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September 15, 2010 11:29 AM   Subscribe

I don't know how to "handle" stress nor do I know how to explain to anyone how bad it is.

I don't know if its my good-southern-girl upbringing or what, but I find it nearly impossible to reasonably deal with stress and if I talk about what's going on I feel like I am burdening people. I have found coping mechanisms, but none of them are all that healthy.

I am always cheery and positive unless its really bad, then its a kind of smirking dark humor, but still everyone thinks I am just the bounciest, bubbliest, dashed with some biting humor thing. Lately I have been having a rough time, very very bad things indeed, the most trivial of such is finding every piece of clothing I own in the street and trash can and my vehicle suddenly deciding it can't go over 15 mph on hills, looming forclosure, no hot water, critically ill dog, and of right now having 4 dollars in my pocket. Seriously, these are the minor things. And yet, I sit here smiling nodding and somehow managing to look like a reasonable, professional adult.

When I was in high school I was a cutter, it worked as far as helping bring the world back into focus a little, but not healthy! This continued through a lot of college, but I found myself slowly slipping into eating disorders which was at its most full blown in grad. school. not.healthy.

Lately, I just smoke, a lot, it sucks, especially since I don't have money and I am slowly quitting eating, and all the comments about how good I am looking just feed that.

I tried to talk to my psycharist about it but I can't convey the seriousness of issues, he gave me mind puzzles to help me relax, its not bad, but... I just feel like something very bad is coming like I am going to just, I don't know, quit? I already have to some degree I threw away my phone because I just couldn't talk to anyone. The friends I see say "I can't beleive how well you are handling all this" and I just laugh and smile.

God this sounds so melodramatic, sorry! Just tell me how to "process" emotions.
posted by stormygrey to Grab Bag (19 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Everything you said right here? Say it to your psychiatrist. And to those friends. It sounds like you're turning the stress inward.

If there's anything I have learned in the last few years, it is that what might be a huge deal for you might be very easily helped by something that a friend feels is a small gesture. Ask a friend to watch or help take care of your dog. Take a shower at a friend's place, or stay there a day or two to get away from the headache at home. If a friend offers you a ride, take them up on that.

If it's a lack of friends thing, then try talking to an acquaintance. There is absolutely no shame in admitting that you just can't deal with something and could use some help, or at least company.
posted by mikeh at 11:36 AM on September 15, 2010

stormygrey said: "I feel like I am burdening people"

Your feelings are not a guide to other people's behaviour. Some might feel that you're burdening them, but others will probably want to help. If you need to vent, do so. It's a wonderful pressure release valve. Hiding everything from other people doesn't help you, so don't do it. Find a sympathetic friend and talk to them.

Try talking to your psychiatrist again, but be completely honest about what is going on. This individual is being paid to help you. It's their job. Help them do it. If they don't take you seriously, find another one who does.

It gets recommended a lot on here, but that's because it's so good: Feeling Good. This book can help you learn coping skills.
posted by Solomon at 11:41 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Can I recommend that you find a new therapist? Clearly you aren't "clicking" with the one you have.

I am quite similar to you (coping mechanism wise) and I find it helpful to tell people that I am feeling "blocked off" or "walled off" from my emotions so that they know that I'm dealing with heavy stuff even though I'm not emotional.
It helped me to know there is no "how to process".

Also, self-destructive behavior: You have it. Please find a counselor who knows how to deal with that. There is no "quitting" and that is a big red flag. Even if you don't sound serious about it, a trained professional should take that seriously.
posted by thankyouforyourconsideration at 11:42 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

this has the potential to be horrible if it's not there already. take your situation seriously, for real. stop being cheery all the time. it's fine to be fine. tell your psychiatrist everything you just said here. if he/she doesn't respond with appropriate actions to help you better your situation, get a new psychiatrist and tell them the same thing. if you can't 'say' it...write it down and hand it to him/her.
posted by UltraD at 11:43 AM on September 15, 2010

Sometimes when all is black you must focus on some hope, even if you have to make it up.
You need to stalk your environment.
posted by JohnR at 11:44 AM on September 15, 2010

I just feel like something very bad is coming like I am going to just, I don't know, quit?

Would a stay in hospital be likely to help?

If the answer's yes, or even maybe, then either
a) get yourself to an ER or
b) arrange an appointment with your psych in which you make it very clear that you are almost at the end of your rope, and need a booked admission.

Feeling like you need to keep a smiley face on just isn't worth dying for.
posted by Ahab at 11:50 AM on September 15, 2010

Oh, really tough situation and I am so sorry. Okay, here are some thoughts:

1. You sound understandably overwhelmed. It does reduce stress to manage the things that are causing it, as long as you don't try to do them all at once. I'd tackle ONE thing, like the car, sort that out (e.g. selling it and using a bike/public transport, finding a way to fix it, whatever), give yourself a huge pat on the back when it is accomplished, and move to ONE next item.

2. I may be wrong, but I'm sensing you are in a toxic relationship. Because I bet your clothes didn't stroll outside on their own. Ending that may help you move on all the other fronts.

3. I'm glad you have access to a psychiatrist. Do you feel a connection with yours? (I wonder, because mind puzzles don't seem quite the thing here.) It is okay to switch to someone that you do connect with. You do need to explain how desperate and hopeless you are feeling.

4. I would also suggest you sit down with your closest friend and say you have a huge favor to ask -- the ability to just tell him/her what is going on. This is one of those gifts friends give each other, and it is okay to ask when you need it.

5. Quitting smoking is tough and I wouldn't beat yourself up about it right now. (Just add it to the to do list. The one at a time list.) But I would suggest that you do some exercising. I find running is a huge stress reliever, but frankly even long walks help. You don't need anything more than shoes that aren't heels to do that.

6. On the food front, I'd suggest scheduling small healthy meals for yourself every two to three hours. It does help to keep yourself on an even keel.

Take good care of yourself. And please let us know how you do. (I'd add that AskMeFi is a wonderful resource in addressing anyone's to do list.)
posted by bearwife at 12:04 PM on September 15, 2010

You sound very stoic, and your stoicism sounds like a convincing mask you wear to hold everything together. But I'd bet that your friends want you to lean on them, to ask them for help. Maybe their saying "you seem to be handling all this rather well" is their overture to see if you'll open up further to them and let them help you? It's ok to let them help you; it doesn't make you weak or fragile. It means you're taking steps to resolve your problems. That's a part of processing emotions too.

Can you rehearse saying, to either a friend who's in a position to help you or to your therapist: "Things are much worse than I've been letting on. I need help." Just that one statement will spur the next part of the conversation, which will be inquiry as to how bad it is and offers to help.

Remember that everything bad that is happening to you is *temporary.* People at this phone number want to help you if you feel like quitting: 1-800-273-8255.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 12:15 PM on September 15, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the replies and concern.

"Quitting" in its abstract odd form in my head is not as physically destructive as some of you are concerned about. I wouldn't kill myself, its more, I could quit my job, quit my house, quit caring and just bartend, drink, smoke and fuck, which is argueably pretty damn destructive (but ultimately also tempting).
posted by stormygrey at 12:50 PM on September 15, 2010

Gotta exercise
posted by tiburon at 1:44 PM on September 15, 2010

You've got the message across to us pretty well. So much for the oft-deprecated inability to perceive body language across teh interwebz. People use their faces and voices to hide their emotions, not to express them.

I'd show this post to your shrink, and also reveal it to those of your friends that you think will respond well to it. You might also want to spell out to each one what specifically they could do to help. If you want someone to help you take your dog to and from the vet, ask for it explicitly. If all you want is for someone to understand how you're feeling, say that too. People may respond badly to an amorphous cry for help but very well to a clear request set in the context of its importance to you.
posted by tel3path at 2:09 PM on September 15, 2010

Response by poster: I don't know how any one could help me that I would be comfortable with, this is obviously part of the problem. I mean I hear "let me know if I can do anything" all the time. Its also kind of getting away from me because I don't really talk about it, but people know enough of what is going on and they get together and discuss it and I am sure make all kinds of extrapolations.

My boss at the bar sat me down and had this super awkward and uncomfortable talk about "this is a family, we will help you" It should have been great, but I am mostly mortified by the way people look at me, like I am this poor battered woman rather than the funny, fiercely strong person they "knew" last week.

But to the point, people were able to cope and overcome long before we had therapists. I want to know how they did it, how I can hold on the great long stretches of absolute contentment, the knowledge that is all fleeting and good things will happen again and not let those moments of stark reality crush me while still realizing that those feelings are real and valid and its ok to be sad or hurt or angry or whatever.

When the ever popular question of "what would you do if you won the lottery!" would come up I would think exotic trips and eccentric philanthropy, now I just fantasize about resting.
posted by stormygrey at 2:17 PM on September 15, 2010

Best answer: I'm a Southerner who just recently emerged from a year-long serious financial crisis. so I empathize.

Here's what helped me deal with the stress, FWIW:

1) Allowing myself to cry for 20-30 minutes. I've never been someone who cried, but the last year has been so difficult that I just broke down. I discovered that crying is healthy for me, and clears my head. So I'd go into my bedroom, close the door, and have a full-blown crying tantrum for a while. Usually never lasted more than thirty minutes, but YMMV. Once I'd finished, I'd wash my face, and with my newly cleared head, find some way to tackle the problem at hand.

2) I've never been one to talk to friends about personal problems, so instead I'd talk to myself. I'd sit in a private place and bitch and moan for a while. It felt like I was releasing something poisonous out of my body when I did so. And pretty soon, the conversation (heh) would take a turn towards problem-solving--I'd find myself talking about doing X or Y or Z to get through the latest crisis.

3) It wasn't until I got through the crisis that I realized I was using affirmations on myself. I'd repeat to myself (usually during #2), "Well, this problem didn't show up overnight, so it's not gonna go away overnight" or "Think fast, rabbit" (a line from a Bugs Bunny cartoon) or my personal favorite, "This, too, shall pass" and similar quotes to help me get through whatever problem had surfaced.

4) Sometimes, I'd just give myself a night off from the crisis and not think about it. Veg out to a movie or book or whatever. It's nice, but be careful with this one, as it can devolve into avoidance of your problems (which I discovered the hard way).

5) You smoke. I stress-eat. And this crisis started just when I had committed to losing weight. So I prioritized, and stopped beating myself up over food. If I felt the need to stress eat, I did (trying to focus on at least stress-eating good-for-me food--thank goodness I love apples and bananas!), so I could put my energy towards the crisis.

6) I made sure I got rest. Crises can suck up a lot of energy, and I have a tendancy to be a night owl, anyway. I put myself on a strict sleep schedule and did not deviate from it. Made a world of difference.

7) I learned to ask for help. My family and friends understand me--if I don't want to talk about it, they're cool with that. But everyone one of them said to me, "If you need help, I'm here." And there were some times when I simply could not solve a problem by myself. So I turned to them, and they came through for me as best they could. It turned out to be a lifesaver on more than one occasion.

7a) One person I did open up to: my boss. I am fortunate enough to have a wonderful manager, and he put me in touch with resources at my workplace that were quite helpful. What's more, he turned a blind eye to a couple of absences, allowed me to flex my schedule, and kept his door open to me for random bitch sessions. I don't know if you're fortunate enough to have a work place and/or boss that can offer you that sort of support, but it may be worth finding out.

One last thing:

8) I don't know who in your life through your clothes onto the street and trash can, but you need to ditch that person pronto. If you're going through anything near the kind of hell I went through the past year (and from the sound of it, you've got all that and then some), the last thing you need is to expend energy on a bad relationship. I ended a relationship with some former friends because I simply did not have the time and emotional fortitude to put up with their drama, and I have no regrets.

Good luck.
posted by magstheaxe at 2:36 PM on September 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

My boss at the bar sat me down and had this super awkward and uncomfortable talk about "this is a family, we will help you" It should have been great, but I am mostly mortified by the way people look at me, like I am this poor battered woman rather than the funny, fiercely strong person they "knew" last week.

Your co-workers still perceive you as that "funny, fiercely strong person they knew last week", but you're the "funny, fiercely strong person they new last week" who needs some kind of help. That's why they're offering.
posted by magstheaxe at 2:38 PM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

"But to the point, people were able to cope and overcome long before we had therapists. I want to know how they did it"

With other people's support. That's what makes the biggest difference to most people.

They're offering because they want to know what specifically to do. You will probably help them if you come up with an idea. If, indeed, they are looking at you funny, it's probably because they are trying to figure out how to back up their offer of doing something to help. Not because they despise you or something.

I would also nth the advice to remove the unsupportive person who defenestrated your clothes. They are giving you the opposite of what you need.
posted by tel3path at 3:31 PM on September 15, 2010

I am mostly mortified by the way people look at me, like I am this poor battered woman rather than the funny, fiercely strong person they "knew" last week.

OK, so this isn't inability to speak, it is that you aren't responding when people ask. And "let me know if I can do anything" in addition to your boss's offer are very clear asks.

You know what? Strong people ask for help. Really. No one will think you are less funny or less strong . . . and there is no virtue in drowning when some life rings and ropes are at hand. Just reach out and take hold.
posted by bearwife at 3:35 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Instead of envisioning all the bad things that are happening, think about goals. Start with short term ones- "when I get home from work, I will clean the mirror in the bathroom." This does two things- helps you focus on what needs to be done, and gives you things to be successful at. It seems silly, but when people are overwhelmed with Bad Things, we tend to focus on the failures and ignore the successes. So, don't forget to give yourself credit for all the successes, regardless of how they might compare to the setbacks. Train yourself to have (and enjoy) a sense of accomplishment for everything you do.

Two, try very hard to ignore the things you can't fix right that moment. If you are at work, don't think about all the shit going on at home. And if you are at home making dinner, just concentrate on that and set the worrying about the gas bill and the trouble at work and all that. When you can give up thinking about all that stuff 24x7, it gives you some mental breathing room to be able to be more successful at the task at hand.

Three, learn to recognize any negative thoughts that you are reinforcing. This is something I tend to get caught up in very easily when I am in overwhelmed mode. A couple of setbacks turn into a constant internal monologue of "this sucks, everything bad always happens to me, never going to get out of the hole, how can I escape from everything." It is hard to do. But even just recognizing that those thoughts are going on makes you feel a little bit more in control of yourself.

Four, everyone needs a little escape here and there. Just make sure the escapes are ones that don't lead to unintended consequences or further trouble down the line. So, yeah, cutting is destructive. Drinking yourself to sleep is destructive. Getting laid for the sport of it is at least unproductive if not destructive. So, make your escapes brief and constructive, or at least neutral. Go for a walk, alone, with the phone on silent. Go to a movie. Get in the bottom of the closet under all the clothes and shut down for 5 minutes.

(If you are drinking, try to cut back on it. Booze usually demands a "down" for every "up" it gives you. Maybe not for everyone, but I don't mind giving up the drunk if I can actually wake up relatively happy to see the sun the next morning.)

And don't feel embarrassed to let the people who want to help you. Simple things sometimes make the biggest differences: my mom would have my aunt come with her to the Driver's License place to entertain us kids while my mom conducted business. That's not burdensome, it's fun for everyone. And never feel bad for asking- your friends will tell you if you are asking for too much. Let them be in charge of what's too much for them.

Good luck! Change what you can, accept what you can't.
posted by gjc at 8:46 PM on September 15, 2010

Best answer: I can definitely relate. When I have big problems it can be terribly hard for me to talk about them because I can't stand the thought of being That Poor Sad Thing. What has helped me a lot was to determine which of my friends were the least likely to make a big deal out of things and to slowly start talking to them. People who would fuss over everything were out, not because of their obviously generous nature, but because of my horrific fear of fawning and pity. So pick someone unflappable and tell them a little piece of the story. When they don't freak out, tell them a little more. You don't need to become a magical share-bear overnight, but I'm guessing that your reluctance to relate honestly to the people close to you is driving your desire to disappear. It definitely leads to feelings of not being connected to anything. It also help you to think about how you would feel if it were someone you loved struggling. Would you buy your friend a beer if they were too broke to go out? Of course you would. Let them do the same. Would you look down on someone if they were sad that their dog was sick? Guess what? They are not judging you either. Just keep saying that to yourself. Because it's true.
posted by troublewithwolves at 9:55 PM on September 15, 2010

Best answer: I read this post called "How You Get Unstuck" today. Read it all, even if you don't think it pertains to you at first. I think it may help:


but to cut to the chase:

"...she’d have to find a way within herself to not only escape the shit, but to transcend it, and if she wasn’t able to do that, then her whole life would be shit, forever and ever and ever. I told her that escaping the shit would be hard, but that if she wanted to not make [it] her destiny, she had to be the one to make it happen. She had to do more than hold on. She had to reach. She had to want it more than she’d ever wanted anything. She had to grab like a drowning girl for every good thing that came her way and she had to swim like fuck away from every bad thing. She had to count the years and let them roll by, to grow up and then run as far as she could in the direction of her best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by her own desire to heal.

Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live though it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal. Therapists and friends and other people who live on [A Different Planet] can help you along the way, but the healing—the genuine healing, the actual real deal down-on-your-knees-in-the-mud change—is entirely and absolutely up to you."

Good luck. Stay strong. You'll get through this.
posted by gretchin at 8:32 PM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

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