Please help me
April 12, 2011 6:24 PM   Subscribe

My annual review at work is coming up in three days. I’ve messed up, really bad. I feel like my life is about to be over. How do I get through this?

I don’t even know where to begin. I feel sick to my stomach, and I have no one I can talk to about this. No one, not even my husband.

I guess I'll begin with who I am. I'm decently social and have lots of friends, but at heart I'm an introvert. I don't like to talk about my problems. I especially don't like to ask for help. I've thought about posting this question here for months... and I couldn't bring myself to do it, because doing so would mean admitting and facing my failure (and now I fear it's too late anyway). I'm a perfectionist when it comes to my work. When I can't do something perfectly, it causes me a lot of anxiety. I don't know exactly what it is. I suppose deep down, I feel that I'll be judged as stupid and incompetent. The worst is when I do my absolute best, and I still feel that it is not good enough. Then, no amount of hard work or trying will cover up my ineptitude. That's when I kind of shut down.

So that brings me to my job. It's my second year in this profession, and it's the kind of profession where time is literally money - I'm expected to bill a certain number of hours per month. The people who make it to this profession are usually very bright, capable people who thrive on high pressure and huge responsibility. I say usually, because I am not those things. I feel like I've flown under the radar to get here, that if the people at my firm knew who I really was, I would never have gotten this job in the first place. I put on a big smile at work, and I try my best to fit in, but I have never felt like I could ever really be "one of them." But I had to try. I didn't see any other option. Again, giving up would have been admitting failure.

At the beginning of my career, I was in a long distance relationship with my boyfriend (now husband). The plan had always been for him to move here with me. He speaks English fluently and I don't speak the language of his country at all, so we figured this would be best if we wanted to have a dual income family. After a lot of soul searching, he gave up everything he had in his home country. A great career, his family, his friends, he gave it all up to come here and be with me. I was over the moon. Understandably, his feelings were more mixed. He had a very hard time finding a job here, and after months of unemployment and homesickness, he became deeply depressed.

I had never felt so helpless and scared. The odds were stacked high against him finding a job here that would compare to the one he left behind. I knew that my love could not make up for him missing his family and friends. I tried so hard, but I couldn't make him happy. For a few months after he moved in with me, I was earning barely enough to support the two of us. I was already working long hours at my job to make sure I'd be offered a permanent position, but I didn't want to put any more strain on my boyfriend by asking him to help out around the apartment. My weekends were spent juggling errands and housework, keeping up with bills, and doing things my boyfriend enjoyed... anything to help him feel less unhappy. Time for myself largely fell by the wayside. All the things I loved to do, I either had no more time or no more money for.

Luckily, I was offered another contract and a raise. Things were more comfortable financially, but my boyfriend still had doubts about a future here with me. I felt like I had to be perfect for him. I didn't want to give him any more reasons to not want to be with me. I know it was irrational, and that I have no one to blame but myself for putting that pressure on me. Every few weeks or so, we'd have a breakdown with lots of tears, him saying that he was still not happy and feeling more hopeless about a future here with each passing day, and me begging him to give it just a little more time. I promised that if he decided to move back, I would go with him. He said he didn't want me to go with him, because he couldn't put me through what he was feeling.

I tried my best to leave all the emotional baggage at home, but it crept into my work. I wasn't sleeping well, and I was exhausted all the time. I felt like I had to be "on" at all times, at work and at home, and was starting to buckle under the strain. At work, all the different stresses compounded until I couldn't keep it all together anymore. The one thing that caused me the most stress at work was... billing my time. I always felt like I couldn't do the work fast enough, to a high enough standard. I would post my time in the system and then agonize over it. I would look at how long it took me to do something, and think it was too slow, so I would enter less time than it actually took me. Sometimes, things were so hectic, and billing was such a mentally exhausting thing for me, that I would neglect to record my time at all.

It got worse and worse. Or rather, the relief I got from putting off the task of billing time was so immense that I began putting it off for a day, then two days, then several days. And then weeks. Then that began to eat away at me too, and this anxiety only fed into the overall vicious cycle of stress and poor coping. Then, eventually, I stopped caring. Not-billing became my coping mechanism, and I rationalized it, thinking well, as long as I'm getting the work done, who cares if my time isn't being recorded? The answer should have been me. I should have cared, because I was screwing myself over. I desperately wanted out. I knew by then that I wasn't cut out for this kind of work, and that it was slowly but surely wrecking me. But I couldn't talk to anyone about it, least of all my boyfriend. The last thing I wanted was for him to feel even worse about being financially dependent on me.

My boyfriend finally found a job. It wasn't a great job, but it was enough to lift his spirits. He began talking about our future again. That was a relief. This is part I don't quite understand myself. Things got a lot better for us, a whole lot better. My boyfriend and I got engaged, and then married. Then he got a great job, finally. This should have taken a huge weight off my shoulders, and I suppose it did. My personal life has been very happy these days. But things at work kept going south. After all the turmoil in my relationship and the daily stress at work, I think I had simply burned out past the point of no return. And as I was finally able to acknowledge all the fears and feelings I had pushed down over those many months, I think something in my mind slipped. Instead of all the different stresses sliding off me as I dealt with them, it felt like they all started stacking up on me, each little thing multiplying in weight.

Shortly after the wedding, I began feeling seriously depressed. I'm still in the midst of it right now. I am familiar with the feeling, because it is something I have struggled with my whole life. Needless to say, the depression isn't helping me to cope or to process my feelings at all. I have a really hard time getting to sleep at night. My mind races, so I try to find ways to distract myself until exhaustion takes over. I have nightmares or stressful dreams almost every night, and it feels like an enormous task just to get out of bed to go to work each morning. I go to work, and I have difficulty concentrating. My job requires a lot of writing, and I feel like I have constant writer's block. I have trouble making decisions. The worst part is probably feeling like it's not worth it anymore. I would never actually end my life, I couldn't do that to my husband, or to my family (I forgot to mention, my father was also recently diagnosed with cancer), but I think about it all the time. It became a comfort to me to know that escape is possible.

So then, I didn't just stop billing my hours, I actually wasn't working enough hours anymore. I still sat behind my desk upwards of ten hours a day, and went in to work on the weekends, trying to force myself to get the work done, but so few of those hours were productive ones. And now, here I am, about to hit rock bottom. Looking back at what I've written, it all sounds so unbelievably stupid. And my review is in three days. I won't be getting my bonus, or a raise. I'm bracing myself for the worst possibility, being fired. If my boss asks me why they should let me keep my job, I would have nothing to say. I haven't even come close... not even close... to my billing target. I could have gotten help with my depression, anxiety, everything, and maybe I wouldn't be in this situation if I had, but it's too late now.

In a moment of weakness, I sort of let on to my husband that things might be bad, and he sees me crying, but he thinks I'm just overwhelmed with work and maybe need a weekend getaway. I told him recently that I'm afraid I'll be fired for not getting enough work done, and he chalked that up as ridiculous nonsense because I'm constantly working late and on the weekends. I'm terrified of what this will do to my marriage. I've let my husband down. We've struggled for so long, and now that we finally have a solid combined income and are able to make plans for our future, to do fun things together and actually enjoy life, I'm going to lose my job. I've ruined everything.

What now? What can I possibly do? How will I live this down? How will I find another job after being fired for such an egregious screw up? Please help me.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (39 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
I too am an introvert and have a huge problem asking for help (thinking no one would understand/it's too much trouble to help), but for starters I highly suggest printing out this post and giving it to your husband to read. Please don't think that you have to, or deserve to, suffer through this alone.
posted by littlesq at 6:39 PM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

I could have gotten help with my depression, anxiety, everything, and maybe I wouldn't be in this situation if I had, but it's too late now.

This is what depression and anxiety do--they don't just make you feel sad and then you know to get help: they can paralyze you. Don't beat yourself up over what you "should" have done. Clearly, on some level you just couldn't or didn't know how to get help. That's ok.

Tell your husband what's going on. Ask him for help--help figuring out what to do at work, help getting treatment for your depression and anxiety, help processing the emotions you've been bottling up. It's his job as your husband to help you when you're having a hard time--even if you've made mistakes, even if he'll be surprised or frustrated, even if he's dealing with his own troubles. It's his job as your husband to be there for you: he can't be there for you if he doesn't know what's going on.

Work-wise, worst case? You temp. You take a low-pressure, boring, temp office job. You slog through. You figure out what profession you'd rather be in, and you make a plan to get there.
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:42 PM on April 12, 2011 [11 favorites]

I'm bracing myself for the worst possibility, being fired.

Given the circumstances, I don't think that this is the worst possible thing that could happen.

You are tired, stressed out and need time away from the situation so you are able to look at things objectively.

Is this the job you want? Is this the career you want?

Your post reflects a thoughtful, conscientious person. Cut yourself a little slack.
posted by WaspEnterprises at 6:42 PM on April 12, 2011 [6 favorites]

Holy moly, there is a lot of stuff packed into this question.

You work for a firm and you bill hours so I'm guessing you're a lawyer. The stuff about billing? About it sucking the life out of you? That happens to LOTS of people. Lots of them. It sucks. It's hard. Particularly for women, IME, there is a tendency to shortchange yourself.

You need to own up to it in your review. Tell them that you have not been doing a good job of accounting for your hours because you are concerned about your realization ratio. They'll tell you that you should not worry about that - the reason you are cheaper than people with 20 years of experience is because it takes you longer. Let the firm worry about writing off your time if it take too long. Nod your head and promise to do better.

If this was really a huge screw up, they would have just fired you. In your review, you are more likely to get told that a) things aren't working out and you have some amount of time to find something else or b) things haven't been going well but they believe you can get your shit together and will give you another six weeks to do it.

[alternatively, if you are depressed, etc., you might consider talking to someone about a leave of absence - do you have disability insurance? just a thought]

If you don't have a mentor at your office - someone you can talk to about firm related stuff and who can go to bat for you, find one, even if it isn't a formal relationship. Someone you trust and respect. If there is no someone, find one outside the firm. Bar associations can help with this.

Also, try to connect with other newish people at your firm. Some of them are feeling the same way, at least about the billing and the screwing up. The first two-three years are all about this, and the way you react to and handle it. It does get somewhat better, but this stuff tends to be personality driven, and so you have to police yourself. I spend a lot of time reminding myself that it's just a job, and even if I lose it tomorrow, I will not be starving or homeless. It wouldn't be fun, but I won't die. That's better than what lots of people in the world can say. So hang on to that.

I think that's all true whether you actually are a lawyer or something else.

But seriously.... this relationship stuff.... this feeling like you need to protect and hide stuff from your husband. You've got to do something about that. Either you're doing it because you're the kind of person who wants to take care of everything, including him, and you aren't good at letting people help you - you aren't good at worrying about yourself, let alone letting someone else worry about you; or you're doing it because you're afraid of losing him; or you're doing it because you're actually afraid of him. The first two things can be worked on with him - talk to him. Give him credit for loving you - HE MOVED FOR YOU. He wants you to be happy. He wants to help. And he's a full grown man. He'll step up. Get therapy if you need to. Get couples therapy if you need to. Call the EAP if you need to.

If you're actually afraid of him, of his reaction - well, whole other ball of wax. You know that, though.

Hang in there honey. It'll be okay. memail me if you want to freak out some more about the work stuff. It's almost certainly not as bad as you think it is.
posted by dpx.mfx at 6:45 PM on April 12, 2011 [18 favorites]

You should come clean with your husband. You need to tell him what's been going on, before your review. If you can get it off your chest, then it might help you to calm down and be prepared for the review.

The whole "moment of weakness" thing - you need to get over that. It is not weakness to ask your partner for help. That's what they signed up for.
posted by cabingirl at 6:46 PM on April 12, 2011

I could have gotten help with my depression, anxiety, everything, and maybe I wouldn't be in this situation if I had, but it's too late now.

It's never too late to get help for your depression and anxiety. No matter what happens with your job situation, even if you feel like you're at rock-bottom personally and professionally, things will eventually begin to improve if you get the help and support you need.
posted by amyms at 6:47 PM on April 12, 2011 [13 favorites]

I'm certain your bosses know exactly what you are (or aren't) billing, and if they were concerned enough to fire you they probably wouldn't wait til your annual review. Maybe you won't get a raise, maybe you won't get accolades, but there's a very good chance you'll be given an opportunity to shape up. Take that as your clean slate, and make the little changes you need, to get on track for the future. You are clearly very bright and now that you've seen the worst you'll have all the motivation you need to never let it happen again.

(Speaking from experience, here.)
posted by Pomo at 6:51 PM on April 12, 2011 [5 favorites]

You should put your maximum amount of belief towards the following truths which I am extremely certain of:

1. Every human being on earth would respond to the severe stresses you describe (new marriage, difficult immigration, difficult job, billing time worked, illness in the family) with various kinds of strong negative emotions which would impact their ability to work.

2. You need help from a therapist so that you can develop better coping skills for the future. This does not mean there is something wrong with you. It does not mean you're inadequate or flawed. I think pretty much every human needs to learn coping skills (we're not born knowing!) and if you weren't taught them, that is not your fault.

3. It's not too late to get help. There is no scenario, including being fired, which makes it impossible for you to live the life you want to live.

4. You deserve help. You deserve to be happy. You deserve to love yourself even when you feel you are at your worst. You deserve kindness. You deserve a break. You deserve to be taken care of.
posted by prefpara at 6:52 PM on April 12, 2011 [21 favorites]

Also, are you in NYC? Please MeMail me. I would love to buy you a cup of coffee and talk this out with you in person. I have experience with stress over billing time as well as perfectionism and difficulty asking for help. I promise, just speaking about this stuff will make you feel less out of control. I am happy to listen any time.
posted by prefpara at 6:54 PM on April 12, 2011 [9 favorites]

Dude. I hear you. Billing is a monster, an evil monster that feeds anxiety into depression. You have trouble focusing because you've got anxiety; you can't bill because you can't focus; you don't bill because you aren't working; your failure to bill causes more anxiety. Vicious cycle.

First, you are not alone. What you are experiencing is an unspoken truth that belies every other person that has to bill. Some of them seem to do it just fine, but more than you think have trouble with it.

Second, stop second-guessing how smart and bright you are. Just because your anxiety is fucking with your focus now doesn't mean that you aren't still pretty damn awesome.

Third, stop projecting how your boss will react. Has anybody spoken to you about your lack of billing yet? Is there anybody, maybe even in HR, than you can discuss this with prior to your meeting? Is there any way you can do the work to get the billing done now? Look at dpx.mfx's advice above.

Fourth, if for some reason you are fired, it's not like that shit follows you. It only follows you if you drag it with you. You can always make a clean break with bad work karma in a new job. You'll find a new job.

Fifth, I hope what you wrote here was actually somewhat therapeutic and will help you move past this.

Hey, I'll tell you, if you need to hear it, that your anxiety and depression are legitimate. But it's not a weakness; it doesn't make you bad or less of a good person; it is just part of the human condition. The stress in your life is real, and I wouldn't wish it on anybody.

But depression, anxiety, billing, sick parents; people have endured worse, and have then fared better in life. People have survived it and become even awesomer than they were before.

I've been in your shoes. I'm on your side. I see your problems, and I'm rooting for you.
posted by jabberjaw at 6:54 PM on April 12, 2011 [6 favorites]

I know you feel like your whole world is crashing down around you, but the thing about serious depression is that it makes you feel like that even if your world is not actually crashing down around you. And then it makes you act in a way that only makes things worse. Are you aware of that? Have you attempted to seek professional help for the depression that you've struggled with your entire life, even when things are not that bad?

The struggles you have faced, while difficult, are not really that unusual or for a person to have to deal with. Marriage problems, career problems. These are not insurmountable issues, but the depression makes you ill-equipped to deal with it. Understand that I am not belittling the problems you face, but it is very clear reading your question that the biggest problem here is the depression. It is crippling you. It is NOT too late to get help. You are smart and have a lot working in your favor here.
posted by wondermouse at 6:56 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Rather than seeing this as failure, I think you could really look at this as an opportunity for a huge, necessary change.

I'm not suggesting that you tell them to shove it at your performance review or quit. But, I'm saying that if they have the same opinion of your work as you do and maybe give you a graceful exit option, it might be worth taking.

I can't begin to count the number of times that I agonized and kept at something because I thought I should - either because the money was good or because I should be doing it - and then when I finally decided to hang it up, the relief I felt was palpable. And, all I could think was why didn't I do this sooner?

This is the time for you to really think about what you want out of your future. Where do you want to be in five years? I'm pretty certain that the answer is not at this job. So, how can you change it and how do you want to change it?

On a side note, I have to bill for a living, too and I too agonize sometimes about how long it takes me to complete a task. I deal with it by billing it at the correct time and recognizing that it is what it is.

Best of luck to you.
posted by Leezie at 6:59 PM on April 12, 2011

"How do I get through this?"

Acceptance. The past is done, you're in a hole and it's time to stop digging. Don't be defensive in the interview, accept the criticism and listen closely to the advice and act on it. Depending on how reasonable your supervisor is, some acknowledgement that you've been going through a rough time and you anticipate improvement might be useful.

That's if they are keeping you on. If you're fired, eff them. Keep mum in the interview and enjoy your funemployment. As Wasp said, I'm not sure that would be the worst thing for you right now. I think that some free time for a little self-care wouldn't be bad at all.

The suicidal ideation is problematic. It is reasonable and common to find comfort in thoughts of escape, but you should also see them as a warning sign that your current lifestyle is not sustainable or good for you. You need to change things up and counseling can really help guide your choices.

Clearly the extra hours at work are not helping and perhaps are part of the problem. You need to carve out time for self-care. Exercise, socializing, counseling, meditation, and simply doing the things that remind you life is a grand adventure worth living.

"How will I find another job after being fired for such an egregious screw up?"

The same way you find one after being fired for no cause. My understanding is that former employers rarely say much beyond confirming your dates of employment and your position for fear of being sued. It might make it a little tougher but its not the end of the world. Get your stuff together, enjoy the time off and cut yourself some slack.

Consider the vast population of the world and how many would swap places with you in a heartbeat. I say this not to trivialize your distress but to hopefully provide some rational comfort to counter the runaway anxiety. It's something I find soothing to meditate on at least.
posted by Manjusri at 7:09 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Being able to tell your boss(es) that your behavior was a result of a health problem -- for which you have already begun getting the necessary help -- could be helpful. I'm not talking about lying, FWIW.
posted by hermitosis at 7:18 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you should read this comment by pogo_fuzzybutt, here.
posted by Ashley801 at 7:20 PM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Feeling like you're a fraud at work is pretty common, especially for women -- it even has a name, "impostor syndrome".
posted by wyzewoman at 7:33 PM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

(I also think you should read this comment by colfax, even though it was written in response to a situation very different from yours.)
posted by Ashley801 at 7:39 PM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

If you are in law, please realize that what you are experiencing is not unusual. Falling into a spiral of self-doubt and procrastination and depression is, believe it or not, one of the occupational hazards of law work just like getting your arm ripped off by a machine is a hazard of other lines of work. A couple of thoughts:

(1) Have you considered being proactive? Asking to see your boss tomorrow or the next day and just owning up to all this? Not waiting for the review?

(2) Whar about contacting the local professional association and see if they have any resources for distressed members of your profession.

(3) You will not lack employment opportunities. I know multiple attorneys who have been fired for incompetence and ALL of them are thriving. Seriously, they landed on their feet. And that's not because they are special, but because that's how the law field is.

(4) You're going to be okay. Every member of a profession goes through very dark times. If you're a lawyer, I can speak of those dark times from personal experience. The degree of responsibility, the super high expectations from clients and bosses etc., make this kind of situation very common. Dealing with it straightforwardly and responsibly is the best possible way to deal with this.

(5) I was familiar with a young lawyer in my town who killed herself around the time she was going through some professional difficulties. Her death was utterly senseless and shocked all of us in this legal community. I'm sure she felt there was no way out, but that was panic speaking. Of course there was a solution. Fear blinds people and confuses them so they can't see the way out.

(6) When you find yourself in a serious professional bind, you will often find that those colleagues closest to you will be extraordinarily supportive. I would expect the tone of your review to be MUCH milder than you expect.

If you're a lawyer and want to contact me by email, please do. Email is in profile. I have some other thoughts that I would rather suggest privately.
posted by jayder at 7:48 PM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

I don't have any experience with working a job with billable hours, and it looks like others are giving you good advice on that front.

But you sound so, so hard on yourself that I want to hug you. When I read that headline that you "messed up, really bad", I thought you were going to talk about property damage or theft or injury or something...I kept waiting for you to get to the bad part.

You're depressed. You have impostor syndrome and problems with perfectionism. You don't have an objective lens. Let me, an objective stranger, tell you how I read the story and see you:

I see a woman who can write clearly and articulately. She has a job with billable hours that involves writing. I'm not sure what that job is but it probably requires intelligence and skill. I see a woman who is thoughtful. She thinks through her problems thoroughly and clearly. She can see what problems she had and how she might have dealt with them differently. However, she puts too much blame on herself. She has dealt with incredible stresses, like a high pressure job, helping her immigrant husband establish himself in a new country and a father with cancer. Through all this she tries to be perfect. Yet despite recognizing that this was something that contributed to her problems in the first place, she continues to try for perfection: She doesn't ask for help from her husband or support from her bosses, both of which may be very eager to help. Because she's dealing with her problems alone, she's lost perspective. She's thought herself into disaster. She likely won't be fired, but even if she is, she will likely find a new job. She will certainly not have ruined anything.

Please be gentle with yourself.
posted by unannihilated at 7:56 PM on April 12, 2011 [30 favorites]

do fun things together and actually enjoy life

You can do both of these things without a job. You may have to be a little more creative, but with a supportive husband , you can make it through. My husband walked off of his executive-level job due to the incredible stress he was under, and it was financially very difficult on us for awhile, but we made it through. It would have been much harder on our relationship in the long run if he hadn't been honest with me in the short run. Please talk to your husband. You will need his support no matter what happens in the annual review.
posted by desjardins at 8:00 PM on April 12, 2011

Okay...I'm assuming you are a lawyer. The problem with lawyers (especially young lawyers) is that we've all our time and money and energy and being into this one thing: being a lawyer. And we convince ourselves that if we don't succeed at this one thing that we've put all our money, and time and hope into that we're failures. And that myopic view of life can ruin your life with anxiety. It will keep you up at night and eat out the lining of your stomach. So that's the problem. What's the solution? Well, the first thing is to realize (and I say this as a lawyer who has been practicing for 10 years) that being a lawyer doesn't define who you are and it's not the most important thing about you. My husband has told me time and again that he will love me even if I get fired, even if I get sued for malpractice, even if I get disbarred. He loves me for me and he will forgive me for making mistakes. And I think you will find that true for your husband too. I'm also many things besides a lawyer: I'm a good writer (most lawyers are), I'm good at analyzing and problem solving (most lawyers are), I have a bachelor's degree and I'm good at taking tests and I'm really good at school... Which means that I have marketable skills and that I can always go back to graduate school and do something else. I'm also generous, a good friend, and I volunteer a lot of my time (again all things that have nothing to do with being a lawyer). And someday maybe I'll have kids and then I'll be a mom. I guess what I'm trying to say is that getting married made me realize that my job is just that...a job. It's not me, it's not even the most important about me. Billing is a problem for most young lawyers. It's very common so your boss might be more understanding than you think. Also, you might want to think about working in a different kind of practice. It reallysounds like a smaller firm or the government might be a better fit for you. It will be okay. Really. The worse thing that happens is that you have to do something else besides this horrible job that you don't really like. So: (1) tell your husband (2) think about seeing a therapist to take the edge off the anxiety (3) maybe see about finding a job or career you like better.
posted by bananafish at 8:02 PM on April 12, 2011

When I read that headline that you "messed up, really bad", I thought you were going to talk about property damage or theft or injury or something...I kept waiting for you to get to the bad part.

yep, I'd thought you'd cheated on your husband with your boss or somesuch. This isn't good, but it's not life-ending.
posted by desjardins at 8:02 PM on April 12, 2011 [4 favorites]

You do need to get help and this can get better. I've been somewhere similar. You will make it through this review tomorrow. Then check back in with us about where to go from there, professionally? In your personal life, a good first step would be telling your husband that you can't live up to the expectations you're putting on yourself.

But seriously, having been there, you will need help to get out of the mind habits you have. The first thing I would do after the review is over is find out what kind of therapy your insurance will cover, then leave brief messages for three therapists on that plan.
posted by salvia at 8:19 PM on April 12, 2011

As somebody who works in an environment where you have to bill your time on 0.1 person day increments, and who hasn't done this for months:

I'd be really, really, really surprised if anybody makes a big deal about this. I can almost guarantee you that you aren't the only one behind on their billing. If it was a problem - that is, something that was preventing money coming into the firm because your time reporting was needed to issue an invoice - you'd have been busted long ago. It's more likely you're throwing some internal reports out of whack - internal reports almost nobody cares about except the people who run the reports, and again, they can't care too much about it if you haven't been crucified yet.

Having said that, I don't expect you to believe me or even be able to comprehend that what I said might possibly be plausible, because you're depressed, and your brain doesn't work. It just doesn't. It won't until you get medication, and retrain yourself to think properly. Only then will you be in a position to get back on track at work.

You will probably feel like an imposter for the rest of your life. It doesn't matter how many promotions I get, how much praise or positive feedback, I'm still fairly sure that one day I'll come to work and everybody will be looking at me and saying 'Game's up, obiwan. We know. WE KNOW.' I will never get another job again. People will hire Godwin Gretch before they hire me. I can manage these feelings because I'm not depressed. I can't imagine what it would be like if I was.

Go to the review. Nod and smile. If the billing thing comes up, say "Look, I feel awful that I haven't been keeping on top of that. I've just been really focused on trying to do well - I know that's not an excuse, and I need to take my administration responsibilities as seriously as I do the other aspects of my performance. To be honest, I'm not really sure about whether or even how to record some of the additional time I've been putting in after hours and on weekends. I'll get it sorted with HR as soon as I can."

Then do whatever it takes to get an extended leave of absence - at least a month, but longer is better - and get your arse to a doctor.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:10 PM on April 12, 2011 [4 favorites]

I once messed up at work. Close to the worst kind of mistake you can make in my line of work. After the cleanup, I was sure I was gone. I went into a meeting with my boss, pale, with a look of death on my face, and you know what they said?

"No-one died. No-one got hurt. Just make sure this never happens again. Whats your plan for making sure it doesn't happen again?"

And because I'd gone over in my head a million times what I should have done, and how I could have prevented myself from making the mistake I did, I spurted out my plan.

Guess what? My "proactiveness" at having a way to fix the problem got me a great performance review.

EVERYONE makes mistakes. Go to work and look around, find the person who everyone looks up to. Yep, they have made a few huge mistakes in their career I'll bet. I've found chatting about it makes me feel a lot better. In some cases its turned into a game of "you think thats bad? One time I ..." and that tends to put things in perspective.

Reach out to your boss, your husband, your family, friends, a therapist.
posted by Admira at 9:19 PM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

I also feel like I should tell you about one of my law school professors.

I had this professor whose classes were so hard to get into, that I was hovering over the computer when I knew registration was about to open up so that I could be sure to get into one. The professor turned out to be just as brilliant and amazing as he was reputed to be, and I was extremely intimidated by him even though he was also very friendly and helpful. One day, I decided to look him up on Google to learn about his career.

I found out that back in the 70s, he'd had a prestigious, very high pressure job. There was an incident at the job, involving him being attacked by a certain person. Somehow, it came out that he had FAKED being attacked as part of a truly wild and bizarre, incomprehensible scheme. It was then discovered that he had future fake attacks already set up in the works. He was arrested in connection with all of this, tried, and found not guilty by reason of insanity!

This is all out there on the internet for anyone to find in 5 minutes of Googling. In the day when it happened, there was no Google, but it was in all the newspapers.

He was teaching at the law school within two years. And as far as I am aware, for his entire career there he's been extremely highly esteemed by the faculty and by the students. I've never heard anyone make mention of this incident.

People bounce right back from crazy, CRAZY things. People have CRAZIER secrets times 100 than the ones you have right now. Nobody thinks badly about them. People are generally rooting for you to succeed and bounce back from trouble, not looking to make you suffer.
posted by Ashley801 at 10:14 PM on April 12, 2011 [10 favorites]

If this had happened to a friend, what would you say to them? You might be really supportive and caring. You might explain to them all of the good things about their life, that no one deserves to feel as bad as you do right now, that they have a million things to look forward to and feel grateful about, even if those things aren't a bright, cheery, annual review, and are just the spring flowers that they are alive to enjoy.

Is there any way that you can give some of that support to yourself?
posted by lab.beetle at 10:36 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Please be gentle with yourself and I most strongly urge you to get some professional counseling. Your post is one of the most introspective and self-aware descriptions of life events and depression I've ever read, and that's actually a really good thing for you. Some people feel as crappy as you do, but they basically don't even know why. You know what's been going on, you know what's behind many of the feelings you're experiencing, and you know what's stressing you out. Figuring that stuff out is the hard part for a lot of people. A good therapist can help you put all that knowledge into strategies you can use to deal with the stress in a more healthy way and to address what's bothering you bit by bit. Just talking about it out loud can help; it seems like getting this all out in your post was incredibly cathartic for you, and continuing the discussion with your husband, a therapist, your boss and everyone else who cares about you can only give you more support.

It's not at all too late. You have a wonderful husband who literally crossed borders because he loves you and wants to be with you so much. He stuck it out and wound up with a great job and your personal life is going great. You have a great drive to do your best. You have staked out a career in a profession during one of the worst employment climates in decades, and your quality work has been appreciated to the extent that you've been given contract renewals, raises, and clients are willing to pay for it by the hour. And that's just to name a few things. So there's a lot of good there in your life right now too.

And, to go with all that good, you're sick. Depression, anxiety, all the stuff you're feeling, it's an illness too and not a reason to put yourself down. There are a lot of great caring professionals out there to help you if you'll let them, but you have to take the first step? Does your employer have an employee assistance hotline? Some companies have confidential services that will set you up with counseling services. If not, you can always see your primary doctor to start the process and get referrals to whoever you need to see. I would literally print out your question from this thread and hand it to a therapist, and the two of you can go from there.

Again, definitely not too late for anything at all. So take a few deep breaths, listen to The Lark Ascending, follow it up with a chaser of Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows, give your husband a hug and talk to him, and call a therapist. Good luck!
posted by zachlipton at 12:42 AM on April 13, 2011

You supported your husband for a long time while he looked for work. You guys coped on one income. And he presumably appreciates the way you supported him then.

In your "worst case scenario" all that happens is you go back to one income (which you have proved you can manage on), and your husband gets his turn to give you the same financial and emotional support you gave him. That's not so life-shattering. Especially if you aren't certain you are in your ideal career anyway.

But I agree with other people that you are unlikely to get fired without having a chance to improve first. Take that chance, get your depression under control (take a leave of absence if you have to), and use the (at least temporary) burst of relief you will feel at not being fired to push yourself into figuring out some better strategies for the future.
posted by lollusc at 2:38 AM on April 13, 2011

Ashley801's story reminds me: within the last two decades, there was a student at my law school who had a mental breakdown and set fire to one of the dorms. She got help and is now happily and successfully practicing law.

America is the land of second chances. People can bounce back from bad situations. You can overcome the problems in your life. You absolutely can. And you should get help doing it, because you deserve to be happy (which is much more important than being successful at billing).
posted by prefpara at 4:23 AM on April 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

I was reading a fitness magazine lately (it was a pretty lame one) but one thing in particular stood out to me regarding stress and anxiety. The article was about meditation or something, but it said that the same anxiety and emotional response that you are having about problems in your life can be turned around as fuel to solve these problems, if you can channel it correctly.

It sounds really woo-woo, but thinking about stress as fuel and motivation rather than something that will eventually kill me and give me wrinkles is a neat way to start working on problems rather than succumbing to the paralysis.

When work stress hits now I know that it's time to stop what I'm doing and figure out what I'm stressed about. I usually sit down for at least 10 minutes with a piece of paper and a pencil and work out things I can do or a task list that will get me back on track. This is never, ever as hard as having to worry about something for ten minutes. Even if one of your task items is "go to my boss and tell them that my billable hours are all screwed up", at least now you are back in control.
posted by amicamentis at 5:20 AM on April 13, 2011

What's done is done and fretting won't change it. Own it and accept the consequences - once you decide internally to do this, it will release a ton of pressure. Either your management will say "yeah, this is a problem, you should have come to us sooner, here's how we suggest you deal with it. Do better next time" or they will let you go. If they do, you will find another job. You're not going to be shot at dawn, or arrested or tarred and feathered. You'll work it out.

This whole experience can be made incredibly valuable if you'll learn some lessons from it. First off, you now know what a depression spiral feels like and it will be more recognizable if it happens in the future. Secondly, you now know that asking for help cannot possibly feel worse than you feel right now.

Thirdly, you need to have a long talk with your husband about how you felt you had to be perfect and were responsible for his happiness and couldn't ask him to wash a dish etc. Tell him this, and apologize for not treating him like the grown-ass man he is, and promise you won't be doing that again. Mean it. And then from now on, stop with all the lies by omission. They will kill you eventually, from the stress of maintaining them. Also, see again re: grown-ass man. You're both adults, you can both handle it.

You can ass up a job tremendously and just go get a job elsewhere using the bad fit/bad timing explanation. That's a lot harder to do with a marriage, and that kind of internalization is a landmine waiting to go off. People make themselves happy; waiting around for someone else to do it is doomed to fail.

I just left billable work (software consulting) and it was the most soul-eating pressure-building nightmare of a life. At the end I had reached the other problem of billable work, that I had more of it than I reasonably had available hours in the day, but in the early days I felt like I should only bill like 1 out of every 4 because I didn't entirely know what I was doing. But that's actually accounted for internally (at least it should be, if your management has any idea what they're doing), and it took my manager saying "look, if we or the customer thinks you're overbilling, we'll deal with that. Forget about sweating that part and just focus on the work." It was very liberating to be told that.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:52 AM on April 13, 2011

I put on a big smile at work, and I try my best to fit in, but I have never felt like I could ever really be "one of them."

Let me tell you that pretty much everybody at your work feels this way. You probably won't believe me, but it is true. Everybody just smiles it on at work and acts like they love it and are naturals or whatever. Some people do this for so long that they believe it for a while.

You might believe that you need to be perfect. This is not true. This is because people that work at a high level like you understand that it is not required to be perfect. Often, spending the extra amount of time to be "perfect" is a waste of the Client's money; they are looking for a specific answer to a specific problem.

I've experienced this level of burn out when I first started out. I felt alone in my position; It didn't help that I was the youngest person at my firm by more than a decade. The problem was that I did not reach out to those around me to ask for help, and that I did not have a strong peer group to look to.

Ultimately, you need to level with your performance manager. Tell them that your personal life has affected your performance and that you have learned about the importance of identifying personal challenges to the people that are managing you, so that they can support you in delivering value to the client.

Tell them exactly how your personal challenges have effected you at work. You do not need to go into specific detail about your personal challenges at home.

You need to detail what you're going to do in the future to prevent it from happening again. It is important to demonstrate personal growth and commitment to improvement. Demonstrate that you trust them to help you by telling them this. Ask for a mentor. Ask for a coach. Demonstrate that you trust them to help you.

Finally, it sounds like you need to take a long vacation.
posted by dobie at 11:16 AM on April 13, 2011

All I can add to the above advice is that you can make some sort of forward accountability plan. Tell a mentor or peer you can trust what your problems are and how you procrastinate. Ask them to check on you at specific intervals to make sure you're not getting too far behind. Ask them to have you show them your work, invoices, etc and not just accept an "everything's fine." from you.

Knowing that you'll be held gently but firmly accountable on a regular basis will keep you from getting into a hopeless trench over time.

Going into a review with this plan in place might mitigate the effect of your problem. They might give you some credit for recognizing the problem and taking initiative to solve it.

Buck up and take care of yourself.
posted by cross_impact at 12:45 PM on April 13, 2011

But you sound so, so hard on yourself that I want to hug you. When I read that headline that you "messed up, really bad", I thought you were going to talk about property damage or theft or injury or something...I kept waiting for you to get to the bad part.

Feeling like you're a fraud at work is pretty common, especially for women -- it even has a name, "impostor syndrome".

These are the two things I was going to say. I've been in your shoes, down to fudging my hours at work because I felt guilty about "wasting time" and feeling panicked about reviews. It sucks. I had to learn to be nicer to myself and trust that if I was messing up, I would hear about it from my employer. Please believe me when I say you are without a doubt your own harshest critic.

If you want to talk more about this, please feel free to send me a memail. I really wish someone had reached out to me when I was going through this. I'm also female and I think about the same age.
posted by the essence of class and fanciness at 1:28 PM on April 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been there, and so have more of my friends than I ever would have thought. Even if you were to get fired for this, which I don't think is going to happen at your review (obiwansabi has a really smart way to address it in your review, by the way), you won't be unemployable.

If you want to talk, MeMail me, and if you are near DC and need someone to have coffee with, consider yourself invited.

I'm proud of you for writing this, and actually putting it out there.
posted by mrs. taters at 3:36 PM on April 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Generally, if you're going to get fired, no one is going to wait for an annual review to do so. So you are probably not going to get fired.
posted by at 3:40 PM on April 13, 2011

Also, feel free to msg me. I've got stories. I'm in CA.
posted by jabberjaw at 10:24 PM on April 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you were to get in serious trouble for not putting in your time, a law firm (again, sorry for the assumption here) would be on your case long before your performance review. This is revenue, accounts-receivable, cash-money stuff that people worry about in the short term long before they get to considering how you're doing on a substantive level.

I'd recommend the blog Lawyers With Depression. Even if you're not a lawyer, and even if what you have isn't clinical depression. It addresses many of the same issues you're experiencing.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 9:48 AM on April 15, 2011

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