Thanks to everyone for their thoughtful and kind responses. I'm not really suicidal. It's just that there are days when I think that ceasing to exist wouldn't be all that bad. I never went through that period in high school when teens romanticize suicide or whatever. Then again, apparently when I was in the hospital after getting hit by that car, I said to my wife "why couldn't I have just died?" I dunno. I'm still here and have never had any thoughts or desire to deliberately shorten my time here (my diet notwithstanding). I'm also not overjoyed each time I get to experience a traffic jam, but I could certainly have more joy in my life than I currently do.
I think some of this is just a general feeling of aimlessness or perhaps purposelessness as @p_k advocated. The way I think about it is that when I was a kid, I was given a purpose. It's like many young adult fantasy fiction books, like Harry Potter. There's a definite progression or set of concrete steps that one must accomplish. But those books never deal with any sort of nuance or even with the struggle of having to define yourself. Anyway, back to when I was a kid, I was given a purpose. That purpose was to go to high school and get good grades so that I could go to college and get good grades so that I could go to graduate school and get good grades so that I could go to a fancy law firm and get good contacts so that I could get a cushy in-house job. I got that cushy in-house job 7 years ago. When I first got that job, I had, for the first time in years, time to just be, time to think, time to not be running around working or studying or preparing for the next thing. For the first time, I had no "next thing". In my line of work, in my company, there was no career path, unless I completely switched to a different path (different area of law or jumping to the business side). While having this space felt wonderful, it was also extremely challenging. I picture it like this: I was a dam holding back years' worth of accumulated unresolved personal issues (issues for which I never previously had time or maturity to consider - I just put my head down and went to work). Getting that cushy job was really just like a holding basin at the bottom of the dam so that the dam felt like it could open the floodgates to lessen the pressure behind the dam. Working through that shit-pit of a holding basin with a therapist was great and all, but here I am having come to peace with my past, but still unsatisfied with my present and uncertain of my future. TL;DR - educational/vocational purpose was always externally given to me and when I "won the game" and ran out of "next milestones to achieve"...aimlessness / purposelessness was waiting for me.
I also went through a period of time where I definitely felt a deep sense of moral purpose, a deep sense of "being special" when I was a religious person. But, long story short, I feel deceived by religion and by my church in particular. I'm sure it's a fine church as churches go, but let's just say that being a human institution, it falls far short of any expectations that are tied to god's perfection. And more generally, I got to the point where I realized either (a) I'm not special or (b) everyone is special (meaning no one is). So, you get to that point where you essentially become nihilistic and think that nothing matters. I'm not at all certain...hell, I KNOW that "the world" doesn't need my gifts, as @p_k wrote. Only if you define "the world" to be extremely narrow (i.e., my immediate family), can you plausibly use the word "need" to describe the world's relationship to me. Only my kids really need me. Even though I'm a really good lawyer, I can still be easily replaced at work. Even though I am a son (note not a good one), my parents will be fine if I'm dead. My sister and my wife would be fine without me as well, even if it would hit them a little harder than all the rest. Friends would obviously move on pretty easily, even if they remembered me from time to time and poured out a 40 for me. TL;DR - being special or even considering myself a child of god does not save me from this sense of aimlessness / purposelessness, because I see it is just an illusion.
Purpose, being an illusion, is therefore something that is extremely difficult for me to rally behind. This is one reason why I sometimes wish I hadn't become disillusioned with religion and why I don't try to "convert" my religious friends to "the truth". Even if religion is 95% bullshit, that 5% can give believers a rich, full life that may not be replicable through any other means. But my problem is that I can't go back.
P_K wrote: ↑
Fri Aug 30, 2019 11:12 pm
You must find the activity that demands your focus and your energy and your love while somehow giving you even more. So much so that you cannot help but give it all and more back to your kids, to your wife, to the world.
Turning now to a positive consideration of some of the thoughts express above rather than simply explaining away why i don't need to listen to any of it as I did above, I think this quote probably frames the question in a way that doesn't trigger my eye-rolling cynical nihilism.
(1) To the extent I do have a purpose, notwithstanding some of my despairing writings about it, raising my kids properly actually probably is the only real purpose that I feel. I simply cannot let my parenting go to shit. I'm sure it would be very healthy for me on the one hand to let the belt out a little and practice some benign neglect, but I already feel like I'm doing that to the degree that I want to do that. I actually work very hard on keeping up with research, etc. on what kids need and how to raise thoughtful, kind, capable children. And, got damnit, I'm doing a mighty fine job of it, if I do say so myself. The problem is just that it's so exhausting that either (a) I'm doing something wrong and/or (b) my anxiety keeps me in the "on" position way too much and exhausts my limbic system (is that right? sympathetic nervous system? I dunno, whatever).
(2) Speaking of always "being on", I know for a fact that this is one of my major complaints about parenting. I don't know exactly what the problem is or when it started or at least when it started bothering me, but when the kids were young, I mean, I was working a lot, but I'd come home and I wanted to spend time with them and play with them and read to them and snuggle them, etc. It was tiring, but I also got a lot from it. At some point over the last 4 years (maybe more), when my oldest went through middle school and my youngest was starting to be able to take care of some things for himself, I sort of feel like parenting switched from the "caring" model to the "cruise director" model. (a) I stopped getting any emotional return from the work I was putting into it, (b) I started picking up more shit from them (entitlement, bickering, whining, blah blah blah) and (c) they started becoming much more complex creatures. Babies and young kids are FUCKING EASY. Feed 'em, change 'em, pay attention to 'em, put 'em to bed, the end. They're pets. Around middle school...they suddenly become human. I blame the hormones. Anyway. I'm sure there's some sort of complex dynamic here that isn't quite clear to me or perhaps to anyone involved, but somewhere along the line, my wife and I didn't manage the pet-to-human transition very well, either separately or as a combined parental unit. We're just now experimenting with some ways that appear to be helpful where that "always-on cruise director" can be jettisoned. I really don't know what label to apply to this next model. It's probably a "mentor" model, whereby the kids have finished going through that awkward phase where they need you but they hate that they need you but don't know that they need you nor that they hate that they need you so they're just pissy at your for no goddamn reason while expecting you to do stuff for them but hating that you're doing stuff for them and they even hate the thing that you're doing for them that they need and want you to do. It's all very confusing. You know what it feels like? It feels like I'm in a bowel movement. Not my bowel movement. I am the shit. Eventually I'll be ejected from this phase and I'll be so fucking happy that I'm free. In the meantime, I'm Andy Dufresne:ing my way through this most foul smelling stage of life.
(3) I don't feel like I'm scared of facing the question of what am I going to do with my life (i.e., I got over the fear of facing stuff I un- or subconsciously feared when I went to therapy for two years). It's more a combination of exhaustion and this lack of purpose, defined as "an activity that demands your focus and your energy and your love while somehow giving you even more." I sort of feel like I'm parenting and working in a "defensive" mode. Does that make sense? Like, I'm not laughingly, joyously embracing them...it's more like I'm...shoulder-shruggingly setting my face towards this daunting challenge that I'm maybe a little scared of and not too sure that I want to be doing and not at all sure that I'll enjoy, but it just needs to be done. I'm playing the odds; I'm playing it safe. I'm doing the things that "need to be done" in socially acceptable ways. I'm not going out on a limb; I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel; I'm not...I'm not...I'm not playing to win - I'm playing to not lose.
Do I have a good life? Objectively, yes. But something is missing. I can't seem to turn the switch from "not hating my life" to "loving my life"; from "not hating my job" to "loving my job" or at least "finding purpose in my job, even if that purpose is simply to keep myself busy and to provide a ridiculously good life for me and my kids"; from "unable to refrain from thinking how much energy my kids are requiring" to "enjoying the time I spend away from my kids AND enjoying the time I spend with my kids, in each case without thinking about the one while I'm doing the other."
That was a good mind dump. Thanks for the mental stimulants and laxatives, people. Will need to let this simmer a bit and return to it.