Self-destructive shame issues.
August 11, 2011 7:29 PM   Subscribe

Ashamed of myself in so many ways--it's resulted in overeating, anxiety, low-self-esteem, body-image issues, and a lack of drive. How do I dig myself out of this rut?

I'm 19, about to start my second year of college, and have been stuck in a rut for the last two years.

It feels weird to think I'm in any kind of rut at 19 but I went from being a really overachieving, highly-driven high schooler (albiet with the same problems) to beating myself up every day for not being happy and thankful and for being too down on myself to get anything done. I think the issues that I successfully drowned in school came out of the woodwork in college, when I thought I would miraculously blossom into a skinny self-confident flower.

I know I'm smart and driven but I've felt really distracted lately. I worked very hard in high school to earn my own money and get myself into a good college. I'm into journalism so just reading the news used to be exciting--i'd refresh the nytimes webpage like news was breaking and I HAD TO BE THERE. Now I tend to line up articles and not read any of them, or glance at headlines--basically, I can't concentrate, and everything feels like a chore. During school I really struggle to get everything done because I can't hold my attention span. I'll go for walks by myself in the middle of the night to try to clear my head and get to work--it helps my anxiety go away, but when I get back to my dorm, I'm suddenly too apathetic to work. I'm really not as passionate about things even though I know they are things I care about. And I feel really guilty about it, because I worked so hard to get here, and my parents worked so hard to get me here, but here I am languishing.

One thing I used to be able to do was write and pinpoint how I was feeling, if not in conventional human thoughts, in some kind of freaky prose that would make me feel at peace with myself. That doesn't happen anymore. Or for some reason I feel really ashamed to even write down any of these feelings now (I used to write about everything). I can't even be frank with myself in a diary.

I have had problems with my weight since late in high school, when I just stopped exercising because I was working a lot, emotionally eating, and losing a lot of sleep. I used to be very thin (even then I was convinced I was fat) and now that I've put on weight I don't know what to do with it. My overeating happens late at night, sometimes bingeing, sometimes purging--but aside from that, by day I'm fairly healthy (vegetarian, into tomatoes), I just can't seem to stop myself after 10 pm. I've been out of shape and trying to return to exercise for a long time, but it's a lot of run-for-two-weeks and then get overwhelmed by work and stop. It's really hard at school because my college is very athletic but also very small, so basically you see everyone and their mom at the cafeteria, and at the gym. I have spent hours in my dorm scheming the right times to leave my room so I can come in contact with minimal people, so the fewest eyes will see my physical body. So going to the gym is pretty terrifying.

It's accurate to say that as a pre-teen and high schooler I was always uncomfortable with how I looked and managed to demonize my emotions. When I had crushes I hated myself for having them, and eventually extinguished most of my confidence with the reminder that I Am Not Attractive. Here and there boys have professed some type of love for me, mostly friends, and a few men have confused me along the way. I'm not the type to date, unless I'm sure I like someone a lot, a lot, a lot. My first year of college, I tried getting drunk to lubricate both social and male situations but found myself getting drunk in large groups and then leaving parties after five minutes to go sit by myself in a large open field.

This summer I was alone in a city I don't know, interning for a newspaper, and met another reporter who, after about three days, I ended up having sex with (previously: virgin, never been kissed, on a date or in a relationship). We got along okay, but mostly getting along by talking about city news and some personal stuff, there wasn't a strong connection. I was pretty drunk and he pinpointed my worst fears by asking me all these questions about why I didn't like myself, saying I had no reason to be, and even though I'm convinced this was a petty man-trick I guess it worked because I let him stick his dick in me. He told me that he wasn't looking for anything serious before the sex. We continued to hook up for the next month or so. We did go on casual dates but they were strange and almost always ended with sex. I'm so used to being intimate with people strictly emotionally and removing myself sexually, but here I am now engaging in random sex that I don't particularly enjoy, with a guy that I'm not really into. One the one hand, I'm doing exactly what I've always been afraid of, having sex because I have low self esteem. On the other hand, at least during the sex, it's the only time I've ever felt comfortable in my body. So I wanted to end it and would avoid him, but he'd call and that temporary surge of self-esteem would let me say okay. I cried a lot the day after the first time. I told my friends but I never really explained to them how I feel. I have been playing it off as finally satisfying my womanly needs but clearly that is not the case.

Because I should leave myself a nugget of self-confidence, I will say I am a smart girl who likes to help people (too much?), and people like me because I am a funny and indulgent nerd. So I know that. But I've treated my sexuality and my body like a burden, like if I put it away somewhere I'd never have to confront it. But it's been there awhile and I've never been so confused or afraid as to why I have to care about it or desire other people in my lives. I should also say I'm not doing piss-poor in school, but I'm definitely performing way below capacity, and anything I've been excited about in the last few months I have had a hard time throwing myself at. I already have a lot of anxiety about minor social situations, but the sexual tension that seems to soak everything in college is overwhelming.

I don't really know what the point of my question is. I can't talk to my siblings or my parents about this because we don't have that kind of relationship (ie. dad told me I am an elephant). My friends are really great but for some reason I'm not comfortable telling them all of this. This is the first time in awhile I've really put all of this in one place, so I guess I want to know: why do I feel so ashamed of myself, and why am I so paralyzed to do anything about it? Now that school is starting again I'm trying to go into the new semester with a healthier mindset about people and myself and food and exercise so I can stop beating myself up and put my energy into school and positive growth.

I'm sorry that was jumbled, but please give me your thoughts. Thanks.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Sugar, your give-a-damn seems busted. When you are too apathetic to work, there is a problem.

Have you been screened for depression? If not, you should talk to your physician as soon as possible.
posted by MissySedai at 7:41 PM on August 11, 2011

The length of this post tells me: Go back to college and schedule a meeting with a counselor. It will help! And it's free/low cost because you're in school.

My general experience tells me: You're smart and you're 19 and you're in college, therefore you probably should be plagued by feelings of inadequacy and misery. That's part of the process. The second, more important part, is learning how to live with it. For some people that includes counseling (I wish I'd availed myself of it), for some people that's strict scheduling.

I can say that two things helped me: Drawing up strict schedules and sticking to them and not buying snacks. Just don't do it. Don't buy anything to have around that isn't a nut or a fruit. Whenever I get a craving I get grumpy and I take a feckless look at the pantry and then I move on a few minutes later.

Something else that will help: Getting older. Some shit just stops mattering so much. Some stuff gets worse. You'll need to start thinking about things you can live with and things you can't and where to get help.
posted by GilloD at 7:47 PM on August 11, 2011 [5 favorites]

It sounds like you would do well to make an appointment with counseling services if there are any at your school, ASAP.

That said, what jumps out at me about your situation is that a lot changes between high school and college in terms of the support systems you have (for example, friends you've known awhile, teachers who are much likely to look out for you, and family if applicable, though it sounds like this may be a thorny issue for you) and the amount of freedom you have due to the lack of structure and oversight.

So, if you are predisposed to self-destructive behavior, college provides you opportunities to engage in it, whereas before there may have been other things in place to keep it in check, which may mean you haven't yet developed the skills it takes to avoid this stuff. But you can pick these up with some help.

Also, there's something about late night for you. Is it possible that this time was off-limits to you in high school for various reasons (curfew, an early start to the day, people being around who would frown upon overeating), and now that stuff isn't there, so you use it to indulge your dark side? Maybe you can look at ways to structure your life so this time isn't open any more for you to do this.
posted by alphanerd at 7:51 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

This rings a lot of bells for me. What personal experience and significant others' experience and BFFs' experience tells me: things finally started getting better for us only after we were finally able to articulate what the problems were. It's obvious from your post that you've put thought into this. This is hard to do!! It's so much easier to deny, deflect, distract yourself. You should give yourself credit for facing difficult topics and organizing your thoughts so well. It's often recommended here that you bring in your question/post to a therapist, and I think this could serve you well.

Secondly, I was really struck by a comment jbenben posted last month about healing bodywork and therapeutic touch. My phrasing probably sounds kind of hippie / woo-woo, but I hope that doesn't dissuage you. Personal anecdotes from my scientist / evidence demanding friends: restorative yoga helped them (both young women) get though major relationship/sex dramas and body issues. Maybe this could help you, too.
posted by Signed Sealed Delivered at 8:19 PM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

You don't sound like you don't care about anything. You sound overwhelmed and like you're ready to explode. Like you have all these shoulds and ought-tos that are making you feel like you don't know where to start. You want to fix everything--your appearance, your grades, your future, your social life, right away. You sound like you're fumbling for answers and everything you do is only confusing you more. Find someone to talk to (school counselor or therapist), and get back into journalling. What you write doesn't even have to make sense. It doesn't have to be the kind of clear prose that helped you in the past. Just getting those words and thoughts out there will help you organize your mind. You can always burn or delete what you wrote, if you don't want it to ever be seen by anyone else.

You don't have to be good at everything, right now. You don't have to be good at anything, right this minute. You don't even have to be good at liking yourself.It's weird, but once I'm able to accept that, I feel less paralyzed and more able to take care of myself and work on my goals.

By the way--you haven't failed yourself by sleeping with someone you don't care about. It sounds like you broke one of the rules you made for yourself and are punishing yourself for it. Can you reframe that transgression to yourself as something more positive? Say, an experiment in learning more about yourself? Honestly, he sounds like a decent person who cared about you--he tried to make you feel better about yourself and was upfront about what he wanted. It's fine if you didn't enjoy casual sex and don't want to do it again. But, if it makes you unhappy, stop. That's all you have to do. You don't have to beat yourself up for it and you don't have to like it.

You sound really self-aware and responsible. Good luck, don't give up. You'll be fine.
posted by millions of peaches at 8:22 PM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

First of all, I think you are super brave to put this out there and talk about it. Good for you. The demands of college are stressful no matter where you came from and what your high school experience was.

Secondly - Reread EVERYTHING GilloD said, letter by letter. I'm several years out from undergrad and, wow, that really resonates with me.


You say:
''I will say I am a smart girl who likes to help people (too much?), and people like me because I am a funny and indulgent nerd. So I know that. But I've treated my sexuality and my body like a burden, like if I put it away somewhere I'd never have to confront it. But it's been there awhile and I've never been so confused or afraid as to why I have to care about it or desire other people in my lives.''

And I think:
So, this could have been me, five years ago when I was a sophomore in college. Sadly, I descended through (undiagnosed) depression related to many of those factors. With help from others that I did not believe I deserved, was lifted out of it.

You may be in for a rough ride. YOU CAN DO THIS. Please, please, do not be afraid of or weirded out by seeking services for people at your school's mental health care facility. (In my case, second floor of our student health center). Some weeks, it was the only thing that got me out of my room. I have to be honest: my counselor was not that great, but for a few weeks I believed this was the best I could do for myself (one hour I was not scouring the internet for "how to be good at being a stripper" [no disrespect]). YMMV and will probably be more constructive (cannot imagine it being worse ; ) ).

I spent a long time pinning my self-worth on the feelings of this dude who was totally not worth it (embarrassing, dangerous to my physical & mental health). You ARE better than that. You are 19. You have SO MANY years ahead of you that will be filled with great experiences and memories - I promise. I also have body image issues that made themselves know in college, but a little different from yours

Please feel free to memail me - I totally wish I had done the same for stuff like this.
posted by shortskirtlongjacket at 8:23 PM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

First: chill. Chill a lot. Take a deep breath.

Second: Remember. "To this above all else, to thine own self be true."

I'm young like you (mid 20s), so I know how confusing all this is. I'm working through it, too, my own homegrown garden variety.

You must first realize that college is a MINISCULE. MIN-I-SCULE picture of what reality looks like. You haven't even touched the surface of reality. When you go into Reality, you'll see all kinds of people in love. Beautiful people who are lonely. Trailblazers. Weird relationships. Political stuff. Alliances of convenience. Dreamers. Sad people. Pragmatists. All kinds of people. All on different walks of life. The Real World is a beautiful, intricate place with the biggest ensemble cast there is.

Your college is a self-selected group of people who chose to go to that college for a reason. They are probably all a degree of well-off and have similar mindsets and attitudes and may even be relatively homogenous in religion or race. Oh, and everyone is probably THE EXACT SAME AGE. And all incredibly confused. (I had - and still have - a "dial an adult" policy when facing a difficult decision, rather than farm said decision out to a similarly confused college friend.)

I have several book recommendations for you:

(1) Why Men Love Bitches - by Sherry Argov. It's cliche, but I've had a weakness for men, too, and this book really helped me on the "attracting men is about having a TON of self-respect" train. (Some of it is a little game-y, but I think the absolute confidence this book engendered in me to be who I am and love it rather than try to be some sort of Barbie outweighed the game-y aspects of it.)

(2) Authentic Happiness - by Dr. Martin Seligman. Very much helped me to see the bright side of things, to realize how optimism is your friend and positive emotion can help you be a better person, perform tasks better, really helps buoy your whole life.

It sounds to me like your body image issues are what bug you the most. I advise you to take it one bite at a time. Your whole post is like, 500 bites. Baby steps. Your brain can't process and hold so much simultaneously. Believe me, I've tried to be thinner/richer/smarter/funnier/more outgoing/sweeter all at the same time... several times. Never worked. So learn from my experience :)

So go out and tackle that. Absorb all you can on that. You may be slacking on your other projects because it's looming so large on your mind. So make school and working out/eating right your top priorities.

Re: going to the gym.
Don't give a damn what other people think about you. You're on your own journey and you are the star of your own damn show. If they even PRESUME to judge who you are or where you've been based on how you look - f*** them. You don't want to know them anyway.

Also - my last thought - fake it til you make it has worked wonders for me. Want to be healthy and happy? Act as if you are a healthy and happy person. It's like playing a character - what would Ms. Healthy do? She chooses vegetables over pepperoni pizza, she chooses water over soda, she gets out and runs when she feels down. She sees the silver lining and promises to work through the cloud. One day, you'll wake up, and after you've made enough of those choices, it'll seem automatic. You'll have become your brightest vision of yourself.

Best of luck to you.
posted by Dukat at 8:41 PM on August 11, 2011 [13 favorites]

college counselors are often experienced at helping with your type of situation, please do try making a meeting with them. if you don't like it, or if they don't seem helpful, you can always just walk away, with nothing to lose
posted by thelonius at 9:32 PM on August 11, 2011

Boring advice but echoing the commenter above about not keeping anything in the house...try not to eat after 7pm (Oprah advice) and definitely find some kind of physical activity (walking, yoga, anything) that you can live with/incorporate into your daily schedule. 19 is young though, don't beat yourself up about're just beginning...this is the time to figure it all out!
posted by bquarters at 9:45 PM on August 11, 2011

eh, by "your type of situation", I meant only, trying to get back in to school, after being away, for whatever reason, and being unsure or conflicted about how or when to do this - I'm sorry if I sounded insulting
posted by thelonius at 9:47 PM on August 11, 2011

WOW Signed Sealed Delivered. Just WOW WOW WOW.

I popped in here to render some similar advice to that previous comment because I really really feel for the OP - I was her in a lot of ways at 19.


Oh, Hon. My first thought was that I wanted to hold you for hours and let you cry it out. If I could, I would.

It's safe intimacy and love that sustains us. You are isolated. You have NO IDEA how perfect you are. I know, because I didn't know.

I will tell you that as you get older, eventually, you will laugh at how self-conscious and judgemental you were towards yourself at this age. For years I was like you (including the late night walks - so peaceful, right??) and then as I got older I stopped caring about what other people thought about my body or my professional accomplishments. Not a lot of help to you now, I know. Just saying.

When I read what your dad said to you, I felt slapped. So I'm going out on a limb here, but I'm advising you that there isn't a lot of caring gentleness in your home and you should (carefully!) seek it elsewhere. At this stage of development, I know from experience your peers can't fill that void for you, so be open to deep friendships with them, but look elsewhere.

You're in a pickle and you very correctly identified that older folks will take advantage of you in this vulnerable state you are in. That's OK. You can manage this. You can get stuff back from them, too, even if it just learning how to bounce back from interactions with selfish damaged people. That's a valid point on your journey right now.

-Stop seeing the guy you are having sex with but doesn't treat you like gold. We've all been there and done that, but you have us now, so stop that.

Yes on a counselor. Don't like the first one? Get another.

I imagine getting alternative therapy is expensive for you, but you can get cheap massages if you look around for deals.


There was an exercise my hypnotherapist suggested which you can look up further online. Basically, you look in a mirror and admire yourself and say nice things to yourself. It is uncomfortable at first and it feels super widgey, but it will slowly change into something enjoyable that will sustain you and build up your confidence until you get older and sincere angels in human form come into your life and love on you like you deserve to be loved.

Lastly. I just ordered this book on a deep whim when I came across it, because I wanted something positive to read and inform my soul that was the exact opposite of all the negative info out there in the media. Memail your info, I'd love to have a copy sent to you from Amazon. Just going on intuition here, but I think it might strike a chord with you. The writing seems deep and unusual and unusually insightful. Remind me of the insight displayed your question.


Wait! I forgot to tell you that I went to school for journalism and worked in Broadcast for 5 years, and then went to culinary school because I decided I didn't want to feed people shit for a living - which is the state of journalism these days for the most part. I owned a vegetarian catering company for a while. I'm in seafood now (so I basically (unintentionally) rape the environment for a living) but I bought the Pronoia book in the hopes it will spark a new opportunity that is more wholesome and inline with my values. I just want to tell you that your impetuses are valid, the world provides few opportunities for folks who really need to make a positive difference, you are on the right track.

I also found this book truly inspirational, and the author has gone on to do hugely good stuff in the same vein since writing this book back in 2004.

I was in college and took a break to work at the United Nations in Secretary General Perez de Cueller's office when I got the bug to be a journalist. I get you. I do.

The world is changing. Get more inline with your values and you will feel viable and worthwhile. It takes effort and spirit and commitment, but it worth the journey. I promise.

Congrats on working hard and going to college. You are already so far ahead!!!!!
posted by jbenben at 9:51 PM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

I would like to + all the advice and caring to you from commenters so far. In spite of your hurting and confusion your post brims with insight and, as others have said, trying to face your problems and steer toward a better place in life can only bode well for the future.

Wanted to suggest, w/r/t the eating issues, that maybe seeking out knowledge would help. Especially if you were raised in the U.S., you may have a totally skewed view of what healthy eating means, as a result of mass-media's need to constantly push out content, and the consumer-product driven advice from our government entities.

Sometimes, I hear, "I'm healthy! I'm vegetarian!" and come to find that person is subsisting on fries and mac-n-cheese, which yes, is vegetarian, but no, not healthy. (Not saying this is what you're doing ... but honestly from your post I can't tell.) My hunch when you mentioned the over-eating is that you're "good" all day, eating modest portions and maybe not enough protein and fat (yes!!! the body does need good fats!), and, come the evening, the ravenousness and cravings and OMG gratification from snacking takes over.

I don't know if you can work a nutrition class into your school schedule, join a program like weight watchers, or even do searches through AskMe and read some threads about diet theories/pros/cons. I'm no spring chicken, and I'm still in the process of figuring this stuff out myself, sometimes by spending a few hours reading wikipedia articles. One thing you could do that would make a difference is to vow never to let another molecule of hydrogenated oil pass your lips! This will not eliminate snacking altoghether, but may remove some of the worst offenders when it comes to keeping pounds on.

Ultimately, it's not about thinness = desirability, but about feeling strong and healthy; balanced diets can help balance emotions; engaging in the process of self-care builds the base that will help you withstand external pressures; self-love and acceptence means reaching a place where the body you are in right now is a good, safe, comfortable, beautiful place to be and to hell with all those already-skinny-models-photoshopped-to-look-even-skinnier that you are supposed to measure up to.

All the best to you, OP.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 10:47 PM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Aw hon, I just wanted to nth the people saying you're not alone. Cold comfort right now I know, but seriously, this sort of thing is more common than you think--a whole bunch of my college friends have bonded with me only years later about the weird detached fugue-like state we were in precisely this time period--the first 2 years of undergraduate away from home. How only with distance from it in the years following were we able to realize "wow, that was fucked up and I just went into freeze-and-don't-evaluate-or-give-a-shit-about-my-emotional-well-being mode to (not) deal with it". I had worked my ass off all through high school getting good grades to go to a good college, but I was an insomniac perfectionist with tons of body/self esteem/socially walled in issues, and college was a nightmare at first--classes wouldn't be hard or anything but as others said above not having any recognizable support system wore on me until I was missing classes to lie in bed all day after having wandered the streets aimlessly all night pondering the point of life, etc. Suddenly you don't have access to decently cooked meals or a sense of home/place or friends or teachers who look out for you beyond your grades and you're so overwhelmed trying to deal with that isolation and emotional homelessness that you don't have the time or energy to take care of the basics for well being like decent real meals that sustain you, a proper sleep schedule, etc. You think you need to spend your time and resources first being perfect at school but you may not be able to do that without the basics in place first anyway (Maslow's hierarchy of needs yo), leading you to simply fret and beat yourself up because nothing's getting done and you're caught in a circle of worry and anxiety but no relief through action.

On the big plus side, as others said you are very well self aware of all this, more than anyone I know was at the time. Good for you. I honestly think getting the basics in order in baby steps one at a time--the nutrition/real meal plan as mentioned above, working out a day by day schedule to manage your time with blocks for real sleep and real meals, not snacking in a furtive fury late at night, counseling with someone you respond well to about the emotional eating and your stress and need to be perfect, a chunk of time each week doing something good for your soul like going to the park or seeing a movie downtown all dolled up if it makes you feel good, etc. And trying to figure out how to find a support system--this is tricky and can't really be forced. Things got exponentially better for me in college about year 3 when I FINALLY fell into the right group of people that really clicked with me, and in most college cities the way it seems to work is if you can just find one right person to be friends with, they know everyone else you'd love knowing and you go from 1 to 50+ new friends in the blink of an eye. But this can be hard to make happen, it comes in its own time.

Anyway. This depression is common (which makes it no less painful, of course). You're not alone! And you can get through it and later shake your head remembering how crazy a time this was. This change college produces is painful and hard yet, as others mention, not even the way real life works, which you'll also discover, hopefully. That reminds me--what REALLY turned me around big time was graduating and realizing the working world is way, way different from college and frankly, much much better, less artificial (at least I found it so, and I was a huge bookworm/teacher's pet and still, vastly prefer "real life" now). Hang in there. It gets so much better, less isolated and more genuine eventually.
posted by ifjuly at 5:21 AM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I, too, went through similar issues as you when I was about 19. Nearly a decade and a lot of therapy later, I can pinpoint the tipping point where I started my own downward spiral in earnest to a terrible, blind date that turned into a highly murky could-have-been-don't-know-for-sure sexual assault. For me, it was self-destructive judgement amplified by an altered, drunken state, intensified by extreme low self-esteem that led me to the situation in the first place. That experience, which was the culmination of a series of increasingly self-destructive patterns, sent me into a real tail-spin that took years to recover from.

Going over the details in your post, I wonder if your similar, and *first time ever* sexual experience earlier this summer could be the trigger for this depression you seem to be suffering from.

I cried a lot the day after the first time. I told my friends but I never really explained to them how I feel. I have been playing it off as finally satisfying my womanly needs but clearly that is not the case.

This was clearly, at the least, an example of someone taking terrible advantage of you at a time of great vulnerability.

I was pretty drunk and he pinpointed my worst fears

Continuing the unsatisfying sexual relationship after such an incident could be a way of normalizing the initial encounter -- a way of convincing yourself that it wasn't what it felt like.

This is exactly the kind of situation that a college counselor is ideal for addressing. From my own experience, I can tell you that it's far, far better to deal with this now, head-on, than to wait until this begins to work into deeper, long-term issues with intimacy and sexuality in the future. Also, too, it's crucial to confront the feelings that lead you into these self-destructive paths in the first place.

So, please, go to your student health center or counseling service, tell someone who is qualified to help everything you've told us here, and let them help you. It does get better, it really does.
posted by mmmcmmm at 5:29 AM on August 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Girl, I was you at 19. My god. I just want to you here, right now, to give you a humongous, ridiculous bear hug and never let you go.

I could have written what you wrote, almost verbatim, at 19. Lost my virginity to some schmuck, had food/weight/self-esteem issues, was losing my way in school whilst trying to avoid social situations because I felt pretty much lost/worthless. God. It's amazing how similar that all sounded.

Here's my most heartfelt advice. See a therapist, and talk to someone about all of this. And, here's the clencher - if therapist A sucks/you don't feel the connection, go see therapist B. And then therapist C. Not all therapists are equal. You will know when you've found the right one.

You have classic symptoms of depression (withdrawal, lack of interest in stuff you used to be interested in, feelings of worthlessness/helplessness, etc.). I might even suggest trying some medication for a while to see if it helps.

But, the underlying issues are what you'll really need to focus on. The drugs just kind of help lift you up enough to be able work on what's really under all of this. And what's really under all of this is some serious self-esteem issues. And, coming from my 34-year-old self it's not the easiest thing to deal with and it'll take a while, but it's so fucking worth it. I cannot stress to you just how worth it is. And this I know is true: until you start loving yourself -- really, truly loving yourself -- your weight/food issues are not going to go away.

Your overeating (like mine) is very much emotionally-driven. You don't really like yourself deep down, you feel depressed, you eat to feel better in the short-term. It's so easy to numb out with food. It was easier for me to eat a pizza and watch TV and not think about the uncomfortableness that was inside.

When you start to feel a little bit better and start loving yourself more, you might be ready to tackle the food/weight thing. At that time I'd point you to a book that has really helped me with my weight/food issues - Intuitive Eating. It changed my life.

I was like you. If you had asked me to list my good qualities, I could list them. I wasn't completely destitute of worth, but there were some pretty giant feelings of inadequacy. If you can get some help lifting out of this depression, the work you do on yourself will be so valuable. I hope it clicks for you much sooner than it did for me. I wish you so much luck, and if ever you need a shoulder, memail me.
posted by Falwless at 8:12 AM on August 12, 2011

yeah, i forgot to address the sexual relationship aspect. it doesn't sound like that was a good experience for you, and you've noticed trying to brush it off or change the narrative so it sounds empowering isn't working...a lot of healing starts with just openly admitting to yourself (and others who listen and support you) when something in the past did hurt, was bad. whether it's an abusive childhood or a was-it-or-wasn't-it-i-blame-myself sketchy sexual assault territory thing, regardless of all the "i should've" or "i could've"s, if it hurt you that's ok, even important to acknowledge so you can move forward and learn from the past. i was thinking too in college how all i wanted to be was sexually dead inside and invisible because i was in retrospect so horrified by the narrative handed down to me--that guys will fuck anything that moves, that most are just players who want to take it from you and then hurt and humilate you, that you are probably going to break some poor nerd's heart with your heartless careless feminine wiles, that you aren't safe anywhere alone because you're so vulnerable as a newly grown young woman on your own, campus rape epidemics, scare stories, whatever--i just went into self protective mode which alternately involved shutting down my physical being and trying to stuff it down into nothingness and trying to make light of it by acting like it was fun to party or mess around and nothing could get to me or hurt me really emotionally. neither were that great. it just took time and experience being vulnerable with people i trusted and grew to love, even the stuff thay didn't work out gave me experience and over time it got easier. one thing that might make you feel better is "empowering" feminist texts documenting some of whatever frustrations you feel (for me that included nancy friday and shere hite's admittedly dated but still useful surveys of women's feelings about relationships and sex, a buncha theory texts, readers like listen up: voices from the next feminist generation, and eventually pro-sex feminist stuff like carol queen and pat califia and susie bright, etc.). it was just a relif to know i wasn't alone in my confusion and alienation sex-wise at first.
posted by ifjuly at 8:20 AM on August 12, 2011

Yes, therapy and counseling! Go you for realizing this stuff so young. I wish I'd written this post at your age and gotten help, instead of waiting till I was in my 30's, much heavier, much more anxious, and still terrified of my own sexuality. Let me tell you, professionals can help So Much, and the world on the other side is Awesome. You deserve awesome!
posted by ldthomps at 8:57 AM on August 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

why do I feel so ashamed of myself, and why am I so paralyzed to do anything about it?

That's depression, as the others have said. It has many, many symptoms, but they almost all boil down to you feeling awful about yourself in various ways. The disease wants you to feel like shit, that's its survival mechanism.

I was in much the same place at 19, and if I could send myself a note back in time I would introduce myself to the concept of "clean living": Get off the Pill, stop worrying about men, don't be friends with crazy people, don't mistake drama for character and substance, eat food made of real food, actually make school a priority, go outside occasionally, and find a decent therapist and engage in the therapy process if all those other things aren't helping enough.

The sooner you do even the smallest thing to stabilize your tailspin, the sooner you will start feeling better. I am fairly certain that most women have a pretty dramatic hormonal shift right around 19-20 that, combined with the typical life changes around that age, makes one very vulnerable to a really intense bout of depression. Riding it out in misery doesn't seem to work out terribly well for most, so don't let the disease talk you out of getting some help.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:52 AM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here's another vote from a skeptical, non-woo-ey person for restorative yoga. It can be remarkably effective at helping you to build a good relationship with your own body, whatever shape it's in.
posted by Corvid at 1:12 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's okay. Many of us could have written major portions of this ourselves at 19.

It's great that you're doing okay in school. Keep performing adequately.

I would suggest that you break up with that guy because you're not into him and it wouldn't be fair to lead him on (I don't usually get this mushy, but there's a nonzero chance he actually has feelings).

Maybe stay off alcohol altogether, at least until the end of this coming year.

Your college must have a counselling service, so I suggest going there about all of this, but especially the eating problems.

Based on my own experience I would suggest making schoolwork your first priority, even if that means you do an hour's work a day when you would otherwise have done zero. I say this as somebody who picked up the secondary literature on Tristan the night before the final, then gave up and watched a zombie movie. Compared to me, those zombies were positively full of the joys of spring. I say this because I would probably have had more choices with a better class degree, if only because my morale would have been slightly less terrible.

However, there is no substitute for addressing the underlying problem, which is what your student counselling services are for.
posted by tel3path at 3:40 PM on August 12, 2011

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