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


#61

Punk-ass book jockeys!


#62

For me, a lot of this is about the ability to be present in our own lives. Though I have been sober a fairly long time now, a good stretch of that time (and my life) was spent with anxiety, fear, obsession really about future events. Would I lose my job, what would happen to me as I got older, would I stay sober as I aged, what would I do with myself when I got older (many of the things we are talking about here).

This is what my fear and anxiety appeared to be about, and really, it was also an obsession in a way because I couldn’t turn my thoughts away from it and spend a lot of time worrying about the future, when logically, that made no sense because 95% of the time or more, things worked out just fine, and often not the way I even had thought they would, and often without my own involvement because that wasn’t my role and responsibility to be involved in once the future came to pass.

And you see the same thing with others about the past (some of you have talked about that here too). Being trapped or obsessed in/with the past about things you used to do that you don’t do now, experiences you had you pine for again (even if it was harmful, wild and crazy stuff we did in our youth). Regret about decisions you made or didn’t make that lead you to where you are now and you can’t go back. This kind of thinking is obsessive too and I’ve seen many (my mom included) who were trapped in the past, and obsessive in their thinking about these issues overall. Can’t pull them out of the past and say, hey, what’s going on right now, what are you doing, what would you like to do? Immediately go right back to the past … do not pass go.

One of the greatest self realizations in my life occurred around these issues. I was working with a therapist for a while, because I went through a period of time (couple years) with a herniated disc in my neck which couldn’t be treated successfully except, ultimately, by disc replacement. As a sober person I had to cope with being prescribed the maximum amount of pain medication you can legally take - and I coped with that. But I was also depressed, and when my wife told me I was depressed, following by my MD telling me I was depressed, followed by my neurosurgeon telling me I was depressed, I didn’t listen to myself anymore and listened to them, I started seeing this therapist, and I also took anti-depressants (which helped too). The therapist got me introduced to talking and learning about being present in my life, and what it meant, and somewhat how to do it.

I’m not saying I have got great at it, or even good at it, but my mind is open to it and I am aware of it. My great realization (for me anyway) was - I didn’t in fact have more than a normal amount of fear and anxiety or obsession about the future (and what would happen, etc. which seems to be a lot of what we are talking about here). What I really had was a fear of being present in my own life. To the extent I project myself off into the future, worrying about things that typically work out just fine, or that don’t but I get through them fine anyway, I am not present in my own life and my greatest fear is avoided. My belief is this is the source of a lot of the anxiety we all feel about the future, and also for those who are obsessively occupied with regrets about the past, the pull of the past, etc.

There are a lot of things you can do about being present (everybody would need to find their own path). As I said, I’m not all that good at it, though I have found that my experiences, and talking about this, have opened others minds up to this issue too. Part of my path to being better at being present was meditation (and, like with many things that I know work for me and are good for me, I don’t do it consistently, but a lot of the lessons learned remain with me).

Bottom line, a lot of what helps is just taking stock of where you are at NOW. Are you OK? Are your feet on the ground (take a look at them, yep, that’s you, being present and either standing on the ground in your life, or sitting on a chair with your legs on the floor in your life). Is anything threatening or that you can’t handle going on right now in your life? As others have said, are there things you do in your life that give you small simple pleasures (you will find that is all you need, not thinking about what you are going to have far off in the future)? Do you need to possess all the things you want but don’t need, right now? Are you dealing alright with the people in your life where you can stand your ground in the present and be fair at least (do the right thing) or more, do what you got to do, get through any potential difficulties that might come up?

For me, this restored a lot of balance in my life. It is healthy to worry about the future, to some extent, that’s what helps us plan for what is coming up, and not to at least think it through ahead of time invites chaos and catastrophe down the road you will have to deal with in a present moment. But obsessive thinking about - what will I do when I get old, will my present hobbies or interests sustain me, will I be able to not drink the rest of my life (for me)? That is not healthy thinking at all, keeps me from being present, and in my own reality, and its absence in my life is a huge blessing. I’m also a lousy planner, but with experience, I have found that I get through even the difficult stuff that comes up, in the present, in good shape. Things might not be great at times, but they are OK, and I know on the other side, they will be OK, and even better than now.

You can call it simplistic thinking - but you can’t deny how much this has helped me, and I would hope, can help others. It has lead to Nick’s (Over) Simplified Philosophy of Life, which is, that at any given moment (the tendency to label things this way does also diminish, but I use it to make this point), whether my present is “Good, Bad, or Indifferent”, there are only three possibilities. Things may get better, they may get worse, or they may stay the same. Knowing that things are OK right now in my present, I am not terribly concerned about my ability to be OK under these three scenarios in the immediate future,.

I imagine others can find their way to being better about being present in their own lives and it would be helpful. That was mine.


#63

Pretty sure this isn’t going to be all that helpful, but I simply don’t pay attention to anyone that gives me grief about wasting time. The things I do are meaningful to me, and that’s what matters. A corollary to this is that I’m very tolerant of other people’s “time-waster” activities…who am I to tell someone that whatever they’re doing is a waste of time? Now, it’s a different story if a person is harming themselves in such an activity, but as long as no one’s hurt, I’m firmly in the live-and-let-live camp.


#64

I do like this idea rationally, but it is hard for me to convert it into emotional truth. I can understand a lot of things, but have a difficult time internalizing them so that I “feel” it if you understand.

I would like to just be comfortable with doing what I’m doing, the efforts I’m taking. But the little voice won’t stop screaming. Even as I try to be mindful, and recognize that it is my thoughts, and they are not me (and all of the other mindfulness training I have tried to enact).

I understand that, but when you’ve seen roughly seven or so therapists over that many years, and tried so many medications that a couple of psychiatrists say, “Medication doesn’t seem to work for you,” you start to grow dubious of solving this, at least through therapy and medication.

I still have hope for therapy, I genuinely do. But it hasn’t worked so far, and I’m not sure how many therapists I need to go through before I start becoming that crank who is always chasing the next therapist.

I’m not having blow ups with the therapists, or “firing them,” or anything like that. I see them for an extended period of time, and I do not feel better.

I think this is true to a point. I was, in my own opinion, always kind of a lazy person. Yes, I did well enough in school, and have been successful enough (until recently) in life, but I was always one of the ones who relied on raw intellect. I was never the kid in the library studying until mid-night. I was the kid who didn’t turn in a bunch of his homework, and relied on good test scores to make up for it.

My background with my family is hard to explain. In some ways, they felt a bit soft. I did not have a lot of chores to do (though I had some, they were more scattershot - think more of occasionally/randomly being screamed at to get some particular work done, instead of a more steady, “Here is the list of things you need to do”). But I did grow up with a family that was hyper-critical of people. Lots of discussion in my house of people who needed to “get a job,” “get off their ass and work,” etc.

Well, that’s part of the crux of things. I think it depends on whether you are content with how things are. It is hard to explain, but maybe this works: I seem content with how things are, but I am not sure that I should be. Again, I’m worried that I’m like that alcoholic who is fine with his drinking. Maybe I should not be content. Maybe I have a problem. How do you know if you are being healthy or getting what you should out of life?

I wish I could not look back. I try. But I inevitably find my brain cycling on the issue. Ruminating. I’ve been reading books on mindfulness and Buddhism to try to take me out of the cycle. They help some, but it’s still not great I would say. I know that a lot of the value is in the effort itself (or so I try myself), but I keep trying.

That would be a decent think. But I would probably get explosively angry at one of you kill stealing me in League of Legends, and then it would be all awkward. :)

Honestly, it makes it a bit worse. I still have one at home for another year, but as a divorced dad, I only have him every other weekend and a night or two a week (depending on schedule).

But having them gone (or very soon to be gone) has made the anxiety worse. They are off on their own lives now, and I have no idea how much they will want to continue to be involved in mine. They’re kids, and they should be off doing their exciting own things. At the same time, I question - will they call? Will they visit? Will I get the courtesy visit once a year, where they are clearly eager to get back to their own lives? Will the move across the country, so that I rarely see them?

Of course, with all of these things, the problem is that what is good for you is not necessarily good for your children as they age. I want them close. But I try not to tell them that, because I do not want to manipulate them. I want them to live their own lives, and those lives should not center around their parent.

On top of this, I have now lived for about 20 years with them always being there. I have not been a wonderful parent. I’ve probably been a bit too absentee, maybe emotionally absent. But I have tried, and I also have spent my life working in part to see that they did not want for things and could be reasonably happy. I went to their soccer games and concerts. And now, that is effectively gone.

I think there is something to this. Even it begs the question - should I keep wrestling (which could also be described as part of the problem - maybe that’s where my unease comes from), or is the constant wrestling and questioning exactly what is causing the pain?

But I very much get what you are saying, and I think it’s probably right. It is just hard to keep looking for a long period of time, when you have not found that right key.

As an aside, I also think about other things I could do career-wise, and it adds to the anxiety fuel. I have very specifically trained for one profession, and starting over mid-40s into something meaningful seems impossible. I see people my age or older laid off or otherwise losing their jobs and not being able to even get back into their own careers because of age discrimination and other reasons. Getting into a completely new career, with depression and anxiety on top of it, seems almost insurmountable.

I can understand this rationally, I just have a hard time internalizing it and making the self-criticism stop, for reasons previously mentioned.

I could have quoted this entire post - it was wonderful, but I’ll just try to respond generally. I agree with the principle of mindfulness and being present. I’ve been studying Buddhism, reading books by Kabat-Zinn and similar authors. While I agree with being in the moment, I have great difficulty with it, because nothing suggests what I should be doing in a given moment. Of course, it is also incredibly hard to just be in the moment. I have tried meditating for extended stretches (e.g. 30 minutes a day for weeks), and my mind still wildly wanders - I have a very hard time even maintaining the breathing focus for short periods of time. I think my excessive rumination is so ingrained, that there is a lot of work that needs to be done.

One of my therapists described it that way. He said imagine a piece of wood that has had a can of stain fall on it and soak in for years. As he said, you are not going to sand it out in a day. :)


#65

Yeah you pretty much nailed it. Yes you are surrounded by peace and quiet and 1000s of books, but none of that is for you. And the books never. Stop. Coming. You can never finish putting all the books back. There is no sense of accomplishment when working in a library.


#66

That was a good post, Nixxter.


#67

You remind me of a couple of things. I’m sharing them just to see if they’re anything you can relate to, not suggesting they’re your particular issues (we’re all unique, and will respond so when meeting any given set of stimuli).

The first was when I went on an anti-depression med back when I was a teen. It had a very distinct impact on me, and while I could tell it made me more functional within society, there was a very “sterile” sensation in my head. The therapist I was working with explained that sensation is something which causes some people to not take their meds and others to take even more extreme steps; the disquiet had been a lifelong companion, and its absence left me feeling empty. We tried different meds and techniques, eventually finding something that didn’t make me feel like an alien or robot controlling a human body. I really do commend you for keeping up with trying out therapists and meds. While our biochemistries are different, I’ll say I found a nice balance by combining a couple of meds and the second was through pure happenstance (it was prescribed for epilepsy; turns out I’d had some petit mal seizures).

The thing about depression is there’s no “cure” but rather mitigation and adaptation. Took me into my 20’s, through college, getting married, starting a career, having a kid, etc. before I remotely got what felt like a handle on it. There was no single catalyst which got me there, but several little things that helped along the way. And that’s not to say I don’t still struggle with it; “happily ever after” is BS, and perhaps especially so for those who portray themselves in such a light. Life is a journey, and whatever means you travel will have plenty of bumps along the way.

That brings me to the other thing you reminded me of; my divorce (that sounds awkward, but bear with me, lol). My ex had her own set of struggles, as does everyone. Her experiences and decisions had left her wanting a “rescuer,” and at the time we met—with me looking for “purpose”—that seemed the perfect fit. However, it’s not realistic; while people can be life boats in others’ lives, we can’t do the swimming for them. What’s more, that can set up some false expectations which can fatally flaw relationships unless we’re on the ball (your mindfulness would have helped, there). Toward the end, she became stuck on romantic movies with couples rekindling love and excitement… but while fun, they’re no more real than the latest creation from Marvel, just a bit more relatable. But it became a “why can’t you be more like ___?” kind of thing, to which I responded with a “I need to rescue you” kind of idiocy and in the end our relationship collapsed like the house of cards it had become.

The funny thing is, the process of divorce was oddly therapeutic while being simultaneously traumatic and horrific; it forced me to look back on how we began, where things got off-track and how each of us missed glaring opportunities to fix things along the way. At one point, I was presented with enough information to completely destroy her case. This was a long, drawn out, bitter battle for custody and support - it made enough news that MRA groups were volunteering their services as counsel for free, but I hated those jerks and told them in no uncertain terms to take a flying leap. However, other people came out of the woodwork, and one literally handed me proof of malfeasance and offered sworn testimony (I was at a playground with my kid at the time - truly took me by surprise).

So afterwards, I sat there and started thinking about the whole thing. I talked to my lawyer, and she was thankfully a more grounded person than most I’d known. She looked at the evidence, listened to the story and paused to ask if I’d thought about the long-term consequences of using that. Yes, we’d “win” without a doubt, but that could burn every bridge and salt every field that mattered most to me. My son would grow up knowing his mother’s worst side as a public shame and that his father was the one who dragged it out for the world to see. That would be at my feet. It would be my sense of guilt to carry for the rest of my life.

She asked, “Is she still a good mother?” I took a moment, but said yes, definitely. We were both bad spouses in our own ways and far from perfect people, but I felt she was a good parent. So my lawyer contacted hers, “come to Jesus” moments were had (I also use that ironically, as we’re not Christian), and we wound up splitting parenting time roughly down the middle and the question of support and alimony became negligible things (she was a model, I was a whatever; we each had our own roughly equivalent income).

I wasn’t a good person for making those decisions, however. It wasn’t a triumph of virtue over temptation. Instead, it was simply me seeing the way our relationships worked (and sometimes didn’t, to be fair), and better understanding the value we each brought to my son. Not just my ex and I, but everyone in his world. That brief moment of perspective helped me more than anything to find a bit of meaning in my own journey through life. While I’d obviously be more important to him than to some other random person, the opportunity was there in varying degrees with everyone I’d ever meet. So I started looking for it, and I haven’t really stopped. That’s not to say I don’t stumble at times, but I can see a road ahead and don’t hate the idea of moving along it.


#68

I know it has been said already, but you made a great post there. This is advice that anyone can use.
I too, try and be present and not to dwell on the future and past. It is much easier said than done. It takes practice, practice and even more practice.

On thing that can help is to notice how your fears of the future almost never materialize. So if you are worried about something bad happening next week at some event, when next week comes and the event is in the past, and nothing bad happened, then acknowledge it. Just notice that you had a fear and how it didn’t happen.

It is also very beneficial to notice the good things that happen in your life, especially the little ones. Maybe you were wanting something and then within a week or two, that something happened. Even if was a very minor, a small thing, acknowledge that you got your desire.

Basically what I am saying is to notice and pay attention to all the good in your life. It is easy to ignore the good and pay attention to the bad. Just be sure the good parts are getting their fair share of your attention.

It definitely will improve the quality of your life. Imagine, if in a week 10 good things happen and 1 bad thing happens. If you just pay attention to the bad thing, you might think you life sucks when it really is pretty good in reality.


#69

This made the news? That sounds totally nuts.


#70

Totally nuts, it was. It wasn’t front page stuff (this was a couple decades back, so people still read newspapers), but yeah. We’d both spent a brief stint in the periphery of the public’s eye (a random magazine even did a multi-page article about us having a kid), so my incredibly naive hope of keeping the divorce a more relaxed event were quickly dashed.


#71

This is me. I know people who give of their time or who have hobbies that take up all their time. I don’t care what they do as long as they are happy and they aren’t hurting anybody.


#72

Haven’t read most of the replies so I hope I’m not repeating anything.

Living life to the fullest is one the dumbest things that came out of the self-help/motivational universe. It’s right up there with shit like ‘we only use 10% of our brain’ / ‘you can do anything if you really tried’ / ‘be positive and good things will start happening’. They’re all stupid slogans designed to trick people into thinking complex problems have simple solutions.

I don’t know what can make your life better but you probably do. Hint: if you are doing something n it doesn’t help, do something else. Anything.

As for aging think of it this way: there is only one alternative to it. I for one would take aging over worm food and nonexistance.


#73

We are on the same page :). Easier said than done, very true. But the changes that happened to me when thinking about this and then practicing it over time was like letting the air (anxiety, stressing out about everything except the present) out of the balloon (my mind and my life). I suppose it’s like spending the right amount of time in the past and future (very little because we can’t change the past and have very little control over the future) and the present (which is the only place we can be happy and content or take positive action to lead to positive outcomes, so let’s try to be there more!).

What you said about looking for the myriad of small, observable and appreciable good things that are going on all the time in the present in all our lives in the present is also a big big part of this. This came later to me but it fits like a glove. I spent my life being a black belt in pessimism. I could tell you in an instant everything that was wrong about every damn thing under the sun. I am so good at this I can do it to this day. But hearing others talk about it, like you did, I realized that I was really bad at noticing all the small good things that were right in my world. And how pleasurable it is to realize that I am happy and content when I see the goodness in any little random thing. It doesn’t take momentous events for me to be content. It doesn’t even take me changing or pining for other things to be in my life now as much of this thread has been about. They are already there in my life, I’m just not very good at seeing them. Better but not great at this, but that is all it takes, luckily.

It’s all about perspective, really. Another thing that comes out of this and is related is about “labeling”. I am less apt to look at a situation (my present) and label something as a “problem”. Instead, we can look at the same situation with a different perspective. That’s not a problem, it’s an “opportunity”! To grow. To handle something difficult with grace and no gnashing of teeth. To learn. To teach. To ask for help because I don’t have to do everything on my own, and besides, asking for help gives others the opportunity to be helpful which is good for them and way more fun anyway.


#74

Yes but how would you even know if the latter was going on?


#75

Remember the time before you were born? It’s like that.


#76

Not quite the same — existing and then ceasing to exist is different than never existing at all. Paging Sartre!


#77

Okay. So you did not exist for an eternity. Now you are here. Describe the eternity before. Then describe what it is like to exist. Now, since you are a very intelligent being, please describe what you think the eternity after you cease to exist will be like.

Edit: Please show your work for full points. :)


#78

I am showing you my work. You are using it right now.

Though I like to think of it as our work.


#79

Yes indeed. We are here now, for what it’s worth. I am you and you are me and we are all together, no? I give you my energy now.


#80

I am the egg man.