Sunday, March 21, 2010

Our disconnected lives

Today I received an email from a dear friend I'll call Maria. Here's the question she posed:

Hi Ruthela!

I am always trying to think what really is the difference in my life that keeps me depressed. I know there's something very different than before because I just got better on the meds & lived a fulfilled normal life!

I think I just realized a BIG thing that I NEVER thought of before...I feel very dis-connected. By this I mean I feel like I fill my days but my days aren't just filled. If you know what I mean.

I used to just get into my car & ride over & see a friend. Or my friends would just stop by...I had a very busy life. Now I see my friends when we make plans to see each other & I am even that way with my family members.

I don't feel like I am a part of anyone's life. Nothing is a routine. If I stop over my mom's...I call first. I have many friends but not a friend that I just drop over & see. Even my kids don't just stop over...although I know they don't live close enough to just stop by but they would rather go out & eat then get together here.

What do you think? Did it take years for my life to turn into this or is this the way everybody lives now? I just don't feel like I am a part of anybody's life but my husband's.

I know I did distance myself from people when I was depressed for a long that what happened? I don't know how this happened. Yet when I make plans with people..1/2 the time I have to force myself to go. Does any of this make sense to you? Is there a name for this? How can I change this?

Love, Maria

Great question, Maria. I'll take a stab at answering this but maybe some of our readers can offer some insights such as fellow bloggers Iris or Stephen.

First of all, times have indeed changed. Many families remain close and see their grown children regularly. This, I am told, is the exception. People are primarily motivated by what other people do. They don't like to think for themselves. Peer pressure.

People mostly hang out with their own age group. They'd prefer seeing their contemporaries than being with the parents that raised them. This is a fact and must be accepted or we'll be miserable.

In the 'good ole days' visiting was something everyone looked forward to. Every Sunday when I was growing up, like you, in the 1950s and 60s, we'd drive to Aunt Selma and Uncle Marv's house. We'd sit in the den and talk. Or I'd visit with cousin Mark to see his latest artwork or maybe shoot a few hoops in the backyard. Gramma Green also lived with them back then. There were no such things as assisted living homes.

How times have changed.

Thother day I said to boyfriend Scott, let's go visit your folks! They live 15 minutes away.

What for? was his answer.

People also work long hours just as in the past. Are we busier today than ever before? Dunno. But time is more precious, perhaps, and with the lost art of visiting, people occupy themselves by their favorite pasttime of going out to eat. Why? Is it the commercialization of eating out? Is it just plain fun? Again, I dunno.

Without question, people are meant to live together and socialize together. It's in our DNA. You are an exceptionally social person. Perhaps that part of your brain is more developed than others, a darn good thing, cuz you're very good w/people.

Perhaps that's why you have such a tough time being alone.

What to do to help yourself? Well, you helped yourself enormously by doing all your volunteer work during the week, but clearly that's not enough. You're a person who can't enjoy your days off.

There is nothing wrong with that. Again, it's how you're wired.

Even tho you said you don't like making plans, you should probly schedule at least one fun activity on weekends to get you out of your home doldrums. You are one person who cannot be home and be happy. Again, there is nothing wrong with that. It's simply the way you are.

When I worked for 13 yrs as a psychotherapist, I used to dread weekends. Like you, I was always blue. Not depressed. Blue. Without work, as Camus said, everything went rotten.

Once I scheduled activities on the weekend I was fine. It took me an awfly long time to do dat, though, cuz I was sunk in my routine.

Hope this is helpful, Maria. Let me have your thoughts.


  1. Times change and people change and our one productive option is to deal with it. I have two decades-long friends that over the last couple of years withdrew from social interaction. I am there for them if the opportunity re-presents itself, I continue to leave periodic messages for them and recognize their birthdays but I cannot change how they choose to live their lives. Nor would I want them to try to change how I live my life.

    With respect to communication, we live in a time of 300 television channels, AM, FM and satellite radio, cell phones and smart phones and text messaging, the internet and Facebook and Twitter. In my opinion, with all of these tools, there is less communicating occurring today than when we did not have all of these “communication” tools. Sound bites do not lead to interpersonal relationships or understanding.

    There is mention that children and friends do not stop buy anymore. Is it possible that this trend began when Maria was experiencing depression but did not alter on its own as she became well? Maria states that she went through a period of distancing herself from people. People become conditioned. Perhaps by Maria being more active in making plans to get together and show friends and family that she values and encourages their relationship, it will eventually result in more spontaneity in those relationships.

    I think it essential that each of us identify what makes life meaningful and proceed to nurture that. I am in my 60s and for as long as I can remember I wanted to play a musical instrument. A little over 3 years ago I began taking piano lessons. This commitment requires that I practice about an hour a day and perhaps more on weekends. I find it challenging and creative. It adds to who I am and the quality of my life. Until last August I had spent 2 years writing a political blog that kept me engaged with what is occurring in our country and it also led to the development of new friends with whom I have regular contact. In 2 instances these new friendships are with individuals I have yet to actually meet in person. In most cases life enhancing opportunities require that we be proactive and not depend on old paradigms. Time does not wait for us and passivity does not serve us. The icon for this sentiment is Ruth Deming. Read her blog and experience a wonderful example of how to make one's life meaningful and fulfilling.

  2. great comment, stephen. glad i met you thru our mutual involvement in the political process and doing what we could for a more just and democratic society. thank goodness the house passed the healthcare reform bill today, sunday.

    what's great about you is that you never stop growing. you wrote your magnificent progressive political blog - thru which i learned so much - and then when you felt it was time to move on, you did!

    3 years of nonstop piano! impressive. good for the mind and good for the soul. in-the-moment living. these are all ideas for all of us readers - and particularly maria - who absolutely must try something new such as a meaningful hobby to keep her invested in life.

  3. I understand what you both are talking about but don't you think that when life is too hard that means you are depressed? Shouldn't things just come naturally?

    When things were fine & I wasn't depressed I had more things to do then I could handle. My life was so full & I had so many people in my life. When I got depressed I wasn't interested in doing anything & made excuses not to go here & there. Now...I really don't have any interests but am pushing myself to keep busy because that's what makes me feel good. The minute I have nothing to do, I sink back into depression.

    I know un-depressed people don't have to keep making luncheon dates, volunteering, etc. to make sure they keep busy they just are busy without thinking about it!

    I LOVE being with people but you can't be with people 100% of the time. My relationship with my friends isn't the same as it use to be. They don't just think to include me in everything that they do. Before I got depressed I included a few of my friends in everything that I did whether it was just family or not. I stopped including them...they stopped including me. Now my husband and kids wouldn't want them there anyway. I miss my old life! I had a GREAT life & I don't know if I will ever have that back. It looks like I won't. Even my sister's life is filled with other people. She is re-married & we just aren't as close as we were,

    My dad died when I was 30 & my mom re-married 9 years later & my relationship with her is different! I don't feel that close attachment to anybody anymore & I guess that is what I am talking about. My husband is almost anti-social & works until he drops. He is very good to me but isn't good for my depression because he doesn't like to go out or be social. He would if I made him but what fun is that knowing he doesn't want to be there all night?

    Would you think the depression is making me feel this way or my life is making me feel depressed?

  4. Stephen,
    My daughter calls me at least 5x's a day & I talk to my son everyday & I never let my depression get in the way of our relationship but now my daughter has 3 girls in school & she is very much involved with the school herself & my son is married,has his own business & lives in center city so of course my life is different without them living here. I can't change time but I don't know if you were ever depressed but it's hard for someone to just pick up & get new interests when they have a hard time just getting out of bed in the morning.

    One day you are so excited & can't wait to do something & the next day it's the last thing you want to do. Until you feel it you'll never know how it feels. It's so painful & the feeling that comes over you is about as bad as it can get! You just want to feel normal like everybody else & that just doesn't happen! You have little interest in anything...that what depression is.

    You are a man with a healthy mind speaking about interests. You should count your blessings that you have interests. I wish it was that easy for me. You don't take medicine that interferes with your thinking, memory, etc. I know having a job would REALLY help me but the medicine slows me down & it takes me a lot of time to catch on which makes me feel humiliated & inadequate which results in me leaving.

    People admire intelligent people with healthy minds & things come easy for them, who just live & enjoy life...I admire the people that struggle & work so hard to achieve the simplest things in life...they are the strong people! Everyday is a struggle & suffering is a normal part of their life. They don't enjoy life they just go through the motions & hope that one day they will be happy & productive. They hold on by a thread & have to suffer in silence not to be ridiculed!

    I am sorry to get off of the subject but reading your response to Ruth made me think that you are one of the lucky ones...thank God you were blessed!

    I know what I have to do to feel better but as I said before life is very hard for a depressed person especially when the things that made you happiest are all changed.

  5. This really was a great topic and thought-provoking. I agree with many points that have already been made. Can't add too much!
    As far as our adult kids go, that is to be somewhat expected and must be accepted by us, as Ruth points out, or we will be miserable. Our job is to give our kids "roots and wings" and not to hold on to them for dear life forever. I don't believe the person who speaks to her kids multiple times a day has a very typical situation.

    I agree with Stephen that the kinds of instantaneous communication methods prevalent today encourage superficiality of communication rather than true intimacy and connection. In spite of having fleeting contacts with many during the course of most days, this does foster a disconnectedness. Maybe it is a good idea to unplug and make it a point to see more people in person over a given period of time.

    I also agree that when one is chronically depressed, others tend to retreat from us because it is difficult to be around someone like that a lot. I am not saying it is the correct thing or the compassionate thing to do, but is how most act.

    If we are reasonably functional and still feel lonely, there are ways to increase our connectedness and to counter that feeling of isolation. There are so many others more needy than we are and if we have the time to ruminate over why we are lonely, then perhaps we can use some of that time to extend ourselves to others. After a while we usually find that we have met many new people. All of these new relationships may not be in depth ones but there is always potential. I also agree with Ruth that some of us are just wired so that we don't enjoy solitude and it makes us pull inward even more.

    A thought occurred to me, though. What about (for those of us who want to see more people and who lament that few just stop by or appreciate impromptu visits) scheduling an informal open house on a given day--maybe Sundays, and spreading the word to everyone we know that we will be home and open to pop-in visitors from to four and just bring a snack to share with the rest of the company?

    It's a thought?

    Life does change all the time, though, and if we get too comfortable and expect constants, we will be unhappy and depressed.
    We all have to learn to embrace change, even if it means we can only put our toe into new waters and are not ready for more. That's a start.

  6. iris, that's a great idea for a pop-in day. i would certainly be happy to pop over to maria's house on a sunday since i love visiting people.

    my therapist friend judy diaz has a 'salon' every single tuesday for herself and her retired friends. for awhile i used to attend. she's a movie buff and we watched the sopranos together and discussed it afterward.

    maria could also get something going like this at her place. she could become a terrific hostess and offer her guests her famous cheesecake. it's necessary at our age to be creative and entertain many new ideas and choose a few to do.

    thanks so much for taking the time in your busy schedule to comment, iris. hey, maybe maria would like a few sessions with you as a coach. you good!

  7. A salon! What a wonderful idea! I love the sound of this. Perhaps I will do one myself!

    By the way, one sentence in my post here doesn't make sense even to me as I re-read it but it is after 1 AM now and I am tired and fuzzy. "I also agree with Ruth that some of us are just wired so that we don't enjoy solitude and it makes us pull inward even more. " I must have known what I meant by that when I wrote it but right now it really makes no sense, so Maria, Ruth and others, hit that delete button in your imaginations and get rid of that sentence please. And sure, I would be glad to give a special rate to anyone you referred. Thanks for the compliment.

  8. FYI---I am calling myself HAPPY but I am really Maria. I don't think I am coming across the way that I really am. Ruth is brutally honest, as we all know :-) & she can tell you that nobody would EVER know that I was depressed! I smile constantly & volunteer & help a majority of people.

    My daughter is in the car a lot & that's why she calls me so much! I am NOT over-bearing
    because I don't tell my kids how I feel. I get along great with my son-in-law & daughter-in-law so that shows you that I don't interfere. We were always such a close family & I miss that.

    Like I said...I think it's the depression causing me to feel as badly as I feel. I just get upset when people don't understand depression & tell you to just to this & just do that when if you could you would! Believe me nobody would choose to feel this awful!

    When I feel good almost nothing upsets me but when I feel depressed everything upsets me. I guess I am answering my own questions. I know one thing & Ruth can verify this...There isn't anything that I haven't tried to get better. I only know that things that upset me when I am depressed don't when I am not depressed! If my medication was right...I wouldn't give a second thought to 85% of the things that upset me now. That's why it's hard to go to therapy because most of the problems you have you wouldn't have if you weren't clinically depressed. Why try to fix something that really isn't broken? The feelings you have are from the depression. Unless your depression is making you act irrational. Do I act irrational, Ruthela? :-)

    Thank you all for your advise, I appreciate your kindness wholeheartedly!