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How can I resist the temptation to despair?
December 12, 2009 4:45 PM   Subscribe

How can I resist the temptation to despair as I get older and still find myself unable to break consistent patterns of frustration in my work and personal life? (long)

I am 39 years old and have just had the first successful year of my life in terms of career. After struggling for nearly two decades in boring, low-level jobs that didn't pay enough to enable me to move out of the family home, I entered a new field and did a hell of a lot of work with a hell of a lot of objective and measurable output to show for it. I had excellent feedback all year, mostly from my boss, but also from others.

Better still, I had enough pay and financial benefits to support myself into the future and, a couple of weeks ago, I finally paid off the debts I ran up over the two preceding years when I spent more time looking for work than I did actually working (and during which the cost of going to work was only slightly less than I earned).

I was looking forward to building on my successful year career-wise, and storing up some savings. I thought that finally I would be able to afford to go out once a week and maybe, with any luck, eventually meet someone special.

The only problem (as far as I knew) was that the job was very draining and exhausting, largely because of my boss's management style. She does things at the last minute and characteristically leaves us working towards externally imposed hard deadlines (i.e. the team won't get paid if they're not met) with insufficient time to meet them. She is always unresponsive to appeals for better time management and on one occasion I worked myself into exhaustion, such that I passed out and hit my head.

Over the last couple of months I became weepy and had to stay home sick a couple of days because of uncontrollable crying. I also couldn't force myself to work as fast as usual and had to work longer hours to compensate, meaning I got less and less sleep. I attributed this to the feelings stirred up by a colleague who had just moved on to a new job, but not before toying with my emotions quite severely while simultaneously making it clear that he was unavailable. This led to my thinking about what I still longed for in life that I couldn't have.

Not only this, but it was especially painful because I'd had no inkling that he was attracted to me and mutual attraction is something that has never happened before in my entire life. Yes, you read that right - not ever. I'm attracted to very very few people, and that, combined with geographical isolation (for economic reasons) and my ASD has basically meant a lifetime of utter singleness. There are men I could have dated, but they always seemed to me to have something glaringly undesirable about them. I often thought that perhaps I should have forced myself to go out with them even though I wasn't interested in them, but my instincts invariably turned out to be right. So I guess I'm glad I trusted my instincts but still... no relationships for me. (And I'm sure plenty of people will suggest that the unavailability is the attraction, but I have considered that and I'm pretty sure it's not true.)

Anyway, because I wasn't getting any sleep or any exercise and I never knew when I might be called upon to work myself into exhaustion again, my blood pressure went up. I was given 3 months to get it down again or be taken off some medications I rely on to function every day. So I had to tell my boss I needed to exercise every day and get 7 hours' sleep a night.

Unfortunately the moment I had to tell her was immediately after she yelled at me for booking a flight that landed the night before a conference, instead of travelling for a night and a day to get there an hour before the conference, with of course a full day's work on either side. She *said* she was okay with what I needed to do... what else would she say?

Meanwhile I had to accept that my weepiness wasn't going away and I entered treatment for depression and began to improve.

Although I knew my contract could come to an end at any time, my boss always downplayed this possibility and the feedback I got from others was always that she viewed me as someone who would be around for a long time. Besides, I had just interviewed two new recruits. So it came as a big surprise when I went in for my regular weekly meeting, and after talking over "you need to debug this, enhance that, and update the other," I then got, "and by the way I have to give you notice that your contract won't be renewed."

Still I was assured that it was nothing personal, and coworkers reassured me that I was bound to get a glowing reference and that I'd have known it if anything were wrong with the quality of my work.

A couple of days later it was appraisal time. I was shocked by how negative her review was. On the one hand I had glowing emails of appreciation that I got for completing certain projects, and on the other hand, I had low scores and negative remarks for those exact same projects in the appraisal. I got disparagement for doing things that I had on record that she explicitly ordered me to do. I checked my output against the expected norms for someone at my level, over against her criticism that I should have done more. I also contacted ex-coworkers for a reality check. Having gathered the evidence I put my case that her appraisal was inconsistent with both her feedback and my actual achievements, and that if my performance had indeed been as bad as she had presented it, I should reasonably have expected to hear about it a lot sooner. I reviewed my comments for diplomacy with a third party, and hoped for the best.

Her response was a 2-hour blast of negativity with no constructive content at all (honestly - none), accompanied by demands that I delete my comments, accept hers, and sign the document. (And that I was being mean to her.) Finally she agreed that our differing opinions would be recorded.

I felt drained, but glad I had stuck to my guns. So I go in the next morning for my regular weekly meeting, have a brief task review, and then end up trapped in her office for the better part of an hour while she demands that I retract my comments and sign hers and tells me, again, all the reasons why I deserve a bad review. And that I'm being mean to her. And lying. And that I'm just not able to take constructive criticism. And that I should stop wasting time and sign it right now. She wouldn't let me leave.

I still refused to sign it, and I eventually hit on the right combination of words to get me out of her office. I waited a while for my head to stop spinning, then I collected my things and ran home.

When I dared to look in my inbox the next day I found a conciliatory message saying she was sorry the appraisal had been upsetting "for us both". I reviewed her comments and found them acceptable, and agreed to sign off.

I worked from home that day but, when I got in the next morning, the anxiety got too much and I had to go home. I tried to keep working but I got so weepy I had to call the doctor, who signed me off sick until Monday.

So... that was a long story. I'll go in on Monday and do everything possible to keep my cool. I've taken advice and am fully aware of what my rights are. I'll be trying to get home early enough to apply for at least one job per day, as horrified as I am to have to go through all that again. I have ex-coworkers who fully support me and will provide references. Two medical professionals will back me up if necessary.

That's how things are. But this is how it feels:

When my 80-year-old mother dies, that will mean the loss of my one reliable source of companionship and support. She wants to put the Christmas tree up and I can't stand to because it means one more year has gone by and for all my efforts, I have still failed at life in the most basic ways:

- although I have many good friends, I'm so non-fun that I can't get anyone to hang out with me;
- although I have demonstrable talent, all it ever seems to do for me is get me fired;
- I am going to get into debt again and am unable to support myself at the age of nearly 40;
- I will almost certainly never have children;
- although I seem to be regarded as desirable by quite a few people (including the Handsomest Boy In The Village), this doesn't result in my being any less single;
- although the Handsomest Boy In The Village evidently has feelings of some kind for me, he can't or won't act on them.

I am haunted by temptation to reach the following conclusions:
- that I can't stand to live in a world where I will never succeed for failing;
- that I can't stand to live in a world where all love is theoretical;
- that I just can't stand it.

What can I do to stop thinking these thoughts?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
You sound deeply depressed and stuck in the muck of your head. Please get yourself a great therapist. Mine made me read "The Power of Now" which I still turn to as a refresher now & then. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
posted by ohyouknow at 4:56 PM on December 12, 2009


Have you considered therapy? These are the kinds of emotional and psychological issues a well-trained therapist can help you with. But, it takes time.

Regarding your boss. You are the not the problem in that equation. She is. You are better off not having her as a boss and you were right to stick up for yourself. Your boss was trying to get you to retract your comments because she knows that she is a terrible boss but can't bring herself to admit it. She'd rather browbeat people like you into changing their written options (a paper trail) of her than admit that she is wrong.

I can only hope that you have at least one close friend who you can call and say, "It's been a rough week and I need to let off some steam" who will do the right thing and be a good friend by taking you out to do whatever funs things you like to do.
posted by camworld at 5:05 PM on December 12, 2009


- although the Handsomest Boy In The Village evidently has feelings of some kind for me, he can't or won't act on them.

Have you acted on them? I know a lot of beautiful women who have a lot of handsome boys pining after them but the women don't do the little things that encourage interest. They sort of think guys will just admire them and come up to them and ask them out.

Usually that results in only people who aren't going to invest emotionally in a relationship coming up to you.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:09 PM on December 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


(From “medications I rely on to function every day” and “two medical professionals”, it sounds like she already is getting therapy.)
posted by Tobu at 5:25 PM on December 12, 2009


although I have many good friends, I'm so non-fun that I can't get anyone to hang out with me

It's sentiments like this that reveal the depth of your delusion and the crux of your problem. But it's the TRUTH, you may wail to yourself. I'm sorry, I don't accept that as a "truth". That is a perception floating in this purely situational broth that you're stewing yourself in, and it you may be shocked how soon it can vanish if you address it properly.

You are in an unfortunate situation at work with an unreasonable person, and it has created a feedback loop in which your personal problems become inflamed and contribute negatively to the equation. Personalizing this as evidence of your utter hopelessness is incredibly myopic -- we all go through this from time to time. What makes you so especially ineffectual or unloveable? Probably nothing -- but that's a pretty threatening stance to consider, because it forces you to come up with a new strategy.

Believe it or not, most of us feel as though we, too, are buried up to the neck in the shit of this world. We are all in various stages of failing at various things. We haunt ourselves thinking about them. I was just having a conversation with my partner about how fast time seems to go by, and how it seems that we will never have time to catch up and save anything to take care of ourselves as we get older. We may never be able to obtain or provide for children. What if my parents get sick and can't afford care and I can't afford to help them? What if I become seriously injured and lose my job and wind up jeopardizing my partner's plans of continuing his education? What if I'm unable to pay this year's taxes before next year's are heaped up on my back? The shit parade winds round and round the block, becoming a stampede in my mind.

Honestly, I allow myself to think about these sorts of things for maybe 5 minutes a day. Because otherwise, I would never be able to DO anything. But then, I have the luxury of walking away from these thoughts because I'm not clinically depressed (anymore) .

All love is theoretical? It sounds like you don't have any room in your heart or mind for love. You're too worried about disappointing other people, or being let down, or accepting the blame for the null mark you're leaving on the world. This is where you're cheating yourself the most, and it's the one thing you can work on by yourself at any time, regardless of who is (or isn't) in your life to bear witness to it. At this point, even if you got into a relationship, you'd spend the entire time questioning your worthiness and forgiving your partner in advance for wanting to be rid of you. ENOUGH.

Love is a gift that can be expressed with no object to receive it. The world -- and indeed, your situation -- may not be worthy of your love, may not even be conscious of it, but if you can't bring yourself to muster some anyway, you are going to continue to rot away inside.

I'm not blaming you for what you're feeling or anything you've done, I'm simply begging you to reconsider the role that you think love plays in people's lives. You need to discover your capacity for it at all costs. That -- and not your age, or your means, or the size of your social circle -- is the only benchmark by which you may truly be judged, in my humble opinion.
posted by hermitosis at 5:32 PM on December 12, 2009 [12 favorites]


>>although I have many good friends, I'm so non-fun that I can't get anyone to hang out with me

If these are *good* friends, they will be happy to listen to you. If not, you need some new ones (email in profile). A good therapist or a cute puppy or kitten won't hurt either.

>> although I have demonstrable talent, all it ever seems to do for me is get me fired

Things happen. Its not your talent that got you fired. Your boss is nuts. Some bosses are just nuts. You don't want to keep working for nutcases anyway. (God's/fate's way of getting you out of the situation and seek greener pastures?) Don't let that make you think the problem is with you. And you have the strength to deal with stuff, not sure if I would be able to stick to my guns like that. Not without bursting into tears/collapsing or something anyway.

> I am going to get into debt again and am unable to support myself at the age of nearly 40;

There are plenty of people in different fields who get their first job around that age (and still there is no guarantee they'll make it). But you had a good year, in your own words. If you did it before, you can certainly do it again. And guess what, this time round you know better- about yourself, difficult bosses and strategies to get out of debt. You just need to hang in there.

> I will almost certainly never have children;

You actually don't know that for certain. And just in case you don't, there are plenty of kids who don't have parents or a home to call their own.

> although I seem to be regarded as desirable by quite a few people (including the Handsomest Boy In The Village), this doesn't result in my being any less single; although the Handsomest Boy In The Village evidently has feelings of some kind for me, he can't or won't act on them.

Ah! You just inspired me to ask the guy I'm interested in out. Younger (unfortunately) and very shy. I have a feeling we are very different but gosh, he is so attractive! I mean, not handsome in the conventional sense, just that I find so many things about him irresistible. Maybe he will say no, but hey, then I can at least stop agonizing over it. I should ask him out. And you should ask the village boy out.

>>I am haunted by temptation to reach the following conclusions:
- that I can't stand to live in a world where I will never succeed for failing;
- that I can't stand to live in a world where all love is theoretical;
- that I just can't stand it.

no, no, no! this is a very pessimistic picture. Reality is fifty-fifty. May not always be what we want at that moment, but its never all negative. (Feeling good by David Burns)

Feel free to email. Hugs.
posted by xm at 5:43 PM on December 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


- I will almost certainly never have children;

Why not? Even if most men annoy you, you don't need to be in a relationship to have children. But the older you get the harder it will be to have a healthy child. You could get artificially inseminated, or you could get pregnant with a friend without getting married or whatever.

Yes, it will be a sacrifice in living standards and so forth, but you only live once, etc.
posted by delmoi at 6:56 PM on December 12, 2009


Frankly it sounds like your boss is a bully, so get out of there as soon as you can. I agree with the other, you should find someone to talk to.

Good luck
posted by mattoxic at 8:20 PM on December 12, 2009


Be aware that you are going through a huge stress event right now, being in the middle of the this crazy job ending, coming at the end of some serious stress breakdowns and heartbreak. Your level of pessimism right now is not realistic.

But going further, it can be very hard to believe that the depression is not just the rational reaction to your circumstances but a thing in itself that has to be dealt with regardless of the circumstances. Treat your conditions. Get the exercise and sleep you know you need. If you're not already doing talking therapy and you could, consider it. It's easy to see that you have very negative ways of constructing your thoughts and personal narrative. It's possible to learn to think differently. I see a large percentage of what happened to you in the last couple years as progress. Now the depression is trying to suck you back into accepting inertia. Don't let it.
posted by nanojath at 9:32 PM on December 12, 2009


It sounds like you're seriously depressed, which is a medical issue that needs to be treated by a psychiatrist and isn't something that really can be dealt with over the internet...But despite that, I'll give you this advice: look forward, not backward. You can focus on the horrible boss and the guy that jerked you around or you can focus on the future. Try to focus on the future... Make a list of all the things you want in life (a partner who loves and supports you, a job that fulfills you, etc.) Then write down specific action steps to achieve those goals (I will join x many clubs to meet new people, I will send my resume to x places...) Also, your inclination about sleep and exercise are right. Keeping a routine about that is critical.
posted by bananafish at 10:28 PM on December 12, 2009


I promised myself to quit answering Mefi questions, but goddamnit.....

We can learn just as much, maybe more from our enemies/adversaries as from our friends. Have you considered that the boss may have been accurate in her assessment? Sometimes, the truth hurts but it's still the truth.

To me, it sounds like she decided to fire you and then set up some post facto justifications for it. Negating her prior positive comments might have been simple retraction of comments she made hoping to encourage you in desirable directions that didn't work out.

The normal method of doing this is to say "We're going to fire you because you don't fit in, but we're going to give you a great recommendation." Most peeps accept this, and you didn't. This further suggests to me that you have no grasp of the 'rules'.

What we want in employees is effectiveness, cooperation, focus, reliability, and compatibility. What we don't want is drama, overanalysis, oversensitivity, neediness, complaints. Which do you THINK you bring? There are a bunch of others, but if this post is a reflection of how you work, I can see that perhaps she might find you problematic. We have problems at work, and we bring our home problems TO work, but we're not expected to BE problems at work.

There may not be time to salvage a good employee out of you at 39. There's some Darwinism at work in careers and not everyone thrives and survives. Despair is a way of life once you confront aging and death realistically, but it's something you work through in spite of. Think "Marines at Omaha Beach". Honey, you've never had a hard day. My first wife died in my arms. Next to this, career questions are just plain cute. Life is not guaranteed to be easy, predictable, or fun. However, it IS what you make it.

I'd suggest, if you are still with me, studying what it is that people want in an employee and then HONESTLY appraising if you are providing it. Ditto mates.

If you are reasonably healthy, have marketable skills, look fairly decent, and forge a strong character in adversity, you are better prepared than many people who fail. Go out and don't fail. Study why things aren't going well for you and try something else.
posted by FauxScot at 5:33 AM on December 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


What can I do to stop thinking these thoughts?

Get another job. One that doesn't involve pandering to a sadistic, disorganized bitch.
posted by flabdablet at 6:55 AM on December 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


follow-up from the OP
ohyouknow wrote: "The Power of Now" - I will order this immediately, thank you.

camworld wrote: "Have you considered therapy?" - It's being arranged. What I basically need is whatever will help me make it through the night until then, and I'd like to thank everybody for giving me exactly the advice I need. You are all very generous, and I've considered every word that all of you have written and I'm taking it all in.

"I can only hope that you have at least one close friend who you can call and say, "It's been a rough week and I need to let off some steam" who will do the right thing and be a good friend by taking you out to do whatever funs things you like to do." - I'm embarrassed that I said my friends don't want to hang out with me because I'm not fun enough. That's totally disrespectful to the many good friends who've rallied round over this and have been absolutely supportive. I would say that I have the best friends in the world.

No, I'm just disappointed because what I was hoping to do (on a doctor's advice) was find a friend and go do something fun, but of course it's the weekend so people are already booked up. If I wanted to hang out with anyone now I should really have made the plans weeks ago, but, I didn't. So my bad.

Ironmouth wrote: "Have you acted on them [the feelings for the Handsomest Boy In The Village]?" - I don't think he would like it if I did, and neither would his GF {:-0... who he has been living with since before I've known him. So you see why I can't make a move. Who knows what he hoped to achieve by pulling my strings, but if they break up, it won't be because of anything I've said or done.

"They sort of think guys will just admire them and come up to them and ask them out." - actually this does happen from time to time... obviously I'm luckier than I realized in that department. I'll have to think on that one. Maybe instead of viewing myself as an old maid, I should work on my human flypaper act... or something. Hmmm, not really liking my own choice of metaphor.

hermitosis wrote: "Love is a gift that can be expressed with no object to receive it. The world -- and indeed, your situation -- may not be worthy of your love, may not even be conscious of it, but if you can't bring yourself to muster some anyway, you are going to continue to rot away inside." - I see what you're getting at, and I think you're right. On the basis that love isn't a feeling, I do think I'm at least somewhat of a loving person. I don't want to go into detail but I do extend myself quite a lot for others, including strangers, on a daily basis. Or have I misunderstood you? Do you have an example of something I could do to follow your suggestion?

xm wrote: "a cute puppy or kitten" - ah, I've been a crazy cat lady all my life! All my cats died of old age a couple of years ago, and my 80-year-old mother, who I live with, can't bear the thought of having any more. I offer her plans for how I would manage it, but she's dead set against it unfortunately. It has more to do with the emotional toll they take on her than anything else :-(

bananafish wrote: "Try to focus on the future... Make a list of all the things you want in life (a partner who loves and supports you, a job that fulfills you, etc.) Then write down specific action steps to achieve those goals (I will join x many clubs to meet new people, I will send my resume to x places...)" - Oh, sure, I agree. I've always had plans like this and been very methodical about them. I'm just discouraged at the setback; it all seems really arduous right now, but hopefully I'll be up to it again soon.

FauxScot wrote: "Have you considered that the boss may have been accurate in her assessment? Sometimes, the truth hurts but it's still the truth." I have considered it, but it's simply not true and I have more than enough evidence to prove it. Even if the things she wrote in the appraisal were true and she were right to contradict all her previous glowing feedback, the constructive thing to do would not be to keep all the negativity to herself and surprise me with it at appraisal time, but to bring it up to me at a time when I could have acted on it rather than just before I leave. I think it has more to do with the possibility that she may be facing disciplinary action (not instigated by me) over her mishandling of contract and recruitment issues than anything else.

"The normal method of doing this is to say "We're going to fire you because you don't fit in, but we're going to give you a great recommendation." Most peeps accept this, and you didn't." - I couldn't accept that because it's not what I was offered.

"What we want in employees is effectiveness, cooperation, focus, reliability, and compatibility. What we don't want is drama, overanalysis, oversensitivity, neediness, complaints. Which do you THINK you bring? There are a bunch of others, but if this post is a reflection of how you work, I can see that perhaps she might find you problematic. We have problems at work, and we bring our home problems TO work, but we're not expected to BE problems at work." Lol.

"There may not be time to salvage a good employee out of you at 39." There may not be time to make a service droid out of me at 39.

"Honey, you've never had a hard day." You may be right.

"My first wife died in my arms." I'm very sorry to hear that.

"Next to this, career questions are just plain cute." Yes they are. I would certainly not want to repeat the experience of caring for my loved ones that have sickened and died. Please know that my heart goes out to you.

"Life is not guaranteed to be easy, predictable, or fun." No. "However, it IS what you make it." I don't think it's entirely up to me.

flabdablet wrote: "Get another job. One that doesn't involve pandering to a sadistic, disorganized bitch." Okay. For some reason that doesn't sound nearly as difficult now as it did last night.
posted by jessamyn at 9:21 AM on December 13, 2009


Although I don't have any good advice, I just want to tell the OP to hang in there. I've been in dark places myself, and I've managed to pull out eventually. Right now I'm going through some tough times (not as hard as yours, but we all experience our own personal hell in our own way, don't we?) and on doctor's orders I've been trying to get back into exercise and trying to start some simple meditation to help me deal with it all.

It's not easy. It's never easy. But there's always some good times to hang on to, with the promise of more to come. Mine, today, was sitting in front of a fire with a few friends and having a nice, quiet conversation on a cold winter's night. Nothing important was said, but I've still got a warm feeling inside from this afternoon.

Hang in there, sweetheart. I wish you well.
posted by math at 7:17 PM on December 13, 2009


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