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What is emotional numbness? Is it something normal or abnormal?

I am extremely worried over my best friend Annette. (Extremely worried as in: I am not sleeping because of this worried) Who wouldn't be? I mean, she always seems to be on the verge of a breakdown, and she has been sent to a mental ward because of her suicide attempts. (One being nearly successful) But it never seems to work! Every time she comes out of treatment, she stays normal for a certain amount of time, then randomly becomes suicidal again. I talked to her about it several times before and she always tells me the same thing, 'I'm not a manic depressant like they say I am.. I am emotionally numb. I go through these weird bouts of emotional numbness for a period of time, then I just become suicidal. I tell them that every time, but they don't listen. Don't worry over me, I'll find someway to cure myself of this. Don't worry. I promise I will not attempt a suicide again.' Yet she still does and it used to be 'attempting suicides every other six to ten months' and now it is becoming 'attempting suicides every other three to five months'.  

I don't know what to do or think anymore. Therapy never works with her and she is going through a 'numb phase' as she calls it and I am afraid she might attempt another suicide again! Is there even such a thing as emotional numbness? (She described it to me as, 'Not being able to feel love, happiness, joy, anxiety, depression, or any other emotion out there except for the suicidal urges that come by.') Is there a possibility that she could be a manic depressant?
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Avatar universal
She did point out that she was manic depressive, aka Bipolar. The sad thing is she is in denial. It also sounds like she isn't taking her meds, that happens alot with BP folks, they take the meds in hospital, go off then when they get out, and crash again. That's colled non-compliance. Emotional numbness can happen with BP, and I've had brief bouts of it myself. She sounds like a typical BP person.

You are doing the best you can, and being a good friend. My suggestion may be different then others, I believe in tough love. She says that therapy works for her, but is she working on it? My first round of therapy I was in such denial how could I work on my issues? You have to acknowledge what's going on to work towards wellness. There is a fine line between being a good friend and being a proverbial co-conspirator in her avoidance.

Due to the fact she is an adult, there is nothing you can do unless she is in crisis, and call an ambulance and/or police. The longer this goes untreated the greater the chance that BP will end up taking her life. I hope she finally accepts the help.
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Avatar universal
I don't know if this is too late, perhaps your friend hasn't succeeded yet and you're still looking for help. Or maybe there's someone else that reads this who's looking for help, although i don't know if this will exactly "help"

I think i might be on the same level as your friend, i'm a christian though and that's the only thing keeping me together, but just barely. I'm 26 and nothing bad has ever happened to me, i have a great job, lovely family and friends, everything i could want except a gf. But i feel like nothing matters anymore, it's difficult to feel interested in anything. I've been told that i'm seriously depressed and i need to get help, but i don't think so, i feel this is something i have to overcome myself. No psyciatrists and absolutely no medication, it's only going to make things worse, because the problem is deep down in the soul.

That's the theory, but so far after many years i still haven't come up with a solution for the problem, and i still have times where i get so depressed i can barely function. I've only managed to live with it, if you can call it "living". I'm not always depressed, but it always comes back again and when it does, my smiles and laughter is fake, i'm totally empty on the inside, and everytime i fake it my heart aches. It's hard to be happy without a good reason.Nice dramatic cliche i know.
As i said it's only my cristianity keeping me together, perhaps youre friend needs to find something like that. Something solid and unwavering to hold on to during the bad times, when everything else falls apart.

There's something else too, a voice, or rather 'ideal' in my head. A perfect self, someone i made up to be the me i want to be. That fabricated person, that voice usually insults me when i do something stupid. Even now, it's telling me not to write this and how lame and corny it is. But i'm only writing it to help you understand, if this is how your friend feels.
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Avatar universal
Firstly, to LCC. I can't see where she said she was BP. Can you clarify please?

To Desperate. Therapy is unlikely to be effective if your friend is so deep in depression she can't feel etc. Therapy is the best way to recover but when we are as low as this friend is then meds are needed to raise the mood levels so we can think clearly and somewhat rationally. At that stage therapy is able to help us delve if we are honest about it and find what is wrong and needs changing.

Note that some of us have no specific cause asit's genetic. But still their lives can be looked at to see what is not beneficial. IE a bad relationship, bad parental contact, negative work place, no good or trusted friends and so on. Many possible things to change. Another would be to include exercise and chage diet etc.

A sign of the depth of your friends irrational thinking is saying they will cure it. Won't happen, that's total delusion I'm afraid. To fix a depression we must accept it is anm illness and accept we need outside help to make any progress. Your fiend sounds like they are still of the opinion they are in control. Clearly, they are not and it's way past time they knew that. Ask them to consider this issue if you can.

Emotional numbness and the other symptoms you describe are all symptoms of depression. The emotional blockout occurs when a person is under extreme stress for a prolonged period and simply cannot deal with anything more. So our mind tends to shut us down and stop us feeling, or at least protect us from those feelings which often means storing them up which is bad news as they are within us and will come out as we improve. This m,ay be the reason your friend seemingly suddenly implodes each time. Coming back to normality allows us to feel and those bad things come to the surface and scare us into where we were again. You get the idea.

In the worst cases we become vegetative and simply sit and stare as we are just unable to absorb anything. I was there for a while and it's safe but hopeless, no hope and feeling nothing at all. Terrible place to get to and it's a tough road back.

Your friend does though experience emotions else suicidal tendencies would not emerge. If there were no emotional feelings that would not occur. Do you follow? So it's the opening up after hospital that may be creating the inpout which becomes too much.

My own feeling here is that your friend needs longer term hospital care as the damage is clearly taking place once released. No idea what a doc would say as they can't stay in there indefinitely.

As to BP? From what youd escribe I see little evidence of BP at all. Has your friend had periods of mania or hypomania? You'd know as they would have been totally in control and know everything, confidence booming, talking fast, full of energy and ideas and wanting to do everything and now. If you haven't seen that then I'd say no BP. Just a guess as you haven't mentioned much except the suicide process.

As LCC says taking meds is critical to all who have any form of depression so that is a likely spot for failure to set in.
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Avatar universal
I understand that this was posted quite some time ago but I will tell my thoughts on it in hopes that it may help someone reading about the issue.  I have a bit of emotional numbness myself.  It is a defence my mind automatically puts into place anytime I feel that i am becomeing too close "emotionally" with something.  It is a strange feeling that makes me feel very, well, for a lack of better words, it makes me feel cold hearted.  Though I have never been drawn to suicide, I do find ways to search to try and find some sort of emotion.  Nothing harmful or immoral.  I would guess that your friends suicide attmepts are her way of trying to get back into touch with her emotion.  The key word in this situation is "attempted suicide".  If she truely wanted to kill herself it would be too easy.  Instead she is probably just trying to get a jump start for her emotions.  It's just a dangerious way to do it but that is probably what she has found that gets her better.  I would say that her sign/symptons are increasing due to the shorter amounts of time between attempts.  My suggesion to anyone who is dealing with this type of situation is to help find somthing a little more safer to help reattach your loved ones emotions.  It will be easier said than done though.  
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Avatar universal
As noted above, this is quite an old post, but nevertheless valuable. I hope things are improving for you & your friend.

If your friend is bipolar, as she suggests, it's possible that her medication regime is causing a degree of 'emotional numbness', as both SSRI's & mood stabilisers seem to restrict emotional range in many people. Here in England, from the description you give, there is a good chance your friend would be seen as having borderline personality disorder, which also disrupts modulation of mood. I gather that in the U.S., bpd is increasingly seen as a sub-type of bipolar. Here, it is commonly viewed as a sort of chronic PTSD. If your friend really is trying to 'jump start' her emotions, as cbtmedic suggests, that seems, within an English framework, to point more towards bpd.
Despite all of this though, it is important to remember that psychiatric diagnoses are just hypotheses for interpreting human distress +/or 'deviant' behaviour, however convincing they may seem. Your friend is still a person and trying to communicate in ways that have an internal logic for her at that time.
Best wishes.
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