Dear Dr. NerdLove,
I am at a point in my life that I know something is not right with me. The problem is I can NOT nail down what the underlying issue is. My guess is that I am going through a mid-life crisis; I am NOT really sure if it’s a mid-life crisis or not; but if I have to guess, I would say that. But the one thing I am sure about is that I feel mehhh / blah regularly. Other times, I feel like I am going each day robotically. What drives me crazy is that I don’t know the exact issue to combat this. These feelings or mental state I am in happens regularly when I am alone. And it doesn’t help that I think a lot as well.
I did a lot of research online but information from the internet regarding mid-life crisis wasn’t that much helpful and doesn’t provide information on how to manage / deal with it. I am hoping you can provide some guidance or know of organizations who I can reach out to for help on what I am feeling. I am sure I am not the only one feeling this way.
If it matters, I am in my early forties, have a good stable job, and have the basic necessity. I am normally a positive happy person but this state I have been in continues for over two years already. Some days it’s hard to get through than others. I am single and have friends / family but none seems to be going through what I am going through and they are busy with their life that I don’t want to take time away.
I am into self – help and any insight / help you can provide is greatly appreciated. I just want to be happy again and it’s hard when I can’t pinpoint what exactly is going on with me. I will be happy knowing what is going on with me; then at least I will work toward resolving it.
Wanting to be happy again,
Jack’s Sense of Ennui
There’s something uniquely frustrating when everything in your life is great… but you’re miserable and depressed anyway. There’s this sense that you don’t have the right to feel this low, not when things are actually pretty good. You’ve got a decent job, you’ve got friends, you’ve got your health… that nebulous feeling of “but I feel bad anyway” feels like you’re doing something wrong. Other people have reasons to be depressed, while you are just having a sad because fuck it why not?
Except that’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works. Your feeling depressed or down or just empty isn’t dependent on having some external reason for it, nor do you have to justify feeling this way by having something that you can point to and say “See? SEE?”
The tricky part is figuring out just what is wrong and — more importantly — what to do about it. This is where things become a matter of experimentation and trial and error. A lot of times, dealing with nebulous issues like this is as much about eliminating possibilities as it is pinpointing a specific diagnosis.
The first thing that I would suggest is examining your life and what you’re living for. One of the common malaises of the 21st century and end-stage capitalism is that we don’t live for anything. Our lives revolve around giving our time, our energy and our labor in order to make money for other people. We get bombarded with ads for drugs, supplements, diets, “life hacks” and other hokum that all promise to “give us that edge at work” or to make us even more productive as possible. We never see ads that say “take this and you’ll have the drive and creativity to pursue the dreams that you’ve put on hold”; we don’t hear about how if we eat this one superfood we’ll have the energy to reconnect with our passions and and find time to engage with the hobbies we love or how we can make more time for our friends, family and community. It’s all about how to maximize our time at work or find our “side hustle”, weaponizing that Protestant work-ethic against us.
So many of us wake up one day and realize that half of our lives have gone by in a blur, and we have nothing to show for it. We don’t have the things in our lives that make life meaningful or things that we work towards or strive for that are bigger than us. At the risk of quoting Fight Club: “We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives.”
Now this isn’t strictly true — we’ve got Nazis in the streets again, the planet’s on fucking fire and the world’s superpowers are in social upheaval — but it speaks to the lack that so many of us feel. This is no small part why the alt-right can seem so appealing; it promises an ideal to fight for, an enemy to struggle against and gives people a sense of purpose and community. But many people are waiting for something or someone to give them that purpose, when what they need to be doing is to go and seek it out themselves. So one possible answer for your dilemma may be to go out and find that goal that makes you feel alive. It may be as abstract as becoming an advocate for climate change or as concrete as volunteering for your local no-kill animal shelter. It may be as grand as joining the local campaign staff of your favorite presidential candidate or as simple as starting and maintaining a community garden. But it should be something that brings a sense of satisfaction into your life, something that lets you feel as though you’re part of something that’s doing good for your community and the world around you.
The next thing I would suggest is to start getting more in touch with your own mind. I’m a big proponent of learning how to get your mind under control, instead of letting it run wild. Mindfulness meditation, for example, is a great way to learn how to just turn down the volume on everything and find some much needed quiet and stillness. It’s a way of learning how to just say “shhhh” to your racing thoughts and moods and just let things be. The benefit of this is that not only does it let you have a moment of peace, but it helps you get more in tune with yourself. By practicing mindfulness, you’re better able to understand why you feel the way that you do. The more that you’re able to understand yourself, the more you’re able to take conscious control and make the changes that you need in order to find satisfaction again.
But while these are all good and necessary things and can help immensely, I would also suggest that you consider talking to a therapist or counselor. One of the common reasons why people — especially men — won’t seek out mental health care is that we don’t feel like whatever we’re experiencing is bad enough; we have to be in crisis before we’re willing to talk to someone… if then. The problem is that by then, the problem has become that much more complicated, that much harder to resolve than it would have been if they’d gone earlier. Going to a therapist doesn’t need to be about being in the middle of a crisis; sometimes it can be because the “check engine” light came on and you want to make sure that everything’s ok. And many times, the issue is something that a trained professional would recognize that you’d never catch on your own.,
If this has been going on consistently and persistently for two years, it could very well be that you’re dealing with depression and that can take more than just meditation and a community project to resolve. If that’s the case, then a therapist would be in as better position to help you find a treatment or therapy that can work for you. That might include some self-directed cognitive behavioral therapy, talking things through or even medication that can help take the edge off and let you get back to normal.
But none of that can happen until you drill down and find out what precisely the cause is.
So do yourself a favor, JSE; don’t limit yourself to any one of the things I suggested. Try all of them and see how it goes; they work best in conjunction with one another, rather than individually. These can help you get back to the place where you want to be and the person you want to be.
Good luck. And write back to let us know how you’re doing.
I’m a 22 year-old guy, and a senior in College, with a bit of an odd case of oneitis, which I’d like to ask for advice on, because it’s not quite a breakup situation, and it’s not quite unrequited love either…
So to make a long story short, I ended up infatuated with a junior at my college, and it seemed to be going well. We have a very similar vibe, outlooks on life, and many, but not all, interests in common. Exactly what I look for in a partner, really. It was kind of clear from the start that we were maybe a bit more than friends, even if we weren’t ever together. Last month, I thought to try making it a bit more official. She told me that she needed some time to think about it, and after a week, she told me she returned my feelings, but felt that due to the fact that she is about to study abroad and I’m about to graduate, she wanted to avoid the possibility of distance and a potential messy breakup down the line.
The thing is, I’m not really over this. I’m normally the type to get past rejection without too much trouble, but this feels different. I genuinely thought she could be “the one,” which is something I’d never quite thought before. All of this in mind, we come to another thing that makes me wonder…
And here’s the wrinkle in all of this: so, I don’t want to give away too much, but my College is in a small town that isn’t very far from two fairly major cities, and a large portion of alums end up moving to either of those cities after graduation. I almost certainly will, and based on what she’s said in the past, I’d guess that’s her path forward as well. My simultaneous hope/hangup here is the idea that in a year or two, she’ll be in a similar location to me again, and we can try to pick things back up then.
On top of all this, due to having almost all of our college friends in common, we still do see each other, and as far as I and anyone else can tell, still enjoy each other’s company. There’s still this “almost a couple” dynamic, even if it’s not going to progress past that at this point.
I guess what I’m asking is where I should go from here. Should I give up, and seek love in a more open-ended fashion? Or should I keep this in mind going forward, and give it another try as the opportunity presents itself?
Thanks for all you do,
-Another Angel Down
You’re making a couple common mistakes here, AAD. Your first mistake is the ideas that she’s “the one”. The problem with this is that there is no One. Or rather, we have many The Ones. Sometimes a person we think of as The One is The One for that specific time in our lives; once we progress beyond that time, then they’re just not the right person for who we are now. Other times they’re The One only because they’re right there. Meanwhile, there are many others who would also be The One, who are just as awesome and perfect for us… they just aren’t right in front of us at that moment.
The problem with the idea of someone being The One is that we then assume we need to be with them because nobody else could possibly be as right for us as they are. And that puts an absurd amount of pressure on everyone involved. It puts us in the position of having to move Heaven and Earth to make this work because otherwise we miss out on our One Chance For True Love (even when that’s demonstrably not true). But also dumps all of our expectations and feels on someone with no warning; now they’re finding themselves put up on a pedestal that they never asked to be on, turned from an individual into the representation of All That Is Good And Pure and Right. And that’s not fair to them. So now everyone is stumbling under the weight of all these expectations and feelings and we have raised the stakes to impossible levels, all but guaranteeing heartbreak and misery if it doesn’t all turn out exactly as we hope.
So it helps immensely to recognize that while she is indeed awesome, this isn’t the only window you have for love — either with her, or with anyone else.
Your other mistake is in thinking that this is an either/or proposition.
Now to be fair…
(To be faiiiiiiiiiiiiir)
… this is very common. We’re taught to think that that when we’re into someone, we have to focus on them and only them. If this relationship can’t work for whatever reason then we have to either wait patiently for things to line up until they can work or give up on them forever. If, for example, you decide to date casually until you graduate and she goes abroad, then that separation marks the hard end of your relationship. If you don’t decide to try to make a long-distance relationship work then the only thing to do is say your goodbyes and mourn the fact that this relationship is over. If you start to date someone else afterwards… well, then clearly your love for her wasn’t as real or true as you thought.
But the truth is, not every relationship needs to last until one of you dies in the saddle to be valid. There’s nothing wrong, for example, with a short-term relationship, even with someone who would be an amazing long-term partner for you. If you have your time together and go your separate ways and keep that sense of affection and respect for one another, look back at your time together with fondness and recognize how it’s all the sweeter for how brief it was… well, that’s a pretty successful relationship in my book.
Similarly, not every relationship needs to be acted on right now. If you aren’t able to make things work at this precise moment in time, then it may well work in the future. If she’s right for you now, then the odds are that she’ll still be right for you in a year to two years down the line when there are fewer obstacles in the way. So there’s no reason not to say “hey, if we can’t make it work now, let’s circle back around when you’re back in the country. If you’re still single and I’m still single, then we can give it a shot, what do you say?”
But if you decide to take this approach, then what you don’t want to do is avoid dating or committing to someone else. Holding yourself back in order to stay “true” or available for your crush down the line is a mistake. Not only do you have no guarantees that she’ll be single when she gets back, but you deprive yourself of the opportunities to meet and date women who would be just as right for you as she would be.
My advice is, see if you’re both interested in giving things a shot, knowing that it’s short term. Then, decide if you’re willing to check in later on and see if you’re both in a place where you’re willing and able to resume things. I think you’ll both find it more satisfying than wondering “what if…” down the line.