What do you do when you need to "sort things out"?
April 29, 2012 2:20 PM   Subscribe

What do you do when you need to "sort things out"?

Hey friendly MeFi people,

For the past 3-4 years I've been in an MFA graduate program, working part time and doing the student thing. I recently completed my degree and am having a little hangover from the thesis (I haven't produced anything creative in about a month.) I've been playing a lot of video games and generally dicking around, and after a while of beating myself up, I figured this was basically avoidance behavior, and what I really needed to do was to get a clearer sense of my goals for the next few months and for the next few years.

So the general question is:
What do you do when you need to sort things out? Generally I take long walks and write in my journal, but both of these activities have been less than helpful lately.

Extra info:
--I have a history of depression, and while I have it mostly under control via drugs, I'm a little worried that being too rudderless for too long will trigger a relapse.
--I had a therapist but my insurance has a cap on mental health...so therapy is not an option.
--I've been feeling a snippy at my friends/family lately (an offshoot of my frustration at myself), so I haven't wanted to turn to them for advice. And the few times I have, it hasn't been real helpful.
--Also, I am not religious, so talking to a rabbi/minister/etc is not an option.

Specifics of my situation, if you want to give specific advice:
--I have $60,000 in debt, so that gives me a little panicky feeling whenever I think about it. Right now I'm in income based repayment, which means if I can't pay it off in 25 years, it's forgiven, also if I work in a service-related career (which I'm in right now, part time) it can be forgiven. But the other side of me thinks PAY IT OFF ASAP!!!
--The part time job I have now is in a profession where I would need another, different advanced degree in order pursue. It's possible that I could get it covered by my current job, but it would lock me in to a five year commitment to my current employer.
--I just applied for a full-time position at my current job, which I'm 98% sure I won't get (because of other more qualified candidates), but I'm also not sure I want
--I have two projects (novels) which I could finish (and I mean finish, finish. They're already through draft three) by the end of the year if I continued to work only part time. Not to toot my own horn, but they're both pretty high quality, and I have a good chance of getting an agent and selling them. But how much money that will bring in, and how long that will take...it's definitely a crap shoot, and a kind of bleak one.
--My boyfriend right now is helping me with the rent. He doesn't seem to think anything of it, but I feel guilty.
--I'm making enough money part-time that I can support myself (with the exception of rent) and pay my IBR loan payments.

OK tl;dr ;) Thanks mefiers
posted by Calicatt to Work & Money (7 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Exercise and lists. That sounds simplistic, but it also can be really effective: the exercise tends to be emotionally beneficial (to say nothing of its physical component) and also buys you thinking time; the ilsts are, well, lists, and they do what they do.

The novels sound promising, too--but your line about "how much money will they bring in" seems backwards in this situation: the question probably should be, "how satisfying would it be to finish these up and be able to say I've accomplished that."
posted by Levi Stahl at 2:27 PM on April 29, 2012

Therapy is not necessarily out of the question ... Low-money situations are so stressful that it's sadly ironic that a lack of funds also makes it harder to get mental health care. But not impossible -- there is a nonprofit called Needymeds whose mission is to direct people to low- or no-cost sources of medication and health care.

The site has a searchable database of free/low-cost/sliding-scale clinics nationwide, and many of these clinics offer mental health services. (The database includes info on each clinic's hours, location, cost, and services.)

Good luck.
posted by virago at 2:51 PM on April 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

I recently completed my degree and am having a little hangover from the thesis

Writing your thesis and completing your degree are pretty huge things, congrats! Give yourself credit for pulling this off and understand that you've earned to slack off a bit.

I bet doing all that work for so many fears felt kinda stressful and kinda crazy and that it collected a lot of energy that's now been released, leaving you a bit empty and feeling lost. I know this is how I feel when finishing a major project.

The nice thing is that you now have a lot of free mental space that you can fill with new ideas and dreams. To me it sounds like what you're really asking is what you're supposed to do with your life. I think this is perfectly natural because you no longer have your education to guide you towards the future. Don't stress yourself so much! We all find ourselves in these existential gaps where we seem to be in a state of uncertainty and angst, knowing we have left safety and stability behind and only vaguely knowing what's facing us.

You need to figure out exactly what you want to do, why and how reasonable this is given your situation (finances, skills, health, etc). This takes lots of time and energy so meanwhile you need to make sure you're foundation is solid, i.e. you need to find a steady job with enough income so that you can support yourself and don't have to constantly worry about money or strain your relationship because of it. This should be your no 1 priority right now. That full-time position at your current job, why shouldn't you get it if you are already working there? Are you objectively sure you know the reasons? Can you work on them or bypass them altogether? This is worth looking into because it could save you so much work. Or maybe you just need to find the work you're most passionate about and focus 100% on getting it no matter what.

Exactly which way you travel doesn't matter because you do not need to decide right here and now what to do with the rest of your life. Telling yourself this is super important because so often we get paralyzed and indecisive when each action seems to take us on a unknown and long journey.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 2:58 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ever driven a car without power steering? It's easier to steer when the car is moving. It's extremely difficult to steer at low speeds (e.g., while parallel parking). Not to mention that one of the best ways to understand any terrain is by physically exploring it. I think this is also true of life. So, get a rough idea of where you're going, head generally in that direction, and refine your direction as you get closer, because then you'll have more information.

So, in your case, I don't think you need to do full-scale soul searching now. I think the problem is that having finished school and resting up, you're naturally now at a standstill and now have to do the hard work of regaining momentum. Moving in almost any direction will be better (both for your mental health and for giving you future options) than wondering which direction to move in. Plus, it sounds like you have direction: earning more money, primarily, and also finishing the novels. Those aren't mutually exclusive goals, so structure your life right now to do both, though it sounds like having a solid income now is your top priority.

Rereading your question, part of the issue seems to be that you're not psyched about most of the options. They all seem hard; their payoff is questionable; and you're still tired. I think this falls under the guidance "when you're going through hell, keep going." It sounds to me like your real motivation is to make more money (and not accrue more debt!), and that you'd be excited about publishing your books if it actually happened (but you don't see that as a huge monetary windfall). So again, my advice is to keep job hunting, and without burning yourself out, keep steadily moving forward with selling one or more of those novels.
posted by salvia at 3:55 PM on April 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Get grateful.

Shawn Achor's TED talk is a good start. The gratitude journaling + rewriting one positive experience each day have been showing wonderful results for all manner of professionals.

For an example, reading your post, what I read is you have a long list of things to be grateful for...
1) An MFA in something you are passionate about.
2) A completed thesis. (there are lots of EBT degree holders in the world...)
3) A month off to relax, play video games, and introspect
4) A habit of long walks, which offer an opportunity to constantly re-engage with the natural world
5) Whilst there has been depression present, that is under control.
6) Health insurance... regardless of quality or caps, many people do not have that at all.
7) Relationships with friends and family that are precious enough not to disrupt.
8A) That you were able to take loans and further your education
8B) That you have a variety of options to repay those loans.
9) The opportunity to secure another degree at an employer's expense
10) The good humour to apply for a job full well knowing you won't get it and don't want it.
11) Two novels that are almost finished. That with the degree proves you can easily finish what you start.
12) A boyfriend happy to make things a bit easier and give you more options.
13) Adequate income from a part-time job to pay the bills, affording you this precious time to think.
14) An online community where you can receive the wisdom offered above, and gain objective feedback to make better decisions.

That sounds like a pretty good start!

As far as how to 'sort things out', you've got a bit of opportunity-itis. You've put forward three distinct paths forward:
A) Turn the part-time job into a full-time job, slap down five years, have another degree.
B) Continue working part-time and finish your novels by the end of the year (we'll come back to these)
C) Go on a soul-searching mission, a metaphorical pilgrimage for your own scrolls.

How I read your feelings on this:
A) Nice option to have. Probably what a lot of people may think you "should" do. But your heart doesn't seem in it. It's hard to turn down "good" opportunities, but it is a necessary step sometimes. I would think of it this way: do you want that other degree more than anything else you could be doing? If not, pass, for five years is a long time to do something you aren't fully invested in.

B) This decision is currently clouded by fear. You believe in yourself and your capability to write it, however there seems to be a break-down when it comes to making a career out of it. Which is fine, because whether it sells or not will be determined by the market, not you. What is sure is that you cannot sell what you have not written or published. Somehow, I think you really want this one but are afraid to commit to it.

C) Set yourself a goal that can be completed in a relatively reasonable amount of time, and then go have an adventure to clean yourself out.

The end of the thesis was apparently not the demarcating point that you think it was. It was a major milestone, but it seems that you are really struggling with the question of if you can make it as a writer or not. You have two pieces of work almost ready to go, and here you are playing video games and considering taking jobs you don't want.

If I were you, I would finish the novels, send them off. Maybe you can finish them faster if all you do is work part-time and write. Focus. Execute. Once they're sent off, go have a wander in the jungle, see a beach in Indian, visit Brooklyn, do whatever you need to do to connect with something new and have a break. But make that a reward rather than a starting point.

Because you already started... twice. And you have two things to finish. I think that if you were to not finish the novels, you would always wonder what if you had. And what if's are the worst man, really. If you take a job you don't want, you can do that today or in six months. Those jobs will always be there. The opportunity that you have been chasing will not.

And you have not lost your momentum, you have been on leave from the battle. Now, back to the battle. Get grateful and decide if you're really ready to give up the dream.
posted by nickrussell at 4:57 PM on April 29, 2012 [11 favorites]

After dedicating a few hours of brainstorming in my diary, I do one of the following based on my situation.

1) Hopeless/depressed: I turn off all electronic devices, shove clothes and food in the back of my car, grab a notebook, and get as far away from the hustle and bustle reality as I can. Usually I go on 3-4 day camping trips where I can clear my head by hiking, biking, kayaking and reconnecting with nature. I tend to come back feeling really refreshed and with a decent idea of how I'm going to approach whatever situation is making me feel helpless and hopeless.

2) Angry/annoyed: I pick up my squash racquet, head to the Club, and smash little blue balls as hard as I can for 5-6 hours. I then go to the workout area in the Club and punch a punching bag for a few hours until I'm calm, relaxed, and rejuvenated.

3) Devastated/heartbroken: I go on REALLY long cycling rides near a large body of water where I listen to a lot of hardcore rap.

4) Overwhelmed: 1-3 on repeat, traveling to a new city, and dancing at a nightclub until I feel better.
posted by lotusmish at 6:09 PM on April 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks all!!! Very thoughtful responses.

nickrussell: "Somehow, I think you really want this one but are afraid to commit to it." This really jumped out at me. I think a lot of my waffling is just due to fear. Something to ponder.

thanks again
posted by Calicatt at 10:26 AM on May 2, 2012

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