Life stinks, I'd like to change it.
August 20, 2010 9:59 AM   Subscribe

I should probably talk to a therapist, but what can I do ON MY OWN regarding general distaste for my life complicated by apathetic depression? Wall of text inside.

I seriously dislike the way my life is going. This is nothing new -- reading through some old files my parents have on me, I've disliked it since I was in third grade, and felt that I didn't have a whole lot of control over it. This causes the occasional bout of depression that can last for weeks as each little thing adds to the pile of crap in my head, and makes it very difficult for me to try and change even small things in my life (sometimes doing laundry is a major positive event). The causes of this are many and varied.

I'm recently divorced (with an ex who loathes me), living with my parents for the time being (who are relatively understanding), and unemployed for three years so finding a job is a real pain in the ass in this economy. I have a few friends, but the house isn't mine and I feel weird having people over to visit. I have an overactive imagination that lets me visualize myself successful, on my own, and happy, but no idea how to GET there.

I have little professional work experience, and though never been fired from a job I have no way to contact previous employers for references. I've done some volunteer work but I'm scared to ask them for a reference because recent troubles have affected my performance there. I'm not eligible for temp work because I don't have 'a minimum of two professional references'.

Tied into this is a new SO. This SO knows about my mental crap, and seems okay with it, but I feel like I rushed into the relationship and now I find myself backpedaling rapidly when things get 'interesting'. I've been getting the feeling like the relationship won't ever be very serious and makes me feel guilty, which makes me depressed, etc etc. I know Option #1 below would make SO happy, but no clue about the others. I don't SO to think I'm running away if I choose one of those.

I realize that a lot of my personal complications could possibly be helped with therapy but I have NO money, NO insurance, and a history of REALLY BAD head-shrinkers before I graduated high school (one saw me ONCE and tried to put me on lithium, among others) so it's hard for me to even consider that road. I do have three ideas, which are practically mutually exclusive to each other, and no idea which to really pursue.

1: Stay where I am and go to college. I've picked out a likely major I would enjoy, and I'll have my residency next year. Until then I can take a light courseload and get back into the whole 'college' thing. I don't have to pay rent here and have a few old friends that I do things with. My SO is here, but again I'm not sure it'll last.
This is probably the easiest road, and I've applied to the local college. Even if I don't stay, maybe taking a few credits here and there will help me down the road.

2: Move to a state I've never lived in, with a vastly different climate than I'm used to regularly. I have friends there that I've visited and like and would be able to do lots of things with, extended family that I could see. Rent is cheap. The downside is my lack of recent work experience would make finding a job difficult. I can also go to college there as well, and have ideas on a path to take (not a major, but a very useful skill even without a degree and time to decide on a major).
This would be the most difficult, because I won't have much of a safety net if things go bad. I've talked with my local friends and they're super excited just at the IDEA of me moving there. I don't think I'd be roommating with any of them though.

3: Join the military. I've thought about this long and hard, over and over again, for many years, and every time I've started to actually seriously consider it something came up that made me really want to stay where I was. I'd have to leave behind everything for at least a year, but it doesn't get much more 'fresh start' than this. I'm older than the average recruit, little higher education. It's a guaranteed job if I can hack it, but if I go in of my own choice I'm damned sure going to make it count.
This one would get the 'easiest option' vote if I weren't so attached to certain things of mine, and the idea of not communicating regularly with my friends.

I'd welcome discussion on any of this at
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (19 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
though never been fired from a job I have no way to contact previous employers for references.

I can't imagine why.

Do you already have a college degree and you're thinking of getting another? I can't tell or I'm missing where you said. If you don't have a degree, then that's the road I would suggest you take. It is very unlikely that you will be "successful, on my own, and happy" without a college degree these days.
posted by amro at 10:10 AM on August 20, 2010

I have little professional work experience, and though never been fired from a job I have no way to contact previous employers for references. I've done some volunteer work but I'm scared to ask them for a reference because recent troubles have affected my performance there. I'm not eligible for temp work because I don't have 'a minimum of two professional references'.

If you're unemployed, you need structure. That boils down to "you need a job." Pretty up that resume and cover letter. Have a friend who does design and is willing to do you a favor? Have them give some finishing touches to 'em. It never hurts. Now, even if your former employers has gone out of business, this sounds like the time for some serious Google-fu to do to find your old bosses. Recruit your friends. Track these people down. I used to have a job tracking people down from 30-year-old resumes; it's a crapshoot, but you can definitely get some hits with nothing more than a name and a rough conception of what the person has done. Ask the volunteer place for references and if they say 'no' they say 'no'. Otherwise, people understand what a divorce can do to a person. Maybe they will as well. Many reference checks, meanwhile, simply involve verification that you did, in fact work there. No questions about quality of your work. Just "did anonymous work for you as a clerk between June and December 2009?" "Yes." "Thank you." And unless they've got serious beef with you, I doubt they'll go out of their way to trash you even if they need to talk about what you did. I've been fired from places that gave me references simply because it's no skin off their back if I get another job and they have no interest in making my life miserable.

Also: desperate times call for desperate measures. There are very few individuals with resumes that reflect their professional lives like a mirror. Plus, not every agency actually calls your references even if they ask you. They just want to see that field completed. Keep this in mind.

Also, I can not emphasize this enough: DO. NOT. JOIN. THE. MILITARY. IN. YOUR. CURRENT. CONDITION. Yes, people go into it to get some discipline and structure. But, if you are genuinely, mentally ill you will be subjecting yourself to very, very unhealthy stressors. Get healthy first, then consider joining the military. Also: there's a war on. It's not ending soon. Remember that. And when you get out, there's no guarantee you'll get a job. Sure, it looks good on a resume, but it doesn't make up for lack of job experience.
posted by griphus at 10:16 AM on August 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

I don't think it is a good idea for a depressed person to join the military. The suicide rate in the armed forces is amazingly high. War is inherently depressing, and the US is at war. Lots of soldiers come back with post traumatic stress disorder, which should tell you that being in the military tends to be traumatic. Combat troops have been pulled out of Iraq, but there is still Afghanistan - and you never know where the next conflict will suddenly erupt - how about another war in Korea? It's easily possible. If you wanted to join the armed forces because you are a patriot and your country needs you, I would applaud your public spiritedness and self-sacrifice, but if you want to join the military to solve your personal problems, I fear that this will not end well.

Going to college could be rewarding, but have you figured out how to pay the tuition and other costs? Will your parents pay? If so, sounds good to me.

And moving to another state could also prove to be very rewarding - bear in mind that even if that doesn't work out, nothing prevents you from moving back to your parents' place and trying something else. It could be a worthwhile experiment. A new environment brings new opportunities.

Regarding the problem you mention of having no work references, there is another way to go about this. I personally have had a very long and weird work history (I guarantee it is stranger than yours!) and I have never given any prospective employer a letter from a previous employer. I merely list my previous employers (or more precisely, I list some of my previous employers). If the prospective employer wants to know what my previous employer thinks of me, it is up to the prospective employer to get in touch with the previous employer and ask. And usually they don't bother to do that. So, since you have had previous work, just list it; that's your reference.
posted by grizzled at 10:20 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, don't join the military. I'm pro military, have a child in the military, another one contemplating joining and a third seriously dating a deployed soldier-but in your frame of mind it would not be A Good Thing.

Go ahead and do the college thing because that's progress. But I seriously do suggest you be properly evaluated by a good therapist. If this is biochemical -or even if it isn't-there is help for you. Depression is a beast but it's one that can generally be defeated if one has the right tools. You have supportive parents, a place to stay, and that means a lot. Yep, there are lots of crap therapists but there are also good ones. I found them when I needed them. You can too. And keep an open mind re diagnosis. Don't be afraid to try meds. There are resources for you as a broke person that people with jobs and no insurance won't have.

Also, go ahead and look for work. Does your local florist need part time drivers? Go for mom and pop places that might be sympathetic to you. I would avoid fast food but really, even in this economy you should at least be able to find something part time that will get you a bit of dinero coming in. And money always helps.

Okay, and in a practical effort to lift you moodwise: Get into sunlight. Take fish oil capsules. Be careful with diet drinks and or too much sugar. Exercise-at least take a thirty minute walk every day if nothing else-this will help you get that sunlight I was referencing. You will hate this for the first couple of weeks or so but it makes a big difference. I can vouch for it personally.

And hang in there. It will get better.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:27 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think a regular exercise regime will help your mental state. Just walking vigorously, even when you don't "feel" like it will help your mood. Eating more protein than carbs will help as well (Protein's a mood elevator.)

Do your parents have any friends/colleagues who can help you find a job or another volunteer activity? A reference doesn't need to be a job supervisor--most corporations and businesses don't do more than verify employment, anyway.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:28 AM on August 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

Nthing not going into the military. Not even the Coast Guard as a reservist. You need to be healthy first.

Be cautious about college (debt) and about moving away from what sounds like a pretty supportive environment. Ask your parents and SO and few friends to pass around your resume to everyone they can, tag along on shopping trips to pick up applications, find yourself a volunteer gig (something you enjoy, whether it's church or animals or politics or being a theatre usher.) My first set of references, when I was a teen, were from community leader types.
posted by SMPA at 10:40 AM on August 20, 2010

Was coming in to recommend exercise. You don't have to like it, want it, or even believe in it, but it is the single most effective thing you can do to change your mood and outlook without seeing a doctor. I've read here on MeFi that research has demonstrated that regular exercise is as effective as anti-depressant medications. I personally have found it to reduce anxiety and improve my mood, overall energy level, and sense that I have the oomph to deal with confusing life questions like those you face.
posted by Miko at 11:01 AM on August 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

I would urge you to consider getting Medicaid. If you have no income and haven't had a job in three years, you probably qualify. Medicaid provides pretty comprehensive coverage and will cover visits with psychiatrists and medication.

From reading your post, it doesn't sound like this is something you can deal with on your own.

There's no shame in admitting you need help.

Good luck.
posted by bananafish at 11:40 AM on August 20, 2010

Agreed on the exercise thing... regarding what Miko said... I've actually been to therapists, and when I expressed doubt about going on anti-depressants, they advocated regular exercise, which can sometimes be as effective as anti-depressants for mild to moderate depression. I've been keeping up with it (light things, such as yoga and walking), and I think it has helped significantly. That being said, I also went to therapy and eventually got on anti-depressants anyway. You can look for low-cost therapists in the area-- I went to an intern when I was having financial difficulties. There are options out there, if you choose that route. Also, regarding your bad history of therapists... only psychiatrists (or some other medical doctor) can give you medication. A psychologist would likely try to work through your issues, the most common being cognitive behavioral therapy.

Additionally, I can't help but notice that you seem to mention "getting a new start" a few times. If there a reason why you think it's necessary to leave where you are in order to get better? If your current situation is fine, and even ideal, I would hesitate to leave, simply for the sake of a "new start". Believe me, many times when I was in a rut, I wanted to get out, and move somewhere completely new, thinking I would somehow be changed. Sure, it was fun for awhile, but because the problem ultimately lied within me and my own thinking process, I felt myself repeating the same rut once the novelty settled down. I'm sure there will be anecdotes that counter what I've experienced, but I would think hard about why exactly you would want to move away. Is it to run away from your problems? Of course, a fresh start can be important if you feel that there's no opportunities where you currently are (and the new place would offer), or if your current situation and current relationships are toxic (which does not seem to be the case). If you have a history of depression, changing your environment will probably not help...most likely, you need to change something about your own habits and thoughts.

And yes, I agree that you need to do something with yourself to get out of this funk. As mentioned, exercise is a good option, as well as taking up a new hobby (or picking up one that you dropped-- a common thing to do during depressive episodes). I think it's much more important to commit yourself to doing something new that you enjoy, versus BEING somewhere new. Getting your college degree seems to be a good option, and it sounds like something you already want to do, so why not? Can you get financial aid for this?

About the references thing... is there a reason why you can't contact your old employers? I'm sure you can find them on Google, even if you lost touch. Is there anyone, maybe even a co-worker, at your volunteer place that can give you a favorable reference? I know it's hard, and feel embarrassing, but in your situation, you really need to just ask, because you have little to lose and a lot to gain. I find that most people are not out to get you, and don't want to be the one to prevent you from finding other opportunities. I once had a volunteer position that I ultimately disappeared from due to feeling overwhelmed by my depression, and even before then, I didn't accomplish that much. When I was applying for the job, the employer new my old boss, and though I didn't put him as a reference, he contact him anyway. Surprisingly, he gave me a favorable recommendation. So it's not the end of the world. Furthermore, for the current job I have now, I put down a hodge-podge of untraditional references, simply because I didn't have that many. Granted, I recently graduated from college, so they might not expect that many, I put down my friend who I was in a theater group with, and a graduate student classmate that I worked on a project in a class with. Do you have ANYONE to put as your references, even if it's not a supervisor for a job?

Best of luck!
posted by lacedcoffee at 11:40 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Of the three options, I think stay where you are and go back to school is a great idea. It will give you the structure you need to feel more in control of your life just as a job would. I was unemployed for about a year and I know what a rabbit hole that can become. The longer you are unemployed the worse you feel the harder it is to be motivated to find work, etc. Being out of work can be damaging to your self-esteem. Especially when you are already depressed. If I had had a little more flexibility with money/my living situation I would have definitely gone back to school.

At the same time, don't stop looking for work. Look for something part-time that will allow you to go to school. The very idea of going back to school will change your criteria for a job, and that might actually prove to work in your favor.

Look/google for therapy iin your community on a sliding scale. Sometimes when someone is unemployed they are eligible for "family services" that a working (but "poor") person is not. Take advantage of the fact that you might be able to find counciling that is practically free because you are unemployed. You may have to search for this, but it's out there.

Also, realize that the very act of writing this askme has started a process for you. Not only to seek a solution (no matter what answers you get - the fact that you wrote this down is a step in the right direction) but to specifically identfy your problem/s. You've narrowed things down for yourself. Meanwhile, there's lots of great advice here.

Good luck to you.
posted by marimeko at 11:45 AM on August 20, 2010

Your comment about the laundry reminded me of myself. When I was very depressed and in an intensive outpatient program, every week we'd make lists of goals. And every person, every week, would write "laundry." After the first three weeks, I finally managed to get my own laundry done, but most of us really just couldn't hack it.

I think that's because laundry is the sort of "big" job that can't easily be broken down into smaller tasks. It's overwhelming because you think -- at least if you're like me and have to go to the laundromat -- "First I have to sort, then I have to carry, then I have to get quarters, then I have to make sure I have my detergent, then I have to wait for like a year, then I have to move the laundry into a dryer, then I have to fold it, then I have to put it in the hamper, then I have to carry it again, and then I have to take it home and put it away."

There are too many steps. You get lost in there somewhere, and even breaking it down like that can be impossible. In a cartoon, you'd imagine the first three or four or five steps, and then your head would explode.

So, while I can't offer you advice on which long-term plan will help you most, I'd suggest that for now you do your best to break everything down. Instead of thinking, "I need to go to college and move to another place and have a career and fall in love and get re-married and buy a house and make babies," you can stop, take a breath and break each task down into its smallest possible components.

My suggestions for you wouldn't be to make Big Decisions right now, but to make goal lists for each day. At the end of the day, check off the goals you've accomplished and congratulate yourself. (It's also good to build rewards into your system, even if the rewards are simple things like a bubble bath.) If there are goals you haven't accomplished, consider (a) breaking those goals down even more, and (b) making shorter lists.

Sometimes you really have to take tiny little baby steps, a la What About Bob?.

For instance, I had a friend who really needed to file her old papers. She had a lot of trouble with it because she'd sit down and be completely wrecked by the enormity of what she had to do.

So at first she thought, "Maybe I can sort all the papers this weekend." That didn't work. Then she said, "Maybe if I do ten papers a day ..." Still no go. What did work was for her to address three papers a day, just by taking a look at them, labeling a folder if she didn't already have one, and dealing with that one piece of paper. As time passed, the anxiety faded some and she was eventually able to do more at a time.

This is one of the small things you can try on your own. It helps, both because it relieves that buzzing feeling of impending doom in your brain and because it provides you with structure. But, as others have said, a good therapist (one of your bigger goals could be finding insurance and/or a part-time job; if you enroll full-time in school you could possibly access university mental health services) will be able to guide you through this stuff much better than we on the internet can.
posted by brina at 12:25 PM on August 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

Lithium is what they prescribe for bipolar folks. Why did this doctor think you have bipolar? Do you fit the symptoms? If these ring true for you, you really, really need to figure out a way to get evaluated. Check who has a sliding scale fee or some other low-cost program. I firmly do not believe you can deal with bipolar without medication and it will (probably has already) affected your employment, marriage, etc. If you do have bipolar, I do not believe it matters what path you take (school, etc) because they will all be negatively impacted by the disease. I have watched it happen - get help any way you can.
posted by desjardins at 12:42 PM on August 20, 2010

Lithium is what they prescribe for bipolar folks.

That was actually a red flag for me, regarding the competence of the psychiatrist. Lithium is now the last case scenario for bipolar disorder medication. Generally, you have to have adverse reactions to the entire battery of modern bipolar disorder drugs (NB: there is no single "bipolar disorder" drug, it's usually a combination between an anti-depressant, an anti-psychotic and a mood stabilizer) before they put you on Lithium. So, considering the doctor prescribed it to him within ten minutes, the dude was probably a quack.

But yeah, if a competent doctor (and clearly OP can weed out the incompetents) says you have bipolar disorder, please go along with medication. It's not something you can think yourself out of. It's a neurochemical disorder that needs to be corrected for.
posted by griphus at 12:53 PM on August 20, 2010

Lithium is now the last case scenario for bipolar disorder medication.

It didn't used to be. The OP said s/he saw the doctor while in high school, so who knows how many years ago that was.
posted by desjardins at 2:25 PM on August 20, 2010

Mod note: From the OP:
Thank you for the advice against the military. Hearing it from that many people that quickly helps me make the decision. I won't discount the idea, but I'll make sure I'm in a better headspace before I seriously consider it.

I do not have a college degree; this will be my first.

The reason I can't use my old employers as references is I worked at a chain store and nobody that works there now was working when I was, I can't contact my old bosses because THEY don't work for the company anymore, and the one supervisor I think I could get ahold of was actively trying to sabotage my relationship with the company and is the reason I left. My resume such as it is lists dates, basic contact info, and locations I worked at and that's it.

Fast food is not a job option; I've discovered just the smell make me ill anymore and I couldn't work around it all day. The teenagers pervading the industry around here would make me want to commit violence.

I have been volunteering at a place that is very sympathetic to my current mental BS, so I have that going for me. I can easily use the place to look (probably surreptitiously if I want) for more 'professional' help if I'm feeling brave. If I do I'm going to tell 'em straight up that meds should be the LAST resort, not the first. I'm not completely averse to meds, but I don't want to be stuck on one unless I absolutely need to (and I'm not sure that's the case).

I do have the opportunity to get into sunlight every day in the form of the vegetable garden in my parents' backyard that I've been tending. Watching tomatoes get bigger than my fist has been quite amusing as well as helping me not feel like such a sponge. I've often been bored to tears by many kinds of exercise but I'll think about adding some to the list.

Small lists and baby steps have helped in the last month -- as have other AskMe questions -- and I'm adding more and more to the 'DO THIS DAILY' list, though slowly.

I have never been diagnosed with bipolar and don't fit a lot of the requirements. The last time I saw a headshrinker was fourteen years ago, and it was the aforementioned 'Drug you with lithium!' dipstick who sort of laughed when I told him the medication I -did- try made me vomit and pass out every time I tried to stand up.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:47 PM on August 20, 2010

Lithium is prescribed for unipolar depression, so your past experience does not mean that you are, or that your doctor thought you were, bipolar. I know you don't want to take it in any case, but thought it might help to know that at least that Dr. wasn't throwing another diagnosis at you on top of everything else.
posted by ninekinds at 5:25 PM on August 20, 2010

"also prescribed", that is
posted by ninekinds at 5:27 PM on August 20, 2010

I"m recycling one of my very first answers on AskMe, though I don't know how useful it will ultimately be, especially as I don't know your location.

I was able to get (what I felt was quality) therapy for next to nothing (actually nothing, as I now recall) when I was living in Iowa, from the Municipal Community Health Centre (I'm not 100% sure about the name being correct -- it's some years ago now), by proving my income (or lack thereof). As I recall, it took a few weeks to fill out the forms, get their response, and jump through the appropriate hoops, but thereafter it was just You could check into the same kind of thing in your area. Even if that doesn't work out, I think if you ask around, you can eventually find somebody with a sliding scale. Good luck.

p.s. The "quality" care that I got, was from the second therapist I saw there. The first was ineffective and it took me a few months to figure that out. I requested a change and the new therapist was much more attuned to what i needed and wanted. IOW, you shouldn't expect the first person you see to be the right fit.
posted by segatakai at 9:21 PM on August 20, 2010

If you are "self-supporting" you would likely qualify for the Pell type Grant for college, and also for work study. I'm not sure what the situation would be if your parents are supporting you again. If you moved away from your parents and rented an inexpensive room, you should be able to qualify for the Pell and work study. The work study will hopefully pay your rent/expenses.

A college will have a "career center" most likely that can give advice about resumes, what references to use, etc. Your teachers can be used for references. The career center can talk with you about the directions you might want to go in. I see many folks return to school with an idea in mind, graduate, and then return to school because the degree did not result in helping them find a job. So, I suggest a career center as a first stop - there are several associate's degrees that can have you working in a decent paying, in-demand job, in a few years. This career-center is free - during and AFTER your college experience.

All the exercise recommendations are on target. All the community mental health and medicaid recommendation are on target. Also, pay attention to eating healthy food: it helps.

In your spare time, if you could come up with something that interests you that would also make a difference in your community - esp. with a group - like volunteering at the animal shelter, picking up trash for community clean-ups, painting a mural on a downtown building, making care packages for servicemen, volunteering in a soup kitchen - they will build your self-esteem. Also make sure to make time for things that you love to do.

I recommend that you write down a couple of career-goal plans like you did with the scenarios and list some steps to take to move towards them. I would also jot down some of the major things you learn in therapy; it's always nice to be able to look back on those things later on.

Good luck to you. I think you are going to find a path you enjoy and "fly" with it! That will make a lot of difference to your mindset.
posted by Leah at 11:08 AM on August 21, 2010

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