much exercise as you can, and don't get too isolated. While it probably won't work to talk to friends as if they were your therapist, you may feel better after reaching out to an old friend you may have lost contact with to find out how they have been doing. It is my belief that one of the reasons our society has a high rate of depression these days is that a lot of us have become very insular -- going to work, coming home to watch TV, go online, play videogames, whatever. Everyone is on their ipods or cellphones, and we spend a great deal of time alone, not connecting with other human beings.

Maybe this is only a North American trend, but it seems to me that even globally, our technology helps us to become more insular and isolated. There is no substitute for face to face human contact.

I think you are on the right track. I'd recommend the talk therapy (as soon as you can get in), antidepressants, and lots of exercise. Trust that, given time, this will work. Don't worry about becoming a worldbeater right away. You'll get your groove back. Depression is like this horrible fog that descends and when we're in it, we can't see how there could possibly be a way out. But you will. I'll be thinking about you. All the best.
posted by Flying Squirrel at 8:19 AM on July 21, 2008

I've been dealing with depression for about ten years now, and the one thing that's really stuck with me was said by my mother's counselor: depression is a very self-centered disorder. By that she means someone who is depressed only dwells on their own problems when otherwise they would have perspective. I personally am afraid of being self-centered (my sister is who I don't want to be...), like most people, and looking at it from that direction helps me at even my most depressed times. It seems like such an obvious statement, but I had never really thought about it like that.

I took Effexor for a long time, and I'm pretty sure that's why I gained 50 lbs in college. I dropped all that weight within six months of stopping Effexor. It affected my sex drive (passion), and even made my mom start to lose hair. It has a lot of negative side effects. I ended up constantly tired, which ultimately hurt my GPA. It took me three consecutive semesters to recover. I would do A work, but I would miss so much class the teacher couldn't give me that A. I slept through even the most important tests and presentations. Effexor is a downer, like many anti-depressants. You may need an upper. Wellbutrin is what I'm on now, although I'm not sure I'd recommend it. Additionally, your hormones may be the problem. You may need to start/stop/switch your birth control. I can usually tell birth control's impact on my moods more than my psychiatric drugs.

I'm sure you know this, but remember: Any changes made to these medications, doses, specific drugs, whatever, can lead to major mood changes. It takes a bit before your body adjusts, so any sudden change could be very dangerous. If you decide to do something about the medication, always talk to a doctor. I saw that you went to your GP. I did too at first, but then realized he was just giving me pills without understanding my problem. He just had too many patients to see in a given day. I had to take the initiative to find a psychiatrist. Hopefully you have mental health coverage and can just call your insurance company to find doctors in your area. However, psychiatrists are not usually the best with bed-side-manner. I think it is crucial to have both counseling and psychiatric appointments.

I can empathize for you completely. I feel like my depression has negatively impacted my relationship, and I'm just grateful we get each other. Let me know what you find works. I'm still struggling and searching for the answers.
posted by metricfan at 11:12 AM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: (I find it funny that one of the Related Questions actually names my boyfriend.)

Thanks everyone. It's great to hear some support, especially from those that have been in my position and can relate. Just to respond to a few points:

LoriFLA: I actually enjoy spending time with my boyfriend (and hugs are awesome!). At the moment, though, it feels like an odd version of "friends with benefits" - love to hang out together, care for his well-being, enjoy some physical contact, but not in love with him or smitten with him. Which makes me guilty. For me it's like "if you don't know if you love or are in love with him, don't waste his time". He doesn't mind my lack of emotion, but it's a hump I still can't get over.

netbros: Wow. Thank you for that. I've gone through my own demons too but nothing as severe as yours. Hopefully I'll be able to fight them off like you have. I've read the Four Agreements ages ago as a youngster, but thanks for the reminder.

three blind mice: Well actually the circumstance that prompted my last question happened just before this conference. It all happened within a week of each other:

Went back to Malaysia for holiday
Went to Netherlands for KP workshop
Found out I was rejected from KP for the 3rd time (and posted that question)
BYM conference where I felt totally out of place
Weekend getaway with boyfriend where I felt loveless - "something's wrong"
Depression blows up on me and threatens our relationship

Perhaps if the weekend getaway happened before the conference I would have felt tons better - I literally went to the conference the day I returned from Malaysia and was still reeling over the rejection. I had very little time, if any, to process my grief. Just before the conference, and throughout it, I wanted my boyfriend quite badly (in all senses of the word) - and then to actually have him and feel NOTHING!!! Argh!! How terrible is that?!

Forktine: I'm on the waiting list for a possible cancellation, but she's away anyway so the earliest I can see her is the end of next week. I'll see what I can do though; I have faced delays before with psychological treatment and the delay made things worse.

Purtle: I was wondering if it was the Effexor too - the GP did say it tended to dampen emotions. It was very useful when I was first prescribed it (I was at a VERY bad state and needed immediate help) but I am considering changing. I'll talk about it with my usual doc once she gets back. As for birth control - my current one does affect my moods somewhat, but not unusually so. I'm just naturally loopy!

As for psychiatrists - I'm an international student so I'm not entirely sure what my insurance covers (are psychiatrists in Australia covered by Medicare? If they are, I'm good) and my GP is usually pretty good, but I understand your concern. I'll see what I can do.
posted by divabat at 3:02 PM on July 21, 2008

are psychiatrists in Australia covered by Medicare?

Yes, although I can't guarantee that they all are.

I assume you realise that psychiatrists don't do a whole lot other than prescribe medication, and follow up on how they work for you. ie they aren't therapists or shrinks, although a good psychiatrist might have some of those skills in their armoury. It's not their primary role, though.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:59 PM on July 21, 2008

Response by poster: UbuRovias: Yup, I've seen psychiatrists back home in Malaysia when I was younger. My main one fulfilled both roles (psychiatrist + talk therapy) which was cool, though I do appreciate the need to maintain my current therapist here.
posted by divabat at 4:11 PM on July 21, 2008

I've been there, for sure. The things that helped me the most were meditation (the kind where you just focus on the breath and resolve to simply notice your thoughts) and being really gentle to myself.

The real kicker of a down phase comes when you start feeling bad for feeling bad. Feeling bad is uncomfortable but survivable - it's just a different part of the cycle.

So go easy on yourself. How you are at this moment is not how you will always be.
posted by lauranesson at 9:08 AM on July 24, 2008

When I was depressed, a book that helped me out tremendously is called "The Depression Book" by Cheri Huber.

It really worked to help change my attitude about depression. You just start where you are, accepting yourself for who you are.

Also, amino acid therapy works just as well, if not better, than prescription anti-depressants for some people. 5HTP you can buy at a natural food stores, and some alternative MDs can do a more comprehensive evaluation and work with you to balance out your aminos. This also has lead me out of the despair of depression before.
posted by Rocket26 at 6:46 PM on August 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

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