Srsly, I can't be arsed.
March 12, 2008 10:54 AM   Subscribe

How to encourage myself to put forth the effort to actually live a life?

I'm living as a physically and intellectually mature 3-year old.

I have a job. I sleep. I eat. I read. I bathe and brush my teeth twice a day. But for things I claim that I really want to do, such as have good friends, become fit, be in a romantic relationship, make films / comedy, live in London, sing in a band (even for fun), invest in real savings for my future and not merely some sluggish 401k, I don't make any effort to meet any goal. I don't make goals, rather. 99% of what I have in my life right now didn't take much effort to get. The only things I've actually worked hard on for my own benefit was physically escaping my abusers at 18 and getting an internship my junior year of uni. For the life of me, I can't remember how it felt to want those two things so badly that I did what I had to do. With regard to the abuse, I claim to want to get over what happened, but only just figured out that I've shut down all real communication with my therapist and have used my 40 minutes every week to harangue the people who hurt me. I have to force myself to go to therapy! I don't even make an effort to do the things I claim to enjoy, like music or movies or cooking or travel. I've taken classes in things, but stopped when they required real commitment, emotional or otherwise. I could say that about my relationships as well. I have a job. I sleep. I eat. I read.

What's frightening me is that deep down, it feels like a large part of me doesn't want to do anything, even something as simple as doing the laundry. Some of these things I do, but there's no sense of, "It has to be done to get what you want and that's OK." I get upset that I actually have to clean my apartment or do laundry. It's been this way at least since 5th grade. I don't want to work, even at the job that's currently paying my bills. I don't want to talk to people and find it a hassle to have to return phone calls and emails, so never mind true intimacy with a friend or partner - that's too much work. I don't want to try. Yet, I'm angry at myself for sitting around on my ass just reading , just eating, envying Bob Odenkirk or the woman at my job who's happily married to a nice man. I'm angry at myself for the little kid inside who's all, "DON'T WANNA! GIMME!", while knowing logically that the world owes me nothing, nothing will be handed to me and that no one is truly going to care about me except me, and no one's going to give a damn anyway if I don't.

In looking to be honest with myself, I've been asking: Is my current routine all I truly want or am capable of? Why am I unwilling to accept risk? Why won't I challenge myself? Why am I unwilling to do the work it takes to make my life better? Am I one of life's cowards? If so, can I learn to make peace with this? I feel frozen, and the answers haven't been forthcoming.

I want to know if any MeFites have gone through this issue and what they've done about it.
posted by droplet to Human Relations (21 answers total) 71 users marked this as a favorite
I'll just say that I have similar feelings sometimes, and I was raised by 2 loving parents with no abuse whatsover (some hard core and traumatic bullying in school, but I think nothing like what you might be alluding to). So I feel for you. Sounds like you are pretty depressed, classically depressed, and I might suggest counseling, perhaps hardcore. I'd suggest it because I think I need it myself, and I've felt similarly to you.

Just wondering, does it always feel like this or are you feeling particularly crappy now? When I'm down I feel like I've always been down, but really there are times when I'm quite up, it's just hard to remember them. That might not be you though.

I bet you something interests you and is meaningful to you. That would be the thing to try.

Also maybe you need to bust yourself out of your cacoon in some way. As in, take a trip, take a class. Dance classes can be great for busting yourself out of your hole. I speak from experience.
posted by sully75 at 11:01 AM on March 12, 2008

Learned helplessness.
posted by 517 at 11:20 AM on March 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

I hit inertia when I do what you're doing, droplet - setting up all sorts of expectations of myself, and assuming I should be some sort of superwoman.

The trick to beating it is, do something that does not figure in your list of things you should be doing/should have in your life. Set no expectations of yourself, and make it a once off thing, so you don't set up expectations of the new activity. Take a one-day cooking class, for example. Take part in a song circle or a session some evening. Offer to walk the neighbour's dog on a sunny Sunday morning. Go to the local museum, or some little art gallery. Get in the car (or on a bike, or the bus, or whatever) and set out at random, going to no pre-determined location, and just drink in the sights.

Notice how you feel when you do that. It's nice, isn't it? Doing things like this will help break you out of your rut in the long term, and I suspect you'll feel less like things are not going anywhere in your life.

Good luck!
posted by LN at 11:24 AM on March 12, 2008

It might help those who want to give you suggestions, ......if we knew what your age was. (granted, you can have crisis of internal doubt like this at any age, but my guess would be you are in your middle to late 20's - and so what you are feeling might be typically normal for that age-group)

My short answer would be... it just sounds like you havent "found your purpose" yet. There will always be small tasks (laundry, cleaning house, paying bills,etc) that nobody really WANTS to do, but we do them anyways.

For the bigger things (job, travel, career),. my advice would be that you need to get out and explore more until you find something that really passionately interests you. So I'm told, "you'll know it when you find it"... I only say that because I dont think I've found mine yet, and I'm nearly 35.

Until you do find it, remember that every day is a gift. Everyday you have the opportunity/potential to see the world with new eyes and notice things you never noticed before. If you're stuck in a rut.. .try to vary your habits a little to keep it interesting.
posted by jmnugent at 11:28 AM on March 12, 2008

I went through a very similar phase a few years ago, for a couple of years. I still have bouts of it occasionally. Just to let you know that you're not alone.

Personally speaking, I feel that therapy (or even a good friend) would have been a very good idea at the time. it's easy to slide down the spiral, and sometimes you need a helping hand to get you back up.

I did the following to get through it:

1] I read a lot of self help books. I would just read them, and not actually do anything, but I think that simply reading them was an important first step. You can't change your life by snapping your fingers, until you have an awful lot of motivation, which I didn't have at the time.
2] I took a look at my life, and decided just what it was that I was unhappy with. What was sucking the energy out of me? What was making me feel worse? Then I started writing down what I wanted, even if it was just to get out of the chair and go get a shower. Eventually, I started desiring bigger and better things. It took me some time to start getting them, like a new job, and it was hard at times to keep wanting them, but I just persevered as much as possible, when I had the emotional energy to persevere.
3] I started listing things that made me feel good, and I did it every day. A hot shower. Tasty food. A smile from one of my customers. Eventually, things got bigger and better.
4] I started doing some of the things suggested in the self help books. I forgave my parents. I started loving myself a little more, and feeling good about myself. I cut out all negative influences from life - including a job that I realised was dragging me down.

Now, I still don't know what I want out of life. Well, I do, but I'm still working on getting it. The most important thing to remember is that you're stronger than you think you are, and that it's important to keep going when you can. Which is more of the time than you think. Once you've built some momentum up, it's easier to keep going. The longer and harder you do it for the easier it gets - any positive step you take today will have an effect tomorrow. It's important to remember that, too. The trick is to just keep going.

You can get through this.
posted by Solomon at 11:31 AM on March 12, 2008 [6 favorites]

What about trying a new therapist? Antidepressants can help just with getting through the day and they don't have to be forever. Make lists of what you need to do and what you'd like to do and force yourself to go through them. Find what makes you happy, be it a kind of music, food, or activity and reward yourself with this every time you cross off a like-to-do item on the list. Be good to yourself. talk out loud. Find good outlets for negative emotions-exercise is always helpful.

Solomon had some awesome suggestions. Just remember, everyone struggles. Everyone has something they have difficulty overcoming. You've had a rough go and need to be easy on yourself but at the same time work hard to motivate yourself to get past your basic living efforts. You can do this.

IANAD or a therapist or even a life-coach so maybe I'm talking out my ass, but I've dealt with feelings like those, and I've been widowed twice and I'm only 36, so I'm just giving you some of the best ideas that helped me crawl out of some big holes.

I'm rooting for you.
posted by BridgetR at 11:52 AM on March 12, 2008

I'm angry at myself for the little kid inside who's all, "DON'T WANNA! GIMME!"

So basically, don't force and belittle that kid the way you were forced and belittled as a kid. Be the good parent you didn't have - take care of and nurture the kid with lots of good healthy behaviors, listen to what the kid wants and needs and figure out how to not be angry and resent the kid, but to do the things that will make a really nice life for the kid (and for you as an adult). It may help quiet that inner rage that is paralyzing you.
posted by judith at 12:42 PM on March 12, 2008 [5 favorites]

Seconding Judith.

Reading her suggestion and thinking about your question, I noticed how much expectation you seem to be putting on yourself. You should make films. You should live in London. You should be willing to accept risk. You should challenge yourself.

I think each of those things can be good (although trying to tackle all of them at once - or even expecting yourself to be up for tackling all of them at once - would stymie most people). But I also think balance can be good.

What if you pick one of your goals, and, for a week, schedule three appointments with yourself to do something toward that one goal - and then also schedule three appointments with yourself during which you will take a break from all the expectations? It can be really, really nice to have an hour or an evening or a day (or a week!) when you get to say, "I feel like reading, I'm gonna read. It doesn't matter if I have a million other things I 'should' be doing; this right here is the time when I get to do what I want."

Then, at the end of the week, see how you feel. Did you enjoy any of that? Did you like the genuinely free time? Did you like taking one or two tiny concrete steps toward your goal? Would you rather work on a different goal? Would you rather give up on the goals for a few months and see what it's like letting yourself have a lot of "me" time?

Also, give yourself credit for all the things you are doing. Check out some of the past AskMefi questions from people who'd like to read more or start saving anything for retirement. You're already reading a lot! and you have a 401k! Take a moment - a nice, long, long moment - to really acknowledge that you've done some things other people aspire to do.
posted by kristi at 1:26 PM on March 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

In your October question, you said "The therapist has been more focused on getting me to acknowledge these needs and the reality of my abusers as flawed human beings who purposely hurt a defenseless kid and less on how to get stuff done." Are you still seeing this therapist? If so, I heartily recommend a change.

The best thing I heard from a therapist was, "What your parents did was wrong." And then we focused on me. No excuses for the parents, no attempts to make them into flawed human beings who need my forgiveness, blah blah blah.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy ruthlessly challenged the beliefs that I had been taught. It was 100% directed at my present life and how beliefs that "worked" when I was a kid were messing me up now. It was also analytical, which meant I felt safe emotionally and, ironically, could then express some emotions. And it was ALL ABOUT ME and my PRESENT life.

You deserve attention that's 100% focused on you. Your abusers were self-absorbed in the extreme, and there's no reason to send one more ounce of your energy their way. So I'd suggest a therapist who's more rooted in the present and more likely to help you change your current beliefs. My cognitive-behavioral therapist probably wouldn't have let me harangue anyone from my past for even 10 seconds, because that wouldn't change my present.

And another thing: It sounds like you're still mad. Anger is a great source of energy that you could channel into doing life-affirming things. For example, after being told in many creative ways that I was worthless, stupid, etc., I had a driving phobia and settled for crappy pay. Learning to drive and demanding more money were like giving the finger to my earlier programmers. When I was learning to drive, I actually visualized that every time I got into my car I gave a certain person from my past the finger. It was great.
posted by PatoPata at 2:05 PM on March 12, 2008 [4 favorites]

One more note about cognitive-behavioral therapy: The place I went actually put a deadline on the treatment. They had a timeframe in which you were supposed to get better, and then you were done. (Of course, the timeframe would be adjusted if necessary, but there was always an end date.) So you might look for that sort of program if your resistance to commitment starts to kick in.
posted by PatoPata at 2:08 PM on March 12, 2008

It sounds to me like you're being held back by guilt and shame more than anything else. You need to learn to do what you want and not take any bullshit from anyone else (or your neuroses) about how living your life the way you want to makes you a bad person. You might think that this would turn you into a monster, but actually it'll free you to do nice things for other people out of love.
posted by tomcooke at 2:16 PM on March 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I like a lot of what's been said already. Here's what I sometimes do when I feel stuck. Sometimes I choose something to do that I don't really want to do, and do it anyway. Enjoyment is certainly not guaranteed - it's about a 50/50 chance. But I've done something, I've conquered something, and now I can let that go. That fear/inertia only grows unless you take action. You don't have to want to do something, you just grit your teeth and do it anyway.

In the long term, you could set some goals, but in the short term, write a list of five little things that you think would be good for you, and then set about achieving them. Forget guilt, or despising yourself for not doing it. That's really irrelevant. If you don't do one on Monday, well, then on Tuesday, there's a perfect opportunity to try it out.

Sometimes I think life is about doing what you know needs to be done, even though you don't want to. It helps to not pay so much attention to how you feel. (I'm stealing this from Adrian Savage at Slow Leadership). How you feel is you feel. So you don't feel arsed? Me neither. What's that got to do with anything? I bet you don't feel arsed to go to work either, and yet you do.

By the way, motivation comes after action.
posted by b33j at 3:45 PM on March 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

You have too many velleities and can't focus. You have pick just one, and the easy one - the only one that's guaranteed to reward a little self-control - is to get fit. Work out every day for 60 days, without any concern for your other goals - don't even worry about your diet, it'll change naturally as your metabolism wakes up. Don't measure your progress in any way either, for at least those two months. Don't give up if you miss a day or two, but don't allow yourself any workout schedule more flexible or forgiving than "every day". After two months, you'll have the energy, focus, and will to pick and start on one or two more goals.
posted by nicwolff at 3:45 PM on March 12, 2008

Seriously, no one has emphasized the antidepressants enough. Maybe they get a bad rap, but they work really well for an awful lot of people. You can leave therapy in the mix if that helps, too, but there is no reason not to try of a well-proven, almost zero-side effect medication.
posted by Jane Austen at 4:04 PM on March 12, 2008


read this
posted by mrmarley at 4:36 PM on March 12, 2008

After reading your question, I was going to suggest switching to cognitive-behavioral therapy but PatoPata already did that. So I'll say I agree with that suggestion.

I have been doing that for about six months now after lots of what was mostly psychodynamic therapy for recurrent, severe depression. In my experience, it has focused on understanding that thoughts affect emotions affect behaviors, and that changing one of those can interrupt a downward spiral and hopefully change it into something more positive. I've also learned to identify distortions in my thinking, and to restructure thoughts that are more rational. There's a lot of "homework" and looking at your present life to see what isn't working and what is.

Sometimes going to the sessions still throws me off, because I'm so used to the kind of therapy where the relationship with the therapist is very important, and where it's all about emotions, emotions, emotions. I'm not someone who relishes talking about feelings and like PatoPata, the fact that CBT is analytical and rational has been something of a relief. Sometimes I still go in thinking I'm going to have to talk about feelings, feel all torn up in remembering bad experiences, etc., but then leave realizing I'm learning how to live a better life in the present and future rather than having to rehash the past. Sure, there is discussion of emotions, but I feel less weirded out by the therapist role in CBT - it's more like the therapist is a helper/guide as I learn to make changes that will result in the goals I set at the outset of therapy. In psychodynamic therapy I could never grasp how just talking about my feelings and crying every week was supposed to be helpful - I had a really close connection emotionally with one psychologist as a result, and it was healing, but then therapy ended and the rule is that I'll basically never have contact with that person again. That was hard to fathom. I am much more comfortable with so many aspects of CBT.

For me the downside is that sometimes it feels like the things I'm doing as therapy exercises are almost appallingly simplistic. I tend to intellectualize everything, and it can feel like I'm being talked down to (even though this is not the case). However, I've come to see that some of these "simplistic" things I'm learning to do are actually having a huge impact on my life. They're tools I will be able to use for years to come.

I have felt a lot like what you describe, but with no real history of abuse like what your description suggests. Sometimes during past therapy the empathy from the therapist felt good, but now I see that it also reinforced the feeling that I was going to experience depression (off and on) for the rest of my life and that I should face up to that fact. Now, that has actually been pushed to the background with making my life more like how I want it in the forefront. I might get depressed again someday, but that part of me is so much less a part of my identity. And even if I do have that experience again, I'll know the concrete things I can do to deal with it and move on.

I know you feel like you can barely move, but I do think that could change. I don't think it will be easy to get there, but I definitely think you can. It sounds like your current therapy isn't helping. I would strongly urge you to check into CBT and see if that helps. At any rate, it doesn't sound like it could do any worse than the therapy you're currently in. ;-)
posted by splendid animal at 9:27 PM on March 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Choices. I go to work because I made the choice to keep a roof overhead and to eat. And in the end, changing my situation boils down to making a choice. After all the talking to the therapist and reading these responses, in the end, it's still up to me to make choices and take responsibility for myself rather than wait for a parental substitute to make up for what I never got or a guru to hand me the answers. The more I've been facing the issues, the more internal resistance I've encountered to making changes. At least I know that now. I've hung on to feeling cheated, and at some point I'll make the choice to let that go. Hanging on has taken up much valuable energy.

I think my current therapist didn't stop me from going over my history because I'd never really talked about what I went through to anyone; at least it's no longer a horrible secret, so I appreciate having had that opportunity. Things will work out one way or another. I don't think I would've even asked a question here or gone to a therapist in the first place if on any level I felt there was no hope. I thank you all for taking the time to offer your advice and opinions.
posted by droplet at 10:07 AM on March 13, 2008

Airplanes are safer on the ground, but they are built for flying.

Humans are built for doing stuff too. If we just sit around we start feeling like shit. We collect dust, physically and mentally.

The problem really is this: nobody knows the point of it all. Even the most magnificent of accomplishments are just a waste of time if looked at through a large enough filter. What's the point? Nobody has a good answer mostly because there isn't an answer.

What we do know though is that us humans are designed to accomplish shit... doesn't matter what really. We have to play the game though, we have to keep from collecting dust.

In my estimation you sound like you are completely free to do whatever you want. Whats keeping you from going to a very tropical place and fighting dust collection where its much easier to do so? Be a bartender in paradise, why the fuck not?

People everywhere are living very shitty lives just because they lack the proper perspective. What I'm trying to say is: buy yourself a dust buster.
posted by pwally at 4:18 PM on March 13, 2008 [8 favorites]

I want to second nicwolff. As someone who has suffered from a lack of focus most of my life, I understand where you are coming from. I have suffered from the same lack of a will to DO anything, and suffered some significant effects from it (poor grades), but even those effects weren't enough to get me out from in front of my computer with its wonderfully addictive tv shows and movies.

What I finally figured out was that as human beings we NEED exercise. Our bodies weren't meant to sit idle for days at a time without some sort of movement. After I started climbing* I started to feel better almost immediately, Not only for general health purposes, but also because working out releases endorphins(sp?) which are the bodies natural anti-depressants (sex releases endorphins as well). I'm now a lot more focused on my job and schoolwork.

*I can't recommend climbing enough, especially for the analytical. Its very much a problem in motion that makes you think, gives you a good workout, and is very social by nature. I would have to say that climbing has changed my life quite a bit.
posted by spott at 4:34 PM on March 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I should probably address this issue of the whole point. The fact as far as I can tell is that there is no point. For one such as myself (an atheist), this is the life we are given and we are here for no other reason than the random chemical reactions that make up our world created you. But ultimately that doesn't really matter. To be very new agey, the point is whatever you want it to be. If that is to be happy, then thats the point, if its to make others happy, then try doing that. Life is what you make of it, and nothing more or less.

Just my two cents.
posted by spott at 4:39 PM on March 14, 2008

Maybe you have forgotten what it feels like to accomplish something, even something small.

*I can't recommend climbing enough, especially for the analytical.

This has been exactly my experience. I have suffered a lot from inertia and overthinking to the point of paralysis, but learning to climb has opened me up to the feeling of being able to make things happen for myself. Climbing allows me to think, but forces me to make conscious physical decisions based on what I want to happen. It's very immediate cognitive connection.

Anyhow, what I'm saying is maybe you need to find a way of accessing that feeling of accomplishment that motivates you to work towards a goal. I agree with CBT route, or maybe just finding a mentor-type friend to help you make a small list of things to do with a timetable attached, e.g This week - I'm gonna buy me a book on London (or take one yoga class or buy myself flowers or whatever) and read it/take it/enjoy it without guilt or pressure. Next week your friend/mentor can check in with you to see what you thought of the experience.

Baby steps are what get you walking...
posted by freya_lamb at 5:51 PM on March 14, 2008

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