Anxious and depressed
August 27, 2012 4:21 PM   Subscribe

I find day to day life really stressful, and I'm not sure what I can do about it.

I'm a 26 year old female, engaged to an amazing man, with good relationships with my family. I used to be a very laid-back person, and I didn't really have a problem with stress until I went back to school last year. I now have a job in the health care profession. My stress levels are less than when I was in school, but I am still worrying and unhappy a lot.

I am a massive worrier, a procrastinator, and a perfectionist. I was in a very intense/competitive academic program in the health care field. During school I would wait until the night before the test to study, so I'd study from 4pm-11pm and then get up and study 4am-7am on test days. I tried over and over again to study after school but I would just get distracted. I ended up making great grades but they could have been perfect if I had just studied every day after school. This has been my pattern my whole life, I have a bachelors degree and I would wait until 8pm the night before to start massive research papers, but for some reason it didn't stress me out during my undergrad.

It carries over to other parts of my life. Sometimes I don't open my mail because I am worried about what I'll find inside, and then I put it off for weeks until I either pony up and go through it or have a melt down. I am constantly trying to find the perfect routine of when to go to the gym, what to eat, when to cook meals for the week, how to maximize time spent with my fiance, etc. Planning really soothes me but I don't follow through with my plans. It sounds like I am super type-a but in reality I can spend HOURS in front of the computer, and I do several days a week to the detriment of other aspects of my life.

My job is so stressful. I'm brand new in an already stressful profession, and I feel like I'm juggling 20 balls in the air all the time, and I have never before been in a profession where literal life-or-death situations arise and it's my assessments that determine whether or not to call the doctor, give a med, etc. However, I really like many aspects of my job and the facility I work in is fantastic. Everyone at work says that I am always so calm, even when the shit hits the fan but in my head I am screaming.

I feel like once I get settled in to my job, which can take up to a year, the stress will decrease. But what worries me is that I don't feel happy like I used to. I just feel nothing a lot of the time. The other day I was making dinner with my fiance after a particularly stressful day, and something so stupid triggered me to start crying/hyperventillating. My fiance tried to talk me through it but for some reason in my head all I could think about is how I know he is going to die soon (?? he's completely healthy) and the rest of my family will eventually die. It was completely irrational but in the moment it was all I could think about, even though it was unrelated, and I just could not let it go until I fell asleep. I think it might have been a panic attack. It was so scary the way my thought process was out of my control.

I also have had no sex drive since starting school. I think I need to see my doctor about depression/anxiety but I am worried about taking an anti-anxiety med and dulling my thought process. And it almost seems like I have ADHD but I have no clue. I am scared to call my doctors office because I had an appointment in July that I missed because I was scheduled to work that day and was unable top take off, so I didn't show up. I know I need to just do it but I can hardly think about it. Does this sound like anxiety? What meds have worked for those of you with anxiety/depression?

FWIW I go to the gym every day and run 4+ miles. If I didn't I would have driven myself crazy long before this.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
I think you definitely need to talk to someone about this. Does your employer offer an employee assistance program? I was able to get 5 free visits with a therapist through my employer and they were able to find someone who was covered by my insurance if I wanted to continue after the free visits. They were also able to find someone who could work around my schedule so I didn't have to take time off.
posted by sacrifix at 4:28 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Without wishing to try and be an unqualified internet doctor, it does sound similar to a state of mind a friend of mine was recently diagnosed with, which was described as "impaired executive function". Formerly (as I understand it) seen as just part of ADHD. I would certainly see if an expert can help: it might be that, it might not, but best to know. Hope it works out for you.
posted by imperium at 4:28 PM on August 27, 2012

Yes, I agree that you've got classic signs of both depression and anxiety, which are very frequently linked. And you really, really should see your doctor about this ASAP.

You are in a high stress field, which is historically linked to dysfunctional behavior. So feeling overwhelmed, fearful, and numb are not really unusual. I.e., you are not alone, and I bet this is treatable.

One other thing I'd really recommend is making NOT procrastinating a priority. It really feeds your anxiety. Rather, I'd put an effort into advance planning which doesn't just set expectations for yourself, but is actually about allowing yourself the time and organization you need for your tasks. I think what's happening here is that you are putting the bar far too high in terms of your expectations for yourself, then beating yourself up for not meeting it.

It really helps to plan a routine, e.g. on x days I will go to the gym for x time, on Friday/Saturday night I will go out with the fiancee, on Sunday I will shop and cook. Do what you need to do to avoid having things piling up, e.g. plan 15 minutes a day to open and sort mail. And plan your down time too. You need it.

Thanks for doing the work you do. Don't forget how important it is to care for yourself, too.
posted by bearwife at 4:37 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am very similar to you in terms of perfectionism, worrying and procrastination, but have learned to not put things off to a greater or lesser extent (although I really really want to!!). I started having real issues when I started going to school full time while working part to full time, and just didn't have time for everything. I'd think "why am I doing this at all if I can't do it 100% right?" and then use that as an excuse to not do it at all.

What got me is the realization that DONE IMPERFECTLY IS BETTER THAN NOT DONE AT ALL. And when I started to operate on this basis, I started to do things earlier. I stopped obsessively needing everything perfect, because all that was achieving was me not doing ANYTHING.

Changes from then to now: instead of a totally messy room, I have a more-or-less clean apartment (my clothes are up on the drying rack, I have a couple pots in the sink, and it badly needs a dusting and sweeping, but it's totally a liveable space). Instead of waiting till the last minute to study, I study a few days earlier. It's still not great, but it has abated my stress levels SO MUCH. And for papers, same thing. I start earlier, and have time to actually do more than one draft. This results in far better papers, and though they're not perfect, they are SO much better than before.

How you can translate this into the workplace? Prioritize and set your goals for the day, including the ones for home. Do things as they come up, don't put them off. Be okay with not doing a perfect job, and you will end up doing a much, much better job.

What I find ultimately that worry = inaction. By taking action, I worry less because I am doing something about it.
posted by DoubleLune at 4:37 PM on August 27, 2012 [9 favorites]

Sounds like depression to me. I would cry over the littlest things (like bf's dirty dishes) when I was depressed and anxious a few months back, like I only saw a massive To Do list with no end in sight. I forgot how to enjoy life. I'm not a qualified professional, but I think you need to seek therapy.

But after therapy, meds (Cipralex is working well for me), addressing other health issues and making changes to my routine, I feel like laid back self again and I remember what it is to enjoy the little things in life instead of worrying/being anxious all the goddamn time. Life is good again!

My recommendation:

(1) Seek therapy
(2) Scale back your obligations, get off your personal treadmill. You need time to deal with your work stress than be stressed by other things. Even if you get less done/are less fit/whatever, your mental health is top priority. You can get back on the treadmill later once you're ready for it.

Feel free to message me if you have any questions.
posted by Hawk V at 4:45 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am scared to call my doctors office because I had an appointment in July that I missed because I was scheduled to work that day and was unable top take off, so I didn't show up. I know I need to just do it but I can hardly think about it.

Lean on your fiancé, he can help you with this! "Hi, I'm calling on behalf of Anonymous, she needs to make an appointment, do you have anything available for this week? Thursday? Great. You can call her at 414-555-1212 to confirm."
posted by desjardins at 4:47 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think there's steps you can take so that you can side-step events that stress you out. Don't like to open bills? Set them all up online on autopay. Get direct deposit for pay checks, so you don't have to worry about getting to the bank. Buy stuff you need in big quantities so you don't have to stress about running out (toilet paper, tampons, deodorant, toothpaste, etc..)

And yes, to seeing a medical professional, therapist, life coach, etc..
posted by Ideefixe at 5:05 PM on August 27, 2012

Parts of this I could have written. It's a good idea to seek help.

But also try doing something fun, that is not related to your job, that you used to enjoy. There have been times when I've gotten locked into staying home reading self-help books and trying to figure out why my life isn't perfect, trying to get it right, etc.

The way to break that cycle - for me - is to go out and do something fun with other people that gives me perspective and joy. Sometimes a concert or a volunteer gig can shake me out of my fear and worry and remind me that there's more to life. It does have to be the *right* event - there's some chance involved, but when it helps it really helps.

I can't promise that this will also solve your problem, but it's very low-risk and if it does work then the rewards are high. Good luck!
posted by bunderful at 5:07 PM on August 27, 2012

Yeah, there must be an employee assistance program for this because you're in a high stress profession, no way you're the first to be affected by this occupational hazard.

And for overcoming procrastination, may I recommend Unfuck Your Habitat (on
Tumblr, also has an iPhone app).

Do two things now: find and call your employee assistance line, and then surf over to UFYH. No need to over think. Just do those two things right away.
posted by tel3path at 5:16 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

To elaborate on what some folks upthread have mentioned, stress relief should be a priority for you with your high-stress job and not something you feel is optional or a waste of time. Don't stress about your stress relief though or make it another chore to take care of. Whatever de-stressing means for you, watching trashy TV, a hobby that gets you out of your head, doing something fun with your boyfriend, consider it important for your health.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 5:27 PM on August 27, 2012

Sometimes I find the things I have assumed lead to personal happiness are only because other people value them and prioritize them. But they don't bring me any joy so I find no nurturing in them, and I get frustrated because it's like eating bowls of water and expecting myself not to be hungry.

Don't assume that because someone tells you something is important that it will make you happy. Like perfect grades, for instance. You have to prioritize the true sources of joy and set boundaries on the others. Say you give yourself 4 hours of studying a night, max. Set a limit. Study like all hell during those three hours, and then call it quits, have some sex, eat some ice cream, and be okay with whatever test result you get. Don't drive yourself and your fiance nuts with unrealistic random schedules. You've got another person whose well being is deeply linked to yours, now. Your mental state is serious business and needs care.

Defend the living shit out of what makes you truly happy. That means time for intimacy, time for building bonds, time for you. Everything else - no matter how much the world tries to make you think is desperately critical - can happen in the time that is left over.

It's hard to guilt trip yourself and work yourself into an anxious fit when you're happy like a fat cat at the core.

I cannot speak to meds, but being very honest with myself about what made me happy and what didn't and rebalancing my life towards the happy setting made a difference to me.
posted by griselda at 6:03 PM on August 27, 2012 [10 favorites]

I think the negative ideas you are having about seeking medication for your depression are highly likely to be a product of your depression and anxiety.

Use your partner for support, I too procrastinate and screw things up when I am depressed, so I had to have my husband phone and make my first doctor's appointment for me, and go along with me to make sure I got there.

Ask for whatever help you need.
posted by Catch at 6:52 PM on August 27, 2012

For what it's worth, I used to have exactly the symptoms you described until I started taking SNRIs to help with my ADHD/anxiety/depression. I'm less of a perfectionist than you are but I did constantly feel like I could have done better, that I was shooting myself in the foot, and then I'd go on to repeat the same patterns. I also used to compulsively make lists, have panic attacks that led to unrelated thoughts and couldn't be ended, and procrastinate ridiculously over simple things like the mail.

Please go see your doctor and talk about your feelings and your options. You don't have to continue to feel this way.
posted by buteo at 8:03 PM on August 27, 2012

As a point of reference, hormonal birth control can cause or contribute to several of your symptoms - depression, loss of sex drive, tiredness, etc. Mine increased with time as I was on it longer. Especially coinciding with school, this may not be related, but it may be something else to investigate.
posted by bookdragoness at 8:35 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Its a 3 months old post, but nevertheless I would strongly recommend NOT leaning too much on your fiancé and keep your communication very open with how you BOTH feel about your CONDITION. I am saying this because I ended up losing my long term girlfriend because I had similar panic attacks and depression as you and she could not handle it. By the time I realized it was affecting her as much, it was too late and she had already decided to bail. I don't blame her for it, because her own well-being was understandably her first priority, I just wish we had exchanged notes more clearly and she had told me (or I had realized!) about how much she was being affected by depression. So make sure you just DON'T look at your fiancé as your only support but also as someone who is being affected by this situation. Good luck!
posted by gunners at 5:57 PM on December 4, 2012

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