I feel like I am living half a life. Or rather, that I am half a person.
September 30, 2014 7:50 PM   Subscribe

I'm not hard-working. I am ambivalent about most things in general. There's nothing I really like doing per se. I have never taken the time to develop any special talents or interest and I wasn't endowed with any naturally. I really just occasionally do what I should and then spend the rest of my time doing....nothing. I feel like I have no personality and no goals and it's causing me a lot of problems.

I don't know, I feel like I have always been like this and it's been extremely hard for me to really find the motivation to do anything as a result. I don't really feel like I want anything for the future--careerwise, nothing sounds appealing and I've never wanted to be in a romantic relationship or have kids. Plus being quite lazy, it means I find it difficult to put work into things until I am really terrified of some result, and even then I usually just quit. I am also not a good enough person or dedicated enough to consider these variables as a chance to do something meaningful and decide to devote my life to service of others or whatever.

I feel sort of half-developed for the most part. In a lot of ways I am very very immature and I have been lucky to have had an easy life, with any issues being of my own making. While the privilege is a positive thing, I feel that the combination of that and the immaturity is a really, really bad one. I feel stunted. Like, I have always just done things for the sake of doing them and waiting for them to be done with. But I had/have nothing else I'd rather be doing, except maybe sitting around. A lot of advice with respect to this sort of stuff is to try new things or travel or whatever but I have done a lot of both.

I really don't want to be like this, because right now the future just seems like one multi-decade slog of doing whatever to support myself until I can't anymore or die. I want to have proper goals and interests and relationships, if just platonic ones because I don't want the rest of my life to be as vague and disappointing as it has been so far.

I guess my question is, do you know anyone like this? Have they ever turned it around? Is it possible to develop personality and goals and values after 2 decades of basically nothing or do I have to wait for some event to trigger something within me? I am sorry for all the miserable questions I post on here, and the real answer is probably like "quit navel gazing and do something ffs" but I try to do things and it all feels like it's to no real end. (I have talked about depression related things on here before but I'm pretty sure my feelings about myself aren't like, some cognitive distortion but rather perhaps the cause of my feeling depressed in the first place.). I just feel like I'm a person with not a lot going on, mentally and I am clueless as to how to fix it.
posted by hejrat to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
You do realize that you can be depressed without feeling sad? What you describe sounds like either chronic lowlevel depression or perhaps even just a subset of regular clinical depression. And just because you don't feel like you are experiencing cognitive distortion doesn't mean you aren't experiencing it.

You know most of us are going to recommend counseling, at least. But while you are setting that up, take daily walks and get into the sun as much as you can. Also fish oil tablets. These are all things that can help and were all recommended to me by an actual doctor back in the day when I had these issues.

I'm not going to pretend to be a therapist, but I do wonder if you were raised in such a fashion that any self-initiative was squashed, and/or your parents micromanaged you. You may not be giving yourself permission to decide to like something. THAT can be overcome. I know from personal experience! ;-)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:27 PM on September 30, 2014 [19 favorites]

What does doing nothing mean exactly? Are you watching tv? Surfing the web? Reading? Daydreaming? Do you have a rich fantasy life?
posted by gt2 at 8:46 PM on September 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

So, I quickly looked over your past questions, and here is my take: you have enjoyed a life of great privilege that has ended up hurting you in various ways. In addition, you likely suffer from incompletely treated depression.

Here is what I would suggest: take advantage of your parents' support for the next few months and get yourself to a psychiatrist or psychologist. I know you have sought mental health treatment in the past, but I think it is worth exploring whether there are other treatments you could try.

It seems to me that many of your problems are actually situational. I regularly work with privileged young people, and it is striking to me how, on the one hand, a great deal of pressure is put on these people to succeed, yet at the same time, how little freedom they are given to develop as responsible adults. As a result, I've come across many people who are, for lack of a better term, somewhat stunted in their agency.

One way of potentially turning this around is to cut the financial ties to your parents, at least for a while, and try to live on your own power. I would suggest living at home for the next six months, getting a job that pays money, saving most of this money, getting your mental heath sorted out, and then moving to another city where you do your best to support yourself without your parents' financial assistance. This will likely be scary and uncomfortable to you, but I think it is the best way to gain some sense of being captain of your own ship. You likely won't end up in a career you want to do for the rest of your life, but that's OK. You will learn important life skills like your actions have consequences and you won't be coddled or spoon fed. You may end up getting fired from a couple jobs. Again, that's OK. Hopefully, as you are out there in the world, working and supporting yourself, you will develop a better sense of what you like, don't like, and what is important to you. I can't promise you that you will develop in these ways, but I think you have a better shot this way rather than letting your parents support you through another round of unpaid internships or graduate school.

I wish you courage and good luck.
posted by girl flaneur at 8:46 PM on September 30, 2014 [8 favorites]

Is there anything -- no matter how trivial -- you would like to do? Even a passing fancy that has struck you more than twice? Like have you thought three times, "Huh, it'd be interesting to do pottery"? Or, "Man, I wish I spoke Mandarin"?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:56 PM on September 30, 2014

Like, I have always just done things for the sake of doing them and waiting for them to be done with. But I had/have nothing else I'd rather be doing, except maybe sitting around. A lot of advice with respect to this sort of stuff is to try new things or travel or whatever but I have done a lot of both.

Yep, that sounds just like me about 5 years ago. Directionless, aimless, all of that etc. I went to see a therapist and put "Weltzschmerz" on the admission interview form. I recommend giving therapy a shot. It didn't exactly work out for me, it wasn't the thing I needed to feel better, but it most certainly helped me be able to conceive of the thing that did help me feel better and live a more fulfilling life.

I can tell you what that thing is, and it might sound small and silly and like, really? but it was the thing that did if for me and I type before you a changed person who is happy and OK with the rest of his life being rather directionless and aimless. Because there's this thing now, and it makes all the rest of the bullshit worth it. It's my bike. I ride it and I am happy. I ride it and the fact that I'm not a successful zillionaire or a genius in my chosen specialty or happily married with a family just doesn't matter. I ride my bike and my crap jobs are bearable. My unholy mess of a life is put in a gentle purple glow of zen-like happiness and acceptance because once or twice a week I crank myself up to the top of a mountain and hurtle back down. That's all it took.

Getting to that realization, that finding of The Thing that did it for me and took away my Weltzschmerz, was a long and difficult process. I witnessed several other people continue to struggle with their own similar troubles long after I found the solution to mine. It takes thought, and some perseverance, and a desire to not feel crappy about your situation anymore, and a willingness to keep trying.

See, the advice that you got with respect to this sort of stuff is incomplete. You have to keep doing those things until you find the one or the several that make a difference. Sure you did a lot of both (travel and trying new things) but you didn't do it until you found the thing. There IS something out there that will help you feel better, and you just have to keep trying to find it. It very very likely won't find you. And it may very well simply be the perspective of having tried so many things that you acquire down the road somewhere, the accumulation of your experiences and adventures into a new vision of who you are. (If that's what it's gotta be, though, I advise you to try not to be too grumpy about it along the way.)
posted by carsonb at 8:58 PM on September 30, 2014 [11 favorites]

Doing a small thing over and over again that I got progressively better at helped me. It gave me a good feeling and also showed that I was capable of accomplishing something. And I wanted to repeat that feeling and looked for other opportunities to do that.

i've found over time that if I'm ever feeling aimless, this is a good way to get out of that rut. I pick a thing, decide "I can do that!" and learn to do it. It might take a few tries, but eventually it works. Because I figure that if so many other people do that thing, it can't be that difficult.
posted by deanc at 9:14 PM on September 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

You sound depressed.

The "right" step is usually the smallest positive one. Take the step tomorrow of making an appointment with the closest psychiatrist to you geographically. You're unmotivated and are going to be disinclined to travel far for an appointment.
posted by BadgerDoctor at 9:15 PM on September 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

As much as this will I suspect come as old and not particularly helpful feeling news, especially after looking at your previous questions there's really no doubt in my mind that your struggle with navigating life and finding any sort of intrinsic motivation are rooted in your to this point unsuccessfully treated depression, anxiety and compulsive behaviors. My guess would be that your low affect and conviction that life is meaningless cripple your motivation to accomplish things, that your self-reproach (thinking of yourself as worthless, hopeless, stupid, terrible etc.) And general numbness drive a conviction that any countering effort you expend will be useless, and that compulsive behaviors attempt to fill the personal void this self-fulfilling cycle of avoidance and shame/self-hatred creates - behaviors which further sabotage your health, rest, motivation and ability to accept yourself.

I don't know what the roots of this stuff is, it sounds like you've made some efforts to address it without a lot of success. You've mentioned having some cultural resistance to therapy, I suspect you will need to get to the bottom of this to make progress on that front. For me for example there was and is no easy answer, I spent years in weekly therapy working through the sort of personal/social/family shit I really did not care to acknowledge as a root of problems or deal with emotionally. And I'm far from perfect but I'm still up and taking on the struggle every day, I feel engaged in my life and invested in its importance. I'm even routinely happy even though at the moment I'm facing a bunch of really challenging and difficult externalities.

I think if you're not in therapy you should get back in and if you are you should get into these cultural resistances directly with your therapist, you should confront the issue of your feeling paralyzed to effect real lasting change directly with your therapist, you should explore alternate models like CBT. I'd venture a guess that you're likely due to confront issues over your parents and their failure to nurture you in some important ways. It might be worth checking out support groups pointed specifically at your compulsive behaviors. If insomnia is still an issue leaving this undealt with is a huge impediment to change.

You talk quite a bit about being lazy. But truly lazy people shirk work to enjoy loafing or playing. I think you avoid work because confronting it brings you into a painful kind of contact with your internal and emotional self. This give yourself a stern talking to, pull yourself up by your bootstraps mentality is never going to pull you out of it. I know this is hard to hear in the early twenties, but there's no way you're going to unwind these problems overnight or even in a couple years. Aspects of them will likely follow you throughout your life: it's just a handicap you will have to contend with. But you're going to be living through all those hours and days regardless so you might as well get to that work. I evaded this sort of work for almost ten years past your age, and those years I wasted in that regard are one of my regrets in life: I know I'd be a lot further on in some respects if I'd gotten started earlier.
posted by nanojath at 9:38 PM on September 30, 2014 [8 favorites]

Nthing that you sound depressed and that you should seek treatment for that. I know you've pursued treatment before and are frustrated with the results thus far but you can't give up -- sometimes you have to try several different medications before you find the one that works.

But if you decide to ignore all of us and not seek treatment for your blaringly obvious depression, then I have two other ideas that might help jump-start your life:

1) Think long and hard about who are your heroes and whom you greatly admire. How could you be more like them, starting small from where you are? Do that. Start today.

2) If you're still at a loss, make art. Art is a fundamental part of being human. Art outlives careers, families, politics, cultures, civilizations, and -- given what we loaded onto Voyager -- even our entire species. Anyone can make art. You don't need "talent" -- if you can write legibly with a pen/pencil then you can learn to draw and paint. Take some classes from your local parks & recreation department, read a book (I can recommend You Can Draw in 30 Days), or paint along with Bob Ross on PBS.

Please don't write off that "make art" suggestion as hippy-dippy fruitsy-wootsy advice. I am one of the most left-brained people you will ever meet, with no innate artistic talent and (until very recently) no drawing/painting experience since 25+ years ago in elementary school. I probably would have even laughed off my own advice just a year or two ago. But despite all that, the art classes I've taken recently have done more for my motivation, energy levels, and overall mental health than years of medication and counseling alone. So give it a try -- what do you have to lose?
posted by Jacqueline at 1:43 AM on October 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

I guess my question is, do you know anyone like this? Have they ever turned it around?

Yes, if I am reading your question right, I have known people "like this." A fairly large percentage of university students, in fact. It's a scary time in your life. You're almost always doing stuff that somebody else thinks is a good idea. Then on top of it there's guilt because you're supposed to be appreciating what a wonderful time it is.

As I understand it from your other questions, you've been in school with a fairly hard (math?) curriculum. You have some talent in this area, it sounds like, but it's not doing much for you and it may be not quite the right fit. That makes it really, really demanding. So when you are doing "nothing" as you say, it's not because you are zero as a person; it's because work and anxiety about work are draining you. You are almost certainly not using your full capabilities. Being in the kind of cycle you've been in with academic work is like being a battery where only the top 10% or so is being charged and drained again and again. This is largely a function of the environment you're in! It does not mean you are this sort of person or that sort of person. It may just mean that you have to suck it up and get your degree in whatever manner you can, without worrying about it too much. And then, like a large percentage of university students who feel this way, you will have the time and space to turn it around.
posted by BibiRose at 5:06 AM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I went to therapy because I thought I had problems with social anxiety ("I don't want to date, but if I DID, I feel like I should be able to"). My therapist quickly diagnosed me as dysthymic and correctly identified that I wanted a relationship, I was just too afraid to admit (even to myself!) that I wanted Anything.

I thought her diagnosis was BS for, um, years, but thought she had some smart things to say, so I kept going to therapy. And, funny thing, after a lot of hard and frustrating and sometimes Dumb talking, I slowly got better. And discovered that, yeah, that's a thing! I wasn't massively depressed before, but I actually, truly, deeply enjoy life now.

On the one hand, not much has changed. I still don't have life-altering hobbies or do anything impressive. On the other hand, I have a better job, enough money to be independent (so cool!), a happy relationship, better friendships, and I'm Happy. Life is still hard, but it feels So Worthwhile now.

You, too, can have a life you enjoy. It's hard to find really good mental health care, but you absolutely deserve it. Heck, you owe it to yourself (and those who love you) to work hard at this one thing - feeling better.
posted by ldthomps at 9:06 AM on October 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

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