How do I get out of this emotional hole and get things done?
November 8, 2009 7:33 PM   Subscribe

Seeking short-term coping mechanisms for being productive in school during a devastating breakup, and for comedy TV I can watch to help me through it. Long story inside.

My partner of, let's say 4-8 years and I broke up about 5 weeks ago. We got together when we were both freshmen at our university and had an instant strong bond. It was a mutual breakup due to some relationship dysfunction that was related to a sexual health problem I have and anxiety/depression we each have. We have lived together for several years and while we're in the process of finding some way to move out, we are still roommates for now.
The first few days we were broken up, we both had a terrible time and cried a lot. We have remained friends with little drama, other than both having some crying spells, up until this weekend.
Due to some events this weekend, it really started to sink in that I may really be losing him for good and I began to panic. Things came to a head and in the middle of the night I told him how I felt and it was very emotional for both of us. We ended up having sex. I didn't realize, but at the time, he was drunk (I was exhausted from crying and not sleeping). While we were having sex (which was his move), we were talking about things we wanted to do sexually in the future. The next morning, though, we kissed again (again his move) and said sexual things toward me. Not an hour later, we talked about what we wanted to do relationship-wise. Basically he said he doesn't think it's a good idea for us to get back together right now.
I'm totally crushed. I told him he betrayed me, fucked with my head, and that I just wanted to know why he would so something like that to me after normally treating me well. He says he was stupid to do those things last night and this morning, and he did them because he was confused about how he felt and thought maybe we could get back together. I feel so betrayed, used, and just hopeless. We're part of each others families. Before the breakup, we often talked of concrete life plans like marriage and kids. When we technically "broke up," it didn't feel so real or permanent and we've continued to live life as normal, hanging out just with no romantic contact.
Making matters worse, I'm a first-year law student in the throes of finals studying time. This weekend I have done nothing for school. I don't even think I can get through classes without bursting into tears randomly. Missing much class is not really an option, but I know I can't go tomorrow. I can't get out of bed right now. I don't know how I can get through the semester. There are counseling services that I plan to utilize, but until I can get in, I am in a wandering panic.
I have no friends to talk to about this. All of my friends are either friends with him, too, or friends who live out of state and I haven't been in close contact with recently enough to call up with my problems. I'm don't really talk to my parents or siblings about personal stuff like this.
I don't like dating or the whole game of trying to meet people. He and I became friends and were very close before any romance occurred. I don't feel like that kind of connection will be easy to find again any time soon.
I've read tons of breakup related AskMes, and some of the things in there have been helpful, especially the thing about "existential panic"

1. Are there any general suggestions for what I can do to get through the day(s) until I can get some counseling?
2. One thing that does help calm me is watching DVDs of The Office. I've seen them all so many times in the past month that it's almost not working anymore. Any other shows like this, such as ones about people with run of the mill lives with comedy and some realistic life sadness would probably help, too.
3. What can I do to try to be productive and not keep breaking down while studying? I can't leave the house, which usually helps, because I will probably start crying randomly, and at home, all I can do is zone out playing solitaire and watching The Office to keep from bawling constantly.

Sorry for such a long story, but I really felt I needed to give all the details for this to make sense, and my mind isn't so clear for editing.
If you have any advice you don't want to put here, you can email
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (32 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
1. Find something to focus on, not just studying. Something to do with your mind that you care about. Something to do with your hands. Find a friend to go and talk to, listen to her problems and don't focus so much on your own.

2. You would probably enjoy the BBC comedy called Peep Show. There's lots of episodes on YouTube, broken up into bits. Start there and I hope it makes you laugh.

3. DO leave the house. Go for a walk. Don't worry who sees you cry. Find something to do with your hands.
posted by meadowlark lime at 7:41 PM on November 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

“I have no friends to talk to about this. All of my friends are either friends with him, too, or friends who live out of state and I haven't been in close contact with recently enough to call up with my problems.”

I know this is totally uncomfortable, so do it in the most comfortable way you can: call three of those 'out-of-state' / 'haven't talked to them recently enough for this to make sense' friends. Tell each one: 'look, I know this seems weird, but I had this awful breakup, and I just need someone to talk to.' At the end of the conversation, don't forget to mention this: 'hey, thanks for talking; please keep in touch. Sometimes I don't realize how much I need a friend.' One way to make this easier for yourself: if any of them know the others, you can say, 'hey, could you have X call me?'

You will close yourself off from the world if you let yourself. Don't. It's tough, but that's what friends are for. You really need to hear friendly voices right now.

As far as TV shows, I can recommend a few BritComs that I like:

  • The IT Crowd. Light, funny, fun. Sort of the more sitcom-y version of The Office, only with IT people. A guy on mefi called kittens for breakfast recommended this one, and I've been hooked ever since; all 3 seasons are on play-on-demand on Netflix, so you can be watching it within half an hour if you want to.

  • Pulling. A great show which I like to describe to people as "the British, much more realistic, version of Sex In The City." I like it as a show because it is a hell of a lot more realistic about what life and breakups mean than most shows without being any less funny. It revolves around a woman who's just called off her wedding and moved in with some old friends. One of my favorite scenes had the ex-fiance standing at her door explaining to her that he's really getting better now, that he's finally learning to move on and growing as a person, et cetera, when she looks down and notices that he apparently hasn't been wearing shoes all day even though he's walking on the street, and his feet are dirty and bruised. He responds: "hey, look, I need to deal with this in my own way, okay?" Hilarious - and yet perfectly, exactly how it feels.

    You're going to be okay. This will pass. Imagine yourself telling this as a story to people years from now: "in my first year of law schooll, I had to deal with this tough breakup..." You will be telling that story someday soon. Stay strong, and good luck.

  • posted by koeselitz at 7:55 PM on November 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

    Also, on preview, YES - Peep Show is awesome.
    posted by koeselitz at 7:56 PM on November 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

    I have no friends to talk to about this. All of my friends are either friends with him, too, or friends who live out of state and I haven't been in close contact with recently enough to call up with my problems. I'm don't really talk to my parents or siblings about personal stuff like this.

    I've had pretty much these exact same thoughts in my life, not so much about breakups but about other 'existential crises' that I've faced. And you know what I've found out? Once people realize that you are in need of their support/shoulder to cry on/whatever, they'll be there for you. Especially your parents. I also come from a family in which the norm is to not discuss 'personal/emotional' matters with parents and siblings, but on a couple of occasions in my life, when the need to just tell someone everything I was feeling, and cry, confess it all, whatever was just too much to bear, I've called on my parents, even though I was terrified of doing so, since These Things just Weren't Discussed. And it was absolutely what I needed: even if they're not great at expressing emotions, they love you, you're their daughter and I'm almost sure that their first thought will be to care for you and do whatever you need, not judge you for being weak or failing at life or whatever.

    So if your family is anything like my family, just call them and spill it out, cry as much as you need to, and they'll be there for you.
    posted by notswedish at 7:56 PM on November 8, 2009

    Just because your friends are mutual, doesn't mean you can't confide in one of them. If there is one you feel comfortable talking to, then call them up and ask if you can talk with them confidentially about the hard time you're going through. You NEED to talk to someone!

    Also what meadowlark said about going for a walk. Walking, being in motion, is a good way to clear your head and relax and get rid of some anxiety.
    posted by saturn~jupiter at 7:57 PM on November 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

    If you liked The Office, you'll like Parks and Recreation. Sometimes I (shhhh. Secret.) like it even better.

    In the meanwhile: Yes, it's devestating. Seek help. Outside of that, look for a club you can join. Yes, sometimes they're for resume-fluffing know it alls, but sometimes they're great for common company. Do it.
    posted by GilloD at 8:02 PM on November 8, 2009

    Every time I go through a break up I watch every Woody Allen film from the 70s and 80s.

    It also don't think its going to get any easier until you separate from each others lives. Maybe focus on finding a new living situation?
    posted by mattsweaters at 8:06 PM on November 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

    A friend who just went through an awful breakup swears by the Muppet Show.

    Arrested Development is also great. It's all about family dynamics and spends almost zero time on romance.
    posted by Alison at 8:22 PM on November 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

    i'm going to assume you're at an ABA accredited school. so:

    •technically you can't miss more than 20% of sessions for any course. this rule is insulting, stupid, and part of the reason why legal education is stuck in the backwater of the 19th century. but, depending on how seriously your school/profs enforce it, it is the rule.

    •finals are probably in about...a month? so school based clubs probably aren't holding many/any events before the start of the next semester.

    •exercise. if you haven't been, start. immediately. i don't have time (finals are in about a month...) to find links to even the most important studies proving why this is important in terms of mood, intellect, concentration, physical health. but it is.

    •drugs. do you take anti-depressants (esp. wellbutrin)? methylphenidate/adderall? i'd seriously consider using some form of methyphenidate. asap. this may seem drastic to some, but even if you're at a T14*, the legal market has been blown to hell and its a phenomenally bad time to be in law school. your first year grades are the most important grades you will get in law school. your career services people should have been telling you how much they matter to your career prospects.

    *if you're at yale/harvard/stanford disregard all this...
    posted by mattbcoset at 8:28 PM on November 8, 2009

    i'd seriously consider using some form of methyphenidate

    You and all the rest of the undergrads need to stop playing doctor on the internet. Making uninformed medical recommendations is one of the most risky things you can do on this site, because someone might actually treat your advice as if it's worth something and end up seriously injured or dead. I hope there won't be any more of this nonsense in this thread, OP is having a hard enough time already.
    posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:33 PM on November 8, 2009

    I second Parks and Recreation and Arrested Development.
    posted by sunflower16 at 8:35 PM on November 8, 2009

    Peep Show and some nice long walks - so what about who sees you? - will help you back on your feet and steer clear of the booze for a while.
    posted by turgid dahlia at 8:40 PM on November 8, 2009

    Oh, man. What crappy timing. One thing that might help is reflecting on the fact that basically everyone you know has been through something similar.

    Shows to watch

    Gilmore Girls. I don't think it's a coincidence that I watched pretty much the entire run of this series on DVD while I was in grad school. The dialogue is intelligent and snappy enough to keep your brain working, but funny and light enough to be super entertaining. There is a lot of relationship stuff, but they keep it pretty light and the relationship stuff is done in a way that might actually be soothing to you, like "oh, right, other people's breakups are messy and complicated too!"

    30 Rock, Arrested Development and The Flight of the Concords all might be up your alley as well.

    And yeah, you should reach out to your closest friends, even if they're his friends too. I'm friends with several couples and I can't imagine not wanting to comfort either of them if they broke up.

    Speaking of which, is there any way you can move out earlier? It seems like even sleeping on a friend's couch would be less emotionally exhausting than your current situation. Just getting some forward momentum, putting some physical distance between you and the guy, would probably help you focus on your exams.
    posted by lunasol at 9:23 PM on November 8, 2009

    Three things: first, don't stop studying. No matter how crappy you feel, just keep on the studying. Realize that studying still works, even if you are feeling bad, and that no matter what, studying while down is infinitely better than not studying.

    Second, realize you are going to feel hurt, accept feeling hurt and allow yourself to feel hurt--stick with the bad feeling without trying to talk back to it or solve it. Just feel it. Feel bad and let the feelings pass, as running away prolongs the feelings. You're supposed to feel bad right now. Resist the temptation to avoid exam anxiety by dwelling on the relationship stuff.

    Third, start spending tons of time away from the house. Study in the library and stay away from the ex as much as possible. Don't let him have his cake and eat it too. You are broken up, start acting like it.

    Regardless, first-year exams are important, but in the big scheme of your life they are not the be all and end all. Get yourself a study group and a study schedule. You're gonna be a lawyer and you'll get a decent job, trust me. If you need study tips, MeMail me, I've been there.
    posted by Ironmouth at 9:23 PM on November 8, 2009

    Ach! So sorry to hear about that.

    Animated shows that always make me LOL:

    * Home Movies
    * Venture Brothers
    * Metalocalypse
    * American Dad (which I think is far superior to Family Guy)
    * King of the Hill


    * Parks and Recreation
    * 30 Rock
    * Modern Family (the first 2-3 eps were meh, but it's really hitting its stride)
    posted by ErikaB at 9:34 PM on November 8, 2009

    You really can call your out-of-state friends. It doesn't matter that you haven't been in close contact with them recently; you need them now.
    posted by grouse at 9:50 PM on November 8, 2009

    You and all the rest of the undergrads need to stop playing doctor on the internet.
    not an undergrad, but my education isn't really important. why, exactly, do you assume the OP wouldn't visit a doctor and get a script? she's a 1L, and presumably, risk averse since she'd like to be admitted to some jurisdiction's order to do that she needs to pass the C&F board.

    to the people saying first year exams aren't terribly important, you're just wrong. well, you're wrong if the op wants to recoup the astronomical expense of three years of law school in this legal market
    Nearly 44,000 law students nationwide will graduate next year with an average of about $73,000 in loan debt, according to numbers from the ABA. And while most would-be lawyers already have accepted that only a small fraction will start their careers with a big-firm salary of $160,000, the past few weeks of economic chaos have caused many to wonder if any kind of attorney work is in their near future. ...
    posted by mattbcoset at 10:32 PM on November 8, 2009

    I would suggest reading some of Helen Fishers work.
    It helped me reframe my own heartbreak in a new way.
    posted by jade east at 11:14 PM on November 8, 2009

    sorry if someone already mentioned this, but mantra meditation is the best damn thing I've ever found for those times when you need a break from yourself. there's lots of instructions online. twice a day for 20 minutes. you have to stick at it. do it daily and it'll help you be stronger and more grounded.
    posted by 6am at 1:22 AM on November 9, 2009

    Find a chatty manicurist (or similar) who will listen to your problems. You can talk, be touched, and look pretty. Excuse the Elle Woods similarities. Do Not be sucked into a many-seasoned tv show. Good luck.
    posted by acidic at 2:43 AM on November 9, 2009

    Here's what NOT to do:

    1) Wallow in the hurt.

    When my relationship went to hell I stopped working and wandered aimlessly for couple of years.

    I'm doing ok now and focusing on studying hard for a job interview.

    I listened to sad music, drank too much, slept all day.

    I learned a lot about myself but I didn't have to entirely exclude my career and studying.

    2) Stay alone

    Be around people. Not just any people, but supportive people. It might not include your family.

    Now here is a list of things to do:

    1) Meditation
    2) Yoga
    3) Exercise
    4) Read about how successful relationships work. Analyze why your own relationship didn't work from an objective angle.
    5) Keep your perspective
    Maybe its better that you didn't stay in that relationship.

    Maybe it was unhealthy. What if you and him had children and then had to split anyways. Isn't it better now?

    etc., etc.

    There are worse situations in the world than losing a relationship.

    I know how bad it hurts. I know for sure.

    Fight for the relationship if you feel you need to. But you need a solution to the problems in the relationship or they will come back to haunt you.
    posted by simpleton at 3:30 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

    I am so, so sorry this happened, and the way how that dispassionate, callous post scriptum was dropped on you.

    This that helped me right there and then: running, strict structure of the day, feeling the pain of loneliness and isolation while wondering, pretty aimlessly, in the streets, passing by strangers, and smelling family dinners oozing out of open windows (in my personal experience, I was never that much a part of a "bigger thing" - not before, not after that miserable time)

    These things were done later, but I wish I knew of them right then:
    * Getting into Second Life metaverse (primarily for work purposes in my case): creating and nurturing that beautiful (to me - of me) avatar, and the ease of befriending people there. It can be seen as a media substitute to TV, and a well-meaning one. Most of the interesting and talkative SLers are 45+ old, and some are full of wisdom and achievement. Creativity is abound there. There are efforts now to start counseling in virtual worlds, and some amazing examples of that.
    * regarding duties/studies/work and QUALITY OF LIFE: this small book. Can't recommend it enough. It does not deal with any problem directly, it does not tell to feel positive, nor is it for promotion of self-pity. What it offers is a helpful way of seeing things. Ultimately, I found insights specifically for lonely people there.

    I watched some of The Office. Please please, consider exchanging it into "Better Off Ted", and yet give it a thought what watching non-creative individuals in an entropic job environment makes to how you visualize your life dreams and aspirations.

    Other than that... You and I can find a way to talk. I haven't found anyone to love so far, but with levels of the "sulky" sinking down recently, I hope that the existential issue will back off, and will give me some space to breath for a while. I went through another high stress last week, and I explain why this recent thing did not make as much damage by Theory of Positive Disintegration. Anxiety can prove to be your evolutionary advantage.

    Your EMOTIONAL safety and wellbeing are important short-term and long-term, so it is OK to not regret not investing the weekend into heavy studying. I second that once shared friendships are your friendships.
    posted by Jurate at 3:57 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

    I just went through a devastating break up, about three weeks ago. We were together for about 7 years, and had to do the whole divorce, sell the house, sell the vacation property, etc..
    A few things made it easier for me: I left the area where he was pretty immediately. This is like ripping off the band aid quickly, but trust me, it is much better than the slow torture of being in the same house as him. Get out of the shared living space as soon as possible, you are doing yourself no favors.
    The second was a type of brain conditioning: every time I would start thinking of the relationship or him in any way that would make me upset (which initially was any time I started thinking of him) I would distract myself by either doing some type of math equations, or seeing how high I could count to before a stray thought drifted into my head, or some type of word games. For example, I would choose a word and try to think of a synonym for the word starting with A, then B, then C etc. It seems silly, but what this does is break the habit of thinking too much of the relationship and pulling yourself down further.
    I cannot stress to you the importance of not letting yourself get into the habit of endlessly dwelling and pulling yourself into your misery further. Right now, avoidance is key.
    What would probably work better in your case is focusing on some bits of law and trying to remember the entire paragraph, or section, or whatever it is that you need to learn.
    You can dwell on the relationship later, after exams, but right now, get your head used to not thinking about it.
    So I will repeat it once more to stress the importance:Whenever you catch yourself thinking about him, stop yourself in whatever manner works best for you. You cannot let your brain get into the habit of going down that dark hole.
    This is a tip that I pulled from the Askme archives when I searched breakups. There is some very useful advice in here, and it was very good for me as far as putting things into perspective and coping with what seemed at the time a breakup that I didn't know how I was going to be able to survive.
    The third thing that helped me is that as soon as I was out of the shared house, I got incredibly busy incredibly fast. This wasn't something I did on my own, I would have laid about moping, I know. I have a new business that was going to live or die depending on the amount of time I put into it, and luckily for me, it took every waking hour to put it back on course.
    This is the equivalant of your exams. Be thankful that you have something that is very important to you to focus on right now. Delve into that instead, and again, anytime you catch your mind going back to thinking about the relationship, cut it off immediately and tell yourself that you will deal with it later, after the exams.
    As I said, it has only been about three weeks since I signed dissolution papers, and although this was the man that I waited my entire life to meet, that I thought that I would be with until I died, I am getting through it. I am now able to deal more rationally with it, and although it is still painful, it's not devastating, and I am now taking the right steps to get my life back on track and functioning properly and happily again.
    You can get through this, and things will be much better for you on the other side of this, but help yourself right now and switch your entire focus from the "us" to the "me", and do what you need to do for yourself to get though the short term.
    posted by newpotato at 4:44 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

    Hi anonymous. You don't say which law school you're attending. Send me a MeMail, and if we're in the same place, maybe I can come chill with you and help you get out of your head a bit.
    posted by prefpara at 5:11 AM on November 9, 2009

    I just started watching 30 Rock this past weekend and I have never laughed so hard at an NBC comedy in my entire life. Amazing, amazing stuff. My partner even watches it with me, and our tastes are wildly divergent, so there's a sign that it pretty much appeals to everybody. It's available from Season 1 onwards on Netflix streaming, if you've got that going on. Not sure about hulu.

    I can't do The Peep Show because oh man... I can't stand watching other people being embarrassed. YMMV.
    posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:23 AM on November 9, 2009

    Watching Office DVDs was virtually my first sane move after my last awful break up. So, you're in good company! I'd go with something classic, like Taxi or Cheers.

    You do have to leave the house and it will be your salvation. Like you said, you're scared of crying in public, so you really will be less likely to start crying when you're out and about -- and so what if you do cry a little? Duck into the restroom for a few minutes. No big deal. I got the best marks of my entire college career the semester when I was dealing with something very like this, because I spent most of my waking hours studying in a coffee shop to avoid being alone.

    Because it cannot be said enough: time doesn't heal all wounds, but it will pass, and without your even noticing, your feelings will change. Good luck.
    posted by telegraph at 5:30 AM on November 9, 2009

    OH! PS: Expert divorcee hack for crying in public (works best if you're female, or if you're a guy who would be the type to wear makeup) - mascara. Non waterproof.

    I didn't want to cry during my divorce hearing, so I wore mascara. Worked like a charm. If you feel tears coming, look up into a light, blink, and take a few deep breaths.
    posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:38 AM on November 9, 2009

    I'm going to just make one gentle dissenting comment reminding you that it is healthy to cry and be angry about this too, when you have a chance to do so. But I also understand the pressure you're under (I just got paranoid that you'd try to stave off the grieving indefinitely; it can be awful tempting to try to do that, but ultimately not the best of ideas), so -- on with the splint, here.

    WKRP may be good (although it may be a little tricksy to find due to some insane music-rights issues the show's been having in syndication), as is TAXI. I also kind of liked MY NAME IS EARL, even though their lives were a little ABnormal -- it was just the right kind of quirky to amuse me.

    Hell, there are even some episodes of THE X-FILES that would suit. The following are the ones to look for:

    War of the Corporophages
    Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose
    Jose Chung's FROM OUTER SPACE
    Small Potatoes
    Bad Blood

    You will not need to be aware of the whole series mythos to understand those episodes, so you can watch them without having to know the rest of the show to get what's going on. There are also some very silly moments in there (one episode has a "geek" type proudly explaining that he stood up to a bad guy by saying "playing DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS all those years certainly taught ME something about courage!" and I laughed so hard I fell out of a chair).
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:10 AM on November 9, 2009

    why, exactly, do you assume the OP wouldn't visit a doctor and get a script?

    She can follow whatever advice the doctor gives her if she decides she has a problem that justifies medical attention. You, and other non-doctors, are in no position to recommend a specific drug or even say that medication is appropriate.
    posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:24 AM on November 9, 2009

    Hi anonymous. You don't say which law school you're attending. Send me a MeMail, and if we're in the same place, maybe I can come chill with you and help you get out of your head a bit.

    ditto. if we're in the same place we can go out to a movie and i can give you my outlines.
    posted by anthropomorphic at 8:27 AM on November 9, 2009

    Big Bang Theory is hilarious if you are or know a geek.
    posted by Jacqueline at 11:42 AM on November 9, 2009

    Follow-up from the OP: "I just wanted to follow up and thank everyone for the really kind and sensitive responses. They were even more helpful than I expected."
    posted by jessamyn at 6:23 PM on November 9, 2009

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