Overcoming the Sense of Emptiness All My Life

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Reader’s Question

As a kid I feel I didn’t give anything my best effort. Looking back, I appear lost and empty minded. In school I couldn’t pay attention and was shy. That empty feeling has been with me all through life. It’s like I have no personality.

In junior high and early in high school I began getting into trouble. I was trying to find a pulse, an identity. Following high school I joined the Navy. In boot camp I couldn’t pay attention long enough to follow what was going on. I couldn’t fold clothes or make my bed the way they wanted. In the school portion, my mind wandered. Within a month I was separated from the Navy for urinating in my bed. This was never a problem in my past, but here it was.

I moved on and found a job, where I became fast and efficient. I went on to bigger, more advanced shops. But I had a temper. I’d throw tools and punch my tool box for small reasons. I would pack up my tool box and quit a job in a split second. I’d go from shop to shop within the same company.

I’d go through periods of time where I’d be happy and enjoyed life, normally during the summer months. But then there were always those times where I couldn’t stop thinking about how I didn’t have a defined personality. At parties I don’t talk to anyone. It’s like my mind locks up and goes blank. At work, I am social, especially in the happy months. If I know someone, I have no problems talking to them.

At my third shop, where I was able to remain for over a year, I eventually made enough money to move into an apartment of my own. I lost that job, got another, lost that one and eventually went on to selling marijuana with no legal job. Money ran out, and undercover police had been spying on me. I became scared. I walked across town to steal my father’s car. The alarm went off, police came and arrested me. I lost the apartment and moved back in with mom and dad. I stole jewelry from my mother and went to Las Vegas. Two months later I stole more money and went to New Orleans. I wanted to go to another city and start over. When I returned home, I got a job at a gas station, emptied their safe and went to San Diego. My mind was packed with self-hatred and at the same time empty.

After that I re-entered the automotive industry and repeated the same pattern. Went from job to job and eventually ran out of places to go. In 2007, I got a job at a warehouse where I eventually became manager. I was doing the best I ever had. I even met a girl who wanted to be a part of my life. A few months ago I lost that job and my girlfriend.

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I feel smart, but I can’t retain knowledge when I read. I have a great memory of events and in most cases, television programs. I’m good with numbers. I can’t, however, bring myself to study a subject online or in book form regardless of how interested I am. The empty personality still exists and my anger issue has returned.

Although I am unlikely to ever kill myself, I often wish I was dead. I feel like I wasted a life. At 26 I am still lost and have no idea who I am. For years I have even thought people could see inside my mind and that I am a test child. What they are testing is unknown. But I simply cannot understand how and why I feel this way. I know I am a smart, successful person buried in this deranged mind. Where I went wrong had to have been rooted in childhood, but why haven’t I been able to fix it?

Psychologist’s Reply

Q: It is possible to have more than one psychological problem at the same time, as appears to be the case here. Sometimes one problem causes another, at other times they exist independently. You are describing symptoms and experiences that could easily be traced back to any one (or combination) of a half-dozen different sources. People with these kinds of longstanding issues often try to self-medicate with street drugs and alcohol, which both masks existing symptoms and creates new ones, further complicating the diagnostic picture.

Even without the added complication of the marijuana, when there are multiple intertwined issues that have been developing over decades, it is almost impossible to tease out exactly what is going on without a thorough evaluation. It is even more difficult to resolve such problems on your own. A licensed psychologist could help you both define the problem and develop a plan to help resolve it, or at least to cope with it. You can get this help on a sliding fee scale through your county health department.

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