How can I stop feeling numb?

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This is something I see a lot online. ‘I feel so numb, is there anything I can do?’

I can relate to this so much. If I was asked what was the worst thing about being seriously ill, I’d say it was the numbness. At some point I was incapable of experiencing any emotions. I would get physically upset as in crying but I wouldn’t feel upset. I felt nothing. As if there was a loose wire between parts of my brain. Something clearly must’ve been happening for me to get upset but I didn’t feel it.

Now thinking back, it contributed massively to my suicidal impulses. Without any feelings whatsoever it was as if like I was already dead. The depression had deprived me of likes and dislikes, passions and interests, eating me from inside little by little, slowly and terrifyingly like a flesh-eating bacteria until all that was left was a hollow core. Ending my life started to seem like a mercy killing at that point. I would just finish the process that was already in place.

If someone reading this is at that place right now, I know what a horrible situation it is to go through. Living without feelings is not a life. You feel so alone within yourself. My friends and family would tell me they loved me and I knew on a rational level that I loved them too but I was unable to feel it. I was also unable to feel their love. It was like the early spring sun, with rays that are bright but you can only feel its warmth as a distant hue.

Not to belittle anyone’s experiences but I would’ve taken the most crippling of anxieties over not feeling any emotions whatsoever. It played a huge part in my desperation and frustration, which were only words at that point because again on a rational level I knew I would be experiencing these emotions if I could. ‘How are you?’ became an impossible question to answer. ‘Feel’ became something used within quotation marks. It went on for months. It was so awful that nobody else who has been through it has no idea.

So I can understand the desperation that comes across on countless posts on message boards asking how could they feel something, anything. It’s worth mentioning that incapability experiencing emotions can be connected to illnesses other than depression but if you’ve been able to experience emotions in the past and depression has taken that ability away from you, my answer is unfortunately you can’t. Only time will help.

I know it seems hopeless at the moment but my message is one of hope. I can now say that I’m out of that numbness pit. I’m still not exactly how I used to be before I got ill but now I’m actually able to feel a range of emotions which I didn’t think as possible say nine months ago.

The turning point for me was 1st of September last year. I unexpectedly lost my dog Aliisa while I was still in hospital.

It was a complete shock to the whole family. She had been a bit nauseous so my dad was taking her to see a vet. All of us were expecting her to come back. She wasn’t poorly, we were just being extra-cautious because she had recently started a new heart medication. Then on the way to the vets dad called my mum that they were in no rush anymore.

If she had to go, she went in the most beautiful way possible. Aliisa absolutely adored my dad, expecting him to sit with her on the couch every night to watch the telly and to brush her. Then, and only then, did she fall asleep. She was a rescue dog and had experienced terrible abuse that had left her timid and scared of being alone. She slept downstairs and the bedrooms were upstairs. She couldn’t sleep up there, it was too hot.

Whenever I visited, I’d take my dad’s place so that he could have an early night. I would brush Aliisa and sit with her watching telly until she fell asleep. Even if she did wake up as I got up, she would fall back asleep again if I stroked her head and wished her goodnight.

 

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Aliisa and me on one of our telly evenings

 

Aliisa had been lying on the passenger seat of my dad’s car. Then she had nuzzled her face against his hand on the gear stick, sighed and fallen asleep.

Even though losing her broke my heart, especially because I couldn’t say goodbye to her, I was glad she went the way she did. She loved my dad, she loved car rides. It was the perfect place.

To me Aliisa’s death was a turning point. I wouldn’t stop crying for three days but at the same time there were tears of relief. I was able to mourn for her. I was sad. I felt an emotion. There had been a time when that wouldn’t had been possible.

Many of the nurses on the ward were pet owners themselves and they would hug and comfort me. One looked up a poem about the Rainbow bridge on her phone and let me read it. Their kindness and compassion was like a wall of warmth against the cold pain of sorrow. I was so sore all over, my heart hadn’t been used for a long time.

From there on emotions started coming back. Extremely slowly and painstakingly, but they came. At first the extremes, sorrow and anger, but as the weeks went the emotional palette started showing new colours. First there were hues, then strong strokes after I was given the right antidepressants. I’m still on the journey of becoming the person I was before I got ill but it’s such a difference from the zombie I used to be.

My advice for anyone going through this is to be kind to yourself. I know how frustrating the situation is but you’ll only make yourself worse by giving yourself a hard time for it. Hopefully your turning point won’t be as sad as mine was but it will come one day.

In the meantime, go outside. Have a walk. Feel the wind on your face, twirling around your legs. Look at the trees. Hear the leaves rustle. Smell the fresh cut grass, flowers and their brilliance of colours. All of these things are alive. You will be one of them again.

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