I feel trapped in my very own Bell Jar
January 10, 2012 6:50 AM   Subscribe

I have no friends, no life, and am trapped in a dysfunctional family. Help me. Snowflake details inside.

I am male, aged 20 and a half. I have dropped out of college twice - first because I didn't study and procrastinated the year out and the second time because of social anxiety (being surrounded by kids 3 years younger than me).

Right now I am not doing anything worthwhile, I spend my days reading books and browsing the Internet and working on writing fiction for what I dream will be my perfect novel that will eventually win be a Nobel.

I live with my parents and my elder sister. We are a middle-class family. Dad is ex-Air Force, works in a government office. Mother is a housewife and sister is a successful hospital administration counsellor working at a reputed hospital. That makes me the problem child of the family.

My dad and my mum don't get along and never have. All my life I've seen my dad verbally abuse her, even in front of me and my sister. He proclaims to me that she is a 'certified idiot' who can't get anything right. My mother has been silently suffering him, and put her stocks in at least making sure her kids had successful futures. So you can see what a disappointment I am to them.

My father thinks he is the most perfect man in the world, and that he knows the right way to do everything. The people around him are the ones that are idiots, the biggest of whom would of course be my mother. He has never apologised to anyone his entire life and he finds his anger and abusing perfectly justified.

I generally give him the silent treatment, because I am scared shitless when he starts yelling. After my second dropping-out, I was taken to a psychiatrist whom I haven't been co-operating with. He put me on pills that did nothing but make me sleepy and impotent. I told him about these symptoms and he told me to get off of them.

I was feeling extremely sluggish and fevered as withdrawal symptoms and got into a fight with my dad over how he treats mum. As always, he didn't fight me directly, he yelled at mum for everything. She is the one who teaches me to talk back to his own dad and has spoiled and pampered me into becoming a failure in life, he said. He spent the whole of today's morning abusing mother before work while I pretended to be asleep.

My sister and I don't get along too well - we are too different in opinions, tastes, ways of thinking. She is 8 years older than me and pretty much a third parent. We stopped talking after I dropped out the second time and that is how it is today.

The communication lines in my family are like this:

Dad > Sis > Mum > Me

Dad doesn't talk to mum, I don't talk to sis, etc.

I don't go out of the house, am not interested in studying (in a school) or working. I keep dreaming of writing my novel (and procrastinating). I have no real-life friends, but am emotionally very close to 2-3 pen pals.

The past two days have been pretty shitty for me. I feel angry and powerless. I'm here at Ask MeFi just for some advice. I really don't know what to do anymore.

What exactly do I do? Contact at: 992ker@hmamail.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
1. Get a job. If you find your social anxiety deters you from doing so, then find counseling of some sort. Being dependent on your parents is going to make it difficult to resolve any issues with them.

2. Move out. You're 20 years old, two years into being a legal adult. It's time to cut the cord.
posted by xingcat at 6:55 AM on January 10, 2012 [10 favorites]

1. Counseling, including talk therapy. Build yourself up and get new habits.
2. I'm not asking this to judge you at all, but why didn't you cooperate with your psychiatrist? If there was something about him/her that made you uncomfortable, see a new one.
3. As you get up to a baseline of stability, get a job and save up rubles.
4. Use those rubles to get the hell out of that house.
5. Continue to accumulate rubles so that your parents will not have any financial leverage over you.
6. Go back to school when you feel ready, if that's what you need to eventually do.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:00 AM on January 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

Cooperate with your shrink. He can't help you if you dick around.

Take a creative writing class. It will move you forward on your writing and help you meet people.

Get a job and move out.
posted by looli at 7:11 AM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not all meds will make you dopey and impotent. Try cooperating with your psychiatrist; it's their job to help find the right meds that will help you.
And then (or do this first) get a crappy, low-stress job (maybe something where you don't have to interact with people much), and move out. You may see your anxiety lessen when you do.
posted by chowflap at 7:12 AM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

None of these people sound pleasant to live with and I think it's a good idea to get a job and move out. Twenty is well and truly old enough. I had family dysfunction like this and at 20, I'd had enough. I wanted to find better people to be around so I got a small backpack, put shit in it and got some working visas to Europe and went traveling for three years. I had a blast and met great people, had adventures, lived in a bunch of different countries, read amazing books, saw great things, saw sad stuff that put my own home life into perspective. I came back, got my own house, went back to university and graduated with prizes. I mean, hell, you want to be a writer - go traveling and accumulate some adventures.

Get out there. Get some experiences outside of this sad shit and put your parents' dysfunctional relationship into perspective so that you don't find yourself in the same situation one day. Twenty is the start of an adult decade, get going!
posted by honey-barbara at 7:15 AM on January 10, 2012 [10 favorites]

I read this quote recently:

“Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.”

and it really hit home with me. I really see it resonating with your situation, too.

You're twenty years old now, and you need to take responsibility for your life. Nothing is going to change unless you change it. You sound depressed to me, but you're unwilling to work with a doctor or therapist to change that. Your life probably will not get better until you get your depression successfully addressed - and you can get it addressed - but it's not going to get better unless you actually do something about it. You're an adult now, and nobody is going to solve your problems for you.

You're also not going to change your family, ever, so I would recommend learning to let go of their issues and forge ahead in life without holding onto resentments about who they are and the way they treat each other. Parents are just people, with their own issues and insecurities. I see so many people holding onto anger about who their parents were and really struggling in life as a result, but there is nothing to be gained from that attitude. You're not going to fix them or change them or make them see how they've hurt you in the past. You can only make your life into what you want it to be, regardless of the household you were raised in.
posted by something something at 7:15 AM on January 10, 2012 [19 favorites]

I agree that getting a job and moving out would be a great step. I was in a kind of similar situation when I was 19 or so. I had a bad relationship with my father (yelling at me, telling me I was a screw up, that I'd never amount to anything...), really low self esteem, depression, all that stuff.

Just getting and keeping a minimum wage job improved my self esteem greatly, I started setting goals for myself, kept getting better and better jobs, etc. First I moved out (room mates!) then I moved to another city and got my own place. After a few years of keeping my father at arm's length, I was able to have an okay relationship with him, because I was able to set boundaries as an adult that I couldn't as a person dependent on him.

I also was able to use my new-found independence and self esteem to go back to college, and I eventually managed to make it through and now I have a degree and everything, something I couldn't really imagine at 19 as a one-semester college dropout.

Getting a job is a lot easier said than done, I know, but even a really crappy job will do a lot for you. Just having your own money is great, and you'll meet people and make connections that can help you get better jobs, etc. I have really bad social anxiety myself, to the point that even today I dread things like going to the grocery store and taking out the trash and have to psych myself up to make phone calls. If your social anxiety is worse than that, maybe cooperating with your therapist could be helpful to you. Mine right now is largely untreated, but I have to acknowledge, to myself, that it does impair me and makes my life worse and if I was smart I would do something about that.
posted by Arethusa at 7:23 AM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

I agree with Xingcat. You have to do for yourself and there's good work to be done. I was in a similar situation after high school and I found my motivation in being hellbent on not relying on my parents. I took the first job I could get and focused on finding better ones, by hook or by crook. I moved into my own place and the world opened up. Don't worry about school until you're ready (I've just started myself at 34 - take the time you need).

In my case, I had to teach myself to find my own value, and that meant setting goals I knew I could reach. Exercise, get a job, go to work, get a paycheck, get back account, deposit X into savings, find an apartment. I'd set one goal a day and try like hell to reach that goal. I learned from my failures. Start small and let them naturally get bigger as you can take on more. Keep them realistic. Accept the help of people who can and want to help.

Your novel is important to you. First acknowledge that it may take years or decades to complete. Breathe a sigh of relief. Your process is yours and yours alone. Don't abandon it, and realize that 5 minutes a day of writing or brainstorming is better than no minutes a day. Take ownership of it, and take ownership of your life.
posted by Perthuz at 7:25 AM on January 10, 2012 [7 favorites]

Nthing getting a job, even if it's just as a pint-puller, burger-flipper or coffee-pourer. It will get you out of the house and earning some scratch. You may not feel like working, but you need to get out of the house, even if you have to force yourself. If you're really serious about writing the next great novel, you need a perspective on the human condition, and that won't come from sitting in your room surfing the net. Working in a public-facing job that gives you the ability to watch lots and lots of people come and go will probably be a benefit to you.

You also need to stay out of the house longer than just a shift at the local KrustyBurger. You need to meet people, and you need to write, so get involved! Is there some journalist or creative writing club near you that you could join and take part in? Could you volunteer at a local newspaper? Or craft some short pieces about local events and places and shop them round to various local magazines or newspapers. Go interview some local elderly person and do a retrospective of some point of the town's history. I have a friend in Mississippi who has made a name for herself doing just such pieces for the local paper, and has amassed an incredible store of local lore and stories, which she now tells to elementary school students. See where I'm going with this?
posted by LN at 7:27 AM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Your family probably want you out of the house as badly as you want to get out of there. Maybe your dad or mom or sister knows someone who can hook you up with even a shitty job. Your home life sounds rough, but I doubt any of these people want you to fail. The fact that they took you to shrink rather than kicking your ass out of the house or whatever is a far brighter glimmer of hope than you think it is. Cooperate with the doctor (or find another one), find medication that works for you -- it's not an exact science, and you'll often hear the term "cocktail" when people talk about the combination of psychiatric medicine that works for them -- and then try your best to get a job and leave home.

You don't need to be interested in the job that first pays your rent when you leave home -- I certainly had no interest in making sandwiches on the graveyard shift -- but you can make the best of the situation, develop rapport, make friends, whatever. Then you can make the rest of your life interesting around it. The hard part is convincing yourself that doing well at even the worst job is good if not for the money and experience, but for building confidence and diligence in yourself. Cleaning toilets isn't profitable or glamorous, but it can teach you a lot of valuable lessons.

Now I'll never recommend financial dependence on family you don't really like, but have you tried asking your parents or sister if they'll support you for a short while as you try to get on your feet? I never in the world thought my mom, with whom I had an awful home life, would be okay with that when I dropped out at your age, but she floated me rent until I got my shit together.
posted by griphus at 7:28 AM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

You're 20! That is way too soon for anyone to declare you a failure. I agree with the statements above about giving counseling another go and trying to become financially independent.

I wish I had figured out what I wanted to do before attempting college. I was not ready, and felt lost and underqualified the whole time.

What's really helped me with confidence and anxiety is doing things alone. Start with getting around-- bus to the library, bike to the store, walk to the park. Just having the power to LEAVE can mean a lot. Every obstacle feels scary and insurmountable at first, but if you force yourself to take the first steps, the doing gets easier.

Best of luck dude!
posted by stompadour at 7:31 AM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Okay, you're still really young.

One thing that made my twenties hard for me was hearing from my parents a lot of stuff about how I was always-already a failure, it was too late for me to start an academic program, etc etc. So whenever I did work stuff or schooling stuff, I always had a feeling that I was behind, it was too late, I should be further along than I was. As a result, I did not perceive that actually I was in a perfectly normal situation with many age peers. Also that while two or three years seemed like a HUGE deal to twenty-ish me, it really wasn't.

So my point is, you have plenty of time - don't worry about age and achievement.

It can take a long time to come back from depression or an episode of acute anxiety/avoidance - months or a year even once you're starting to get better. If someone says "get a job and move out right now, you're an adult" and that feels overwhelming, it's okay. It is overwhelming. It may not be something you can do right away.

I would suggest some regular interactions with the outside world, starting with very small ones if you have to. Can you walk somewhere every day and become a regular? Go to the same cafe, go to the library. Could you handle going to a class or a regular event?

Also, take walks (or ride your bike) - start with very short ones that you can handle, even if it's just "I'm going to walk around the block twice".

Once you're able to structure your days more, start volunteering or try to get some kind of part time job (you can of course cut to this step sooner if you think you can handle it). Remember that you should wait until you feel like you can succeed - if you're still at a place where you can't guarantee that you'll be able to get out of bed every day, stick to something low-stakes.

Are there free services like phone lines or walk-in counseling available to you? Some kind of support network that is less formal than the psychiatrist that can help you as you work toward moving out?

Here's my thought - extremely controlling and critical families can cause paralysis. You can feel (consciously or not) that any choice you make might be a bad one, so it's better to stay paralyzed. Or you can feel that you have to wait for directions from a critical or controlling parent, so it's hard to be self directed and self motivated. This can happen at the unconscious level so that it's hard to attack.

So the thing to do is to try to get moving and get self-directed by taking baby steps.

You can do it. In a year, you can look back on this time and it will just be a memory. In a couple of years, you can have a new life far away from this one. It may not feel like that, but it's true.
posted by Frowner at 7:38 AM on January 10, 2012 [13 favorites]

Going at this from a different angle, because in retrospect I wished that I had recognized these things at your age.

I grew up in a home that had very similar conditions.

In the end, you will have to decide how to deal with these things moving forward (move now? later?), but, it really is not healthy to be there. Your father's opinion on everyone (eg. your mother, the word (=everyone is idiots) -- I'm sure that he says these things to you, can eat away at you and even if you are away years later you will still here those voices. So get far away if you can. Looking back, I wish I had gotten therapy then to deal with that stuff.

As for your mother, I did not recognize this in my own family until later. She has decided to stay there and decided that the behavior is okay. She may leave someday, but do remember that she has made some sort of decision. Good for you in sticking up for her and perhaps she will start to listen to you.

I also wanted to point out something to you OP. You mention that you were sent to a psychiatrist. That indicates that your parent(s) do care for you --so even if you are called names and there is not effective communication going on, they do care at some level.

Also, nthing the other posters above. This is a tool that you can use to get well (you mentioned not going to school because of anxiety). There are many, many tools that the psychiatrist knows about - CBT, therapy, medication....talk to him/her and find what works best for you. But you do need this so that you can go to school, get a job, whatever.
posted by Dances with sock puppets at 7:40 AM on January 10, 2012

... or you could stay, and continue to observe your mother, sister, and yourself being abused by your father, continue being closed towards your therapist, and continue to do nothing which makes you particularly proud.

Point is that it's your choice, i.e., it's in nobody's power but your own.
posted by labberdasher at 8:24 AM on January 10, 2012

If you are depressed (sounds like you might be), even doing some small activity can help you to feel a little bit better and (eventually) lead to more activity. But start small. Get up from your desk and go outside for a 5 minute or 10 minute walk. Take the bus to the library. You don't have to borrow any books, just bring your notebook and write about what you see, about the people on the bus, etc. Getting out of the house, even for a few hours, will help more than you think.
posted by tuesdayschild at 8:48 AM on January 10, 2012

Hey, it may seem like a crapshoot that you may have to achieve financial independence from your family before being able to resolve the intense anger/powerlessness you are experiencing now. FWIW, it is. Nothing can soften the blow of how grossly unfair it is that you could be a more functioning, happier person today if only your family had their emotional sh*t together.

But at this juncture most people from similar family environments can confirm that physically/financially getting out is the first, hardest, most genuine step to emotionally getting out of the headspace you're lost in now. I've taken this step, and going back now would be like trying to force a chick back into an egg. You're meant to grow, not rot away inside an obsolete shell.

It may be great that your parents were willing to send you to a psychiatrist, but it would have been greater if they had been willing to sit down and genuinely listen to your concerns vs. medicate you all better. People who cannot effectively listen to you teach you to not effectively listen to yourself --the hard truth is that you can do better than that, and yes, it will be rough, but it will also be the most liberating gift that you can afford to give yourself. Make yourself a plan and stick to it until you get there. Best of luck!
posted by human ecologist at 8:51 AM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have been almost in your exact situation--but I stayed in school because my parents told me I had no choice and when I could not find a job for months after graduating and had to live with my parents, was the failure of the family.

I too was dragged to a psychiatrist by my parents and was perscribed medication that i had terrible side effects from and left me terrified of ever taking medication and doubtful it would ever work for me. I didn't want to cooperate with my psychiatrist or therapist because they were not MY doctors--they were the ones my parents forced me to go to in an attempt to "fix" me so I resented the whole situatoin and never trusted them.

First things first: get a job. Being able to support yourself and move out will probably be the best thing--even if you hate your job, you get to come home to a place that is your own and is free from fear and people who make you feel like shit. Make a plan!

Keep reading and writing because it's obviously something you love.

If you want to, think about seeing counseling and/or a new psychiatrist on your own. You don't have to tell your family (this part might be easier when you have a job). But when you make the decision to seek the help that you want, on your terms, it's very different than when someone makes you go. It's not because you are the "problem child," it's because you're an adult who is taking care of themselves. Get your records from your old doctors if you can--it could help your new doctor choose a medication for you that will be a better fit.

I totally understand feeling angry and powerless--it makes it very difficult to help yourself. feel free to memail me if you'd like. Moving out of my parents house was probably the best thing i ever did for myself, my mental health, and my relationship with my parents. My dad and I still don't exactly talk, but I don't live in constant fear of him, and he is a lot kinder to my mother without me around.

Best of luck!
posted by inertia at 9:00 AM on January 10, 2012

You're not a disappointment to your mum. She doesn't want you to succeed in some mega way or be a superman, she just wants you to be happy. If you worry about disappointing her, you're not happy, so you're going in the wrong direction with that train of thought.

Resist the worries and depressive routes of thinking. Improve your life, improve your outlook, whether in big changes or baby steps. She will be so happy to see you doing it. And if you worry about her "suffering in silence" then do little things every day to relieve it - pick her flowers, give her a shoulder rub.

You're not a bad person or a failing person, or a disappointment.
posted by greenish at 9:02 AM on January 10, 2012

I didn't see this listed above, so here is a link to the National Domestic Abuse Hotline. I think they might be able to point you to some resources that will help.

I see a lot of great advice above, but you may have a hard time starting on making positive changes in your life without a little emotional healing. If you don't like the psychiatrist they sent you to, could you negotiate to see a counselor you like better?
posted by annsunny at 9:27 AM on January 10, 2012

I apologize if I listing similar advice, but I am rushing between classes. I was in a similar situation at 19. Here is what I did:

1. I got two jobs. Financial independence, I believe, is the only way to get out of a dysfunctional situation. I deposited half of each check into a long-term savings account to establish an emergency fund. You need at least 6 months worth of living expenses in the fund before you decide your next course of action.

2. I built a rapport with my co-workers and clientele. I was cheerful, friendly, and showed mutual respect for others. This is what led to my current circle of close friends. In addition, I looked for mentors. Mentors are light-years ahead of you in terms of dealing with drama. Find people who you admire and who you can trust. They will ultimately serve as your cushion of support.

3. Lastly, I decided what I truly wanted to do. For me, going back to school was a necessity. I did not want to work in a minimum wage job for the rest of my life. What do you want do? Travel? Do an internship? Learn a new language? By having some sort of passion, it enables me to concentrate more on myself--especially when I am at home.

I will e-mail you account with more suggestions...in the meantime, don't be too hard on yourself :]
posted by nikayla_luv at 9:43 AM on January 10, 2012

Regardless of your parents' opinions, what you are doing isn't working because you're not writing. You desperately need subject matter to write about. Maybe you could take inspiration from the lives of some of your fellow nobel-prize-winning novelists like Hemingway? You don't have to settle for a boring life. Run away. Seriously. Have some adventures. Take some risks. Go to parties you wouldn't normally dare to. Make some real life friends and real life enemies. There's a distinguished tradition of young aspiring writers moving away from home, penniless, to big cities like New York and Paris and getting simple day jobs while writing their novels. Worst case, you end up sleeping in a park or shelter for a while. That would be fantastic material for your book.
posted by steinwald at 9:46 AM on January 10, 2012

If sis doesn't talk to you, then she is part of the problem too, not only your dad. Your sis is old enough to move out, and you're about to. So what holds back your mom?

If she really did want to get away, she'd find a place for you and her, leaving her husband. It seems like she somehow wants to stay, maybe too afraid of the unknown, or how she's going to get money.
posted by flif at 11:30 AM on January 10, 2012

If your family life is a piece of your depression, it's time to extract yourself and recognize that your parents are adults, as you are. If being in this dynamic makes you even the least bit uncomfortable or disagreeable, treat it civil, and live life with what you want to do in front of you. Having autonomy pays dividends. Being independent and out of the house may just free your mind.

As you are 20 years old, you are an adult. Maybe not so experienced. Maybe doing things for the sake of doing them. At this point, if you don't feel like going to school, don't. Go out and support your betterment, on and off paper, by getting a job and your own residence away from these people.

Set goals in whatever you want to do, and do them. Find job(s). Make money, save money, find a better job, exercise, travel, make friends, make progress with your therapist, new hobbies, new topics, write, volunteer. Live. There's so much you can do and learn by self-exploration.

I had depression for a while, went to and from school before deciding to take a break and just work. At 25, I have 2 jobs, get to chase my interests and enjoy myself, even if I don't make very much ATM. All the while looking at other avenues for motivation/positions that better suit my talent and skill. Whenever college comes back into the picture, I'll be ready to walk that bridge.
posted by Giggilituffin at 11:56 AM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was in a similar space at your age. I bailed on the family, drove two states away and slept on the beach for a while, smoking pot and being generally useless. After a time I found myself homeless and adrift - one night I woke up in a bush, covered with biting ants. So, feeling desperate and foolish, I joined the navy.

BOOM - I had my own money, plenty of food and clothes, was given job training, and shown how to properly exercise. I was well used to being shouted at back at home, and was thoroughly accustomed to the small-mindedness that can be pervasive in the military, so that wasn't a shock at all. I was an emotional retard for a long, long time - depressed, unable to function at the same emotional level as my piers, afraid of new situations, etc.; but having a place to live and my own, independent source of income grounded me in a way I hadn't previously known.

It is not necessarily a safe or easy option, but joining the military will take you away from your family more or less immediately. Your ex-military dad will probably be overjoyed (when my step-father at the time, and ex-military guy himself, learned that I was joining up he said, "That'll be good for the little faggot. They'll teach him how to be a man." A real charmer, that guy). Not that you have to give a shit what your father thinks, but it might make him ease up a bit on your mom.

I should tell you that once I realized that I was completely independent from my family, and what a toxic influence they had always been on my life, I stopped talking to them. Other than my father, who I have made a very deliberate and measured effort to get to know as an adult, I haven't spoken to anyone in my family since 1992. I'm not suggesting that you do anything like that, just offering it here as evidence of how you can do as you please once you have full control over your own life.

Good luck with this, kid. You're in a tough place, but whatever you choose to do you need to keep your own best interests in mind. Focus yourself and pull yourself out of the shit. Good luck.
posted by Pecinpah at 12:23 PM on January 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Nthing get a job, any job. Get out of there. Get into trouble of your own making.
posted by ead at 10:29 PM on January 10, 2012

Do you stay in that environment because you thrive on being miserable? Do you find life easier if you just go ahead and consider yourself a loser and a worthless bum and go fool around on the internet rather than do anything constructive to change your situation? You make me think of a friend who, many years ago, said she'd never marry again unless the guy came and knocked on her door and swept her off her feet. Is that what you're expecting?

It's way time for you to decide how you want to live and start doing it. If you feel bogged down and trapped in the place you're in and you don't like it, move to another city altogether - just take off and start living a life somewhere entirely new. You're going to be surprised at how quickly you'll shed the "Loser" label once you start actually controlling your own life, making decisions, working toward whatever you think you want for yourself, and accomplishing things that benefit your life; then you'll feel in control, which is exactly what you don't feel now.

But you have to decide. Some people just sit back and fit into the image they're given because it's easier that way. When I was a kid, I was continually made to feel worthless, but my reaction, which was different from that of my sibling, was "Oh, yeah? One day you're going to find out exactly how wrong you are" - and that's what kept me motivated all my working years.

It just depends on what you really want and what you're willing to put into it.
posted by aryma at 7:53 PM on January 12, 2012

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