The Function of Boredom

I’m bored. Painfully, excruciatingly bored. I took my medicine, I’m not anxious, I’m not actively avoiding anything. I’m simply bored.

I have at least an hour before the kiddo will get back from his friend’s house, and The Hub and The Sub are still asleep. I have nothing I have to do or need to do (at least nothing urgent).

I’ve found myself decrying how the digital age has caused the death of boredom. Boredom has a function. It is not simply a negative state to be alleviated by whatever means necessary. Being bored is what gives us the impetus to do something. It pushes us to find stimulation, to create new experiences. It pushes us to find entertainment, to find something that fascinates, that stimulates.

Having a magic dopamine box in our pocket all day has left us unable to cope with basic boredom. I am not immune from this. My phone creates a world of entertainment, always at my fingertips. In moments like this, when my phone is available but feels empty, and boredom fills me, I wonder when I lost the ability to face boredom head on, to accept it as a challenge, not as a negative state of existence.

So, I’m writing. I don’t know that there is a point to this. I don’t know that writing is superior to playing a video game or watching a tv show or watching paint dry. But it feels as if I am putting my mind to use, even if it is in a frivolous exercise of trying to understand boredom.

Why do we get bored? Is it lack of stimulus? Is it more a state of procrastination, where we have things to do but don’t feel like doing them? Is it meant to push us into action, or is it simply the uncomfortable lull of an idling engine? There are so many things in this fascinating world with which to occupy ourselves, and most of them were invented to alleviate boredom. Yet they feel frivolous, as if there was something to be gained from feeling boredom, and something is lost when we alleviate it.

I could take a bath. I could clean. I could go outside. I could put on non pajama clothing. I could cook. I could paint. I could feed and play with the dogs. I could watch television. Yet all these things feel pointless.

Perhaps the problem isn’t boredom. Perhaps the problem is apathy. I can’t find the enthusiasm to do any of those things. They aren’t too hard, or too uncomfortable, or even unpleasant. I just can’t find the impetus to do them.

Maybe I’m not bored. Maybe I’m restless.

I need to start making plans. A to do list. Something. I need goals. I can accomplish goals when I have them, but right now, I have the energy to put toward something, but nothing concrete to put that energy toward. I have spent so long unable to do anything that I stopped making goals for myself. They all felt pointless, like something that would just remind me of my failure when I was unable to accomplish them. But now they seem like the motivating factor in all of life, and without them, I am lost.

What are my goals?

I want to live somewhere else. I want to have a clean, functional home. I want to have a normal sleep cycle. I want to ensure that the kiddo gets a good education, is well fed with nutritious food, and has warm and loving relationships with his friends and family. I want to create, to make something that goes out into the world, whether it is art or writing or paper mache. I want to find a way to make a living which I enjoy. I want to be more intimate with The Hub again. I want to rediscover my passion for the world of kink. I want to socialize again, to see people other than my family who lives with me. I want to feel that I have purpose.

What I want, in short, is to have a life again. To come back to the world of the living after being away for so long.

No one tells you what to do when your life loses purpose. Life is one long chain reaction, tripping from one thing onto the next. Some people have more control over the tripping than others, but one and all, we stumble forward. But what happens when that chain breaks? What happens when life stops, when you stop lurching toward the next thing?

When my dad died, everything stopped. I couldn’t function. I couldn’t think. I could barely breathe. And for 5 1/2 years since, every day has been about survival; continuing to breathe, not giving in to my worst and most destructive impulses, pulling myself back up to my feet instead of giving up and assuming life would never get better. I have fought that fight well and diligently, and only now am I finding that it is not enough. Survival is not enough. I want more than that. I want to feel that I have a purpose, that I am accomplishing something, that I am not breathing simply for the sake of breathing, but for something more.

I’ve always struggled with the feeling that I can do many things, but I am unsure what things I want to do. I could be happy being a short order cook or an interrogator for the CIA, but as long as I feel that I could do both, I do neither. Too many options has turned into lack of action on any option. I don’t try to learn how to cook or research how to become an interrogator, instead I sit and fantasize about all the different lives I could lead. I’ve lived hundreds of different lives in my head, taken dozens of different career paths, lived in shacks and in mansions. Yet I can’t seem to will those things out of my imagination and into reality. I can’t seem to push a desire or an idea into a motivation for real life action.

My chain reaction sputtered to a halt after Dad died. Now that I am ready to start living again, how do I get the chain reaction going again? How do I start? When we are born, the chain reaction begins, and we follow it, tumbling from one thing to the next. How does one restart that process once it has ground to a halt?

An Anonymous Outsider

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