Anhedonia – the trials of life

Saturday, October 10th is Mental Health Day. One of the tag lines mentioned on the BBC is “It’s OK not to be OK”. It is aimed at young people who are just beginning to grapple with the world and with their own abilities to appreciate and react appropriately to what is going on within them and without them. This is an excellent initiative and needs to be actively supported.

I am in my early 70s (so not young) but still grappling with what is going on within me and without me. In late 2019, I was diagnosed with Anhedonia; a diagnosis which like many diagnoses merely puts a name to an assorted set of symptoms which the patient may have been aware of for years. It felt good to have the condition named though, if only to realise that others have also experienced what I have been experiencing since my teens.

If you google Anhedonia, you will see it covers a lot of ground. I am not a mental health professional and can only talk about my own Anhedonia; others who have the condition may see things differently. I imagine that extreme cases may be literally self destructive and even dangerous. Fortunately, my condition is – I hope – mild. My Anhedonia means that I find it very difficult to relax, have fun, reward myself or even look forward to what should be happy events. If you wanted to tag-line my condition, it would be “It’s not OK to be OK”. Fortunately for me, the condition is not full-on all the time. Quite often, I feel relatively positive and might reward myself with chocolate cake, but as I said, if I’m feeling OK then something in me says, “this is not OK!” and I might then start to worry about whether cake is good for me. Cake choice is just one real but more trivial example; it’s much more than that. Almost every decision I have ever made in my life has had at least some type of risk/reward calculation, some conscious but many probably sub-conscious. When rewards are hard to appreciate, risks tend to completely dominate the equation. It probably means I’m less likely to overindulge in anything, so I suppose it’s not all bad news.

The Anhedonia diagnosis has allowed me to understand, to learn from and be more accepting of some of the major life decisions I have made. At the same time, the COVID19 lockdown has given me more than enough opportunity to conduct a better informed lifetime review. I have found it very therapeutic to think about my condition. Trying to write about it for this project has certainly helped me. I am feeling more “OK” than I have for a long time … and I am very OK with that.