Help me be less of a catastrophe
June 18, 2012 8:06 AM   Subscribe

Trying to climb out of huge life hole. Complications: shame, depression and probable ADD, inattentive type. Before you suggest therapy, I have an appointment at the local community mental health intake place this Thursday. I just need to know I can get through this, and that others have made major life changes at 40+ that have stuck. I have few IRL friends I can talk to about this.

I'm going to break this down so it won't be a TL;DR but it's complicated.

I'm 45, hetero cis female, and have had ups and downs all my adult life in all areas of life. I've had years of therapy and know my family of origin issues and have tried a few antidepressants. I am going to make my undiagnosed ADD the focus of my appointment because I think it is the core issue. Things seem overwhelming, I don't know how to prioritize, I can't think problems through, I am impulsive.

1) Relationships. I've tended to get into relationships in which I did most of the emotional heavy lifting. My partners tend to be arrogant, condescending, withholding, and manipulative. I tend to put up with it for one to six years, hoping things can change and focusing on the good parts (they also tend to be smart, fun, and helpful to me with tasks the ADD makes daunting). I fall wholly in love and become devoted; they take advantage. After the last six-year relationship ended, I promised myself I'd never have another one like it. I violated that promise to myself and rationalized it, even after moving to a new city to start over. I am ashamed of the last relationship, and the current one, which I am trying to work up the courage to end. I tell friends and family some of the things this person says to me, and they are horrified. Some examples are that his last GF was prettier than me even though I am still pretty; that it's too bad that I don't know how to do anything and have no marketable skills (said sympathetically, but it hurt); and an offhand remark, "you're kind of a catastrophe." The problem is that I don't really disagree with him. I'm afraid those things are really true and am so ashamed and hopeless about them. He's a very smart guy, but his life isn't what he wanted it to be either. Some would call him a catastrophe too. However, he's more high-functioning than I am with daily tasks and doesn't have to work (inheritance). I don't think anyone normal would want me. Even he doesn't want me. But as friends, I can tell him about everything wrong with me and know that he will identify with it to some degree, and help out.

2) Success or lack thereof. I'm smart. I know that. I have an Ivy League undergrad with a 3.4 GPA and two humanities master's degrees. None of that qualifies me for anything except writing and teaching. But I've done those two things. I became a freelance writer, then the market crashed and I got burned out and ended up doing temp office work for four years and now the thought of getting back into writing is daunting. I'm scared to get back out there and try working in my field because I think no one will want me. Teaching, I simply hated. I taught undergrads as a TA/adjunct and it paid so little and was an awful experience and I have no interest in getting another degree just so I can teach kids even younger than that. The job market for teachers seems hard now anyway. When my friend refers to me having no marketable skills, he means that I am not an engineer, doctor, lawyer, etc. He's right. My skillset is nebulous.

3) Poverty. I make barely above minimum wage as a telemarketer. I got the job when I moved here as a stopgap, but my depression/ADD has sucked all motivation and energy from me to try to find something better and/or upgrade my skillset through self-study.

4) Loneliness. Aside from my overly critical friend, I've made some really cool friends here but I don't want them to know how much of a "catastrophe" I am and I'm too poor to go out to eat or to movies, and my work hours are at night so most of the time I can't go anywhere then anyway. I do hang out a bit with people from my job, but most of them are in their 20s and have a different lifestyle.

Here are the steps I've taken so far to dig myself out:

1) As I mentioned, moved to a new city with a better economy.
2) Did get a job, although it's not sustainable.
3) Made an appointment at community mental health
4) Applied for subsidized housing
5) Brought my cat with me. She's a godsend.
6) Reach out when I need to to my mom and sister for emo-support, which they provide.
7) Consolidated my debt through United Way and have been paying it off.

I still have to re-up my student loan forbearance, heal from a recent injury, find a better job, network, exercise, afford to eat right (I have to go to Food Bank at the moment and all they seem to have are carbs), pay off a loan of $100 to a friend, move (the place I live has some serious issues). I'd like to have a healthy relationship someday, but I'm way too ashamed of myself and my life to let anyone in.

Encourage me, please. I don't want to be one of those people whose depression drives them to be declared unemployably disabled and on SSI and welfare forever. I want a real job, either as a tech writer or computer professional, and for either of those I desperately need a skillset upgrade.

In case you're wondering, in the city I moved to I don't have any longterm friends or family nearby, and I've already borrowed tons of money from my family. My dad recently told me to bootstrap it. This has always been his attitude and I have always tried to do so, but never really figured out how. What more can I do and more importantly how can I move forward against my hopelessness and being overwhelmed and not knowing how to prioritize?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
To steal a consulting term, go for "quick wins." I always feel better about myself when I've accomplished something, even if that something is fairly small.

Using your list of things to be done, you could exercise regularly, since that can be done with little/no money (a pair of sneakers can get you walking/running, if you're able, or 10 pushups/situps/chinups per day or working up to it) and doesn't require other people. Keep a chart or a calendar logging each day you exercise, and set some realistic goals to be considered a "success." Like, this week, you'll be a "successful" exerciser if you get in 3 workouts of your choosing before Friday.

To pay off the loan to your friend (if it's a decent friend), start paying in the increments you can. If that's a dollar a week, do so. Log it. Congratulate yourself for doing so, because that's progress.
posted by xingcat at 8:16 AM on June 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Your number one priority is taking care of yourself. In a concrete way, how can you carve out a little place--literal or figurative--of peace and calm in your life? Would a meditation practice, starting with just five minutes a day, provide some space for you that is free of worry and fear? Or can you reorganize your sleeping space, maybe with some upgraded linens via Craigslist or Freecycle, and build a really soothing bedtime ritual of a cup of hot tea and a good book or some knitting (or whatever)? Something you do every day, for yourself alone, that brings you peace, that is non-negotiable. That's where I'd start.

Once you have some spaciousness, there's more room for hope.
posted by liketitanic at 8:17 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


First of all, keep your appointment.

I've started over more times than I can count. I got laid off from a very high-paying job in 2008 and I've been making less than half of what I used to make. It's stressful, but I keep plugging along. Besides, I'm happy, so I've got that.

I once ate on $20 per week. Personally, if I never see 99 cent bologna or chicken hot dogs again in this life, it won't be too soon.

Can you get a second, part-time job somewhere? A small grocery, co-op, or similar, where you'll have access to left-overs? When I worked at KFC they used to let me take home the extra chicken. I have a million recipies for leftover KFC. You can probably do better than KFC, a small restaurant as a hostess? A bartender? Applebees? (I'm just spitballing here, I'm sure you can think of better things.)

You can only do what you can do. When you can afford to eat better, you'll eat better.

Prioritize this stuff. What's the most important thing? Work only on that until you've got it under control, then move on to the next thing. Your list is daunting, and if you do have ADD, then it will crush you.

Start with the stuff that's easy and in your control. Call the Student Loan people. That might take an hour once you get it going.

Then you get to cross it off your list. Yay!

Instead of getting a better job, just look to get another job. That may be easier and will cheer you up. You'll also get more money coming in.

Then look for a new place. You'll have your loans in forebearance, you'll have some extra money coming in, and it will make sense for you to move up.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:19 AM on June 18, 2012


I tell friends and family some of the things this person says to me, and they are horrified. ... I don't think anyone normal would want me. Even he doesn't want me.

I think you are going to get some great advice on other aspects of your question so I just want to say something about this.

I have also had the experience (in college and early 20's for me) of being treated horribly and rejected by guys I was dating, but wasn't even that into. Sometimes "pre-emptively" rejected by guys I wasn't into, who I never dated and would never even agree to date at all!

It's kind of natural to think, okay, if a guy who is not that great wouldn't want me, then a guy who WAS great wouldn't want me a million times over! If an asshole wouldn't want me, then someone with an awesome personality and a lot more options definitely wouldn't. If an ugly guy wouldn't want me, then someone really cute with a lot more options definitely wouldn't.

So, that was what I suspected. That's what was going through my mind right around the time that I decided to just be alone rather than ever date/befriend someone again who I didn't think was fantastic. And to be alone rather than ever date someone again who I wasn't that attracted to.

The moral of this story is that, as a result, I started dating people I thought were fantastic and was attracted to, and those people were way more into me than the assholes who I didn't even want!

So look - when one person doesn't want you, that doesn't mean that only people "worse" than him would want you and nobody "better" ever would. The way one person feels about you has no bearing on how the next feels about you. You might as well go for those relationships where people are not "weird" as you say, where they are nice to you and don't say nasty things. And just see IF you can find someone like that who would be interested in you, instead of assuming they wouldn't be. I think you will find that it is quite possible for you.
posted by cairdeas at 9:32 AM on June 18, 2012 [16 favorites]


In addition to the sound advice above, I recommend that you rip off the band-aid and end your current relationship. To quote you:

I tell friends and family some of the things this person says to me ... "you're kind of a catastrophe." ... Some would call him a catastrophe too ... I don't think anyone normal would want me. Even he doesn't want me. But as friends, I can tell him about everything wrong with me and know that he will identify with it to some degree, and help out.

The thing is, you're drawing the wrong conclusion. This guy isn't your friend.

OK, so maybe I have friends who would say such things in a tough-love, no-holds-barred, punk-rock-rude fashion; but they would be doing so in order to get me to laugh, to get over myself, to stir up some grar in the belly to overcome my dolor and inertia. I would not leave such encounters feeling worse about myself.

I think your assessment about him is correct: he is a catastrophe! One that loves finding those with the same vulnerabilities as himself, and, rather than working together to get over, works that person to feel superior, while offering just enough "I'll save you!" to keep said person dependent.

You, on the other hand, are not a catastrophe, in spite of feeling super crappy. Your post comes off as the work of an intelligent and accomplished individual who has hit a rough patch. Your insights about your relationship patterns warrant taking a break from them and looking long and hard at what it is you are getting from compulsively seeking these sources of negative feedback in your life. Look into Byron Katie's The Work or other methods of its ilk as a handy, portable tool for unpacking beliefs that keep you stuck feeling like any relationship, even one fraught with negging and esteem-destruction, is better than none.

I want a real job, either as a tech writer or computer professional, and for either of those I desperately need a skillset upgrade.

Yes, I think you could do this. Years of writing, teaching and pursuing acedemia do translate into marketable skills. Don't believe the foolios that tell you otherwise. Can you give yourself maybe a half-an-hour a couple of times a week to to YouTube/Google/Wikipedia it up? I find that 1) a time limit sort of sets a corral around the wild horses of my thoughts 2) there's lots of fun free teach-y things on YouTube that, since you can just hit play and let them dump into your brain a few times don't feel as strenous as doing an online class 3) I do better with said wild-horse thoughts if I grab onto the tail and let it drag me around where-ever, rather than trying to steer it. Thus I can often learn more free-associating through Wikipedia/google than trying to 'concentrate' on an essay or something; I just try to end each session with a wrap-up of what I've learned and a couple of ideas for points to pursue next time.

Also, I'm not the biggest proponent of online freelance-sourcing, like Amazon Mechanical Turk or oDesk and the like, but in your case, I could see it being a great, low-stakes way to get where you want to go ... from shaping writing samples based on looking at ads for the type of work you would like to have, to getting small-fry stuff that will build your portfolio, to hey! getting a dream job! All the best, OP!
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 9:41 AM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I still have to re-up my student loan forbearance, heal from a recent injury, find a better job, network, exercise, afford to eat right (I have to go to Food Bank at the moment and all they seem to have are carbs), pay off a loan of $100 to a friend, move (the place I live has some serious issues). I'd like to have a healthy relationship someday, but I'm way too ashamed of myself and my life to let anyone in.

This seems like a really overwhelming list. If I had that as my to-do list, I'd probably freeze up and end up doing none of it. Not because those things are impossible, but because you've listed your big goals as though they were items on a to-do list, but each of those is going to require a lot of individual steps.

So, my suggestion is to start with those individual steps. Take each item on your list and ask yourself: what is the smallest concrete step you could take that would move you toward that goal. So, you want to pay your friend back? $100 is a lot of money to think about all at once. Get a jar and try to put some money in the jar every day. If you have a dollar you can throw in there, awesome. If all you can spare for a day is a dime, that's still moving you toward your goal. Eventually, you'll have the $100. Similarly, healing is a kind of nebulous thing, a lot of which is out of your control. So what can you do, today, that will help you recover? Just focus on that, and when you get done with that, do the next thing.

By the way, I 100% stole this from David Allen's Getting Things Done, which you may find useful (the library should have it). Good luck!
posted by Ragged Richard at 11:10 AM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


You can get through this. I know 70+ year old people who made drastic life changes/improvements. Don't force your love life... it will come when it comes, and the better you are, the better things you have to give.

It may be worth looking into teaching again... a ta is the lowest of the low, and as we all know, merde flows downhill. Something where you'd be reasonably in charge of the syllabus and hopefully not having to do all the grunt work might be a vastly different experience. Does your town have anything like leisure learning? http://www.llu.com/


If you happen to live near Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, or LA, I work with a Life Enrichment Boot Camp program that I believe is very effective. And cheap! (And no, I don't get paid in any form or fashion)
posted by Jacen at 11:36 AM on June 18, 2012


MeMail me if you're interested in becoming some sort of check-in/pep-talk buddies via email/chat/phone. I am a grad student with several things in common with you, including motivation issues and the pressing need to get my shit together, and we could try holding each other accountable. Good luck to you. :)
posted by désoeuvrée at 12:01 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


his last GF was prettier than me

This is a really shit thing to say, and I'm going to issue a reflexive DTMA based on that alone.

I don't think anyone normal would want me.

Please don't do this to yourself, it's absolutely not true. You sound like a pretty together person, overall. You're responsible, introspective, and trying hard to improve your lot. Most guys could get so lucky.

I get the overwhelming part, which is why you've got to break this all down into small steps, and tackle them one at a time. I recently went through a stretch where nothing got done because there was too much to do, and everything else had to be done first! But i worked through it by List-making and compartmentalizing, then just powering through, one little thing at a time.

As dumb as it may sound, some simple task-management/gtd type software to help you prioritize, and keep you on track might help a lot. It helped me, as I was able to better stick to the plan (I blew off hard deadlines pretty quickly, though) and put one foot in front of the other. It made each thing less overwhelming as I was able to check small things off every week or two, as I knocked 'em down, and after sticking to the list pretty well for a year or so, I don't find myself as overwhelmed nearly as often.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:57 PM on June 18, 2012


With all respect to Rube R. Nekker, I think Byron Katie is generally a poor choice for many people who are overly self-critical. The "turnaround" process may be liberating for a lot of people, but for people who are already doing negative self-talk (and who are getting negative feedback from others close to them) it can be highly destructive.

David Burns's Feeling Good and its associated workbook have helped a lot of people I know overcome habits of negative self-talk and catastrophizing.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:11 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Your life is miserable to you. But there is no shameful act described. It sucks to be poor, and to be so ill with depression that you can't function to get a better job/apartment/life. Your friends will understand.
posted by theora55 at 6:23 AM on June 19, 2012


Addressing only the work/skills part of your question:

I became a freelance writer, then the market crashed and I got burned out and ended up doing temp office work for four years and now the thought of getting back into writing is daunting.

My local library offers free online courses in Office 2010 and html etc. and there are a lot of online Creative Suite tutorials & resources. Set small goals and get comfortable with the updated software and you'll feel better about getting back into writing. It may sound crazy but your food bank probably needs new copy all the time for fundraisers, their website (press releases?), etc. Even if you do it for free, you will get current experience, current references, and community connections out of the deal.

I'm scared to get back out there and try working in my field because I think no one will want me.

Expect to be completely ignored 9 out of 10 times you reach out (resumes, emails). It's just the way it is, and has nothing to do with you. I have found that even when people/organizations do want your help/involvement, they are flaky about communication. It's not a reflection of your skills or value.

Teaching, I simply hated. I taught undergrads as a TA/adjunct and it paid so little and was an awful experience and I have no interest in getting another degree just so I can teach kids even younger than that.

I hated teaching too. Standing in front of a class being the expert was the stuff of nightmares for me. But I love tutoring. One-on-one is different, have you ever done that? Your city probably has a literacy group, a new immigrant nonprofit, an urban community center with an educational component. Teach kids, teach adults, teach inmates, whatever works for you, in a one-on-one or small-group setting. It is a completely different experience. And when a position opens up for a volunteer coordinator, or a grant writer, or a development director, you're already there and connected.
posted by headnsouth at 6:46 AM on June 19, 2012


afford to eat right (I have to go to Food Bank at the moment and all they seem to have are carbs)

Have you applied for food stamps? A much better option than food bank, at least in my experience (I'm in WA state). Also, see if there are any Food Not Bombs dinners in your area.
posted by parrot_person at 7:40 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Teaching can definately suck (I've heard plenty of stories - my uncle was a life-long high-school teacher).

However... Technical training on-the-other-hand pays quite well - the key thing is that you need to be a fast learner, to understand the material and then quickly transition to presenting the material.

In some ways the "tech" business is perfect for people with ADD - because it keeps changing - as a technical trainer, your course offerings will HAVE to change from year to year.

Some technical trainers (like my ex) learn in-house, custom software applications - and then produce the curriculum (sometimes from scratch (being a writer would be a plus here!), sometimes with the assitance of a technical writer).

Now - the money you make is dependant on the market you are in - but up-here in "Energy-sector" a technical trainer can easily make upwards $60/hr ... Once you get "certified" to train specific software products or technologies - that number will jump much higher...

That being said - I understand learning a new technology can be difficult - myself however, I prefer learning directly (I cannot sit in a classroom - but I can train ;-) )

So on-that-note of "self-learning" - if you are interested in the following - send me a MeMail - I will give you a freebie Microsoft Office 365 SharePoint collaboration site for the next year - you will be your own "Site Administrator". This will let you "play" around with it, learn it, etc - in addition this gets you a copy of Office 2010 Professional, a 25gb Exchange/Outlook email account and a Lync account.

Why? I do this for many friends & associates, who want to learn more about Microsoft SharePoint - currently you would be number 24... SharePoint is a hot commodity - heck, I may even be able to funnel you remote training sessions/technical writing - or other work in the future (I am not a recruiter or agency - you would negotiate terms with the company(s) yourself).

Next - get out in-person, network - join some technical user groups - use Meetup.com or EventBrite to join fun activity groups (or technical groups too).
posted by jkaczor at 6:33 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


When my friend refers to me having no marketable skills, he means that I am not an engineer, doctor, lawyer, etc. He's right. My skillset is nebulous.

To put this not so gently... FUCK THAT SHIT... That is ancient wisdom, no longer valid in a connected, ever-shifting fast-paced world. That is my grandparents mentality - they simply cannot conceive of a career which is not "traditional" - the only ones they understand are engineer, doctor, lawyer, teacher or politician. Is that reality? Not anymore.

First thing - shake the depression - get medicated for both it and the ADD.

Second thing - small sucesses build confidence - especially for someone with ADD - I know... personally...

Third thing - it is not going to be as hard as you think. Once you get into the tech business in any real fashion - you will find that no one knows everything. Heck - I spend most of my day telling people things like; "no - I don't know that offhand - but I can research and get back to you". Because the key thing is to deliver that answer as swiftly as possible - but more importantly to build trust and not attempt to "lie" about an answer.

Fourth thing - you haven't mentioned this - but go for sleep apnea testing - if you have it, sometimes it can create symptoms that appear to be both ADD and depression...
posted by jkaczor at 6:43 PM on June 20, 2012


Okay, so here's the deal. I could relate to every one of the situations you described because I have been (or are) in the same dilemmas myself. Been there, done that. My first observation is that you HAVE to find some way to believe in yourself and your ability to survive the down times in life. Therapy is a great start on that path.

1) Make a list of your personal assets and the things you have to be grateful for, just for today.

2) Anybody you spend time with who doesn't think you're awesome is someone that is not good for you. Surround yourself with loving and supportive people.

3) You're obviously really intelligent and capable or you wouldn't have an Ivy League undergrad and 2 master's degrees. Ask yourself what it is that you'd really like to do, do the research to find out how to get there, and take small steps each day to work towards the goal.

4) If you want to get back into your field, walk through the fear and put yourself out there. Let others decide if they don't want you. Don't make their decision for them.

5) Continue to work on your skill set. Take classes, go to the library, volunteer. Whatever you have to do to keep learning each and every day.

6) Reach out to people. Smile at someone in the grocery store. Introduce yourself to someone new. Look for opportunities to meet and talk to folks in their 40's.

7) Take good care of yourself. Get the help you need for your depression. Exercise. Hug your cat. Buy some cheap plants for your pad. Fix your place up so it's comfortable.

You don't have to figure everything out all at once. Take it a little at a time. Give yourself credit for getting through the day. It will take time and effort to turn things around. Don't give up. As cliche as it sounds, it's true that the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Memail me if you want to talk more.
posted by strelitzia at 1:55 PM on June 25, 2012


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