I was happier 4 years ago. How can I get my groove back?
February 6, 2019 11:15 AM   Subscribe

Some of you remember my awful relationship posts. Well, things are better. We aren't fighting, and when we do fight it's over quickly. My partner is meeting more of my needs more of the time, emotionally and domestically. But I am so run down. More after the cut.

So please for the sake of argument just take my word that the relationship itself is good now (or moving toward good). There is ongoing financial stress, but aside from that there is mutual love, care, helpfulness, verbal intimacy, generally it has become a solid relationship of mutual effort and better communication.

But I just saw a post on social media from a time before I was in this relationship and I was clearly so energetic. I'm so tired now. So *weighed down.*

Yes I have a toddler, I work longer hours than I used to, I'm past 35, and I have multiple autoimmune conditions that give me profound fatigue, but is this the best there is really? I remember a joie de vivre. A sparkliness to myself. That is somehow gone. Where did it go and how do I get it back, if I can?

Is that aging? Years of stress having their way with me? The natural consequences of being married and an adult in modern society? The natural consequences of being married to someone with baggage or to someone with incredibly strong efforts to manage their load of responsibility but just comes up short anyway through mostly no fault of their own?

How can I get back to the person I was who was happy? I just feel bogged down by responsibilities all the time now. Work, errands, meals, family time, planning things. I'm a Minimalist but my life isn't sparking joy and I don't know why. I don't think I am depressed. I'm just TIRED. And the work to manage life is endless. I've got hobbies and enjoy them but the spark that I once had just isn't there. So is this what it's like to get old? How can I feel less burdened in my life?
posted by crunchy potato to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Without touching your relationship stuff: I think all working parents feel the TIRED. When I was working full time at high stress tech companies with two little ones I was just... overwhelmed all the time. Not only was everything a constant grind (Work! Kids' actual needs! Artificially constructed, not-actually-necessary yet never-ending school/"parenting" stuff! House maintenance! Handling All the Things!), but my brain was just constantly pulled in seven directions at once, and none of the directions gave me anything "back" except for certain old friendships which were increasingly hard for any of us to allocate time and energy for.

I don't think you're experiencing anything unusual. Which is not to say that it doesn't suck: it does, absolutely. Getting to a professional point where one isn't at the bottom of the pyramid and constantly getting bossed around, helps somewhat. Kids getting older helps somewhat.

One thing that helped was I once asked my dad to plan an outing and take me on it, which he did. That was wonderful. To enjoy a treat without having to plan and execute it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:34 AM on February 6, 2019 [6 favorites]

I'm reviewing your posts and the dates - and while the relationship stuff may be in the rear window, I'm still seeing that there's a ton of stuff going on from just this year alone (eldercare, car repair, health insurance issues, job stress....). that's still a lot to cope with.

I say this because I was once in your shoes for an entire damn decade, with one big stressor after the other coming in three-month increments. I would stiff upper lip my way through them, and got through the crisis point okay, but then I hit a similar "why the hell do I feel so tired and run down all the time" point and was asking myself what to do. Then I found a copy of one of those "stressful events test", where you give yourself points based on whether any of a given list of things happened to you within the past twelve months and if you score over 150 you're at risk of longer-term problems. I took the test and realized that for a solid ten years I'd been scoring at 250-275 AT ALL TIMES. And when I saw that, it was a revelation that "well, shit, no wonder I'm tired." so I forgave myself for feeling low-key and low-energy, let myself take some time to just veg out for a while; made sure that basic needs were met, but otherwise gave myself permission to zone out to TV as my entertainment if that was all I had the energy to do. I had been through a lot, I needed to recharge. It's okay. After about a year I started getting bored with that, and that was enough to perk me back up again. But only after I had given myself that time to catch my breath.

You've been through a lot, even just in the past year. Try taking that test and see what your score is; I personally just ignored the dire warnings they had at the bottom about what your risk of a "breakdown" was, because if that was true I'd have snapped and gone on a nude rampage through Saks' by now, and I didn't do that. But if you've got a high score on this test, look at that as "these are things that ate up my energy when I wasn't looking, I just need to let myself recover and then I'll be a little better".

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:40 AM on February 6, 2019 [35 favorites]

Honestly, I think all working *people* feel the TIRED. Especially when there is ongoing financial stress. It just takes it all right out of you. The times in my life when I had the most joy and capacity and energy are not-at-all coincidentally the times when I have had sufficient money at hand to handle All the Stuff.

Combine that with massive life upheavals like marriage and childbirth and child raising and difficult marriage shit and I mean, yeah. Shit's exhausting.

Sure, age is probably part of it too, and the hormone shifts and brain changes thereof. I can't speak to the "joie de vivre" because I've not ever had that, but when I think back to my late 20s, for example, the sheer intensity of emotion, and the level of Give A Shit, that I used to have is evident and surprising. Compared to that version of myself I barely have any kind of emotion at all, and yet I'm not really like a dead-inside person now, you know? I have a regular amount of anger and sadness and all the other feelings now. But the drop off from Youth is just real real steep.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:44 AM on February 6, 2019 [6 favorites]

Well, I have all the issues you listed except a toddler, and I'm exhausted all the time too. I can't imagine dealing with a toddler on top of it. I think you're exhausted because your life is exhausting. Sometimes things come along and perk me up for a while--usually some new obsession. If you're wired that way, then maybe be open to new all-consuming interests. I know that sounds laughable when you're already running on empty, but it can happen. Or at least it's happened to me.
posted by HotToddy at 12:11 PM on February 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yes, I’m the same! I’ll be reading all the answers!

5 years ago I was in great shape (for me, anyway!) but I felt great about my fitness and clothes and hobbies and I was traveling to sunny spots and socializing and I was so happy IN myself... I met my mr right and we got married and had two children right in a row.

Now, I have a 2,5 and 3,5 year old and I’m pretty tired and life just isn’t easy.

We’ve had deaths in the family, I’ve had a few surgeries... my husband has had work and financial stress.

For most of my life I’ve been a list maker and I for a few years i just kept making the same list: what do i need to do to feel better? Or what do I need to do to get back on track? And I really made progress at times but have constantly fallen and made the list again.

Now, I don’t work but as my children get older it’s ended up that they have sensory/learning issues and so that is a big part of why things have been challenging for me.

I think the last few months things got so hard that i made some major changes to how we’re living our life (moved to a suburban place) and I’ve devoted myself entirely 100% to my children vs. trying to make the previous situation work when it wasn’t.

Anyway, I’ve given up on the list- sometimes I write a little one with a few things on it- but the glamorous carefree chick I was will just have to live deep down inside me... and I guess this is me “grown up” dealing with parental responsibilities and not getting to have much fun right now. I think eventually the kids will be in school and I can emerge a bit, but jeez, no, it’s not easy.
posted by catspajammies at 12:16 PM on February 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

One weird trick: prioritize sleeping. I bet you aren't (for very good reasons!). I bet if you got eight hours a day you'd feel more enthusiasm for life.
posted by praemunire at 1:14 PM on February 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

Toddlers are cannibals. They eat your soul. It gets better. I have nothing else to offer.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:53 PM on February 6, 2019 [13 favorites]

My kid is 10 and my joie de vivre has just come back the last three or four years. I am older than I was, so it doesn't look the same as it did when I was 30, but do not minimize the amount of mental effort involved in just being present for your kid--eating every meal with them, spending your time on kid duty rather than reading or exercising or meeting with friends or thinking your own thoughts.

There's not a lot of room to be yourself in life with a little kid, and that space DOES come back, and you will expand again to fill it.
posted by gideonfrog at 3:59 PM on February 6, 2019 [5 favorites]

What DarlingBri said. Toddlers are hell on your energy levels. And this is I think your biggest problem with your pep. It does get easier once they're older. Just get by one day at a time for now.

Things that might help:
-- Can you get help to give you more of a break then you are getting now? If you can't get or afford a babtsitter once a week, how about once a month? Just get a break you can look forward to.

-- Is there a part of your routine you can revise, so it takes less of your time? Simpler dinners? If bedtime is a set of elaborate routines, scale them back? Or maybe just part of your household routine? Could you do your grocery shopping online, for instance?

Good luck. Parenting is hell. And my kids are relatively easy!
posted by Philemon at 5:23 PM on February 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Toddlers can be extremely exhausting, throw a bunch of other stuff into the mix, and it's no wonder you're feeling the way you do.

When my son was little, I started to carve out me time as much as I could, within reason. Once he became old enough, or if there was another person around to watch him, I would take my morning coffee and a book or magazine into the bathroom, and spend 10 or 15 minutes in there, with the door closed. My kids (I also had a pre-teen/teenager at the same time, woo-hoo! Moodwings from a 12-year-old and a toddler and a husband who loved nothing better than to come home, switch of the TV to the sounds of children wailing "no fair!" and crack open his newspaper and proceed to ignore all of us while I was making supper with a toddler crying, "Uppy! Uppy!" because now he couldn't watch Rugrats and had to be held while I was frying something spitting fat on the stove, while the teenager stormed off to her bedroom).

So morning coffee was my "me" time. Then it was bedtime. I did all the work there, too, bathing, singing songs, chasing after him to put his diaper on, reading stories, reading just one more story, then to find my husband watching some crappy TV show that I had no interest in. So I set up an extra room as my office. I hung cut-out pictures from magazines on the wall (which was remarked upon, but hey, tough, they were my pictures in my office), scenes of nature, or anything I found inspirational.

Someone gave my son a cassette player with a microphone (wtf? Thanks, clueless rellies), but I ended up getting a Raffi tape and that was his bedtime music. He would often say, "more music!" when it got to the end, and I had to go flip it over, but I knew I had at least 20 minutes of downtime.

I also set up a schedule of who does dishes on the paper calendar that I'd hung on the kitchen wall. I put my foot down and said, "I'm doing all of this stuff, and I'll be damned if I'm going to clean up the kitchen as well, you are doing dishes until further notice." Of course, my pre-teen was on that list, but anyway, it became a routine.

I used to get knots in my stomach, to the point where I'd have to go lie down for 1/2 an hour. I got my tubes tied at 35, went off the pill, and then I started immediately getting peri-menopause symptoms (which I didn't realize at the time, that that could be a thing). I also had a very demanding full-time job, and when I got home, it was again "me time" for 15 minutes, to fling off the bra and unsqueeze myself from the dreaded pantyhose before the evening routine. Yes, I gave my kids cheese crackers and parked them in front of the TV during that time. Do I regret it? No.

We ended up going to marriage counseling, and the therapist pointed out that in some relationships, one person acts more like a parent than the other, which is not great. My husband was always off doing some volunteer stuff, hanging out with people from the volunteer group, and coming home energized by his social life. Or he'd take a job on commission-only pay, with no benefits, and say how fantastic it was (so while I was pregnant, I was supporting the family on my office job, until I again put my foot down and insisted he take a different job with benefits before I gave birth, he finally did, when I was 8 months pregnant).

It got to the point where I saw going to the grocery store by myself as a luxury. That was again my "me" time. My social life had dwindled to nothing, I tried to get involved with the same volunteer group, but having to drag a toddler along didn't exactly give me time to associate with other adults.

My advice to you is: try to get away from the house and your family once a week, or twice a month, whatever you feel you can do. Morning coffee with a book club, window shopping and buying yourself a small treat, something that is all your own, for a couple of hours. It doesn't have to involve joining a group, unless you feel like it, I frankly craved time to myself and didn't necessarily want the extra burden of managing a friendship, but I did join a couple of online chat group related to my interests at the time and formed some female friendships that way, which helped me a lot.

Lastly, bedtime was my "me" time also. A nice lamp, a good trashy novel, and reading for 15 minutes, do not disturb me, ignore the teenager doing laundry at 11:00 at night because she has gym tomorrow and all of her white socks are suddenly dirty, just let people deal with their own problems and take my me time, because it all starts again in the morning. This is not to say I didn't love my kids, my husband was a mostly nice guy, if clueless (we are no longer married), but eventually my spark of fun and creativity did come back, I'm just saying, kids and husbands and jobs do suck it out of you, hang in there.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:16 AM on February 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

I'd recommend reading this article by Jonathan Rauch and perhaps this Metafilter discussion about it. In brief, most people, across most cultures, find themselves suddenly less happy at roughly the age you are now. This may be partly due to external circumstances but it seems like it also has something to do with the biology of the primate mind -- it has even been observed in apes!

I think it's hitting you on the early side of the age range, which isn't surprising, given the life challenges you've been facing.

The good news is that (a) it's not your fault, and (b) it's not permanent. If you can make it through the mid-life low, you're likely to find yourself getting steadily happier for the rest of your life.

Anecdotally, I can report that I went through my own low point and now, at 47, I'm happier than I can remember being in years. Looking back, I'm very grateful to my past self for how I handled my mid-life crisis. I didn't give up, and I didn't do anything self-destructive. I just took whatever steps I could to improve my life, trusting that they would pay off in the long term.

It sounds like that's exactly what you're doing. Even if you're not feeling the payoff right now, I can tell you that decades worth of Future You will be grateful to The You Of Today for the gifts you're working hard to give them.
posted by yankeefog at 4:28 AM on February 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I agree with all the answers above that life is just A LOT in middle-ish age. And if your relationship has been difficult over the last several years, and things are going better now, maybe just keep an eye on how your togetherness works.

I have had a fairly comfortable and loving relationship for [a long time] now, and we have a young child, and there are definitely times when I feel distant from or angry with my partner, simply because in the moment they are the proximate cause of whatever is going wrong, or because it's easier to be annoyed with them than with the child or with myself. Forced teaming, we just have to get through this thing, and then the next thing, and then the next. It is hard. Bedtime/mealtime/weekend parenting time! It all sucks! But it would be much harder for either of us on our own, and we absolutely rely on each other.

It's not that we have date night that often, or that we remember to give each other presents or whatever, but we do both make an effort to be with each other and separate from each other. If that makes sense.

Now that the kid is 3, I have been going to pottery classes by myself. It's easy, it's local, it has a tangible outcome, and I have been able to negotiate with my partner that we have to build that time into our schedule. It has been great! It's JUST FOR ME. Maybe something will catch your fancy that way soon, and while it is sometimes just one more thing for me (I tend to go in the evenings, I am always tired) I never regret the effort of going.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 7:40 AM on February 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

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