How to get unstuck?
November 2, 2017 7:09 AM   Subscribe

I can't find any motivation to do anything with my life. Now that I’m in my early 40s, is it too late to change?

I have no hobbies and no real skills. Instead, I spend hours on social media, living vicariously. I keep thinking about activities to try, but always come up with reasons not to: “I'll probably give it up after a couple of weeks, just as I always have before; I'll be crap at it; I'm just influenced by stuff I’ve seen online, I don't *really* want to do it; it'll cost too much” etc etc.

My main “hobby” used to be binge drinking, but I finally quit alcohol altogether a couple of years ago. I have two young kids, and worry about setting a bad example to them by doing so little.

The “meh” feeling extends to work; I’m a stay at home mother, and don't want to be a low level administrator in an office all my life (my last job), but I don’t feel competent to do anything else. Fifteen ago, I felt trapped as a lawyer, but haven’t found a replacement career since. As such, I feel like a huge underachiever - I went to a good college, but I’ve failed to live up to what I could have achieved.

Other snowflakes:

* I don't think I'm depressed. I was depressed and self-harming in my mid 20s. Apparently I was diagnosed with BPD at this time, but didn't find this out until my late 30s when I saw my medical records, so I’ve never received formal treatment for it. I don't display any behavioural symptoms any more.

* I don't feel unhappy per se, just lacking in - desire, oomph, motivation, whatever. It’s a general "can't be bothered"ness. I’m lucky enough to have a decent home, friends, an awesome husband and amazing kids.

* I’m in pretty good health, but don’t exercise at the moment. I can’t swim well and yoga gives me the rage. I went running regularly for a few months and that felt OK, but it didn't help with the lack of desire or focus.

* Therapy would seem like the obvious answer, but it’s not an option right now - it’s only available for the severest cases on the NHS, and we can't afford even sliding scale private fees at the moment. I’ve had various forms in the past, some useful, some less so - the talk therapy I did last year made me despair even more of ever "fixing" myself, as it just led to further rumination on my uselessness.

* I’d describe my use of the internet at this stage as similar to an addiction; I use Moment to track my time online and regularly spend over 8 hours a day on the iPad or iPhone. Without it, I tend to go into little self-critical loops in my brain.

* I started to read Feeling Good twice; twice I’ve donated it to the charity shop because I always managed to find reasons why my generalisations were true.

Sorry for the lengthy navel-gazing, and thank you if you’ve read this far, but after all that, my question is essentially this: if you’ve felt “stuck” and managed to break out of that sense of paralysis, how did you go about doing that?
posted by cardinalandcrow to Human Relations (23 answers total) 61 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't think I'm depressed. I was depressed and self-harming in my mid 20s. Apparently I was diagnosed with BPD at this time, but didn't find this out until my late 30s when I saw my medical records, so I’ve never received formal treatment for it. I don't display any behavioural symptoms any more.

Depression looks and feels different for everyone, including at different times in the same person's life. So I would not be so quick to dismiss this possibility. Anhedonia, lack of motivation, lack of focus - these are all classic depression symptoms. You don't have to be actively self-harming now to be depressed.

Therapy would seem like the obvious answer, but it’s not an option right now - it’s only available for the severest cases on the NHS, and we can't afford even sliding scale private fees at the moment. I’ve had various forms in the past, some useful, some less so - the talk therapy I did last year made me despair even more of ever "fixing" myself, as it just led to further rumination on my uselessness.

Would something like 7 Cups or Talkspace interest you?
posted by schroedingersgirl at 7:52 AM on November 2, 2017 [10 favorites]


The good and bad news is that nothing matters. See also.

I can identify with the "can't be bothered" feeling, for sure. I don't know that I've broken out of it, per se, but I did make a decision a few years back to be more positive by focusing on the good things in my life. "Everyone" wants to be rich and/or famous, and yet plenty of those people kill themselves, so it must not be everything it's cracked up to be. I have great friends, a steady job, a comfortable place to sleep and enough to eat and drink. It sounds like you have the same. Life is great. The story that you tell yourself is important, because while we're all good at lying to ourselves, over time we tend to believe it. (FWIW I'm a huge underachiever).

As for actual recommendations? I'd go cold turkey on the social media. Engage with people directly. Less opportunity for comparing yourself to what their (very heavily curated) online presence shows. In all likelihood they have the same feelings.

I tend to think we all need some sort of intoxicant from time to time, but it's a controversial opinion. You say you've quit alcohol; but do you have any hippie friends with access to psychedelics? A good acid trip is great for getting a new perspective, or so I have read.

Take all of this with the proverbial grain of salt, of course. I'm just some lazy drunk on the internet.
posted by booooooze at 8:11 AM on November 2, 2017 [9 favorites]


Now that I’m in my early 40s, is it too late to change?

As a 53 year old who recently finished a doctorate program, a 10k and is becoming certified to teach high school kids mindfulness, the answer is no.

You need to find a thing you care about. Go for that thing. My first thing was working with kids, so I became a teacher. Then I got into hardcore running. Then I went for a doctorate. Then I cared about mindfulness.

One bite of the elephant at a time.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 8:19 AM on November 2, 2017 [42 favorites]


The not especially helpful answer is to pick something and stick with it through the blah period. I know exactly what you feel like - I wanted to sing in a choir as an adult, and spent two years hemming and hawing. Then I auditioned and got in and it took at LEAST a year to stop feeling that "I'm an impostor, everyone here thinks I'm a terrible singer, wtf am I doing here" feeling. It took well into the second year to feel like "okay, this is a good place for me". The end of the third year, we decided to move and I bawled at the end of my last concert because I knew I'd miss it so much. Now we moved and I joined NEW choirs and am starting the "lol impostor" phase again! But it's easier this time. ALSO, I tell my wife almost every single week that I'm tired and I'm blah and I don't wanna go to rehearsal - and I leave rehearsal every night feeling glad I went.

So, I think my not-helpful answer would be "pick a thing and MAKE yourself do it for 6 months and see how it feels." I would bet in less than 6 months it will start being a thing you look forward to. Even the stuff that feels like it should be easy and fun is only formed through habit.
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:23 AM on November 2, 2017 [14 favorites]


I got unstuck when I realized that I was depressed and even suicidal, only I was doing a slow burn rather than anything sudden. My being stuck was essentially rooted in thinking that I didn't deserve to be happy or successful.

I tried building habits and changing behaviors, but it was only until I understood that I was actually covertly depressed, and started exploring the feelings of worthlessness, that I was able to start to move forward. I was seeing a therapist, and it was a long slog, but it worked.

I realize this may not be you, or work for you, but it's what worked for me.
posted by Gorgik at 8:39 AM on November 2, 2017 [7 favorites]


* I don't feel unhappy per se, just lacking in - desire, oomph, motivation, whatever. It’s a general "can't be bothered"ness.

This was me a couple of years ago, and my doctor called it anhedonia. SSRIs did nothing, but Wellbutrin, which works on norepinephrine and dopamine as opposed to serotonin gave me much of my motivation back. Your mileage may vary, of course...we all react to these things differently.
posted by rocket88 at 9:07 AM on November 2, 2017 [4 favorites]


Also, one thing that really whipped my ass and brain into shape was deciding to model healthier living for my three kids, so I started running with them pedaling along on their bikes.*

When you have kids screeching at you to go outside with them, you're not doing it for yourself any more, and your mood will pick up.

If you're not into that, start taking the kids out on walks and hikes and tell yourself you're doing it to model good ways of coping with life.

*All three of my now-adult kids are runners.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 9:12 AM on November 2, 2017


My experience was similar to rocket88. Depression is a broad category that covers a potentially wide range of underlying conditions. I didn't think I was depressed because I didn't feel bad. It's just that I was spending 5 hours a day doing absolutely nothing but staring at the wall. For MY version of depression Wellbutrin seems to be a solution, whereas SSRI's just made me numb. I expect it will eventually turn out that adrenergic vs. serotonergic depression are two distinct conditions that have been lumped together based on superficial resemblances.
posted by wps98 at 9:15 AM on November 2, 2017


"Without it, I tend to go into little self-critical loops in my brain."

This stuck out to me, because this is how my anxiety works. Life goals are helpful, but goals or no goals, you deserve to find calm and joy in your daily life.

I have a noisy brain and here is a small thing I recently started doing that makes it shut up. When I take a walk, I force myself to mentally narrate my surroundings, as if I were escorting a blind person or narrating on a tour bus. It really makes a difference for me. Eventually I hope to access this same mindfulness without relying on words, but for hyper-verbal, easily distracted me, it works for now.

Of course there's meditation, and yoga. I too am easily enraged by yoga, but I really enjoy the Yoga With Adriene Youtube channel - perhaps give it a try.
posted by toastedcheese at 9:21 AM on November 2, 2017 [13 favorites]


Therapy would seem like the obvious answer, but it’s not an option right now - it’s only available for the severest cases on the NHS, and we can't afford even sliding scale private fees at the moment.

Are you sure about this? I recently managed to get referred for CBT on the NHS and the waiting list was only a month, I was pretty surprised as it certainly used to be a lot harder. For me (depression and anxiety), CBT is helpful, talk therapy is absolutely pointless, so I'd recommend asking about that. If you feel so lacklustre that you don't feel you can advocate strongly enough for yourself, take someone with you to your GP appointment who you can trust.


I started to read Feeling Good twice; twice I’ve donated it to the charity shop because I always managed to find reasons why my generalisations were true.


Looking for help but your brain telling you that it's pointless to try, oh yep that sounds familiar. If you want to hear from someone who's paddling along in a similar boat to you, please do memail me.
posted by greenish at 9:42 AM on November 2, 2017 [3 favorites]


I saw a good Pinterest thing last night which said everyone needs three hobbies - one to make money from, one to keep you fit, and one to be creative. It made me realise that I too was spending hours a day on social media and didn't have much going on any category, though I take a lot of time writing e-mails to friends which feels sort of creative. So maybe brainstorming which you might possibly enjoy would be a start. I know when I am depressed I can summon the motivation for things I enjoy like movies or gigs but anything unpleasant like cleaning my apartment brings up huge resistance and basically doesn't happen.

I have friends who have tried either counselling or CBT and some responded better to one and some the other. I tried online free CBT called Living Life To The Full but ironically couldn't summon the motivation to do all the homework. I am doing quite well in person-centred counselling it helps me reflect and deal with each week, hard to say if there will be long-term changes once it stops. I get that free for participating in research at a University counselling unit, maybe unlikely that there's an equivalent where you live, but all counsellors need to deliver a lot of unpaid training hours as part of their course, and sometimes you get counselling for £10 or a voluntary donation where they are studying. Good luck!
posted by AuroraSky at 9:43 AM on November 2, 2017 [3 favorites]


Yeah I don't know if I'd write off depression, if I were you -- especially given the self critical brain loops you describe, and the way you self-medicate them with internet. It also sounds like your mood is generally low to very low; you describe a lot of good things, but don't describe feeling happy or joyful about them.

You say therapy's not an option right now, and I'm not familiar with the NHS, but you almost certainly have a general practitioner available, right? Might be worth describing what you're experiencing. Plus you're in your 40s so, obligatory "get your hormones and thyroid and shit all tested out" reminder.

That said, I hate when people are like "just pick the hobby you love and go for it!" because there is no hobby I love. I'm not passionate about much of anything, and our culture right now definitely sees that as A Dysfunction. And maybe they're right! And maybe if I had infinite money and health and leisure I'd find a thing that just made me want to dive right in. But I want to tentatively suggest that all people are different, and that just being a person in the world can sometimes take everything you've got, and you're not broken for being content with a happy family and good friends and a nice place to live.

I just want to see you truly feeling that contentment, and not having it buried in rumination and self-blame...and that's where medical intervention might help.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:45 AM on November 2, 2017 [4 favorites]


Do two things: quit social media the way you quit alcohol, and adopt a "growth" pursuit (exercise, creative hobby, back to work or school--whatever) the way you adopted first alcohol and then social media.

It doesn't matter if you're successful or not at the new thing or if you cast it away later when you no longer need it or are no longer interested in it because something better has come along. If you decide to become a drier lint papier mache artist and everything you make out of the drier lint looks like something that's been through a dog, what of it? When your brain points out, as it absolutely will, that what you just made was a waste of your time and looks like something that's been through a dog, you say, "Yes? And? It's better than what I was doing before, which was nothing, and so I'm proud." Eventually you'll get better at drier lint sculpting and your brain will have to admit that. Or you won't because you'll run up on something better and more suited to you and get good at that. Either way, and even if you pick up and drop again sixty things before you finally hit on the thing you love, NOT doing what you know you do NOT love to do is enough: just as it was when you quit drinking, which, hello: is really really hard to do, so we know you're capable and strong and have a healthy will to live.

As for what to start with, I suggest library books. Not ones to do with self-improvement. I would start with whatever's bright and funlooking on the "new arrivals" shelf and go home with a wheelbarrow full of them and don't try to make yourself finish anything. Just pick one up every time you feel the urge to check your feed. Then start making an effort to finish books. Then move on to reading all of Austen, Proust, or Melville. You're not trying to be Picasso or make everyone proud or get calves of steel or be a wild success at anything, you're just replacing social media with a time-filler less pernicious to retrain your brain and readapt to a noncyberenhanced schedule of dopamine reinforcement so that your brain can like more things, the way it used to could before social media ruined everything in the entire world, not just your motivation to do things (it's not your failing: it's species-wide). You can do this. Facebook is strong and evil, but it's not stronger or more evil than the demon rum, and you already defeated that.
posted by Don Pepino at 10:00 AM on November 2, 2017 [13 favorites]


I'm close to your age, and I was experiencing really similar things. What kickstarted change for me was medication (Lamotrigine and Inositol), and vitamin supplements (B12, Vit D, Magnesium, and NAC).

It helped me shake off the lack of enthusiasm / blah-ness and got me vaguely interested in doing things again. I started rock climbing at a local gym, though I'm a perennial gym-hater and exercise avoider. I hate yoga too. Pilates is ok, but I like goal-oriented stuff. Gradually the crappy brain loops stilled, and I got bored looking at social media.

As far as work stuff, have you considered doing some pro-bono legal counseling? It might feel less restrictive than practicing law and you'll get to help people, which is usually recommended as a mood lifter. I eventually got a part-time job with a company I like and it's been a godsend for my mental health.

And try to let go of the 'not living up to your potential' claptrap. Living a satisfying life is tied to your happiness, not some external signaling of your financial success or bragging rights. Anyone who tells you different you have my permission to ignore.
posted by ananci at 11:03 AM on November 2, 2017 [3 favorites]


"Instead, I spend hours on social media, living vicariously. I keep thinking about activities to try, but always come up with reasons not to: “I'll probably give it up after a couple of weeks, just as I always have before; I'll be crap at it; I'm just influenced by stuff I’ve seen online, I don't *really* want to do it; it'll cost too much” etc etc."

I'm with the crew that says do it anyway.

I spent 5 years of my professional life interviewing women over 40 (and now I am one!) If I had to distill all those hours of talking to happy and unhappy regular old struggling people, plus celebrities and highly successful types, I would say that the one true recipe was to stop NOT doing things.

If you don't know where to start may I suggest some travel, without the kids? With a friend or family or your spouse but just anywhere...new. For bonus points try to do it without a lot of wifi.

I do know how easy to say that is and how hard it is to do it. At the time I was into a career in media that had resulted in a number of opportunities and promotions into the dream-job-that-sucked. Now all this time later I said yes to a lot of things, and I'm now in a new career and much, much happier.

If you post another question with some of the things you want to do and yet talk yourself out of them, I will cheerfully participate in a thread trying to talk you over those barriers.
posted by warriorqueen at 11:11 AM on November 2, 2017 [3 favorites]


This a bit of a hack to help resist idle web surfing to take over your life. I tend to do that too, though I avoid hanging out on FB. Youtube's my drug of choice.

What I've started doing is going to the web site Brilliant before I want to do any work in the evenings. The site challenges your brain with puzzles in various fields, math, logic, statistics and so forth. It basically reboots the part of your brain that social media puts to sleep.

After spending 10-15 there and finishing a few quizzes, I'm good to go to do something useful. Like an antidote to mindless dopamine seeking. You win a few quizzes and you are sort of immunized. Before I can get really socketed into my usual pattern (starting with MeFi of course), I do some brilliant tests and then go do something useful.
posted by diode at 11:24 AM on November 2, 2017


Definitely deal with the internet addiction. Is it possible to take the kids somewhere where there IS no access? Leave the smartphone at home & take a flip phone if you must have one at all. Even a weekend away can reset your brain. Like someone said, it's self-medicating. Maybe for anxiety, not necessarily depression. Probably boredom.

What kind of stuff and people do you gravitate towards online? For example, I know someone from Twitter who makes guitars and I love looking at pictures of the process. It's not possible at the moment (unemployment) but I'd really like to have a hobby where I make useful stuff. Maybe you're always looking at people's travel photos or recipes or whatever. That's how you find your passion.

I'm 42 and I blindly coasted through my 30s. In the last few years I've discovered more about what I really want to do. It's not too late - your life expectancy is another 30-40 years. Do you want to spend it staring at a screen?
posted by AFABulous at 2:04 PM on November 2, 2017 [4 favorites]


Have you thought about trying an app like Cold Turkey that regulates your access to the internet? You can block access to all of the internet, or just specific problematic sites, for blocks of time that you schedule. You can even engage hardcore mode and schedule your computer to shut down for specific periods of time.
posted by the thought-fox at 2:21 PM on November 2, 2017


Yoga also gives me the rage. I asked a question about it here a while ago and a helpful soul sent me a message that gave me the powerful insight that meditation and relaxation and all those other mental benefits of exercise don't have to be slow and low key, recommending that I find something active to relax me. Anyway, I learned that a fast paced exercise class gives me the same zen that others seem to get from yoga - it takes me out of my brain by making me focus very actively on moving. Running is ok too but it can be difficult to keep myself going whereas I would never think of stopping and leaving in the middle of a class.

And +1 on welbutrin for a hedonistic.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 8:45 PM on November 2, 2017


Well, you say you enjoy the internet and social media and such...so perhaps it would be fun ("fun") to contribute to it, rather than consuming it?

Got an Instagram? Post photos of your projects around the house, which projects are undertaken precisely for the social media aspect. Make a particularly photogenic jam! Knit a thing! Restore an old chair and post the step-by-step! Start perfecting really good-looking (and of course, delicious and nutritious) meals. Protip: put a normal meal on an oversized plate and you're already halfway there.

Like the twurts? Drop some clever ("clever") comments on your favourite Twitterers twurts, and come up with stupid twurts of your own, like every other Twitterer.

Snapchat? Silly short video paradise! Unleash your inner sketch artist, your inner You Suck At Cooking, your inner nature documentarian!

Got a Facebook? DELETE IT. Facebook is like a drip-feed of fuck and fail.

Who knows, you might end up liking Instagramming or Snapchatting enough that you think: well, wouldn't it be fun to set up a thing like this, or like this? Before you know it you might be looking for fun props, or some secondhand equipment, or maybe even a photography course at your local night college.

Fitness is another good one. Walking is all you need to do. Get up and walk and walk and walk and listen to a podcast. You're still getting your internet fix because that's where the podcasts are, but, y'know, it's different.
posted by turbid dahlia at 9:23 PM on November 2, 2017 [2 favorites]


If yoga gives you the rage, maybe practice of one of the martial arts might give you a place to use rage in a positive way. Good exercise and a confidence builder.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 10:45 PM on November 2, 2017


Thanks, everyone, for all the great replies (and I’m still keen to hear from anyone else with experience of this!) And each answer was helpful - I just marked as best the ones that were most relevant to me right now, in that they either (a) gave me hope that it’s not too late, or (b) gave me permission to do things even if I don’t already feel enthused or competent. Yes, I am over 40 and still looking for permission to do things...

I hadn’t been keen on seeing my GP or seeking medication right now, but thank you for everyone who mentioned it, and if after another couple of months I still don’t feel capable of making changes, I will pay them a visit.
posted by cardinalandcrow at 2:52 AM on November 3, 2017


I don't see any gender on your profile, so - raising the option that this could be the run-up to menopause. You sound a lot like I did as that started kicking in for me - and then I realized I wasn't depressed, I was just exhausted from the physical upheaval. I found ways to manage that and it's improving.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:27 PM on November 3, 2017 [4 favorites]


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