Loneliness and the Struggle for Validation

It’s a dark day outside today, and I’m well-settled into the gloom of my rapidly worsening depression. My psychiatrist recently increased the dosage of several of my medications, and today is my first day taking them, although it’ll be several weeks before I notice any difference according to her. I certainly don’t feel any better today.

The past few weeks have been a struggle like none I’ve known in at least five years (the last time I felt as bad as this was in 2016). I can barely function, have had to call out or leave work early on several occasions, and spend almost all day, every day, in a numb, mindless stupor, trying desperately not to think about or consider what’s coming next, because anything yet to come just seems completely unbearable. I sleep all day, snuggles with my cat my only comfort, and am conflicted between wretchedly wanting each day to end, and not wanting the next day to come. Some days I don’t even eat, which is terribly unusual for me, and deep sleep dreams are my only escape.

The point is, it’s bad.

And in this place of desperation, I realize I feel very, very alone. Not alone in the sense that I’m the only one suffering, but more so alone in the sense that I see everyone suffering, and no one has the time or inclination to care much about me. I see my wife struggling with depression, the people around me fed up with work, and even when I tell someone how I’m feeling (or try to; it’s hard to get the concept of crushing despair across), they might listen, offer some advice or sympathy, but then go back to their own life (which, of course, they’re very much allowed to).

The funny thing is, I think a lot of people feel similar. One of my greatest struggles as an author and creator is getting myself out there, marketing my craft, and getting people to notice me. For the most part, I don’t really want to be noticed. I don’t crave attention, I don’t really need others’ validation, and so I don’t tend to think about how I can get myself in front of others. But when I look at other people – particularly their social media presence – the more I wonder if those who prolifically post photos of themselves, their cats, their children or their thoughts, are really feeling just as alone as I am. Just as in need of validation.

Because right now, I really, really want people to validate my depression. I want to post to social media that I feel horrible, that I want to die, that I can’t face life day after day after day. It is, in a way, a cry for attention – but sometimes, I think people need attention. In the past, when I used to self-harm, or when I would daydream about suicide, it was always inward, about myself, my feelings, and how I would cope personally with the mental hell I was wading through.

Now, I feel like I have the same sort of feelings, but I really want someone else out there to say, ”Hey – it’s okay. I know it sucks.” I don’t want sympathy, or solutions; I don’t want platitudes, or logical ”you know it’ll get better” catchphrases (I know it’ll get better, that’s not the point). I want … empathy, I guess. Validation. Someone to tell me I’ve got it rough, and that it’s okay to cope in whatever way I possibly can.

But the thing is, I also don’t want that. I don’t want to feel like I’ve got it worse than other people, because I know I haven’t. I don’t want to garner sympathy for a plight that isn’t all that bad. I don’t want to drag empathy out of people who are probably thinking to themselves, ”Who is this guy? Does he think the world revolves around him? Grow up!”

I feel stuck, I feel lonely, and I feel miserable and depressed. I want people to notice, and I also want people to pass me by.

I want to feel validated, and I don’t feel that I deserve it.

I really want to end this post with some upbeat note, a sense of, ”Hey … I know this will get better.” And the honest truth is, I do know that. I also don’t care. It doesn’t change how I feel right now. It doesn’t change the fact that I don’t know how I’m going to make it through tomorrow. It doesn’t change anything about the place I’m in, or how I feel totally unequipped to cope. All the logical answers in the world don’t change a thing about depression.

For now, I’m probably going to zone out for the rest of the night, drag my living corpse from room to room in the house until it seems like a reasonable time to go to bed, then sleep until tomorrow.

Then it all begins again.

I’ve Lost All Sense of Curiosity

As my depression worsens daily into something just short of crippling, I find myself falling back hard into old patterns, habits and comforts, in a vain effort to stop myself from collapsing into bed and simply not getting up again. I rewatch old episodes of South Park and Futurama endlessly, fail to create anything meaningful – either in writing or in music – and more or less just barely scrape through each day without ever discovering or experiencing anything new.

The hard part about this is that, when I really think about it, I don’t want to experience anything new. It all just … bores me. It isn’t interesting, doesn’t feel worth it, and I find little to no joy in anything I’m not already intimately familiar with. At first I thought perhaps this was just the depression talking, but when I think longer about it, I realize that I’ve been this way for years.

There was a time when I looked forward to new things – really looked forward to them. New albums from my favorite artists, new books from my favorite authors, new movies and TV shows to watch and experience. I remember being really excited to see new episodes of Dexter back when it was first airing, and buying up Stephen King books the day they were released.

Then, I slowly started waiting to experience new things. I waited to listen to the new Nightwish album for a good long time, although I finally got around to it. I delayed and delayed watching Game of Thrones until social media all but ruined it (well, the show writers kind of did it first).

And eventually, I just sort of … stopped experiencing anything new altogether. I haven’t listened to Iron Maiden’s new album, despite it getting great reviews. I haven’t watched Black Widow or any new movie in ages. I haven’t read a book in years. And the worst part is, I really just don’t want to.

When I try, I fail. I watched one episode of Game of Thrones, and just wasn’t invested. I watched the first episode of Amazon’s new show Invincible, and it was really good – but I just don’t care to watch more. I’ve tried and failed to read a dozen or more books.

And when I really break it down, I feel like it comes down to a total lack of curiosity. I just don’t care about things. I don’t care about the world, or the things in it, or the things that are meant to entertain me and take my mind off the things that would otherwise consume me.

I just exist, basically.

I exist, and I’m completely uncurious about anything and everything in the world around me. Nothing piques my interest; nothing seems worth doing or experiencing. And despite the fact that I can barely make it through each day at the moment, I think this has been building for years, or even decades, to the point where now my whole life seems like a meaningless husk, something devoid of any joy or interest.

This scares me, really, because for a long time the only thing that really kept me going, kept me motivated – even in the darkest of times when all I could think about was some kind of escape, I always stayed the course for the idea that, if I died today, I might miss experiencing something truly wonderful that was yet to come. But if there’s nothing that excites me at all anymore – if I just don’t care about anything new, no matter who or what creates it – then what is going to keep me alive? What’s even the point?

My depression is rapidly worsening, and the one thing that usually keeps me afloat is gone. What will happen if the day comes – and I fear it will – when I can’t get out of bed? What will happen when I can’t bear to breathe another breath? What will happen when death becomes more appealing than life?

I once read somewhere that people who ideate about suicide don’t necessarily want to die; they just want their life as it is to be over. The concept encourages positivity, and the belief in change. But what if you don’t believe in that change at all? What if the idea of something new, something different, is as equally abhorrent as what you’re stuck with at the moment? What if death seems appropriate, not because you don’t want to live, but because there’s nothing left to live for?

I realize I’m navigating down a dark path here, and this feeling of dismal, bleak numbness may too pass, but at the moment all I really want to do is curl up and go to sleep. Preferably for a very, very long time.

The Power of Emotion In Music

I haven’t been feeling so well lately, probably because I inadvertently stopped taking my medication for a little bit, and the resulting depression has had me on something of a trip down memory lane – at least as far as feeling and emotion is concerned. It’s not that I necessarily want to feel this way, but it is bringing back to me the memories that I once could feel this way.

Let me try to explain. I have a reasonably large collection of music (not that music collections really mean much in today’s world of all-you-can-eat streaming services), and I’ve formed emotional attachments to many of these songs. They make me feel certain ways – whether it be happy, sad, boisterous, etc. – and I’ll often listen to them when I’m feeling those ways, to reinforce my own sense of emotion. I even have entire playlist simply called ‘Depression’, for when I’m at my worst.

The interesting thing about this is that whilst some of the songs in my Depression playlist would probably be universally seen as ‘sad’, many of them would almost certainly not trigger the same thoughts and feelings in others as they do in me. Memory is an enormous part of what makes me feel with music – specifically emotional memory.

Some people can remember the first time they ever heard a song, sort of like they can remember their first kiss, or where they were when they first learned some monumental truth. I can’t. In fact, I struggle to remember what I had for breakfast yesterday in most occasions, and if you were to name a song, I almost certainly wouldn’t be able to remember the first time I heard it.

What I do remember, however, is how I felt when I first heard it. Name me a song and I’ll probably gloss over it; play me a song and I’ll – in most cases – be transported back to the time when I first heard it, complete with the emotions and sensations I was going through at that time. It isn’t that the music causes the emotions – it’s that it reminds me of them.

To me this is fascinating, because it implies that music doesn’t necessarily hold inherent emotional power, but rather holds the power of emotional memory – the power to remind us of how we once were. (I’ve heard smells can do the same thing.)

Now of course, this isn’t going to true of every song, nor of every person; as far back as the history of humans, certain types of musical ideas have been associated with specific feelings; major keys are happy, while minor keys are sad; perfect chords are satisfying, while dissonance builds frustration and anger. Yet within even the history of western classical music, the thought of emotion being inherently tied to music is a relatively new concept (-ish). Moving out of the Middle Ages, where music was generally sacred, the Renaissance and Baroque periods of musical invention gave rise to composers who wrote for fun, and not just for god.

Yet even the great composers of the past such as Bach, Handel and Vivaldi aren’t particularly known for infusing deep emotion into their works. Certainly, they have ‘serious’ and ‘light’ works, but music from that era comes across often as more studious than heartfelt, with only a passing sense that a cantata in a minor key might be used for a more solemn purpose than a fugue in a major key.

Approaching the 1800s, however, there is a marked shift in musical tone and dynamic, largely led by Beethoven and his successors. Few scholars, I think, would argue that Beethoven’s majestic ninth symphony is not deeply infused with a wide range of emotions, from fear to rage to outright joy (indeed, the final movement is known as the “Ode to Joy”), and the Romantic era of music he ushered in was one in which emotion was key above all else.

The twentieth century saw a shift away from this, particularly following World War I and the desire to distance culture from the nationalism that sparked it, and the middle of the century was dominated by composers trying to reverse this trend and remove not only emotion, but themselves entirely, from their works (Schönberg, Cage, and others would often try to create composer-less music). However, as blues and jazz began to dominate the popular musical landscape, classical music faded into a background of obscurity whilst rock ‘n’ roll kept the ‘feeling’ alive.

Still, despite the concept of ASMR and the goosebumps you get from a particularly powerful passage, you really can’t argue that music contains the emotion in its entirety. The composer/songwriter may try their best, but interpretation – both from the performer and the listener – is where the connection actually happens. Let’s take a reasonably popular example that I can explain for myself: Wait and Bleed, by Slipknot. Reaching number 34 in the US charts and earning the band a grammy nomination, it’s a song that most people have at least heard of, if not expressly listened to. With its extreme distortion, dissonant chord progressions and screamed vocals, the first emotional impression one might get from this song is anger and rage (as could be argued for most of Slipknot’s output).

Yet for me, the song carries a deep weight of depression – specifically the teenage existential misery that I was going through when I first heard it. I don’t expressly remember what I was doing or where I was when I actually first heard the song, but it was part of the soundtrack to my young adulthood, and will be indelibly etched into my memory as an overwhelmingly sad song.

When I hear Wait and Bleed – or any other song that I first heard during that time of my life – I find myself reliving those feelings in my life, often tinted with a hefty dose of nostalgia. It doesn’t particularly matter if the song is meant to make the listener feel a certain way or not – it makes me feel that way. And interestingly, contemporaneous music that I didn’t listen to – such as Linkin Park – don’t have nearly the same emotional effect on me, despite the songs themselves being just as emotionally raw and powerful.

I even think that this emotional attachment to music – formed in the deepest subconscious of our minds – can be an explanation as to why, after a certain age, we stop connecting to new music as much as we do old music. (How many of us remember our parents hating our music? How many of us dislike our children’s music?) Our teenage years, developmentally, are our most raw, vulnerable and formative, and the things we experience during that time are likely to stay with us forever. I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t heard a new song since I turned thirty that has been able to have even close to the emotional impact that those songs I first heard when I was fifteen did. In some ways this makes me sad, because I feel like my world of musical experience is getting smaller, but I also recognize this as a natural part of aging – we become comfortable with what we know, and our experiences jade us, obscuring the wide-eyed wonder with which we saw the world before.

Ultimately, I’m glad for music, and the emotions it can stir in me; without it, I think I would probably be an unfeeling automaton most of the time. The music I love, the music that I connect with, reminds me that I actually am able to feel, especially in those times when the world around me, the meds I’m on, and my own inherent mental health issues, conspire to hide those feelings from me.

What’s your favorite emotional music? Is it something that would be widely accepted as emotional, or does it have some special connection to you, and your life?