I Can’t Remember Not Being Depressed – Emotion and Memory

When I am depressed I can’t remember what it’s like not to be depressed.

It’s an interesting phenomenon, actually. Although I, logically, can state that I have spent massive chunks of my life out of major depression, when I’m depressed I feel that’s not true. I can’t remember not having depressed emotion. I literally can’t remember what non-depressed feels like. Logic ceases to be convincing. I understand there’s a high statistical likelihood that depression will pass. But I just can’t believe it, can’t remember it, when depressed.

Depression and Emotional State Memory

I can’t remember not being depressed because (for the sake of explanation) there are two kinds of remembering, physical, and emotional. Physical memory is pretty simple. Do you, or do you not, remember an event? I remember my high school graduation, for example. I remember the salad I just ate. I remember the cause of the bruises on my thigh. I remember these things and I don’t have any real emotion attached to them

Simple. Quantitative.

Emotional Memory

Emotional memory is a bit different. Not only do you remember the event, but you remember what it was like to live that event. This is, hopefully, the memory retained of good things. How it felt when you held your child for the first time. What walking across the stage to get your degree was like. How your first skydive made you feel. When you remember these things you can actually feel the emotions of those moments.

Emotion, Depression and Memory

The thing about depression is it dampens your emotional memory for everything except depression. Depression plays tricks with your mind. Depressed emotion makes it so you can’t remember non-depression. Depression tries to make you believe that this sad, depression emotional state is your life and it will never get any better. This is a lie. And the more you believe this lie, the more it will become true. [push]Depression steals your umbrella and you end up sopping wet, all the time.[/push]

Emotion and memory are complicated in terms of neurobiology but it’s enough to understand that when memories are written, emotions are tied closely to them. It’s sort of like putting your umbrella right by your raincoat. One always reminds you of the other; just like when you’re happy and your see a child in a party hat you’re likely to remember a birthday when you were happy.

And that works just fine. When you need your umbrella you’re reminded to take your raincoat and vice versa. You’re a very cozy and dry person.

Can't Remember Not Being DepressedBut then one day, it’s raining outside and your umbrella is gone. You see a sun bonnet and no umbrella. And so you forget to wear your raincoat. In fact, not only do you forget your raincoat, but you can’t even remember where you put it; you might not even remember to look.

That’s depression. Depression steals your umbrella and you end up sopping wet, all the time.

It’s actually neurobiological. If you’re really sad, depression, and you see a child in a party hat, you’re more likely to remember the birthday where you couldn’t stop crying because the clown scared you. A sad memory.

And because depression is a persistent state of sadness, the memories written when you are depressed are attached to sadness. Moreover, the memories you can recall during depression are much more likely to be sad ones.

Barenaked Ladies and Point Break

I’ve been listening to The Barenaked Ladies since I was 12-years-old. I have had many fine times singing along with them (yes, I’m that girl). They are chipper and happy and they have brought me joy almost forever.

I saw the movie Point Break when I was around 14-years-old and if you happen to be in my age bracket you’ll know – it was a definite it movie. Keanu and Patrick were hot, the chick was sexy and pretty much everything they did was terribly naughty and sexy. Plus I love bank robbers. And there’s a skydiving scene (however massively inaccurate). It was a shared “cool thing” among my peers. Again, great enjoyment was brought.

Even Depressed, I Might Smile

They were genuinely good memories untainted by mental health issues (unless you consider liking Keanu a signal of latent mental health issues, which you might).[push]These memories are before I became bipolar, depressed, crazy and the like.[/push]

And the odd thing is, if I hear the Barenaked Ladies or Point Break is on TV, I might actually smile a little through my depression. Somehow memories of those are so tied to enjoyment that seeing them, at times, they can break through depression. Other stimuli are fairly easily twisted into depressing memories and thoughts, but these young memories seem to stand strong against such treatment.

I suspect this is the case because these memories were imprinted before the bipolar, depression and crazy. It’s much more difficult to come by purely happy, untainted memories post-crazy.


Does anyone else have distinct stimuli that aren’t depressing in spite of the fact that everything else in the world seems to be? Is it related to experiences pre-illness?


About Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer, speaker and consultant from the Pacific Northwest. She has been living with bipolar disorder for 18 years and has written more than 1000 articles on the subject.

Natasha’s New Book

Find more of Natasha’s work in her new book: Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. Media inquiries can be emailed here.


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