My Anhedonia Success Story

Dear friends – I hid from all of you a year and a half ago, and now I’m back to tell you the unbelievable story of what happened. I have been forever changed by this chain of events, and have learned things that will add to my Appreciative Living work in some very good and important ways.

I don’t even know how to begin telling you what happened. You will find it hard to believe. I still find it hard to believe.

It all began in March 2013, which was 3 months after we moved and 3 months after my ailing father had passed away. I loved my new home and had made peace with my father’s passing. I was very happy and excited to start a new life in our new city.

Things took a bit of a surprising turn when my dermatologist found melanoma on my leg, but she caught it early and removed it with no problem. I came home and celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with my visiting in-laws and had a great time.

And then my whole life fell apart.

The surgery site on my leg began to swell and turn red, and was clearly infected. My doctor started me on oral antibiotics and switched to stronger ones when the infection did not respond. I then began visiting my doctor daily for even stronger antibiotic injections, but the infection continued to grow until I was finally admitted to the hospital.

The doctors could not identify what was causing the infection, so they started me on the strongest IV antibiotics they had 24/7. I was told I could lose my leg if the infection did not respond, or that I could die. I laid there for a week with antibiotics coursing through my body until the infection started to respond and I was allowed to go home.

The strangest and most disturbing part of the whole ordeal wasn’t that I would die or loose my leg. It was that I didn’t care if I lived or died or lost my leg. In fact, I didn’t care about anything.

I laid there for 7 days sleeping and staring at the ceiling. I didn’t read the books I brought, never opened my computer, didn’t check my email, and didn’t even watch TV. I just laid there.

The infection started responding after a week and I went home to 4 weeks of bed rest and IV antibiotics administered at home. I’ll never forget the first night coming home to my husband and two kids.

It was a Normal Rockwell moment on the beautiful back patio of our new home. My husband Jon was grilling steaks and I had a nice glass of wine in my hands for the first time in 2 weeks. My daughter and son were sitting with me, and I paused to realize this is one of those moments in time you always remember. But not in the way I had hoped.

I started sobbing and hobbled into the house with my walker. It wasn’t because I was touched by the moment, it was because I couldn’t feel the moment. I could not feel the closeness with my family. I did not feel happy to be home. I didn’t care if I ate steak or hospital food. Nothing mattered. I felt completely flat as I had throughout my entire hospital stay.

But then again I could feel. I could feel sadness. It seems I could feel negative emotions but not positive ones. Something terrible had gone wrong and I had no idea what it was.

My husband came in after me and asked what was wrong. I hesitated, and told him that I didn’t want to live anymore. I had been laying in the hospital for a week and lost all interest in life.

He knew I was serious. I wonder to this day how he could be so understanding of what I was going through. He said the perfect thing I needed to hear which may sound disturbing, but it was, “You don’t have to stay here for me and the kids. We will be ok.”

In all my life I always wondered how anyone with children, especially a mother like me, could ever be so selfish as to end her life and do that to her kids. Now I understand. I had no intentions of acting on it, but I wished I could just magically evaporate and cease to exist.

He went back outside and I stayed in and cried for what seemed like an eternity. I thought to myself, “What in the world is going on? Two weeks ago I was one of the happiest people I knew. I had written two books and helped thousands of people get happier. And here I was, so low and desperate I wanted to end it all.

My flat life caused me to go into depression which continued for months. I didn’t read, lost all interest in my business, rarely watched TV, and would talk to people if they started the conversation. My mind was blank. I couldn’t make sense of what was happening, and didn’t care that I couldn’t make sense of it.

I basically took care of my kids and the house and tried to just get through each day. I stopped buying flowers because I could not feel their beauty and it made me cry. I stopped listening to music because I was completely unmoved by it, and had no interest anyhow. I had already cancelled all my business engagements with the move and surgery, so luckliy nothing was pending.

It was bad enough I had lost all joy, but was even worse because I felt like a fraud. Here I was, “The Joy Engineer” of all things, who could not feel joy! It was the ultimate irony. Really, you can’t make this stuff up. How in the world could I lead a workshop or write an article, or tell anyone how to find joy when I was in the depths of despair?

Several more flat months went by. I decided to try and do a few of the core appreciative exercises I had done for years that worked for me and thousands of others to get happier. I attempted the classic gratitude list but could not feel the emotion of gratitude, and it actually made me feel worse. I tried to visualize my ideal future, but I couldn’t. I didn’t want or care about anything now or in the future.

It was like a switch went off. I was this joyful happiness expert one day, and then suddenly my life was completely flat and meaningless.  The switch was triggered by massive antibiotics. Somehow they had wiped out my ability to feel positive emotion and I was terrified I would never get it back.

After 8 months I found out that what I had was called anhedonia, and is a side effect of various medications. Some people get it for short periods of time, and some have it for years with no seeming ability to get rid of it.

To summarize what happened next, (You can read the details of my journey by clicking on the “Home Page” tab above) I began researching what is known about anhedonia and made some diet and supplement changes. I then created targeted exercises from my Appreciative Living work that stimulated the areas of the brain affected. I was finally able to overcome it, and used Appreciative Living to get my happiness fully back.

It was a little over a year from the day I got anhedonia that I was finally able to feel positive emotion again. I can’t tell you how grateful I am now that I can feel grateful! It was the craziest thing, but I learned so much.

It allowed me to go back into depths of despair I had not known in years, and be like a researcher studying the positive emotions as they returned. It was fascinating to see which emotions came back first, and in what order.

And now that I am fully back and happier than I was even before the anhedonia, I have so much to share with you!

First, I created a separate website devoted just to helping people overcome anhedonia, which is where this page is posted. I still have my Appreciative Living website which I’ll be updating soon. I wanted you to be able to check out this new one easily and learn more about anhedonia if you’re interested. You’ll see tabs at the top for a host of things, including a new Natural Treatment Program I have. If you know anyone with anhedonia, please let him or her know.

I’m also getting ready to release an Appreciative Living home study course which I’ll be announcing in early December. This work has now saved me twice, and I’m more passionate than ever about getting it out into the world!

Finally, I want to thank all of you for hanging in there while I hid from sight. I now understand happiness to a depth I never thought possible. It really, really, really is the small things. It’s being able to appreciate the beauty of a sunset, the tenderness of a child’s touch, the warmth of your cat next to you, the magnificence of the ocean, the love of your partner.

Without being able to appreciate these small moments, there can be no joy. Happiness has nothing to do with success or material things, as much as we like to think that. Believe me, I know.

Ironically I’ve come full circle, and to find appreciation again and know it for the first time. It turns out that it is truly at the heart of happiness. Thank goodness – I can keep the name Appreciative Living, and it has more meaning than ever.

To our joy! – Jackie

PS -I have a comment section below and would love to hear from you about any and everything! It’s so great to be back my friends!

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Jackie Kelm
The “Joy Engineer”

31 Comments

  1. Pam

    Thank you for telling your story about anhedonia. It’s very brave of you. I appreciate your honesty about what happened.

    Reply
    • Jackie

      You are welcome Pam. It was a lot more difficult than I thought it would be to share my experience. It brought back a lot of not-so-good memories when I was writing it, but I think it was another step in the healing process. There is a saying in the 12-step world that you are only as sick as your secrets. While this isn’t necessarily appreciative, I there is something liberating about putting it all out there. And I really appreciate you for starting the comments!

      Reply
  2. jami

    Welcome back, Jackie! Thank you for sharing this amazing story and for being brave enough to let us into your journey. Appreciative Living has been a lifeline for me as my husband is awaiting a heart transplant. Developing a gratitude practice has beat back such anxiety, dread and stress. I can’t imagine what you went through in not being able to feel or generate positive emotions for yourself!!! Every blessing on your renewed vision, passion and health! So glad you’re back – I’m a huge fan!!!

    Reply
    • Jackie

      Thank you Jamie. I’m so glad this work is helping you with your husband’s situation, and it is a lifeline for me as well! I will never go any extended period of time in not doing appreciative exercises, as I really see now how they transform everything.It’s funny because it seems so simple to do a gratitude list etc that it seems it doesn’t do much. But it sure does! Hope all goes well with your husband.

      Reply
  3. Susan

    Welcome back, Jackie. You were missed. As a college counselor, I love passing your philosophy on to students as well as applying it to my own life. I’m so glad you found your way back to us. We so appreciate you!!

    Reply
    • Jackie

      I’m so happy you are spreading this work to students! You’re welcome to make copies of the free mini-book and give to them (maybe you’re already doing this). How I wish I had this early on. I appreciate you too!

      Reply
  4. Indy

    Hi Jackie,
    So good to hear from you! Just this week I started rereading Appreciative Living and have been thinking of you. Thank you for sharing your journey through depression to joy. You are inspiring.
    Love,
    Indy

    Reply
    • Jackie

      So wonderful to reconnect Indy! I hope your new yoga studio is everything you dreamed.I would love to share that story sometime in an ezine. You are an inspiration as well! XOXOX – jackie

      Reply
  5. Lorrie

    Hi Jackie –
    It just goes to show that we can never know what someone is going through so it’s best never to jump to conclusions as we need to learn that story, and I appreciate your sharing this journey.

    What a blessing that you left your own trail of breadcrumbs back to joyful living. I think there could be a great quote in there somewhere. I’m very happy for you and so glad YOU’RE BACK!!

    Lorrie
    (from Orlando)

    Reply
    • Jackie

      You are so right Lorrie. Was just thinking about this recently when driving. It used to make me crazy to get behind really slow (I mean REALLY slow) people on the road. And then my daughter started driving, and of course she drove REALLY slow at first. And then I thought about my Dad who has since passed away, and how slow he drove later in life. And now I don’t get so mad anymore. Everything we do makes perfect sense when you know the story. The key is accepting there is a story that makes sense when you don’t see it. Thank you for the kind words, and the great quote ! :-)

      Reply
  6. Archana

    Take a bow and welcome back! To anybody who has risen from the depths of despair and still cares about making a difference, I am all admiration! May God bless you always

    Reply
    • Jackie

      You really touched my heart Archana. I think you’ve increased my capacity to feel love by one more notch :-)

      Reply
  7. Parashu Timalsina

    Jackie,
    I was about to stop reading your story thinking that you are trying to prove that what you taught to get joy in life is wrong. Many of questions swarmed up in my mind……….why you didn’t apply all those easy and effective steps to make yourself happy? Why ? Why?. But once you opened up the reality, my mouth and eyes opened wide for a long time. I am now happier than before. Congratulations for getting rebirth in the world of ‘Joy’ that you have created. I can feel how strong you are now ! You went through the sharpner, like a pencil, for about a year and some. The sharp blade of the antibiotics pierced so cruelly that you were taken into the world from where you rescued many people in your life. You reached there where you were never supposed to be. Now, you are out of the sharpner, being sharper than before, like a sharp pencil. Now, you can write brighter and bold. Congratulations. The present feeling, life, energy, everything is the gift given to you by God in rewards of the happiness and joy you have given to the people. What you give comes in double ! Thank you God for giving Jackie back to us !

    Reply
    • Jackie

      Yes – who knew that the ability to experience joy had a physical component? Now I do! The technology is so new on the gut-brain connection researchers are in their infancy in understanding it, but I lived it, and I’m here to tell you it is real. There can be no joy when the body physically can’t produce it. I am so grateful now for having gone through this as it gives me a whole new way to help people find joy. And also to simply understand the physical aspects of happiness and depression – it’s a whole new dimension in happiness and something that’s important to consider. I’m sure I’ll be doing more on this and how diet etc can affect happiness. Hopefully it’s the last dimension, as I don’t think I can take any more dimensions! LOL :-) So wonderful to reconnect Parashu!

      Reply
  8. Jane

    OMGoooshhh Jackie,

    First I will start with I am SO sorry to hear about your Dad. Having played a small part in his final resting place, I have been pleased that he lived quite a bit longer than expected. Having seen so many fall to depression, I commend you & congratulate you for hanging in there, You ARE NOT the one that can’t find joy, in fact you do such a great job of spreading it.
    I am glad you are back to the life you love – and as always

    HAPPY TRAILS!

    Reply
    • Jackie

      Wow jane – this is like homecoming! So good to hear your voice again! What an inspiration you are to me. Are you still spreading joy at the cemetery? I’m thinking I should send out the ezine on you again because new subscribers missed a great one. Happy Trails to you too!

      Reply
  9. Judy Krings

    Riveting commentary, Jackie! Amazing, Joyful Phoenix Jackie! I felt every emotion while reading. Not to be able to feel, so tragic.

    I am thrilled you are back in the saddle riding high in life again. Kudos to you for not quitting and for paying forward your story of hope. What an inspiration you are! Thanks for being so vulnerable and intimate. Your experience will ripple out into the universe and help so many people. Good for you! I am cheering for you

    Reply
    • Jackie

      Wow – you are like a one-person cheering squad! I’d like to camp out with you for a week :-)

      Reply
  10. Jeanie Cockell

    wow, Jackie, you are truly inspiring. Thanks for sharing this incredible story…and thanks for telling mine a few years ago…Joan and I recommend your amazing books which are so fundamental to the daily practice of AI…hugs, Jeanie

    Reply
    • Jackie

      Right back at you Jeanie! And let me put a plug right here for your amazing book with Joan on “Appreciative Inquiry in Higher Education: A transformative Force.” A must-read for anyone in higher ed. Sure hope our paths cross again soon!

      Reply
  11. Maureen

    Does your return to living have a religious component to it? You have not mentioned it but I wonder if anyone can come out of something like you did without a lot of prayer.

    Reply
    • Jackie

      Great question Maureen and one I had not thought much about. Interestingly, I had little faith while going through it all. I had pretty much given up on “God” or “Universal Energy” as it were, as my life seemed like a total train wreck, and I felt like I had been completely abandoned. It’s interesting because I had a pretty strong faith before I got the anhedonia, and always thought that’s what brings you out of things like this. And I wish I could say it did, but honestly it didn’t. I have since gotten my faith back, but it happened after I was well on my way to recovery.

      Reply
  12. Jeannine

    Jackie,
    Your story moved me to tears. I am amazed and deeply humbled by how powerful the journey of life can be and how you moved through it a moment at a time. I am deeply grateful for your journey knowing that the experience and learning will continue to unfold. It will speak to so many and certainly spoke to me as you found your way back into life’s soul. Sending love and laughter, my friend.
    Jeannine

    Reply
  13. Jill Gibbons

    Dear Jackie, Thank you for sharing your story. You were missed… I was wondering what was going on because I know how passionate you are about Appreciative Living. I’m so sorry that you suffered all that time, and am happy to know you have found your Joy again and are feeling well. What a journey! Who can predict what life’s going to throw at us?! I can relate to so much of what you’ve shared. Now you’re back, wiser than ever! I keep visualizing a phoenix rising from the ashes! Wishing you and your family all the best.

    Reply
    • Jackie

      Thank you Jill – so happy to be back! And really so grateful to just feel grateful or any emotion for that matter! I keep reading more research about the link to suicide and anhedonia being a greater indicator than depression and I would have to agree. I think there needs to be a lot more awareness around this. So wonderful to reconnect with you!

      Reply
  14. Kathryn

    Reading this story has given me so much hope.

    I’m currently going through Anhedonia as a result of medication change, and a horrendous panic attack that nearly left me hospitalised. It’s completely shut off all of my emotions to the point where I can’t even feel love for my amazing boyfriend, who is being my absolute rock throughout all of this.

    I’m so hopeful that all of my feelings will come back soon, and your story is a welcome change from all of the doom and gloom out there on the internet.

    Hopefully you’re still feeling well ????

    Reply
    • Jackie

      Yes – I’m happier now than I ever have been in my life and I am holding the space for you to get there as well!

      Reply
    • payal

      Hi. I am going through the same situation. I cannot deal with losing feelings for my partner when he has been so supportive throughout. Did u get better ?

      Reply
  15. Michaela

    I have not received the email and this sounds just like what my partner is going through. I think this could really help him but I haven’t received the package?

    Reply

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