How do I get motivated despite feeling that everything is pointless?
July 11, 2008 4:11 PM   Subscribe

I haven't been interested in anything at all lately. I just feel low and I want to get motivated to do things again. How?

I've been depressed in the past, but I always function at a really high level at work (I guess that's where all my focus is). Outside of work, I'm like a hollow person. There's just this awful feeling that lives in my stomach, like I'm close to the verge of tears. It's also a feeling of general dullness squirming around in me.

I don't remember always feeling this way, even in the worst of my depression. I'm on anti-depressants and I thought I was doing okay, until I realized that the thing keeping me from going to the gym, going outside and actually doing anything was an overall lack of interest. I can't seem to get excited or feel good about anything. I don't really look forward to anything and can't think of anything to look forward to.

I want to be able to do stuff again, like go to the gym. I just can't seem to hang onto the motivation or set goals for myself like I used to. I feel like I'm choosing to do nothing so I can find something that inspires a feeling of excitement and I don't feel excited at all. Life seems incredibly and utterly boring/energy-zapping and pointless. Everything I think (briefly) I might want to do seems to take too much effort for very little in return. All I want to do is sleep or get lost in a book I've read a zillion times.

How do I feel better? I just changed meds after talking to my doc about this, so I'm hopeful. But I want to start getting into a mindset where stuff seems fun and exciting. Any tips or advice on how to stop generally dismissing stuff as completely pointless?
posted by onepapertiger to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
Classic case of relying entirely on meds to fix you, when they're really just a stopgap to stablize you. You should also be taking behavioural therapy seriously to get back on track with life.
posted by randomstriker at 4:23 PM on July 11, 2008

What if you started setting up one thing to do each day (besides work) that's pretty easy and fairly pleasant. Examples would be to go to a bookstore and buy a book, go to a park for 20 minutes of fresh air, even if that means just sitting on a bench, make a phone call to a friend and have a nice chat. Write down your one thing to accomplish each day, and make a big check next to it when you have done it.

This might seem simple, but it's tough when you are depressed. Making a goal of one do-able thing each day can make a big difference. Hopefully if you accomplish something little each day, and your meds kick in, you will feel like you are making some progress. Good luck.
posted by mmf at 4:24 PM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by rooftop secrets at 4:27 PM on July 11, 2008

I think a lot of people feel this way. I know I do quite a lot. I tend toward ennui, but I've found a few things that keep me from staying in this state 24/7.

One is signing up for things. A lot of things. And I always regret signing up for them just before they are about to start. I whine about how I don't really want to go and how I'd love to just take a nap or watch a rerun, but I have to because I paid for it/people are depending on me. And then I reluctantly go and...I have fun.

Cooking classes, helping at a community garden, dance classes...these things keep me from being in a real funk. Of course, you'll need more than that to keep up the trend, like CBT, but it definitely makes me feel better knowing I've done something in the past month.

I worked at a farm for a month and that really got me out of the funk and I realized that yeah, there might be something a little wrong with me, but really the thing that is wrong is modern life. Most of us do have boring lives and it takes a significant effort to ilk out effort many of us are too depressed to make.

Every day there I was able to wake up and feel great. I had so many reasons to get out there from the plants to the cows to my fellow workers. They all really depended on me and the work stimulated both my body and my mind. And it was rewarding seeing the spinach I grew sold at a store and eaten by people on delicious sandwiches.

When I got home it was back to the torpor, but at least I realized it wasn't completely my fault and I have a framework to make my life better (I'm starting my own garden).
posted by melissam at 4:37 PM on July 11, 2008 [5 favorites]

I don't know anything about meds and little about therapy. I'll just briefly say what I've said elsewhere here, and what has really helped me, which is: give yourself a break from trying to find things exciting. See that this is an extra demand you're placing on yourself at a time when being gentle towards yourself is probably more appropriate.

Decide to do something — to take a trip, go to a class, whatever. Feel the negativity. Don't try to squelch it. Be with it, accept it, but do the thing you'd decided to do anyway. Expect it to feel all wrong. Do it anyway, feeling all wrong. Don't judge yourself, or the activity, if the feelings of wrongness don't lift immediately, or even after a while. Don't wait to feel like doing things before you do them. I think all the talk in our culture about "motivation" can be really harmful.

Also, consider the words of the Japanese psychologist Shoma Morita:

"Give up on yourself. Begin taking action now, while being neurotic or imperfect, or a procrastinator or unhealthy or lazy or any other label by which you inaccurately describe yourself. Go ahead and be the best imperfect person you can be and get started on those things you want to accomplish before you die."
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 4:56 PM on July 11, 2008 [17 favorites]

You feel uninterested in doing anything, so you don't do anything. I get that.

But you need to convince yourself that if you don't do anything, nothing is going to happen. You won't get interested in anything unless you get a taste of it. You're in the habit of doing nothing, of not going to the gym, of not doing whatever with whomever, so you've forgotten what you enjoy. You've basically lost your taste for life.

At least, that's what I've experienced. The hardest part is to START doing things, because you have no interest in them. But you just have to make yourself do them, and in time, you'll start enjoying some of the flavors. You'll get interested in things again.

Meds can help jump start this process, but I agree that they aren't a good long term solution. (Other people may disagree.)
posted by iguanapolitico at 5:30 PM on July 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

You're still depressed. Not all anti-depressants work the same way. And not every depressed person needs the same thing tweaked. Unfortunately, docs can't yet pinpoint your specific need. If this med change doesn't do it for you, don't hesitate to research other drugs and recommend them to your doc.

From my own experimenting, SSRIs (like Paxil) are good for anxiety but little else. While the dopamine reuptake inhibitors (like Wellbutrin and Deprenyl) are wonderful for feeling interested, engaged, and excited. I feel bored and unfocused and generally stupid without my dopamine. And the side effects for the dopamine reuptake inhibitors are generally better than for the SSRIs.
posted by muzzlecough at 6:37 PM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I understand why people try to encourage positive thinking in a depressed person. For intermittent depression, positive thoughts are probably great. Unfortunately, for a person who's prone to depression, who struggles with it every day, those positive thoughts don't work nearly as well as stabilizing the brain with some meds. Once that happens, the positive thoughts can provide an additional boost.
posted by muzzlecough at 6:42 PM on July 11, 2008

Firstly, give the meds a chance. You said they just changed them and, as you know, these things take time. Weeks, sometimes. So wait.

Secondly, while you wait, what else is going on? Are you self-medicating in the meantime? If so, stop. Adding *any* mood altering substance to your brain is not going to make things better. It's just going to slow the process down. Just say no.

Last, and most importantly, forget what everyone else says. You feel like shit, your not motivated and you ain't gonna go to the gym. Not gonna happen. Then again, you could just do it -- just for now, while you wait for the meds to kick in.

I'm a big fan of acting "as if". If I run around like I care, if people see me doing that, next thing you know -- it's real. It doesn't matter so much what I think or feel. I'm busy, I got stuff to do. I'm depressed, I'm pissing and moaning the whole time, but shit gets done. If I do this long enough, it's me. After all, people judge us by our actions rather than our intentions, and eventually they start to match.
posted by cedar at 7:00 PM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think game warden has excellent advice. Commit yourself to doing something that under circumstance would be pleasant and then just do it and let it be what it is. Sort of like "fake it until you make it" but without the pressure.

Most people I know strongly recommend exercise. I found activities that require focused concentration were good for me. (I took a beginning art class - I had to show up and draw for 120 minutes twice a week plus do the homework.) It wasn't "fun" or "exciting" but it was satisfying, partly because it gave my mind a total break from the rest of my life (and my worries).

Also, is your doctor a psychiatrist? If he/she isn't, I wouldn't change anything right away but if things aren't better in 3 months, I would change to a board certified psychiatrist for your med management. Since it is their specialty, they can be expected to be really up to speed on the pharmacedical options.

Finally, therapy has been proven to make lasting changes in the brain function. It takes longer to work than meds but the results tend to be mosre long lasting (YMMV). The combination is usually a good idea for most people, particularly since depression seems to be a reoccuring problem. At least in California, therapist are rarely psychiatrists, usually psychologists, MFTs or LCSW. The title doesn't matter as much as whether they seem to work well with you. Do they seem to understand you? Do you trust them? After a few sessions, you should feel that things are starting to move or unblock even if they aren't "better" yet. It sometimes takes a few tries to find a therapist that you can really click with.
posted by metahawk at 7:08 PM on July 11, 2008

All the suffering and drama in your life is the result of what you have learned. The image you have of yourself is the result of years of projections upon you. You perceive all the distorted images others create for you, and at a certain point you take all these images and try to make sense of them. You create another whole image of yourself, and project it to the outside world. Unfortunately, this is the image others have created for you, not who you really are yourself.

Afters years of trying to please other people's images of what you should be, after trying to find who you really are, you finally give up and accept the image others have of you. But there is always the something inside of you that longs to be free of the images of others. I think you are struggling with that right now. It's telling you this isn't who I really am. This isn't what I really want. You're trapped by images of what you think you should be, while not being free to be who you really are.

Try to recall your earliest memories of what your parents and closest family members told you about yourself. Then consider what friends, teachers and others may have projected upon you as you were growing up and maturing. Think about whether the following images came out of fear or love.

What limitations were you told you have?
What did they tell you a girl should be like?
What qualities were you told you should have?
Describe your own image of perfection.
What would you have to change about yourself to live up to this image?
Does this image inspire you to do your best, or does it discourage you?
What is your image of perfection for other people?
What social masks or stigmas do you have around others?

Look through your answers and pick out which ones you think are actual truth, what you really want and believe about yourself, and which ones were images that were projected upon you by others. When you can begin to differentiate what you want and how you are from the garbage of the past that was put in your way, you will be well on your way to recovering your lost motivation.
posted by netbros at 8:15 PM on July 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

I think the really interesting question here is: why do you want to feel differently? Why, indeed, do you want to do anything differently? Why not just accept your feelings and behaviors as they are, including your sleeping a lot and reading old books?

I think your internal mental reply will be something along the lines of, "I want to be happier, and being active and interested in new and exciting ventures is the path to that." But then the question is: do you care about happiness? Do you really? Or are those just words echoing through your head - do you care about happiness because other people say that's what you should care about? And what constitutes happiness? When did you experience it, and why? Think back to those experiences and ask yourself if any of them is worthwhile, if you feel like any of them is compelling now as something to seek.

Maybe you'll find that you do want happiness after all. Or maybe you'll discover what you want is not happiness at all, but beauty or purpose or something else. Or maybe you'll simply accept that you don't want anything right now, and that's all right. And in any case you'll have a more concrete understanding of these concepts. Perhaps you can see both what was desirable in the past and the stuff you hated - stuff that may be making you reluctant to pursue activities now, maybe things you can problem-solve away.

But I think in this process you might have a chance of gravitating towards what it is you feel actually is worthwhile and moving towards it, or else accepting your current set of feelings affirmatively and living them without pain.

At least that's my current thinking :).
posted by shivohum at 12:01 AM on July 12, 2008 [4 favorites]

This could have been my question. What's working for me right now is to just find things to look forward to. Writing down 5 things I am thankful for every morning is also very, very helpful. It makes me realize I'm not as bad off as I think I am. I do have a lot to be thankful for.
posted by wv kay in ga at 12:03 AM on July 12, 2008

Get up in the morning, get straight out of bed and eat breakfast straightaway (no lounging!). Listen to one or two songs that get you pumped up and feeling inspired and then get out of the house and walk to your nearest library. When you are walking, don't think about your immediate problems, that never helps. Instead, fantasize! Imagine! When you get to the library browse the stacks for a 1 non-fiction and 1 fiction book that really jump out at you, for whatever reason. Read those for an hour each. Check out and go home to eat lunch. Make something that requires cooking (although it doesn't have to be complex), and for goodness sake, try something new! After lunch, make something. Write a journal, write a letter, draw a picture, type some code, paint a painting, do some yoga, give your girlfriend a massage, learn guitar, whatever. You don't have to stick to one thing, either. Now make supper! After supper, you can relax. Read some more, take a nice warm bath, socialize, whatever, the rest of the day is yours.

Also, don't think that being together with friends all the time is going to help your depression, because it won't. That's a mistake a lot of people make. Also, smash your tv (just download the shows you want), and don't spend so much time online (limit yourself).
posted by symbollocks at 7:36 AM on July 12, 2008 [5 favorites]

As you try to find your way out of this, it's imporant to become an actor. When you are overcome by such feelings, you simply act as if you weren't. You do all the things people who don't have your problem do. Go to the gym, dine out with friends, travel, read, whatever -- do all of this because the audience (the rest of the world) expects a good performance. Go through the motions.

Acting all day every day takes effort and you won't feel like you are being true to your feelings, but until you find your way out, it's your only viable path. The most costly part feeling the way you do is the wasted time. If it goes on for a few years and all you have done is sit on the couch, once you get better you will weep for all the time wasted and the shortness of your life. (Trust me on this.)
posted by dzot at 8:02 AM on July 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Been there, done that: I could have written your question pretty much word for word.

I spent *ages* trying to work this out - how do I get motivated to do stuff/ how do I get rid of this latent lack of desire? I know being like this is shitty, it makes me feel shitty and I know if I remain on this path I will continue to feel shitty. And I really thought, some part of me was completely convinced, that somehow devoting continued mental energy to the problem would surely eventually result in dividends.

However, I can attest that this technique fails not only in the sense that you do not get any results, but also in that you don't actually make any progress whatsoever. You go round in a vicious circle observing that you have no motivation, and then you wonder how you could possibly become motivated, despite having no motivation. How does one do this?

Well for me at least, the answer was stunningly easy and I'm quite perplexed as to why it took me so long to work it out - I started drinking caffeine. Suddenly all those things that I couldn't get off the sofa/ get out of bed to do, I wanted to do because caffeinated me wants to do anything as long as it's something. So all the things on my To Do list - done! And bonus points - I feel good about myself afterwards! Goddamn I wish I'd discovered this shit sooner - no wonder you can get it just about anywhere....
posted by forallmankind at 10:20 PM on July 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

forallmankind: you lucky bastards. Caffeine does nothing besides dehydrate me. I like having a cup of coffee at my desk because I enjoy constantly consuming, but I accomplish the same thing with non-caffeinated green tea.
posted by iguanapolitico at 4:34 AM on July 13, 2008

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