Apathy, eh?
December 24, 2010 5:52 AM   Subscribe

It's not that I'm hostile, it's just that I'm indifferent to almost everything. How do I engage with my life again? How do I beat this persistent apathy?

Three things have the capacity to engage me (sometimes), and in no particular order, they are: 1) my dogs, 2) other people, and 3) music.

But even though I care about these (few) things, I have to really push myself to do anything, even things that are supposed to be something I enjoy. Get out of bed, read a book, pet my dogs, see my friends—even if I'm vaguely looking forward to it, I still have to work hard to force myself to do whatever.

For a better example of the apathy, take the fact that I got all As in my last semester. Well, 2 As and 1 A-. I put in a lot of work, and I should be proud of myself or something, right? But I don't really care, and it bothers me that I don't care. But no, I'm just ... eh, whatever. (And it's not that I'm taking classes I have no interest in, I am interested in these classes, but it's a vague, clinical sort of interest, not a engaged, attracted-to sort of interest. Almost everything in my life is like that.)

How do I realign my heart with my life and feel things again? How do I re-engage with my life? How do I beat this persistent apathy and stop saying "eh, it doesn't matter" when good things (or bad things!) happen to me?

(I'm currently being treated, in therapy and with medication, for depression, dysthymia, PTSD and anxiety disorder NOS. My psychiatrist and therapist both know about this problem and are tinkering with my meds/discussing it with me. And I read these two related questions but would like some more wisdom from AskMeFi.)
posted by saveyoursanity to Grab Bag (10 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Do what you enjoy, and branch out to similarly enjoyable things from there. Sooner or later you'll end up in a position where you're doing enough enjoyable things that you'll feel connected (and, hopefully, happier).

Eg.s, do something with your dogs that can lead to you connecting to other people doing the same thing their dogs. Join groups that listen to the music you like, or set out to make the music you like with others. Get your friends to introduce to their friends, or try to define what it is you like about your friends and then find similar people.

I might add that there's the old cliche of "..begins with a single step" is often very true. Before you're going to feel like you're on a journey, and long before you've reached a worthwhile destination, you have to set out.

First, you have to do something. A lot of the time it doesn't matter what it is. If you do something, if you act, you'll either like it or not (even if only mildly). That will get you active in a process by which you are defining the things that you think are worth doing, and which do make you happy.
posted by Ahab at 6:21 AM on December 24, 2010

You are on the right track already. If your docs haven't already told you, this is probably simply another manifestation of depression-depression is not always "feeling sad."
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:55 AM on December 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

Are you physically healthy? Have enough food to eat every day? A roof over your head at night? Safe from violence?

If you have all of these things, sometimes taking the time to understand that there are people who are struggling can give you a relative perspective about how fortunate you are in your own life, and that can stimulate appreciation for what you have.

Maybe volunteering could help. If you like dogs, animal shelters always need volunteer dog walkers or even foster homes. Churches always need people who will visit the homebound and ill.

I read this story today about a young man who helps a family with their disabled child.

Keep working with your therapist; it's awesome that you're seeking mental healthcare. I wish you the best.
posted by red_lotus at 7:06 AM on December 24, 2010

Take up a dog-related hobby like agility. You will meet other people who have at least one thing in common with you, get out into the world, and learn about something new. Also I second volunteering at a shelter, especially if you teach yourself good clicker training skills, most shelters would jump at the chance to have someone come in and train the dogs basic manners.
posted by biscotti at 7:41 AM on December 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

This sounds familiar to me. I find myself content to spend a lot of time alone, despite enjoying socializing in theory. I have recently started to suspect that I am lazy, which contains a judgment that I know sounds self-loathing but I think might be true.

The one thing that really keeps me connected to what's going on and what I'm feeling, when I can force myself to do it of course, is meditation. I suggest downloading some of Sharon Salzberg and Tara Brach's talks from dharmaseed and just trying them. The heart/mind or mind/body disconnect is really common, and I think it sometimes takes bouts of introspection to really address them. Meditation and physical exercise are good starts.

In the meantime, courage!
posted by annabellee at 10:52 AM on December 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

If you find the answer, please let me know.

Lots of us out here.
posted by rougy at 12:15 PM on December 24, 2010

This really sounds like just another symptom of the depression, and thus you can expect it to eventually get better on its own once you find the right medication(s) for you.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:48 PM on December 24, 2010

red_lotus, if someone is suffering from clinical depression your advice is worse than useless.

A woman I know has everything. A loving husband, wonderful family, enough finances, a lovely home, etc etc. but for the last three years has been fighting a debilitating depression. This is a woman who has poured out herself for others for literally years and used to think that "getting your mind off yourself" was the best cure.

She actually apologized to me after she understood, finally, from experience, the pain I myself had been going through.

I do not suffer from depression anymore, haven't for a few years now, but I know for a fact that if the black dog already has you in its jaws, meditating on how much worse someone else has it only digs the hole DEEPER.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:00 PM on December 24, 2010 [9 favorites]

In case anybody's still reading this, I am most definitely still looking for advice even though I've marked some best answers.
posted by saveyoursanity at 5:11 PM on December 25, 2010

Another way of looking at this that came up for me yesterday, from two directions:

Firstly, I had Christmas lunch with a friend in rehab. And despite some of the people there being new to the center, a bit fragile, and clearly a bit worn out - it was an event that all the residents who were staying in contributed to, that all participated in, and that I think everyone wanted to work well. It was a community event. And it worked well.

Later in the day, I visited a friend whose eleven year old son isn't really a sports oriented kid. And he's not particularly social. They're working hard to change both those things. They've got him swimming, and he seems to enjoy that. But the longer term goal is to get him interested in a sport that involves some level of socializing. Not necessarily a team sport, but something that he does with other people. As he grows up, he's going to need a social group or community outside his family.

The common threads there are activity, and community.

Without rereading, I think I said something about taking the first step above. It's true, you need to take a step in any direction. You need to act. Then you need to repeat. And repeat again. Sooner or later, moving and being active becomes a habit. You'll begin to feel lost if you are not finding something to engage with. At that point you are no longer stuck in a motionless space where there's nothing to inspire, nothing to make you care, nothing to keep you going. You're in a space where you're coming across new things all the time, and you're reactions and responses to them will keep you moving.

But to give meaning to that, to make it worthwhile, to perpetuate your long term motion and direction, you need a sense of being part of a community. Whether you're just doing things with people who share your interests, whether you're supporting the people in your community(ies), or whether they're supporting you, it's very hard to remain disengaged if you're really plugged into a group.

To get there, you need to join groups, you need to participate, you need to try hard to connect to other people in them, you need to actively build the communities of which you're a part. You might need to work hard to do it at first, then plod for a time. But, after a while, this stuff becomes habit too. But it is habit that will be constantly paying you back with meaning and enrichment of your life.
posted by Ahab at 9:58 PM on December 25, 2010

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