Modern “Neurasthenia:” Curing Your Restlessness

by Brett & Kate McKay on July 20, 2009 · 73 comments

in A Man's Life, Personal Development

NerveAndBrainTablets

At the turn and beginning of the 20th century, life was changing rapidly for Americans. People were moving from the farm to the city and taking jobs in the new industrial economy. Consumerism as we know it today really began to take root in society. Where most people had previously made the things they needed to live, now mail-order catalogs made thousands of products available to anyone in any part of the nation. New laws were shortening the work day and work week, and people finally had some leisure time. Amusement parks like Coney Island drew huge crowds, as people poured into the park to forget about their troubles.

New technology was being developed every day, and life was moving at a faster pace than ever before. It wasn’t an easy transition for everyone. People believed that all this new hubbub was making them ill, leaving them with headaches, fatigue, depression, insomnia, weakness and a whole host of other symptoms. George Miller Beard was the first to diagnose these symptoms as “neurasthenia,” an ailment he believed to be caused by modern civilization’s taxing effect on the nervous system.

Even those who didn’t feel they were suffering from neurasthenia’s physical symptoms felt plagued by a sense of “unreality.” They felt shiftlessness, anxious, and restlessness. On the farm their lives had been guided by the changing seasons, they ate what they grew, and scratched out a life from the land. Now they lived in a tenement apartment, used indoor plumbing and electricity, and ate canned food. Cars were replacing wagons and changing the way life was lived. Magazines, consumer goods, and movies had opened up an entirely new world of horizons and possibilities. It seemed as if life outside one’s door was pulsating and vibrant, yet always frustratingly out of reach. Life felt flimsy and insubstantial compared to what seemed possible. Popular lecturers, authors, and quack doctors promised to rectify this problem and imparted advice about how to restore and find greater vim, vigor, and vitality. And yet the more people looked for it, the more elusive it seemed.

Modern “Neurasthenia”

While the cause of neurasthenia was never agreed upon and it’s no longer considered officially recognized as psycho-physical condition, the feelings associated with it are quite real and seem to be experiencing a resurgence these days. Men have become stricken with what I’ve decided to call “modern neurasthenia.” Do you have it? Well pull up a chair and we’ll see if we can’t get you diagnosed.

The Symptoms

Do you feel lost, restless, or shiftless?

Do you feel like there’s this great life you should be living but you just don’t know how to make it happen?

Do find yourself wishing that life would finally start for you?

Do you feel anxious about your life, sure there’s something else you’re supposed to be doing but you don’t have any idea what it is?

Do you feel like you’re life is generally going great and you’re doing the kind of things that you want to do, but you just have this sinking feeling that maybe you’re missing out on something?

The Causes

Neurasthenia is back for the same reason it plagued our forbearers; our expectations have not kept pace with changing technology and culture. Technology has leapfrogged ahead in the past couple of decades with the internet, cell phones, Twitter, Facebook, and Blackberries putting us in instant touch with anyone in the world. With Google maps we can virtually zoom anywhere on earth and a wealth of information is right at our fingertips.

Our lives are also saturated with media. We’ve been exposed to thousands of commercials, movies, and televisions shows. How many images have we absorbed of SUV’s powering to the edge of a cliff, awesome rooftop parties in LA, sweet Manhattan apartments miraculously rented by struggling 20-somethings, vacations on private islands, legendary road trips and so on.  The images we consume are full of moments showcasing life at its most vital and extraordinary.

And so our minds are filled with the vast possibilities the world has to offer, and technology makes us feel that all these possibilities are just within our reach. But the realities of our lives really haven’t changed much. Many aspects of our lives have sped up and become easier, but lots of things haven’t. We can instantly chat with our friend in Argentina, but we’re no closer to instantly teleporting there. Tons of information is available on the web but it still takes just as long as it ever did to read and absorb it. We still need to get jobs and pay rent and work at our relationships.

It is this gap, the gap between our expectations about the world and how we really experience it that causes our modern “neurasthenia.”  New media and technology has seemingly brought the whole world just within our reach. But we can never seem to grasp it. We want to magically take it all in and we can’t. And so we feel depressed and anxious. We are sure that unlike us, others have found a way to lay hold of all the good stuff out there. We have this feeling that somewhere beyond our life, real life is taking place. It feels as if they are so many possibilities and choices out there, so many that we’re absolutely overwhelmed by them. We don’t know where to start, where to dive in. We’re thus paralyzed, and don’t do anything. And then we feel shiftless and restless because we feel bad that we’re not doing stuff. Because there’s so much we should be experiencing! But then we feel overwhelmed again, and then, well, you get the idea.

The Cure

Neurasthenia used to be cured with quack elixirs and electrotherapy. But there’s really no need to zap your junk to feel better. If our modern feelings of restlessness and shiftlessness is caused by the disconnect between our expectations and reality, then the cure lies in closing that gap. Instead of being overwhelmed by the seemingly endless possibilities in life, you must hone in on those things you truly want to do and can do.

Figure out what you can do. A lot of men were raised by parents who did a bit too much coddling. They praised their kids for everything and anything. They told them that they could do anything in the world they wanted to. These parents were concerned about their children’s self-esteem, but this coddling often withered their kid’s ability to find a place in the world by robbing them of the chance to hone in on their true talents and abilities. Convinced that their potential is infinite, many men today cannot pick a major or a profession and feel lost, ever on the search for what they were made to do.

Every man must have lofty aims and ambitions. But he must temper his expectations with a dose of reality. Not all of us are going to be rich and famous. We need to honestly assess what we’re really capable of:

“I have said that a high ideal is essential to a completely successful life. But in the realization of our aim it is quite necessary to form an ideal commensurate with our abilities. Many a man has failed in his life-work because his notions of what he ought to do were marvelously beyond his power of execution. Such a man forms so high a conception of what he would like to accomplish that he has no heart to attempt anything in earnest. . . This intense burning desire on the part of common people to become millionaires, or merchant princes, or railroad kings, or something beyond their powers and opportunities has filled our American communities with hundreds of restless, discontented, useless men.

One of the most valuable lessons for the young to learn is that it takes a great man to accomplish a great undertaking, and that both are necessarily few in one generation. If this lesson were learned and heeded half the heartache of our mature years might be avoided. Effort, and high resolve, and noble purpose are excellent qualities of character; but they can never enable a man to lift himself by the boot-straps nor accomplish the unattainable. It is at once the weakness and greatness of some to conceive what they attempt to do of so high a degree of excellence that no human power can reach it. The natural effect of this is a restless desire to accomplish something far beyond what is ordinarily attained even by surpassing talent. When such a desire has taken possession of the heart, the usual achievements of men seem poor indeed. With their broad views and far-sighted stretch of thought, it seems trivial to come down to the common affairs of every-day life. It is to them a small thing to do good and get good in the plain old common-sense way. J. Clinton Ransom, The Successful Man, 1886

While we’re big believers in the idea of the self-made man, if you don’t have the talent, you’ll never bootstrap your way to being LeBron James. Stop drowning in the sea of infinite possibilities; take an honest assessment of what you’re capable of, figure out a realistic goal to put your abilities to use, and start working for that goal.

Remember, every man should want his life to be extraordinary. But no one’s life is extraordinary in every respect.  Figure what areas of your life you want to be extraordinary in. If it’s clear you’re never going to be a world famous author or actor, then be an extraordinary friend, husband, and father.

Figure out what you want to do. We often feel restless because there seems like there are so many amazing opportunities out there in the world. We flip through magazines and see people scuba diving in the Caribbean, men camping in Yellowstone, and guys partying in New York City. We turn on the TV and see shows where guys are living it up in cool cities, dating hot ladies, and working at a cool job. We’re like a hungry kid window shopping at a candy store. Everything looks so darn enticing but out of reach. And so we feel anxious. We don’t have a net big enough to capture all of these cool possibilities.

We’re drowning in these possibilities, and we need to turn the faucet down. The truth is that we don’t actually want all of those choices. We have to separate what we think we should want to do from we actually want do. You might have been told that you should study abroad, you should backpack through Europe, you should live in a loft in some big city, you should, blah blah blah. These “shoulds” lodge in our subconscious and make us feel anxious; if we don’t do these things we worry that we’re missing out on something. But this anxiousness often prevents from doing anything at all. Afraid we can’t do everything, we do nothing.

But you have to evaluate which things you really want do and own that choice instead of feeling ashamed of it. If you’re a homebody who hates traveling, stop feeling bad about that. If you want to become a carpenter instead going to college, go for it. If you want to hike the Appalachian trail, do it. If you don’t, stop thinking about it and move on. If you hate the big city and love living in the burbs, embrace that. And vice versa. Our anxiousness comes from standing in the middle of a decision. We know we don’t really want to do something but we feel bad letting it go. We’re afraid it says something we don’t like about our identity. But you have to embrace your likes and dislikes or you will forever drown in choices.

Take small steps. Sometimes I actually don’t like browsing a bookstore because there are so many books, and I can get to feeling overwhelmed by it. All of these books to read! I’ll never be able to read them all! It almost makes me not want to start. I just have to tell myself to pick one that looks interesting and simply start there. As it is in the bookstore, so it is in life. Often we feel restless and unhappy because there seems like there are so many things out there that we want to take hold of. We want to have adventures, and get a dream job and meet our dream girl; we want to learn a craft, read 100 books, and learn how to dress well. We want to live life to fullest! But we put so much pressure on attaining this ideal that we end up being overwhelmed and paralyzed into inaction. Once you understand what can do and what you want do, you can start taking steps toward those things. You have to just choose one thing at a time to tackle. Making small, steady victories will cure your restlessness. Your mind simply wants to feel as if you are moving forward. So make that first step.

At the end of the day, you have to accept that “real life” isn’t something somewhere out there happening to other people, it’s what you’re living right now. This is your life. Start living it.

{ 69 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Quintin July 20, 2009 at 8:39 pm

Probably the most lucid and poignant article I’ve read on The Art of Manliness so far. Bravo!

2 Grant July 20, 2009 at 9:31 pm

Wow, a quarter life crisis defined in 1000 words or less. Bravo!

3 Daniel July 20, 2009 at 9:35 pm

Great post, guys. It does seem like the result of this sensory-overloading world is often paralyzing indecision. Jacks-of-all-trades, to the best of my knowledge, don’t exist, so I guess you gotta just do it (not “do it all”), to borrow a corporate cliché.

4 Brett July 20, 2009 at 9:46 pm

Thanks for the kind words guys. Grant, this article actually tops 2k words, so I’m glad it read as shorter!

5 Kyle July 20, 2009 at 10:33 pm

Thank you.

6 Amos July 20, 2009 at 11:27 pm

thanks. this helped a little. its almost like a mental fever i have

7 Brian July 21, 2009 at 12:06 am

You’ve not only defined what I’ve been feeling for the past few years, but you’ve added in the attitude of “just do it, damnit!”. I like it.

8 Gaurav July 21, 2009 at 3:00 am

Thanks by a restless guy

9 Shaun July 21, 2009 at 7:47 am

Thanks for bringing up this topic, it’s one thing that plagues so many of us these days. I thought that you could have gone into more detail about how to overcome the feeling of being overwhelmed by too many options, though I suppose your suggestion of just taking small steps is the most realistic method.
I think it’s important to also mention that it’s better to try something – anything – than to choose to do nothing. I wasted many of the ‘best’ years of my life because I had no direction, but once I just made a choice (in my case a fairly arbitrary one), I found that it lead to bigger and better things that I could never have foreseen at the time.

10 Darrell July 21, 2009 at 8:03 am

Wow. I feel like you must have been following me around for the last 10 years or so.

An extremely timely article.

11 Brian B. July 21, 2009 at 9:00 am

A great article! I’ve had to help a number of clients with this very issue, and it’s definitely not confined to the twenty-somethings.

“be an extraordinary friend, husband, and father” I think these are wonderful aims that are within the reach of most (if not all) men, I wish though that media messages would emphasize this instead of being rich and famous.

Though to some extant there are neurological effects to the level of stimulation and information we get every day. The overload can cause fatigue and difficulty thinking clearly. Sometimes it’s healthier just to turn the TV and computer off and give our brains a chance to rest.

12 David July 21, 2009 at 9:04 am

I’ve been a AOM subscriber now for almost 8 months and of all the manliness related articles I have read on this site, this is by far the most enlightening article today.

I enjoyed that article so much, that I am intending to share it with all of my close friends and relatives shortly after I finish posting this comment.

For a few years now, I have found myself struggling with the nagging feeling that there was just MORE out there then I had chiseled out for myself. I consider myself successful at 26 in that I can have a rock solid full time job, an slightly above average salary, a loving fiancee, and I am able to provide for her all the things she wants and desires while still being able to pay the bills and provide shelter.

On occasion I try to live above my means thinking that there is more out there then I have, and that I am not living to my potential. Due to the nature of my job, I have large amounts of down time between cases and frequent the internet to try to gain knowledge, and this in itself leads to the feelings that I am trying to avoid. I bounce from site to site to try to find more info, only leading my to believe that I do not have all the information I should have. It is a never ending, self feeding cycle.

After reading this article. I have a new light shed on the feelings that arise from time to time and knowing now that I am not the only person who feels anxious about the life I am not leading is comforting.

13 Deborah July 21, 2009 at 10:09 am

Right on target. One of the best blog articles I’ve read in a while. I’m not a man, but do enjoy your site occasionally.

14 Sid Phillips July 21, 2009 at 10:32 am

Another great AoM article. I think Neurasthenia is just another symptom of being caught-up in the modern rat race. It doesn’t matter how much or what kind of technology is sweeping us up: there’s just always something else we should be doing or want to be doing but never enough time to do it all.

“Back In The Day…” our lives were very clearly defined. Or at least, most of our lives were. The merchant-class and aristocrats always led very different lives. But those of us working the land (which were virtually all of my forefathers) had set times and set schedules for nearly every aspect of their lives. Accepting this was not a matter of choice—it was a matter of life or death.

You did your chores when you had to—or you starved. You planted, weeded harvested and stored when you had to—or you starved. You put up wood for the winter all year long—or you froze to death or starved. We didn’t have time to get Neurasthenia back then because we were too busy trying not to die!

I think that if we adhere to The Art of Manliness philosophy then we can overcome most if not all of what ails us in terms of Neurasthenia. Like the article advised, just do what you can, narrow your focus on what is important and let go of the trivial. Tweeting every few minutes won’t put food on the table. Posting to Facebook several times a day won’t put a roof over your head. Watching the latest moronic YouTube video is not going to put clothes and shoes on your children.

15 Brett July 21, 2009 at 10:55 am

@Shaun-
Yeah, I definitely think there’s more to say about how to overcome these feelings. I was getting well, overwhelmed by all I wanted to say and the post was getting really long. I hope to revisit the topic again.

@David-
I think your experience is a common one. I know I’ve felt that way. I feel like something is missing even though everything in my life is going great. And I feel like I can find the answers by surfing around the internet. That I can google the answer somehow. I just have to take a step back and think, okay, actually what’s going on is that I’ve gotten false media-driven expectations in my brain. And I’m just going to enjoy what I’ve got going on now. We often think that our only happiness can come from the “extraordinary” things in our life. But real happiness can come from relaxing and finding pleasure in the ordinary stuff we have going for us.

16 Jason July 21, 2009 at 11:05 am

I agree that this is a very real feeling that many of us have, but I disagree that the “cause” is the inaccessibility of the life that’s advertised to us.

I’ve actually had many of the experiences you talk about — I took a vacation on a private island when I studied abroad in Africa, I’ve been to celebrities’ after-after parties and flown on private jets, and I’ve driven a Jeep off-road to the edge of the Grand Canyon — but I’m still a 20-something with the same restlessness as everyone else.

I think the reason is that “collecting experiences” — whether those experiences are accessible to you or not — is hardly living a worthy life. Really, it’s just cultivating the appearance of excellent living, which is nothing more than simple vanity.

Rather, no life is truly rewarding until it is dedicated to someone or something other than yourself. Loving a partner and a family, committment to community service, dedication to a faith — these are all ways to find meaning in life. None of them is easy, and I’m still searching for mine. But restlessness is the symptom of a simple axiom: when everything is at hand, nothing is hard-fought, and when nothing is hard-fought, nothing truly satisfies.

Once there is the very real struggle to define oneself by something other than worldly experiences, then one’s identity is indeed hard-fought and satisfying. And once satisfied with the person you’ve become, it is far easier to enjoy the in-between moments of an exciting vacation, great party, or fashionable wardrobe.

17 Brett July 21, 2009 at 11:13 am

@Jason-

Actually your experience illustrates my point well in a way. People that have the loving family and partner or are involved in their community, feel restless because they feel like they’re missing out on doing the kind of things you’ve done. While those who are doing the cool things you’ve done feel restless because they want to find a loving partner and have a family. It’s not enough simply to work for a satisfying identity and life-you have to own those choices or you’ll always be wondering if the grass is greener somewhere else.

18 Patrick July 21, 2009 at 12:24 pm

I don’t have too much to add, but I want to echo what has been said before me by saying this is the most helpful post I have seen on your site (and that says quite a lot!). Like others, the feelings you have described define my state of mind lately, and just reading this article has helped alleviate a lot of angst.

Please please please keep up the great work, and thanks again.

19 Doug July 21, 2009 at 5:09 pm

Thanks. I needed to hear that.

20 Jay July 22, 2009 at 8:11 am

Excellent article. It condenses a book I finished not long ago called ‘Stumbling Upon Happiness’, by Dan Gilbert. In it, Mr. Gilbert reached the same basic conclusion as to the source of many of our ills; namely too many choices. He added that human beings are also poor predictors of what will make them happy in the future. Thus we pay perfectly good money to get tatoos removed, that we payed perfectly good money to have put on. His conclusions as to a solution was similar as well; pick something and run with it.
Our forefathers had much fewer choices. If dad was a farmer, you were going to be a farmer. If dad was a blacksmith, chances are you were going to be a blacksmith; and so on. Yet they were, according to what we can find recorded, relatively happy. In their day, the wild, the wierd, and the wonderful were only avialable once a year, when the fair came to town. Now, thanks to TV and the internet, the freak show of modern life can be beamed into our living rooms and heads 24/7; filling our subconcious with constant messages of dissatisfaction with what we have by showing us a manufactored “reality” of what we should want..

21 Chris L July 22, 2009 at 8:30 am

Good stuff! That’s describes about 53% of me and my friends.

22 phil July 22, 2009 at 9:02 am

I’m a huge fan of the site, and in the last year or so I’ve been really inspired by many of the articles posted. This is one of the most useful, relevant and well thought out pieces of writing I’ve seen in quite a while. The issue is a very important one and any future articles on it would be hugely appreciated. thanks.

23 j July 22, 2009 at 12:38 pm

“Sometimes I actually don’t like browsing a bookstore because there are so many books, and I can get to feeling overwhelmed by it. All of these books to read!” – the the McKays are definitely in need of a cure – not for a ‘neurasthenia’, which originally meant “a weakness of nervous system” – but for a ‘hysteria’, that is, for having a tendency to look for a short-cut and thus unqualified solutions for real problems. The range of symptoms authors recite calls for professional advise at the very least. It is rather sad that such a place like AoM is tending to a psychobubble—

24 Brett July 22, 2009 at 2:13 pm

@Jay-

I recently some of Dan Gilbert’s writings and found them quite fascinating, especially the stuff about how bad people are about predicting their future happiness or unhappiness. One of the most interesting things he said is that almost no matter what horrible misfortune befalls us, in about 3 months our happiness level will be back to where it was before. I’ll have to check out his book.

@J-
If you think feeling restless, anxious, or overwhelmed with life requires professional counseling then the Art of Manliness is simply not a site for you.

25 Joe July 22, 2009 at 11:03 pm

I don’t think I can add anything else, other than to say in agreement with others that this has to be to date the best article I’ve read on AOM. Thanks for all the time and effort you put into the site.

26 Pete July 22, 2009 at 11:18 pm

Brett, you wrote to me, “The Art of Manliness is just about as good as a mid-life crisis vaccination.” With this article you’ve proven it. Well done, and thanks.

27 Alex Chebykin July 23, 2009 at 10:14 pm

You hit the nail on the head, that is exactly how I have been feeling in the past month or so. So much I want to do that it is hard to know where to start. I’m trying to take this advice and proceed with small improvements one at a time.

When reading through some of the examples about the media driven image of a perfect, fulfilling, fun life somebody else is living it reminded me of a popular, but shallow, saying – “get a life”. I cringe every time I hear that phrase uttered. But your article put it in perspective for me, by making me understand the probable origin of that reprimand.

I can’t wait until the next installment of the articles dealing with this topic.

Bravo!

28 Jon July 24, 2009 at 2:03 pm

Brett,

Thanks for writing this article. I’ve been kind of struggling with a quarter life crisis of my own. I have, I believe, a very rewarding life and a great future that I’m working towards, but sometimes in the late afternoons, I’ll just look out the window, and sigh, bored and unsatisfied. I know I want to live an extraordinary life, but I don’t want to live a life governed by what I think I should be doing instead of what I want to do. I would venture to say that those who lead the most interesting lives don’t spend too much time worrying about whether or not their lives are interesting enough.
-Jon

29 John S. July 25, 2009 at 1:33 am

A MUCH needed dose of reality! J. Clinton Ransom really had it nailed in his 1886 book. Thanks to the contributors of this site!

30 Sir Lancelot July 27, 2009 at 7:24 am

Like someone said before me, you told the story of my life in 2000 words. The funny thing is we all feel we are unique and only us feel this call to become the supermen we think we are, when we’re all actually feeling the same, so perhaps we’re not as extraordinary as we believe.
It’s true there are many other people who feel contented with their apparently insubstantial lives; perhaps the readership of this blog is not representative of society at large in that I think somehow we all come here trying to become the perfect man. While perfection is unattainable, aiming for it can only improve yourself, but it can also create unrealistic demands for you.

I consider myself wiser that some as I don’t care about having a state of the art phone and I’m not a slave of consummerism, but the same way other people have the compulsion to get the latest iPhone, I’m a compulsive buyer of books. I buy more books than I can read. I need to know everything about everything, as well as squeezing the last drop of wisdom from the classics. Not only that, I have to be the strongest, the best fighter, the best runner, a good swimmer, I need to learn to sail, etc, etc. Of course in actual life, I’m good enough at hardly anything, as no one has the time to focus on so many things.

When I was a kid I was the whizzkid, forever curious about everything. I was born in a working class environment and everyone thought I would be the kid who made it. The brain doctor, the university professor, the sky was the limit. Yet my blessing was also my curse. I couldn’t imagine commiting my whole life to the study of allergies or the price of wheat in 15th century Portugal. The prospect filled me with claustrophobia.

I’ve lived in three countries and visited some others. And still none of them seems good enough to settle permanently.

As it turns out, I’m now in my early thirties with a rather soul-destroying semi-qualified job and no career. Alternatives seem endless, but at my age they either seem unattainable or not appealing enough. I let the woman of my life slip away because I felt I still wasn’t the man she deserved, so she ended up with someone at least as imperfect as me but who didn’t seem to care too much about it. Of course no other candidate is good enough for me, because having known true love, I can’t settle for “hanging out”, never mind marry someone I’m not mad about.

I received an email from the aforementioned “woman of my life”. She said “I hope you find what you’re looking fore”. it’s funny because I never actually verbalized this unrest to her, but it must be so obvious that it just just shines through in everything I do.

I’m no psychiatrist, but I do believe this endless shower of information has gave us all, or at least those of all with more excitable imaginations, some sort of ADD. Of course restlessness is nothing new. For centuries, the men who became sailors or soldiers did so driven by a desire to “see the world” as much as they did it out of necessity, but , while all they had to excite their imaginations was a novel by RL Stevenson or the sight of a faraway boat, we are overfed with stimuli every instant.

Another factor that has already been hinted at is the gradual blurring of class barriers. Just one generation ago, the prospects for someone like me were very weel defined. just ploughing on, basically. But my generation was brought up on the delusion that you could go to university and the world would be your oyster, so suddenly a myriad of options opened before you, the son of the cleaner and the house painter, with no no one to guide you who had sailed walked that path before and lacking the greatness of the real self-made men to guide yourself.

Like others before me, I’ve also come to the conclusion that the real destiny of a man is not to accumulate experiences but to trascend oneself, whether it is through the selfless love to his family or through other higher cause.

One of my best friends is also single and he keeps accumulating sentimental conquests. That feeds his ego and keeps him going. I try to tell him that’s like junk food. You get a quick fix, but that only leaves you wanting more and more and feeling forever unfulfilled. A man can’t live on a diet of ego alone. Ego can a useful survival tool, but it needs to be trascended.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m the modern neurasthenic.

31 morozfiles July 29, 2009 at 7:36 am

I think it’s important to also mention that it’s better to try something – anything – than to choose to do nothing

32 fensan August 1, 2009 at 6:31 am

If dad was a farmer, you were going to be a farmer. If dad was a blacksmith, chances are you were going to be a blacksmith; and so on.

33 Christopher August 3, 2009 at 5:19 pm

Great read. Often we hear the mantra of “living one’s life to the fullest”, yet what does that REALLY mean? Does it mean to take risks? Does it mean a family man should go boat down the Amazon? No, I don’t think so. As men (as humans) we are not taught what that really means and are left with this HUGE daunting task to try to live life to the fullest.

You mentioned parents “coddling” their children. If our case, our father taught us that if you wanted something done right, do it yourself. Because of which, I’ve become an avid handyman, able to repair or renovate just about anything in my home. I know my limitations and call in the pros when needed. (I don’t do roofs or drywall…hey, that mudding and taping is an art form!) I enjoyed this article as it helped define what’s been plaguing me over the years and really helped me think about it. There are two ways that I seek to calm by “collection of hobbies”. One is to put a definition on my anxieties. I define it as just that, I’m a proud “collector of hobbies”. That helps me package it all up in a way that makes sense for me. I don’t have to worry about flitting from one interest to the next. I still get to experience what interests me. The other is that a while ago, I decided that life IS really short. For 4 (or more) years most study in college for what they’re going to do for the next 40+ years. That seems really strange to me, and as a college grad, I wonder if at age 20 I made the right choice? I decided a few years ago that I would try to learn something new for a year. Just a year – that way when I want to move on to something else, it’s not quitting, it’s “experiencing life”. I figure that I’ve got 30+ years ahead of me to learn 30 new things. Even IF I devoted 365 days, (or being realistic…and hour or two a night…or 52 Saturdays) that’s a lot of time to learn a new interest. I’ve blown glass and made neon art, played many instruments (including bagpipes), and learned how to do stained glass. I’m currently trying my hand at teaching myself Japanese (which may lead to blacksmithing next year). There are a few things that I’ll continue to do, like I said, I’ve always been an avid handyman and I’ve been brewing beer for over 14 years, that won’t stop. My hobbies seem to always centered around using my hands, yet my “day job” is sitting behind a desk. I think that if you take a bite out of life (not trying to swallow it all at once) it can lead to a fulfilling life. The downside to this is that I know how to do many, many things, but I am an expert at nothing. I think the worst thing you can do in life is not to do anything – that’s the only time you fail. You never fail if you try…you just experience life’s offerings.

34 Sohrab August 7, 2009 at 8:19 am

phew…lemme ask u!!
ARE YOU GOD….coz nobody else could alienate the cause and effect more clearly!!
THe clearest of words to describe the biggest issue we all face….!! :)…Hop u r a happy man in ur life..!

35 Ronny August 10, 2009 at 12:39 pm

“If it’s clear you’re never going to be a world famous author or actor, then be an extraordinary friend, husband, and father.”

These words probably are the most honest words i have ever read. Thank you!

36 Salik August 12, 2009 at 7:31 pm

@ Brett: I have a feeling you might appreciate this book:
http://www.amazon.com/Hero-Thousand-Faces-Bollingen/dp/1577315936/ref=cm_lmf_tit_1_rsrsrs0

37 Charlie August 14, 2009 at 12:46 pm

I have been looking for something to pinpoint what it is I have been feeling. This article could not have been more dead on. There seems like there are so many things we are supposed to do…it seems nearly impossible to do them all.it makes more sense to focus on what you want to do. Great post.

38 Beau August 20, 2009 at 11:37 am

I believe this restlessness can only be tempered by knowing what God’s plan is for your life. Only then will you have a clear mission before you to accomplish. Hey, and guess what! You’ll be happy because God’s plan takes in to account the things that you already enjoy and are good at.

39 tc909 September 21, 2009 at 9:11 am

Wow, I just came across this article and the restlessness you described sums up much of my existence. I’ve tried for a long time to explain this restlessness / listlessness to my wife to no avail. She just doesn’t understand and I’ve never been able to put my finger on it like this article does. Thank you! The part about small steps is wonderful. In college I had a math professor who was great at helping me learn how to solve (math) problems. One of his common phrases to me when I was stuck on something was “Well, you’ve got to do something!…” It was apt for solving any problem. Thank you again!

40 Adam R. Turner September 21, 2009 at 12:11 pm

This was undoubtedly one of the best things I could have ever read. I’ve struggled with this sort of thing my entire life, but didn’t realize what it was. To have it all coalesce for me in this article, and for this writer to provide me a way out, I feel greatly supplemented for the rest of my life with an understanding that will allow me to cut away all the clutter and confusion in life. And since I still have the majority of that life ahead of me being a mere 23 yeas of age, I’m thrilled to find advice worthy of great scholars and tutors for the only the cost of what I pay for my internet. I really can’t say enough great things about this article and writer.

41 patrick October 1, 2009 at 2:46 am

Great article

I realized this when I went to community college. I was never thrilled to be at my high-school, but because it was a college-prep school and I had good grades, I was tracked to go to a 4 year college. Seeing everybody go “What?????” when I decided to go to community college was pretty interesting. I knew it was the right place for what I wanted to do, but everybody else went crazy (except my parents, they were cool, which was very helpful).

I think the act of deciding what you want to do and cutting out all alternatives is a pretty drastic thing, however I think it is necessary to over come this phenomenon. Certainly helped clear my life up.

Anyway, I just found this site, and i’d like to say again, great article.

42 Ozzy October 6, 2009 at 11:50 am

Worth reading; however, the first paragraph perpetuates some myths, a more accurate understanding of which would make it clear that there is something missing in the diagnosis and course of treatment suggested.

First, leisure time did NOT increase with the coming of the industrial revolution, it decreased – it was only after many years of industrialization when working hours were limited by law, and even then the ‘extra’ leisure time had to conform to factory hours. Thus, it was not a matter of suddenly having a lot of leisure time on one’s hands that ’caused’ the problem – this is a myth not supported by research into how workers actually spent their time in the pre-industrial revolution periods.

What *did* change mightily was that, in the move from rural to urban, the sense of *community* was diluted tremendously. In pre-industrial times, leisure time was spent in the company of one’s family, one’s friends, one’s community members, along with the attendant shared memories and shared stories. Those shared memories and stories – this undergirding of the sense of community – started going away when those who shared them moved to the cities, which not only offered less community than in rural areas, but also led to deterioration of the community in those rural areas as well, especially since young people began leaving to live permanently in the cities.

Absent a strong sense of community, then, it’s mush more difficult for people to resist the effects of media saturation, and all that follows, that the author correctly notes as problematic. But this means that the cure takes a different shape, at least to some degree, than what it give here. The cure given here is helpful – but consists of treating the *symptoms*. The cure of the *cause* would require a regeneration of a traditional sense of community that is so abundantly lacking today, and not only because of the anti-community aspects of industrialization, but also because of policies which have either degraded or destroyed most of America’s communities. Chief among those policies have been wars – WW1 and WW2 both ripped out the guts of communities which had withstood, to some degree, the industrial revolution’s depredations, via conscription of the young men who represented the continuity necessary for community. Too many never returned, or else returned too badly broken to serve in the roles required.

A serious analysis of this issue will reveal that, for over a century, we have witnessed a wholesale war on the community – both foreign (warfare) and domestic policies (welfare) have seemingly been expressly designed to undermine the sense of community across the nation. Industrial agriculture – which has decimated family farming and sent ever more young people fleeing to cities – is yet another example of these types of policies.

So while the advice the author gives is good as far as it goes for individuals, we should be aware that far more deeply entrenched issues are in play, and therefore that far more thoughtful and far-ranging solutions will be needed to ‘cure’ the problem at a societal level.

43 David October 7, 2009 at 6:00 pm

Great article!

Ozzy, Thank you so much for your comments. They have really helped to clarify feelings I have had about life and ones community. I really agree with your argument that the transition of people from rural to urban life did weaken the “sense” of community people had.

Having lived in a small family farming community, and in several big cities, I found that the “sense” of community I had on the family farm was greater than what what was immediately available in a big city. However, through developing friendships in the city, I feel like I have regained a portion of that “sense” of community again.

Living on the farm, the family (4 in total, plus 3-5 helpers) always had breakfast and lunch together. Everyday, we worked and spent leisure time together. As well, we had lots of contact with other farmers and neighbors, whom we saw daily. Having communal memories and a shared history was something that made that experience so rewarding and memorable.

Living on this farm, the individual did not have a choice to participate or not to participate in the community. Meals were obligatory, as was the hour of rest mid-day. There was a structure to the day that framed your life and provided a lot of emotional support. The “media” on the farm was focused on your relationships together, the work that had to get done, and personal/communal leisure time.

The farm was like an organism, where every individual was responsible for part of the whole. Like this, there wasn’t much time to feel “lost, restless or shiftless,” and since much of the emotional and physical needs are met in farm life, for people with a compatible personality (one that enjoys working hard, and routine), it can be a highly satisfying and personally rewarding lifestyle.

On the other hand, in a big city, most people do not work with their families, and many people live far from relatives. Thus, city life puts more pressure on you to develop friendships to fill these familial gaps. In the city, people do have the choice to participate or not to participate in the community, and many do live a more individualistic lifestyle.

While a farm will struggle without your participation, an individual can remain largely anonymous in a city. Farms give ample opportunity for deep relationships to develop. People will get to know your inner life, however, in a city, the amount of opportunity for this to happen is greatly reduced. In a city, this “sense” of community will take a really long time to develop, if at all, and is wholly dependent on your ability to develop close friendships. It’s understandable why people in the city fill their lives with “media” as their personal needs on an interpersonal emotional basis aren’t being met daily. Meaningful social interaction and doing things your passionate about seem to be the best help to rid myself of that, “what am I doing with my life feeling”….

Now, living in a big city, while it’s impossible to have the “sense” of community I had on the farm, by forging deep friendships, I’m finding that “sense” coming back.

44 Clark October 28, 2009 at 12:39 pm

“Our anxiousness comes from standing in the middle of a decision. We know we don’t really want to do something but we feel bad letting it go. We’re afraid it says something we don’t like about our identity. But you have to embrace your likes and dislikes or you will forever drown in choices.”

This is a very profound observation and one that hits close to home. I often feel pulled in many directions with things I’m interested in doing but not currently doing – so many that I end up not doing anything. You’ve helped me frame the problem in a new way: Instead of wishing you could do something, do it, see if you are any good at it, and see if you enjoy it. If not, move on.

45 HandyPocket November 19, 2009 at 1:15 pm

Amazing! Since I’ve started law school I’ve been feeling this way to the T. I haven’t been able to put words to what I was experiencing but you’ve seemed to to do it. Thanks for the help.

46 Lawrence Raitinger December 16, 2009 at 1:56 am

This article hits the nail on the head!!

Just found the site tonight, so far everything I’ve found is really hitting home.
Hats off to those responsible.

47 Rosya December 28, 2009 at 2:16 pm

One is to put a definition on my anxieties. I define it as just that, I’m a proud “collector of hobbies”. That helps me package it all up in a way that makes sense for me. I don’t have to worry about flitting from one interest to the next. I still get to experience what interests me.

48 Thiva June 2, 2010 at 7:06 am

Well said.. Hats off..!!

Chasing big aims is always an tantalizing difficulty.. You have rightly pointed out the causes..
Most of us would have these symptoms.. As u said ” taking small steps” would lead to happiness.. After reading this I feel much relaxed..

Thanks..

49 Kayode August 2, 2010 at 12:59 pm

I just went through a ‘dream binge’… that’s what I call it, I get really excited about a million possibilities and jump around excitedly and then feel the immediate ‘hangover’ of paralysis where I realize i can’t possibly do all those things and then go back to the depressing-i’m stuck-i don’t-know-what-to-do stage.

Thanks for this post, it puts things in perspective. I know what I must do.

One thing at a time. Slowly and surely.

50 Patrick November 7, 2012 at 8:55 pm

Oh my God, this article is EXACTLY what I was looking for. This AoM website proves more and more useful all the time. I DEFINITELY have modern “Neurasthenia” regarding Grad School and my career. I answered “yes” to every question in the diagnosis. I HATE being in grad school. I’m absolutely stuck in my choices of where to focus my efforts. I haven’t even started my “career” yet and I’m miserable.

51 Nick February 17, 2013 at 12:27 pm

Thanks for this article. Found it interesting.

52 Kathryn March 22, 2013 at 9:50 pm

I have this and I’m a girl. I can’t settle anywhere. I become unhappy everywhere I live after a few months. I hate when things are the same for too long.

53 Karin March 30, 2013 at 3:19 pm

Thanks, this is wonderful!

54 Paul May 11, 2013 at 1:40 pm

Very wise…what you’ve written is basic common sense but must of us are not only looking for the exotic lifestyle we are also looking for the exotic cure for that which ail’s us. If you could write and article about how to make a come back in life when one has already put together the dreamlife but due unbridled character flaws we manage to let get away…I’d for one like to read that! How is hope restored when you’re no longer forging ahead into the unknown? Yes most of us were start out somewhat full of niavety but were also full of hope & drive. How is hope restored when were beating ourselves up over past mistakes relentlessly?, tired before start because we’ve already done it before? Lastly, afraid that our best days our behind us? Anyway, Nice clear writting I’d love to hear what you’ve gotta say about making a come back in life I’m sure it would be worthwhile advise.

Respectfully
Paul

55 Eric Nigh May 28, 2013 at 8:57 pm

I wish I’d fully realized this sooner. You could say this was THE problem plaguing my life since adolescence. I’ve been trying to put my finger on just what it was and this confirms everything I was just barely suspecting.

56 Ami June 15, 2013 at 4:40 am

Thank you so much! It was like being knocked over the head with a baseball bat or being hit by lighting. I feel like I’ve been blind for so long, pushing myself so hard only to run in the wrong direction for the wrong reasons. Thank you so so much!

57 Jadon July 4, 2013 at 11:00 pm

I couldn’t sleep for two days because my mi d wouldn’t shut the hell up and now Fi is hang this i have the biggest sigh of relief towards my life. Thanks for the amazing read

58 Sleepy July 30, 2013 at 5:34 pm

This is right on time and gets more relevant with time.

59 Srinivas September 4, 2013 at 4:06 am

This is just what the doctor ordered for me. Many a times, we waste precious moments of life looking at the grass on the other side which always looks greener while what really should be doing is concentrating on what’s on our own turf. Beautifully written and well researched article.

60 Nick September 13, 2013 at 4:06 am

Thank you! This helped calm me down.

61 Will September 22, 2013 at 4:36 am

In the middle of a neurasthenic crisis! This really helps! Thank you.

62 Erik October 23, 2013 at 12:04 pm

While the diagnosis is right on point – literally you’ve used some of the phrases that I have, verbatim – your solution leaves a lot to be desired. It’s basically “give up, you’re not good enough,” which is a pretty depressing thing to think.

That having been said, there is a lot of good advice in here, like “just do *something*” and “identify what you want.” Unfortunately, that last one isn’t explained…if I knew how to tell what I wanted, I probably wouldn’t have stumbled across a page like this in the first place.

63 JR November 15, 2013 at 6:30 pm

I can’t even begin to articulate how accurately this writer diagnosed what I have been going through. That gap he mentions between our expectations and our realities is definitely a looming roadblock to successfully tackling any endeavor.

A few additions:

1) World-class fame is not equivalent to success. For the dreamers out there, unsure of their talents and unlocked potential: Keep Searching. Tell yourself that, for now, it’s okay to be a little lost as long as you’re continually walking forward.
2) That gap between the media we are consuming and our lived realities, I think, transfers to many areas. On the news we can see actual results from the decisions (good or bad) of our legislators, but in a time when there is virtually legal bribery, feel too disempowered to participate in the shaping of our society.

And 3) This article doesn’t mention gender. The insane, unrealistic portrayals of masculinity that are often misogynistic and homophobic blur and confuse the minds of young men. There needs to be a swift redefinition of “manliness” and “masculinity.”

64 Patrick Walker December 16, 2013 at 12:30 am

YOU DON’T NEED TALENT TO BE SUCCESSFUL, IT TAKES HARD WORK, PERSERVERANCE, RESILIANCE, A WILL OF STEEL. BUT MOST OF ALL YOU HAVE TO WANT IT BAD.

65 Emilio December 18, 2013 at 11:20 am

Hi guys!
I love your site. Great posts in every section. But, so far this has to be the most transcendent article I’ve read. Excellent
Congratulations from Mexico!

66 Shalini December 19, 2013 at 11:01 pm

The article exactly echoed my problem. The same solution was presented by my bf but now I understand better. :) Thanks Brett and Kate.

67 Graham March 25, 2014 at 5:04 am

Thank God I’m not alone! i thought it was just me. Thanks for putting my life in perspective

68 krishan pal singh March 25, 2014 at 8:12 am

In my opinion neurasthenia is caused by changed environment and one’s mantel state of resistance to the changes,causing stress which in turn causes physical reactionary disturbances finally exhaustion to the nervous system.

69 Solomon April 15, 2014 at 11:50 am

Great article. I’ve been struggling with my depressed state, and reading the article and posts, give me more clarity. I am not alone and perhaps my goals and ambitions are too high. Live in the now rather than pine for the future or regret from your past. All the while, I’m missing out on right now. Thanks again.

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