How to emerge out of a deep, dark hole
September 1, 2012 7:21 PM   Subscribe

How did you summon the strength to bounce back and/or change your life?

I lost my mother, who was also my best friend in the world, to cancer last year. My dad and brother are the most important people in my life but I have long accepted the fact I can never count on them for emotional support. My career is in shambles after I burned my bridges and left a job that was supposed to get me to where I want to be in the future. I have very very few friends who I see once every few months for dinner but overall I have no support system and practically do nothing on weekends except find some short-term catharsis in reading, cooking, going to Sunday mass, and occasionally watching DVDs from the library.I go to a free clinic every week to ramble about my disappointments and despair to a non-professional counselor for an hour. I've never been in a serious relationship and my dating history is disastrous and pitiful. I do my best to invest in myself, improve my emotional intelligence, and be as compassionate, resilient, grateful, and optimistic as I can possibly be every day... but sometimes I wake up and find the loneliness too overwhelming, almost unbearable. Sometimes I'd call a crisis hotline just to have someone to talk to.

I turn 25 in two months and I've been reflecting on the patterns of futility during the first 5 years of my 20s. I get depressed because I think this will continue no matter what I do and I was cursed to be lonely. I moved to the US with my Mom and Dad when I was 14 and after my Mom died last year almost all my motivation to succeed vanished, my inspiration to be the best I can be in this life is gone. I keep thinking that maybe if I go back to my country where life is much simpler I'd have more peace of mind, but then I don't want to make such drastic move only to regret it in the end.

I would appreciate any stories of how you actively overcame dark periods in your life. Hopefully the responses to this post will serve as an inspiration to many, not just myself.

Many thanks.
posted by twentyfoursummers to Human Relations (18 answers total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
I realized last year during one of my darkest moments to date that this can't be it. And I just started willing myself to stay curious about what lies ahead, to start affirming and asserting to myself that things do get better and that no matter how long it takes, I will get to that point. I'm a firm believer in asserting the positive over and over to yourself until it becomes true. I also started realizing that all the junk I was going through was still moving me forward in life. I was becoming stronger even when I felt I was weaker than ever. Now things I only dreamed of are finally starting to materialize and though certain things haven't quite figured themselves out yet, I know they will. In the meantime, I'm just focusing on being good to myself and others and enjoying the slow trek forwards.

Don't discount the possibility of returning home for a bit. A fresh start is incredible sometimes. Be kind to yourself. You can and will persevere.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:27 PM on September 1, 2012 [6 favorites]

A few months ago, I was in a really dark place in my life. My long term partner had just broken up with me and I was in danger of defaulting on my student loans because I was severely underemployed. What I did was call my parents and tell them that I was floundering and suicidal. They got me into quality treatment with an awesome doctor who seemed to just know what was wrong with me and immediately put me on the right medication. On this new medication, I feel loads better, and applied to a graduate degree program and threw myself into a job search. I made looking for a job into my job, and spent most of my free time networking. I found a great new job and started grad school within two months of being on the new medication. Through my grad program, I have made tons of new friends, and I think there is definitely friend potential with a few folks at my new job! I am even reconnecting with the ex who dumped me a few months ago, but fascinatingly, my world no longer hinges on what he thinks of me. I feel like a whole, complete person all on my own, and it never would have happened unless I had used all of my courage and asked for help. So, I urge you, please ask someone for help. It could make all the difference in the world.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 7:45 PM on September 1, 2012 [5 favorites]

I don't want to say my whole life story here, but let's just say that I had an emotionally and physically abusive mother, alcoholic father, was bullied from my elementary school days all the way until my first year of post-secondary school. I resorted to unhealthy habits like emotional eating (to an extreme), hibernating in my room (a safe place for me), drinking a lot and alone (to escape), and many other unhealthy behaviours eventually I reached a point where I was in a lot of distress, could barely function, ad was terrified of myself because of my dissociation.

I honestly don't know how I got through it because it was a lot for a kid to deal with, especially after I kept getting dragged down and experienced a lot of traumatic incidents early on in my life. I never talked about it all and bottled everything up for years. But, when I look back on it the one thing that I have had throughout my life is hope and the notion of it gets better even when it felt otherwise. Even a tiny bit of hope goes a long way. I'm only 21 years old, but that's something that has carried me through this decade or so of my life.

Things are by no means perfect for me, but I'm realizing that it does get better day by day, step by step.

The first step for me was to accept that there was a problem, seek professional help by working with a psychologist first, then psychiatrist and psychiatric nurse, and now biweekly with a psychologist. I haven't been working that long with this psychologist, but we've created homework for myself each time that I've seen him. It also helps because he's very rational and helps me sort through things.

Outside of professional help, I try to check in with myself a couple of times a week to see what I can do in order to improve my life. It's all about baby steps when you're going through loss, dealing with the after math of trauma, or feeling like you're in a dark place because of other reasons.

I'd recommend reading the book "The Slight Edge" by Jeff Olson. He talks about the power of making small changes in order to improve your life overall.

I wish I had better things to say, but I don't because I'm still dealing with a lot of my own. But, I just wanted to let you know that it's possible to get out of the dark place even if it feels like things will never get better. Be kind to yourself. Allow yourself time to heal. I wish you the best.
posted by livinglearning at 10:45 PM on September 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I tend to favor the "behavioral" approach of going out and keeping busy, feeling productive, distracting yourself from dwelling too much on your emotions, etc.

It sounds like you could potentially benefit from having more friends, so why not look for people with common interests in places like Sometimes it's hard to get the motivation but you just have to kick yourself in the rear and say "go do it".

Living in another country is not necessarily a bad idea if you are GENERALLY unhappy with life in the US, but keep in mind that often what happens is "the grass is greener on the other side of the fence" kicks in no matter where you go and you might soon start missing the positive things you feel about living here.
posted by Dansaman at 11:21 PM on September 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am so touched by your post. You come across as compassionate, self-aware, strong, and slightly earnest in a most genuine way. I wish I had more to offer you. At the risk of unsatisfactorily responding to your post, but with the intention of offering hope, I will share what I can. I think you may simply be grieving.

I remember a very dark time in my life when I was grieving during which I think that, to some extent, I despised myself. Self love is something that, ten years later, I still struggle with, but I am so far away from where I was, in that respect and in many others. Mostly I'm far away from that point because I do not have the weight of grief coloring everything that I am and that I do. I'm not sure what the turning point was; I don't think that there was one. I did receive real, caring, professional help--I mean a real therapeutic relationship that included trust, honesty, and a mutual positive regard. I also discovered myself through new interests and passions in a way that allowed me to unconsciously let go of some of the old ways of seeing myself. Most of all, time passed.

I'm sorry that I cannot be more concrete. But I remember sitting with my mother during that very dark time in my life and her saying to me that I would get past this, that I would look back on this and it would seem so far away. I also remember absolutely not being able to believe her from that vantage point. And even now, I don't think I could believe someone who said that to me, in a similar situation. But I'm saying it to you: There is a life for you beyond this. What you are feeling and struggling with is real and is also completely reasonable. Keep working on being as beautiful in life as it sounds like you are, approaching situations with compassion and gratitude, but please first direct that compassion at yourself. Be your own best friend. It sounds like you know how to spend quality time with yourself; but maybe don't be frustrated if that quality time involves just being where you are at emotionally. You may not be happy yet. But you can be happier again. I wish you way more than luck and hope that you look back on this post some day and feel far away from where you are now.
posted by sb3 at 11:33 PM on September 1, 2012 [6 favorites]

I also agree with the approach of doing a whole bunch of constructive things and that may include going back to your home country for a while. You might need to go back to your literal roots to work out where you want to go to next.

I was very close to my father and after he died it very much became 'how can we go on after this?'. I got stuck into work and study and tried to change that idea of everything being hopeless into something positive (or as positive as it can be).

I lost a tremendous amount of interest in all of the things that I had been passionate about before and had to find new things to be passionate about. That gave me a sense of purpose and now, several years later, I've been able to appreciate the things I was once interested in and incorporate them into my life now in a positive way.

You sound like you need something new in your life and if you don't have anything tying you to the US, why not go home for a bit and see what happens? Maybe you'll stay there, maybe you'll go back to the US, maybe you'll go somewhere else - whatever it is, maybe this is the opportunity to discover new interests and ideas and see where they take you.
posted by heyjude at 11:52 PM on September 1, 2012

Have you talked to a counselor at the clinic about grieving? You've just experienced the death of a parent. It makes sense that you want to get on with life, but grieving over a loved one is not as straight-forward as one would hope, and you may need more time. Also, did you experience depression before your loss, or is this a new feeling? What I'm getting at is that it's possible that your depression and lack of enthusiasm are symptoms of a normal process of grieving.
posted by deathpanels at 12:50 AM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think it's also helpful in these times to have some reminder that your sorrow and frustration are not yours alone. Being a human being means being subjected to the pain of loss. This is not to say that your pain is not important, but rather that it is important precisely because it is a universal experience. Death, loss, rejection, fear, dread, loneliness, defeat... all these experiences are close to the core of what it means to be a human being. Coming to terms with that can be a restorative experience.
posted by deathpanels at 12:57 AM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I lost my Mom suddenly last year, after spending most of it caring for my dying father-in-law. Then we moved, which was a good thing, but moving is a stressful event even under good circumstances. I love where I'm living, but often I am very isolated (due to having one vehicle for two people). However, I'm used to it, and I have some good online email support groups that I've belonged to for years. Would moving gain you a support system? Do you have friends and relatives there?

One thing these major life events bring into focus for me is to stop wasting time with people who are critical and negative. Seek out people who are in align with your life view. Join groups that reflect your interests. Like art? Go to art openings. Having friends and a support system might be your first goal. Seek out a grief counselor, who specializes in dealing with loss, and then once or twice a month, an event you can attend where you can meet people and start building up friendships.

Write down some goals for yourself, then pick one. My rule of thumb is: do three constructive things every day. I can't handle doing 20 things per day right now, but I can handle doing 3. Yesterday it was washing the bedding and vacuuming the bedroom and painting my toenails, because freshly painted tootsies always perks me up.

Any kind of physical movement helps me get through the dark times. Walking, even walking around the yard, scrubbing the crap out of the kitchen sink, beating a rug, etc. Almost every therapist I have ever gone to has advised exercise as the #1 thing to keep a positive attitude going, more than any other method. I knew a woman who had lost her teenaged son suddenly, and she was at the gym 2 hours a day, every day, for at least a straight year, and said it was the only thing that kept her from going insane. I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:39 AM on September 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

You mention going to mass. Does the church have a "young adults" group? Do they have adult Sunday School classes or weekday Bible study? Do they have groups who get together to do service projects: work at a soup kitchen, build a Habitat house, gleaning? Do they go on (mission, work, learning, fun) trips? Those are great ways to meet people, and frequently the people you meet there will also be searching for or struggling with difficult things.

Another place to look, depending on where you live, is for support resources or social groups of people from your country. This could be a good place to find friends with whom you have a lot in common. And, if you do decide to move back home, could help you find a support network for when you arrive.
posted by hydropsyche at 7:24 AM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am a very risk averse person. I grew up with a lot of rigidity, socially -- I mean I grew up with a lot of ideas about Some Things Are Just Not Done (AND we cannot talk about it). I spent a year at death's door due to a health crisis. For me, that was a positive turning point. It empowered me to move past such rigid expectations and begin finding things that worked for me.

It allowed me to learn to be more risk tolerant because I was being told "people like you don't get well". So I was willing to try alternative approaches because I was already under sentence of death, and it was a slow, torturous death. If trying something had, oops, killed me, well, I was dying anyway. Dying quickly looked like a better deal to me and I was willing to take that chance in hopes of getting better. I did get better.

People who are very stuck are usually there because of some internal programming. When life is miserable, you can view that as an opportunity to do some experimenting and see if something else works better.
posted by Michele in California at 8:05 AM on September 2, 2012 [5 favorites]

I got out of my black hole by getting very, very angry, and using that anger to say, "No more of this."

Find a good therapist: not a "non-professional" you "ramble" to, but someone who puts you back in touch with whatever intensity you have in you -- anger, fear, sadness (they are all in your post). As deathpanels says above, this is the stuff that makes you human. Use it. Anger or fear, when put to good use, can be amazing motivation. IANYT. But I wish you the best.
posted by Paris Elk at 10:27 AM on September 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm very sorry for your loss. Losing a parent is incredibly difficult.

A few thoughts, based on my own dealings with depression:

The thing that stands out most to me about your post is that you seem rather isolated - you say you have few friends and you don't feel you can count on your closest family members.

It's HARD to meet new people when you are struggling with depression and loss, but connecting with others is so powerful and helpful. I'd suggest trying to get out a few times a week and do something that allows you to interact with others on a subject/activity that you enjoy - or a book club, a cooking class, a knitting group.

Is there a support group for people dealing with the loss of a loved one in your area - perhaps through your church?

Volunteer work that requires physical activity and focus is great - spend several hours in the sun painting or picking up debris, and you will likely both have the mental relief of focusing on something neutral/interesting for a while, and the physical release of doing something difficult and tiring and then going home to shower and then sleeping like a baby.

Getting out into nature can be incredibly healing.

You mention some career difficulties but I'm not sure whether you are employed or not. If not I thinking finding work - even if it's just a placeholder job - will be very helpful.

As far as the love life goes, I think it's ok to put that on the back burner for now. It's ok to be single, and once you are feeling more positive and healthy you'll be in a much better place to find a positive and healthy relationship.

Good luck!
posted by bunderful at 11:55 AM on September 2, 2012

One other thing I thought of: Are there times before when you remember being happier, feeling better about life? What was the one or two biggest differences between then and now. Might be helpful to figure out whether there are specific differences that contribute to your emotional state and which ones you can control...
posted by sb3 at 1:53 PM on September 2, 2012

Oh I completely missed the phrase about going to Sunday mass, I am so so sorry for being so careless.

But since you already have a church, it's pretty obvious you need more pastoral care from them so I think you should bring this need to them. Tell them what you've told us. This is exactly what they're there to help you with.
posted by tel3path at 2:03 PM on September 2, 2012

I am so sorry for your losses.

I was suicidally depressed through high school and much of my 20s and 30s. If I could go back and tell my younger self something, I would say "everything changes". Even though it might seem like your life will never change -- it will. There is beauty and wonder in the world, and it is worth sticking around to see it.

I think what got me through my darkest moments was being curious -- wondering what happens next in the book of life. That and being very stubborn.

My heart goes out to you -- peace.
posted by elmay at 5:07 AM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I highly recommend listening to Awareness by Anthony de Mello. His soothing words of no-nonsense wisdom have helped me immensely throughout the darkest times of my life, the most recent of which I've returned to Awareness to get through right now. It's extraordinary how quickly I'm able to calm down from the onset of depressive feelings after hearing some of the things he says.

He does say some things that can be quite shocking to hear at first, but one thing I really admire about de Mello is that he says early on, and even reminds you later, that if you are not questioning and testing for yourself what he is saying, then you are allowing yourself to be brainwashed. He puts the highest priority not on blindly following what he or any teacher says, but of discovering the truth for yourself.

The mp3 files of his talks are freely available at this web site. Scroll down a little from the homepage to watch the first few Youtube videos of his Awareness talks to see how you like them. To get the complete talks on mp3, go to right hand side under "1. Tony resources," where you'll find a link to the bittorrent file. I would suggest buying them if that were an option, but the audio talks don't seem to be available for purchase anywhere.
posted by Ryogen at 1:07 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

You have my condolences regarding the loss of your mother.

I don't have any experience dealing with the death of a close family member, but I have gone through several really dark times recently and I feel I am at that same exact stage of transition as you are, so hopefully I can help in some way.

I'm at that stage in transition where I'm trying to set juuuust the right amount of tension needed to bounce back and regain my ambition and will to live, BUT I'm still feeling too shaky and nervous about the consequences change can initiate in my life. To respond to your request, this is what I've done to deal with my issues and what I have found helps push me despite my reluctance to initiate change.

I'm a college student that suffers from depression constantly (it runs in the family) and has reached that rock-bottom of self-destruction 4 times these past two years. My issues stem from a variety of causes, but, after finally going through with therapy (and meds), I am now able to address each one everyday. It's not easy, but, like many of the other posters(sp?) have stated, it's important to have a support group to depend on in times of weakness and urge me on. Not just someone close, but someone who is close and positive. They're the ones that not only listen, but also push you to do something to better yourself.

I have very very few friends who I see once every few months for dinner but overall I have no support system and practically do nothing on weekends except find some short-term catharsis in reading, cooking, going to Sunday mass, and occasionally watching DVDs from the library.

You definitely have to go out and seek that support system. It's hard, I know (I'm a big time introvert), but even if it's just to a stranger, every time you feel out of fuel or lost, talk to someone about it. Now, don't just complain. Make plans, ask about how the other person is feeling too and see if you can help each other. Do not just complain and that's it. That was my beef with my last psychiatrist, I was talking and letting it all out, but afterwards, I just felt empty with nothing to do. Then, I started making small goals, learning to create small habits (liek wake up at 6am even if I didn't have anything to do) and accomplishing those goals helped me gain back a little bit of self-confidence. Marie Mon Dieu's on the ball when they say to write down and complete a small set of goals. Completing tasks, no matter how small helps a lot. Set your goal and make plans that forces you to take action in improving one aspect of your life.
posted by lifegoeson at 12:39 PM on September 6, 2012

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