I am tired of myself tonight. I should like to be somebody else. Oscar Wilde
Chronic Dissatisfaction (let’s just call it CD) stalked me for years.
Do you know CD?
The symptoms include restlessness, needing more of something indefinable and always shifting, feeling like you’re not there yet (but wondering where the hell there is.) CD pushed and nagged me that I was made for more, to be more and express more until I bled.
I seethed at myself when I felt it coming, gnawing chronic dissatisfaction. I judged myself for letting it invade me as a host again. I was furious that I felt so powerless to mollify or sate that slavering devourer of happiness.
Sometimes it turned me in knots of anxiety, sometimes it got me feeling so flat I didn’t want to move. Dissatisfaction with something, or everything, is a player in depression. It’s also there in anxiety, in the indeterminate dread that something’s not right and may at some point shockingly emerge and ambush you.
Recognise any of this yourself?
I felt it worst in my twenties. It’s a common time for CD to first show itself, during what’s sometimes called The Quarter-Life Crisis – an early 20’s existential angst period where we crave deeper meaning and purpose, in ourselves and in the world. Once CD has its hooks in you, it’s often a travelling companion on and off throughout life. Our celebrity-adoring, curated-life culture feeds CD, teasing us about whether we measure up, creating conditions that can keep us constantly doubting ourselves. Chronic Dissatisfaction is a close relative of that other perennial mind-stalker Fear of Failure to Fulfil Potential which also tends to rise up around the same time.
Years later, despite being more satisfied in my life than I’ve ever been, I’m still able to time warp right back into the feelings of dissatisfaction I had as a teenager and twenty-something, if I let myself.
I have everything I need, no reason for life or death struggles in my day to day, no reason for sadness, no reason for yearning or such blatant aching need. My life is full and rich. Yet there it is, writhing on home again through my veins like a parasite that sucks my lifeforce. CD is a feeling I recognise from long ago.
Sure, we have wins, but most of us never feel that CD’s completely solved – that’s the chronic in it – because as we grow and achieve a goal, always another deeper level or a higher standard to reach emerges. There’s always something greater, always something more just out ahead.
It’s healthy and adaptive to seek more, reach further, wonder what more we have in us, right? It’s a normal, self-actualising part of human growth, albeit not always a relaxing or very comfortable part. Dissatisfaction can be a great motivating force in life. The trouble is that it can also be disheartening, panic-inducing and exhausting.
Physical yoga practice, some exercise, used to see me through while I was doing it, but then…hello old friend…Now I’m much stronger with it. The years have taught me how to swim with it rather than sink.
Writing offers me huge solace in the catharsis of self-expression when I feel dissatisfaction trying to worm its way to the surface of my skin, infiltrating my words with self-doubt, whispering edits to try to suck the goodness out of easy pleasure. I tell it
“No, all is well”.
The difference between then and now is that I used to fear CD so much more. I was too afraid to speak to it directly, to look it in the face. Now I know it’s just a part of me that the rest of me isn’t entirely comfortable with, but I need to live with anyway. I take it in my stride when it shows up and check to see if it has anything useful to contribute today. Sometimes it’s there to tell you that you need to make a change, other times it’s rattling the pressure tin. The secret is having the patience and courage to see which of those emerges this time.
You can learn to work with your chronic dissatisfaction too. In fact, I recommend it for your mental health. Because, ugly as it is on first meeting, CD isn’t essentially a bad guy. These days I even feel safe enough with it to perversely enjoy its pressure sometimes when it lunges at me, because it helps me stay focused on living a life that has meaning for me. It stops me from wasting precious time on stuff that doesn’t matter, warns me off mediocrity and whispers
“What more, what more is possible?”
This Chronic Dissatisfaction Series continues with an exploration of what it means to feel ‘satisfied’ in today’s world (Is it possible, or even desirable?) and how to deal with nagging dissatisfaction in ways that support you rather than hold you back. x