Dictionary.com defines apathy as the “absence or suppression of passion, emotion, or excitement,” or a “lack of interest in or concern for things that others find moving or exciting.”
These clinical definitions cannot convey what it feels like. Many say they feel apathetic, but when you talk further, it is clear they have never truly experienced apathy. It is stealthy and insidious, eating away motivation from the inside. As symptoms of depression go, apathy is one of the most difficult to overcome.
When you’re feeling sad you can watch a funny movie, or at least pretend to smile. Apathy makes you not care about pretending. When my apathy sets in, I lose interest in everything. I don’t want to eat because I don’t care about being hungry or not; I don’t want to go to work because I don’t care if I lose my job, home, or anything else; I don’t want to talk to my friends because I don’t care about anything enough to talk about anything. Apathy saps the will to survive, let alone any desires to thrive.
Some think apathetic individuals attempt suicide. Nope; you don’t care enough about anything to even bother trying. It is too much work. Especially for me, knowing as many statistics about suicide success rates, permanent physical or mental damage, and the effects on others, I have no interest in putting enough effort in to make sure it succeeds. I also have no interest in taking care of myself enough to stay alive.
Most don’t even realize when the apathy sets in. They just feel like staying home, usually turning on the TV to a random channel and flipping until it’s too much effort to keep changing the channel. Since I don’t have TV, I end up scrolling through Netflix, unable to find anything interesting. In a frustrating turn of events for some of my friends, I have a tendency to return to things I have watched before that I know will produce strong emotions in me. In those moments, I just want to feel something, even if it is pain and sadness. They’re often the only things I can feel.
I know I have mental health problems from issues in my past (troubled childhood, etc., etc.), and have spent a lot of time paying attention to my moods and mental state. It can be disconcerting to realize I wanted to pursue a Ph.D. in epidemiology one day, and can’t even get out of bed the next.
If you have ever been guilty of telling a person with depression to “just pull themselves together,” you have no idea what it feels like. It becomes overwhelming to do simple things like getting dressed in the morning, preparing any kind of food, proper hygiene, cleaning. Simple routines fall apart, and the drive to do anything, even pursuing a dream right in front of you, simply disappears.
Apathy is more insidious than the definition implies. It is a silent thief of the will to live.