Too depressed to think clearly
May 6, 2011 12:04 PM   Subscribe

My life is a mess - I don't know where to begin to start to improve things. Please help.

I debated dividing this question up into multiple concerns, but they all seem to be interconnected and really I am just overwhelmed. Sorry this is long.

I am 34 years old. I suffered from severe social phobia and was almost completely house-bound for seven years after high school. I finally realized I was wasting my life, so I went to college, improved socially, made some friends, traveled and thought I finally had things together. I am also prone to depression and while I had taken meds earlier, this is the only time in my life where I felt the depression had completely lifted. It’s also the only time I was romantically interested in a guy ( it wasn’t reciprocated, but we became friends).

Anyway, about a year and a half ago, I decided to leave my small town and move to a larger city (Raleigh, NC) thinking I could more make friends and get a post-college life, basically.

However, I had no idea how hard moving would be. I still had my retail job from college and I transferred with the company, but ended up in a solitary position at my new store. I went to a lot of groups, but would rarely see the same people twice and had a lot of guys asking me out on dates.

None of this should really be a big deal, but I think the combined stress of being in a new place without a support system, completely failing to make any new friends outside of a few co-workers that I see for about an hour a day, trying to date when I have never dated or been in a relationship before and hating my job has thrown me into the worst depression I can remember. In addition, the managers at work are starting to notice that I am not doing a very good job (I can't concentrate, end up crying in the bathroom, etc.) and are putting a lot of pressure on me.

I am seeing a career coach, and trying to find a therapist, but I haven't found one I "click" with yet. I’m really not sure how much longer I can go on like this.
Basically I need to make some major changes, but don't even know where to begin and the depression makes it difficult to make decisions or think clearly.

1. I hate my job. I'm 34 and working in a supermarket. I'm lonely and the monotony is giving my mind too much time to churn out depressive thoughts. However, I feel if I find another job, I will be leaving the only people I have gotten to know in this city - a few co-workers (not even friends really) that I see occasionally throughout the day. Also, I can't afford to take a minimum wage job and still pay the rent. I have a degree in Anthropology, so no clear-cut career path there. I have never known what I want to do. I think I would enjoy anything with some element of creativity and a team to work with.

2. I have no social life. This is partly my fault, I admit. I am still shy, and don't feel as if there are many people I can connect with. I tend to get along with eccentric, creative, somewhat geeky people and I haven’t been meeting them here. I have tried meetup, volunteering, taking classes, and the platonic section of craigslist. Now I am just too tired to try anymore. As an introvert, meeting new people is just exhausting.

Relationship-wise, I have been dating, but have not found any guys I am interested in. I think the depression may be suppressing any interest I might have.

3. I have three cats. I have thought moving in with roommates to lower costs so I can take a different job, or perhaps just doing something completely random, like traveling for awhile or going to work on organic farms, etc. but don't know what to do with the cats.
I don't know anyone who can take them even temporarily, and I don't think any potential roommates are going to want to live with three cats.
I might be willing to find other homes for some of them, but I would have to know it was a good home, and I don't know anyone interested in another cat.

4. I wonder if I should move to another city. This seems crazy at first, but I figure if I leave my job it will be like moving to a new city anyway, because I will no longer see anyone I know. Raleigh is so family-oriented, I really don't feel as if I fit in here. I hate all the sprawl and suburbs, and would love to live in a more walkable, vibrant town. I have even thought about moving back home, but just don’t see any future for myself there.

5. I have to move out of my apartment, as they have told me they are raising the rent again. I have two months to find another place.

So I don't know what to do. I feel like my life has fallen apart just when I was finally getting things together. I guess I had the unrealistic expectation that if I did the work to overcome social phobia, I would be able to have the kind of life I see other people living, but it's not turning out that way. I really need advice, ideas, just some perspective on things…anything. Thanks for reading all this.
posted by seraph9 to Grab Bag (22 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Seraph, one thing about these difficult periods of intense depression: they mark the beginning of a process of change. Not being able to take it anymore is the beginning of a new life that will be better. About the cats, you will have to put yourself first during this period--your own human life comes first and you're in danger. About the dating: I'd take a break from it--it's too jarring and doesn't seem to be leading to good things. If you have the savings, I'd give notice at work. Whatever new job you get later is likely to be better. I don't know what to advise you to do in the meantime except to take care of yourself and to make sure to eat well.
posted by Paquda at 12:16 PM on May 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Please keep searching for a therapist who works well for you. I suffer from agoraphobia and panic attacks, and I almost gave up after years of trial-and-error until I found "the one" and am so grateful that I kept at it.

Is there an understanding manager at the supermarket that could give you a couple of hours a day working the register or customer service counter, something more social that could give your mind a break from itself?

Do try Craigslist or whatever other avenue you have to find cat-friendly roomates (ideally, an animal-lover who doesn't have any of their own currently.) Maybe post flyers at the shelter, your veterinarian's office, etc.
posted by juniper at 12:19 PM on May 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

The first and foremost problem is getting a better handle on the depression and anxiety - the rest of this will seem a lot less overwhelming when they aren't dogging you non-stop. Put getting a good-fit therapist and psychopharm high on the list up there with finding a new apartment. Once you've gotten better treatment, coming up with solutions for career and social problems will be much, much more manageable. In the mean time, hang in there at work if you can, knowing that things are going to improve, because you're making improvements.

You've already done amazing things getting that degree - you can do this, too!
posted by ldthomps at 12:20 PM on May 6, 2011

Sorry to hear about your struggles seraph9. As has been said above, I really think the best thing for you to do is focus on getting help for your depression. I have only ever had mild depression, but it saps your energy and will to do so many other things to better your life that it can seem nearly impossible to improve anything else while you are still dealing with depression.

As far as socializing, the MeFi community has the occasional Triangle meetup (most of the crew seem to be Durhamites, but we won't hold that against them, will we? ;) ). Perhaps that would be a group you might feel comfortable meeting and befriending?

Do try Craigslist or whatever other avenue you have to find cat-friendly roomates (ideally, an animal-lover who doesn't have any of their own currently.) Maybe post flyers at the shelter, your veterinarian's office, etc.

This is a great idea. I work at the Veterinary Hospital at NC State, and I'd be happy to post a flyer on the student bulletin boards for you if you email it to me. End of the year is not the ideal time to find roomies, but it couldn't hurt.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:25 PM on May 6, 2011

FWIW, I currently have no pets but would be happy to find a nice roommate with three cats.

Hugs to you - your self-awareness suggests that you're going to do just fine.
posted by you're a kitty! at 12:26 PM on May 6, 2011

You could certainly find a roommate who would be okay with three cats, but I think that your first step should be visiting your regular doctor and telling her about your problems with depression and the medication you took previously. Your GP can prescribe you SSRIs to start helping as you work to find a therapist.
posted by crankylex at 12:28 PM on May 6, 2011

The impression I get is that you're not really interested in anything. Pursuing a definite interest, would I think more than anything help to give some shape to your life, which it currently seems to lack. For instance, there's not much point moving to a new environment in the vague hope that things will be better there, unless there's a definite thing that you can do there that you can't do where you are now (e.g. getting on a particular course, working with a particular company etc.).

There should be some reason you did that anthropology degree. Consider what you value, what you enjoy and what your skills are. Why do you like creative, geeky people. Is it because you wish you were doing something creative and geeky yourself? It doesn't have to be some grand artistic thing. Just something you can achieve that gives you definite satisfaction. And it's a short step from there to sharing what you are interested in with others.
posted by leibniz at 12:33 PM on May 6, 2011

Hi seraph, sorry things are sucking for you now and seem horrible, but they really don't suck that badly from an outside view and you can turn this all around because you have done that before.

Sometimes when all you can see is problems, it helps to look at the brighter side of each one. I've been depressed and this doesn't magically make anything better, but it does help with putting things in perspective (for me). So I'll address your points:

1. You have a job. The job likes you enough to transfer you to different cities. You moved cities and made friends at your new job. You have a history of steady employment so you can get a new job, and you are very strong for not letting your depression get in the way of you keeping your job.

2. You moved to a new city and went to meet-up groups and despite your low opinion of yourself, men frequently ask you out at these events which means you must be doing something right. You know how to be active about going out and meeting people so when you decide to prioritize that, you will do it and make friends. Also, you can go on some dates with those guys and see if you like them better after the date, or see if the vibe for both of you is "just friends" and then you can follow up and make them real friends.

3. You have furry friends who love you and need you. You have an apartment and you can stay in it if you pick up some tutoring or babysitting on the side. Or you can move- put an ad up on Craigslist Housing Wanted with the cutest pictures of your cats that you can take and talk about their personalities and some cat lover will be excited to live with you and them.

4. You are young, mobile, and the world is open in front of you. You can move where ever you want, if you want to, or stay right there if you want. Nothing is stopping you and you aren't tied down by debt or family or illness so you are in a great position to focus on yourself and do just what you want to do.

Here is what you have to do:
A) make your bed and take a walk around your block each morning
B) tell your coworkers that you are looking for odd jobs and are available for babysitting or tutoring or whatever. Extra money = more options.
C) See if there is a way for you to advance at work. If not, think more about the things you are good at and can tolerate doing as a new job and make a plan for how to transition.
D) Ask one of your coworkers to go get lunch/take a walk/grab coffee while you're at work and you are on your way to making a friend.
E) Keep going to those meetups and accept a date or two from guys who seem nice. They might end up friends, boyfriends, or just practice for getting out of the house.
posted by rmless at 12:46 PM on May 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

"I don't think any potential roommates are going to want to live with three cats."

You will be surprised; I always had roommate candidates ready to live with my (two) cats. People are often DE-LIGHT-ED to have pets in the house they get to play with but don't have to take care of. Don't knock it until you try it. I would just say "two cats" in my initial contact/ad/whatever, but then when e-mailing a candidate explain that I had two well-behaved, indoor-only, neutered cats up to date on all their shots, that I paid the pet deposits and did the litter boxes and fed them and everything and that they were free to lock the cats out of their room and that the cats were very friendly and sociable. I'd tell a little about their personalities.

But really, don't declare defeat until you've at least looked for a cat-loving roommate.

Does your college have an alumni association that you can use to make contacts/friends in Raleigh or in whatever new place you try?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:50 PM on May 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Places you might try to find eccentric, creative, geeky people to hang out with: the SCA, the local BDSM community, belly dance classes. (There may be some overlap.)
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 12:58 PM on May 6, 2011

Others have made some excellent suggestions. I would just like to point out that a mere 30 minutes away, Durham is vibrant, walkable, friendly, outgoing, artistic and eccentric. Perhaps you'd be happier spending more time there?

Rents are also cheaper in Durham, in my experience.
posted by jeffmshaw at 1:24 PM on May 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Durham is cheaper, more walkable and lovely. Commuting from Durham to Raleigh is much nicer than from Raleigh to Durham.

Expect mefi mail from me in a sec.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 1:29 PM on May 6, 2011

People are often DE-LIGHT-ED to have pets in the house they get to play with but don't have to take care of.

Cats I can take or leave (but others feel otherwise), but I'd be all about living with a (well-behaved) dog that I got to play with, but others had to take care of.
posted by Jahaza at 1:35 PM on May 6, 2011

I would love a roommate with three cats. I hope they would be nice cats who would hang out and help me read books and watch TV rather than pee on my things, though ;)
posted by By The Grace of God at 1:45 PM on May 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

You’re not alone. After graduating from college in my mid-twenties, I too, moved to a new town. I’ve always been independent and adventurous, so I thought everything would be fine. But what happened was I ended up with no job, no money, no friends, swimming in college debt, and I was /thousands/ of miles away from any family members. It was a big adventure, but not the type I’d planned on. I didn’t even have enough money to move back closer to home. It was then I learned that poverty is real and fucking up your life could be pretty easy.

How I muddled through was I joined a local sports team. I was not an athlete before this, so don’t get that idea. I don’t go around joining sports teams, although I do enjoy games and physical activity. I just joined the team because it was the only thing going on that I was interested in. This turned out to be an extremely good decision. I made a lot of friends. Everyone I know in this town is from the team. I don’t even play in the league anymore, but it doesn’t matter, because I made those friends and I still have them.

I think you should consider joining a group like this that has a focused purposed everyone is interested in. It beats what you’ve been doing, the classes and meetups, because any group like this is going to meet regularly and the activity that you’re all interested in will create shared experience that build your friendships up. The other activities you’re doing seem to be lacking these elements. It doesn’t have to be sports, although sports are one of the best bonding activities I know of. Join a book club if you want, a bowling thing, a knitting circle. The key is to get into something that is regular and has a purpose beyond socializing.

As for your job, look for a new job and don’t be afraid. You will meet new people and you will be fine, you have to believe that. Plus, your relationships with your colleagues might actually improve if you’re doing something you enjoy. You’ll be happier and more likely to form bonds with people. I hope your coach is helping you with this.

Look for a roommate, anyways. You won’t know until you try. If the cats are really messing you up, get rid of them somehow. Seriously. You matter more than a cat.

I’d suggest trying it out a little more before you move. I wanted to move away so bad when I first got here because I was very unhappy. I’ve been here three years now and I love it.

Good luck to you. My heart goes out to you.
posted by amodelcitizen at 1:47 PM on May 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

What about going back to school? At the grad level you might be able to get funding. Anthropology is a field with a ton of interesting weird research going on. And the people you meet will be engaged in something that you are also engaged with. And at the end of it you will have accomplished a body of work that might give you good ideas about where to head next, a professional network and career prospects. If I was going to do my school over, I'd be looking at Anthropology departments, because there is so much you can do there. One woman I know studies the physical movements of microbiologists as they describe the proteins they study. Another is part of a fire-dance community and she is writing about that experience. Another is analysing artist's roles in gentrificiation in cities. Basically - if you are interested in anything you can probably make an anthropological study out of it.

Cats are good for mental health. Roommates may or may not be good for mental health. No roommates unless they are cat persons. And I agree with everyone else who says that may not be the stumbling block you think it is.
posted by aunt_winnifred at 2:41 PM on May 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the replies, everyone. I am going to set up an appointment with a new therapist this week - hopefully she will work out. I realize the depression is a big problem as on my better days things don't seem so hopeless. I'm really encouraged by everyone who said I might be able to find roommates with three cats. I will start looking.
And I do like Durham...that will be my first choice if I decide to stay in NC.
posted by seraph9 at 2:51 PM on May 6, 2011

First, I wish I could hug you.

Second, I totally relate to what you and amodelcitizen are saying...the most depressed I ever got was post-college when I moved far away from the people/place I loved, my most significant relationship to date ended, and I started working a menial job.

But it started getting better when I found a job in my field (English) and threw myself into it. The social scene was a bonus, but I found that having a job that engaged my attention so fully was amazingly therapeutic. A lot of other people have mentioned looking into what you're really passionate about...I think they're right - what was it that drew you to archeology? Is there a related field you could get into that might have a more direct career path? I took classes for a summer at UNC - they had some GREAT offerings and it was pretty reasonable. I also was able to meet TONS of people through that and it helped a lot in getting me settled.

I'll also reiterate that I'd LOVE to find a roommate with cats. Put it out there - you never know!

Good luck...what you're going through is crappy and it take a while to work your way out when you feel so overwhelmed.
posted by guster4lovers at 4:00 PM on May 6, 2011

Another answer to say that if I were looking for a roommate, three cats would be a plus, not a minus.

Other than that, I agree that getting the depression under control will make things seem very different indeed and you should start by focussing on that.
posted by lollusc at 9:14 PM on May 6, 2011

I would take a roommate with 3 cats without thinking about it!! Try to make some changes in your budget so you can keep your current apartment. Try to think of your job as a gift! You are working and making money to support yourself and your cats. That is awesome. I am socially awkward and have problems making friends, so I tend to find things I like to do and just do them. Also, SSRIs are a life saver.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 11:08 PM on May 6, 2011

As far as meeting people, getting out, finding interesting hobbies, and nourishing your soul, I can't tell you how much music can help. Musicians - talk about creative and yes, often geeky, too - attract likeminded people. I don't play and instrument and I sure as hell can't sing, but I am an appreciative and attentive audience to those who do and I can't tell you how many new friends I have met just by going out to local music venues to hear bands, singer-songwriters, etc. Many shows and jams, open mic nights, etc. are free or low-cost and are held at restaurants, bars, people's houses (house concerts), even parks and street corners.

I had no idea what a wonderful network of people there are in the music community! I just enjoy music and started seeking out music events in my town and the more I went out (almost always solo as I'm not married and rarely date), the more I began seeing the same people over and over. Some were musicians and others were musician's spouses and friends and people like me who just appreciate and enjoy music. Now, on any given night, I might have 3 or 4 options of places to go where I know I will see these wonderful people and be entertained with great music. Music is wonderful therapy as well. I encourage you to give it a try. The triangle area where you are is chock full of fabulous musicians and music. Enjoy it!
posted by ourroute at 3:03 PM on May 7, 2011

Look at what you've accomplished. You went from housebound to school and work, and now to a bigger city. Depression is a real illness, and it is currently causing problems for you. Treat it seriously and aggressively. You may be able to make use of the Family Leave Act to protect your job while you get treatment, or make an ADA request for accommodation of a disabling condition.

It's step-by-step. The suggestion to walk around the block every day is a good one. Exercise and sunshine are a big help. Therapist really recommended. Good luck.
posted by theora55 at 4:06 PM on May 7, 2011

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