Is it normal to feel worse as you get better?
June 18, 2009 12:42 PM   Subscribe

Lately, all of the things I've been doing to try to take better care of myself seem to make me feel worse. Does anyone have advice on this?

For about a year, I've been making a serious effort to promote positive change in my life. I lost ~60 lbs, started going to yoga 2-3 times a week, joined a weekly group therapy session, began attending meetups and volunteering, and joined an internet dating site.

Yet most of the time, these things don't make me feel better. For instance:

- I go to group therapy and feel like I can't relate to anyone else in the group, because everyone else there has connections in their lives with people that love them.

- I go to a meetup and I'm secretly thinking that people I meet there dislike me, even though they are nothing but charming and kind.

- Someone on the internet dating site indicates interest and I look at their incredibly attractive/energetic/intelligent/interesting profile and feel worthless in comparison.

- I accomplish a goal (weight loss mini goal, a new yoga pose, etc.) but instead of feeling happy, I think about how anyone else would have accomplished the same goal faster or better.

These reactions don't happen all of the time, but they happen enough of the time that I feel significantly more unhappy than I did a year ago when I started this project. Even when I'm in the middle of a reaction, most of the time I'm lucid enough to know that my interpretation of things probably isn't what's going on at all. It's almost like I'm dreaming... on one level I know that things probably aren't happening the way I think they are, and on another level I'm caught up in the dream.

Does anyone have any advice for this type of thing? If you went through a similar process, did you have a part in the middle where you felt incredibly discouraged? What helped you?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I think you're depressed. But because I am not your therapist, I think it's up to you to decide whether feelings of utter worthlessness are serious enough to seek professional help.
posted by trotter at 12:53 PM on June 18, 2009

It sounds like you are constantly comparing yourself to others in everything you do. This is never a healthy habit. You'll need to change your thought patterns to be more positive if you want to feel better. Therapy can help with this.

After you accomplish a goal, instead of thinking "All these other people are better," think about how you are improving yourself. There is no need to compare yourself to others. Think about how you're doing something now that maybe you weren't able to do before, or how you are becoming better at something you were already able to do. Regardless of what other people are able to do, you are taking a step to improve yourself, and that's always a good thing.

Don't give up!
posted by Lobster Garden at 12:55 PM on June 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

You're depressed. Get thee to a doctor.
posted by notsnot at 12:57 PM on June 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

You're doing all the right things, and you're allowing your emotional shortcomings to twist their benefits into shortcomings. Keep doing the things you're doing, and use your feelings about them as discussion fodder for your therapy sessions.

Also: it's not unusual to think "oh, I'll never be the best at this" at times, but most people are either okay with that knowledge or use it as a motivational tool. That you're thinking it all the time, and worse, thinking "oh, I'll never be as good as anyone else at this", is a big red flag.

I recognize that telling you this is basically pointing out that you're not very good at being good to yourself, but it's ARE good enough at group therapy, you ARE good enough at a meetup, you ARE good enough to internet date, and you ARE good enough to accomplish your goals. You're *only* not good enough at cutting yourself some slack and realizing you don't need to be the best (remember, there's only one, and everyone else on the planet isn't that one person at that one thing) and you don't need to hold yourself up to others to value your own self-worth...self-worth is the net of your actions and deeds, not a relative measurement.
posted by davejay at 1:04 PM on June 18, 2009

- I accomplish a goal (weight loss mini goal, a new yoga pose, etc.) but instead of feeling happy, I think about how anyone else would have accomplished the same goal faster or better.

When I begin to think this way, one thing that helps me is to remember that many of the achievements that we see that look effortless and natural are actually the result of work that you don't see. Take the simple act of shooting an NBA free throw. A lot of players (other than Shaq) look like they can do it in their sleep, and routinely make 85%+ of their free throws. But their skill is the result of an incredible amount of hard work, shooting thousands and thousands of free throws, practicing it every single day for years. Yet since all you see is the end result, it seems like it is effortless, natural talent.

We are bombarded with so many images of people who are hyper-specialized in things that it's easy to feel inadequate in comparison. Just remember: the actors and supermodels who look beautiful and seem to lose a few pounds in a few days spend many hours in the gym with personal trainers; your yoga teacher has studied those poses for years and probably practices daily; the pictures and profiles on the internet dating sites have been meticulously selected, crafted, manipulated, in order to present people in the best possible light. Be happy that you've reached your own goals with the amount of work that you've put in; don't compare them to an impossible, fictional standard.
posted by googly at 1:05 PM on June 18, 2009 [4 favorites]

You are doing so well! But as others have said, you need professional help on this one. Explaining your experience, exactly like this, to your doctor, should get you started on figuring out exactly what the problem is. Remember, not all depression needs to be treated with meds, so if you are one of the anti-meds gang (I'm not!) don't let that put you off seeing the doctor.
posted by different at 1:14 PM on June 18, 2009

It sounds like poor self-esteem perhaps mingled with depression. Certainly a poor estimate of your own worth.

There's therapy to help you sort this stuff out. You might also check out this book, which I liked for these very issues.
posted by peggynature at 1:21 PM on June 18, 2009

If you don't have a doctor to ask, maybe you could voice your concerns with the person who leads your group therapy. He/she should have resources to refer you to (re: a psychiatrist/psychologist or a counselor for one-on-one therapy). Also, I don't know if this will make you feel better or give you the courage to seek help, but I, for one, am extremely impressed with your achievements. I don't have half the willpower you seem to have.
posted by bluefly at 1:23 PM on June 18, 2009

i would like favorite googly's answer a gazillion times.

changing your mindset is the hardest thing you'll ever do.
and you just may need some one-on-one counseling to help through it.
there's nothing wrong with that and it may be better than group therapy since it could be all about you, which isn't always a bad thing.

you have made so many positive changes and are working so hard. you can make this change too. nothing wrong with getting a personal counselor just like you might get a private session with the yoga instructor if you were having issues with some more difficult postures.
posted by sio42 at 1:24 PM on June 18, 2009

I'm going through a similar time -- I am changing, mentally and physically, and I have found that all the things I used do to make myself feel like "me" or to help me decompress from work, life, etc, don't work anymore.

So, I'm suffering through a period where everything seems to be much harder than it used to be, and it has definitely caused some depression. Therapy helps a lot, if only for perspective.
posted by crickets at 1:25 PM on June 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Firstly, congrats for all the positive change. Keep in mind that sometimes difficult transitory periods can bring you down in the moment only to fulfill you later on. Therapy is a sound idea, and it's good that you're getting into yoga and such. Are you eating well? Do you ever go out and do something extremely social and fun like dancing at a club? Do you sleep enough? What about keeping a diary?

I also heartily (and I mean heartily) recommend the Bounce Back Book. I read it even when I'm not going through anything all that difficult because the exercises have helped me to change how I think in addition to the external changes I've made in my life.

Will it help you to hear that it's all in your head? Because I think it may be. It's as though you're walking into a tunnel but still wearing your sunglasses-- your surroundings may be different, but you'll have a hard time really seeing them until you change HOW you see them. Be positive, and positive things will come to you.
posted by wild like kudzu at 1:32 PM on June 18, 2009

Everyone else is giving you good advice, so I'm just going to throw in something small. Just to feel better, try reading a book like Outliers that explains why people who are good at something never get there by accident. There is another book called Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else that you might relate to as well.

The brain is funny, even if you don't feel like you are doing well, you actually are! So keep doing what you know is good for you and keep telling your brain that it doesn't know what it's talking about.
posted by CoralAmber at 1:47 PM on June 18, 2009

You need to be kinder to yourself. This is a sort of cliche thought exercise, but if you had a friend who was sharing these kinds of thoughts with you, what would your reaction be? Would you tell her that the people contacting her on the dating site were probably too good for her? Would you tell her that other people could have learned that yoga pose faster/lost weight more quickly? Of course not! So why are you telling yourself these things?

Another oft-mentioned thing on AskMe is cognitive behavioral therapy, and that's because it can be very effective. Whether you're clinically depressed is not something we can tell you here, but it sounds like your thinking is not reflecting reality, and you seem to realize that. What you say here:
"Even when I'm in the middle of a reaction, most of the time I'm lucid enough to know that my interpretation of things probably isn't what's going on at all. It's almost like I'm dreaming... on one level I know that things probably aren't happening the way I think they are, and on another level I'm caught up in the dream."
really sounds like you could do with some cognitive change. The next time you beat yourself up about not reaching some kind of goal quickly enough, or assume that people don't like you or feel like you're worthless in comparison to someone else, step back and try to escape that dream state. You've lost 60 pounds; that's incredible. Many, many people struggle for years and years to make that kind of change. People are contacting you on the dating site because they're interested in you. That they seem really cool is awesome, because you are attracting attention from cool people! Do some reality checking. Remind yourself about what you've already done, and how amazing that is. Remember that you deserve the good things that happen to you. If you need help with this, therapy can help.

Good luck; I wish I could bold this entire answer, and all the good things people are saying about you, because I really hope you recognize them for the truth they are.
posted by MadamM at 2:36 PM on June 18, 2009

"I have secluded myself from society; and yet I never meant any such thing. I have made a captive of myself and put me into a dungeon, and now I cannot find the key to let myself out." - Nathaniel Hawthorne

"I didn't know what was the matter with me. All I knew was that I was feeling lower than a snake's belly...I remember we used to go to restaurants, and I'd say 'Everybody's pointing at me, the cheat, the fraud, the fake.' You really believe these things! Astonishing!" - Mike Wallace

Do these quotes seem true to you? If yes, read more here.
posted by Houstonian at 2:39 PM on June 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Depression might be a bit too heavy of a term to describe it. It sounds more like it might just be dysthymia.
posted by joquarky at 4:13 PM on June 18, 2009

Do you have a throw-away email address by any chance?
posted by small_ruminant at 7:03 PM on June 18, 2009

I just took some psychiatric testing today to see if anxiety and/or depression is causing my insomnia. I answered questions that are very similar to what you describe. Things like feeling sad more often, comparing self to others, wondering about peoples intentions who are kind, and so on. Since this was a depression screening then I'd say these questions are geared towards actions/thoughts of someone who is depressed.

There are physical reasons for depression including a full range of hormonal inbalances so you really should see a doctor.
posted by justlisa at 7:19 PM on June 18, 2009

I accomplish a goal (weight loss mini goal, a new yoga pose, etc.) but instead of feeling happy, I think about how anyone else would have accomplished the same goal faster or better.

Would it give you a little boost to know that - as I was reading about all the things you accomplished over the last year - I felt genuine twinges of admiration and jealousy? I think a lot of us feel from time to time that everybody else is more accomplished/attractive/energetic/intelligent/interesting than we are.

So, do keep in mind that you also get to be on the other side of that. There ARE people looking at you every single day, thinking how much more fantastic you are than them. It's not a replacement for real self-esteem, but it sure puts things into perspective.

Also, n-thing that you should be assessed by a psychiatrist and consider one-on-one therapy, whether CBT or not.
posted by kitcat at 7:21 PM on June 18, 2009

The book (Regardless of What You Were Taught to Believe) There Is Nothing Wrong With You: Going Beyond Self-Hate by American Zen teacher Cheri Huber has been incredibly helpful to me in learning to let go of that kind of self-comparison and self-criticism. (Also her other books and the weekly call-in show she does.)

It's an amazing experience to walk into a party or group of people and not feel hyper-self-conscious of what other people are thinking about me, because I feel fine about myself. It's wonderful not to have my mind running in circles constantly rehearsing an explanation for why I really did my best and I'm sorry it's not good enough and I know anybody else could have done it better and I did try and I'm sure I could do better if given another chance, because I know I did my best and it's okay. After years of struggling with major depression and hating myself so much I believed the people in my life would be better off if I were dead, it's unbelievable to find myself thinking, "Wow, my life is really good. I am so lucky to be me, right here, right now. You know, me, you're a pretty cool person."

You don't have to be Buddhist to find the kind of awareness practice Cheri teaches helpful. And this
Even when I'm in the middle of a reaction, most of the time I'm lucid enough to know that my interpretation of things probably isn't what's going on at all. It's almost like I'm dreaming... on one level I know that things probably aren't happening the way I think they are, and on another level I'm caught up in the dream.
makes me think it might really click for you.

You are getting bad information about who you are, what you do, and how well you do it. The voices telling you that you suck are lying to you, and you can learn not to believe them. Or at least not believe them as much — I do still have down periods when they sound awfully persuasive. But those times are becoming rarer and shorter in duration when they do happen.

"You have been taught that there's something wrong with you and you're imperfect, but there isn't and you're not." My very best wishes to you.
posted by Lexica at 7:49 PM on June 18, 2009

DD is in year 2 of a life makeover. Part way through (can't remember exactly when), she started having a terrible time even though she had accomplished many of the things on her to-do list. I don't know whether it was weariness or some feeling disjointed/not knowing where she fit any more, but she was miserable and lost her usual confidence. It passed, but it took months. I applaud the work you've done and the courage you have for going to group, going out, getting on with life - and losing 60 lbs! Perhaps you've hit a rough patch or perhaps you do need a bit of meds/therapy to get you through. I feel for you.
posted by x46 at 9:11 PM on June 18, 2009

Try finding a different group for group therapy. I went to a group where all the women were at least 10 years older than me and married with kids (and I wasn't), so of course I didn't relate.
posted by IndigoRain at 10:19 PM on June 18, 2009

I think sometimes when people make changes - no matter how postive - they can feel a little disloyal to their "old self." There's only one you. Get the current-and-always you to therapy so you can enjoy your life.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 12:35 PM on June 20, 2009

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