Aging and needing to live a "full life" is terrifying me


#1

I’m at my aging mother’s, and freaking out.

I’m in my mid-40s. Over the past few years, I have developed an intense anxiety and fear of aging and dying. Primarily that I will not have lived life fully, used my time well, etc. Of the fear that comes with not having much time left, not knowing when illness will come, things like that.

I am also, frankly, a boring person. I don’t have a lot of interests or passions (I’ve done another thread on my depression and anxiety). I play some games. I try to get lunch with friends from time to time. I watch TV and movies.

I look to articles and such for advice on how to reduce the fear of aging and dying. And it feels like everything says the same thing - make sure that you are living life to the fullest. That you are not wasting time. That you are filling your days with wonder and joy.

Well, that then leads me to an even more intense anxiety, because I’m not doing that by objective standards. With the problem being that it is very hard for me to do that. I don’t have an energy or passion for things. It feels like “work” for me to go do things. I don’t have craft projects that I want to do. I don’t have trips that I want to take.

But because of that, the advice becomes a recrimination. I fear that I am doing nothing, and that I am wasting my life. That then increases, rather than decreases, my anxiety. It’s like the advice that is supposed to provide a cure makes me more guilty and anxious. Because I’m not living a “full life,” but at the same time, I do not know how I am supposed to go about that. Do I go do things I am supposed to do in order to live a full life, when I have no genuine passion or interest in them? If I don’t, how do I avoid the fear that I am aging and wasting my years by essentially sitting around consuming TV, movies, and games?

I literally feel this day by day - like I feel time clicking by, not knowing what to do or how to not feel this fear that I am not using my time the right way.

This may seem an odd comparison, but that scene in Saving Private Ryan where Tom Hanks tells Matt Damon “Earn This,” (the implication that Damon needs to live a full life to earn the sacrifice) terrifies me. We could always be doing something more “worthy” with our time. How do I not question whether I will look back with regret, or feel that I wasted my life? How do I watch TV without feeling guilty? But then how do I force myself to do something else that I don’t feel like doing in the moment? How do I even pick something “fulfilling,” when there is nothing I have a passion for or want to do.

Do any of you feel these things? How do you cope with them, and stop or diminish the pain?

(I have been to therapists, etc., as well as tried their suggested drugs, and have not found it particularly helpful. Just saying that because I know therapy/drugs is always the immediate response, and just want to get that out of the way.)


#2

All right sure, I’ll play armchair therapist. To start with, let’s set aside any issues of actual depression or other disorders that may be holding you down because I can’t tell you anything that people with actual licenses and educations won’t tell you better.

But I will say this - are there things in life that give you joy? Like, anything- eating the occasional plate of ribs, pouring hot wax on things and then peeling it off when it cools, making red sugar water for hummingbirds to drink? How about you try to make your own list? And once you do, can you make time to fit in more of those things into your life?

If that sounds like an oversimplification of a complex problem, well, I guess it is. But what I’m getting at is that all these books and such can’t tell you what will make you happy. Only you can. So hearing all these abstract concepts about living life to the fullest mean very little to you, because they are abstract concepts! Also, nobody really lives their life to the fullest, not really. Not if you have a job and a family and a mortgage or any other number of responsibilities. You just have to try to fit in some “me time” now and then so you don’t go completely batshit


#3

I think a lot of us can identify. One thing that is less about you directly is giving money to things that need it. Some people find that a) gives a bit of perspective and b) can be a bit of self-worth injection. Maybe that’s an option?

Then there’s that U-shaped happiness curve. They say it all picks up from here :)


#4

A long story probably only partially relevant to your post and very self centred but here goes anyway.

I have been feeling the same for the last year or so. I started thinking back a lot about opportunities I had in the past to live a fuller life which I missed due to being lazy, having low confidence or just being plain dumb and it made me sad to no end. I also find when I do meet with people that I don’t have much to say because I’m not doing anything interesting that I can share.

It doesn’t help that I left my home country some years ago, leaving family and friends behind and I haven’t been able to to rebuild a similar network here. The result being I feel rather lonely. I have my wife and kids but I need more.

One thing I realised is that I urgently need to get my ass out of the house. I don’t know if that’s your thing or not but I am usually reluctant to go out and do things (again being lazy I guess), but whenever I do I enjoy it tremendously and it recharges me. I tried cycling but its not really my thing plus I prefer cycling off road and there’s not enough places to do it close by. I tried martial arts which I used to do when I was younger, but it just made me physically feel bad (I think I overdid it), and it really didn’t do it for me.

I am now trying to go back to another hobby from 17 years ago - kayaking. There’s a paddling centre not too far away from where I live and I’ve been thinking about going there for a long time. I kept putting it off with excuses such as its not a good time, maybe wait until we have more money and most recently - I’ll start in the summer. So three weeks ago I decided I’ll never actually do it, so I called and enrolled in one of their courses.

I’ve been there a few times now and had a great time. Met some nice people too. I don’t know if anything will come out of it in the long run, but for now it gives me something to look forward to, and I’m interested in learning about it so I’m happier I think.

So again not sure if this is what you wanted to read. I’m guessing others here who are the same age feel similar feelings and maybe will share.


#5

I had posted this as a response to divedivedive (and a couple of other posts popped up in the middle that I will come back to when I free up): that makes sense, but how do you differentiate if your activities are valid or just wasting time? I think of people who played World of Warcraft excessively, only to later regret it. They did not know at the time that they were “wasting their life.”

Maybe another way of saying it is that I do not want to live life “chasing” fulfilling activities that I am doing for the sake of it, not because I have actual passion for them. But at the same time, I do not want to look back and feel like I wasted my life because I was not doing meaningful things.


#6

You’ll pardon me if my reply seems glib but, does it really matter? I mean sure, from the point of view of what it accomplishes, sure it does. But what about how the activity makes you feel? Look, I love video games. Maybe too much, because I certainly recognize that time spent gaming is ultimately non-productive. And yet it does give me joy and, I believe, improves my general attitude and outlook, and maybe even makes me more productive in my day to day life. Or maybe that’s just a bullshit excuse I employ to justify my wasted time. But I’ll tell you truthfully, I don’t really care. I spend my time at work, my time with my wife and kids and I think I have the right to spend a little time to myself as I please.

Now I predicate all that on the assumption that these activities don’t control your life. I can’t sit around all day playing Halo or I’d get fired, divorced, blah blah blah. Yeah of course, that’s common sense, but having the spare time now and then to goof off, do what you want and not really worry too much if it’s worthwhile or not can be therapeutic. Maybe do some volunteering or work ina soup kitchen now and then to offset if you feel the need. I used to volunteer at my local aquarium, introducing kids to all the awesome sea life in my local area. I had to stop when I had kids, no more time for that, but I’d like to go back to it sometime.

Here, Dale Cooper has a much better way of putting it than I do:


#7

I get where you’re coming from, totally.

Logically speaking, there is one and only one viewpoint that matters in judging how you live, and that is your own. So this is a circular problem - you are telling yourself you’re not living properly. There’s different standards and expectations - societal, family, peers. Maybe there’s something those hippies got right and sometimes you gotta let yourself say “fuck it” and judge you for yourself. You have to tell yourself you’re a good person and you do good things.

I suspect self-absorbed narcissists don’t have this problem. Well, they care, but they seem to care more about the perception than any inward reality. Maybe have to copy some of their behavior to make yourself feel better.

edit: I like to fix things. Fixing things successfully makes me happy. It doesn’t matter if it’s for other people or myself. It can even be as simple as discovering aluminum foil will remove rust from steel. I dunno. Things you can touch seem to be better than stupid numbers on a spreadsheet.


#8

This review of the Culture novels seems somewhat connected: http://sciphijournal.org/why-the-culture-wins-an-appreciation-of-iain-m-banks/

I think this is a quote from the books (my bold):

The only desire the Culture could not satisfy from within itself was one common to both the descendants of its original human stock and the machines they had (at however great a remove) brought into being: the urge not to feel useless. The Culture’s sole justification for the relatively unworried, hedonistic life its population enjoyed was its good works; the secular evangelism of the Contact Section, not simply finding, cataloguing, investigating and analysing other, less advanced civilisations but – where the circumstances appeared to Contact to justify so doing – actually interfering (overtly or covertly) in the historical process of those other cultures.15

Basically the article talks about how in modern societies there is a certain crisis of meaning and identity brought about ultimately because of lot of material needs are taken care of. In the Culture, the material stuff is not a concern at all, and there is to do is play games (or mess around with less technologically advanced civs).

We suffer from a lack of credible authority figures to tell us what is meaningful.


#9

Okay, last reply for a little while because I’m traveling and not doing justice to responding well, but I think it does matter, because I am trying to avoid regret in the future. That’’s why I used the World of Warcraft example. There are a lot of people who said, “Why does it matter if I play four hours a night if I’m having fun,” only to look back five years later and say, “Oh god, why did I waste that time?”

So to me, it’s not as simple as just saying, “If I’m meeting my minimum commitments to myself and family, whatever else I do is okay as long as I’m having fun in the moment.

Maybe it’s a bit like diet - I enjoy eating cheeseburgers. I don’t want to eat kale. But I eat kale (which I don’t want) so that future me doesn’t hate present me.

How much of that should we be doing, to avoid wasting our lives and avoiding potential future regret?


#10

While there’s significant issues with the model, Erickson had an applicable stage: ego integrity vs. despair. I’d never presume to armchair diagnose, but some reading into how people resolved that kind of conflict might help.

I will say this much; “doing nothing” is doing something. Exactly what that is may be different from one person to the next. It could be getting much needed rest. It could be quiet contemplation preparing you for events in the future. No matter what, it ties one moment of your life to the next and should never be considered inconsequential or wasted simply because at first blush you didn’t seem to accomplish anything.
If we spent every moment of our lives climbing mountings, fighting injustices, and providing for our loved ones (or whatever else seems worthy), we’d die from exhaustion. So cut yourself a little slack, lol.

That said, some moments are better spent than others. To make sure you feel yours are, a good thing to do is set goals. Short term, long term, whatever seems worthy to you; YOUR perspective is what matters in this regard, nobody else’s. Set goals, and gradually work toward them when you feel you have time…


#11

But what goals do you set when there are no goals that you want or have a passion for?


#12

Well. keep in mind that goals don’t have to be anything grandiose. No passion required, just for you to think they’re worthwhile (passion is bonus, however). Hell, “I’m going to finally finish Baldur’s Gate II” is a perfectly valid one. But if you’re facing a situation where nothing is interesting, that’s less a full-life issue and sounds more like an issue with depression. Again, I can’t diagnose anything through pixels, but you mentioned your struggles upthread. Perhaps a goal might be finding new ways to address that?


#13

You’re not alone on your feelings @SlyFrog. I frequently feel the same as you: about death, wasting time away, not doing something meaningful. I am about as lazy as they come. It takes a lot of activation energy to do anything out of the ordinary.

I think it was @divedivedive above (and maybe others) who said that it isn’t others’ criteria that should be used to determine if you feel fulfilled. If what you do is bringing you joy, that is what matters. Obviously I don’t mean harming others is OK, but you know what I mean. There are no rules about what it needs to be. Having good relationships with family and friends frequently bring people joy or fulfillment, but that doesn’t work for everyone.

I get the feeling of time wasted and not doing something worthwhile. I don’t have a lot of drive to try new things, or produce something useful. That’s whyI fall into the trap of playing so many games and then I feel guilty about it. Try to cultivate a feeling for something being important to you. After being 20-40 pounds overweight for 10 years or more, I finally had enough and decided that was important enough for me to focus on. It cuts down on my game time as I’m frequently getting up and moving. I’m stretching most days, doing 30-40 minutes of cardio in addition to just more general moving. I feel proud of the success I’ve had and that makes me feel good. I’m just about at my lowest weight in 10 years.

So I’d suggest picking something, anything, that you feel is important. Improve you health, try to get involved in a cause you find important, do more favors for the people you love to make their lives better, pickup the phone and call someone you haven’t kept in touch with but would like to - it could be anything.

I still wish I was motivated to do more useful things, but one step at a time. Take pride and joy in the steps you take even if they are small ones.


#14

OK so maybe “does it matter” is the wrong question, and we should say, how can we know? You’re trying to predict what old man SlyFrog is going to think of what you did today, twenty years from now. And who knows what that jerk is going to think.

I’m not saying don’t plan for the future, I’m saying be reasonable. You don’t know what tomorrow may bring, but you can set aside a little of your paycheck to try to be ready. Same thing for your mental well-being, right? Do things that are edifying, absolutely. Learn a new language, how to drive a big rig, whatever. But give yourself permission to goof off a little. Life is hard, you don’t have to make it harder on yourself, is all I’m saying.


#15

I don’t really have any useful advice, other than to say “I hear you”.

In my case, it’s definitely related to lifelong anxiety and depression problems; and then combined with a longtime struggle with a latent Christian fear that my actions (and inactions) were being cataloged and judged thanks to early religious influence. Getting free of that is pretty hard, but I think I’m mostly there.


#16

I’ll also just say, in direct contravention to your last point in the first post, that feeling no passion for or interest in anything is, well, a symptom of depression. It can hamper your ability to feel much of anything a lot of days, much less develop new and intense feelings for some new hobby or passion or interest or goal. It may be that nothing feels “important” because your brain isn’t correctly assigning values right now due to its own issues. Correcting those issue is a valuable and valid use of your time and may open up the ability to perceive more valuable pursuits as next steps.

All that said, fear of regretting doing the wrong thing now can be a little limiting, too; everything has to get judged against some unknowable future set of criteria before it’s allowed to be worthwhile? Ack! Definitely anxiety inducing!

Here’s the thing, though. A lot of those WoW regretters are often lamenting how they lost access to other parts of their lives that mattered to them and the opportunities the game cost them due to their addictive behavior. The game wasn’t the issue; the addiction was. They’d have had similar effects from gambling or drugs.

If “feeding the homeless at a soup kitchen” pings at an 8/10 on your Life Fulfilling Scale (now, not future) and “Playing Nier: Automata” pings at 7.5/10, all things being equal, electing to never go to the soup kitchen in order to play N:A 24/7 for the next decade would probably lead to regret in the future. Especially if, in the process, you lost all your friends, gained 200lbs, and ruined your back with your crappy computer chair from Big Lots. Now not only did you never do Another Thing You Liked To Do, but you also hurt yourself!

On the other hand, soup kitchens close and soup ladeling arms get tired. It’s not realistic to spend 24/7 doing that, either. There’s a balance to be had there. It is a little on you to figure out what is right for you, but you’re really the only metric here that matters for your own fulfillment.

If the burning desire to lead a life that other people will judge to be adequately fulfilling causes you significant anxiety, well, that’s another check in the “keep talking to doctors until you find one that works for you” column :)


#17

I have, over the years spent a lot of time visiting loved ones in convalescent homes or just old folks homes. They are terribly depressing places. I live a simple life, I don’t ask for much, I don’t need much. I don’t expect when I die my life will have meant much except to my immediate family.

But man, do I want to avoid the “old folks” home. I have joked to my wife and kids that I would find a way to end it myself before ending up in one of those. I am 62, and I know in theory anything could happen, but I figure I got some good years left. But at some point…


#18

I only skimmed the thread but there are workbooks and stuff to help you find a calling. I would look for a process to go through rather than randomly flailing for answers. No links or anything, sorry.

I don’t know if anyone mentioned this yet, but the typical exercise for deciding if something is worth doing is imagining yourself on your deathbed reflecting back on your life. If you picture yourself saying you wish you had spent less time in the office (or doing WoW dailies) and more time doing X then there’s a hint. This may be challenging if you’re already upset about it.


#19

That deathbed guy sure gets a lot of input for someone who’ll be gone in a little while.


#20

Yeah, I don’t know how useful that whole deathbed thing really is. First of all, the you on his deathbed is probably going to be pretty cranky, and not inclined to judge past events (and inevitable mistakes) very kindly. Plus, he’s probably hopped up on all kinds of medication so he may bear resentments about that time you didn’t challenge Donald Duck to a duel because he stole a kiss from your girlfriend.