How does one become happy?
March 27, 2012 9:35 PM   Subscribe

I feel like my depression and loneliness are growing worse and it's starting to become unmanageable. I could use some help or some advice or something. I'm not doing so well.

For the past eight years, I've been dealing with severe depression (it goes farther back than that, but that's when I started to get help). Each year has seemed worse and more dim than the last. From 2004 to 2006, I had frequent panic attacks, insomnia. From 2006 to 2007, I was more or less at my best, though prone to moments of extreme anger. From 2007 to 2010, I was drunk, pretty much every night. From 2010 to the spring of 2011, I was still drinking, though this time I was in substance abuse treatment and on medications that helped.

Over the past year, I've been sober. Eleven months, in fact, as of last week. And while there has been a notable increase in my clarity, there has also been a noticeable increase in my isolation, my dislike of other people, and my loneliness. Without alcohol clouding and covering up everything, I've had to return to a 'normal' state of mind which for me is one of self-hatred, self-doubt, constant disappointment in myself and others, and immense frustration.

This stems from a number of things. I don't have many friends (I lost most of my friends while I was drunk from pushing them away, pissing them off, or realizing that they weren't friends but drinking buddies and so I cut them out). I also have zero romantic prospects and zero luck in that sphere (I tend to not get second dates, girls I'm seeing/trying to see are busy or flakey) which in itself brings up a whole host of body image issues I have been struggling to deal with. Pretty much the only interactions I have with people are in passing – gas stations, stores, etc. – except at work. Which is a mixed blessing because of how much I can't stand other people.

The problem is I dislike myself more. And so on nights like tonight, for example, when plans with a coworker ended up getting canceled (with little explanation) and a girl I've been out with a few times is, once again, delivering nothing but radio silence (we went out twice a couple weeks ago and while she says she wants to see me again, it sure doesn't seem that way), I began to feel that loneliness and hear the negativity in my head in a big way. And that makes me want to go out and drink.

I've tried to be open and receptive to making friends. I try to hang out with my coworkers on a regular basis. But I don't know what else to do. I have no interest in anything at this point in time and I struggle to force myself to do anything social (usually because it involves either alcohol or having to deal with people who for one reason or another (whether it's their having a significant other or being in decent shape or whatever) make me feel insignificant, worthless, hopeless.

On nights like tonight, where I'm just sitting around by myself because there's no one to talk to, no one to hang out with, I start to lose sight of the point of this whole life thing. Especially with each year growing worse and worse, I feel like it's ridiculous to go through all the pain and anger and frustration for...what, exactly? This train of thought is not new; it's been in my head for years. But the amount of which I think about ending myself now, the casualness with which I look at the idea instead of panic that I used to feel, the growing ambivalence towards everything, that's what scares me.

I do see a therapist every week, a psychiatrist every month, and I'm currently on medications and I do exercise, I do sleep right. I recently switched from the day shift to the night shift on my doctor's suggestion because I was recently diagnosed with narcolepsy and he thinks that working nights (when I'm not as tired, can get into bed after work, and can wake up and be active in the morning) is healthier for me. But I'm remembering why I stopped working nights – at nights my depression and my desire to drink rise to their strongest point.

I have no distractions. Video games used to help, but they do nothing for me. I try to read and I just get angry at myself that I haven't been working on my writing or tired and sleepy. I have no interest in anything, like I said, and a very difficult time forcing myself to try to do anything. So here I am, just sitting, wondering why no one ever wants to hang out with me, why I even bother with other people, with my life, what my point or purpose is, why everything is just continually shitty.

I need help.
posted by Modica to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Thank you for asking this question. I could've written a lot of this word for word, including the last part about disinterest in video games and anger/frustration while reading. One of my friends suggested adopting a cat/dog/other fluffy pet to help with the loneliness, to get cuddles, and to give you a sense of purpose. I'm personally seriously considering this idea, and I think it's a good one, so I'll suggest it for you. Try getting a fluffy pet?
posted by retypepassword at 9:47 PM on March 27, 2012

Seconding. Fluffy pet. Fluffy pet. Fluffy pet. That seems to start reshuffling things a bit.
posted by mochapickle at 9:50 PM on March 27, 2012

Best answer: First: You can get through this, and you can get through it without drinking. I know the automatic negative thoughts in your head will automatically respond to that with "No I can't," but they're wrong. The ANTs are always wrong.

Second: remember that Spring, like Autumn, with the change of seasons and the change in daylight, is often when depression is at its worst. So, that might be part of why you're feeling you're at a particularly low point.

You say, "I struggle to force myself to do anything social." When I was deepest in my depression, doing social things was beyond me. It's okay if that's the case. Rather than focusing on your inability to do that, try focusing on your ability to do something, even if it's really small. Give yourself one task each day that would be beyond your normal daily routine. If you get it done, celebrate (even if celebrating is just telling yourself "I accomplished something extra today"). If you don't get it done, there's no skin off your back—it was extra anyway. Hold onto those small accomplishments and use them as your mantras. "I made a nice sandwich. I checked out the new books section at the bookstore. I tried a different radio station." I did, I made, I tried, I achieved and accomplished. Give yourself little victories that you can repeat to yourself.

Here's your first achievement: "I wrote a long post on the internet asking for help with my depression." You did. You wrote about a very personal part of your life, and you shared it with the world. That's something positive.

Here's a hug from the internet.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:55 PM on March 27, 2012 [9 favorites]

(And beyond the achievement of writing this post, 11 months sobriety is really fucking impressive. You have kicked butt at being sober for 11 months. That's fantastic.)
posted by ocherdraco at 9:57 PM on March 27, 2012 [23 favorites]

If you are serious about your writing, you might take some strength from knowing that right now -- right here in the depths of your depression, where it is very painful -- you have a remarkable opportunity to capture your own really intense mental landscape. You're an explorer in the jungle of yourself, in totally dangerous lands, and it's exactly because they're painful and dangerous and there seems to be no escape that, if you can muster up the power to step away from yourself for a moment and observe, you have the chance to convert that pain into something uniquely your own, artistic gold.
posted by shivohum at 10:04 PM on March 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh man have I ever been there. Hell, I basically got my account on MetaFilter (on the night of my birthday, no less) so that I could ask this question. I don't know that I have your solution (I feel like my personal solution was idiosyncratic to say the least) but I will tell you this:

For god's sake man, keep yourself busy. Find some thing you like to do that reliably makes you feel better about yourself after doing it, or better yet make a list of a few such things so that you have a little toolkit of small, self-contained activities that you can engage in to make yourself feel better. These can be things as simple as getting out of the house and taking a walk for a few blocks just so that you don't spend an entire day inside, or as complex as teaching yourself a new language. Find some things that are marginally productive in terms of taking care of yourself and your environment, things that bump you out of your mental rut a bit -- social activities, housework, exercise, intellectual stimulation, whatever's good for you -- and when you're feeling down just force yourself do do one of them, any one that you can manage at the time, and then give yourself permission to feel good about having done it.

Whatever you do, don't let yourself get trapped in the bed-work-internet-bed cycle, or worse yet the bed-internet-bed cycle. Keep a little variety, keep yourself moving around a bit. Even if you feel like you don't want to, just go through the motions so that at the end of the day you can say you at least did *something*, even if it was something small.

Beyond that, I don't know what to say right now. I certainly have a lot that I *could* say, though. If you want to talk, feel free to MeMail me. I'd be happy to chat if you want a sympathetic ear and some help trying to find solutions to your depression. Love.
posted by Scientist at 10:09 PM on March 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

You are at almost a year sober now, which is an amazing achievement. You did a great thing last year to begin getting your life back. I am impressed. You are strong and you are taking steps toward a better life. Yes.

Do you feel like your current therapist and doctor are helping you?

Switching to the night shift is counterintuitive if one of your problems is social isolation and loneliness. Is there a chunk of time in the morning when you could find a way to be around people? Volunteering maybe? I'm not sure if you feel like you have enough energy for that, but maybe something to consider. I have always found that depression makes me want to withdraw socially, but it always makes things worse (for me) to withdraw, so keeping routines that force me to interact is important.

(A nice pet can help if you like animals, definitely makes you feel less alone.)

Depression is very hard, I don't mean to minimize it. But also remember that depression tends to make us feel like we can never be happy, like things can never improve - but those feelings are illusory. You can be happy and things can improve. (It takes time, trying different things, etc.) You might find something useful in one of the past threads on depression linked on the "There is help" page on the wiki.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:10 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

And if you feel like you're in a crisis tonight or at any time, call your therapist or call the national suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:13 PM on March 27, 2012

You have lots of company in your state of loneliness and depression. I think that experiencing the depths of depression is an opportunity to see and understand the pain of other people. One of my ways of coping is to be kind in as many ways as I can muster. Some are very small, tiny, inconsequential seeming, but when I can give another person a smile or a bit of relief, it gives me a smile and a bit of relief too.

People always tell me that I have to love myself before I can love others, but I find that loving others helps me love myself.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 10:14 PM on March 27, 2012 [9 favorites]

In all seriousness though, I will say that there is nothing you can do that will make your depression leave you completely. The name of the game is building coping mechanisms, learning to recognize the patterns of your depression, and giving yourself the tools to fight it off and break the patterns before they get you in their grip. I imagine your therapist is already working on this with you but if you want to do some brainstorming on this front I am seriously more than willing to work on that through MeMail. I am not a therapist of any kind, just someone who has been through some of the things that you seem to be going through and who is currently on the other side.

I look at my battle with depression in much the same way as it sounds like you look at your drinking: how long has it been since I had an episode where my depression got the better of me? As of now, I'd say it's been three, maybe four months. And it's been years since I've really been thrown for a loop and lost control of the fight. But it's not something that ever goes away, it's just something you can work on (medication sometimes helps) and get better and better at holding it off. It is totally worth it but it's a lot of work (as you know) and it's a long slog. I will repeat, though: it is totally worth it. If you want to talk about it, get in touch.
posted by Scientist at 10:15 PM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

2nding Ocherdraco - eleven months is a damned good start! At that point, I was not sure at all that I could make it much further.... it's now seven years. One thing that I ran onto was the "Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome" concept... which helped me a GREAT deal for a long time. Here's a writeup- I think you'll find it useful; main thing is that it lasts a long time after you get sober. But you are NOT alone in dealing with this stuff.... and if you want to talk more, memail me too!
posted by drhydro at 10:16 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

As for how to get through this, one day at a time, you may find some of the suggestions in the thread for this question I asked when I was deep in my depression: How can I save each day from failure?
posted by ocherdraco at 10:17 PM on March 27, 2012

So here I am, just sitting, wondering why no one ever wants to hang out with me

It doesn't sound like there is anything fundamentally wrong with you, just that the loathing of people you currently feel is coming through loud and clear. My guess is people feel like you hate them or resent them, or think bad things about them, or you despise their very existence. I'm talking about people you are trying to date or make friends with. Sensing that someone feels that way about you makes people feel really bad.

You're a good writer, so can you work on being a good actor for a defined period of time, maybe 3 hours per week? You need to act like you really like the people you are trying to make friends with, that you think nothing but really good things about them, that they make you happy.

I'm not saying you ACTUALLY have to feel this way. Just work on being a really, really good actor who is not giving your true feelings away at all. You don't have to do it all the time, just for a length of time you can mentally handle. But do NOT interact with people you are trying to make friends with or date at any other time.

People who for one reason or another (whether it's their having a significant other or being in decent shape or whatever) make me feel insignificant, worthless, hopeless.

You are going to need to come to terms with this eventually but for right now, why not hang out with single people who aren't in "good shape"? The world is teeming with them, and many of them are great people who make great friends.
posted by cairdeas at 10:20 PM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

There was a point within the last year when if it hadn't been for my adorable, utterly dependent puppy I would have put serious thought into whether I wanted to consider suicide. I even had a stash of painkillers (around 100 pills) that I was trying not to think about downing with a bottle of whisky. Luckily I adore this pup so much the thought of her finding a home where she wouldn't be so well loved (and could even be neglected or abused) was even worse than the idea of continuing to struggle through every day.

It doesn't have to be a fluffy pet, just something that gives you a reason to smile at least once a day. I don't recommend focusing that energy on a person or relationship because if the person flakes or the relationship doesn't work out the depression will come back and with a vengeance (*cough* the reason my depression got so bad I was close to contemplating ending it all...)

Part of what helped me drag myself enough out of that pit depression to begin trying to be a semi-functional person again was focusing on the ways my pup makes me smile and laugh each day... and supplementing that by finding other things that do the same. Some days it has been a thing as simple as finding a warm spot of sun to stand in during a cold morning. Sometimes I go through a few days without finding anything, and each day I go without a reason to smile or laugh it becomes harder to look for something the following day... but when I've had a string of good days all in a row, I feel like I could conquer the world.

At some point I intend to add therapy into that mix as well
posted by myShanon at 10:40 PM on March 27, 2012

you're a writer -- have you considered joining any online writing communities, like I finally broke down and did so a few years ago during an intensely lonely time, and it was one of the best moves I've ever made. I've formed numerous friends-for-life kinds of friendships that way, with writers/authors I talk to every single day and have (eventually) met in real life. writing is solitary and lonely by nature, and there are tons of incredible people who write and who are longing for like-minded friends.

also, yes yes yes to the fluffy pet.
posted by changeling at 10:43 PM on March 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

I don't think you are getting worse and worse; I think you are just in the part of substance abuse recovery that completely sucks monkey butt.

Without alcohol clouding and covering up everything, I've had to return to a 'normal' state of mind which for me is one of self-hatred, self-doubt, constant disappointment in myself and others, and immense frustration.

I think this is super, incredibly, unbelievably common in recovery. You had bad feelings, so you drank to ignore them. When you stopped drinking, there the bad feelings were, all, "HIYA, BUD, GOOD TO SEE YOU AGAIN!!" Like they were waiting for you, the jerks.

Would you consider going to recovery meetings? They would give you some social interaction and might help you develop some coping skills for facing bad shit while sober.

One thing that definitely helps me when I'm in that "of course I live to serve humanity; it's just that I hate everyone" mindset is doing the adult version of parallel play- yoga or exercise class, church service, some little class or volunteering with manual labor (stocking stuff at food pantry, painting something), etc. Keeps me around people, but generally doesn't require me to interact with them for more than a few minutes at a time if I'm not feeling it. I prefer the versions with movement, but YMMV.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 10:44 PM on March 27, 2012 [8 favorites]

I bought a hand clicker. You know, one of those things that people use to count how many people are going into a concert or something? During my worst days, I pull it out and use it to keep track of things. Somedays it was - how many things did I do today. Pick up my socks: click. Drink water, click. Check my email. click. read nyt article. click. Because somedays it would feel like I'd done NOTHING, and looking down and seeing - wait, no, I did 14 things today. I may feel totally ambivalent about them, but I did do something. Somedays, I'd actually click whenever I experienced anything I was grateful for. Funny tv comedy better off ted on netflix. Click. cherry blossoms. Click. Indoor plumbing? click. Because somedays it felt like there was NOTHING to be grateful for. Sometimes I'd click for all the negative thoughts in my head. When I looked down at the end of the day, I'd see something like 78, and say, man! No wonder I feel so shitty.

Clicking sort of helped me put things in perspective, while I was busy feeling shitty. Sometimes I'd see how many times I thought 'why is life worth it'? and if in the end of the day it was 26 times, I'd see if the number just went down the next day. I didn't try to 'get out there', or 'reach out to friends'. I just focused on living with myself and waited to see what happened next. Everything feels so monotonous and grey, it helped to note that there was change. And helped until something changed. Yeah, everythIng turns down, but with enough time, somehow things always turned up. That and reading Full catastrophe Living pretty much is what I hold onto when things get rough.

It doesn't so much make you feel better (except for the gratitude one), but it does make you aware.

And so voting up for a fluffy pet. They don't care if you've bathed. They don't need you to be a good conversationist. They don't need you to 'like yourself'. They need food, and a place to sleep, and petting and love. And if it's a dog, they need a walk, which will at least get you out of your house. Pet, yes.
posted by It's a Parasox at 11:27 PM on March 27, 2012 [18 favorites]

After dealing with Depression for almost 20 years, I found that cutting off my dysfunctional family and every personal and professional and institutional (like banks, schools, credit cards) that resembled the dysfunctional patterns of my upbringing really helped, no cured!, my Depression. Forever.

It happened organically, and took about 5 years.

You can't change others or change the world, necessarily, but you CAN change yourself.

Every time I see a depression related question on AskMe I want to jump up and down and ask, "What are you holding on to that is making you sad? DROP THAT. It will only continue to make you sad!"

Congratulations on your sobriety!

People (including mental health professionals) are often so negative about making core changes that might really help, but I can't see why, since it is so effective.


Just today I was thinking about a weird little financial transaction back in 2007 I helped facilitate in which I highly suspected one of the parties was going to get screwed out of a couple of hundred dollars. They did get screwed. I talked it over with a friend this evening. I'm financially solvent now, and I'm off to search my emails, find the person who got got screwed, contact them, and send them a check. No, I did not directly throw this person under the bus, but looking back, I knew better. At the time I just did what was convenient, but it was bullshit, because underneath, I knew better.

These are the kinds of "wrongs" you can make "right" once you have your shit together. And it's not necessary, but hopefully like me, you will one day find yourself in a place where you can say, "Hey - I'm going to make a difference!" And then you do.


Life has a point. It's about being Good to yourself first, until you have so much Good you can spread it around.

When I was lonely like you, I did a lot of walking. hiking, and exercise while listening to cool podcasts. I made furniture and other stuff. I began and finished projects, things I could do solo.

Eventually, I met my wonderful spouse, landed a great job, and now we're on to other things. I will say that friends came last - in that I made and lost/rejected a lot of friendships until recently, when I have now started to really feel confident in my boundaries, actions, and choices in relationships. It's a process, not everyone is meant to be in your life for 20 years, sometimes they're meant to be around for 20 minutes, or 20 seconds. Regardless, I keep it positive.


My ideas are unusual, maybe, but they work for me. So I'm offering it up.

posted by jbenben at 12:07 AM on March 28, 2012 [8 favorites]

I think you should keeep writing.
posted by bebrave! at 12:48 AM on March 28, 2012

Maybe you should talk to your doctor about how you're feeling worse - and if working nights makes things harder for you, you should stop, if possible.

I also want to say, that I don't think depression is always a lifelong curse. I was depressed for years, but I don't think I am any more, although I do certainly still experience some dim times: but I haven't felt that awful grinding hopelessness in literally years. I think time helped as much as anything, for me. It might be the same for you. But possibly, at very least, you can consider this a low point in your depression cycle, and you know it will lift, eventually.

And I think you should keep writing, too.
posted by thylacinthine at 1:09 AM on March 28, 2012

Go to an AA meeting--acceptance, possible new friends, social interaction--and go regularly. find one that works for you--different meetings have different cultures--it will help.
posted by rmhsinc at 4:45 AM on March 28, 2012

Congratulations on quitting drinking! That is seriously difficult. Everyone here has great suggestions so I will not echo them, but wanted to pop in to say that when I quit drinking in '06, the thing that really focused me and help me hold it together was the fact that I decided to train for a marathon. It's something I'd always wanted to do, and it honestly was something simple that took a huge amount of time every week (that I would otherwise have spent sitting around festering and wanting to drink). Just head out the door and run for 5 miles, or 15, one foot in front of the other.

Of course, you may despise running, so that may not be the best suggestion for you, but wanted to suggest doing something you've always wanted to do. Running was best for me because it was, as I mentioned, pretty simple. I could have trained with others but kept it solitary. But maybe you could undertake learning a new language (as someone upthread mentioned) or getting yourself out the door once a week to a class of some sort. Something easy to get going on that you're likely to stick with.

I have immense amounts of admiration for people who quit drinking because it is seriously fucking difficult. I wish you the best.
posted by indognito at 5:40 AM on March 28, 2012

Seconding AA. Even if you're not into the whole 12 Step thing you'll meet other people who understand what you're going through, people from whom you might learn something useful. Try a few different meetings until you find one that you like. People often go out for coffee afterwards.

Exercise will also help you feel better both physically and emotionally. Join a gym and get in shape.

Volunteer a few hours a week.
posted by mareli at 6:22 AM on March 28, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice and support. I wanted to answer a few things:

- I should volunteer. It always nags at me to do so, to volunteer to work with kids (I really enjoy kids, I find them inspiring and hilarious and so creative). But my mind likes to remind me of the time when I was a mentor to a kid and then basically abandoned him and it guilt trips me away from volunteering. Or how I am just an irresponsible, unreliable person and that if I'm volunteering and I'm like that, the repercussions are not just professional but personal and emotional as well and. You get the idea.

- I can't work days, as much as I hate working nights, because then things are worse. When I work days, I am filled with a near-crippling fatigue that I've mentioned on here before. It kills any energy or motivation I could have to do anything.

- Scientist, there's nothing I know of that makes me feel better with any reliability that can also be pursued as a hobby. The one thing I know For Sure that makes me feel better is driving. I love driving. And back when gas was a dollar, yeah, I'd go driving for an hour or two and just go exploring. But that's not possible now (stupid gas). I'd also like to learn how to fly but that costs a lot more than I have money for. Between the 40K that I'm in debt for because of my going to treatment twice and the 60K in student loans and my paltry Starbucks paycheck, I really don't have much money to do anything.

- I do have a pet! My cat. She's a spoiled jerk but I enjoy her. I also have a love/hate relationship with my parents' dog. I don't like dogs; I find them cumbersome and irritating. But no one else really takes care of him (takes him on walks, gets him things to play around with) and so now and then I'll enjoy his presence.

- cairdeas, the people I actually take the time to hang out with, I actually really enjoy. I don't waste time with most people, so those I do should know that I actually really like to be around them. And when I do hang out with them, it seems like everyone's having a good time. But it's usually in bigger groups. Which is why it seems like no one wants to hang out with Me In Particular. I'm not a downer (or at least, I don't try to be) and while a lot of these people, given the age group (22 to 26), plan to be going out drinking and such, I've tried to make it pretty clear that it's fine if they wanna go drink, I can deal with that just fine. So I don't know.

- I have been trying to write. I hit a wall when I started getting sober and I have just not been able to get back into the groove of it. With my new schedule, my idea was that I was going to wake up in the mornings, write, work out, and then go to work (which I have been doing). But the writing is the part that just...nothing's coming out. I've been trying to find good prompts for creative nonfiction (it's pretty much all I write. Sometimes I dabble in poetry), but it's harder since most things cater to fiction writers and poets. It's slowly coming along...I have trouble sitting down to read, most days, which definitely isn't helping.

- jbenben, in particular, I have an immense amount of frustration towards my living situation. I live with my mom and her boyfriend, with my little brother. It's stifling. I hate living with people; I start to feel extremely paranoid and self-conscious about, well, everything. How much noise I make, so I don't really play music. How much of a mess I make, so I don't cook. That sort of thing. I'm leaving in a few months, thankfully.

- I used to attend AA meetings with some regularity but I would always leave the meetings feeling like I really wanted to drink or like it had been a complete waste. The problem I ran into was that, living in Iowa, most of the meetings were filled with people that I had a very hard time relating to and vice versa due to differences in socioeconomic status, education, etc. I don't have a problem with people that are different from me, don't get the wrong idea, but half the time, I'd speak and people wouldn't understand what I was saying due to my word choice. Or they'd misinterpret. It would go over the heads of many. There was also the whole bit where most of the AA goers were religious. I am staunchly against having any semblance of faith or belief (whether it's Christian, atheist, agnostic) in my life. I find that it is a waste and distracts people from what really matters – other people. The power of people. I dunno, I found it real frustrating. I've been to a dozen different ones a few times each and each one has felt very uncomfortable.

Again, thanks to everyone.
posted by Modica at 6:34 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Regarding the writing thing.

I'm about to give you a bit of advice that the sort of person who teaches creative writing classes will probably hate, and which even my personal experience with is perhaps questionable. This has helped me on the story I'm writing at the moment, and probably isn't appropriate for every story.

Write about writing.

No, not about yourself as you write. That would be neither helpful nor interesting. I mean write about the process by which you decide what goes on the page. First make a short statement of what you want your story to be like--typically this is not a very complete or informative description, which is okay, because the next step is to identify what else the story needs in order to have the particular features you want it to have. Maybe you want to write a story with a particular protagonist, and then determine that they need an appropriate villain. Then, having identified what you're missing, elaborate on that part until it isn't missing anymore--or at least, you know what it is now. You still haven't written the story, which is why creative writing teachers tend to discourage this sort of preparation. But you weren't writing the story anyway, and this way you might find out why not, and fix the problem.

When you're depressed you get critical of everything, even work you haven't written yet; so as long as that's happening anyway, you might as well get your inhibitions on paper where you can address them directly. This applies particularly well to writing tasks, but it's also a good tactic in general.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:56 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is your therapist experienced in substance abuse treatment? I think a lot of people hit a wall after several months/a year of sobriety. They've done such a great job of getting sober, and then they look around and wonder, now what? Netbros is a user who's written eloquently about his substance abuse and depression. You might look through his answers, this one, especially.
posted by Mavri at 7:29 AM on March 28, 2012

Volunteering doesn’t have to be a long term commitment maybe look for opportunities that are just for a day or a weekend. I’ve started volunteering then flaked out on it, it does make me feel guilty and irresponsible. Taking on more than you can handle doesn’t make you a bad person. Maybe volunteer at a kid’s festival even if it’s just for a few hours!

Also 11 months! Congrats you are badass!
posted by blueberrypicasso at 8:12 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

11 months! WOW! That is a stellar achievement! Good on you and good for you!

Pick shorter-term volunteer opportunities, like blueberrypicasso suggests, or perhaps just find a thing that you can do on your own without involving anyone else (do you have a favourite park or hiking spot that you can pick up trash from? that's beautification of yourself, your world, and the experiences of other creatures on this planet). It's sometimes easier to do something spontaneously that feels right and good than to have a whole big plan or participate in someone else's process, especially if you need to protect yourself from negative inputs.

On writing: be ridiculous. That's sincerely my advice. Open up to a blank page in whatever format makes you happy and just write down anything that pops into your head, no matter how silly or disconnected. Don't be self-conscious. Don't try to shape the words (at first). Get Seussical, if that feels good. Just write, write, write. Have a sudden memory? Write it out. Three words in a row that sort of rhyme but not really? Write 'em down. Just keep going until you're wrung out. You can do this anytime, but it feels really good when you're otherwise at a loss. I find that starting off with one word that's super dominant in my head helps me push more words out.

I know about those rough living situations and empathise deeply. If you don't already have wireless or long-cord headphones, those are a good investment in that situation, so you can have your music and freedom of movement. You can quietly dance, even (I call it "butterfly disco", because I try to get the most groove on with the least noise).

When I would feel the most deeply depressed, I was helped by making a list of things I wanted to do before releasing my conscious experience on this planet. Not a "Bucket List". A list of things that I felt were a good use of myself as a resource or that would give me the opportunity to see the beauty in the world.

Whatever you decide to do, I wish you a clear mind and peaceful heart.
posted by batmonkey at 9:36 AM on March 28, 2012

But my mind likes to remind me of the time when I was a mentor to a kid and then basically abandoned him and it guilt trips me away from volunteering. Or how I am just an irresponsible, unreliable person and that if I'm volunteering and I'm like that, the repercussions are not just professional but personal and emotional as well and. You get the idea.

See if you can be a drop-in volunteer somewhere. Not a tutoring situation or anything like that. Something more like stopping by the Goodwill when you can and sorting items, or arranging to volunteer at a hospital making beds and being a gofer for the nurses. Places where they can get along just fine without you, but it's a nice plus when you're there. Any place where they're cool with you just coming when you can.

I've found that this kind of volunteering (I've done it at a hospital) is a great fit for my depression and anxiety issues. It is mutually beneficial for me and the place where I volunteer when I can get myself to do it, but it's no great shakes either way when I drop off the face of the earth.

Find something low stakes. Yes, that means it's got lower rewards than helping a kid who had previously been a C student in Language Arts start kicking out As.

But the point of volunteering, for someone who's depressed, is not to change the world and make it a better place. It's to change your mind and make it a better place for you to live in. Which is important, since it's the only place you've got.
posted by ocherdraco at 10:13 AM on March 28, 2012

Your sobriety in the face of such immense internal pain is inspiring. The primary method by which most people cope / deal with reality in our modern day world is some form of drink or drug.

Once the crutch is taken away, we are forced to deal with reality as it is, with no easy 'out' or quick 'fix.' Of course, every person who has struggled with addiction knows the 'fix' does nothing but a) make the problem worse, and b) delay any kind of true resolution.

You have to rediscover your love of life. Obviously, you did not always depend on substances to be happy. What was your childhood like? What sorts of things did you do as a child to be happy?

I know, for example, I used to love video games too. Then I noticed I stopped liking video games. Why? Well, at first I thought I had just 'grown up' whatever that means. Then I realized later, I just did not care for any of the modern games coming out(indie games excepted). I got myself some classic video game consoles, and somewhere about half way through super mario world for my SNES, I realized how much I love video games.

Older video games are about play, exploration, and discovery. Some modern games have these elements as well, but I think the industry has lost a bit of its soul.

The funny thing is, I am discovering many of the things I used to love as a child I STILL love; science, reasoning, the strength of the human spirit, courage, comic books, rolling around on the grass, love, logic, art, watching inspirational movies, going for long walks just to discover or think...all of these things and infinitely more are still available to me.

As we grow up, we become more set in our ways, society tries to define us. We do not have to be defined though, we can be undefined! We can live in the moment and cast aside all of the habits and tendencies which imprison us.

Anyway, if life feels like a prison, then you have to break out.

Keeping a journal is an excellent way to build continuity, and to start exploring the vast inner world which is your mind. I know you will find many incredible things. Of course there will be lingering darkness, anytime somebody ignores and neglects their inner self for so long, a little resentment is destined to build up. Shadows cannot be dispelled, except by light. Taking ownership of all of your feelings, including the anti-social ones, and then telling yourself "Okay, but life goes on," may help put things in perspective Once you start plumbing those depths and taking stock of what is inside, you will also find many beautiful inspiring parts of yourself which you may have lost contact with.

Meditation is an excellent technique to help you sort through the sometimes mercurial inexplicable types of thinking which go on in your mind. Even something as simple as getting a 5 minute hour glass and then sitting still, counting each breath one at a time, until the last grain of sand falls, can really help.

All suffering is momentary, a single breath and life goes on. Inspiring we build strength, expiring we pass through unharmed.

Breaking out of the cycle of despair and self loathing may seem difficult or impossible, but you are an expert at breaking cycles! I have complete faith you will demolish this strange loop just as you demolished the cycle of addiction. Being a champion is a state of mind, own it.
posted by satori_movement at 11:47 AM on March 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

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