Nineteen and No Goals, No Ambition, No Happiness

Reader’s Question

I’m 19, and I have no goals or ambitions. This normally wouldn’t worry me but I used to be such a happy curious kid. I can’t think of anything I enjoy — nothing. It’s like I forgot how to be happy. I just feel like life is starting to spiral down and no matter how hard I try to keep my head above water I just can’t seem to find a reason to care, and I’m just out of ideas. Thanks for listening I guess.

Psychologist’s Reply

There are great names for everything. In this case: “anhedonia”. Anhedonia is an inability to experience pleasure and is associated with a loss of interest, motivation, and goals. This is a key symptom in depression. If we think of our life energy and life force as a light, your light is dimming.

At your age, this is not an uncommon situation. Following high school, thousands of young adults find themselves stressed and often overwhelmed by their available options and expectations. What to do next? When a situation is overwhelming, the personality shuts down and your light goes out. The end result is the same — a depression that shuts down interest, pleasure, motivation, energy level, sexual interest, and even concentration. When we watch the evening news — interviews of adults who just lost everything to a tornado for example — they have that deer-in-the-headlight look. Asked about their next step, “I don’t know” is a common response. Combat vets call it “the 1000 yard stare” from being overwhelmed by prolonged combat stress.

If you review your situation, it’s likely that you’ve had a dramatic life change recently — more than simply leaving high school. You’ll also have other symptoms of depression such as sleep problems, rapid thinking speed, appetite changes, loss of energy, social withdrawal, and a preoccupation with the past. You may have near-suicidal thoughts — with many people reporting that they don’t want to kill/harm themselves, but it would be OK if they died.

I would recommend reading up on depression and related symptoms. I’ve written an article on depression that might help. It’s on my website at www.drjoecarver.com. This website also has depression handouts, depression tests, and additional information as well. The fact that you were happy and curious in the past denotes a dramatic change in your psychological state — the most common cause being depression. This is very treatable and often requires counseling/therapy in combination with the use of an antidepressant medication for best results. With treatment, that happy curious kid will re-emerge.

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