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Can Thrill-Seeking Be a Symptom of Depression?

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Ever since I was a kid, I’ve hated being bored. I remember the feeling of having absolutely nothing to do and sitting in my room, drowning in boredom. Don’t get me wrong, my life was not actually boring: I had friends, family, and activities to do; but when the “party was over,” I always ended up wanting more of that: more fun, more food, more interactions, and people to play with. At some point in my life I developed a genuine fear of doing nothing: being bored turned into feeling empty, and emptiness was (and is still) such a trigger for me.

When I was finally diagnosed with depression, I started reading about other people’s experiences with it and then everything started to make a bit more sense: since our brain is unable to produce enough neurotransmitters that regulate our emotions, we are somehow always lacking something: it might be serotonin or dopamine, but all we know is that something is missing. When you are young, lack of dopamine can quickly be solved with a random distraction, but when we get older it gets harder to manage: even if we consider we have a “good” life with a decent job and people who care about us, nothing seems to be enough. This feeling is heartbreaking as some of us might think that we are ungrateful, and the pressure that we put ourselves into appreciating and enjoying the present becomes so overwhelming, that it can turn into anxiety. This is the point where I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, which I would describe as the fear of constantly feeling empty, bored, and concerned about if what I do next will fill that void.

Having both depression and anxiety is basically feeling down and unmotivated to do things, but at the same time freaking out because you feel like you could do so much more. Then, you start looking for ways of doing such things and that is when a regular life can become what I call a “thrill-seeking life.” It sounds optimistic and I cannot deny it has its perks, but for someone unable to regulate their emotions, it becomes much more complex.

Sometimes, I find myself engaging in activities that I know are not as good for my overall health, and other times I want to take on the world, and I’m eager to show the world what I am capable of doing. But these feelings do not last very long because the thrill of starting something new or doing something that brings instant gratification is, as the name itself indicates, brief and instant. It’s a momentary bliss and then you continue with your depressive thoughts.

As a thrill-seeker myself, I have to find ways to channel that “hunger for more” and turn it into healthy habits and hobbies. I get bored pretty quickly and jump right into the next thing that comes to mind, so I’m unable to finish what I once started. When the thrill does not last as long as I expected, a sense of fear and anxiety starts to invade: it’s like an addiction to anything that produces dopamine, and once you set the bar high, you keep on looking for ways to have some more. This is how I developed an eating disorder, and this is also why I constantly have to deal with the consequences of my actions when I’m in that thrill-seeking mode.

This is an aspect of depression and anxiety that not many people talk about: addictive personalities, manic episodes, and a constant urge to turn your life around, but not being able to due to poor time management or simply not taking the right steps. I used to feel ashamed, but now that I know it’s a symptom, there is nothing to be ashamed of when your brain is simply looking for ways to survive. This is you telling yourself that you want to keep living and you want to keep on trying, and that is fine.

I’ve learned it helps to be patient with myself and understanding, be present in the moment and before I try to engage in any activity, and question whether it’s just for the instant thrill or if it might be overall beneficial. It’s a trial-and-error system, as is so much in life.

Originally published: March 21, 2024
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