How do I not screw up the rest of my life? I've just turned 24 and my life is a mess.
posted by matryoshka to human relations (36 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
OK, so this is going to be long...
To start at the beginning - I was raised in a very religious (almost cult-like) environment until the age of about 13. Then, due to my dad's alcoholism/affairs he was kicked out of the religion and my parents eventually divorced. I am now not religious at all, but my parents are still involved with that religion. Around age 14/15 I started having very bad anxiety attacks and ended up in hospital several times. I was put on anti-depressants just before I turned 16 which were supposedly non-addictive but had such bad side-effects that I didn't manage to stop taking them until last year, and that was after many months of self-weaning. I have never had therapy and it was never offered apart from a short period of family counselling around the time my parents split (it didn't help). I dropped out of school at 16 with hardly any qualifications and did mostly waitressing on and off until I was 19. By this time, my friends were going off to university and I was left behind, but I don't recall it bothering me too much at that point.
I had a particularly horrible period between age 20-21 - I was (physically) ill, had surgery, slipped into very deep depression and became pretty much a shut-in. I hardly left my house in those two years and made little attempt to stay in touch with anyone. I did write quite a lot though and had several close online friends, but they eventually got understandably exasperated that I constantly refused any real-world contact and I quit writing because I felt I would never be anything close to good at it. But it's still the one thing I wish I could do well.
Finally, when I turned 22, I realised I had to get off my ass and just do something. I got a tech support job with a broadband company which I really enjoyed and got to be quite competent at and went back to college. I had a manic year of working and studying full time, but managed to pull it off and got accepted into a top-10 university in England (I'm from the UK, but my home country is not England). Feeling pretty confident, unmedicated and relieved at getting a second chance (even when my old friends were finishing university), I went off to uni this September...and completely fell apart. I felt totally intimidated by everyone around me (smarter, prettier and four or five years younger) and every bit of self-esteem I'd built up over the previous two years was zapped in about two weeks. It got so bad I couldn't go to lectures and couldn't do simple things like food shopping (my mind would blank out and my hands would start shaking at the check-out...it was embarrassing). Obviously I made no friends, but this was almost entirely my fault.
I quit before even completing the first semester. Although I'm relieved, I regret not trying harder. Now I'm at home again, jobless and about to go through the process of applying to university for next year closer to home. I can still go to a very good university in my home city and come out with a decent degree, but by that point I'll be 27. I have friends around that age now either working and earning £30K+ or about to finish PhDs. It's so disheartening because I know I can be smart and capable, I just can't be consistent about it. I hear pretty often that I have "potential" at various things. But when I look at my peers, I see them actually doing stuff rather than just having the potential to do stuff. I've coasted on "potential" for way too long - there has to be a point where I start delivering, and I'm not. I should be at the same level as them, but instead I'm five years behind thinking I'll never catch up. I am paranoid about getting older and can't help feeling that I'm not youthful anymore and that the things I should have been doing - living my life, travelling, having relationships (I'm still a virgin and have only been intimately involved with one person...several men have wanted to sleep with me, but they never fall in love with me) - have passed me by and that window of opportunity to just be young and carefree is rapidly closing.
My relationship with my parents is complicated. I'm very close to my mother (who I live with) and when my dad isn't drinking too much we can have an OK, though not close, relationship. They are always encouraging and financially more supportive than they probably ought to be given that I'm an adult, but they don't exactly push me to succeed, and never have. I guess the fact they believe the world is close to ending means they don't put too much of an emphasis on getting a solid education and I resent the fact that they allowed me to drop out of the education system at such a young age. I'm sure I was a brat at that time, but I was, socially at least, a very naive kid and it was their responsibility to maintain some sort of structure in my life and they didn't do that. I also resent that my mother allowed me to be medicated at such an early age and did not insist on my doctor addressing the real problem. To have spent such important years feeling alternately crazy and numb was, I believe, very damaging and I'm still trying to figure out things about myself I should have been learning years ago. But I'm not blaming them for everything or for the decisions I have made as an adult. I know they love me and just want me to be happy, but they are not good mentors and I feel like I'm having to figure out all this stuff on my own with no one to help guide me or even just give me something to do and let me get on with it.
Right now, I am very close to being depressed and shutting myself away from the world again. I am struggling to sleep and eat properly, I waste days in front of the computer doing nothing, I'm avoiding people and I'm panicking at the thought of going outside. I don't want this to be happening again, because I'm not sure I could make it through twice. I don't really remember not feeling depressed, but at least when I had a job and college I had a certain amount of obligations which forced me out into the world and gave me the motivation I needed to get things done. I'm looking for a new job but I am still quite devastated by my university failure - it has hit me hard because I genuinely wasn't expecting it and my mother simply can't understand why I'm upset about it. If it had happened when I was younger it would bother me less, but with the sense of urgency and the fear of "running out of time" I already have, it's very hard to accept that I have failed yet again.
I realise my issues are not solvable by just posting this question. I feel guilty for even writing all of this because I know that compared to many people I haven't had a hard a time at all, so maybe I'm just spoiled and lazy and have no one to blame but myself. I'm considering therapy, but I'm worried about approaching my doctor because I absolutely will not go on medication again (and I know that's what will be suggested because this is the NHS and it's cheaper/easier to drug someone than it is to fix them).
In short, I am lost and alone and terrified. I guess I just want advice, hope, reassurance that it's not too late for me to be OK. I'm tired of being miserable and scared of the whole world. It's exhausting and I want to live and not feel this damn old when I'm only in my mid-twenties.
(I'm sorry about the length, and for being whiny.)