Saving ourselves from ourselves
September 28, 2010 1:23 PM   Subscribe

What comes after balance and practicality? Does it ever get not-boring? How can I resist backing away from success? Please talk some sense into me.

I need some help straightening out my thoughts (therapy, yes, I'll think about it).

After a tumultuous childhood, years of "late blooming," and LOTS of therapy, I reached a point where I was moving with my peers, doing something I really liked, cutting myself and others slack, and just being "who I was" -- this led to awesome connections, relationships, etc. Then -- I don't know exactly what happened -- something changed. It had to do with a big decision I made that I had misgivings about. I became very indecisive (as in, involving people in decisions that could have been simple and causing stress and making myself feel generally important). It has gotten worse after leaving school, traveling, etc. I feel very unsettled.

At the same time, when I was having those great experiences (maybe 2 years), I felt very empowered -- I realized that life is what we make it, and there really is little stopping us from doing what we want to do. Apparently I have concluded that since nothing else is stopping me, I should stop myself. Also, that since nothing is impossible, there is no value in achieving anything.

Since then I have become indecisive and have realized that I create problems for no apparent reason -- just to feel like I'm alive. Leaving late for events (woohoo! fast driving!), not communicating with people, turning little things into big things such that everyone is paying attention to me and thinking, probably, what a strange person I am... It's like, if you aren't thinking sort of badly of me (??), and I'm not desperately trying to achieve something against the odds, I don't know what to do with myself.

I got some balance back this summer, and then thought, "Wait -- my life will no longer be interesting this way."

How do you fight this? Are there some phrases you say to yourselves? --something true that I could say to myself? How do you stay engaged? What is there on the other side of crisis? Please help me look forward to it.

(I was in therapy for a LONG time and when I got the hang of things, I told myself I had graduated and stopped going. I'll consider going back but would appreciate input in the meantime.)
posted by ramenopres to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Having your shit together and being boring aren't the same thing, having adventures and being balanced aren't mutually exclusive. Being an adult doesn't mean you're no longer interesting. You actually get more interesting as you get older.

I think the best thing you can realize now is that feelings are fleeting and people change as they get older, but not necessarily in some unwavering arc of hideous monotony.

You don't know what is on the other side of a crisis because you haven't lived it yet. Life starts over and over. A phase begins, ends, and is replaced by something new and you're different. Even the cells in your body are different.

It's normal to feel unsettled after leaving school -- your life had a sun and things sort of revolved around it and now it seems like you might be a little anxious about the uncertainty of things. It's normal and will pass when you figure out what to do with yourself and it sort of sounds like that's the thing you need to figure out.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:33 PM on September 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

For me, when I'm balanced, it's an opportunity to go after all those things I can't do when I'm getting in my own way. Study a new language, volunteer for another organisation, go to a new place, drive somewhere awesome, do something interesting and exciting. All after work and my part-time uni course.

I'm definitely an adult, and at least externally, somewhat settled (married, lived in the same city for my entire life, etc). On the other hand, I'm currently transitioning to my second career (winemaking), mostly because it seems my attention span only lasts about a decade.

I am, of course, rather lucky; my job is interesting, so I don't have 8 hours of boredom a day to contend with. That helps. It's also easy enough so that I still have energy at the end of the day to do other interesting things.

I guess the gist of my advice is this: find constructively interesting/exciting things, to replace the destructively interesting/exciting things you're doing now.
posted by ysabet at 3:20 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just because your "self" is an illusion doesn't mean it's not real. More importantly your actions have consequences, if not necessarily for your "self" (which you rightfully question if it exists) then for other people who still take you seriously, depend on you, love you.

I think what you need to recognize is that, despite what years of American TV, Movies, and probably education system have tried to teach your "individuality" is not all that important. The real goal of your self (now that you have realized how illusory it is) is to be "there" for other people. Don't kid yourself, that is the hardest damn thing in the world.

But it is up to you to determine how your "there for other people" looks like. It could be full of doing, it could be quite placid. And it could be (in a way) by retreating to a log cabin in the woods and never seeing another living soul... that choice will still have ongoing consequences to other people.

You can also start to realize that, if this self is an illusion, what are the bigger things at play. How is the destruction of the environment affecting you? How is the political environment distressing those around you? How much better would your City/Town/hamlet be if there were a garden/church/theater company that can give them joy?

Without a self to get in the way you can much more easily approach these larger goals... or something totally different. It's up to you.

(BTW truth be told this is the same spot I find myself in... so take my advice with that appropriate grain of salt).
posted by DetonatedManiac at 3:28 PM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Lacan says that anxiety is generated when you come too close to the object of desire. This is because the aim of desire is to sustain itself as desire - if you ever really reached what you desire, desire would end because you would be satisfied. In order to continue desiring, you have to sabotage yourself when you get too close to success to postpone the moment of satisfaction as long as possible. So what you want is the possibility or hope of satisfying your desires, but no more than that. When you actually get what you desire, it's horrible, you have to construct some obstacle to keep it at a distance. What seems to have happened to you is that you believe that everything is possible, there are no obstacles, so there is nothing you want. Fortunately, Lacan offers another mode: drive. Where desire is filled with anguish over the phantasmic lost object that it desperately wants to be reunited with and yet sabotages itself in actually achieving that, for drive, loss is the object. Drive endlessly, relentlessly circulates around the void, continually re-enacting dissatisfaction, the failure of any object to fill that void and be truly satisfying and getting a kind of inert pleasure out of it. Drive is blind and mindless, like in the Disney short The Sorcerer's Apprentice where the enchanted broom floods the room with water and can't be stopped, even when it gets chopped into pieces, it recreates itself and continues.

I'm not quite sure, but it's possible you were already doing something close to that when you were creating problems for no apparent reason. When you make yourself late on purpose, you create your own absence, you are the lost object. The main problem is that you are making yourself the lost object in the Other's desire. Whoever is waiting for you is dissatisfied with your absence, wondering, "Where is she!?" You are creating loss in the Other, maybe to create a place where you can belong. Your drive should circulate around your own void, not someone else's. Related: The Missing Piece by Shel Silverstein
posted by AlsoMike at 7:13 PM on September 28, 2010 [10 favorites]

More please!

AlsoMike, I would love to know more about what the void should be like.
posted by ramenopres at 7:59 PM on September 28, 2010

I've seen this in a work context, and I've informally labelled it the "superhero disease". There is something very attractive and romantic about being in the nick of time, swooping in to solve a huge crisis, with the attendant "you saved the day again!" adulations from people around you. It's awfully exciting. But please bear in mind, this is the scenario as it plays out in *your* head.

IRL, crises don't really happen that often, so people who love this mental scenario tend to create situations where crises can develop, so they can then solve them. Everyone else gets to deal with the stress of the crisis, feeling largely powerless to do anything to fix the problem, until the individual who started it "solves" it. It gets incredibly aggravating, and certainly doesn't lead to "who was that masked man". It leads to "who does he think he is?"

If the preceding seems anything like familiar to you, can I suggest you re-frame your mental narrative? You mention loving the feeling of being empowered, but losing interest if 'nothing is impossible'. It sounds to me like you need a challenge that will present you with some real, genuine obstacles for you to work to overcome. Maybe consider running a marathon, or getting a black belt in some martial art, or improving your playing on a musical instrument enough to put on a concert. Rather than "hero", think "master craftsman".

Good luck!
posted by LN at 8:15 AM on September 29, 2010

AlsoMike, I would love to know more about what the void should be like.

Oh... I was sort of hoping you would know? Your question is pretty general, so there's not a whole lot for me to go on. You can memail if you like. The best I can do is say that maybe for you, the achievements you find meaningless are the void.
posted by AlsoMike at 8:34 PM on September 29, 2010

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