Help me help myself.
December 19, 2008 5:48 AM   Subscribe

Help me piece my life back together.

The past month and a half has been awful for reasons I will break down into three parts.
1) My boyfriend and I broke up twice, the second time in an awful, bitter manner. We're no longer speaking. I've never experienced an un-amicable breakup before, so have been having major problems reconciling myself to the fact that he's out of my life. I was very much in love with him, so it's been tough, to say the least. To make matters worse, a mutual friend just told me he [the ex] is depressed verging on the suicidal. I don't know what to do with that information. I want to help him, but he loathes me [irrationally, I promise] and I feel helpless.

2) I had a really difficult quarter in school; barely scraped by in a couple of my classes. I decided to change majors, which would have left me feeling discombobulated at the best of times. Given the other unrest going on, I'm having a really difficult time adjusting to this new idea of who I am, the X major instead of the Y major. They're not radically different when it comes down to it, but the way I think about my field of study has changed, and, as such, so has part of my identity. So, that sucks.

3) I recently got home for Christmas break and was looking forward to relaxing after this jarring quarter at school. Two days ago, I was informed by my father [who has been married to my mother for 20-odd years] that he's flying across the country on Boxing Day to visit a woman with whom he is having an affair. My mother knows about his indiscretion and has not kicked him out of the house. They're trying to figure out how an eventual divorce will shake out. Since he told me, we've been going about our business pretending nothing has changed. Everything has changed!

So, I guess my question is this: where do I go from here? How does one adjust to three disconcerting changes at once, when love life, acadmeic life, and family life are all part of the problem and thus none of them can be relied on to keep one sane? How do I reinvent myself as a single Y-major who will soon be the product of a broken home?

Turning to religion isn't an option, FWIW.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

The only person who you have full control and influence upon is your self. Focus on that.

Religion is for people who are afraid of hell. Spirituality is for people who have been to hell and do not want to go back.
posted by ezekieldas at 5:55 AM on December 19, 2008 [20 favorites]

Do you have any hobbies you could turn to? Do you have any clubs you belong to? A good way to cope is to keep busy. This will get your mind off of your parents, and fill in the time you had spent with your ex. As for your major the best way to deal with this is by hitting the books... hard! Also I know you said "NO RELIGION!" but priests are like bartenders and shrinks, they have heard everything and are free. Plus they can give you advice that you might not have thought of. Anyways my two cents. Good Luck.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 6:04 AM on December 19, 2008

Try to look at it from a different angle. I've always believed that adversity is more beneficial in the long run, because it forces you to adapt and develop. Contrasted to how you would be if everything was just peachy..standing still and being complacent.

Try to analyse your relationship and find out exactly where and how it went wrong, so it does not happen again. If the problem was your boyfriend, then avoid types like him in the future but also see how you acted towards him and see if you should change anything.

If you don't feel any passion for your study and actually have to motivate yourself about it, it's probably a wrong choice. Spend some time finding out what you would like to do (im struggling myself with this exact problem, so i won't go into depth on HOW to do it)

This may sound a bit harsh, but if your father is cheating on your mother and she doesn't seem to care, you should really consider spending less time with them :) That's terrible and i feel sorry for you..but it's their life and you can't really judge them. But it should definately change your perspective on their views on life and any advice from them about how to lead your life.

Let this be a lesson for you (although extreme) that in the end, you only have yourself to rely on and trust 100%.
So work on building up your self-esteem and psyche, so that you won't be hit so hard the next time life decides to take a major crap on you (it will happen a lot)

Good luck

PS: Kudos on the no-religion path :) At least the major monotheistic religions which promise you eternal life and glory..mass-delusion at its best.
posted by kampken at 6:08 AM on December 19, 2008

1) Almost everybody will have the experience of a bad breakup at some point; this is yours. If you've apologized for hurting your ex there's not much else you can do, other than reminding yourself that the feeling will fade with time.

2) Your change in major (and identity) was, I hope, a decision you didn't undertake lightly. Thus the identity change also will take time.

3) Your anger at your father is justified, but this doesn't alter his being your father. Forgiveness isn't required immediately, if ever, but it's certainly possible to say "I am really angry for what you've done to me and Mom, but I love you regardless" and eventually move beyond the anger.

Notice a theme? You'll be ok, if you keep reminding yourself that things do change over time.
posted by waraw at 6:12 AM on December 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

One day at a time and one thing at a time. Don't try to get everything "fixed" in a predetermined time frame. You *will* have everything sorted out eventually and it will happen when it happens...until then take it one day at a time.

Instead of religion I would say turn to philosophy. I'd recommend The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton. It's definitely helped me put certain things in perspective and may do the same for you.
posted by eatcake at 6:19 AM on December 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

my field of study has changed, and, as such, so has part of my identity.

Best to disentangle what you do from your sense of self-worth - otherwise you'll be prone to feeling bad about yourself whenever life changes around you. Satisfaction should instead come from how well you do what you do rather than the role itself. Think of it this way: you didn't do so well at the other major, which was unsatisfying, so now you've got the chance to achieve something with your new major. And if you do, you can feel good about that.
posted by dydecker at 6:26 AM on December 19, 2008 [4 favorites]

"How do I reinvent myself as a single Y-major who will soon be the product of a broken home?"

Welll, you're still YOU. You've just had a load of crappy things come your way and you need to get used to them. The first two things (breakup and major change) are normal things that happen to many many college students. You just got them both out of the way at once. You'll get through it and you'll be a better person for it. Welcome to adulthood, it sucks here sometimes.

But the parent thing? That is a little trickier. I've never ever pushed therapy here, but it really might be best to talk with someone about this. If you have a friend with divorced parents, talk with them. Better yet, a therapist. I just know what I went through, and what my friends with divorced parents went through. It can suck. We still all talk about it even though we're all 30ish and married or have kids of our own.
posted by smalls at 6:26 AM on December 19, 2008

I agree with those emphasizing that a change in the circumstances of your life don't make you a different person (except in the existential cosmic sense of you being a different person every instant). Spending some "quality time with yourself" might solidify that sense, of the worthwhile thread of "you": exercise, keep regular hours, get enough good sleep, avoid overindulging in caffeine or alcohol, meditate or do some other focused activity for prolonged periods (martial arts, absorbing hobby, reading of quality fiction or poetry, keep a journal), go for long walks. Avoid surfing randomly on the TV or internet, junk food as comfort, staying up all night fretting; I think those things might dilute your sense of self if you're feeling fragile (at least they have for me).
posted by aught at 6:54 AM on December 19, 2008 [3 favorites]

My advice to you is this: Whatever you do, do not drop out of college. I repeat, do not drop out of college.

OP: I have been the through exactly what your parents are doing. If you want advice off-thread, I will be happy to give it. Mefi mail me.
posted by parmanparman at 7:12 AM on December 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

How do I reinvent myself as a single Y-major who will soon be the product of a broken home?

Why do this? The self identity you create now will change if you try to pin it to circumstances. You'll graduate. You'll get a job. You'll change jobs. You'll fall in love, fall out of it, move, be wealthy, be poor, and so on.
posted by ellF at 7:17 AM on December 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Here is my experience with getting hit with multiple major downers all at once that I shared on AskMe earlier this year.
posted by netbros at 7:29 AM on December 19, 2008

Just remember, this too will pass.
posted by b33j at 7:36 AM on December 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Sorry to hear about your problems Mr / Miss Anonymous. While turning to religion may not be an option for you, turning to drugs may be!

Seriously though, modern antidepressant drugs are ideal for this kind of situation - I suffered a bereavement of an immediate family member during a time of intense pressure at college, and I found antidepressants to be a enormous help in just getting by during this period.

Don't get me wrong, antidepressants are by no means a solution to any of your three problems, but when you are at rock bottom they can numb your emotions just enough to allow you to carry on.

I cannot agree with parmanparman more that the single most important thing for you right now is to remain in college and carry on as best you can, and to this end I strongly recommend you visit a doctor and at least consider the possibility of obtaining a "chemical crutch" to lean on during this difficult period.
posted by ruperto at 7:56 AM on December 19, 2008

Others have put it better than I can but my first (half-serious) thought was to say you should be writing all this down in a journal because your question read like the first half of an outline for a screenplay. I know this might sound trite, but try to imagine you're in some film where everything in the main character's life goes to hell and everybody is going crazy but eventually things work themselves out and everybody ends up better off. It sounds like you're in a pretty lonely position at the moment but just tough it out for now. Don't put too much pressure on yourself to adapt because a lot of things have yet to play themselves out. This sad, uncomfortable holiday will end, you'll start school fresh and your ex-boyfriend will have to learn to look after himself.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:23 AM on December 19, 2008

You most certainly should seek out counseling, talking to a professional is a really really good idea, I assure you that your college/university has an outreach office for this.

Remember, you are a good person and this too shall pass.
posted by Ponderance at 8:24 AM on December 19, 2008

It will probably make you feel better to figure out who you are no matter what major or relationship you are in. I like the journal suggestion, but I also like writing letters to and from myself to give me perspective. Also, Make a plan on how to start the new semester secure so you can hold it together if something else happens. A study schedule, or keeping your notes a certain way, or signing up for tutoring/writing help or group study, whatever you think will help you do better next semester.

No one has really addressed this, but about your ex, you are not responsible for what he does right now and only he can change how he feels. If you are really worried, contact the friend who told you how he was and ask that friend to look in on him. Do not ask for updates. It is better for both of you to have a clean break. Seriously. Don't email, text, or call him, even if you just want to make sure he's ok. It may make him (and you) feel worse.

About your parents, it's ok for you not to feel ok. And it's ok to tell them this. You could even write about it before hand to really sort your feelings out. This is a lot to take all at once, but you have to think about making yourself be ok first.

You could talk to a school counselor as well. It doesn't have to be a therapist. Most colleges have counselors for you to talk to about whatever. They could offer advice about feeling better and doing well in school. The service is part of the tuition you pay, you just have to make an appointment (phone number should be on website). I hope all this advice helps. Let us know.
posted by CoralAmber at 9:03 AM on December 19, 2008

This is fairly standard advice coming from me, but-- everyone else in this situation is going to do what they damn well feel is right for them, so you may as well do the same.

Tell your buddy that you broke up with the ex, it was pretty ugly all around, and you'd rather not hear about him any more. Play the "my parents are getting divorced and I've got a lot on my own plate" card if your buddy seems unconvinced that you're serious. The ex will do whatever he feels like doing regardless of what you do or don't do, and it sounds like you don't need any more drama than what your parents have already generated for you.

Tough out the holidays-- your mom will need some emotional support, but don't let her make you a chess piece in the divorce game. If she starts trash-talking your dad, don't join in-- remind her that this is all very shocking news for you, and you need time to figure out how you feel before you can take on anyone else's feelings on the topic. You can be there for her, but you'll have to set some limits.

Go back to school, secure a counselor on-campus, and take the semester to adjust to your new major and your parents' divorce. Go out with your friends, do your research and class time, see your counselor once a week or so depending on how you're doing, date cautiously and casually. Exchange email with your folks, and keep it positive but neutral on the issues. Carve out a space for your own life in the middle of the other chaos, and don't deal with your ex. Good luck, dude.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 9:29 AM on December 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

FWIW, i'm really sorry about all that. I wouldn't be coping well with it at all either.

everyone deals with tough situations differently, but when i get overwhelmed i just try to get out of my own head for a while by immersing myself in something unrelated. although i can relate to boyfriend and school problems, i don't know anything about divorce but- what if you did something besides going home for christmas? it seems like it would just make everything worse. do you have any friends who don't go home for the holidays? maybe you could get together and go on a road trip or something. since you're a student i'm going to assume you're too broke to fly anywhere but a road trip could help. i guess it's like when all the familiar things my life start screwing me over, i immerse myself in the unfamiliar for a while and it helps me put things in perspective. or maybe you could do something like volunteering on christmas, it might help you not only feel like a good person but also help you put your own life in perspective.

i'm not saying you don't need to deal with all this stuff head-on eventually. but i tend to believe that when pain is really fresh, you can't deal with anything rationally anyway. you need to escape for a bit until the sting lessens enough for you to pick it all up and move on.

also, and this may not be the solution for everyone, but after a breakup i always feel better after a rebound. :) so dress it up and go out with your friends and dance with some boys.
posted by lblair at 10:52 AM on December 19, 2008

The whole thing with your family is something that would really leave me shaken and upset, but

"...who will soon be the product of a broken home?"

C'mon, it's not 1966, no need to use that terminology. There are lots and lots of people in the world that are children of divorced parents that are not damaged or scarred and are doing just fine. Your parents' dysfunctional relationship is only going to reflect on you if you let it. Yes, it's weird and sucky and it's your family, but that doesn't mean that there is something inherently wrong with you. Take note of all the people here saying you can't allow circumstances around you to define you as a person. It's really going to be your reaction to those circumstances that make you what you are.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:17 AM on December 19, 2008

Figure out which friends you can go hang out with, whenever you need to, no questions asked. I had a situation in college where my parents were incredibly upset with me, my best friend was majorly depressed, my grades had tanked because I was spending all my time taking care of him, and then when I forced him to get help after he threatened to kill himself, he absolutely LOATHED ME. Different distress than yours, but still, academic stuff, personal life, and family all mixed up.

What I needed, and what I am so lucky my friends were willing to give me, was a safe place where I could go and just be. Sometimes I would babble on for hours about my problems, sometimes I'd just lie on the sofa and watch movies with them, but they were always there for me when I needed someplace to go that was away from all the horrible things going on in my life.

The best part was that as things (slowly) got better, my friends and I actually had a really good time together. I spent more time with them that semester than I spent in my own dormitory. I don't know what would have happened otherwise.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:51 PM on December 19, 2008

Ugh. It sucks when all these things fall on you at the same time. A year ago, my boyfriend broke up with me and my roommate announced she wanted to move out in the same week, a huge family feud broke out over a relative's ending their marriage due to coming out, and...oh, I don't remember what else. I know that for about six weeks, the only okay thing in my life was my job.

Later, I realized that it was a good thing that all of these things happened at once. In some ways, it helped me realize how strong I am and what I can really handle. So my specific advice falls into the "be nice to yourself"--make sure you eat, get as much sleep as you need and can get without losing your job, and generally let yourself handle the huge changes you are facing. But revel in how strong you are.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 8:09 PM on December 19, 2008

Since you can't really actively *DO* anything about any of these situations, you just need to give yourself time to adjust/get over things. But of course it's very painful to go through the adjusting period if you're dwelling on everything all the time. I suggest finding something to distract yourself from your life for a while. A really engrossing video game, Netflixing a couple of great TV series, etc. Do this until winter break is over, then focus on school and classes.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:33 PM on December 19, 2008

(oh, and try to pick HAPPY shows to Netflix...)
posted by Jacqueline at 10:36 PM on December 19, 2008

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