One minute I held the key, next the walls were closed on me...
July 20, 2009 7:24 PM   Subscribe

Help me go back to being a happy girl.

Here it goes. This may get long, so please bear with me.

I'd always been a very bright and cheerful person who pretty much walked through the pains of life with a smile on my face. I was always convinced that anything I'd need from life I would get by means of working hard to get it. To me, nothing was impossible. This attitude about life took me through a stressful childhood (alcoholism, abuse), a move to a different country (the US), learning the new language (English!) in six months or so, and dealing with complicated situations at home (same situations as childhood). I was always eccentric (a good friend of mine referred to me once as "insane, but in a good way"), artistic, and willing to try all sorts of new things. Two years ago I met a wonderful young man and we embarked in what has truly been the best relationship I have ever had.
All of this changed last summer. I was preparing to go to a college I'd been wanting to go to for a while. I got accepted and so did my boyfriend. We were ecstatic and everything was ready. However, due to a completely unexpected problem with banking bureaucracy over in Mexico (my home country) I was left unable to attend the college I wanted. This shattered my confidence; for the first time, I was forced to face the fact that there were some things that I just was unable to change. I was able to pull myself together well enough to register for the city's community college in time, while my boyfriend would attend "our" college by himself three hours away. I was completely devastated, and felt betrayed by my boyfriend. Though he was sad, it was an exciting experience for him. I felt abandoned and needed him very much, but also understood that going to college was important and that he wasn't abandoning me. He was as supportive as he could and made sure that I always had an outlet to my frustrations. We talked every day, and tried to keep things as happy as we could without stifling any emotions.
As the months passed, I went from being the girl described above to being a lonely, sad person. I stopped trying out new things and enjoying the things I used to love before. I went from not having enough hours in the day to do what I wanted to spending afternoons sitting on my couch doing nothing at all. My muses for painting, drawing, writing and crafting went dead. Even though my boyfriend visited practically every week, I stopped being the affectionate, fiery girlfriend I used to be and barely even kissed or touched my boyfriend; our sex lives pretty much disappeared. I felt unable to take on any relatively big tasks, feeling that I wasn't in control of my life. The only thing that I was able to do well was keep my grades up.
Now the school year is over and my boyfriend is back from college. He found it disappointing and regrets it, no doubt in part because of me. Our relationship feels damaged. We don't fight, and we are still very loving and caring with each other. But he misses the girlfriend he left behind. I am very sad with the way I have become, but I have no idea of what to do to go back to being the same girl I used to be. What can I do?
posted by cobain_angel to Human Relations (19 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
You are depressed. When I am depressed, I usually try to go out hiking. This doesn't really help everyone, of course, but the basic gist is that getting out and doing something—even if you don't really feel fired up about it at the time—will help you. Take up running or hiking. Something physically strenuous that requires you to pay attention and be careful.

These sorts of physical activities are nice in that they're rewarding without being incredibly demanding, so you can get a nice feeling of accomplishment when you walk a ten-mile trail (for example) without someone else sitting there expecting you to go out and walk a fifteen-mile one tomorrow.

Bureaucracy also has a hard time screwing it up, unless you are trying to take out a loan for shoes.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:32 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think what you have gone through is a normal period of grief and adjustment. We all have seasons like this. It sounds to me like you're trying to shake yourself awake and beginning to move on.

We are all perpetually sadder but wiser. The key to enjoying your life is to focus on the latter part of that as much as you can while mustering the courage to see what happens next.

I drew a Tarot card for you while considering my answer, and I got the Eight of Wands, which usually indicates the sudden arrival of new information or circumstances that will immediately (and probably positively) affect your situation. Keep your eyes open. Wish you all the best!
posted by hermitosis at 7:35 PM on July 20, 2009 [4 favorites]

Sounds like you have been through a difficult trauma. Go see a counselor.
posted by RajahKing at 7:37 PM on July 20, 2009

I can't answer your question about being happy but I can give you some advice: Break up with your long distance boyfriend and date someone(s) who lives close to you. You're not even 21 you shouldn't get too seriously involved in romantic stuff. You need to value your existence on it's own terms rather than weigh it based on what's going on in the boy department and once you figure out how to be happy with yourself on your own and without entanglements please drop me a line about you did it because I'm like twice your age and I have no clue.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:42 PM on July 20, 2009

Response by poster: Potomac, he is back for good. We agreed that the long-distance thing (even if it wasn't quite long distance) didn't do us any good.
posted by cobain_angel at 7:44 PM on July 20, 2009

Best answer: I stopped trying out new things and enjoying the things I used to love before. I went from not having enough hours in the day to do what I wanted to spending afternoons sitting on my couch doing nothing at all. My muses for painting, drawing, writing and crafting went dead.

That sounds a lot like depression to me.

It's not easy to do, but try to remind yourself constantly that you're currently seeing the world through the opposite of rose-coloured glasses. In other words, you have a filter that's telling you that the things you used to enjoy no longer have any meaning. This is not the case - they're as great as they always were, only your attitude has temporarily changed.

Have you ever had that feeling, say, when stressed, that you have no appetite & the thought of food is revolting to you, but then you force yourself to take a bite of something and it's actually surprisingly good & you find yourself appreciating the food? Depression is a bit like the no-appetite state.

I'd personally recommend a lot of exercise & a good, healthy diet, but I'm sure others will also suggest seeing a professional for advice, which is always a good start.

Good luck! :)
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:45 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

Also this: you will pass through this. Remember that. It's only a passing phase.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:47 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you are experiencing the reality of life - sometimes what life has in store for us is not what we wanted, planned, hoped for. I don't want to belittle your experience, because I'm completely sure that not being able to go to college when I wanted would have had the exactly same effect on me. It's absolutely normal to take this hard, and you've had a year to wallow in it. Obviously you want to be better. There are a myriad of options. That will and fire you speak of is still there, you have just not let it out. Remember: everything happens as it is supposed to. This is not a cliche, it is fact. The difference happens between reality and our expectations.
I would suggest the iChing, counseling (which your CC should provide free), and forcing yourself to get out there. New hobby, interest, whatever. You're incredibly young, there is still so much awesomeness ahead of you. It's up to you to say, "This happened, it SUCKED, but I don't want the rest of my life to suck, so I'm getting past it." Ask your boyfriend to encourage you to do all this.
Good luck.
posted by anniek at 7:53 PM on July 20, 2009

I just wanted to say that long-distance relationships can work out, but it takes a lot of work and commensurate understanding by both parties. But that's not your question.

Here's the heartbreaker: you are no longer the girl you used to be. In the last year, you have matured, and you have had an experience that as permanently changed your worldview.

It's not about reverting back to who you were before, but incorporating your new self (and sometimes working around it) to be able to do the things were were able to do before. I know the feeling, where you have a plan - a good, common-sense, honorable, optimistic plan - and things work out as long as you adhere to that plan - but then one day, the plan unexpectedly fails. They always fail. And you're never prepared.

You may not feel it now, but you are actually a better, stronger person because of the situation you are in; you are better-equipped to live life to its fullest. Work with it, work through it, and you can start to mend your relationship, and find your hidden muses.
posted by jabberjaw at 8:15 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would nth that it sounds a lot like clinical depression but would add that I have found through my own experiences, as well as those of friends, that childhood traumas that were not sufficiently dealt with at the time, have a way of resurfacing in one's adulthood. I am not a psychiatrist/psychologist/social worker, but my "theory" is that one of the reasons that people think that children are so resilient is that kids just don't know any better. Their childhood is what it is, and while they -or in this case you - may realize that your childhood was less than ideal when you were going through it, you don't have enough of a worldview to serve as a basis of comparison. You probably just did your best to try to get through it and looked forward to the day when you would be an adult and in control of your own life. Everything is fine until life throws you a curve ball and then those feelings of sadness, loss of control, and frustration come rushing back in. You were never given the tools for dealing with these feelings and you probably thought that now that you were away from the abuse that you had put behind you for good, so when they resurface, triggered by a completely different negative event, your whole world comes crashing down.

I'm not saying that not getting into the college that you had hoped and planned to attend with your boyfriend wasn't a major blow, but your reaction to that alone seems a bit out of proportion. If you are able to, I would explore through therapy how your traumatic childhood may be negatively affecting your worldview. Hey, you're still young and just because you weren't given the tools to deal with this stuff as a child, it's never too late too learn and the sooner that you can nip this in the bud and deal with these feelings, the less likely they will be to wreak havoc with the rest of your life.

It sounds like you have a wonderfully supportive boyfriend, and not to be a wet blanket, but I would caution you about being so dependent on one person at such a young age. Not that you should break up with him, but you need to find the strength to deal with this within yourself. It doesn't mean that you shouldn't reach out and ask for help when you need it, but it would be better if you had a larger social safety net, especially since I imagine that you may not be close to your family or able to count on them for support.

Good luck and I hope that you start feeling better soon.
posted by kaybdc at 8:24 PM on July 20, 2009 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: kaybdc, I didn't really go into detail about how lost this entire thing made me feel, but you have really hit it there. I was proud of being able to care for myself without needing as much of my parents since I was very young. I didn't WANT to need my parents; my dad was prone to hitting me when I was less than the perfect child and my mom was very much an enabler to this. Going to college, to me, signified that moment where I would be able to leave that behind and become independent from them. I realize now that this might have a lot to do with the out of proportion reaction to this. I mean, I still went to college, albeit not the one I wanted to go to. It shouldn't have been that bad, right? But I'm still living with my parents. So I guess that's partly why it hurts so much.

As for my social net, when I was in high school I had plenty of supportive friends, but they all left for college and when I closed in on myself I didn't keep on touch.

In case anyone is wondering exactly how old I am, I'm 19.
posted by cobain_angel at 8:35 PM on July 20, 2009

Best answer: I was always convinced that anything I'd need from life I would get by means of working hard to get it. To me, nothing was impossible. This attitude about life took me through a stressful childhood (alcoholism, abuse).

It seems your personal experience did not match with your belief that things would work out if you did the right things. When the world demonstrates to people who are hurt at a young age that it still can hurt inexplicably, doubt creeps in.

The way to getting over this is quixotic--acknowledge your anger that the world is unfair and your anger at those who have hurt you in the past. A confident belief that if one does well one will be rewarded ironically prevents us from engaging in what seems like sensless engaging of anger.

It turns out that we are humans who have to engage our feelings, no matter how distasteful they are. When you've suffered trauma at the hands of others, you can get a strong aversion to engaging the very emotions that drove those who hurt you.

Acknowledge that anger. When you start to feel depressed, ask yourself if you feel angry. You may be surprised.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:43 PM on July 20, 2009 [5 favorites]

cobain_angel, I think that you are incredibly insightful and mature to have these realizations at the age of 19. Seriously, it takes some people a life time to figure out these sorts of connections.

Yeah, living at home with your parents certainly complicates things, but you can work around that. Someone upthread suggested looking into any counseling options that your community college may offer. That's an excellent solution.

It is tough when all of your friends move away, and I understand that it is difficult to make new friends when you're feeling depressed, but let me tell you, it's a lot easier to make friends in your teens and twenties, before everyone gets tied down with partners and children, than it is when you are older. In this case your age is in your favor. I know that depression is exhausting and I don't know what your work situation is know and I know that the economy sucks right now, particularly in Mexico, but is it possible that you could get and take on a part-time job? When I was your age, I found that the types of entry level low-paying jobs available to me where great places to meet people, some of whom have remained my friends for life. There's something about the camaraderie of getting through a busy shift at a retail store, coffee shop, or restaurant that brings people together. You go out after work together to let off steam, chat, and the next thing you know you're making plans outside of work, going to parties, etc. At the very least it would get you out of the house, you'd be earning money that you could put towards going away to college someday, and it would give you some control back over your life. That's all that I can come up with for now.

Hang in there! You will get through this and you will be so much stronger and more self-aware than 95% of your peers!
posted by kaybdc at 9:04 PM on July 20, 2009

I'm going to swim against the tide here and offer up that I don't think depression, I think it sounds like profound and long simmering grief. Which would be highly understandable, the funding for school incident being the trigger.

I really really hope you can transfer into the school of your dreams soon.

I also suspect the return of your boyfriend and your posting to the mehive might signal you are coming out of it? I hope!

Anyway. I tend to think a certain amount of grief is very natural, and so I wonder lately if society too often mislabels appropriate grief as depression, then and this creates unnatural expectations for individuals experiencing difficult times. I speak from personal experience on this, obvs.

I'll throw this out for contemplation... perhaps the better you get to know yourself and learn to process/move through your disappointments and griefs in life, maybe the more successful and happy you'll be. You've already learned how applying positive energy, hard work and motivation often achieves goals. Maybe this last little year has simply been an opportunity to learn about how quiet time and self-care can be beneficial, too.

YMMV. But maybe google grief responses and see if you don't track with what comes up. The good thing about grief (I've found, and again - YMMV) is that it usually passes back into happiness once you acknowledge you are grieving. Best.
posted by jbenben at 10:57 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

Long distance relationships can work, as long as you make sure to get out, do things, and generally have a life when apart. If you spend the time alone, waiting and longing, it will eat you up.

I was always convinced that anything I'd need from life I would get by means of working hard to get it.

This jumped out at me. I think that is a recipe for disappointment. I realize it is the idealized "American Dream" and all, but I have to say after decades of observation and experience, it's also one of The Big Lies.

I have seen more people have success, more often, from petty dishonesty, family connections and flat out dumb luck (for example) than I have seen people bootstrap themselves from "hard work" alone. And I have seen a lot of hard work and best intentions amount to nothing, or worse. There is too much chaos in the world for straight lines of success.

Believing that if you only work hard, everything will just work out is a road to bitterness and misery.

It might be sad, but you need luck. If you weren't born rich and successful, that means you have to get out there, take chances, and maybe something good will happen. Or it won't, in which case you tape yourself up and throw yourself back into the machine again to see what happens.
posted by rokusan at 2:09 AM on July 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

I don't have much to add that others haven't already covered, but I wanted to reach out to you and say that I understand what you've been feeling. It sounds like depression to me. The good part about that? You can get through it and come out on the other side a stronger person. Think over the multiple options offered up here and take the advice that feels most in line with what will help you. The first thing you try might not work at first. It might not work at all. This is, in my experience, the most difficult part of depression: the actual depression hurts and sucks, but is often accompanied by a numbness which just makes it hard to pull yourself out of the doldrums.

The fact that you recognize what is happening to you and are not only willing, but hopeful of returning to the personality you were before, is an immensely positive sign. I'm sure you will once again be the happy woman you were before, full of life and fiery. Good luck.
posted by jacquilinala at 6:06 AM on July 21, 2009

I think that the attitude of "I'm this kind of person" can be a little limiting in times of stress. It's easy to get yourself in a double-bind mindset:

Wow, I feel like crap.
But I'm an upbeat, sparkly person with lots of interests!
I don't feel like doing any of those things right now.
I've lost my way! I'm an upbeat, sparkly person! I should be upbeat and sparkly! I must not be myself!
Right now, I'm feeling like sitting on the couch and crying.
Oh, my God, I'm an upbeat, sparkly person! But I'm sitting on the couch and crying. Who am I?

It's okay to just be a person whose emotional repertoire includes lots of upbeat and sparkly AND some feeling like crap. You're a person, not a character in a book.

Note: I say this as someone who was, herself, very attached to a "I'm tough, nothing gets to me, I'm Mr. Spock" persona for the first 25 years of her life, which was adaptive for a while thanks to lots of childhood trauma and stress.

That really didn't work out so well for me in the long run, though, and since (in my 30s) I've arrived at a place where an attitude of "I'm Sidhedevil, and Sidhedevil has lots of different kinds of feelings and lots of different ways of reacting to situations," my life has improved tremendously.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:08 AM on July 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Ironmouth, I thought about your response while re-examining my feelings, and sure enough, there is a lot of anger in there at practically everything that I felt had a part in my situation. Since I was able to name it, I think I have been able to cope with it better. Thanks. :)

kaybdc, I do already have a job. I work as a hostess in a very busy restaurant. I love it, as it lets me talk to new people every workday, but it was a bit hard to deal with because I was always expected to keep a happy face even if I wasn't feeling that dandy. But my coworkers are great people who at times practically bullied me into having a good day. :)

jbenben, I had actually considered it being just grief and not just depression. I'd been reluctant to go see a psychologist, firstly because I have no insurance and am short on money and secondly because I was afraid that I would just be given a pill. While I do want this to be over as quickly as possible, I think it's best for me if I look into myself and find the reasons why I feel this way, and then start working from there. A pill wouldn't really let me do such things, and while I'm aware they're not magical in that way, I'm still somewhat wary of depression medication. Like you said, now that I have acknowledged that this sucked and it hurts, I'm on my way to feeling better.

rokusan, I'd never had a long-distance relationship before. I'm sure they can work, and we probably could have made it work, but in this situation it was just another brick on the wall. As for that American Dream, it very much IS what you hope for when you immigrate. I know there's luckier people out there, and that sometimes all your hard work will amount to nothing (thanks, programming class! xD). But it doesn't prevent me from trying, and trying is what I will do.

jacquilinala, thank you for your good wishes.

Sidhedevil, you're right in that having a fixed image of who you are will throw you off if you change. I do have a huge range of emotions (hence the good insanity). I went through my preteen gothy phase of horror, and even then, I was probably the cheeriest person wallowing in misery in my little group, haha. This, though, was completely different. I gave myself a long time to "snap out" of it, as I had before. But I didn't, and it alerted me that something was wrong. I did more or less think the same way you wrote; that I was supposed to feel this way because I used to be like that. It scared me to not feel the familiar patterns of being cheery, and thanks to this experience, I'm now more aware that I'm "allowed" to be sad every once in a while. I do want to pat myself on the back for recognizing that too much pain is also not a good thing to feel.

tl;dr I would like to thank everyone who responded. Sometimes strangers are able to give you more powerful insight than those who are well versed in your situation, and in this thread, that was more than proven. I will still go to a counselor, but your responses have helped me look at myself in a different way. If anyone has anything else to contribute, please do! I would like this thread to be as helpful as possible to anybody who's going through the same. Thank you. :)
posted by cobain_angel at 1:28 PM on July 22, 2009

This is late as I was just checking back to see if you had any updates. I'm glad that you have a job and are able to get out of the house (sometimes the feeling of accomplishment and just having a sense of purpose can do wonders when you are feeling down).

I'd just like to challenge one thing that you wrote about being reluctant to go to a psychologist because you didn't want to be prescribed an antidepressant. There are other treatments available and most psychologists/psychiatrists will be amenable if you state upfront that you'd prefer not to take antidepressants. I also totally understand the lack of money issue. You might want to check out a copy of Feeling Good by David Burns. Look up Cognitive Behavior Therapy online and see if there are some resources that you can use on your own. It basically is a short term therapy, that rather than examine your past in detail, examines your negative thoughts that you are having right now and challenge them. Some of us tend to catastrophize things when we are feeling bad and it just sucks you down into an endless vortex of doom and gloom. CBT helps break this pattern.

But frankly you already sound better in your last response, sometimes just finding out that what you are going through is valid and not outside the norm of human experiences can be reassuring. I hope that you continue to feel better.

Oh and not to make this another super long response, but long distance relationships can work and they can even be fun. I was in a 8 year relationship of which we spent the last 5 years at least 3000 miles apart. Yes ultimately it didn't work out, but we had 8 wonderful years together, parted amicably, and still talk at least once a month on the phone. The good things about being long distance is that the newness and excitement of being together never fades; you can pursue your own interests and have plenty of time to develop friendships outside the relationship. You do need to be independent and able to totally trust each other for it to work though.
posted by kaybdc at 9:12 PM on August 5, 2009

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