Every week, in some major city, a bar, distillery or festival holds a vodka tasting. This sparks skepticism among non-aficionados, because vodka is tasteless – literally. The USA’s code of federal regulations title 27, volume 1 defines “vodka” as “neutral spirits so distilled, or so treated after distillation with charcoal or other materials, as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color.”
Which makes it a lot like depression. Sip a screwdriver and it tastes just like orange juice, except for the ethanol kick. Depression can feel just like everyday life, only with a deadening lack of pleasure or motivation.
When a client says, “I didn’t really feel anything this week,” it helps to ask, “What has your appetite been like? How about your temper? How many hours have you slept? What all did you do this week?” Too often, the answers are, “Terrible,” “Terrible,” “Who knows,” and, “I got the kids off to school, then I went back to bed.” Emotional numbness isn’t one of the DSM-IV-TR’s criteria, but it notes, “(with) individuals who complain of feeling ‘blah’, having no feelings or feeling anxious, the depressed mood can be inferred from the person’s facial expression and demeanor.”
Clients often assume depression always means sadness. They can know the dishes have piled up in the sink, or that formerly-reasonable family members are suddenly impossible, without recognizing these are signs that their mood has declined. They’re more alert to such shifts when they know depression can creep up in the form of a slow, steady, subtraction – the loss of energy, appetite, interest, or hope.
Vodka is like ‘nothing’, with a kick. Depression can be a ‘nothing’ that hurts.