Going Through The Motions

Most days I can’t tell if I am dead or alive. My life has become nothing more than going through the daily motions. It wasn’t always this way. I try not to dwell on the past as it rarely serves any constructive purpose. I try to take my lessons and move on, but there are days when I look back on who I used to be, that confident young man full of potential, and pine for what has been lost.

To paint a complete picture and be fair to myself my teen years were not fantastic, and I would not wish to relive them. That said there are things I miss from my youth. At that age there was an almost daily thrill to being alive. The adrenaline rush of life was a regular occurrence. I have said in the past that the tell tale signs of depression were there even back then, and I was a sensitive serious kid, but I had yet to feel the deep dark lows that were to come, and I had the ability to feel the rush of life on a regular basis.

The rush I am talking about came from a lot of sources in those days. I was successful in academics, and treated school like a competition.  By my senior year of high school I had developed into a mostly straight A student, but those grades were mostly a function of me being good at school. Sure I was bright, but I had also figured out how to play the game that was school. This was a skill that I really capitalized on in college. When I am taken by the feeling flatness as an adult the rush I really yearn for is the one that came from athletics. Forgive me while I let me inner jock out for a moment. I was blessed to be from a small town and attend a small high school. This meant you didn’t have to be particularly talented to participate in varsity sports. I began swimming competitively when I was eight years old, and competed until I graduated from high school. We didn’t have any youth football programs, but when I got to high school I joined the team and despite being only 160 pounds I played all through high school including two years of varsity where I was co-captain my senior year. I am not trying to relive my “glory days” here. I have run across acquaintances from that time in my life that never left the area and still talk about nothing but the days they spent in pads. I have gone on to do many more things, but I do miss they rush that came from standing on that field. I was 160 pounds and a very slow runner which meant I couldn’t play on the outside with the other small kids. They were all way too fast. I played inside where all the big boys were. I was easily the smallest kid down in the “trenches”, and there was an intensity that came with those circumstances that I miss feeling. To physically overcome another guy who outweighed me by anywhere from 20 to 100 pounds to make a play was a rush that defies description. I felt strong, vital, and alive. Anybody reading this who has ever watched a football game has probably seen a player make a big play and break into spontaneous celebration. I didn’t have any stupid or offensive dance like you see in the pro game, but beating another guy in a contest of physical skill and making a big play in a football game takes a lot of energy and intensity, and when it all comes together and the whistle blows that energy needs an outlet which usually comes in the form of jumping, yelling, fist pumping, and helmet slapping. Imagine having such a rush of positive energy that it actual needs a physical outlet. It was a thrill to play down in the mud with guys so much bigger than me and be successful.

I got the same charge from swimming. The contest was not one of trying to overcome or control another physically, but putting forward your maximum output of energy over a race had a similar effect. The nice thing about swimming was that it was often as much about beating the clock as it was the guy next to you. You didn’t need to win the race to get the thrill. There were times when I started a race knowing full well the guy next to me was faster and was probably going to win, but chasing him could lead to a personal best in an event which was a rush in itself. Swimming was the only place I ever saw the loser of a contest celebrate. Hours, days, and weeks, of practice would culminate in seconds of racing and seeing that effort and dedication show up on the clock was exciting.

My junior year of high school I discovered another source of life. I have often repeated that we had no money growing up. I didn’t really know what a family vacation was. I had never traveled. When I was 16 a small group was selected from a pool of applicants to spend a month in Ecuador on a community service trip. I was one of ten picked to go, and spent the better part of a month living with host families and traveling about the country. We were with a group, but lived alone with our host families. I heard and saw things over the course of that month that a small town kid from the north could barely wrap my brain around. We weren’t on vacation we were immersed in the culture and it was an amazing experience. When I came home I was all fucked up. I had seen too much poverty, too many dirty hungry kids, and my perspective was clouded. I eventually got my shit put back together, but the wanderlust seed was planted. A couple years later I was sailing to the Caribbean where I would again be living in the island communities as opposed to behind the walls of a resort. I was pretty well grounded all through college, but a couple years out of school I had the chance to move a sailboat from Fiji to Australia by way of Vanuatu, and was again able to breathe in the life of new cultures. Other than a business trip to Europe that was the last time I had any significant travel and it was nearly ten years ago.

There has been nothing in my adult life to replace any of the above. I am sure many people get their rush from success in their work, and others have interests or hobbies that keep that spark going. Some may get a sense of purpose from raising their families. I am in a job with no future, circumstances have taken the hobbies I had and most of my passion for pursuing them. I love my wife and my child, but I don’t find personal serenity in either. I am no longer strong, and I don’t feel vital or alive. I mostly feel angry, tired, and short tempered. The routine of daily life is a long way from exploring new cultures where a fresh experience is waiting at every turn. Adult life is about monotonous repetition, and it is snuffing out any spark that may be hiding somewhere in my soul.

I am tired of just going numbly through the motions of life. I am tired of missing out on the experience of living. On paper it seems easy to recognize this and plot a new course towards a better place, but there is nothing easy about the real world. It’s like solving the world’s problems in a classroom or at the water cooler. Things are easier said than done, and are often simpler in theory than in reality. Every decision has its consequences and the grass is not always greener. A drastic change in the direction of my life would likely lead to unacceptable personal consequences so I am left with finding acceptance in my heart for my life as it is or with minimal changes. Changing my perspective on my current circumstances to find some peace for my soul is the goal, but the path is not clear. Sometimes I think peace in the Middle East is more likely than peace for me, but that defeatist attitude is not productive either.

Through this blog I hoped to skip another expensive trip through therapy and a return to the world of SSRI’s. The thing is I know what the first thing a new shrink is going to say. Get more exercise and better rest. They all say the same damn thing, but here is the truth; I have tried exercise, and as an adult with no competition to train for I have a hard time staying interested and it becomes just one more chore. It is just another piece of the monotony.  I have given it an honest try a few times.  I am not saying I couldn’t use a little more activity, I can see that in the mirror, but I have never felt and great lifting of my mood from sweating at the gym. Regarding rest it doesn’t seem to matter how much I sleep I am always tired…  hello depression we have met before.

So I suppose I am at a cross roads of sorts as I have been since this blog got started. Something needs to give I know that for certain. When and in what direction remains the question.

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11 thoughts on “Going Through The Motions

  1. Hi, Im sadened by your blog, and I am so sorry that you have found yourself in this harrowing arena that toys with all of you.

    I would like to ask you a favour, I realise that you do not know me and you have no reason to do what I ask.

    This is what I would like you to do, research and find a good source of tryptophan. supplement your diet with this amino acid for 6 weeks 3 times a day and see if you begin to feel better.

    If you cannot find a good source of naturally made tryptophan please send me a message and I will do what I can to find a supplier for you.

    I struggled with depression to. something as simple as adding a good source of protein to my diet changed my whole out look.

    I wish you the best of luck and I hope you begin to feel better.

  2. Funny. I’m a former competitive swimmer, too. Hardcore. Destroyed my shoulders. They dislocate spontaneously now. Great party trick. All that height had to be used for something, right? And, my first trip outside the US was South America, too. I was cleaning up orphanages and distributing food to people living outside dumps. Then, Europe and Russia when I was 16. Major wanderlust. I totally get it. Desiring to feel purposeful and alive and wondering how you landed “here” wherever “here” is. I never knew that I wouldn’t return to Europe when I left France. I assumed I’d be back within the year. That was 16 years ago. I travelled internationally for the first time again this year.

    I know that I can be the “fixer” and the obnoxious “advice giver”, and you clearly don’t want that. You’ve made that pretty clear. But, you’ve also put all this out there on your blog. I suppose my most basic question is: why do you feel so incredibly disempowered? You recognize that you have choices, but you discount them right away as if they have no merit.

    I get you. I, too, can look back on my former years and pine for that feeling of exhilarated purpose. I loved college. I didn’t swim in college, but I kicked ass nonetheless. Now, I have four kids one of whom has autism. My life, in many ways, feels like it belongs to everyone else but me. And, I live in a state of pain. I have migraines almost constantly. I’m on ridiculous meds all the time that are supposed to prevent them, but they only work partially. And, I was given a Fibromyalgia diagnosis a few years ago which I don’t like. It’s a weird diagnosis, but my neuro says that’s what I have. Basically, I didn’t sleep for 4 years because my autistic daughter didn’t sleep for 4 years. 4 years of no sleep does weird things to a body. So, I have weird body pain all the time, and it’s really bad this time of year. I exercise, stretch, do what all the PTs and docs tell me to do….it doesn’t matter. Constant migraines, enormous fatigue, bone pain, brain fog coupled with a permanent neck injury from a car accident (drunk driver)…there are days it’s hard to get out of bed much less accomplish anything. Pile all the drugs on top of that?! I’m a f*cking zombie. Purpose? My purpose is to find pain relief. I’m not trumping you. What I’m saying is that I know what it feels to find yourself in a situation where you feel helpless and disempowered. But, I have choices. I may not like them, but I have them. That’s the mindf*ck about situations like these.

    I’ll say this and then stop because I’m going to sound like I’m moralizing. I’m not trying to sound like that so I apologize if I do, C. When we are young, our purpose/mission is handed to us. Our purpose is to learn, grow, establish ourselves. That really is everyone’s purpose as they approach adulthood. Once we are adults, we have to create purpose. It’s no longer given to us. We can always create purpose. It doesn’t require money. Hobbies don’t necessarily give us purpose. I know people with pointless hobbies. Depression does not need to rob you of your ability to create purpose in your life nor does a job you don’t like or complicated family dynamics. I’m there, too. In a way, everyone is there. And, I say this with compassion and great empathy although you can’t see my face, my eyes, or hear my voice.

    • The commonalities in our lives are really becoming remarkable. You blew up your shoulders swimming before you even got to college? Damn. Did you have a coach that was focused on distance? Our coach trained us all as sprinters. The kids that were good at distance came by it naturally. I knew a couple girls who swam in college and were doing ridiculous sets of 200 fly on short intervals and other similarly insane stuff and the first thing that happened is the all developed shoulders that looked like they belonged on men, and then they blew their shoulders up. It was too bad I always looked at swimming as a low impact sport really despite the two a day practices, but I guess anything can be bad in excess.

      I want to address a couple things to the point of your comment. I am not sure how I made it clear that I wasn’t looking for suggestions. I always find your comments insightful, and look forward to your thoughtfulness. I actually check back on my posts on a regular basis to see if you specifically had anything to say about them, so please don’t feel as if I place no value on your opinion. The opposite is true.

      I feel disempowered because I believe that I am. I have come to a point in my life where I don’t feel I have any say in my own direction. That may be overstating the actual circumstances. I am aware that when we are in the darkness it is hard to see any light, but it has at best become extremely difficult to change anything. I am not happy, and I don’t believe my wife is either. I don’t think it is that we are not happy with each other as we are both disappointed by our circumstances, and we both wish for change. Any consensus on what that will be is difficult. You mention the mind fuck of having choices we don’t like. I have said often that my life has become a series of distasteful choices where there is never a right answer and any choice will bring pain, uncertainty, and loss. It may be that I am just tired of dealing with those choices and I am not yet ready to face them again. In the meantime life goes on. I don’t go through the day feeling oppressed by sadness. I have been in worse places than I am today, but I am melancholy for sure, dangerously introspective as well. Where it will lead I don’t know.

      I am not sure if I am looking for purpose necessarily. I hear what you are saying about having to find our own purpose as adults. I have never really thought about in those terms but I agree. Like you describe your purpose as being pain free I think much of my own is to simply find peace for my soul… happiness. I don’t have to save the world, I would settle for saving myself, and raising a happy successful kid. Mostly what I was talking about was the joy that comes from living. In this post I described a feeling I experienced as an athlete of having so much positive energy in your veins that it actually needs a physical outlet. I cant remember the last time I felt anything close to that.

      With regard to the physical pain you mention I have been tossing around the idea of putting together some thoughts on the physical symptoms I have experienced over the years. I have talked about feeling sick to my stomach, but there is much more to it for sure. It sounds as if much of the pain you experience has a definitive source, or at least they think it does, but I am sure you know what I am talking about as well.

      • I know what you are talking about. I am naturally melancholy and dangerously introspective as well. I pick up on the suffering of others very easily, internalize it, and suffer more. I got a call yesterday from a friend–a family friend lost a brother in a skiing accident. 2 weeks later that same friend lost her mother by massive MI–very sudden. She called to ask me to pray for the family. I was so taken aback by such a tragic loss. A woman who lost a mother and a brother within two weeks. But, even more, a man who has lost a son and a wife. Downward spiral. I started folding laundry, trying to pray for their peace, and then I just cried. Then, there’s just pain. Because I already feel melancholy most of the time, and my threshold for emotional pain is lowered by my physical pain, I’m easily “tipped”. So, yes, I understand what it is to be ruled by a depressive disposition. But, this is why I’ve tried to broach the subject of strong boundaries. My mother and father raised me to only care about them–their needs to the detriment of my own. There comes a time when everyone must say, “No.” The consequences are painful, yes. Relationships suffer, but the relationships are already bad to begin with. What one finds is that much of what we live with is the illusion of peace. We say “Peace”, but only to preserve a false peace. “Don’t make waves.” “Just leave it.” “Don’t make your father angry.” or, my personal favorite “There wasn’t a problem until you pointed it out. I think YOU are the problem.” In reality, we are surrounded by relational mayhem of one kind or another, and as soon as we stop participating, everything falls apart. BUT, it needed to fall apart. Everyone needed to stand on their own, take ownership of their own stuff, and we very sensitive types finally gain a measure of perspective. Happiness is possible even for the melancholy. But, for years, my purpose was simply “to know the truth” about everything in my life. And, then it was “to stop saying peace when there was no peace.” That meant no more compensating for others. My mother, my father, my husband…To learn to flourish exactly where I was–trapped in a house with four kids, one of whom had autism, with a broken body, and no resources. And, I learned to do it. It’s possible. This is just my own experience.

        As for the shoulders. Yes…I was trained by a former Olympian (technically, I think he was an alternate) starting at age 13. My stroke was backstroke. By the time I was 15, it was 2 a days, yes. 5 AM to 9 AM, and then 3 PM to 6 PM. There were “high hopes” for me so the training was brutal. I wasn’t trained as a sprinter really although I was in backstroke. I was a very good long distance swimmer. We did more training, it seems, than actual swimming. 500 push-ups. I thought I would die….I have multidirectional joints, and the trainers just didn’t properly strengthen the muscles around my shoulder joints. My joints are a bit too small–shoulders and knees, and I have these longs limbs. So, POOF! They dislocate now. Even when I’m sitting on the couch. I don’t even feel them come out, but, boy, putting them back in is a bitch! I don’t have that killer competitive nature so I would get so sick before a race. I hated racing. I loved swimming though–the meditative sound of the water and your own breath. Your mind goes silent.

        Have you thought of doing it again? I can’t anymore, but exercise actually does help if you can find something that you like. You’ll get the jones for it. One last thing…after the 3 years of intense psychotherapy, I followed it up with life coaching. You set goals with life coaching, and my goal? I wanted to be happy because I never had been. So, I had to define “happiness”. I couldn’t even define it. At that time, I decided that happiness must mean “having options.” I wanted to have options. Then, it became about looking for the options in my life. That first week–that was the exercise. It didn’t matter how bad the options were. I just had to begin to learn to find them. What I found is that I had more choices/options that I realized. I didn’t like many of them, but then we discussed that later. The point of the exercise is to begin to define “happy” and then flesh that out, and then to begin to look for it.

      • Seven hours of training a day is a bit over the top. We only did about an hour fifteen in the morning. School started at 7:50 and with travel time from home to the pool to school that was about all there was time for. We did a couple hours in the afternoon, but it was all swimming. We are a little behind the curve on strength training up here. The only out of the water stuff we did was core strengthening. Our coach was big on added drag. He had some of the mothers sew pockets into old speedos that we could pull on over our own suits. We dragged buckets behind us and swam with sneakers on. It was the Rocky IV of the swimming world really, but he could make even mediocre athletes like me fast. I spent some time in the pool last winter, there is never time in the summer to busy working, and hope to get in this winter as well, but I just had cortisone shots in my right shoulder. Apparently you can get tendonitis from sleeping wrong. Who knew.

        Its funny you would define happiness has having opportunity. I have consciously tried to keep doors open my entire life.I remember being worried about losing options when I was a senior in high school. Rather than really committing to a direction I have run around trying to keep my options open. That’s interesting. I am not sure I have ever identified that about myself before in this context. Hmph

      • OUCH! I’m terrified of cortisone shots. Yes, you can do all sorts of things to yourself by sleeping wrong. I hope it works itself out, and you can get yourself in the pool. Fantastic exercise. Very meditative and peaceful.

        So, I cited this dude before, but I read this today in an article about his latest book: Dr. Martin Seligman has written Flourish (Free Press, 2011). His book and psychology approach “is about a more broadly defined ‘well-being theory’ and aimes to ‘increase flourishing’ by helping us have deeper, more engaged, and more meaningful experiences, more of the time. Seligman uses the acronym PERMA to describe its key points: 1) Positive emotion 2) Engagement 3) Relationships 4) Meaning 5) Accomplishment. Flourishing, therefore, involves learning to cultivate as much PERMA as possible..Well-being theory proposes that you don’t need a sunny disposition to flourish. It’s all about having the right strategies.”

        So, here the idea of strategy, intentionality, and developing goals exists. A person may look at that–PERMA–and say, I have none of those, But, s/he may be able to draw up a plan that could help them move in a direction that would help them achieve that. A depressive, melancholy person could flourish very well. They could learn to engage in their life, develop some key meaningful relationships, set some goals to accomplish, all of which would lead to more positive emotions. Of course, this is all a part of a process which would ebb and flow over years, but it’s possible. Well-being is probably a better definition for happiness. That’s probably my newer definition now. But, not having options doesn’t really contribute to one’s sense of well-being, does it? If I lack options, then I become anxious. Learned helplessness, as I’ve come to know it, doesn’t lay a foundation for any kind of well-being. So, I’ve probably said enough on your blog, huh? I think I’ll read this book. It would make a great Mental Health book club selection. Be great for discussion…..

  3. This might sound completely asinine, but have you tried intramural sports? Joining a recreational adult league?

    Reading over your post and the comments here, I’m starting to feel incredibly lucky. The one thing that does give me passion is my writing. I don’t always do it because my self-confidence level is low, but when I can motivate myself to do it, it’s the only thing that feels “right” in my life. In my previous life as an aspiring academic, I had no time for that sort of writing. I sometimes wonder if my breakdown that derailed me from that path wasn’t somehow for the best.

    But then I think of my failure and where I am now, and I’m not so sure. I was never athletic, but all my life I was focused on good grades. And when I couldn’t do that anymore, I felt like I had nothing because that’s all I was ever good at. Sure, I have a passion for writing stories, but am I good at it? Does that passion even matter in the grand scheme of things?

    Sorry, this is more about me than you. I wish I could say something brilliantly helpful, but it seems I can’t. Perhaps you could try out hobbies you’ve never attempted before and see if something catches on?

    • Nothing asinine about the suggestion. I live it the middle of no where and those types of of options are very very limited. It is something I have looked into, and the time commitment due to the distance doesn’t really jive with the other demands on my time. Dont worry about the “more about me than you” this is about self discovery and I often discover more in the comments than the original writing.

  4. FracturedAngel makes a very good and valid point. She finds passion in her writing; when she does that, there is a feeling of “rightness” (are you a she? Did I make a wrong assumption? I’m sorry if I did.) I learned a painful thing in the middle of “therapy”, and I”m learning it again. The loss that I felt in the midst of profound rejection blinded me to certain resources I had in my present life. That truth came out in a therapy session–I was accusing a person (to my therapist) of missing out on certain things in life because of their blindness. Suddenly, my therapist turned it around on me. He said I was doing the same thing. I felt sucker punched not only because I was being compared to that person, but also because he was right. Grief, profound rejection, and loss had a blinding effect on me–I could only see my pain and what I did not have. I was completely blind to what I did have. What followed, of course, was painful homework. I had to go home and begin to learn to look beyond the loss and the grief and find the resources that I actually did possess. In this case, because of my pain, I was believing a lie. I believed that I was trapped, alone, and without help, but I was not. You have said that you believe that you are disempowered. What if you are not? I’m not issuing a challenge. It’s only a question. That question was once asked of me, and I was grateful. There can be “rightness” in the middle of “wrongness”. There can be an oasis in the desert. Passion can rise up in the midst of ennui and melancholy. What if…?

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