Hi – I’m Jackie Kelm,
I lost all interest in everything and had no feelings at all in March of 2013. Therapists call this anhedonia, which is “the inability to experience pleasure.” I call it “Emotional Flatlining” because the anhedonia definition did not fully describe the depth of my experience. My life was totally flat with absolutely no positive feelings, and it was devastating. I would hear my favorite songs and be completely unmoved, hug my children and feel nothing, look at a breathtaking sunset and feel numb.
I promised myself that if I ever got my feelings back I would devote the rest of my life to helping others.
I did get them back naturally without medication, and that’s what this website is all about.
First, let me begin by saying that if you have emotional flatlining or anhedonia in the way I’m describing, my heart goes out to you. People without it have no idea how devastating it is to have no feelings such as happiness, gratitude, love or connection. It was so bad I didn’t even want to live anymore.
I had no idea what was going on at the time. I wanted to believe I was having a mid-life crisis, but I knew deep inside it was more than that. I lost interest in everything. I mean everything. I quit reading because I had no interest in learning. I quit buying flowers because I would stare at them and feel totally flat, and it would make me cry. I lost all interest in my business, my children, my marriage, and myself. I didn’t even want to go on vacation.
I think one of the worst parts of emotional flatlining (anhedonia) is that you feel so alone. Other people just don’t get it. Even when you try to explain it they don’t realize how disturbing it is to be with your cat, or your dog, or your son, and have no feelings. Or to be in the most beautiful part of the world on vacation while your family is filled with awe and you are filled with emptiness, pretending to be filled with awe. Or to lose all interest in everything you used to love and enjoy—even intimacy; everything that makes life worth living.
I also became a great actor. I pretended to care when I really didn’t, smiled when I felt nothing, and learned to fake my way through life to get by. I pretended to feel so the people around me didn’t leave, I didn’t lose my entire business, and my world didn’t fall apart even worse than it already had.
While having no feelings is disturbing for anyone, it was really disturbing for me, because I was a happiness expert who had written 2 books on Appreciative Living and helped thousands of people find joy through teleseminars, coaching, and other programs. I had healed myself from years of depression and was one of the happiest people I knew.
And then my entire world fell apart in one fell swoop.
Pretty quickly, my loss of feelings caused me to fall into depression. I felt hopeless. I knew deep inside I could not live like this forever.
Starting the Road to Recovery
I waited for several flat months for things to get better, but nothing changed. I finally decided to try and do something to get over this.
All along I believed my condition was physical. I was a very happy person one day who loved life and had made a living out of building happiness, and then almost overnight I became totally depressed and emotionally dead. It happened while taking large doses of antibiotics for a life-threatening leg infection. While the antibiotics saved my life, I couldn’t help but wonder if they were a factor along with the infection.
I had always been interested in nutrition and healthy eating, but I really started studying it intently in 2010 when I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. I knew there was a link between gastrointestinal (GI) health and mental health, but I had no idea how connected they were.
I did more research on the Human Biogenome and the gut-brain axis (See “Resources” tab). I went to a doctor who ran a series of tests and found I had several health issues, including Pre-Type-1 diabetes, high C-Reactive protein (inflammation), high cholesterol, vitamin deficiencies, and several GI problems. I was also gaining weight.
I had none of these health problems before the antibiotics that I knew of, and realized my health was at serious risk. I decided to apply everything I had been learning about nutrition and healing to address these issues. I went on a special diet to repair my GI tract, get rid of the yeast overgrowth, and reduce my inflammation. I also took supplements to help my vitamin deficiencies, and did yoga and meditation several times a week.
How I Overcame Emotional Flatlining
I felt great physically after making all these changes but I was still completely emotionally flat. I was not even the slightest bit better. I couldn’t understand it.
While emotional flatlining remained in full force, surprisingly, my depression had lifted. The diet and exercise changes got rid of my depression. I no longer sat around the house all day in total despair. I was high functioning now. If you saw me from the outside you wouldn’t even know anything was wrong.
It was the strangest experience to just have emotional flatlining. I got up and took care of my kids even though I couldn’t feel the slightest sense of connection or love for them. I cleaned the house even though I had no motivation and didn’t care one bit about it. I pet the cat even though I had no feelings for him at all. I did what needed to be done because it just needed to be done and for no other reason. I got no joy or satisfaction in doing anything. I was high functioning physically, and dead emotionally.
It was about this time that I found out about the condition called anhedonia. This was a turning point. It really helped to know there was a legitimate condition for this, like any other mental or physical illness.
I did some internet searching for answers only to discover that little was written about anhedonia, and there seemed to be many people who spent years trying to overcome it with little success in their treatment. The things I read about anhedonia also did not seem to convey the total absence of emotion I was feeling. I became even more terrified I would be this way the rest of my life.
I also realized that my experience was different from what the psychology experts were saying about anhedonia. They said that it is a symptom of depression, and not a separate condition by itself. This was not how I experienced it.
For me, depression and anhedonia were two distinct conditions that could exist independent of each other. In the beginning I had both, but after making the diet and exercise changes my depression lifted, and I was left feeling good physically, but with straight anhedonia and no feelings at all.
I can see how anhedonia is often linked to depression, because it’s hard to feel completely flat emotionally and not get depressed.
I could not find a term that accurately described my experience, so I create a new one I call “Positive Emotional Flatlining.”
I continued to look for answers and turned to my work with Appreciative Living, where I had learned from neuroscience how thinking habits can become embedded in the brain with repeated practice. My theory was that the emotional flatlining first started as a physical problem in my gut and brain, but then got “hard wired” into my thinking patterns over time.
I started looking at the brain and the complex process of how emotions are created. Dopamine was a key player. I already had experience with brain training by designing targeted exercises for happiness with my Appreciative Living work, so I applied what I knew from that to create a brain training program for overcoming my emotional flatlining.
I began to experiment, and created a set of written daily exercises I did for about 15 minutes each day. I switched up the exercises as I went along depending on what was happening, and experimented with different ways of doing them. I played around with visualizing my brain healing. Progress was slow at first, but miraculously it began to work.
After 4 weeks I was significantly better, and after 6 weeks I was halfway back to having all my positive emotions. Here are some of the things I wrote in my journal that fourth week:
- I actually looked forward to the weekend!
- I felt good one morning for 20 minutes or so– almost like I used to on normal days.
- I felt like I wanted to dance once when I heard a song.
- I got excited about finding a somewhat healthy donut recipe and took action. I went out and bought a donut maker the same day.
- I felt good after drinking some wine.
- I really enjoyed myself at a party – almost like before!
- I went to the store and bought curtain rods. I am taking an interest in the house.
- I’m having more and more moments of good experiences and positive emotions, and some are lasting longer.
- I feel like this is really starting to work and I have some hope I will get there. I’m definitely better than when I started 4 weeks ago.
- Overall I’m feeling happier. It is very tiny – almost indiscernible, but it is there. I definitely don’t feel like my life is totally flat anymore. There is a lot of variation now.
Erin’s Story of Overcoming Anhedonia
When I saw the program was starting to work, I immediately wanted to see if it would work for someone else. The only problem was that I didn’t know anyone else who had anhedonia. Or did I.
I thought back and realized there was a woman who stood out from a teleseminar I ran a few years ago. The class was on creating more joy through Appreciative Living, and as usual everyone in the teleseminar was successfully doing the work and feeling happier: Except one woman named Erin.
Not only was Erin not feeling happier, she was actually feeling worse as the class went on. I talked with her several times to try and help, but nothing worked. We decided it would be best if she dropped the class and worked with her therapist.
I had never had this happen before or since. It really bothered me that the Appreciative Living exercises didn’t work for her, and I stayed in contact with her over the years to see if she had made any progress. She never did.
Suddenly I felt like I knew exactly what was going on with Erin. I was sure she had emotional flatlining.
I called her and asked if she had even been diagnosed with anhedonia since that is the clinical term, but she had never heard of anhedonia. After some discussion of how her life felt completely flat, and she had no feelings, we both realized she had emotional flatlining. She wasn’t sure what had caused it, but was guessing she had it for over eight years.
She had seen several therapists and tried different medications over the years, but nothing worked. She was managing her life fine, but was desperate to feel again. She was willing to give my brain training program a try.
I spent a couple hours with her upfront doing some foundational work, then started her on the same exercises I had done. By the fourth week she had noticeable improvement. Here is what happened to her that fourth week:
Erin’s 4th-Week Success
Click on the arrow to listen to Erin share her story, or read the text that follows.
“About 4 weeks into the program I had an experience that really told me that the program was working. I had gone to a concert with my son and classical music is a joy that we both share…so we were there in this beautiful setting, …and feeling all those emotions – a very rich variety of them, both the joy of the music, and the pride in my son and his accomplishments and a little bit of that kind of tinge of melancholy feeling that’s not sadness but just makes you appreciate the moment that much more… and just being swept away by this beautiful music…
It was an amazing testimony to the fact that this program was working, because 4 weeks prior to that I was flat. I was not able to feel peak anything—really joys or sorrows. And within a short 4-week period of time, just doing these simple daily exercises, I really felt transformed in that ability to feel such a wide and deep range of emotions.”
In 9 weeks Erin was more than halfway back to having her full range of positive feelings, and she even had some very difficult and stressful things happen in her life during this time.
The amazing thing is that she took no medications or supplements, and made no changes to her diet or physical activity. It was the simple written exercises she did each day.
I hope this doesn’t sound like a commercial. I can’t tell you how excited I was when I saw the program working for her! Erin was a pretty tough case because she had emotional flatlining for over 8 years.
“After 8 years of emotional flatlining,
Erin was halfway back
to full positive emotions in 9 weeks.”
After working with Erin, I worked with five other people who completed the program, and all 5 got their feelings back! I am currently doing a live coaching program with 7 people, and it is still early in the program, but all seem to be progressing and several are clearly getting their feelings back.
My family gets annoyed with me now on occasion, because I go on and on about how beautiful things are sometimes. And I think I’ve taken a thousand pictures of my cat because he gets cuter every time I see him. And I try to catch the sunrise as many mornings as I can in awe that I can feel the beauty of it. And I get so excited that I can get so excited about this work!
There is a lot more to know with flatlining and how I overcame it, so I created a free package with things I think you’ll find useful.
Here’s What’s in Your Free Flatlining Package:
1. A Video on Emotional Flatlining (Anhedonia) Research and Causes – this video explains what happens in the brain with flatlining, and some of the causes I’ve come across in working with people.
2. A list of common experiences described by people I’ve encountered who have emotional flatlining. To be clear, this is not a medical assessment to determine if you have anhedonia! It is a checklist of common experiences of people with emotional flatlining to help you look at how your experience compares. To find out if you actually have anhedonia or other mental health conditions, you need to see a therapist or doctor.
3. A powerful daily exercise called “Simple Pleasures” that worked for all of us in coping with flatlining and making it easier to live with. It is also one of the key exercises in the brain training program on overcoming flatlining. It only takes a few minutes a day, so it’s easy to fit into your schedule.
4. Details of my personal success story of overcoming emotional flatlining and depression, including some of the diet and supplement changes I made. I’ll also describe what it was like to get my positive emotions back, and which ones came back first.
5. Finally, I will also send occasional emails to tell you about new anhedonia research, treatment programs, or other information I come across that I think you might find helpful for coping with and treating your emotional flatlining. I understand how personal and private it is to have this condition, and I promise I won’t bombard you with emails, and any information you enter will be kept confidential and secure. And you can easily unsubscribe any time you want at the bottom of every email – like when you finally get your feelings back!!! This is one list where I’ll be happy to see you go!
Fill in the boxes below to subscribe now and get your free package!
The “Joy Engineer”