My problems seem to stem from idealism, but how do I change that?

My problems to me seem to stem to an extent from idealism. If things aren't the best they can be, I feel like my life is being wasted and then I feel agitated, impatient and frustrated, leading to anxiety and depression.

I don't have any problems in my life externally, but also my life isn't EXACTLY how I would visualise my ideal. I realise that it is irrational and unhelpful, but I can't seem to just settle.

For instance, I have a good job and enough money. But it isn't the job of my dreams, I dream about another career and think about it constantly. This makes me unhappy and stops me from working at starting the dream career because it has now become so important in my mind that it is simply too stressful to do anything about it. I can just see problems and failure ahead of me.

Equally, I feel like I am sabotaging my relationship. There's nothing wrong with my relationship, really, but I look for problems.

I'm not sure if I'm explaining this well. It's not a feeling that I deserve more, or anything like that. It's a feel like my life is bland and that because I feel every moment is not being spent in the best possible way it could be spent, precious life is slipping through my fingers having not met it's full potential. At the same time, I don't believe it will ever fulfil it's potential, because I don't believe I will ever be happy.

I can't describe it, really. I'm fortunate to have what I have in life, and I feel guilty for wanting more. My boyfriend tells me I should try to be happy with what I have, particularly as I really don't want for much, but I find it difficult to be happy with what I have because I'm not enjoying it. I don't know whether that's because I'm always aware of how it could be improved (I'm never happy with anything I do) or because I'm finding it difficult to take pleasure in any activity at the moment. But presuming this is misguided idealism, what can I do to change myself?

I've always been like this. My MH problems began with anorexia, because thin was never good enough considering that thinner existed....I hope that makes sense....I don't want to feel like I am settling for anything, but I also thinks its unrealistic and unreasonable to strive for perfection.

I hope I haven't come across the wrong way here, as I know a lot of people see this attitude as stuck up or as a sense of entitlement. Don't get me wrong, I don't feel like I deserve more - I'm always surprised when good things do happen because I often feel I have not worked hard enough to be rewarded (which means I feel guilt rather than pleasure - another problem that means I don't enjoy things!). Equally, it's not that I feel other people are not doing enough, or that life is unfair, I just can't shake the fear that I will become trapped in a way of life I later regret - that I will look back and think I wasted precious years not living in the absolute best way possible.

I hope this makes sense! Has anyone ever experienced this and do you have any advice?

14 Replies

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  • Wow, so much of what you say I can identify with. There is nothing 'wrong' with my life either (though at 58 I know I have failed in the career stakes) - I used to teach but I didn't enjoy it much after the children were old enough for me to return. It was never my first choice but one my mother told me was a good idea (she was a teacher) and I enjoyed it for a while but never felt totally and utterly that it was my thing. In later years I didn't feel I was doing it that well and kept comparing myself to others and feeling terribly inadequate. I got to dread it, and then after my husband suggested I didn't need to keep doing it if it was making me unhappy, I left and did a course I really enjoyed. Since then I had a small business with a friend for a few years. She pulled out a couple of years ago leaving me devastated but it was probably my fault because of my insecurities and tendency to compare myself with other people constantly, even with close friends and some of the family.

    Sorry to go on about myself when I am meant to be responding to you, but I see your situation as part of a general sense of inadequacy and of not ever being or feeling good enough. I recognise the feelings of never really feeling happy. I am so envious of those around me who feel OK about themselves and I don't know why I can't feel the same. I have a loving husband, a house, enough to eat and enough for leisure time, and I OUGHT, like you, to be enjoying it all, but somehow I find I can't - at least not in the way I would like.

    I feel terribly guilty about it all - is that how you feel too? And have you talked it through with family or friends? I cannot admit to friends that I actually resent it when they feel happy - I loathe this in myself but I feel so jealous when something good happens to someone and I don't know why or how to feel differently. It's like being possessed - I have feelings I do not want to have and despise myself for them.

    I know that I am suffering from anxiety and depression and I wonder what your diagnosis is, and in fact whether you have underlying depression or dsythymia (spelling?). If you are feeling that you don't have the joy in life you used to have, and feel very flat, then that is likely to be the cause. With me, I know I have never felt OK about myself - and rarely about my life because I constantly compare. There are times I do feel OK but they don't last and I never know what has brought them about.

    The other thing is that Mindfulness meditation might help you here with staying in the present moment without judgement. You seem to judge everything - as I do - and practising Mindfulness will, over time, help you learn new ways of being and appreciate your life as it is. I am still working at this and because I am the age I am and have felt like this for decades, I know that I am not going to change radically, so with me it's about accepting this and accepting how I feel which ultimately might take the 'sting' out of the sadness and anxiety.

    I hope some of this helps - maybe not, but it's interesting to read about your story and see the similarities.

  • I think mindfulness does seem like the best therapy for me. I do really want to learn to enjoy the moment. We do seem quite alike, although I tend to compare myself not really to others, but to something in my past (how well i've done before) or to an estimate of my potential. So I'm not that competitive with others: I don't mind not being top of the league, if you see what I mean, but I do mind not doing my absolute best, it makes me feel very uncomfortable.

    A lot of people attack me for this constant need for something 'more' even though I have everything I need and I feel kind of better to know that other people sometimes feel the same way too! I'd say with me it is a kind of constant underlying dysthymia. I don't really feel anything, for anything, or about anybody. Not that I don't care for people, but I don't feel strong feelings of love or even liking people anymore. Everything is very, very blank and bland and grey, so I'm always trying to improve in order to 'fix' it.

    I hope the mindfulness goes well and I think I should try it myself. Are you doing it from a book or seeing a practitioner?

  • From books - though I did once attend a course at the local Buddhist Centre and it was brilliant, but I really need a refresher course and can't find anything local. My attempts at meditation are sporadic and I have the feeling I am not 'doing it right' - which is of course a judgement thought - and it seems that judging is something you are very good at. Sounds as if you give yourself no quarter. I am convinced that you have some element of depression (though I am no doctor, I recognise what you describe so well). I recommend anything by Jonathan Williams or Danny Penman - I think their books have CDs at the back so you instantly have meditations you can put on an MP3 player or Ipod or just listen to them when you won't be disturbed.

    I try to meditate for a few mins each morning as that is often my worst time - I always wake feeling low and/or anxious about life in general. I think I will also try and get into the habit of doing it at night as well. I am not on medication because it didn't help me (I can only take one type, not the SSRIs, because SSRIs would clash with my migraine medication).

    I am being assessed at the moment for a newish therapy called Mentalisation Based Therapy - it's a huge commitment and offered only to those with a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, which I think I fit. I think I've had a similar conversation with you in another thread about this! I have 2 more assessment appointments at the end of August and then will have to see what they say.

    I am not feeling at all good today - have the feeling everyone else is doing things and enjoying life and enjoying the sunshine and I am feeling de-motivated, lacking in energy and low - and hating myself because I know that yet others have miserable life circumstances and make the most of what they have. I feel so ungrateful and ridiculous for feeling the way I do. My comparing is not because I have to be 'top' but because I feel the opposite: that I am a failure and at the bottom of the heap. It makes me feel a bit better when I hear that someone else isn't that happy or they don'[t have perfect lives as I see it, because I don't feel so much like a loser! It sounds crazy, but it's the way I am. I am desperate for something to help before my life runs out - at my age time isn't on my side and I don't want to make other people's lives miserable either. ARGHHH!!!

  • Sorry, replied to this last night but it hasn't come up for soem reason...Yes, I think we have spoken about this before. I hope you get the therapy and that it helps. I looked it up to see if it might be good for me too, then I'd try and push for it, but it sounds a little bit different from what I need. i hope you feel better soon x

  • I feel like this too, I'm only 20 years old but it feels like my life hasn't turned out like I dreamed it would when I was younger. My friends all seem to me to be happier, smarted, prettier and more social. I live in London as a student and everyone around seems to live with such purpose and have such meaningful lives. Like you said, there's nothing wrong with what I have and I too feel guilty for feeling like this. I also have an overwhelming feeling sometimes that as everyone eventually dies, everything in my life is meaningless which often makes it worse. I want more than anything to throw myself into things but I feel so self conscious, like I'm being watched and judged by those around me who I see as superior to me. It's a difficult situation but I'm glad there are others who understand the feeling as it's not easy to explain to someone who doesn't, especially those closest to you who may be offended if you say you're not satisfied with what you have.

  • I know what you mean about others taking offense. I often feel like I have to do something with my life, I don't like accepting that my life will continue the way it is now and that I just have to learn to like it. It feels like giving up, and that's not my bag, but I'm sure I'm looking at it the wrong way. You have to learn to be happy - or at least 'fine' - regardless of the circumstances before you can achieve your goals. I don't understand why I'm more like this feeling like I have to really make the most of everything than other people, but my brother is the same. We both want to achieve many things - things others might see as unrealistic - and the idea of giving up on our dreams and just settling for what both of us might see as an eventless or unexciting life is incredibly depressing. If you don't try to make your life the absolute best it can be, then what is the point in it? Isn't that a waste? If you die before you've seen everything you can, learned everything you can, achieved everything you are capable of, isn't that a tragic loss of potential?

    But I actually don't feel this way about other people's lives - only my own. Mostly people take offence because they ask if I think their life is meaningless because they have a 9-5 job and spend their spare time watching TV instead of learning a language or writing a book, but I don't feel like their lives are wasted, because they seem happy. I guess I've got it in my head that if I fill my life with experiences and excitement then I will feel fulfilled - like they do without needing any of that stuff - and then my life won't be wasted.....

    Sorry, didn't mean to go off on a rant, but kind of glad I did because what I just said makes more sense than anything else I've said today. Maybe I'm looking for happiness in the wrong places. :)

    As for what you were saying about feeling that others are superior - I totally get that. I try to do things myself but I feel like everyone can tell somehow that I shouldn't be 'allowed' to do it, or something, that I'm out of place, or that i'm an idiot, and I shouldn't be wasting my time trying.

  • Thanks for replying, I can relate to so much of what you are saying. I too often find myself thinking that my life will be a waste unless it is the absolute best but I don't think this about others. I think my feeling comes from doing many exciting things in the past, going abroad etc at a time when I felt happier and less anxious, and now that I feel more cut off from people and have agrophobic tendencies I wish I could have the experiences back that I took for granted in the past.

    I also find that now my anxiety has become worse, I feel scared of many things, travelling, leaving the house, being in crowded places, socialising. This also contributes to this feeling because the things I most want to do I am now afraid of.

    Yes, I also feel very out of place. I think my anxiety has made me feel as though I'm different to everyone else, almost as if I view the world in a different way, seeing only the negative and that I can no longer to relate to anyone else. Do you find this too?

  • I can relate to all of that. I keep looking back to my last year of uni, when I remember telling people I felt like I was living in a fairytale. I'd suffered MH problems for years but I went on antidepressants (which worked at first, but I later crashed to my lowest point ever so I'm not keen on going back on them) and I started to sort out my life. I had achieved everything I wanted to achieve at that point and I had a wonderful boyfriend who I was really happy with and I felt like I had opportunities for happiness all around me. I also led a far more exciting life back then than since I've been in work, doing many things and trying new things all the time, as well as constantly learning new things. The difference between now and then - with the way I feel about life and the tiredness I constantly feel now and the anxiety and the lack of interest in everything - makes it feel worse to me. I look back at how I was then, even though it was only for a few months, and the contrast is depressing, because I know it's possible to feel good. I guess that's why I'm finding it so difficult to settle. Why settle for this when I know it's possible to feel good?

    I also feel like I can't relate to others and their seeming happiness at nothing at all. I went to a party the other night and at first I was doing quite well. I didn't feel brilliant but I was managing to hide it and act normally. I was talking to new people, everybody seemed happy, but I was incredibly bored. I was trying to feel interested in what people were saying, but I just wished they'd stop talking and that I could go home without seeming rude. I was bored by absolutely everything and the pressure to hide that was stressful. I often find that, in all sorts of situations, there are times when I think I should probably feel positive right now, or that everybody seems to be enjoying themselves, and I don't really see why they're enjoying themselves. I just struggle to see what there is to be happy about, everything seems pretty pointless to me. It does feel very isolating.

  • I often feel this....out of place. I sometimes feel as if I am 'on the outside, looking in'....like that Brothers Grimm story of the Little Match Girl who lights a match to see the family inside the cosy house enjoying themselves when she is cold and hungry and friendless outside. Only I am NOT cold and hungry and I feel very ungrateful for drawing that analogy but it describes how cut off I often feel. I hear people talking about things they do at the weekend, I look at the pics on Facebook (at least I did till I took myself off it!) which are filled with social stuff with huge gatherings of friends - I don't have that but I do have a few close friends locally, but no big social circle so it's another thing I feel very envious of with other people. I hate hearing how someone has been invited to parties and things - I'm not actually that keen on them anyway but it's the fact that they are, seem to be socially successful. It's something I've always struggled with. Ditto with academic success. Both brothers went to Oxford and have high flying careers and then there's me....I went to college to train as a teacher, I got married.....and ok, I did co-author two books in the 90s and have done a few things I am pleased with but they are pretty low key. I never felt good enough for my parents and have always felt like a failure. I didn't want to pass that on to my daughters so I had to make a superhuman effort to encourage them to do what inspired and excited them and not what they thought might please us, their parents. I always felt ridiculed for my tastes in clothes, music and culture; I was careful never to do that with our daughters. I made other horrendous mistakes though....:/

    I am ashamed to say I even feel jealous of my brothers and dad if they text me saying they are doing something nice for the day or evening. It's not as if we don't do things - I try to make the most of going out, having different experiences, visiting countryside, museums, whatever - but I always feel that other people's experiences must somehow be better than mine.And I can easily feel excluded, like a child who hasn't been invited to a party. Pathetic, isn't it? My emotions are stuck in childhood and I hate it!

    All I want, as you do too I'm sure, is to feel OK about myself and my life and to appreciate what I have. WHY is that so hard? Why do we find this almost impossible to do?

  • Oh my, this is how I feel... I have a job, place to stay, friends and I have my health - physical not mental but I feel dissatisfied with my life.

    I've just come out of a relationship and feel guilt and worried that I've made the biggest mistake of my life... I fear regret.

    I'm under pressure at work to be promoted, not wanting to be left behind - failing.

    Im just starting a course of medication and have an appointment with a Therapist booked.

    I'm trying to get myself better - slowly. Yes I'm still wasting seventy five percent of the time I'm alone thinking/worrying being anxious but I'm trying to be positive, it's extremely hard but I'm trying.

    Good advice I've received...

    Tackle one thing at a time.

    Have something to look forward to - a short break... I find booking things in advance difficult but people are booking stuff for 2013 already... how do they do this?

    Be with people - alone for me is not good but sometimes I need to be alone to fight this head on.

    Exercise - if you can.

    Dejunk - get rid of stuff you don't need - it will declutter your head.

    For the future - take a course, it could take five years to get there but take the first step.

    Achieve something each day - no matter how small - like cutting the grass., small but not another day wasted... write a 'to do' list - tick things off.

    That's six not one thing at a time but this is how im trying to cope. Good luck.

  • I started reading this blog and it was almost as if I was writing it myself. Good job, good money. Very superficial on the outside! However on the inside complete turmoil. Follow your dream! I know I am. It may take time. I know for me personally it will take a few years through the transition but I know I will never be happy until I do it. Its completely daunting itself wondering if I have the capacity to make this transition but I feel now I have no choice as I am so unhappy with my job at the moment.

    You should read my blog on The Mindful Way Through Depression!

  • Hi

    First of all you are not on your own as you can see from the replies. Good on you for writing the article. I too feel the same. "The grass is always greener on the other side", and any changes in your life are not a result of your direct actions. Well I was lucky enough to attend a course to help me. I think maybe it will help you too. Here is the link selfhelpservices.org.uk/shs... The course helps you understand your feelings and explain why you feel like you do. Then the course helps you deal with your problem by helping you understand that you can make a difference, it helps you value your actions and hopefully you come away with fresh ideas, it makes you feel more valued as a person.

    Maybe they have this course near where you live ??

    good luck

  • It is exactly what I am thinking every single day...it is very hard for me to achieve my perfect self and even harder to accept things as they are and enjoy...I think it is because I over think too much and not allow myself to relax and enjoy... I have noticed since I started to use medication I can a little bit relax and take things easier...

    Let's all be happy now at this moment however we are and protect us from being unhappy of what we could struggle to achieve ...

  • The only solution to your career path is to take the bull by the horns and do it. Ask yourself this, is there any reason other than how you feel why you cannot go ahead and take this new career on ? if the answer to this is no then you have no problems. Im not going to go into a lot of i have been there and done this and done that. Let me just say one thing though hun. I am 48yrs of age and i did do the same in many of what you say and now i have nothing, no partner, no career, a lot of health problems, no family and no friends. I let it all slip away simply because i let the the fears take over my life. Im not looking for empathy of pity just to let people see that if you let this thing beat you up inside then before you know it you have nothing anyway. So grab the bull by the horns so to speak and get out there and take the career you want so much. good luck. x

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