Help me not screw up my life!
July 14, 2012 12:32 AM   Subscribe

I got fired from two of my three jobs for absenteeism. For some reason, when I get stressed out in life, I get so down that it's hard to go in. I get sick to my stomach and anxious, it's like I have a panic attack at just the thought of going in.

This time it was relationship problems. My partner and I fought all the time, and sometimes I wouldn't get enough sleep because we'd stay up fighting. It started off with me calling off because I felt miserable at not getting enough sleep, but escalated to me calling off whenever we had a big fight because I was so distraught that my relationship was failing and felt miserable at some of the things said in the relationship.

It got to the point where I felt embarrassed and ashamed to even call in because I'd let them down so many times before. That's how I lost the first job - I no called no showed three times.

The second one, there was a little bit of hope but it was too late. I hadn't discussed my personal life before because I was afraid of being judged. The manager sat me down and told me if I called off one more time I'd be fired. He asked what was going on and I admitted to dealing with personal problems. He said I should discuss taking a leave with my section manager. However, he also mentioned that my productivity that day was poor (I'd had a hard time just coming in and felt like I was going to cry at the drop of a hat. I hadn't told anyone though so it probably looked like I was just slacking off.) I felt so ashamed and so horrible for letting my coworkers down, and I felt so depressed at even being to the point that I had one more call off and I was done that I left right after the talk and didn't come in the next day. I haven't been able to go back since because I've felt too ashamed, plus I know as soon as I go on I'll be fired.

My question is - how can I prevent this from happening in the future? How can I go in to work anyway when I feel so horrible? I want to be resilient and learn how to handle stress better. I feel like I've wasted some great opportunities, lowered people's opinions of me and let people down. This has been a pattern in my life, only before it was something low stakes like school.

I don't understand why this happens with me or why it seems so difficult to complete my responsibilities when I have personal issues going on. I'll get sick to my stomach at the thought of even going in to work, hyperventilate and feel like I'm having a mini panic attack. At first I would feel better once I got in the car. Now I can be fully dressed, ready to go, outside, and still not bring myself to go in.

I know that to be truly productive in society I need to learn how to get past this. But how?! I managed to force myself to go in anyway and it worked for awhile, but then after a particularly bad fight with my girlfriend I wanted to call off. She helped me go in anyway, I was miserable and close to tears the entire time I was there thinking about our relationship falling apart and left after two hours. I then didn't go in for almost a week because I was so afraid of that happening again. It's gotten extremely bad in the past two weeks; I've barely worked at all. Before it would happen for a day or two, then a few would go by and then I'd be fine, then there would be another day or two I'd feel this way. But now, and this is probably because my relationship is hanging on by a thread, it's a struggle every single day to go to work.

Has anyone had any similar experiences? I'm desperate to put an end to this pattern.

I'm seeing a psychiatrist already and they're setting me up with a therapist soon. What are some other things I can do to stop this pattern? I still have one job, thankfully, but I just took a huge income/opportunity cut for no reason other than I couldn't handle life stress. Help!!
posted by Autumn to Work & Money (22 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
See your therapist. They will help you cope with that flow of emotions.

Work is somethings a distraction to the chaos in one's life. Probably that "wall" of separation between the life at home and life at the workplace isn't there for you. Remake it, or every single problem will express itself in your work (as it already is basically). That won't lead to being employed for long.

If your therapist is the type that can provide a prescription, perhaps some medication along with the therapy will help you settle down enough to go to work. Medicine can be expensive and intrusive... but it is one tool to help you concentrate on what needs to done, it is not a cure, it is an aid to recovery. Do not rely on the medicine if given, understand what it does and do the homework your therapist gives you.

Good luck.
posted by Bodrik at 12:41 AM on July 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Therapy and possibly medicine, yes, if you are comfortable with that. It shouldn't hurt but it may not be necessary.

You have to box off your work time, starting at home. If your work starts at 9AM and it takes you an hour to clean and dress and get ready, then an hour to get to work, your workday really starts at 7AM. At 7AM you just have to turn off everything else, get ready for work, and go.

It's not your work that is the problem, it is your partner or that relationship. At 7AM (in this example), you just turn that off or like hit "Pause", and get going on your standard workday. Whatever else is was paused will still be there when you get back from work and should not affect your work. "It" is suspended during that time, and basically your emotions about that "it" need to stay suspended too, so you can afford to eat!

Most people do this naturally, more or less, but it is easy enough to learn on purpose, and force yourself to do, until it becomes a habit. (And habits can be bent if needed.)

Instead of losing the jobs, to the point that you won't have anything to eat or any place to stay, you might need to lose the relationship.

The best way to manage stress of this kind is to get rid of it.

For most people, if one can box off or wall off work from personal life, both get better. There are exceptions, which only prove that general rule.

(I am in no way a therapist or doctor. This is only my opinion, based on some life experience.)

Good luck.
posted by caclwmr4 at 1:06 AM on July 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

It's not your work that is the problem, it is your partner or that relationship.

Clearly get help and don't dismiss medication to help you with your various personal issues but keep in mind that work keeps you housed, fed, clothed. These are fundamental needs. Whatever need the relationship meets is more higher level. Won't being homeless be worse than whatever is going on?

If keeping a roof over your head i.e. a job is a priority break it down in a series of tasks. Get dressed (shower and appropriate clothing is all that is required), travel to work, walk to your work station, do task one, do task two, do task three...whenever your mind wanders to the drama at home you redirect it to the task at hand. Repeat as necessary. Your goal here is to turn up and meet minimum requirements only.

As you learn to focus on the task at hand you may find that work is a relief, too, when there is drama in your personal life. The drama will still be there when you get home. You can get back to it at that point.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:10 AM on July 14, 2012

Best answer: In lieu of the obvious great steps of seeing a therapist and possible medications, I have a few ideas. You might check with your doc about having FMLA as a temporary option to protect your job.....Moving, on...I feel for you. I have intense anxiety issues that I won't go into but a bit of ritual helps especially b/c I don't usually have enough of a pattern in my living. For example, I dread waking up many days. Getting to work seems too difficult. Sleep sometimes is poor (and it sounds to me that you are one who needs solid amount of sleep on a regular basis, unlike some lucky folk.)

-- I set my clothes nicely hung/folded etc in the bathroom near shower the previous eve. I use soap/deodorant/ etc that smells nice. I give myself 10 minutes extra just so I don't have to rush if I don't want to. -->This streamlines that difficulty from gettting out of bed and getting to the shower, which helps relax and rejuvenate. It gives my world a small area of order. This also works for exercise later on. I put my clothes out. It give my mind the positive intention the previous night.

-- Eat a good breakfast. (Me? Granola, or oat egg, juice or tea--nothing that takes too long but that I can sit and enjoy. Buy instant packs to start if that helps.) Evalauate if your body is HIGHLY sensitive to coffee. Maybe decaf for a little while and drink a lot of water.

-- Have a CD or mp3 on you ride to work that has either good music, positive message, or interesting podcast/talk shows.

-- Basic stretching in the morn. Also basic stretching at night when you get home. I find a shower after work does wonders from washing the mental dirt of the day off. The stretching can be five minutes. Don't burden yourself yet with a tyranny of the shoulds as they say.

Please feel free to mefi mail me. You are going to get through this and things will get better. You are taking positive steps.
posted by snap_dragon at 3:53 AM on July 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

I have the exact same problem. I don't have a lot of advice to offer, but if you do figure out what's going on and what helps, I would love to know what works for you.

Best of luck.
posted by windykites at 4:35 AM on July 14, 2012

You can learn to manage stress better, and you can take steps to remove some of the stress in your life. I see from a previous Ask that you were working a shitload of hours. Maybe reducing them some would be preferable to losing the job. It would really be good if you could get rid of some of the relationship drama too, but it sounds like that is not going to happen overnight. Overall it just sounds like you have enough going on that anybody would be stressed out.

I do agree with others' suggestions about making the job a refuge from the personal stuff. I have done this in the past by writing down everything I like about my job and trying to maximize those parts. If you don't like any parts of it, maybe you need a different job. Even in a short-term or throwaway job there should be some activities you like, people you look forward to seeing, or something.
posted by BibiRose at 5:41 AM on July 14, 2012

The problem sounds to me like your partner. Do you live together? I would consider maybe not doing that. This way, when she tries to have an argument with you (or as she most likely phrases it "talk about our relationship problems") at 3 AM, you can say "Sorry, this isn't working for me. We can definitely have this conversation tomorrow, but if you don't let me get to sleep right now then you need to go back to your place."

I was actually in a similar situation about six years ago - with a partner who was very argumentative at any point in the evening (she was a bartender so we had very different sleep schedules) and wouldn't let me get any sleep, to the point where my productivity at work suffered. I solved the problem by breaking up with her, and it was one of the best decisions of my life.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 5:55 AM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

One of my rules in relationships is, if you mess with my job, you've got to go. I tolerate a lot from someone I love, but interfering with my ability to support myself is simply not acceptable.

If it's so bad that it's affecting me at work, it's time to rethink the relationship. This rule has never failed me.
posted by MexicanYenta at 6:11 AM on July 14, 2012 [12 favorites]

Have you had a physical recently? I had similar work issues for a number of years before being diagnosed with an invisible physical illness. IANAD, but I have learned the hard way that hidden physical issues can have a huge effect on one's mental health, particularly when you're under stress.

I don't mean this as an alternative to therapy/meds but as one more piece of the puzzle.
posted by camyram at 6:25 AM on July 14, 2012

Do you like your job and/or coworkers? Can you look at it as a welcome escape from home drama? Perhaps you can focus enough on your job that you don't have time to think about home. I know this is easier said than done, I have a hard time not bringing home stuff to work too.
posted by IndigoRain at 7:10 AM on July 14, 2012

It's interesting to me that you've posted this to work and money, rather than relationships. Because - having skimmed your past questions - I don't see that your problem is your job (as in "my boss is toxic help" or "I have a hard time getting to work on time because I get lost in the internet help"). Solving your relationship problems will solve your job problems. I see from your last question that your girlfriend is against couples' therapy. This would probably be a dealbreaker for me. It may not be for you.

So. While I think that seeing a therapist on your own will help a lot in terms of managing your stress, and being able to handle your work life even when your personal life isn't All That, your goal should be - ideally - to get to a place in your relationship where you don't have the kinds of problems that create so much stress that you literally can't go to work.

Good luck.
posted by rtha at 8:46 AM on July 14, 2012

I think I know how you feel - I have had relationship troubles many times and did struggle to keep a lid on my emotions well enough to turn up on time and concentrate. At uni I made use of a flexible schedule and swapping shifts to work around the tough times, but in my 9-5 job it has been a lot harder so I feel for you.

I think your manager is right to suggest work solutions, e.g. turning up later rather than not at all, taking leave/a "mental health" sick day to help you keep your job. After all, finding and training good employees is time consuming and expensive so there is an incentive for them to help you stay in your job.

But I would also suggest talking with your therapist about the sense of shame you feel - that you feel you are letting your coworkers down and that you feel like you can't discuss things because you are afraid of being judged. It strikes me that these sensitivities are impeding communication with your manager, and that means the manager is not able to help you handle the problem. My instinct is that talking to your manager early on would help get them onside.
posted by EatMyHat at 8:57 AM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hi, I was in a similar situation with panic attacks, especially in college. I'm not sure how I graduated what with all the classes I missed. The only thing that stopped it for good was medication. I got started on clonazepam (Klonopin) and lamotrigine (Lamictal). I never miss work for panic attacks anymore and rarely skip social occasions.

But if your relationship is this fighty and tenuous, why are you still in it? Some people just push your anxiety buttons, consciously or not. Life is too short for that. You deserve better.
posted by desjardins at 11:29 AM on July 14, 2012

I see from a previous question that you're quite young. Seriously, get out of the relationship. You do not want to waste your youth stressed out by this kind of stuff. This should be a happy time in your life.
posted by desjardins at 11:34 AM on July 14, 2012

Cognitive. Behavioral. Therapy. And DTMFA. The meds can be a stopgap solution, but long-term change probably won't be on the table if meds is all you do.
posted by PsychoTherapist at 7:15 PM on July 14, 2012

posted by serena15221 at 12:56 AM on July 15, 2012

Response by poster: Thought I'd update that I lost job #3 today. They told me that I took too long to call them back with my schedule for the other jobs and they hired someone else and didn't have room for me anymore.
posted by Autumn at 7:53 PM on July 15, 2012

I went though the same thing.
I'd even go sit in an empty office, next to where my actual office was, trying to psych myself up to walking in, and would end up sitting/lying there for 8-9 hours, until everyone had gone home. Urgh. Anyway, what you're writing is familiar. Inability to deal with anxiety. Try reading Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. Realising that the feeling I was having, was just a feeling, and actually meant didly-squat, kinda helped too, rather than self-talking into willed-helplessness.

What worked for me:
Antidepressant (Cetirizine), benzodiazipines for in-the-moment panic attacks (clonazepam, lorazepam).
Not working more than 40 hours a week.
35 hours + wednesday morning off, really worked. I readjusted my expectations to what I was capable of, not what I thought I 'should' do, which just lead to crash and burn.

Also, Work / Home / Relationships.
I can cope if at least 2 out of 3 going well.
Other people have additional categories that might help, such as Exercise / 'Hobby' / Friends. The secret to resiliency is having multiple sources of strength, so that if one or more of them go AWOL, you still have the others to help you cope.
If you know that one or more is going badly, see what you can do to shore up the other support structures in your life. Make your bed and put up a picture of bright flowers.
Arrange to meet with friends. Radically reinvent your worklife or relationship.

Also, discuss with your partner, the ability to halt fights, and put them on hold. You're not ignoring them, you need to mutually agree on a time & place (set alarms even!), where you will take up the issue again. Maybe practice, with a silly little disagreement. Talk for 5-10 minutes, then stop where you are, and agree to discuss the issue at a future time and place.
'Stay up and Fight' is a really toxic, stupid relationship practice. Being able to go to bed, make it to work, and discuss things when you aren't exhausted is very, very helpful.

Ring a friend or even a helpline if something like this happens again, and draft out an email, or even a 'script' of what you need to say to your employers, in order to take the pressure off.
Show up. Ring up. Read the script.
Make a plan for what happens if you panic. A friend, therapists, etc, who you will text if you are frozen, and who will call on your behalf, if that makes it easier. I had a friend call me each morning to make sure I was getting into work during a bad patch.
If you aren't telling anyone what the problem is, well, there's your first problem. You have to confess. It takes a big dose of the emotional punch out of it, the fear that other people will find out. First step is admitting it and all that.

Memail if you need to. Two person support group and all of that.

Best of luck.
posted by Elysum at 8:56 PM on July 15, 2012

Ok, to break it down into more concrete, and immediate steps:

I'd suggest making a Dr's appt, printing your question for them, and getting some meds to get you through the short-term.
I would use just a half a lorazepam when I needed to unfreeze, or do something scary like contact my employers. It may sound silly, but I actually put a tiny container with two pills, on a necklace under my shirt. Just knowing that I could stop any freeze-freakouts, and start moving again if I needed too, meant that... I often didn't actually need it. Having that escape route helped me cope.

Ask your Dr for a medical note, explaining that you may have had trouble fulfilling your work duties, but are seeking treatment.
Send it to jobs 1 and 2 (and maybe 2), and apologise for the inconvenience to them, and that you appreciate the good stuff, blah blah blah, you had while you are there.
Worst case, same situation, no job. No harm, no foul.
Best case, they might be able to give you a few more hours to tide you over.

Dump extra commitments that you can't cope with at the moment. If you have studies, use the Drs note to see if you can suspend or withdraw from papers temporarily. Better than crashing and burning on them, ok?
posted by Elysum at 9:09 PM on July 15, 2012

The post you probably don't want to read, which is why it is a different post:

Oh, and each time I was doing really badly this way, I was in a non-functional relationship. The people weren't bad, but the relationships were.
I know you don't want to hear this, but, I coped better once I ended those relationships.
posted by Elysum at 9:12 PM on July 15, 2012

Best answer: Actually,
I did wonder whether the relationship was fixable. I felt like if I was just healthier, and more together, I'd have the energy to 'fix' the relationship. I was in a negative feedback loop, where the relationship was making Work more stressful, which was making the relationship more stressful.
Finally realised that I didn't have the energy, the relationship was a constant drain on the little energy I did have, and I wasn't going to miraculous find the energy I needed to really 'sort everything out', get past our communication difficulties, and wouldn't have the energy while I was in the relationship.
I needed to get rid of all the extraneous worries, and just focus on getting myself not-depressed, and coping with work.

In hindsight, I could have been right about 'just needing more energy' to fix it, but, more compellingly, I don't think it should have been that hard. In as much as we were both trying, there were ways in which we didn't speak the same language, and learning it was too slow, and too hard. It said that there were fundamental incompatibilities, that were preventing us from getting in sync.
Anyway, I am very happy that they are in a much better relationship now, without the dysfunctions of our relationship. Same for me!
posted by Elysum at 9:23 PM on July 15, 2012

Best answer: I think that people who talk about ending your relationship may very well be right- only you can decide that- but that seems to be an incomplete solution to me. If you're in a place where anxiety and depression can incapacitate you so much that you can't manage to go to work, then you'll probably still be in that place once you break up. Which is not to say that you should stay in a relationship that is making things even harder for you. But at the end of the day, I think you need to focus on becoming someone who can go to work even when they're really stressed. As I said earlier, I don't know how to do that- I can't make myself get out of bed if I'm having a bad day- but I think that it should be your focus; I don't think that only ending your relationahip will solve your problem. That said, ending the relationship could very well be what gives you the space and clarity and freedom to explore that.
posted by windykites at 8:24 AM on July 16, 2012

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