I'm so bored I can't get off the couch

I'm so bored I'm even bored with being bored

Published August 22, 2010 11:01PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I am bored. Really bored. I can't remember the last time I wasn't bored. I don't know how not to be bored. I cannot break this mind-set. Or is it a condition? Or is it something deeper? I have no idea. For now, it's boredom.

My status as a long-term unemployed person has just exacerbated this boredom. I now have seven days a week to deal with it, to suffer from it.

I don't know how to entertain myself. I don't seem to have it in my nature to be that natural go-getter, that gift of making the most of my time. I have my moments, but they are few and far between.

The easy excuse is to say that I'm too afraid to spend money on a diversion that needs to be saved for basic living. But before I lost the job, I still did not have the most exciting weekends. I went to the tennis club on Saturday morning, wore myself out, then did laundry and groceries to prepare for the next work week. (The tennis has since been dropped due to finances.)

The only idea I've had in months is the realization that I don't have any ideas. I don't know how not to be bored. This is driving me to the point of insanity. I have too much idle time to think about it. It's always running through my head. I can't turn this thought off, but I don't seem able to act on it.

I've thought about it. I've assessed. I've obsessed. I don't know what interests me these days. I don't know how/where to look for an idea that will stick, that will become an insight. I'm worried I may not have the ability to recognize a way out even if one presents itself.

I'm bored with being bored. A few distractions now and again break the rut (a drive in the mountains, using the gym, etc.) but these are not long-term solutions. My mental energy is all but gone and it's not recharging. I'm incredibly on edge for a person who sits on the couch the majority of the day wondering why I don't know how to motivate myself off the couch.

I just exist now. I exist in this shell of a body. All desire, all interests, all everything just not there anymore. I hate this. I have to not be like this. I just don't know how.


Insanely Bored

Dear Insanely Bored,

Here, do this one thing. Think of the name of a friend or relative, preferably one who lives nearby, who would be willing to accompany you on a very simple errand. Call that person and say, I would appreciate it if you would accompany me on a very simple errand. If that person says yes, OK, I would be willing to accompany you, then set a time to get together with this person for a very simple errand.

If the first person you call is not able to accompany you, then repeat this process. Think of a second person. Call that person and repeat your request. When you have set a time to get together, then carry out the following very simple errand.

The errand involves making a retail purchase for under $20. What you want to purchase is a book called "Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy" by David Burns, M.D. You can get it at Amazon or you can find it at a bookstore. You could probably get a used paperback for maybe five bucks. Even if you buy it at Amazon, I'm recommending that you do it with a friend; the friend could come over to your house and just witness you purchasing the book online. Perhaps the friend may want to document the activity by taking a still photo or video of you making the purchase.

If you do this, it could be the first step in solving your problem.

But you have to actually do it. Thinking about it won't help very much.

Don't get me wrong. Thinking about it might help a little. Thinking about it might eventually lead to doing it, if you think about it enough. But thinking alone won't really have the results we're looking for. What we want as an end result is we want that book in your hands, "Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy," by David Burns, M.D.

If you find yourself thinking about doing this and deciding that it's just stupid and why bother, or if you begin to feel anxious and bored as you think about it, just let that thinking happen. Take note of it.

Watch what happens.

Maybe some voices in your head will say it's hopeless and there's no point in doing it and why don't I just sit here on the couch instead and think about it for another week. Just watch that happen. Watch how you feel when the voices say you're too bored to go buy this book and read it and do what it says. Observe yourself sitting on the couch not phoning a friend to ask if that friend will accompany you on a very simple errand. While you're sitting there thinking about being bored and how pointless it is to even move or lift a finger because there's not much to be gained from any kind of human activity, just observe.

When you've observed this for a while, and your heart feels like it's beating normally and your breathing is fairly regular, see now if you can come up with the name of a person who would accompany you on a simple errand. See if you can just write down the phone number of your friend. Next to the phone number, see if you can write down what you are going to say. Then put a telephone in your hand. Put the number of this person into the telephone, or locate the number if it is already stored in your phone. See if you can press the button that makes the phone call this person.

Maybe you won't be able to do it on the first or second try. Maybe it will take you a few days, or a month. Or maybe it will be a piece of cake. Hard to tell.

If you can't do it right away, then keep planning to do it and not doing it. If it helps to make it a regular exercise, then put it on your calendar and every day look at your calendar and say, OK, I'm going to do it. Take note of the degree of difficulty. Laugh about how difficult it is to do this simple thing. It's kind of strange but interesting. What's interesting is that of all the many things one might contemplate doing, this one is fairly doable. Yet even thinking about doing it right now, I feel strangely unmotivated; I feel my shoulders slump and I kind of don't want to do it, either. I want to stay in my room. I like it here. Nobody's bothering me. I'm pretty safe here. I have some tea. I just ate some toast. I have pretty much all I need right here. So I don't want to go out and buy a book so if I were you, I would kind of not want to go buy this book either, and so I sort of understand how you could end up not doing it right away.

But then I think of the terrible sense of despair I sometimes feel when I am unable to act, and I think, shit, I might as well. I could at least make a plan to do it later and then see if I have the energy then.

I used to not like making plans because plans seemed like annoying commitments that got in the way of my free-flowing dudeness. I would be going along being a free-flowing dude and then there would be a plan at 3:30. I would dread it all day.

Now I sort of like making plans because a plan, in a way, is a delay. If you make a plan for later, then until then you don't have to do anything. Whereas if you don't make a plan, you spend the whole time thinking you're supposed to be doing that thing right now and you're not doing it and why not, are you some kind of miserable failure?

You know, there is another way, too. It also involves making contact with the outside world. But in the long run might be easier for you. You could just call a therapist who practices cognitive behavioral therapy.

Reading the book might instill in you a desire to contact such a therapist anyway. But as you are unemployed and worried about money, maybe you will prefer not to spend the money on a cognitive behavioral therapist.

Can I say something else here? Of course I can. What I also want to say is that lately I've been thinking about this mood the country is in where everybody is going around saying they have no money. I have a friend who has a good job and an apartment and a car and clothes and so forth, but when I say maybe you would want to do this or that she says, But I have no money.

That's the kind of thought that gets into your head. I worry sometimes that it gets into the head of every person in America and makes things depressed.

But we're getting off the topic here. This is supposed to be about your being bored and me recommending you buy that book "Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy" by David Burns, M.D.

He's not paying me to say this or anything. The truth is, I went to a cognitive therapist once, and he had me read that book and do what it says, and it helped a lot. It's helped many other people, too. So I figure why not. Maybe it could help you.

Write Your Truth.

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By Cary Tennis

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