envious of other other people's lives
March 28, 2012 1:07 PM   Subscribe

When dealing with depression and struggling to make it through the day, how do you keep from being envious of other people's seemingly exciting lives?

I've been struggling with chronic depression almost my entire life, and even though I'm taking steps (therapy, meds) to improve my situation, I constantly feel like I've missed out on so much, and feel envious of those around me. During my more depressed stages, I can't even get out of bed, I struggle to concentrate at work, run errands, maintain relationships, make food, and just about every other basic activity in life. At my best, I'm able to maintain a relatively comfortable lifestyle, such as cooking dinner, going on walks, reading, etc, but forget about long term goals, pursuing dreams, exotic vacations, and building lasting relationships.

I know I should be grateful for what I have. I get it, I'm lucky to have such comforts and luxuries. That doesn't stop me from feeling like I'm missing out on the life my peers can enjoy and I want for myself as well. I watch my friends get promoted to jobs they love, while I work a deadend job and don't know what to do next. Everyone talks about their exciting vacations, or months off to travel, or retreats, and I don't have the money and not even the companions to go on such trips. Even for people less focused on career, I watch them find love and lasting friendships, start families, or pursue fulfilling hobbies. I can't help but feel jealous. I never had the great times in high school or college that everyone reminisces about. I spent them mostly alone in my room, probably curled up in bed. As a young adult, I feel like I'm missing out on the freedom, the opportunities, the nights out, the laughter, and just about everything.

I know I'm going at my own pace, and I can't compare my life with the lives people portray. I'm very slowly getting a better handle on my depression, but it's such a long journey. For me, a comparatively good day would be having the energy to go out to lunch with a friend, which is great, but then I realize that my best day is someone else's normal day. How do I just be ok with the life I am currently able to lead? How do I stop being so jealous of others? And how to I stop feeling like I've missed out and continue to miss out on all the good things life has to offer?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
First of all, non-depressed people also have trouble getting out of bed, concentrating at work, running errands, maintaining relationships, making food and all other basic activities. There's a significant difference between not being depressed and being Spongebob-caliber enthusiastic for quotidian nonsense. You're probably at a more extreme end for those things, but if you're like the rest of us, that stuff doesn't just go away. Instead, you're just able to put up with it a little better when the enthusiasm -- which comes out for certain stuff, so you have that to look forward to -- isn't there.

Also, the envy doesn't go away either, you'll just able to understand that momentary envy isn't going to drag you down into the dumps every single time you experience it. At worst, you'll shrug it off much faster than you shrug it off now. At best, it will give you that kick in the ass you need to get going on making your own life as good as the one you're envious of.

Congratulate yourself on your best day being a normal day, because you worked to make that happen, because that's not exactly the easiest thing. Put the work into the therapy and monitoring how the meds are doing, and baseline of happiness for a normal day will rise. Instead of just wanting to do fun things and feeling like there's an impenetrable barrier between you and them, you'll realize that the amount of work that doing them requires is perfectly (albeit not necessarily easily) surmountable. And when that ball gets rolling -- which it seems it already has -- more and more "difficult" things will seem accessible and you'll go for them. Some you'll get, some you won't.
posted by griphus at 1:20 PM on March 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

I never had the great times in high school or college that everyone reminisces about. I spent them mostly alone in my room, probably curled up in bed. As a young adult, I feel like I'm missing out on the freedom, the opportunities, the nights out, the laughter, and just about everything.

This means the best part of your life is probably still to come.
posted by alphanerd at 1:26 PM on March 28, 2012 [10 favorites]

I guess for me I try to remember that we only see one part of other people's lives and it may not be as wonderful as it seems. Right now on the outside, anyone would think I have a great life that comes easy to me. They don't know that I struggle with depression and anxiety daily, that I have a teen who just got out of a psych hospital for depression and anxiety and is still not doing well, and another teen who for some reason is not getting into any of his colleges even though his credentials are above their average student, and a husband who is frustrated with all of us. From the outside we look like the perfect successful middle-class family with a nice house, good jobs, fun friends etc.

It isn't easy, but you seem to be on the right track - we have to recognize that all those we may be envious of can be in just as tough situations.
posted by maxg94 at 1:30 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Please be assured that not nearly that much exciting stuff happens to "other people." You're doing much better than you think you are. Exotic vacations? That's a thing that advertisers put in front of our faces. Yes there are some people who take these "exotic" vacations/cruises, but they won't tell you that they ended up becoming victims of pickpockets and identity theft, or being forced to hear babies screaming the entire time on the cruise ship.

What you don't see and what people aren't telling you is more vast that what you're imagining.

Please don't compare yourself with what you imagine you see around you. You're better than you realize!
posted by BostonTerrier at 1:34 PM on March 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

Also, if you're getting a bunch of your information on how happy people are from Facebook (and I know you are) keep in mind that many people don't tend to talk about how shitty things are.
posted by griphus at 1:40 PM on March 28, 2012 [13 favorites]

It's not clear to me whether you are unhappy because you are comparing your life to everyone else's, or you are unhappy because you are not living the life you want to live.

Those are two different things. Most people do not live the life that they want to live, not entirely, in part because most people are too big for their lives. It sounds like you are too big for yours. I would bet that your friends are too big for theirs, too. The mantra is, "you always compare the inside of yourself to the outside of everyone else." You don't know what compromises people are making, what insecurities they are living with, what they would do differently.

If you're not living the life you want, you can change it. There are trade-offs here, too, and it's easier to travel if you have money and an understanding boss, but you can change your life. There are lots of books about it, and lots of advice on AskMe and elsewhere. It's something that a therapist can very much help you with: "I desperately want to take a hot-air balloon across Europe [or whatever] but I don't feel like I can" is actually a great therapy prompt. So are "I hate the way my life is, but I'm not sure what to change about it" and "I don't know what will motivate me professionally".
posted by gauche at 1:43 PM on March 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

For every happy, successful or person you envy, you never know what shit is dragging them down. Perhaps its an addiction, poor marriage, money worries, what ever. Everyone has their own shit, and most of the time, people are fronting anyways to some degree.

I always try to think of the positives in my life. My educational background and knowledge base, my friends, my family, maybe even some thing a simple as a spot you like to frequent.
posted by handbanana at 1:56 PM on March 28, 2012

I never had the great times in high school or college that everyone reminisces about.

Never is a strong word. Get honest with yourself. I suffer from mild to moderate depression and used to think like this too. Never is a word I used to use and it was a total lie. I think I got this sick enjoyment, or reward, of thinking my past was total shit when I had so many good times. Maybe you don't think your good times measure up. I look back on my life and can find so many fun, good memories that may not seem like much -- like buying Big Gulps from the 7-11 as a teen and cruising around in my beat up car with a friend. Maybe this isn't worthy of a bragging Facebook post but it was fun to me and that's all that matters. I think it's VERY important to remember some good times, and identify the good things now, to get your brain out of a negativeeverythingsucks thought pattern.

Depression can distort the past and make it seem like everything was terrible. You did have good times. Try to think of those. Even if you did "miss out" (you didn't), you can't change the past. Feeling sorry for what you missed out on or didn't experience is a sure way to remain stagnant. When you feel sorry for yourself you foolishly give yourself permission to think you are not like the others. In my dark times I would think: Well they had great lives and mine was horrible. This is why I can't have fun and be happy. They know how to do it and I don't. I'm not like them. This is self-pity at it's worst. It's so boring and nobody cares. I needed to get over myself.

And how to I stop feeling like I've missed out and continue to miss out on all the good things life has to offer?

You can't change the past. I do not wish to trivialize depression but it's up to you to create the life you want now. Sure, it's normal to grieve over past hurts and disappointments but you must move on and look forward. This is what the "happy people" do.

One thing that I didn't "know" when I was younger adult is that I could do anything I wanted to do. I think I was so hung up on seeking approval and feeling sorry for myself that I became paralyzed. Before I painted my walls I would wonder what people would think of my color choice. That was crazy. Because I didn't have enough confidence in my choices, that allowed me to do nothing and remain unhappy and boring. You can do anything you want to do. Ok, you don't have the money to be a world traveler (many of us don't) but how is that stopping you from having fun in your own home and city?

What do you want to do? Do you want to paint your walls pink? Do you want to consider reading your one and only hobby for right now and be fine with that? (You can and should feel no shame over this.) It can be scary to let go of the excuses that keep us stuck and unhappy, but you must if you want to be free.
posted by Fairchild at 2:31 PM on March 28, 2012 [6 favorites]

You're comparing your insides to other people's outsides. That is never a valid comparison. Every time you find yourself doing that, just stop it. Don't expect to ever stop doing it completely, and don't beat yourself up when you find yourself doing it over and over again, all day, every day. Most of us do. Just keep redirecting your thinking, and reminding yourself as often as necessary that those comparisons are not to be taken seriously, because they cannot possibly contain any truth worth paying attention to.

Happiness is not a list of goodies -- it's a subjective, internal state. The only thing that can create happiness for you is your own subjective experience. You could have all the great experiences you're envying, and still be depressed. Or you could have far less than you have now, and be happy. The state of the inside is not determined by the state of the outside.

You say, "At my best, I'm able to maintain a relatively comfortable lifestyle, such as cooking dinner, going on walks, reading, etc, but forget about long term goals, pursuing dreams, exotic vacations, and building lasting relationships." Yes, forget about those things. Those things are not what is going to make you happy. What is going to make you happy is inside you (right now -- it's there already), not outside you.

Let me tell you a little bit about why I think I have something worthwhile to say about your question. In my early 40s, just as everything in my life was going really right, I smacked into a brick wall of chronic illness and disability. All the things that gave me my sense of identity, worth and purpose became impossible. Going for a walk, going out to lunch with a friend -- these adventures and many others are no longer possible. It took me a few years to give myself permission to be happy even though my life is so limited by illness, and it took me a few more years to begin to figure out how to be happy without all those exciting goals and accomplishments. Of course I'd like to be able to do the things I used to do, but I'm a LOT happier now than I was when I was healthy. I think it might be true that, the less busy you are, the easier it is to find room in your life for the kind of happiness that comes from inside.
posted by Corvid at 3:36 PM on March 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

As they say in various support groups: depression lies. Yes, all the stuff the people above said is true - but it might not feel any different to you while you're depressed. This does not mean you're a bad person or that you're stupid or whatever.

So, my solution? I talk about this stuff to my therapist and my (understanding) family and friends and then I make an effort to act like the reassuring things they're saying are true, even though they don't really resonate with me while I'm down (which I usually am.)

Thinking that you suck is part of depression for a lot, if not most, of the people who have it. Accepting that you feel lousy but aren't lousy - that all the difficulties associated with your illness don't say anything about your worth - is one of those big recovery things. At the partial hospitalization program I was in, they had a sign that said "Don't believe everything you think." You know you have a mental illness. This is one of the symptoms.

If it helps you at all, know that it bothers me a lot, too. I have a list of ten thousand things that are wrong with me, stuff I haven't achieved, things I "should" be able to do but don't/cant, etc. Most of the time, when it really hurts, I just focus on not feeling bad about feeling bad about it. My current therapist likes to say "don't should yourself!" Therapists seem to think it's really funny to say it. Anyway, trying to see the humor in the situation - even acknowledging it while simultaneously being like "ugh, really" - can also take the sting out, in the moment.
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 4:43 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Every single time I've been envious of someone, it's soon turned out that their lives were actually nothing like I thought they were. The seemingly wealthy were in ruinous debt, the seemingly happily married were being cheated on, the seemingly healthy got devastating diagnoses, the seemingly career fast-tracked had to make preemptive phone calls to friends and colleagues just before the scandal in which they were embroiled hit the newspaper, etc., etc. This has gone on to such an extent that I now almost use my envy as an indicator that something is seriously fucked up in the life of the target of my envy. The point is, you can't possibly know what's really going on. You think you know. But you're probably wrong. If you're going to make assumptions about people, it makes more sense to feel sorry for them about the secret misery in their lives. Everyone's got one.
posted by HotToddy at 5:04 PM on March 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

This isn't a long-term philosophy, but a CBT-type trick a support group friend taught me once was to "do your gratitudes."

When you're caught up in pattern of thinking how awful your life is...STOP and immediately list 10 things you are grateful for, no matter how trivial or silly.

These new shoes are awesome.
I got great sleep last night.
That bruise on my leg is almost totally healed up.

(Just do 5 if 10 is too much.)

It's not about shaming yourself into appreciating things more, but rather to just stop the low thoughts in their tracks and practice taking a new perspective.
posted by pantarei70 at 5:12 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I make a habit of noticing the amazing within the mundane. For instance, today as I was waiting for the bus to take me home from my own dead-end job, I took a good look at a shrub, its bright green leaves lit up against the soft blue sky, its branches curling outward according to some fractal equation. I was thinking that this sight was just fucking incredible -- how bizarre that our world is the way it is, you know? And I didn't need to go on a vacation or achieve anything special in order to experience this. It was an art exhibit for anyone who bothered to look.

When I'm immersed in these kinds of thoughts, I just don't care about what anyone else is doing, though I hope for their sakes that they stop to enjoy the things that are right in front of them.
posted by Mila at 5:29 PM on March 28, 2012 [6 favorites]

Rereading my post, I guess I should have mentioned that I know there are many people in good financial and physical health, with happy marriages, etc. I don't see the world through black-colored glasses! It's just that my envy unerringly aims itself at those who are not. My envy is not to be trusted. And yours probably isn't, either.
posted by HotToddy at 5:59 PM on March 28, 2012

Start taking pride in your accomplishments. If you do something that's hard for you, then it's an accomplishment, plain and simple. So it's easy for other people, that doesn't matter. I've been too depressed to brush my teeth before. (And I say that as someone terrified of cavities & having to go to the dentist.) Because I'd go through days at a time feeling like I could not handle even --one more-- little, tiny, thing. And those times I brushed my teeth were huge f-ing accomplishments. Even if all the toddlers in the world could brush their teeth five times a day while also doing handstands on unicycles it would not change the fact that I had done something really damn hard, and if I was the only person to recognize that fact, then so be it, dammit.

This is why comparisons always fail. Unless you could compare yourself only to other people who had the same problems and the same personal difficulties, the same age and life progression, no comparison will be truly valid. For starters, most people don't have to deal with depression (sorry). So seeing things in terms of objective accomplishment (as if such a thing could be measured) doesn't work because as far as it applies to you there is no such thing. There is only where you are, compared to where you were, and where you have been and where you started.

And there is no such thing as normal. Normal is a value judgement. There is typical, in the sense of a sort of typical trajectory to lives yeah. People find careers and have families more often at certain ages & time frames, certainly. But not doing so is not abnormal (or sub-normal), only non-typical. Also if you have friends with any sort of above average level of ability then telling yourself such life accomplishments are 'normal' becomes doubly incorrect. Besides which, some people just arrive at major things in their life by chance and happenstance. That people necessarily do anything to earn or be worthy of the good things that happen to them is a kind of just world hypothesis. Not that they didn't do anything either - just that the truth is usually somewhere in between having done something and just having been in the right place at the right time.

Comparisons are also a kind of self-critical behavior. It's just another way of telling yourself you're worthless and not good enough through the proxy of what other people have. (After all if you -were- worthy and good enough, then you would have it too, or so it goes) Criticism, and self criticism in particular, is just another part of the psychic illness monster we call depression. It's crucial to remember that any kind of self-critical thinking doesn't make anything true (doesn't confirm your lack of worth or ability, or your lack of deserving of love or anything like that). It's merely a feeling, namely realizing the pain of what you lack in your own life. It's also a calling to find these things you lack. (tl;dr, envy isn't your problem, unhappiness in your life is.)

So, start living the life you want now. Cultivate enjoyment and good feelings. It's so easy to fall into the trap that, since you're so beaten down in your life and all the good stuff will happen later, to put off living your life/finding ways to be happy in the face of a nebulous 'some day when I'm not depressed/have my shit together'. (And it's practicality in it's own way. Why think or plan anything you can't do now when you're trying hard to manage your own life as it is?, is how the thinking goes.) But you aren't some kind of lifeless drone waiting to gain all the stuff of life and become a real person, who does things and has relationships with people. You already ARE a real person who is capable of doing things (albeit less things than you are fully capable of) and having friendships and connections with other people.

I sense you're probably a perfectionist at heart and don't want to do anything unless you can do it 100%. And since you can't do much right now you'd rather do nothing than do something half-assed. This isn't necessary, and you don't have to do everything, or anything more than you can handle. Just start some place with a small chunk of doing something for yourself, as often as you are able.

Also recognize that everything you haven't experienced and everything you don't have right now will seem like the best things in the world. Grass being greener and all that.

All the good stuff is not going to go away. No one else will be able to use up all the good and enjoyable bits of life before you get to it. It's unfortunate that you haven't had many good things in your life thus far, but that also means that the best is yet to come. If having a normal life would make you happy then one day you will be very, very happy. Think about that, and take steps in that direction.
posted by everyday_naturalist at 10:41 PM on March 28, 2012 [7 favorites]

Where are you seeing/hearing about these exciting lives?

Ads, coworkers, media? Or the dreaded Facebook? Trust me, people use FB like a big ol brag book and yes, it's annoying as hell whether you have depression or not.

What helps me:
1. take a day off of work and do what you want to do. Mental health days are so necessary
2. go see a friend who 'gets you'
3. go on message boards or IRC in a depression forum. Sometimes venting and stranger interaction helps.
4. YouTube the dickens out of silly shit. Laughter is the best medicine.

I'm sorry you're going through this. Trust me, you're not alone.
posted by stormpooper at 10:09 AM on March 29, 2012

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