Hi, I’m 32 years old, living with an autistic sister and a depressed mother. For as long as I can remember I have had very little motivation. Anything that involves hard work and perseverance feels almost toxic to me. The only thing I’ve ever done without effort is learning English, mainly by translating videogames and songs as a child. I’ve never had dreams nor ambitions, I’ve been bullied severely and I also suffer from an extreme lack of self-esteem. I keep looking for something that I could be passionate about yet, when confronted with a subject, what I ask is “is it easy” I’m extremely unhappy about my home and work life yet I can’t seem to find enough strength to change nor something to give my all to. I also have trouble losing weight for much the same reason. I’m losing my mind. I also believe I have anger issues because I have very little patience and most times, I find it hard to confront the truth. I feel I need to do something about my life and future but I just can’t muster enough willpower and energy to change. I don’t really know what’s wrong with me and am seriously worried. Thanks a lot. (From Italy)

Before I offer some suggestions about your situation I want to take a few moments to talk about the sentence structure, form, and readability of your English in this email. There are only the slightest of grammatical issues and your command of the language, fluidity of expression, and understanding of the nuances is exceptional. I do not receive such well-written emails from people whose native tongue is English. Let’s not skip over this feat too quickly. Particularly since you say this remarkable ability came from translating songs and video games as a child. This is no small accomplishment, and it speaks directly to your perspective on your motivation. It is apparent that when you want something and it is important enough to you the motivation is quite high.

Secondly, you say that you do not have the strength to change yet you have taken the time and effort to seek out the advice in how to change by writing us here at PsychCentral. This shows that even though you have had a long-term struggle you have persistence in seeking a resolution. My point with identifying these two features of your email is that you have abilities that are clearly present—but may not as of yet been fully realized. This is different than saying you don’t have the ability. It is finding the right thing to stimulate your passion.

That having been said I am going to encourage your to take the character strength survey to learn more about your signature character strengths and learn how to use them more in your life. This can help provide motivation and the instructions on the site are excellent.

On the other side of the coin, many of the things you say you struggle with seem like symptoms of depression. Here is a typical list used to help clinicians diagnose:

  • Feeling sad or having a low mood
  • Disengagement, with a loss of interest or pleasure in activities, once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite—weight loss or gain unrelated to diet
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue
  • Anxiety-related physical activity (i.e., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others)
  • Loss of meaning or purpose, feeling worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

While it is beyond my scope to offer a diagnosis I would recommend reading more about it here and look to get a thorough physical to begin ruling out medical causes for these symptoms. Between finding out what is causing these things and looking forward to using your abilities you may find more strength to move you forward.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan
Proof Positive Blog @ PsychCentral