I'm living a life of loneliness and despair. Can I prevent it from becoming permanent?
January 7, 2011 2:10 PM   Subscribe

I'm living a life of loneliness and despair. Can I prevent it from becoming permanent?

I'm a male teen, out of school, living with my family.

My problems are not yours to fix, but I've been lost for quite a while now and I'm humbly looking for any help you can offer.

1. I have very little contact with people. I have almost no friends. I see my family every day, but we don't speak to each other. I know I can just go out and meet people, but it's not that easy. I don't have a school or office full of colleagues. I rarely leave my home. The extreme loneliness I sometimes feel is debilitating.

2. When I'm with people I get anxious, and I feel disconnected, as if watching from the outside.

3. I have extremely low self-esteem. My whole life I've been constantly putting myself down as a way to stay unsatisfied (and in turn, always striving to be better), and at this point I can't stop. I hate myself, maybe more than you can imagine.

4. I can't sleep at night. I lie in bed for hours before I can fall asleep. In the morning I can't wake up. I don't hear alarms. I can only get up when I really need to (a flight to catch, an important appointment). Not being able to wake up is a lack of motivation, I'm guessing.

5. I can't get anything done. I can't stay on one task for an extended period of time. If something bores me it's nearly impossible for me to do it.

6. I have an extreme hatred towards most people. I feel like they're all talking behind my back, judging me, making fun of me, conspiring against me. Even if they like me, I feel like they don't. I'm always severing connections with people. I delete phone numbers, deactivate social networks, and just throw people out of my life.

Opening my eyes when I wake up is a harrowing experience. Going to bed is the best part of my day. No one can bother me there, and I have no responsibilities. When I finally fall asleep, I cease to exist.

I don't think about suicide. I used to think about it often in high school, but nowadays I'm in a daze, and I don't feel much of anything. I don't laugh or cry when others do.

There is no help from my family. My mother is constantly bitter and angry. Once in a very long while I'll try to tell her that I'm having trouble, that I need help. If I say I'm depressed, she either says, "What am I supposed to do about it?" or, "So am I." Every morning she's furious, yelling at me to wake up. She asks me, "Why do you want to live your life like this?" and she says, "I'm tired of trying." This always bothers me. From the moment I open my eyes, she's yelling at me, accusing me of wanting to live the way I do, and claiming to have tried to help. I assure her that I don't want to live like this, and that she actually doesn't try to help me. Then she goes off on a self-justifying rant about how I don't accept her her help and that she's not going to try anymore.

My father is my stepfather and he's oblivious to everything. Just goes on thinking everything is alright. This is literal. Sometimes he'll speak up and say something, but usually he's an extra child my mother has to take care of. He doesn't do much work, and he's not a man I look up to. I don't hate him. He's just not much use.

I can never talk to my family about anything. I fear intimacy. They never knew about any of my girlfriends (or friends, for that matter). I never took a single problem to them. I feel queasy just asking for the time.

We're also constantly out of money, so I don't think a psychiatrist is an option. One of the reasons I don't go outside is because I usually don't have money to eat out.

It's a new year, and I'd like it to be a better one. I try not to judge people, so please don't make petty remarks about me or my situation. Everyone has their own problems and I'm trying to fix mine.

If anyone has any advice, or has dealt with similar problems in the past, I would sincerely appreciate any help.

posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (33 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
To clarify some things... Do you have a job? This would be something that would force you to get out of bed every day. And, it might provide the type of daily stimulation you need to make you tired at night. This might, at the very least, get you on some sort of schedule. Daily routines can be helpful.

Can you join a support group? This is free, and you will be able to get tips from people experiencing similar issues. Also, you might just make a friend or two.
posted by AlliKat75 at 2:22 PM on January 7, 2011

You are depressed. If you memail me your address, I'll mail you some self-help books for treating depression.
posted by yarly at 2:22 PM on January 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

First of all, I'm sorry your going through this. All I can promise is that it gets better. The first few years after high school can feel weird because your world has been flipped.

First of all, why don't you leave the house? You mention not having money; go get a job! The set a personal goal to show up on time, looking cleaned up and ready to do your best. Take pride in your work. It will give you a sense of purpose. You will have the opportunity to make friends with coworkers, which is surprisingly easy because you already have something in common.

If you have trouble finding a job right away, don't get discouraged. Keep filling out applications and volunteer somewhere in the meanwhile. There are people out there right now that need your help. You will be amazed how motivated you feel when you realize someone else is counting on you!

Hang in there and put together a plan. 99% of us don't have a fulfilling life automatically handed to us. You have to set some goals and then figure out the steps you need to take to get there. Good luck!
posted by halseyaa at 2:22 PM on January 7, 2011

Obviously a therapist is the number 1 suggestion, but in case that is too overwhelming for you to try to make happen ...

Since you don't have a school/don't seem to be in school, can you get a job? If I were you, and felt uncomfortable around people and hated them, I might try to get a job where I didn't have to interact with people much. Something extremely physically grueling. That way you don't have to force yourself to concentrate. And in fact the sheer exhaustion will take your mind off everything else. I think you will find it easier to sleep, too, if you physically exhaust yourself during the day.

If you hate people and hate yourself, is there anything you love and admire? For me personally, I love animals and care about them on a visceral level that, on some days, is more than what I feel for humans. So the equivalent of this for me would be to go to an animal shelter and volunteer to spend all day cleaning out the cages or walking the dogs or things like that, if I were looking for something physically grueling. I've had many days of doing this, and it always helps, a lot. You just have to find our own thing that would give you this feeling.
posted by Ashley801 at 2:24 PM on January 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

The short answer is that you need to live somewhere else (you need to move out), and may need some professional help to deal with what seem to be a mixture of an anxiety disorder and depression. If you can try to feel some empathy or compassion for your mother as well.

On the bright side, you're young and have a future full of almost unlimited possibility. You have the time to do nearly anything you want, including getting well.

But you'll need help first. It's always good to talk to someone, such as someone on a suicide prevention hotline (even if you're not considering suicide).
posted by KokuRyu at 2:25 PM on January 7, 2011

It sounds like you need some purpose to your day. You say you don't go to school, don't socialize much, and I'm assuming you don't have a job. If you stay at home all the time with no goals or tasks to do and suffer around your miserable family, it's no wonder you feel like you hate people, can't focus and love going to sleep. You have nothing to look forward to during the day, nothing to keep you going, nothing to keep you on track.

You don't say why you aren't in school. I'm assuming either you're homeschooled or you graduated young. In either case, you should force yourself to join some sort of social activity or even just get a part-time job. I have nieces and nephews who are homeschooled and get their social interaction from after-school clubs they've joined like bellydancing class, book club at the library, rec center soccer teams, etc. You don't have to be affiliated with a school to do any of these things.

As for a job, even just working in a fast-food place or bookstore or something basic like that will get you in front of people and give you a place to be or something you have to do every day. Remember that most people don't love their jobs and yes, it will probably be boring. Do it anyway. You want to have a better year and this will help in two ways: 1. you'll get to meet people and 2. you'll have money to go to therapy, run away from your family, or whatever your heart desires.
posted by joan_holloway at 2:27 PM on January 7, 2011

First off, I'm really sorry for what you're going through. This sounds like a throughly miserable spot to be in. Here's the really, really, really important thing: You're fully aware of your situation and starting to address it!

You're eighteen, poor, and want to get away from your home. I would humbly suggest (probably to little applause around here) the military. Discipline, free college education, and world travel. I only list the positives as the negatives are on display daily.
posted by lattiboy at 2:29 PM on January 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Set small, achievable goals for yourself: This week I'm going to start exercising 3 times a week for 45 minutes. Next week I'm going sign up for a class at my local community centre. The week after that I'm going to send out 5 job applications.

Make the goals small and achievable, and try to build up some momentum. You're obviously in a rut, and there's no magic pill to snap yourself out of it. But if you take lots of small steps, eventually you'll find that you've come a long way.
posted by auto-correct at 2:30 PM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Obviously, you need to get and and all mental health issues dealt with, I was only talking about possible next steps to get you out of your current situation.
posted by lattiboy at 2:30 PM on January 7, 2011

Does it help if I say I know how you feel? One of the worst parts of depression is that feeling like you are the only one going through this. That "Other people can get up and get dressed every morning, why can't I?" feeling. You are not the first person to deal with this disease, and just the fact that you got up and wrote this question shows that you are still fighting. When it comes to depression, fighting is winning.

You might want to try volunteering. There is something about helping others that really makes you feel better about your own problems. There are lots of charities who need all kinds of help, you don't need to have any specific qualifications, and in my experience they'll take whoever they can gratefully. It's hard to feel like you aren't good enough when there are people who are genuinely glad to see you, even if it's just because you are making their work load lighter.

If you really can't stand to be around people (again, I understand) you can try volunteering at your local Animal Shelter or Humane Society. They are usually in need of somebody to come over and muck out the stalls and take the animals out for exercise. As a bonus for you, if you're walking dogs then you are out getting exercise in the fresh air too.
posted by TooFewShoes at 2:32 PM on January 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

I only have a couple of seconds right now, but I'll leave a more in-depth answer when I get back.

(1) I would encourage you to look up free counseling / psychiatric services in your area -- most areas have free and low-cost services available for people struggling with issues like yours. If searching for free counseling / psychiatric services in your area doesn't turn up much, as you're still a teenager you will likely qualify for help from non-profit and government youth service agencies. If getting out to these locations feels too overwhelming, many organizations offer counseling via phone. Try searching for those (on the internet) as well.

Even though you're not actively suicidal, there are crisis services available to you that can help you work through your current struggles.

(2) You say you don't like people much, but how do you feel about animals? One of the things that helped me the most during a period when I felt aimless, depressed, and more-or-less hopeless was volunteering a few hours a week at an organization that helped other people (it even eventually turned into a career, in my case). That said, organizations working with animals (rescue organizations, humane societies, etc.) are always in need of assistance, and you may be able to find a role with enough human interaction to help you feel more engaged in the world without it being overwhelming.

Anyway, I'll think a bit more and be back with more thoughts.

Also, it might help if you ask the moderators to post a general location so people can provide location-specific information.
posted by cimton at 2:33 PM on January 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Whoa, I guess great minds think alike, TooFewShoes.
posted by cimton at 2:34 PM on January 7, 2011

Posting this question is your best first step and an indicator that something in your brain wants to change. That's great. I suggest you take the approach that you have the power to decide how things change. I sometimes find myself feeling "lonely" but realize I can do something about it. I have remedied this in the past by finding somewhere to volunteer or taking a class. Pretty soon I've forgotten why I was volunteering or studying in the first place because it became so enjoyable.

Also, if you do pursue a medicated approach like anti-depressants, make sure you integrate things besides pills into your life like the aforementioned volunteering, coursework, or job. You might then find yourself able to get off the pills and find you're in a brand new frame of life where you really don't need them. I have nothing against medicine and am suggesting this because it's exactly what worked for me a long while back and haven't had to take any anti-depressants in 15 years.
posted by thorny at 2:39 PM on January 7, 2011

I mean this to be inspirational: Nobody cares about you.

This is 95% true. Your family may care about you deeply in a way they may not be able to express or in a way that you may not, at this moment in your life, realize. Let's assume that this is a given. The rest of the world...they don't spend much time thinking about you. At least not nearly as much time as you do. It's true.

There is tremendous freedom in this.

The ignored have been responsible for SO much of what society at large finds beauty in. Think of the artists, musicians, and authors. Freeks and rejects. Ignored and mocked by their peers and contemporaries, both the outcast and isolated have in large part made this planet what it is.

Your freedom as an outsider is a gift. It allows you to pursue your own interests, no matter how odd or mundane or obscure. You can become fully yourself without the pressure of accountability to others who know you as "the kid you were." When nobody cares, you are free to roam the interesting parts of this earth. Of your own mind. You are free to walk wherever your feet take you. You can become an expert at anything you wish without judgment. Fuck 'em. They don't care about you, and you need not occupy yourself with them until you want to. You can do so on your own terms.

Nobody else is going to live your life. You are going to do it for yourself. Because you want to. Because swimming against the tide is fun. Because doing something under the cover of anonymity is fun. Because quietly living your own passionate life regardless of what others think, regardless of whether they care or not, is something that not a lot of us get to do.

Just get up. Pick a direction. It doesn't have to be the perfect one. You can change direction or focus without anyone even knowing. Just start. Nobody cares. Nobody is watching. Eventually you will do something you are tremendously proud of. A Song. Or Book. Invention. Solution. Insight. Whatever.

It's yours for the taking. Fuck 'em.
posted by nickjadlowe at 2:57 PM on January 7, 2011 [29 favorites]

What stood out to me was that you see your family every day, but you don't speak to each other. How did this come about?
posted by tel3path at 2:59 PM on January 7, 2011

Other will address the depression and I'll just add that this was way harder before I got treated for it in my middle/late 20s. Thank the heavens that the world is so much better about it than it was back then.

I have almost no friends. I see my family every day, but we don't speak to each other. I know I can just go out and meet people, but it's not that easy.

It's not easy, and I don't mean this to be discouraging when I say it's probably always going to be challenging. That's not a reason to give up, and I hope you take it the way I mean it - that you should not be discouraged and just give up because it's not this effortless walk in the park that it often gets described as.

Some people find it very simple to meet new folks, develop rewarding and close friendships, share, etc. Then there's you and me. For us it's more difficult. Just like some people have an instinctive talent at sports, some folks have an instinctive talent for socializing and making friends. Or they learned it at such a young age that they don't even realize what they're doing.

It's a slog sometimes, but even as hard as I have found it in my life I'm still found people who I love and who love me. You might go a long time between meeting new people and you'll have false starts and fail to connect with the majority of folks in a lasting way. But you can find people who will love you and who you'll love and it will be worth every challenging moment you go through to get there.

Good luck, and don't stop trying.
posted by phearlez at 3:06 PM on January 7, 2011

Others have mentioned volunteering--- what about picking up a hobby? As a cyber-tech-nerd myself, I fell into amateur radio. It's a great place to meet similar less-social types around a common interest, and public events volunteering at bike races etc. gets you out in the community and talking to people. You might enjoy my grandfather's lecture series on psychiatry on my mefi projects page. Good luck.
posted by HLD at 3:17 PM on January 7, 2011

1) this youtube video helps me with loneliness.

2) "I hate myself, maybe more than you can imagine." Let it empower you that many people feel this way, and while that's not a happy thing, it's not something that isolates you.

3) NAMI might have a support group in your area. These are usually free.

4) Take long walks. Go out, and walk until your brain quiets down. This is free, gives you exercise, and will help kill time that you'd otherwise spend inside, sad.

5) I learned the following two sentences in a group therapy setting and they are central to improving your well being: Your thoughts and feelings are not facts. Your thoughts and feelings will change.

Good luck- I'm rooting for you.
posted by tumbleweedjack at 3:28 PM on January 7, 2011 [5 favorites]

Exercise - force yourself. Small achievable goals that take you out of the house and put you in touch with people, even if only superficially at first. More exercise. Cut down on masturbation if you're into it - you wanna avoid post-orgasmic tristesse. More exercise. None of my business, but what about your father, could you visit him for a break, or some other relative, or friend?
posted by londongeezer at 3:45 PM on January 7, 2011

You seem like a combination of me and my older brother (more like my older brother though so that's what i'll focus on) when we were your age. I had an incredible amount of self-loathing (nothing I thought about other people ever compared to the amount of vitriol I would throw at my own self on a regular basis) and social anxiety while my brother seemed very lethargic, spending most of his time in bed and constantly missing classes and appointments. He barely graduated high school and would have arguments with our mother similar to the ones you were having. She finally had enough and kicked him out of the house to live with our dad hoping he would be able to get him on the right track. The woman my dad was seeing was the one that actually got him on the right track by doing everything short of putting a gun to his head to get a job, any job. He finally got a job as a cashier at a large midwest chain store and that was the turning point in his life.

The job led to friends at work, trying new things (e.g., drinking, drugs, dating and non-d related things as well), and a better ability to apply himself at life. He ended up joining the navy after losing his job and is currently stationed in Hawaii. As someone said up-thread, the military is an option and there's more to the military than the army. If nothing else you it can be a last-ditch effort.

My own path was mostly me going through the motions of life still hating myself every step of the way. Until I did something terrible to the best friend I had ever had out of jealousy and anger. It made me start taking therapy to fix the broken part of me that was capable of causing someone that much pain. The therapy took awhile to kick in though, almost a year of group therapy (cheap, only like $20 a visit). I never took medication for my issues but part of me wishes I had because I can't believe I lived the way I had been for so long and if meds could have gotten me where I am faster I should have jumped at the chance. But no, I felt I had a lot of good reasons to avoid therapy and medication (mostly money).
posted by Green With You at 4:26 PM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I like how you numbered each problem - it shows an analytical mind.

I believe in finding SPECIFIC techniques to solve problems. Here are some small but powerful things you can do.

1. I have very little contact with people.

Suggested technique: Go to meetup.com and find YOUR kind of people. They are out there. When you think about it, our circle is limited. Expand it.

2. When I'm with people I get anxious, and I feel disconnected, as if watching from the outside.

Suggested technique: Breath in and out and just know that you're not necessarily connecting with those people.

3. I have extremely low self-esteem.

Suggested technique: Identify the item that brings you down. Is it something physical about your body? Then find a workout routine. Is it something you can't easily change like a disease? Find support groups and just live life and know that there are people in much worse conditions and be very thankful.

4. I can't sleep at night.

Suggested technique: Sleep is very very important psychologically. See a doctor about sleeping.
But I'm willing to bet that exercise will help at least a little. Sleep at the same time at night - no caffeine, etc.

5. I can't get anything done. I can't stay on one task for an extended period of time. If something bores me it's nearly impossible for me to do it.

Suggested technique: Create a schedule at the start of the day and fill in what you will do, even if that means sleeping an extra 3 hours. The rest of the time fill it in with exercise, reading, applying for jobs. If you show it to your mom, see how proud she will be. She'll be happy to keep you on schedule too.

6. I have an extreme hatred towards most people. I feel like they're all talking behind my back, judging me, making fun of me, conspiring against me. Even if they like me, I feel like they don't. I'm always severing connections with people. I delete phone numbers, deactivate social networks, and just throw people out of my life.

Suggested Technique: I USED to feel that way. I've been betrayed as have many. Find the right people. Reliable. Honest. Trustworthy. And you won't feel that way.

But since you believe that you are good, isn't there a possibility that someone just as good as you is out there? Time to expand your circle of interaction.
posted by simpleton at 4:43 PM on January 7, 2011

I am so sorry for you. I went through this after school. It is very hard. Everyone has great ideas here. Have you considered a community college? They can be great and affordable. You can also qualify for a lot of aid (the kind you do not have to pay back). Once you are a student you can get health insurance and have access to counseling. I am a professor at a small community college, it is a very caring and nurturing environment.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 5:28 PM on January 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

If you're no longer a minor, I suggest as a first step that you move out, as soon as logistically possible. One of the things that I felt helped keep me from falling too, too far into depression is that I HAD to do things. I had to go to work, I had to take care of my apartment, bills, get dressed, etc, etc. If I had nowhere to go and nothing to do things would not have gone well. It's so hard to talk to people on the "other side" or whatever of depression, because the brain is just telling you 'can't, can't can't,' but there is always something you HAVE to do, regardless of can't, and doing those things will keep you from falling further. This is in addition to therapy, medication, etc, but the therapist will also most likely focus on actions.
posted by sweetkid at 5:43 PM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd recommend looking into some sort of volunteering profession that will provide you with the necessities of life, give you a job to do, and the potential to find meaning in your life. I'd recommend checking out Americorps. Off hand, I believe the Americorps will also be beneficial if you do decide to get a college education in the future.

Also, the military.
posted by SollosQ at 6:11 PM on January 7, 2011

A lot of people have suggested exercise, and I'm going to suggest two ways to get exercise out of your house, in ways that will bring you into contact with other people without being overwhelming. I get really overwhelmed in situations where I'm supposed to make friends (parties, bars) but I'm okay when I can come at a friendship sort of sideways.

- there are free yoga opportunities in a lot of towns. Take a look around. Google "free yoga" or "donation yoga" in your town.
- police gyms. I think that these are pretty widespread? But I worked out a gym where many people paid a low fee, some people paid more, and some people paid nothing.

In both cases, you'll meet some neat people when you're ready. No one will bother you if you just show up at first, and take some time to get your bearings.

Good luck. Remember that you're taking a real step in just asking for help.
posted by punchtothehead at 6:56 PM on January 7, 2011

I am amazed at how intelligently, eloquently and simply you write. You show an awareness unexpected in one so young. I think you should pursue writing, at least as a hobby.
posted by Dragonness at 7:47 PM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I know exactly what you're talking about. Please memail me, I think I can help.
posted by Senza Volto at 8:11 PM on January 7, 2011

When I was 16, I dropped out of school due to severe social anxiety and narcolepsy.
I had zero friends because our family had moved 1100 miles away when I was 14.
I was terrified of applying for jobs. So, I basically sat on the computer for 14 hours a day and slept. And I "hated" everyone.

Anyway, my parents told me since I wasn't in school, I had to get a job. So I did. I started feeling a little better about myself. But then went down hill and started missing work.

Eventually, since I was on my parents insurance plan, I went to see a primary care physician who then referred me to a psychiatrist after he asked me some questions because I apparently seemed depressed.
I started an anti-depressant. About three weeks later, I felt awesome. I ended up meeting the majority of my friends from online communities and message boards. With the anti-depressant, my social issues were reduced because I wasn't as depressed.

I also read some of David Burn's books which helped with my cognitive distortions / negative thinking.

So i suggest, if you're on your parents insurance, to first see a primary care physician and see if they will help. There are also therapists and doctors available in most towns and cities that are for low-income individuals that you may want to look up.
posted by KogeLiz at 12:24 AM on January 8, 2011

I would recommend you get a job - any job - to give your days structure. Then save so that you can rent a cheap place of your own. I strongly recommend this. You need structure, money and independence. You will feel better about yourself. Trust me, you are feeling very much like a lot of still-dependent near-adults in your situation. Independence is the key, and work is the way to get hold of it.
posted by Decani at 5:19 AM on January 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I found a good church and started attending it, I realized there are a lot of people out there who can love you just because you are human. They don't care where you have been. I've learned to love my life again, in spite of the challenges in it.

Feel free to contact me. I would like to help.
posted by littleflowers at 9:40 AM on January 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can I second Dragonnes? Reading your question, I thought to myself, what a pleasure it was to read such a request. None of the usual (and for the most part, unintentional) emotional posturing nor any of the slightly-cringe-worthy moments that almost inevitably creep in. Instead: simple, direct, humble and heartfelt.

Thank you for reaching out and allowing others to reach out to you. It's a huge step, and you should be proud you've made it this far. I don't have much to offer, but I want to sit down with you, look you in the eyes and say: like all else in life, "this too, shall pass". It gets better. No matter how bleak it looks, it does. No kidding.

But two practical things which have worked for me in the past:

1) Exercise and sun. Even a brisk walk. Don't think about it, don't fret about it. Say to yourself "right now, I am going for a quick walk". You don't need any special gear, nor is there a 'minimum' you have to do. Go outside. Go around the block. And then again. Get as much sun as possible. Rinse, repeat.

2) "must dos". Whatever it is (walking, work, volunteering, a shower at 5pm every day, sleeping at midnight), try to do things. Anything. Over time, work these things into some sort of routine, if you can manage that. Double brownie points if you somewhat enjoy the thing (this will be hard to judge in your present mindset; at the least, something you don't mind doing)

tl;dr: it gets better. Exercise, sun and some sort of routine help.
posted by mrme at 3:12 AM on January 10, 2011

Lots of good advice above. If you are depressed, it may all seem hopeless or a waste of time, but try to go through the motions for a while. Exercise daily, follow things that interest you, make small changes in your habits. There's no race and no finish line, so you can't really fail. Just live your life a little different each day, smile when you can, and grit your teeth through the rough patches. Some day years from now you'll look back in awe at the path you traveled.

Everyone has felt the way you feel, for days or weeks or years. It does get better.
posted by Chris4d at 9:59 AM on January 11, 2011

Try and get away from home as much as possible. It's hard to see the extent of what being in an unhealthy environment will do to cloud your thoughts until you establish yourself in another better environment. If you can work or volunteer, it will give you a reason to leave the house and provide evidence to feel better about yourself through your abilities.

Other options: Go and seek out programs for high school work/intern programs like the SCA, Americorps, or heck see if you can volunteer on an ocean-going research vessel.

I went through a lot of what you describe, and would be glad to discuss particulars. Feel free to memail me.
posted by everyday_naturalist at 1:33 AM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

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