How do I stop feeling like I'm living someone else's life?
March 16, 2009 1:50 PM   Subscribe

How do I stop feeling so detached from everything?

Sometimes I truly feel engaged with my life, attached to my loved ones, and comfortable with the choices I have made in life. But inevitably, I fall back on what seems to be my default state: aloof, noncomittal, chafing at the expectations others place on me, and unable to empathize or care for anyone else. It seems like every few days I'm ready to drop everything, hit the road, and start my life over somewhere new.

There was a time years ago when I thought the answer was to never settle down. Constant travel, falling in love a hundred times over, that kind of life seemed the only way to feel alive. But I just couldn't handle it and eventually gave in to the pleas of those who love me to not throw away my talents, to go back to school, get a good career, start a family.

I have all that now, but so much of the time a feel like a ghost or like I'm watching someone else's life. It's often quite obvious that I'm just going through the motions of my life.

I'm an asshole, I know. A whiner. I should just suck it up and get on with life. Well, sucking it up is exactly what I'm doing. I just want to know if it's possible, that one day I'll stop feeling this way and really know who I am.

Have any of you ever felt this way? Have any of you ever overcome it once and for all?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
You sound mildly depressed. Treatment?

posted by sunshinesky at 2:17 PM on March 16, 2009

This is what depression feels like. At least, it's what my depression feels like. Even when I'm medicated, I don't completely connect. Now, I do have some touchstones (husband, daughter) that help keep me oriented. When it gets too bad, when I can't value anything and feel like others' most simple and basic expectations are too much and I just gotta pack it up and move on, when it all becomes obvious enough that I notice it, I call my psychiatrist and begin the new medication dialogue.
posted by girlbowler at 2:18 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Have you ever been evaluated by a doctor for dysthymia? It's a form of depression, but it's not as "intense" (for lack of a better term) as a full-scale major depressive episode.

I've known a couple of people with dysthymic disorder, and they described their lives in terms very similar to yours -- emotional detachment, going through the motions, etc. The avoidance of settling down -- whether in terms of a job, relationship, etc. -- was a way to avoid emotional intimacy, as well as to keep up a certain facade of being functional and happy (e.g., "everything's fine; I've got a new job, I date someone new every six months, and can always pick up and move halfway across the country again when it gets to be too much"). But if and when they did settle down with something, they found it didn't bring any lasting happiness or satisfaction or meaning, either.

I struggled with depression myself for many, many years. What helped me was long-term therapy, medication (I was on antidepressants for about six years), yoga/exercise and a little bit of Buddhism. But all of those things only worked because I really, really, really worked at them working. Therapy is hard when you're doing it right. Meds aren't a magic bullet; they just cleared my head enough that I could start to put the pieces of my own life together. Yoga and exercise require consistency in order to reap the mental benefits. And buddhism basically helped me start to get comfortable with the fact that suffering is an unavoidable part of life; the only thing that's up to us is what we choose to do in the face of that realization.

As a first step, I strongly encourage you to reach out to your doctor or your local mental health agency. Pease don't belittle yourself or think that you're weak or should just "suck it up." We all need a hand getting down that road as we create meaning in our lives. It sounds to me like you want to start taking that path. I wish you well.
posted by scody at 2:21 PM on March 16, 2009 [9 favorites]

I get that way when my vitamins or nutrition is off, when my blood sugar's low, or sometimes if I'm chronically sleep deprived.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:25 PM on March 16, 2009

Yep, you just described my life. The happier times in my life have been when I am doing something intense - traveling, new job, new baby, something new and crazy. In settled times I definitely have a hard time feeling connected, I always feel vaguely down, bored; I think dysthymia is an accurate description.

I've found it worth seeking therapy, although not necessarily in the traditional on-a-shrink's couch kind of way. I have seen a couple therapists, but also looked in to things that help change thinking and mood patterns - meditation, physical therapy, new exercise. That does seem to help.

I just want to know if it's possible, that one day I'll stop feeling this way and really know who I am.

I definitely think this is not possible - it won't just stop. You have to take it on, full force, and do something different. Our brains pattern themselves, and our thought processes only build tighter patterns as we experience life. You (and I) have to change our patterns of thinking and that takes some real work.
posted by RajahKing at 2:29 PM on March 16, 2009


Go outside on a sunny day, lay down underneath a tree, and see if you can feel the earth spinning underneath you. Make yourself pay attention to the way the light shifts through the leaves on the tree and the way the grass feels on your skin, and whatever noises you can hear.
Take a few deep breaths. Keep doing this daily or weekly or however long it takes for you to feel connected with nature.

Go hiking, or fishing, or birdwatching.

I found that the deeper my connection with nature is, the easier it is to step outside and take a breath and have everything fall back into place. I know that with me, part of my detachment was caused by anxiety. By shifting your focus onto what's around you rather than turning inward, it's easier to stop getting caught up in wanting to run.

I still have bad days, where it feels like I'm watching everything through a 6 inch plate glass window. But that is better than bad weeks or bad months.
posted by d13t_p3ps1 at 2:30 PM on March 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

I struggled with depression myself for many, many years. What helped me was long-term therapy, medication (I was on antidepressants for about six years), yoga/exercise and a little bit of Buddhism.
I second the yoga/exercise with a little bit of Buddhism. This is exactly what is working for me right now. It seems paradoxical, but becoming unattached to your inner mental processes can lead you to become engaged with others and the outside world. I would also recommend therapy, though haven't (probably should) tried it myself.
posted by ekroh at 3:13 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Agree that this sounds like typical depression. I felt this exact way until my late 20s, when I started eating better than working out. Now I feel like a normal person almost all the time.
posted by coolguymichael at 3:40 PM on March 16, 2009

dittoing sunshinesky and girlbowler. You owe it to yourself to talk to your doctor and if s/he refers you, rather than working directly w/ you-- meet w/ a psychiatrist or whomever s/he suggests.

This is likely NOT the you that you were meant to be, just as an insulin-dependent diabetic wasn't meant to go without insulin. You may benefit from a combination of medication and therapy...the medication likely would be long-term while the therapy might be time-limited. You might be able to live a fulfilled life without having to self-medicate by frequently changing activities/locales/relationships in order to kick-start the chemicals in your brain...which might better be kick-started and normalized with regular medication. I live that way now and have pretty consistently for years... I marvel at the joy, equilibrium and strong relationships I have.

Email me if you need info or just want to dialogue more...I've been on this road awhile.

posted by mumstheword at 3:51 PM on March 16, 2009

At the risk of sounding wildly unorthodox and inappropriate, I would suggest Psilocybin mushrooms. They're at least much safer than many anti-depressants. As long as you don't take too many, and you use them in the right set and setting. See if they don't give you a new outlook on the world.
posted by MattMangels at 6:05 PM on March 16, 2009

Please stop insulting yourself - trying to get some help when you need it does not make you an asshole and a whiner - it makes you a reasonable person who wants to enjoy life more. Have you maybe been trying to run away from yourself this whole time? Find a way to like yourself more.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 6:14 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

If what you're asking us is whether something's wrong, or if this is a perfectly normal way to feel, I think that most people would answer that something's wrong and you should try to change that.

Therapy and medication help a lot of people with this stuff. Religion and spirituality help a lot of people with this stuff. Yoga/martial arts/tai chi/triathlons/some other physical discipline help a lot of people with this stuff. Volunteering to help people in need helps a lot of people with this stuff.

Changing how they live their lives helps a lot of people with this stuff.

And MattMangels's suggestion that self-exploration through psychedelic/psychoactive substances helps people with this stuff may well be spot-on; it's not something I have much data on personally (my own psychonaut days were of the "young thrill-seeker" variety), but I know people who found ayahuasca journeys very helpful in sorting out Big Questions.

You're the best judge of which of these things (or combination thereof) feels like it might be most helpful to you. It also might be worth seeing an internist/primary care doc to rule out physiological issues (thyroid, for instance) that can have strong effects on overall mood and cognition.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:23 PM on March 16, 2009

I'm not really sure why everyone is so convinced it must be based in some sort of medical condition/depression. Sure, I get someone who is depressed might feel this way too, but I don't think that depression is the only answer.

To me it sounds like a sort of ennui, lack of interest in things: maybe some sort of remaining wanderlust from your earlier days, or maybe you just lack passion for your life you are living now. But just because you gave up your earlier life to settle down, doesn't mean you have to suck it up. Find out how to fit things that you enjoy into your everyday life, if you like exploring, trying going on weekend hikes.
posted by tachikoma_robot at 7:09 PM on March 17, 2009

Anything that gets you out into the world, and engages you.
posted by tachikoma_robot at 7:11 PM on March 17, 2009

Thank you tach. This discussion has really depressed me in that every one believes that restlessness is a condition that needs to be medicated. The fact that everyone here seems to feel the same way seems to suggest that this IS, in fact, the people we were "meant" to be.

So yes I get to feeling this way all the time. I usually take it to mean that I am not doing what I am "meant" to do and try to make changes in my life that will male me more engaged.

For example over the years I have realized that I am my happiest when solving problems or pursuing a self sustainable life. So though I never want to stop developing software, which in the easiest route keeps me in an urban environment, I also want the adventure of living off the land, spending time with my family and being "at one" with nature. In order to resolve this I have found ways to works towards all my dreams in tiny steps so that I am always making progress.

Some of the things I have done is forego the short comute so I can afford a house with a yard, start raising chickens, keep a garden, keep bees, make time for long road trips and camping. Play sports that don't require me to be good.

The simple truth that I live by is that my brain does not lie to me and that any problems I have should be dealt with honestly rather then a pharmaceutical crutch that allows me to accept the alienation that I feel when I don't actively keep myself connected to my life.
posted by plaidhatter at 6:16 PM on March 20, 2009 [4 favorites]

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