Chapter 2: Looking For The Answers When Life Feels Meaningless

 life feels meaningless

William considered himself to be a regular guy. He was intelligent and hard working. He was very sensitive to the people and situations around him. People used to tell him what a great smile he had but now it felt forced. And he had this funny habit of tilting his head to the right when he was listening intently to someone. He knew how to be a good listener but he just didn’t seem to be as interested in what others were saying any more.

William knew that women seemed to be attracted to him but he never really knew why. He was generally well groomed but recently he had let his appearance slip. He stopped shining his shoes. He was not as concerned about his clothes as he used to be. He didn’t bother to shave every day. He recalled how he used to enjoy getting a facial occasionally, not something he generally shared with his buddies. But in the last few months, he didn’t seem to care as much about how he looked or doing the kinds of things that made him feel good.

William was not what you would call a theater buff but he did enjoy going to plays and musicals from time to time, especially with his old friends. He remembered how they would then go out for a fine meal together. He liked good food and was always appreciative of good service. He realized he hadn’t been out like that in a very long time. In fact he had isolated himself and was not doing much of anything he had enjoyed in the past.

People had always enjoyed his wry sense of humor but lately it had turned pretty caustic. He used to enjoy reading about history and current events, reading several newspapers every day. But in the last year or so William had become fairly cynical about world and national politics. In fact, he recently had found himself getting angry at all the negative stories on the local evening news. It was just one gruesome report after another about his community and his neighbors being in some kind of crisis. It was all too depressing. He decided to stop watching the late night news.

William had an old friend named Bob who would call him once in a while. Lately, William felt so miserable and uninteresting that he would avoid Bob’s calls. He’d just let the answering machine pick it up. It’s funny, Bob would always make some positive statement like “I miss you bud” or “Let’s get together and have some laughs - I miss your sense of humor”. William stopped returning the calls, afraid that Bob would see what a ‘downer’ he was and how boring he had become.

He made decent money and had a reasonably nice place to live. He had come to this city several years ago for what looked like an excellent career move. But it hadn’t quite worked out that way. William was generally unhappy. In fact, he was downright miserable.

One Friday evening, after coming home from work the same old way he always came home from work, he began to realize just how sad he really was. He knew he had been sad for a long time. But it was getting worse. He’d been trying to hold it together for many months now but he felt like he was losing his grip. He was having a hard time stuffing the feelings he’d been trying not to look at.

William didn’t like his job. He knew many people at his company were unhappy too. It just wasn’t a very friendly place to work. William was a supervisor and he knew he wasn’t giving his people the kind of support and direction they needed. He never really felt in control of his group either.

There was a lot of friction with his boss, who was always on his back, complaining and pressuring to keep his staff producing more and more. He was angry at his boss for working him so many long hours and never giving him credit for the good work he had done. Yesterday his boss walked right past him and didn’t even notice or acknowledge him. He felt invisible - like he wasn’t worth anything to anybody.

It was no secret that some of the accounting people were being pressured to change some of the numbers to make things look better than they actually were. He knew there were lots of unethical practices going on at his company. But William didn’t know what to do about it. He felt he had been deceived by the personnel manager that had hired him. He was angry about that and felt increasingly ashamed to be associated with this company.

Lately he’d been feeling really anxious at work. He was having trouble concentrating and making decisions. He also noticed he was starting to forget the simplest things. ere was this nervous feeling like it was just a matter of time before he got caught, being a kid attempting a grown-up job. They would all see that he was not really qualified to be a supervisor.

In the last three weeks William had been having quite a few headaches and sometimes his heart raced. He’d feel all sweaty and thought he might fall over or go crazy or even die. At that moment the thought of dying almost seemed like a welcome relief.

William was a very lonely man. He had divorced several years ago, just before he came to this city. He didn’t have a best friend. He hadn’t had a best friend since high school. William realized he really didn’t have any friends at all - not anybody he could really talk to. He was very isolated. Some of the other folks at work had parties from time to time. But they never invited him anymore. They used to invite him but he seldom felt comfortable enough to go. So they stopped asking.

William hadn’t seen his parents or his brothers and sister in several years. He missed them a lot.

“Why haven’t I stayed in touch with them?” he thought sadly. “I haven’t called or visited them since I moved here. It’s not because they haven’t tried to stay in touch with me. They used to call regularly until I stopped returning their phone calls and e-mails. I really miss talking to my mom. She just seemed to love me no matter what. I always felt safe with her.” In that moment William felt very much alone.

It seemed that nobody really knew how he felt. In fact, he wasn’t sure he even knew how he felt. He’d worked pretty hard for a long time to avoid letting his feelings come to the surface. “A guy should be strong - stay in control of his feelings, right?” But it wasn’t working anymore.

William had never really thought much about what he was feeling and he sure hadn’t ever talked about it! He wondered if that had something to do with his divorce. His former wife often complained that he never talked to her - never really let her in on his true feelings. But how could he? Sometimes he felt scared and so unsure of himself. He couldn’t let her know he felt that kind of stuff. Could he?

That evening, sitting alone on a bench at the park near where he lived, William pondered these things. He remembered that his father and one of his uncles used to complain about similar feelings. Was it genetic? Had he inherited a bad attitude and negative feelings from his family? His mom and sister weren’t like that. It was all too confusing. Well, whatever the case, he had a lot of good reasons to feel badly.

Lately, William hadn’t been taking very good care of himself, either. He had developed an unhealthy relationship with food - an increasing variety of junk food - and way too much of it!

“I know sometimes I eat to comfort myself. It’s like trying to fill a void,” he muttered desolately, popping another mouthful of french fries. “But the more I stuff it in, the bigger the void becomes. There’s no filling the emptiness!”

We commute to work on the jam-packed freeway made him tense and anxious. e only exercise he ever got anymore was walking the two blocks from where he parked his car to his high-rise office building.

“That two block walk to work feels like all the exercise I can handle,” William told himself. Yet he noticed his weight was up a little over 200 pounds. In college he had been a trim 175.

“How’d that happen?” he asked himself sarcastically, as he continued to scarf down his dinner - a double-bacon cheese burger, fries and a chocolate shake.

To make matters worse, William felt tired most of the time. He’d been having a hard time getting to sleep lately. He often woke in the middle of the night, worried about money, his job, his thinning hair ...... tossing and turning for hours.

Some nights, William wallowed for hours in angry fantasies about his boss and his company’s insensitive and unethical practices. He felt guilty and ashamed to be part of a company that seemed to be only motivated by greed. en he’d have difficulty getting back to sleep. No wonder he never felt rested in the mornings anymore.

“I can’t remember the last time I slept through the night,” he moaned. “What I’d give for just one good night’s sleep!”

William had been doing other things he knew probably weren’t good for him. Like spending too much time down at the local pub, drinking a little more beer than was good for him. He’d started to drink at home when he was alone, too. The alcohol’s numbing effect only gave him temporary relief from his clamoring emotions. And he watched too much television - sometimes looking at pornography on the Internet. William was one lonely guy. And scared.

“I know I’m in trouble but what do I do about it,” he wondered, gazing at his reflection in a puddle of water under his feet by the bench. at’s when he noticed bags under his eyes. “My skin doesn’t look that great either.”

“Well, you’ll just have to put on a good face, stay in control and keep going,” he advised the reflection with macho bravado. “That’s what men are expected to do. We way to survive in this corporate world is to stay in control and just keep going. Keep putting one slow-moving foot in front of the other. Day after day,” he concluded morosely.

“What’s my alternative,” he asked, wishing the man reflected in the puddle could suggest one. Lately, William had been working overtime trying to keep it together. And there just never seemed to be enough time or money. He’d been trying his best to avoid his pain but it just wasn’t working anymore.

William didn’t really have any hobbies or outside interests any more. He realized he hadn’t done any of the things he used to enjoy as a kid, like get together with his buddies and kick the soccer ball around.

“I haven’t shot hoops or ridden my bike in years,” William sighed. “Man, that used to be fun.”

“I haven’t gone dancing, either,” he exclaimed. “Not since I left home. I used to feel so alive on the dance floor.” He smiled at the memory. “Everybody said I had natural rhythm.” He also remembered with pleasure singing as a carefree young man while standing in long hot showers.

“...and I haven’t sung a note in ages!”

“I used to be pretty good at baseball when I was young,” William pointed out to his reflected image in the puddle. “Hey! I’m not that old,” he objected. “I just feel old - and tired. I know lots of people who still play softball and soccer! Why haven’t I felt like joining them? I guess I don’t have passion for much of anything in my life anymore,” William said flatly.

William didn’t know if he believed in God or not. In fact, he didn’t have a strong belief in anything bigger than himself. He hadn’t been to church in years - couldn’t agree with everything any one church taught. Much of what they had to say simply didn’t make sense to his logical mind. So he just didn’t go.

But he remembered when he was younger, there was something special about being in church with his family. He seemed to feel better when he went where other people gathered to celebrate life. Now, life feels meaningless.  He enjoyed the singing, and he did kind of like dressing up in his tweed jacket and string tie. “And the mountains of fresh-baked cookies after the service,” William recalled fondly, “were homemade heaven!”

But that is not the way it felt now. He was depressed and it narrowed his world. “I feel like I’ve become so self-absorbed that hope in the future and any real connection with other people has disappeared. I have lost faith and a belief that there is any good in the universe.” He felt heavy all over. “I seem to have gotten fixated on the how hostile and uncaring the world seems. Everything dies. Everything is just so transient.” He paused to rub the tightness in his neck. “Why bother to care about anything? It would only hurt more to care.” William wondered if he’d ever be happy again. He felt hopeless and helpless to do anything about it. He didn’t see that there was anything he could do that would make him feel better.

As he sat alone on the bench, all the rest of the feelings he’d been stuffing came to the surface and washed over him: depression, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, fear, confusion and shame. He felt intense frustration with everybody lately, including himself. He realized how angry he’d been getting at all the jerks on the crowded freeway on his way to work each morning. “I guess maybe I’ve become one of them.”

William slowly walked home. When he got there he threw his coat on the couch and noticed how messy the place was. His windows were dirty, too.

“No wonder I have such a bad outlook,” he snickered inwardly. “Look at this pig sty. You’d think 50 frat boys had just thrown a kegger party in here. No wonder my life feels like such a mess.” William suddenly realized that he hadn’t laughed in a long, long time.

He also noticed that the mirror in the bathroom was smudgy and the laundry wasn’t done. There were still dishes in the sink from last week. And not much that could be classified as edible was in the refrigerator, either. He realized he hadn’t had anybody over to his place as long as he’d been there. Looking around, he knew he’d feel embarrassed to entertain guests. William felt ashamed - a fairly common feeling lately.

It began to dawn on him that beneath his tangle of feelings was a deeply rooted, old thought that if people really knew him - what he felt and what he thought, who he really was - they wouldn’t like him. They wouldn’t want to have anything to do with him.

“No wonder I’ve isolated myself! I’m afraid to let anybody see who I’ve become.”

Now William felt even more hopeless. And he didn’t have any idea what to do about it!

He thought about others he knew and didn’t think any of them seemed really happy either.

“Well, nobody except maybe my old friend Bob or my neighbor George,” William admitted to himself. “George always seems to be happy.”

George always had a friendly ‘hello’ for William when he saw him in the neighborhood. William never had stopped to talk to George, though. Being so stressed from work, he’d just nod, lower his sad eyes and haul his weary self home.

“George always seems to have a good time hanging out with family and friends,” sighed William. “He’s a lucky man. I sure wish I had a life like George’s!”

William wondered if how he was thinking about things could be part of his problem. He sensed that how he thought probably had a direct relationship to how he felt. But he just couldn’t see any way to change how he thought.

William had a lot of good reasons to feel bad so he suspected his thinking couldn’t be all of the problem. But trying to figure it out was too complicated. He felt confused, numb and powerless

Late that night William walked up the hill from his house, to where the bridge overlooked the city. The night was very clear and the full moon shone brightly. It was a wonderful place to look out over the vast expanse of lights which was now his world. He looked out in the direction of the city where he had left his family and friends - his old home. Sometimes William thought about jumping off the bridge.

“I don’t really want to... but sometimes life just seems harder than dying. I’m so tired of the pain and suffering and the emptiness that fills my life. At this point in my life it feels like I have to face the reality that my childhood dreams simply haven’t come true. But I don’t want to give up on me. I just don’t know what to do. I haven’t got a clue.”

“A long, long time ago when I was a little kid, I had a really clear feeling there was a reason I was alive. I remember back when I instinctively knew there was something I was supposed to do or be. Though I didn’t know what that purpose was, I knew it was true! at feeling isn’t quite so clear anymore.”

William stood by the rail of the bridge looking out at the miles and miles of concrete jungle below him. He felt more sad and lonely and hopeless than he had ever let himself feel. William began to cry. He couldn’t stop himself this time.

He cried deep and he cried hard and he cried long. He sobbed like a scared, lonely child. He let himself cry like he had never let himself cry before.He cried about the end of his marriage.

“Why couldn’t I make it work? She was such a sweetheart, too.” He cried about his life not turning out the way he had hoped it would. “What happened?” he wailed. The tears rolled down his sallow cheeks as all his heartache washed over him. He felt like an emotional basket case but right then he didn’t care. William just let it happen.

William cried about his hopeless situation at work. He cried about not having anything in his life to look forward to - no activities, no real friends and nobody to touch him or to lovingly touch. He cried and cried and cried.

After a while the crying stopped. He didn’t know how long he’d been standing there or how much time had passed. But he noticed that some of the most painful feelings had passed too. William realized that for the first time in a long time he didn’t feel quite so miserable.

“Whew,” he thought. “What a relief! Letting myself cry actually helped me feel better. How could that be? is is all so confusing. Oh, well, I’m tired... think I’ll go home and go to bed.”

He slept through the entire night and awoke feeling rested. William had just had the best night’s sleep he could remember in months.

“Go figure,” he exclaimed. “I think I’ll eat a nice big breakfast and then do the dishes and clean this place up a bit!”

While William vacuumed, he grinned boyishly and cracked a joke.

“Life sucks!” Once, he had liked his sense of humor. Where had it been for so long?
“Why is it so hard - and scary - to allow myself to feel all those emotions," he wondered.

Later he caught himself whistling as he picked up an old sock from behind the couch.

“I know I need help but I don’t know where to turn,” he said to the dead fern he had forgotten to water.“There must be somebody I could I trust with all my stuff."