Thursday, 23 October 2014

On Lost Joy

My life has gotten circumstantially better this year.  I've solidified friendships, found a beautiful community and place to serve.  I've enjoyed vastly improved health.  A year or two ago I needed a wheelchair for a grocery store trip but that chair has been folded away and collecting dust for most of the year.  In 2012 and much of 2013 I needed nursing student assistants to drive me to appointments and help with errands; for perhaps six months I didn't drive a car myself once. This year I drive every day. By all accounts I should be happy.

And yet, if I could identify a time in which it began, sometime around August of 2013, I lost joy. For 32 years I considered myself, and described myself as, someone who found deep and unbridled joy in simple things. My tiny, bedroom-sized back yard has been an endless source of pleasure for me for the five years I've been here. I spent hundreds of hours just sitting, watching my cats, watching my little garden grow, watching the tiny insect world that we usually ignore in the soil beneath our feet.  This year I threw some seeds into the ground and most of the results are withering on their stalks.  I don't care.  I didn't spend a single night outside this summer lying on my back and staring at both the stars and at the technological feat of our manmade satellites with the utter astonishment and wonder that gazing into the depths of our deep, dark universe had never failed to elicit in me.

For 6 years I described metalsmithing as one of the top three passions of my life. The forming of beauty from cold hard metal in my hands was intoxicating and satisfying and meaningful and a gleaming bright spot amidst a hard life. In December of this year after a failed art show at a local gallery I lost interest. I have found little pleasure in it since, have struggled to work at all, have let dozens of requests for custom pieces in my shop go unanswered and ignored, and take days to force myself into my studio to fill the orders I do allow my shop to get. A request for a replenished inventory from a gallery nearby would once have driven me to work for hours, but that was months ago now and I haven't made a single piece.

I haven't had a truly severe panic attack in over a year and anxiety, not depression, had always been my psychological struggle. For decades, for my whole life, I was capable of and frequently experienced a level of terror that I have never been able to find words to capture. Panic and fear so complete and saturating that everything that made me Ellen became temporarily but totally replaced by primal terror. I haven't felt that at all this year, even in reaponse to the few episodes of severe physical symptoms that I have had.  My health has always been the most potent trigger of anxiety that exists.  I should be thrilled.

Last week I felt some relief. I worked hard for the first time in months. I felt replenished by friends. As I drove on the open road for a time I felt happy. I thought to myself, "this is the first time I have felt joy this year."  But it faded quickly.

I have always felt deep loneliness, fear, and sadness circumstantially, yes.  But this apathy, this unrelenting despair, this hopelessness, the hysterical crying, this loss of joy, this ache of sadness that is physically uncomfortable, they are new and they do not feel like me. I have told therapists for 15 years that depression has never been my problem. What HAPPENED to me?  I search and search.

 Is it circumstantial? Did 32 years of loneliness and illness and failures and a decade with a partner who himself found joy elusive finally become too exhausting and cause a collapse into malaise? Did I just lose energy to fight after fighting for so long?

 Is it a medication I'm taking?  Benzodiazepines are well known for causing depression and suicidal ideation with daily use and I have been taking a modest dose of one since my health crisis in 2012. My psychiatrist seems unconcerned because of the low dose but I wonder if it has ironically numbed my panic only to leave me frequently dwelling on the relief of death.

 Was it a hormonal or physiological shift that came as I entered my 30s?

Was the realization that even at a relative level of good health I will still be distracted every day by some degree of illness what filled me with defeat?  For so many years I hoped that I would soon find a treatment that gave me my life back but last year as my health improved I realized that I will never, ever, in all my life, be totally free of my broken DNA and its insistence on having a say in my plans.

In have left my life in shambles around me partly due to this apathy and partly in a desperate attempt to identify and eliminate a cause. I don't know what has happened or what to do or where to turn for an answer nor do I even know if I have the strength to truly search.

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