"Lonely, I'm Mr. Lonely, I have nobody for my own..."
June 3, 2009 6:02 PM   Subscribe

How can I make myself feel better when I'm feeling lonely and depressed?

I feel lonely right now. Sometimes I feel like my friends don't really care about me. Looking at Facebook makes me sad. Everyone is busy and having fun, while I've been in my room for the past several days.

I've always had this problem in some way or another. I think I'm starting to become a bit depressed. I've been sleeping far more than I should be. Just forcing myself to go outside today was a chore. I'm trying to pay attention to getting fresh air, treating myself to hot showers, etc.

I think the root of the problem is that I feel as if my friends don't really want to be around me. I try to initiate things like going to see a movie or going shopping, but I usually get rebuffed. Even then, I don't ask that often. I don't want to seem pushy. If I don't get invited to things, I can't bring myself to invite myself along. It feels very rude. I overhear people talking about trips and parties, and I'm left out of the loop. They talk about movie festivals and cook-outs and concerts as if I'm not even there. The only invites I've had have been to get boozed up on cheap beer. I have gone to these sorts of events before, and I don't enjoy them.

I'm currently living in another country where I don't speak the language. My friends are all expats. I've been trying very, very hard to learn the language, but nothing is gelling. When I people ask me for directions, I freeze and they wander off. When people say hello, my face turns red and I can't seem to speak.

I am trying to be social. I tried to go to a meet-up recently. I figured that, even in another language, I could enjoy the activities. Even though it was something I'd normally like, I felt miserable. I stayed for an hour or so, then took the train back to my flat. The whole effort made me feel like a failure.

I feel very shy and unloved. I know it's my fault, but I can't seem to change. Every attempt I make ends in disaster. I put up a front for my friends. I'm not sure they even realize just how lonely I am. People are always shocked to hear that I shop and go to the movies and hang out at the library by myself.

Any advice on getting over this slump?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
 
Sounds like someone needs a hobby. Choose something outdoorsy. I've met loads of great people on hikes and backpacking adventures.
posted by HotPatatta at 6:21 PM on June 3, 2009


strenuous physical exercise.
posted by jeb at 6:21 PM on June 3, 2009


These are all very common problems for people with long-term depression. I've had these same thoughts many times in my life. This isn't to say that your problems are not important, but simply that you're not alone.

I was on antidepressants for a time, which helped me immeasurably. I would suggest them, if you have access. At the same time, I did talk therapy, which not only gave me someone to talk to on a weekly basis - someone with whom I didn't have to hold back, someone who I could be sure would not judge me and make me ashamed - but my therapist also taught me coping strategies for when I was in a depressive mood.

If at all possible, you should find an English-speaking therapist who can help you. You sound exactly like I did before I went to my therapist, and I'm in a much better place today.
posted by TypographicalError at 6:21 PM on June 3, 2009


Please, please forgive any harshness in this answer, I'm just trying to be direct... This is isn't a slump. It's solipsism... and/or a possible medical condition be it depression or what have you that I am WHOLLY unqualified to talk about so I'll just go with my general impressions.

First off you identify the actual problem yourself.

I'm currently living in another country where I don't speak the language. My friends are all expats. I've been trying very, very hard to learn the language, but nothing is gelling.

That's your problem right there. That explains everything in terms of this "slump" you speak of, but that for some reason it seems like a minor concern to you when compared to your general mood and interests. I'm sorry but I feel like someone else would phrase this question around "I'm living in a foreign country and having problems connecting." Which means your concerns are much more grand than a simple matter of your living situation.

I'm going just off your language here, but it sounds like this is kind of your prevailing attitude toward life which regards it as a never ending strain of crappiness. Like I said, I'm unqualified to talk about depression, but what I read honestly sounds... well... completely sad-sack and "woe is me." Which is not to invalidate those feeling whatsoever, I can just go off the language. The truth is from what you wrote I have no real idea what your life is actually like because it all just sounds so generalized. All i see is a kind of laundry list of 7 word sentences beginning with "i feel", "i think" I am" "i can't." It's that typical solipsistic viewpoint where one feels like the entire world is separate from them or against them.

So all I'm really trying to do is make a point regarding your viewpoint. The reason people can often feel alone is they equate the world only in terms of self. And often in life we actually connect with others by realizing the rest of the world is comparable to us in some way. Being a part of the community sometimes means thinking in terms of community or others.

Which means I'm not giving you a simple answer and instead some vague philosophical simplicity. But I saw it what you wrote. I don't think you can stop feeling lonely unless you stop thinking in these singular lone terms. Changing the way you think is such a massive undertaking and I'm not exactly even sure to begin. Perhaps some reading. Jung in particular. I'm not sure. I just saw something there that raised a red flag and before you jump into the "i'm depressed, medicate me!" pool (which again, may be a totally valid course of action) I think it's valuable to look at just how you think of yourself in terms of the world.

I think that's where it's all beginning. I dunno.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 6:27 PM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sometimes the loneliness isn't about all of your friends, but about specific friends. Is it really everybody that is turning their backs on you, or is it a specific person or people that you crave the attention of? In your group of expats, and please think really hard, is there somebody that you have discounted as much as you feel discounted?

When I was growing up, I went through a spell where I felt continuously dejected because I felt all of my friends ignored me, and that my feelings were blah blah blah and I was invisible. But then I discovered, eventually, that there was a whole group of people that I was ignoring; although the popular crowd made me feel rejected, there were some very seemingly uncharismatic, unattractive, yet sweet, great, wonderful people that became really great friends. They may be older, younger, fat, obnoxious, or whatever. Find them.

Think about it. There is somebody out there that needs you as much as you need them.
posted by jabberjaw at 6:36 PM on June 3, 2009


Having been blue overseas, I can sympathize. I've never much cared for the "expat community" and when you can't speak local, it's tough to find anyone to relate to. Throw in the fact that isolation and depression can definitely feed one another, and you've got a significant challenge. It's no wonder you're feeling daunted. But you can lick it.

As far as lonely goes, here's what worked for me. I belong to a pretty international church, and I found that I could go there and meet people who were inclined to treat me as a brother despite not necessarily being able to talk to me. I also found that some of them have pretty good English. And from time to time I could pour out my woes in a long e-mail to a good friend back home, whose skills in sympathy and perspective-setting totally saved my bacon. If you can come up with analogues to these in your own life, they will totally help.

Bear in mind that there's nothing wrong with doing things by yourself, either. If you want to be around people, and you can, do so; but don't go beating yourself up because you imagine everyone's supposed to have this profuse social involvement.

A fine alternative to sitting in your room is the unguided walking tour of your city. You can do this alone or in company ... piece together "want to walk around?" in the local language and scrape up a partner, if you want one, by just asking people. (In the former Soviet Union, walking around is a major component of social life and relaxation. Seriously.) If necessary, you can justify all of this as psychogeographical research, or photography practice, or exploration of urban design principles. Or as "trying to find the street where the old guys hang out playing chess" (which they will most likely smoke you at if you play them, consider it part of the experience).

As far as the happiness thing goes, I have only recently learned to start taking charge of my own happiness levels. Martin Seligman has some research on this, which finds among other things that you can raise your default happiness level by writing down, daily, three or so things you have done well, enjoyed, et cetera. I've tried it; it works. Whether that's simply things you took pleasure in, or (more powerfully) times you were fully engaged, or (most powerfully) things you did as part of a greater whole, write something down today, and tomorrow, and so on. (If there's something you've wanted to develop, whether it's programming Python, playing the banjo, or reading more Wodehouse (Project Gutenberg is your friend!), practicing it can be a good way to experience flow. This ebb of your social connection is an opportunity to do so. And like all tides, it will turn.)

I kind of wish you'd mentioned what the language is. Whatever it is, someone on MeFi has probably learned it and can suggest effective methods. Well, another week, another question.
posted by eritain at 6:45 PM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sing.
posted by Kinbote at 7:02 PM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


jabberjaw (giggles, chuckle) and eritain bring up some good points. You haven't mentioned how long you have been living in this new country and how long you plan to stay. Both would likely affect how you are feeling right now. Nonetheless it is very natural and normal to feel this way. From your post it seems to me that you are trying too hard. I was surprised that you mentioned at the end that you do things by yourself- and you sort of seem to make it sound like a negative thing. It isn't! Is it possible that you have very high expectations out of the activities you are engaging in? and hence the disappointment? Please go easy on yourself. Take small baby steps- when someone asks for directions- smile. The next time someone asks directions- smile plus a hello. The third time- smile, hello and how are you etc. You don't have to start a conversation the very first time. Also, try not to be so preoccupied with gelling in that you forget to enjoy the activity itself! The idea is to enjoy the activity and making friends would be a nice bonus- not the other way round. It its an activity that you would normally enjoy then it isn't a total failure because you made the effort to do something you like. THAT itself is the opposite of failure right there.
posted by xm at 7:19 PM on June 3, 2009


You know how you love it when other people ask you to do things? Be that person. Same goes for people complimenting you, showing interest in you, whatever. You perfectly describe some of the same feelings about other people that I've had, and I've slowly realized that what it really boils down to is that I end up sitting alone waiting for people to make me happy by showing interest in me. That's a completely counter-productive approach- what works is being the person you like, the kind of person who shows interest in other people and organizes fun things. Basically, stop worrying, try not to be so self-conscious and self-doubting and do something. It's hard, but in my experience it works.

Now it kind of sounds like you have done these things to some extent, and it hasn't worked, so maybe I'm completely wrong. You might want to consider the people you've been asking. Maybe you should give up on them a little bit and work to find other people, especially people you haven't considered before (as someone said above). The main thing is not to let your failures get you down, and keep trying.
posted by MadamM at 7:20 PM on June 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


It would definitely help to know how long you have been abroad, why you're abroad, what country you're in and if you are there permanently or temporarily. IANAD, but it sounds like you are experiencing culture shock. This is completely normal, especially when people travel to countries where English is not the primary language.

There is lots of information about culture shock on the internet and how you can try to cope with it, but here's a link to get you started.

I hope you feel better soon.
posted by snugglebunny at 7:43 PM on June 3, 2009


All i see is a kind of laundry list of 7 word sentences beginning with "i feel", "i think" I am" "i can't." It's that typical solipsistic viewpoint where one feels like the entire world is separate from them or against them.

This pretty much hits the nail on the head (though perhaps a bit harshly). I wouldn't describe it as solipsism: I'd say you are depressed and socially phobic, and that's skewing your worldview so that you can't relate to other people properly. (I know that's what happened to me, anyway.)

I could write volumes about all the things I have learned and am learning in my Epic Gladiatorial Battle to the Death with social anxiety, but one of the most important victories was simply realizing that I want to have friends, that I want to be part of society, that I want to feel like a full-fledged member of the human race, and (most crucially) that certain of my own behaviors were impeding the realization of those desires.

Making friends isn't something that just happens. Both parties have to make an effort. Don't beat yourself up for not knowing how to do it, or for being too afraid, but do realize that you either have to get around those things or continue to suffer. I wish it wasn't that way, I really do, but it is, and neither you nor I can change that; we can only change how we deal with it.

Drop me a line if you need someone to commiserate with.
posted by Commander Rachek at 8:13 PM on June 3, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm seconding for Culture shock! The name makes it sound sudden, or easily noticeable, or profound, but it's not. It's very subtle, and stems from the fact that when we humans are plopped down into a different place where lots of things don't make sense anymore, especially things as deeply fundamental as the way our peers view the world and interact with us, we get upset.

Snuggle bunny mentioned that it's normal, but please realize that that means everyone goes through it--even your ex-pat peers who may not be showing the same symptoms that you are.

Of course, you certainly are depressed, but it's quite useful to know why, and perhaps moreso to know that it's common to the human experience. Everyone else's advice on what to do about being depressed is excellent, but it's also pretty important to take your special environmental circumstances into account when getting through it.

Once you're more used to navigating the ups and downs of adjusting, living in a foreign culture is a hugely eye-opening experience, especially with regard to getting to know yourself. I hope you enjoy the heck out of it.
posted by olaguera at 8:20 PM on June 3, 2009


Correction: I think culture shock is a profound experience, strike that from the above list, please.
posted by olaguera at 8:23 PM on June 3, 2009


Almost every sentence you wrote betrays a negative feedback cognitive trap you are setting for yourself. You need some cognitive behavioral therapy of some sort so you can start talking back to your negative inner voice.

Start here: Feeling Good

David Burns has written several books and handbooks about this widely accepted therapy, but you can do a lot of it yourself (you have to, really).

I feel lonely right now.

That's a common feeling. There's nothing wrong with feeling that way sometimes.

Sometimes I feel like my friends don't really care about me.

Maybe they do, maybe they don't, but your feeling about it is what matters. You can react with hurt or indifference or acknowledge that maybe they just aren't that good of friends. In other words, you can't control whether your friends do care about you or not, but you can control how you react to it.

I've always had this problem in some way or another. I think I'm starting to become a bit depressed.

Maybe you always have, but you're probably exaggerating. There have been times in your life when you've been happy or haven't felt lonely. Don't let your own immediate perception recolor your entire life.

I would say -- having been there too many times -- that you're exhibiting symptoms of a moderate depression. Well, so what? Don't fear it. Face it.

I've been sleeping far more than I should be. Just forcing myself to go outside today was a chore. I'm trying to pay attention to getting fresh air, treating myself to hot showers, etc.

These are common signs and symptoms of depression, and you're doing the right thing by making sure you get outside and do nice things for yourself. Those will definitely help.

I think the root of the problem is that I feel as if my friends don't really want to be around me.

Maybe you feel this way, but maybe they're just busy. Maybe you don't ask often enough. Maybe you don't ask them to do the right things with you. Friendship (especially in the early stages) can be like dating lite -- you have to do more asking than getting.

If I don't get invited to things, I can't bring myself to invite myself along. It feels very rude.

You may want to re-evaluate this. Is it rude to disclose that you're having a tough time in a foreign country? Practice saying "Oh, that sounds fun. Mind if I tag along?" or "I love jazz! Who's going?" [Note: I am still not good at this.] If you approach people as someone looking to have a good time, they will be more willing to have you over or along.

When I people ask me for directions, I freeze and they wander off. When people say hello, my face turns red and I can't seem to speak.

These are pretty serious and unusual reactions. I am more concerned that you could have a social anxiety disorder and require a treatment such as Paxil. If you can't reverse this yourself, I would definitely see a professional with an eye toward potential drug treatment.

Meanwhile, practice saying standard little phrases. "I speak English, sorry" in the native tongue. Or "I don't know where that is, I'm new here myself." Use a mirror if it helps. There's nothing wrong with not being able to give someone an answer, but there is something wrong -- for you -- if you're unable to speak to them.

I am trying to be social.... Even though it was something I'd normally like, I felt miserable.... The whole effort made me feel like a failure.

Trying is good. Don't be discouraged. If you're freezing up when you speak to strangers, it must be very stressful to attend a meet-up. Practice saying "Hi, I'm new here" or "I'm a bit nervous." Acknowledging your situation is disarming for both parties. Focus on meeting one or two people each time, and make sure that you do have a real one-on-one conversation so you don't feel like you were watching a seminar or playing the wallflower. Try to remember to give people social outs, so neither of you feels that you're monopolizing them. Throw in closing phrases like "Nice meeting you!" so you can end on a high note.

And again, don't be afraid to tell people that you're on your own ina foreign country and want to get involved in activities.
posted by dhartung at 8:27 PM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Briefly:

1) Exercise - this will give you endorphins, something to do, and a tangible sense of progressive achievement (that is, if you actually do it...and build up in some sort of program be it jogging, weightlfting, shooting free throws, etc)

2) Severely limit Facebook. I gave it up for Lent after a few months of wasted hours and unnecessary self-pity. At a given time, there will always be an acquaintance engaged in some sort of fabulous or fun activity you'd rather be doing. It is often hard to remember that this is not ALL the time. Facebook aggregates the milestones and leaves out the empty space...which we then fill by surfing on facebook, feeling bad about ourselves. Just give it up - trust me, you will be happier engaged in your REAL, immediate environment.

3) Continue engaging in meet-ups and language study. Being in a foreign land is an ongoing challenge, but the more you persevere and dedicate yourself, the more it will stick. Some things just take time.

4) It may sound cheese but don't underestimate the power of projection and positive thinking. Imagine yourself relaxing, having fun, hell even bumbling in a conversation but laughing through it and ultimately being OK. Try to look forward to something, because anticipation increases positive experience, and people enjoying themselves subconsciously instill pleasure in those around them, and this shared enjoyment is how -gasp- you form meaningful, satisfying social relations with people.

You can do it - it may seem awkward or uncomfortable at first (seriously, Facebook Withdrawal may have to be a classified disorder one of these days, along with Cell Phone Elbow) but if you just keep optimistic, active and engaged you will surprise yourself. You should already be proud of yourself for being in such a new, challenging situation - few people are brave enough to step so far out of their comfort zones! Congratulations!
posted by keasby at 9:16 PM on June 3, 2009 [4 favorites]


Living in a foreign country can be very isolating and exhausting. It’s tough to constantly have to concentrate on speaking because a person is just learning the language. I’ve never lived in a foreign country, but even as a tourist, I have felt this way.

My thought is to find something that makes you feel at home – It could be going to a chain café/restaurant that is also in your home country, watching TV from your home country, or eating your favorite snacks. Sometimes even the smell of another country can make me feel stressed. Maybe you could make your favorite meals so that your house smells like “home.”

In general, when I feel lonely, I distract myself. I read or play a game or watch TV. Making friends anywhere can be tough. One idea is to find someone who wants to learn English with whom both of your can practice the new language.
posted by parakeetdog at 9:21 PM on June 3, 2009


I agree on give up facebook, reduce the daydreaming, etc. It is SO hard and SO painful to be sitting hearing about all the cool things that people are doing without you or back in your native country. Gaming and watching TV and reading, parakeetdog's suggestions, are also things that leave me feeling emotionally tired, worn out, and just not any happier or more energetic than I was when I began. It's easy to get in a trap of doing whatever's easy and painless but you HAVE to make the effort to get out of the door, exercise or explore or what-not.

For me, I love to go out, wander along and try to observe stuff, try to read a few street signs, figure out what's going on where, see if there are any interesting posters, work on figuring out the public transportation system... the trick with these is they're all fundamentally individual, intellectual activities. Your ability to interact with someone else isn't that important to 'try to get to the big downtown shopping area' or 'find a cafe' (although if you can't speak at ALL, you probably won't be able to order anything. You can always pretend to be a tourist and just point at the menu). You can't just be waiting on other people to live your life.

Regarding their not inviting you to things and "not wanting to be around you" - sometimes people are busy or lazy or forgetful. Maybe they remember so-and-so likes jazz or wants to see such-and-such place, but you always seem busy and absentminded. Me, I always seem aloof, because I'm trying not to impose myself on people. It's a problem, and it's fixed by finding something that sounds cool and then asking a bunch of people if they want to be part of it. Find some quiet types - they're more likely to be shyly looking for something to do.
posted by Lady Li at 10:52 PM on June 3, 2009


Seconding MadameM's sound advice. You do have to be the change you want to see in the world. If you would love to have someone to go shopping with, start asking people. Ask incessantly if you have to, but ask anyway. Who cares if it comes off as rude, you won't know unless you try. Besides which I think being asked to go do fun things is only irksome when blatant requests to knock it off go unheard. Until someone's telling you no, I say keep asking.

I'm not sure how I feel in regards to the cognitive behavioral therapy and such that were suggested upstream, in general I think therapy can be incredibly beneficial, but sometimes we have to work through these problems for ourselves. An important aspect of counseling (the most important, I would argue) is the self discovery it affords you and the progress you make in the process.That being said, I think that with the right (i.e. positive and hopeful) outlook, a person can grow in leaps and bounds while alone.

I suggest you splurge on a really nice journal, one you can't wait to write in, and take it out when you've got nothing to do. Find a coffee shop/restaurant/bench/park/beach to sit down and pour your meandering, depressed thoughts into the pages. It will take some of the strain off of your brain and hashing it out in fine detail affords you a reality check at the time and a point of reference for once you've pulled yourself out of your current funk. I also suggest taking up something. For me, it's art. I feel much more at home in a city once I've wandered through it with my camera a half dozen times. You find places you like, become a familiar face, and you start to expand your home base. If art's not your thing, however, why not try helping out at a local garden/soup kitchen/library/museum or something.

One thing I know for sure is that living your life as you are is going to bring the same result as long as you live it that way. If you want an exciting life, be exciting and spontaneous. If you want to meet people who like animals, volunteer at the zoo. Determine what it is you want out of your life and your friends and from that determine what changes you need to make in your own lifestyle, demeanor and outlook. You'll be fine if you're proactive.
posted by wild like kudzu at 11:16 PM on June 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


Hi, myself of several months ago. I was there in the utter loneliness of speaking the language (haha, I *thought* I spoke it. . . . even more depressing when you realize you've been studying a language for years yet have trouble being understood on a basic level), with program students around me who would actually organize and invite everyone else except me *in front of me* as if I wasn't even there. So I couldn't really mesh with my host country, and the few few Americans around me weren't accepting me, either. A wonderful recipe for happiness, right? I can go weekends speaking to just saying "Hi" and "Goodbye" to the check out clerks--and that will pretty much be the extent of my human interaction.

It's gotten so much better since I realized that there's a square hole for every square peg and a round hole for every round hole. The only problem is, you're exposed to handful (and I mean, a handful) of people who share your cultural background. Please do not make the mistake of their not getting along with you as a collective societal rejection of you. Believe me, if you were going to be friends, you'd be friends. But you're not; so don't take their rejection of you personally.

Believe it or not, one thing that helped me was watching the Bob Dylan documentary, No Direction Home. If you think about how Bob Dylan was, well, a pretty weird guy with some pretty weird thoughts about life, you'd think he was a loser, right? Instead he is one of the biggest American cultural icons. And all he did was follow his interests and he met the people he was meant to be with, the people with whom he "gelled". And those people were certainly not in Hibbing, Min.--but he followed the guitar sound to the Village, and all of the sudden, he fit right in. Life is much better, I think, if you just do what *you* want to do with all your heart, and believe me, you'll find your real friends (I have, by doing just this!).

Things that have helped me:
(a) keeping a blog
(b) Journal, journal, journal. I have so many entries just like yours. "No one likes me. I am a misfit," etc. But I also have some entries where I got over that.
(c) Realizing that a handful of American expats an entire country and culture do not make. They aren't even a represenative sample of the people back home.
(d) Photography--great solitary activity.
(e) Enriching my mind through reading second-hand English books.
(f) Being free to just wander and find your own spot in the sun in a lovely park, where you can journal or read or think to your heart's content. I've gotten to the point where I actually enjoy being alone most of the time--I like having only to consult myself for the next activity.

Good luck, and MeMail me if you need sympathy.
posted by Dukat at 11:49 PM on June 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


A few (contradictory) things:

1. One thing that helps me is acknowledging that these problems have no easy solution (I've ruled out medication for myself but that's just me) and dealing with them will be a lifelong thing.

2. Life has no purpose. Unless you give it one. I've decided to replace the problem of “trying to be happy” with “trying to succeed at a very particular (artistic) goal” and so far it's working out for me. The focus of the anxiety of the many lonely nights that I've come up against for most of my life has gone from “my life is so terrible what the hell can I do I can't do anything about it, no one wants to be around me” to “I'm so terrible at [my artistic pursuit], I should do something to change that.” This works out better for me.

3. Contradiction time (although not really). My first two points focused on changing yourself, and it was sort of implied that your life will never change until you change internally. I don't believe that though. I am a big believer of external changes influencing your happiness very materially. I have also spent time abroad where 100% of the people around me were either “expats” or people with whom I didn't share a language. The change in scenery from where I left did me good in that it got me out of a situation I wasn't too happy in, but after I learned my travel lessons and came back home, I realised: it kind of really sucked. I am much happier now, in the city I originally left, than I was either abroad or in this same city before I left. So I would recommend strongly that if you don't like where you're living, just leave. “Geographical fixes are a myth” is a myth. Sometimes where you are sucks. Teaching English on contract? Break it. Didn't plan to return home so soon, it will screw up all your plans, your friends will raise an eyebrow at you 'cause you “couldn't make it”? Fuck it, screw your plans, swallow your pride, do whatever you have to do to make you happy.

4. Similarly, I don't know where you live, but all cities are not created equal. Nor are all groups of friends. Maybe don't return to the same city? Maybe don't return to the same group of friends? I don't know. Earlier in my life I felt the feelings you describe more than I do now, and that's larger because, aside from the fact that I was younger and I think they are more young-people feelings, I just happened to be in a particularly catty/neurotic/cruel/antisocial little milieu. When I was young I had such a small sample size of people whom I really knew that I was extremely prone to local, unrepresentative contours of human behaviour that I now understand do not represent humanity as a whole. As such I was sad that (I thought) those people didn't like me as much as I wanted them to, and I felt extremely uncomfortable and dissatisfied with my friends, but I thought that everyone else was “too stupid” because I didn't understand other kinds of intelligence or other ways of being social. (On preview: I think in this point I'm trying to get at what Dukat is saying about Bob Dylan.)

5. Speaking of feelings changing as you get older, they do. Hormones subside, the brain doesn't finish developing until you're 25, etc. Pace everything I've just said about self-directed happiness, to a certain degree I'm the exact same person I was when I was an extremely depressed 16-year-old and an extremely depressed 21-year-old. Now I'm 26 and though in some ways my life has gotten more fucked up than I could have possibly imagined at those ages, I'm a much happier person. This seems to me to be attributable largely to aging and mellowing of my mind.

6. Speaking of understanding why any happiness comes or goes, sure we can try to make guesses at what events in our lives/selves caused what internal state, and we sort of know, but we don't really know (the more I go through the more I appreciate the extent of my lack of self-understanding), so just keep trying things and if something makes you feel good one day just try to do that again the next.

When I'm feeling extremely depressed now I dissociate and just study what's happening to me. I am now more able to calmly record the thoughts that my depression induces than I ever was. I can't do anything to change the feeling of depression, which feels chemical to me, but when it subsides, I can look at those thoughts I was thinking during the worst of it and evaluate them a little more rationally. I am thus better equipped to shoot them down when depression next throws them at me.

Conversely, however, when I'm in the depression headspace, I look at those “answers” or “solutions” to the problems my depression cooked up and, in my depressed state, can “see through them as the bullshit they are.” “There is no answer; I really am just terrible and life is awful.” And this is kind of true! Depression-brain and okay-brain are both right. But the state of affairs being what they are, there's no use obsessing over how shitty they are, so just try to do something to make them better.

Key phrase: do something. I used to have a little motto-epiphany: “Not all of life's problems can be solved by thinking about them.” Now I incline more toward “most of life's problems cannot be solved by thinking about them.”

Also: coffee.

(And yeah, physical exercise).

Anyway, this is all highly particular to me, so if none of it applies to you, disregard at will. I really wish you good luck and happiness. Send me a message if you want.
posted by skwt at 11:53 PM on June 3, 2009 [15 favorites]


I'm currently living in another country where I don't speak the language. My friends are all expats. I've been trying very, very hard to learn the language, but nothing is gelling. When I people ask me for directions, I freeze and they wander off. When people say hello, my face turns red and I can't seem to speak.

Moving to country whose language you don't speak fluently is difficult even for people who don't tend towards depression. Moving to Germany was probably one of the toughest things I've done in my life. Some suggestions that might help, based on my experiences:

1) Distract yourself & treat yourself. You say you're trying to treat yourself a little; go beyond hot showers. Find a good restaurant or cafe or bar (or record store or whatever) where you can be a local. Brief conversations with a server or bartender who's come to know you a little can make a big difference between feeling lonely and feeling totally isolated, and small creature comforts can really help improve your overall mood. This is worth the extra money you spend on eating out. Occasionally buy a book or see a movie in your native language, etc. Heck, I ate McDonald's for the first time in years in the Munich Hauptbahnhof because I was tired and hungry and the smell of fries reminded me of being a kid back in the U.S.

2) Don't limit yourself to expats. The expat community is easier to spend time with, but it's also smaller than the non-expat community, and there may just not be many people you'd otherwise want to be close to in it. In many countries, many locals speak as much English as you do their language, and will be game to try talking with you. Go to concerts, meet-ups, join clubs, take classes, etc. If you can meet more people - no matter what first language you both speak! - you stand a larger chance of meeting people you really like, and people who really like you.

3) Don't live alone. Unless you really can't stand living with other people, live in a shared apartment. Preferably with some natives or people who speak the language of your current country well, because constant background exposure to the local language will help you learn it. This goes together with point 2; it's difficult and uncomfortable in the short term, but it will also expose you to people and it will lower the stress of speaking your new language. If you see someone every day, it doesn't matter very much if you make a mistake in any given sentence or conversation, which makes speaking in a foreign language a little less stressful. (I say this as someone who stutters, and whose stutter is very much exacerbated by anxiety.)

4) You say you have trouble going to things like meet-ups. Oh man, I do too. Honestly, having a beer before going to yet another apartment visit or social event with a near-stranger makes things much, much better for me. I'm not saying you have to drink (!), but if you can find something that limits your social neuroses and calms you down, engage in it before going out to meet other people. Read a book, eat your favorite food, go for a walk beforehand, tell people you've got to leave by X o'clock so that you've got a good excuse to head home... It's do-able. Oh, and you say that people talk about movies and concerts as if you're not there: do they know that you're interested in movies, specific music genres, etc.? Unless you make it clear that you're interested, by saying something like "Oh, $band is playing here? I've been meaning to see them for ages!", they may have no idea that you might be interested in attending such events.

5) You say that your friends are all expats. Do you mean that the friends you see frequently are expats, or that the only friends you have, period, are expats? If you have friends in your native country, talk to them! Email them with whatever neat/funny stories you can think of from your current country, Skype them, whatever. If you get along with your family, talk to them as well. Don't lean on them exclusively, but don't isolate yourself because you don't live near your old friends. And - though this may seem odd - try to avoid Facebook. It's a great way to make yourself feel bad by convincing yourself that everyone is leading a fascinating exciting life except for you. Instead, try emailing your friends directly. Many people don't interact much (or meaningfully) via media where they're not being addressed personally. (That's also why it can be harder to get people to attend an event when you email a group rather than emailing individuals.) Try to interact actively, not passively.

6) Allow yourself to fail. Some days are going to suck. Uprooting yourself and trying to build a new life sucks, whether it's the next city over or halfway across the globe. On one hand, do try, but don't beat yourself up for it. It's OK to spend some days sitting in your room and reading awful things on the internet, as long as it's not the only thing you do. Don't beat yourself up.

7) Particularly if depression's been a problem before, do consider looking for a therapist and possibly (if indicated) a psychiatrist. Even if depression seems to be primarily tied to moving abroad, it can't hurt to talk through your frustrations with someone else, instead of staying at home, brooding over how unhappy you are. You may or may not find this useful in the long term, but it's worth a try.

8) You sound relatively young; check out what resources local universities have for international students. You might be able to meet a wider group of people, find shared housing, and so on.
posted by ubersturm at 12:23 AM on June 4, 2009


You have my sympathy. It sounds like you're in a bad place, at least metaphorically. One thing about expat communities is that they can be extremely insular and unwelcoming, especially if you don't have the same career (usually English teaching) or long-term plans to stay in the country. I'm thinking about Japan, where very rigid lines separate expats based on occupation. Also, it doesn't help matters that expat men have Japanese wives and girlfriends and many expat women resent that they don't get the same kind of sexual attention from expat or Japanese men.

Don't despair! There's a whole world beyond the expats. An international-leaning church would be excellent, something like the Quakers that is chill and low key. Here are some other ideas:

1. Take a pottery, folkdancing or crafts class at the local community center or university.
2. Join an intermural sports team at your university or in your community. (My Japanese boyfriend did this and he made tons of European guy friends despite the language barrier).
3. Every weekend plan a day trip down to the smallest details. Figure out ways to stay overnight if you can afford it. Go with the intentions of taking photographs for an album when you return. Learn everything you can about the area.
3a. Choose a different neighborhood on a map and explore it in great detail on an afternoon when you've got nothing else going on.
4. Become a volunteer for English conversation. You might meet older people who will dote on you, AND even better you might young people too. For instance, I met a guy I dated for a long time that way.
5. Take a book and sit at a bar with a glass of wine. That's an open invitation that shouts "come talk to me"!
If you do happen to be in Japan, memail me and I can give you more specific advice depending on your location.

Whatever you do, stay off Facebook and away from the clique that's bringing you down.
posted by vincele at 1:48 AM on June 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Very simple advice somebody gave me once that seems to work nicely:

If you're feeling really sad, take a shower. If you're going to be unhappy, you may as well be unhappy in a comfortable, warm place that's soothing and clean. It doesn't always make me feel better, but I've never known a shower to make me feel worse.
posted by koeselitz at 2:13 AM on June 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


I could literally have written every single word of this post, and it's something I'm still going through now, as an American expatriate in Beijing. The other suggestions that have already been posted are excellent, and I completely agree with what previous posters have written regarding culture shock, which will hit you and hit you hard for a long time.

Things that have helped for me:

1) Be kind to yourself. Don't demand of yourself that every situation is perfect.

2) Learning another language is hard work, and it's unavoidable that you'll make mistakes and feel that nothing is coming together. In this case, the perfect is the enemy of the good, as people often like to say around here. I'm learning Chinese, so that means in about another five years, I might sound like a 15 year old Chinese kid instead of the 8 year old that I sound like now.

3) If you can find this in English, read the news in your country instead of hanging out on Facebook, this also gives you something to talk about with the locals. The Facebook status updates are where people brag about the cool things that they are doing. It is really irritating at times. Twitter is even worse.

4) I also second exploring your city by foot, it will make you feel much better once you start feeling more in control of your surroundings. I have been in Beijing for nearly two years now, but it's only since I started biking and taking walks that it feels more like home instead of the place where I'm learning Chinese.

5) It does help to make a list of five things that you are grateful for, every day. It will make you realize that you are a worthy person and that good things do happen.

6) I also used to feel left out from events, until I started inviting small groups out myself. Maybe just two or three, to get started, so that your anxiety regarding social situations and large numbers of people isn't so high.

7) Fake being confident and outgoing until it sticks. This sounds hokey and cliched, but it does help a lot.

Good luck!
posted by so much modern time at 3:10 AM on June 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just another vote for exercise. Outdoor if possible.
posted by fire&wings at 3:26 AM on June 4, 2009


Yes, this was me in Sweden in 2000 and 2001. If you watch "Lost in translation" (Bill Murray/Scarlett Johansson) - that movie was EXACTLY my life. Every last bit of it. Except in a Swedish hotel, not a Japanese hotel.

Anyway, a few points on various people's posts.

Exercise good, too much exercise bad: I overtrained quite severely at one point, and overtraining makes you more tired, more depressed and a great deal more fragile. (I was at the gym every night). Moderation in exercise is good!

I was living in a hotel, and couldn't cook, so I had to go out every night. I was able to build up at least "nodding acquaintanceship" with a few people; I had my favourite places for different meals, so that was some small comfort.

++lose Facebook. It just distorts your view of the world.

But the thing that made it bearable was finally knowing when I'd be able to go home: a definite end-date definitely made things better. At the time, after the Sydney Olympics, I couldn't come back here because just about every flight for months was booked up. (Or so I told myself).

Once you know when you're going home, give yourself a list of things to do or see, and tick them off. It gives you something to do, and you will get to see more of the country as well.
posted by flutable at 5:32 AM on June 4, 2009


This might not apply if you've been there awhile, but...

Seconding the advice to walk around in your new city. Set aside a day when you don't have anything else to do, pick a point on a map, and walk to it. Pay attention to the street signs, the types of housing, the way the trees look. Notice the little things that make it different from wherever you were before. Aside from mere distraction, this gets you out of the house, and away from the obligation to interact with other people. From your post, it sounds like you're spending a lot of time around people being lonely -- and also a lot of time alone. "How is being alone more going to help?" "I'm ALREADY spending a lot of time by myself." "How is spending a day in my own head going to solve the problem?

This is what I actually mean by that....

Being happy in a new place, for me, has always been prefaced by a feeling of intense loneliness, where I'm surrounded by people who have been there longer, who already have their "groups," who know each other, and who don't really have any reason to care that I exist. There's nothing wrong with this -- it's just how groups work in new places. Especially in expatriate communities, people form artificially strong bonds pretty quickly because everyone is transient. From the outside, these bonds can look impenetrable, and making friends can seem like an impossible task.

For me, the ONLY thing that has worked is saying, "Well, fuck it. I guess I'm not gonna make any friends." --- and then deciding that this is OK. It doesn't have anything to do with you --- it's just how these communities work. And if you can't change it, why worry about it?

That sounds flippant, but (as someone who's experienced the kind of debilitating loneliness you describe) it's pretty much the only thing that's worked for me. Saying, "Oh well!" when you don't quite connect, and making a really proactive effort to do your own thing -- even if that means taking the time to figure out what that is. Try taking long showers, taking time to yourself and listening to your own impulses. Feel like staying in bed all morning? Fine. Sleep in with a book! Have six hours to kill, and a museum you'd like to see? Take the long way there. Feel like you go to the same stupid coffee shop every day and never talk to anyone? Locate all the coffee shops within ten blocks, and make a plan to visit all of them over the course of a week. Remind yourself that it's OK if you don't talk to anyone --- you're curious about the coffee! Bring a book, and spend some time paying attention to strangers.

The important thing to remember is that, when you're living or visiting abroad with a bunch of expatriates, EVERYONE feels lonely and isolated. Some people are just better at hiding it than others. You WILL make friends eventually -- it's not about you, it's just the nature of the beast. But sometimes it's a slow process, and making "you" time (and realizing that you're actually pretty good company) will help fill in the gaps between now and then.
posted by puckish at 6:06 AM on June 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I also can't stress so called modern time's advice enough: Be kind to yourself. It's shockingly easy to forget to do this. Be kind to yourself, and remember that you are not always in control of your situation.

This goes double when "you know it's about you." It's really not. Treating yourself well (like a human being -- like a friend) is the most useful thing you can do for yourself in this situation.
posted by puckish at 6:12 AM on June 4, 2009


Is English your first language? I don't ask because you made mistakes, you didn't. I'm wondering because the way you write is very direct and precise. English is my first language and I noticed that when I lived abroad in a country where I didn't speak the language well, my English changed too. It became easier in both languages to be clear and get to the point, so I didn't confuse anyone.

Being an expat in a country where you don't speak the language is hard and makes lots of people feel lonely and isolated. Every day things can make you very tired, because the language barrier is an extra stress and obstacle you have to overcome. Maybe you should not be afraid to tell your expat friends how you feel, I bet they know what it's like. Maybe you could say it this way, instead of making it sound like you feel this way around them: "I feel isolated when I'm trying to get along with people in this country because I can't speak the language well. How do you cope with that?" Maybe ask over email if it's hard to ask in person.

Just start talking and try not to be embarrassed about making mistakes if you are learning the language. What helped me get pretty good at French was to listen to French news radio. They repeat stories a lot, so if I missed things once, I heard them again later. And then the words and phrases I learned would suddenly appear in conversation, I didn't even have to think about it. If you haven't learned a second language before, it takes time before that magical language switch flips in your head, so that instead of translating in your head, you just communicate in the new language. Then it will get much easier.

Looking at Facebook makes me sad too, sometimes. I'm convinced that a lot of people there put up a front and only mention when they are doing something interesting and fun. It lets you find out where a lot of friends are but doesn't make social interaction very real or honest, IMHO.
posted by citron at 2:26 PM on June 6, 2009


Take a walk.
posted by archagon at 3:22 AM on June 17, 2009


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