I’ve been trying to integrate this new information I read about some research on depression. They found that people who are depressed make different brain responses to good news and positive events than ordinary people. The depressed people seem to have a smaller response to nice things and they don’t store the good feeling chemicals or traces for long. Ordinary people are able to get a lot of mileage out of positive events and so keep themselves in a good mood longer. It’s difficult to know, as a friend pointed out to me, whether the depression has produced the poor response to positivity or whether the response is learned after long periods of depression. I have found most of my life that I don’t get “kick” out of positive things for very long though. I’ve always wanted “more” of nice things, rather than being able to savour them and wait longer. I find it difficult to delay rewards, and also get over them quickly.
On the other hand I have always felt quite negatively about any aspects of myself that other people praised or encouraged- I had fixed opinions about my worth- i.e. not much worth at all from an early age. Did I never learn how to appreciate myself, or did I have a natural self-appreciation knocked out of me by parent and experiences?
I know my parents believed in not praising me or rewarding me because they thought I would get a “big head” or would become a “tall poppy”. Of course this was never explained to me till I was an adult. However, I did notice that when I did something good when I was a kid, eg. Come first in the class or dux of the school that I would not get the sort of reward that others did. There was a general push in the community to subdue bright children- was sort of “un-Australian”- not being part of the ordinary crowd- being different or outstanding was not good. This was quite disconcerting for me as a kid as I saw others rewarded when their accomplishments were rarer or spaced apart, whereas my constant achievement was often disparaged. I felt that what I did well I was just “doing”. I never tried to compete or “beat” someone at school or whatever; I just did what I did. Probably after a while, I got no more jollies from myself as I hadn’t received many from the world, so I started to not bother achieving my best- just bumbled along so I wouldn’t be noticed- perhaps thinking people would be nicer to me for being ordinary.
So I think the “brain not storing rewards” might be a learnt thing for me and be very hard to unlearn.
The study I read about looked at the action of modern antidepressants in the scenario of storing reward traces in the brain. They pointed out that the modern SSRI drugs do not help the laying down of rewards, just stop the depression from getting too low. Hence many people experience the “anhedonia” that I have- being unable to get pleasure out of anything much and for very brief periods if at all. They suggest different sorts of drugs need to be invented to help the pleasure pathway to work better. I think maybe the transcranial magnetic stimulation they are trialling now might be a partial answer, I would certainly give it a go as I have seen the benefits of electroshock in severe psychotic depressions and catatonia. I would have no fear that it would damage my brain. So perhaps I should ask for it!