By Esther Mann, LCSW
I suppose you could say that I have a good life. My children are older and doing well. My husband is a good guy who is all-around nice and lets me do whatever I want. I don’t work, and I have the luxury of planning my day according to my whim. I exercise, meet friends for lunch, shop, keep an orderly home, entertain, and try to be responsible in all ways. Occasionally I’ll babysit for my grandchildren, but not on a regular basis. I think I’m well liked and feel comfortable in the community. All in all, there is little that I can complain about.
So I’m trying to figure out why I’m feeling so bored these days and—if I’m being totally honest with myself—even unhappy. I feel guilty because I have so much to be grateful for, but nothing excites me anymore. My days seem to blend into each other, and though I have things on my calendar that I should be looking forward to, I rarely find myself caring much about it one way or another.
My husband recently said, “You don’t seem to be as perky lately as you used to be. What’s wrong?” I was a little shocked that it was so noticeable, and didn’t have an answer for him. We really do have it good. I know that so many people are struggling, and intellectually I know that I should be on cloud nine. And yet . . .
I look at things that used to make me happy. Broadway shows were always a big treat in my life. Now that I don’t have to worry about being home for my children and money isn’t a terrible concern, I know I could go as often as I like, but I’m realizing that I don’t even feel the desire. It’s just not exciting.
At one point, eating out was a real treat for me. And now I say to myself that there’s nothing wrong with my own home-cooked food and it probably tastes better anyway, so why bother? The thrill is totally gone.
I can’t remember when I last looked forward to anything. And once the activity takes place, I can’t exactly say that I got much out of it.
The same can be said for traveling, certain holidays that I used to enjoy, even most simchot. To put it another way, I look back on my life and feel that I used to live in Technicolor and now I live my life in black and white.
I’m starting to wonder whether there is something really wrong with me—mentally, that is. Should I be seeing a psychiatrist or a psychologist? Could it be related to my age—late fifties? Do people start slowing down emotionally and not feel the same verve they felt when they were younger? Perhaps I’ve started the part of the lifecycle that isn’t meant to be all that exciting anymore and I should just accept it and go with the flow. Maybe the “wow” days are over and from here on out it’s just a matter of coasting.
Am I alone with these thoughts? Or is it typical among people my age?
It would be irresponsible for me to ignore the possibility of something clinical going on with you. One of the signs of depression is a lack of excitement over anything, even those things that formerly provided great joy in one’s life. This total lack of interest and satisfaction can sometimes speak to a serious problem that requires medical intervention.
I should also consider the question whether something specific is going on in your life right now that you may not be taking too seriously but that may, in fact, be creating this shift in your overall attitude. Sometimes a change in one’s life can throw one off-kilter. For instance, have you recently married off your last child? Have you left a job that you may have come to resent, but which was a stabilizing force in your life for many years? Has someone you are close to recently been diagnosed with a serious illness or even passed away? You should ask yourself whether there is some sea change in your life that preceded the change of heart you describe.
Assuming neither of the two aforementioned possibilities apply to you, let’s go a little deeper. It sounds as though you spent many years of your life pursuing certain dreams. The standard to-do list that most young women create or at least have a general mental notion about has been achieved. Marriage, check; having children, check; raising children, check; establishing a comfortable lifestyle, check. The list can be longer or shorter depending on an individual’s goals, but you get the general idea. It looks like you’ve been successful in achieving your ambitions, which is great. The only problem is that now you are left with a void in your life—little opportunity for creativity, challenges, goals.
Humans are meant to feel inspired, to grow, to accomplish, to effect change in their own lives and the lives of others, in order to remain relevant and continue to be purposeful. In the best case, we continue throughout life to be curious and anxious to try new things and make the world a better place. For some people, this involves major contributions, sometimes even operating on a global platform. For others, the contributions may seem small—checking in with an elderly neighbor or bringing a dinner over to a friend who is feeling under the weather—though for the recipients they usually feel large indeed. Such acts can make all the difference in the quality of one’s otherwise dreary day. The key is making a difference.
It sounds like it’s time for you to turn the page on the narrative of your life. The activities that at one point may have felt exciting, because they were perks in an otherwise busy and giving life, no longer pack a punch. Way back when, the occasional dinner out must have felt like a real treat, since you probably were busy preparing and serving your family day in, day out, for many years. At this stage of your life, you don’t really need those perks anymore, since you’ve moved on from a life of serving to a life of self-indulgence, wherein you are able to do whatever you want, whenever you want.
On the surface, it sounds great. I’m sure plenty of women reading this article right now are struggling, day by day, and they probably think it sounds spectacular. But when one considers human nature, it’s really not all that grand. It’s hard to appreciate and get excited over anything that is too readily available, too easy. It’s often the hunt—the saving up for, the anticipation, the feeling of something being a treat—that drives our adrenaline and keeps us feeling hyped up and excited about life.
My advice to you is to figure out ways in which you can still feel excited about life, intrigued over your own personal evolution, and fired up over meaningful ways in which you can make a difference in the world. Stay curious and keep it moving, whether that means going back to school (I don’t think we’re ever too old for that), taking an art class, learning how to play bridge, signing up at a soup kitchen, making some new friends, or even all of the above. You’re way too young to settle for business as usual. G‑d willing, you have a lot of life ahead of you to enjoy, explore, and find purpose in.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Lawrence. Esther works with individuals and couples. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.