I swam for the first time in a week today––anyone close to me knows I almost never skip more than one day of swimming in a row, so clearly something was wrong. After facing all the hardships here at camp in the last week, I was emotionally exhausted and physically exhausted from not sleeping well. After I switched departments and finished my first week of work as a hostess, I started feeling better, so I jumped back in the pool today. After reflecting on this week, I was shocked that I didn’t even have any desire to swim. Actually, there’s a reason people lose joy in activities they’re passionate about: it’s called depression.
Although I generally struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) from February to April each year, I do have moments of depression if things crash and burn in my life (usually once or twice a year, so it’s not severe), which is what happened this past week. I was depressed because my plans to lifeguard the whole summer didn’t work out. However, after processing the past week with a close friend, I remembered something one of my professors said: look for themes of loss if you have a counselee that’s struggling with depression.
With this in mind, I realized I started feeling down and miserable because I lost a part of myself––I’ve lifeguarded in some capacity at the other two camps I worked at, and not lifeguarding anymore just crushed me. I still sometimes pass by the pool and lake and become sad when I see the other lifeguards next to the water and remember I’m not a part of the team anymore. Although I didn’t fit in with the team, my teammates were still great people that I loved talking to. Even though I’m part of a new team, I’m still bummed that I don’t see the guards as often.
It’s funny––I’ve had several friends tell me this week that I look better: happier, brighter, etc;. I was dancing to an upbeat song at work the other day when one of my best friends at camp passed by, and she was surprised because she hadn’t seen me that happy since the beginning of summer. Switching departments was one of the hardest decisions I ever made, but it had to be done––I couldn’t keep working in an environment where I didn’t feel supported or encouraged.
In my new department, however, all my supervisors and coworkers constantly support and respect me. The kitchen staff literally feels like family, and I’ve also made a few new friends on my specific team within the department. I’m much happier lately, and now I’m feeling a desire to swim again.
So, why does this loss of joy occur? The psychological term for this is anhedonia––an inability to sustain feelings of pleasure due to decreased amounts of dopamine in the brain. Basically, even though you enjoy an activity, significant emotional pain and grief can drown out joy, and it takes a while for your brain to recuperate. Fortunately, it only took me a few days. Depending on the circumstances, it could take weeks, months, or even a year to feel joyful about a passion again.
If you notice a loss of interest in activities you love, I encourage you to try to identify your feelings. Have you faced a loss of some sort? Are you upset or discouraged? Are you just exhausted and burned out? Are there multiple feelings responsible?