Depression affects millions of people worldwide, but here’s something many still don’t know about it: One of the very first things it can take from you, right up there with your energy and your motivation and your sense of self, is your ability to feel love.
And, apart from the abject pain, that might be the worst part about it.
Depression is able to change your daily and monthly rhythms, keep you from living your life, and in more profound cases even alter your identity, especially if it afflicts you for many years. The disease is in the habit of turning the world grey and textureless for those who suffer from it. It blunts positive emotion the way rainclouds blunt sunlight during an indefinite monsoon. The vibrancy of the sensations of pleasantness, satisfaction, and especially affection seems to bleed out into the floor, and a person can become hollow, like a shell of a human being who feels they cannot love.
Loss of affection is an incredibly difficult facet of the disease to talk about, because giving love is one of those higher functions of the brain that most people agree separates us from any other species in the known Universe. Without it, we hardly feel human. So what do you do when depression steals it from you?
After ten years of living with mental illness, I still don’t know the answer to that question. What I do know is that when depression strips me of my ability to feel warmth, my best hope for truly finding my way back to 100 percent again is to wait for the sensation to return at an inexplicable time of its choosing. Therapy, medicine, and family support are all essential in helping the process of finding love limp along, of course, but other than that, options are scarce.
However, I know from experience that other small, temporary steps can be taken to revive the heart even while depression eats away at it. Discovering a hole where you used to feel love isn’t always a problem that can be cured before your brain is ready to feel normal again, but it is a problem that can be treated in the meantime, and made less terrible. So this is my advice to those who suffer from this insidious void of emotion: count your passions. Literally take a tally of everything that excites you and makes you feel good, even if that excitement is microscopic, even if the warmth lasts a fraction of a second, and award that passion the highest value you can give. Reward yourself for feeling. Remind your brain how to love by practicing it, even when the instinct doesn’t come naturally.
Learn to the love the little things in your life first, and if you’re fortunate, they’ll serve as a gateway to remembering how to love the more important things, like people. Appreciate a sunset. Make yourself a cup of tea. These things don’t have to make you happy, per se; they should just give you pause while you practice having gratitude that they’re a part of your life. Happiness can’t be forced, but gratitude should be.
Keep a journal, every day if it helps, of the things you’ve noticed that stir up affection in you. You’re on a diet, but love to bake? Make cookies and then give them away. You have a favorite book, but you feel you’ve already read it too many times? You haven’t; pick it up again. You caught yourself humming your favorite song? Take just a moment to find some gratitude for your voice. It’s not completely gone yet.