How I Tackle Boredom Living Alone with MS

Retired on disability and struggling to bring structure to your day? It’s something I face upon rising that is finally getting easier to solve. In the beginning we tell ourselves how sick we are of our disease limitations. Then it isn’t quite enough to keep it our little secret. Misery is meant to be shared.

Boredom is an actual problem

If you are bold enough to say out loud I’m bored, you’ve already heard the stock responses, few of them validating boredom as an actual problem. The favorite seems to be: If you’re bored then you’re boring. I never did buy that one. I am boring to be sure, but despite that, I’m not always bored. That one just sounds kind of spiteful.

“Is life not a thousand times too short for us to bore ourselves?”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche has a point, but it requires a person to live in a constant state of urgency. My little ticker would have given out twenty years ago in that puddle of frenzy.

“The truth is that everyone is bored, and devotes himself to cultivating habits.”
― Albert CamusThe Plague

Camus gets closer to the essence. When we who put ourselves out to pasture are challenged to impose new structure on our daily lives, habits are the foundation of that new construct. But habits can create problems, too.

“The absence of the will to live is, alas, not sufficient to make one want to die.”
― Michel Houellebecq

He’s such a hoot, Michel. I’ll bet it’s even funnier in French. Still, we could also take this as identifying the root of apathy or a lighter stage of depression. One just exists, drifting along through each day. It can go on indefinitely. That’s kind of serious, though, much more so than just being bored. I think Michel was going for a laugh here. Any resemblance to a more sober truth is likely accidental.

“…I also believe that introversion is my greatest strength. I have such a strong inner life that I’m never bored and only occasionally lonely. No matter what mayhem is happening around me, I know I can always turn inward.”
― Susan Cain

Cain appeals to me on a very personal level. I’m both a writer and an introvert, so what’s going on in my head has often been much richer than what is happening in the room. Then why do I so often feel bored and restless?

I love watching television. I’m a vintage movie and TV trivia geek of such epic accomplishment that I’ve sent several normal people screaming down the street to shield themselves from the toxic fallout of my encyclopedic knowledge. My latest binge is spending afternoons and early evenings watching DECADES, a cable network that runs episodes of MANNIX, THE DICK CAVETT SHOW, LAUGH-IN, and a number of other 60s and 70s programs that I first watched as a young teen. Seeing these programs again as a young senior is such a different experience that the shows seem brand new. But now the thrill is wearing thin and I think I know why.

Watching for hours every day is precisely what is rubbing the shine off my new toy. DECADES not only shows reruns of vintage programs, it repeats the shows in the evening that it ran earlier in the afternoon.

Battling monotony

It’s not boredom I’m experiencing. It’s monotony. I’m watching too many hours of DECADES. It’s not like binge-watching THE WALKING DEAD or BREAKING BAD, where the episodes parade along chronologically hour and after hour from S1Ep1 to the bitter end. That would be okay. But repeating the same six episodes of a show causes a WIZARD OF OZ moment that I really resent. You know, the scene at the end of WIZARD when Toto pulls back the curtain to expose the machinery and the ordinary man that’s been on a big power trip making the meek little quartet jump through hoops just to send Dorothy back home? That’s what happens when I watch too much television. I can see the machinery. Have you ever become aware of an actor acting? It’s darned disappointing. I see them hit their marks and deliver their lines. I can even see them clocking out at the end of the day and taking their paychecks to the bank. The magic is gone. I want the magic.

So this is what I’ve been doing about it lately. I create my own magic. First, I drink scotch daily. I cut back my calories to gain a fuller effect. Two things happen. My brain quiets down, tuning out all the critical, angry chatter, and my creative portal opens wider, letting in the chatter of ideas instead.  I keep a spiral note pad and pen nearby to quickly jot down those valuable fragments. Sometimes they come swiftly and, like a bear during a salmon run, I have to grasp and bat at them with bared claws and teeth before they tumble back into the swirling maelstrom. Quite a thrill. Productive, too.

The best magic of all happened one day when two ideas trickled in for a second novel I’ve carried in my head for fourteen years, a novel I never thought I’d write. Now I have hope again. That’s the kind of experience that makes me think things like: MS? What MS? Don’t bother me, I’m writing.

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