Jack might be said to have had it all. In his early forties with a lucrative law practice, an affluent life style, happily married to a beautiful woman, three lovely young children; what more could he have wanted? Yet, Jack could never get over the feeling that he was missing out on life. He had felt like that for as long as he could remember. When he was a child, he always needed the latest fad his friends were getting: a new bike, new trainers, a cool jacket; there was always something better. When he started dating, he would have several girl friends on the go at the same time, promise each the earth, but never make the final commitment, that is until Charlie issued her ultimatum – marry her or leave. The same indecision came up with his job; where should he work? Would that big city firm be better than the practice in Birmingham? Or what about Manchester? Or maybe he could get a job in the United States. With Charlie’s help, he eventually decided on a company practice in the City of London. It was undoubtedly a good decision, but he still felt that job in Boston might have been better. Then it was where to live? Should they buy a house out of town, in Essex or maybe St Albans, or perhaps down in Tonbridge or what about getting a flat in Blackheath? He got so stressed about it, he couldn’t sleep and the gut upset he had suffered from in childhood, came back. He eventually left that decision to Charlie, who decided that a house out in Woodbridge would work well for their jobs and for their growing family, but Jack always had that nagging feeling they could have done better.
Shortly after his forty second birthday, Jack’s indecisiveness reached a crisis. Their life had settled down. The family were growing up. He still went through agonies over schools and holidays, but tended to defer to Charlie, but Jack had this nagging feeling he was missing out on life. He needed more. He trawled dating sites and arranged assignations, but they always left him dissatisfied and dreadfully guilty. How could he take such risks with his family? Of course, he became careless. Charlie checked his computer and discovered her husband’s secret life. She shouted at him, called him all sorts of names, then took the children and moved out.
Jack’s life fell apart. The occasional gut upsets that had once occurred at times of stress and indecision were now present every day. He hardly dare go out of the house for fear of needing to find a loo urgently. The tablets were ineffective. He was missing a lot of time off work and when he did manage to go in, he couldn’t concentrate. Eventually, he went to see a specialist. He had tests for coeliac disease, for colitis, for food allergy; he had colonoscopies, scans, went on all kinds of diets, but nothing positive turned up and no treatment worked. Jack was sure they were missing something. He sought other opinions, saw dieticians, other specialists, alternative practitioners, all to no avail. It was only when he saw a psychologist, who suggested that illness might be relieved by living a more regulated life that his symptoms improved, within a few weeks he felt bored again and was desperately seeking out diversions. He went on line, obsessively checked his social media pages to check he was still connected, but his symptoms came back. That’s when he started to take the drugs. At least they seemed to calm him down.
FoMO or Fear of Missing Out might be seen a fear of regret, of making the wrong decision; the grass always seems greener on the other side of the fence. This often results in an inability to commit or feel content with one’s lot in life, the person with FoMO always wants more. It is a self fulfilling prophecy. If you cannot decide for fear of missing out, you always end up missing out.
By the time Jack came to see me, he was bored, lonely, depressed and desperate. He blamed it all on his irritable guts; that was now the focus of his frustration. ‘How was it that none of the numerous gastroenterologists and dieticians he had seen had not been able to cure him?’, he complained. ‘Did I think he should go to California where they seemed to have new ideas on treating IBS?’
Slowly and with some resistance, Jack was able to express how he felt now rather than what he needed to do. He admitted feelings of emptiness and hollowness; he had no substance and meaning in life. In the past, he had been able to fill the space with excitement for the next project, but no sooner that was achieved than his enthusiasm drained away and he needed to find something else. Over the course of several months, Jack talked a lot about the background and essence of his loneliness. He told me that he was the only son of ambitious but somewhat distant parents, who never seemed to recognise him for who he was; only for what he achieved. He grew up with no sense of agency and no idea of what he really wanted. But he got lucky; Charlie and the children had supplied the meaning his life that was missing and for a while he was fulfilled and happy, albeit somewhat indecisive. But as she became busier and children grew up, his fulfilment declined and he had needed to find something else. Jack was dependant on external resources to regulate his well being and these were running out. His job and his clients provided a framework and some sense of purpose, but increasingly, he felt bored with his work. He felt too guilty and ashamed to look for other life partners. He would never meet anybody like Charlie. And social media just seemed to underline his sense of loneliness.
Jack has been coming to see me every week for two years. He seems to value the regular connection as an opportunity to communicate how he feels rather than how he thinks he ought to feel. He is becoming more authentic and his bowel problems are under his control. He has moved out to a village in Suffolk and takes part in village life. He sees the children once a week and they often stay. ‘Life is not perfect’, he tells me, ‘but perhaps it never is’.