Need to reframe my thinking and comparing self to coworkers with families.
October 15, 2012 3:14 PM   Subscribe

How can I reframe my thinking so that I stop comparing myself to coworkers who do all they do AND have families to take care of at home?

How can I reframe my thinking so that I stop comparing myself to coworkers who do all they do AND have families to take care of at home? I'm kind of slipping into a depressive time-- the seasonal change probably isn't helping -- and I feel very rocky and unstable. My new job is mostly going well but it is a lot of responsibility and I feel myself slipping behind and have been having problems getting up and going to work, and making decisions and getting things done while there. I've worked a lot of hours to keep pace since I started. My eating habits are somewhat better, but I still don't have my crap together at home (clean, sane home environment) and basic things like brushing my teeth, getting dressed, and taking a shower are feeling harder. I keep on beating myself up for not being able to take care of myself properly, and comparing myself to my coworkers who have families at home and are taking care of kids. Meanwhile, I feel like I can barely take care of myself. I'm embarrassed and not sure how to explain myself. I've mentioned to my boss that I haven't been feeling well and she hasn't said anything really negative yet (though once mentioned she can tell I'm sort of 'spinning' in some decision making).

Do you ever feel like this, at least the part where you feel like you don't have any reason to be tired, late, etc because you don't have kids to take care of? (I don't even have a pet... can't find a pet-friendly apartment, or don't have the energy to look rather). Not only am I feeling this weird shame at work about not having dependents, but I guess it makes me sad to think that I'll never get my act together long enough to have any of these things. That is not helping either. Thanks for any advice.
posted by ArgyleMarionette to Human Relations (16 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
People with families at home have emotional support that those of us who live alone do not have. That's a HUGE difference.
posted by mollymayhem at 3:20 PM on October 15, 2012 [35 favorites]

This sounds like depression. Might be situational - taking on a new job with new responsibilities is a neurologically intense experience, and in that case it's mostly a case of "the only way out is through", but that doesn't mean you shouldn't pursue help and/or cut yourself some slack.

As for that specific thing about people with families at home, I hear you because I don't have children, but the thing I always remind myself is that I don't know what their home lives are like. Maybe they beat their kids, maybe the kids think their dad's name is Easy Mac. You don't know.

I guess it makes me sad to think that I'll never get my act together long enough to have any of these things

Please take it easy on yourself. You've got the new-job grinds, not a terminal disease! It will get better, you will get better, you will get your shit together with practice and time.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:24 PM on October 15, 2012

Sounds like classic symptoms of depression. I think if you compared yourself to other people who don't have families but also don't suffer from depression, you might find the same differences exist. Please don't feel ashamed and don't beat yourself up. You should feel that you are suffering from a problem that is not your fault and a doctor or other type of professional practitioner can help you.
posted by Dansaman at 3:26 PM on October 15, 2012

It took me years, years, to get to the point that most people consider a baseline level of function for a neurotypical person. It sucks, but the breaks are what they are. It is their responsibility to do their job, go home, and take care of their family. It is your job to get to a point in your life where you're alright. Neither of these is more important than the other; as a human society, we need people who take care of their families, and we need people who work on improving themselves so they, eventually, can do the stuff people who take care of their families already do (whether it is have their own family, pursue what they really want to do, or just live a normal and delightfully boring life free of mental illness.)

Also, start taking D supplements and keep taking more until you feel like your mood is improving.
posted by griphus at 3:29 PM on October 15, 2012 [8 favorites]

Seconding the "emotional support" people get from their families. Often, that's also their motivation.

I've gone from no pets to pets, which actually made it much more pleasant to get out of bed, because I wanted to be sure I had time to feed them. Consequently, I have more time in the morning for myself.

I've had a partner move in with me, which made me readjust my sleep schedule. So I'm a lot better rested now. (I used to not go to bed until 2 or 3 am regularly, but now I worry about my partner getting enough sleep, and we're usually asleep before midnight.)

We hire a professional cleaner, but if your coworkers' spouses are the ones doing the cooking and cleaning... well, that certainly helps too. Even if your coworkers are doing the chores, chores are much more enjoyable (for some people) if they are done for someone else, rather than for their own benefit.
posted by ethidda at 3:34 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I struggle with this kind of thinking sometimes... I have "only" one kid, other people have two or three or more, their houses are always clean, they involved their children in more activities, etc. etc. You know what? It's really not relevant. Comparisons are rarely helpful and (for me) usually a sign that I am heading toward depression.

I think starting a new job, even a wonderful new job, is a stressful thing, and you need to cut yourself some slack. Major slack. Focus on taking care of yourself. If possible, let other people help you now, and recognize that in 6 months the job will be soooo much easier.
posted by tuesdayschild at 3:37 PM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

There are lots of little tasks that all fall on one set of shoulders when you live alone--cleaning, cooking, bill paying, making household decisions, grocery shopping, picking up another roll of paper towels, getting prescriptions filled, scheduling doctor's appointments, scheduling social activities, etc. There's no one there to say "hey, you're stressed right now, forget about making breakfast this morning, I'll take care of it." You're not going to walk in the door after a long day and see that someone else scrubbed the bathroom sink while you were out. This kind of crap might not seem so stressful or time-consuming, but it really adds up.

I feel like a brat sometimes when I'm exhausted despite not having to wake up three times a night to change a diaper, but the fact that I don't have dependents doesn't mean my free time is all bon-bons and Real Housewives-watching!
posted by sallybrown at 3:39 PM on October 15, 2012 [7 favorites]

I've lived alone and this year I'm living with housemates. It's not a family, but we all contribute to the basics of having a sane, functional home life: healthy food cooked every day, a clean living environment, people to talk to, etc. As someone living alone, you're actually playing on the hard level. In my experience it's a lot easier to be productive and positive when part of a family (of some sort).

[It's almost funny how extreme this can be. Recently my housemates went out of town, and it was literally about 2 hours before I'd made a giant mess of everything in sight and was sitting on top of a pile of my own laundry and feeling no motivation to brush my teeth.]

So if you "can barely take care of yourself," what about considering living with others? Definitely don't beat yourself up because you are struggling because you have nobody to take care of. From personal experience, the difficulty actually goes in the other direction. It's harder to do stuff when you're on your own.
posted by kellybird at 3:40 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Can't favorite mollymayhem enough. I also totally agree with sallybrown and would add to her list the little emergency things that pop up. I got a flat tire the other day, so I called AAA and then drove to the tire store and then decided which replacements to get and then waited for 2 hours in a really dismal shopping center parking lot for them to be put on and then payed for it all. And I wasn't like "Oh poor me" or anything, it was just a thing that happens sometimes. But other people, like probably a lot of your co-workers, would have someone else to do some part of that with and/or for them. Or to do some little nice thing for them later on, because they had to do the annoying task that week. At least some of the time. Add all these little tasks done alone up over years and it's maybe not as trying as raising kids, but it's definitely trying in its own not inconsequential way.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 3:50 PM on October 15, 2012

I can empathize with this.

I'm in a professional setting, where I routinely put in 60+ hour weeks because as a younger staffer, I do a lot of fieldwork so I'm expected to do long hours on a regular basis. Yet, at the same time, frequently my managers get to the office a lot earlier and leave later (I actively try to avoid this because I have a lot of unavoidably long weeks anyway). I've asked several times how they manage. The male managers have stay-at-home wives, which has a lot to do with it. One of my female coworkers shortened her workweek to 3 days a week after having the first baby. The female manager just works crazy amounts and says she struggles with being a good employee and being a good mother.

They all tell me that it's something you just get better at doing with age. I think I'm managing okay. A lot of it is strategy: I never cook one person's worth of food at a time, and I try to always ensure that there are leftovers waiting for when I get back after a 14-hour day in the rain that had lots of manual labor, because seriously: screw that.

It helps if you have a lot of things you want or need to do with your time off, because then you suddenly don't have a choice: your responsibilities have to get done. Also, you can try placing some restrictions on yourself (for example, to save money and to force myself to cook, I don't get take-out or anything like that).

I, too, have roommates now and used to live alone. It's easier when you're not completely alone, though I'd like it if we shared meals, which we don't.

Don't compare yourself to the other people. You don't have a partner or significant other or spouse, and you don't have as much experience with this stuff. Set a more modest goal (for example, doing better than an average twenty-something male) and hit that first. Don't compare yourself to people with whole support networks. I had a network when I moved to start my job...but it was a state away and therefore no use to me when I had to get used to a new situation. Had to start building my network from nothing.
posted by Strudel at 3:51 PM on October 15, 2012

I used to feel this way as well, until I realized that many of my colleagues have nannies!!! Also, as has been mentioned earlier, division of labour happens in a household with 2 adults. When you live in Casa Solo, you do every single thing, from car tires and oil changes, to buying groceries and cooking meals, cleaning, laundry, plus all the work to get out the door every morning, on top of which you pay for every single thing...and it's a lot of work! Cut yourself some slack, hire a cleaner if you can afford it, and take some time to enjoy the things that your colleagues can't: the freedom to do whatever you want!
posted by lulu68 at 4:25 PM on October 15, 2012

I strongly believe that responsibilities expand to fill the time we have available for them, like gas in a container.

Last year I felt much as you do now -- living alone, working a tough job, struggling to care for myself and feeling inadequate next to people who had more responsibilities. I'd say I felt like I had to run at 105% capacity just to do everything. Responsibility was thrust upon me in the form of an unavoidable crisis this year and I suddenly had a lot more that I had to handle every day. The time appeared as if from nowhere, and the funny thing is that even though I am dealing with a lot more stuff and have to perform more tasks every day, I still feel exactly the way I did last year. There's no difference in degree. I still feel like I'm running at 105%. Your capacity to do stuff will often fluctuate with the amount of stuff there is to do, aka "rising to the challenge".

That said, I nth everyone who says feeling a struggle with day to day stuff like showering is classic depression. Vitamin D, exercise, sleep.
posted by telegraph at 4:27 PM on October 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

One thing I've learned over the years (but have to re-learn regularly because I am the queen of comparing myself unfavorably to other people) is that just because someone seems like they have their shit together doesn't mean they actually do. Most people try to keep their shortcomings a secret and only show their best face to the world.

You can't assume you know what their home and family life is like, even if you've been over to visit. People clean like maniacs when they know company is coming... they could live like total pigs from day-to-day for all you know. Or if they work full time, have kids and an immaculate house all the time, either they have help (paid or spousal) or something, somewhere is being skimped on. Maybe they haven't had sex in six months or they eat takeout 6 nights a week or the kids aren't getting enough attention or they only sleep 5 hours a night and feel like shit all the time.

I can't even tell you how many times somebody I thought really had their shit together turned out to have some huge issues that simply weren't apparent to the naked eye or hadn't come to a head yet. Marital problems, financial problems, health problems, etc.

The point being, don't compare your insides with someone else's outsides. That way lies only misery and self-loathing.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:39 PM on October 15, 2012 [16 favorites]

My disclaimer first: if you have the slightest doubt this will not work for your unique situation, do NOT do this.

But. Sometimes what I've found helps me with some of the things I consider problems is, just once in a while, revelling in them. What I mean is - once in a while, when I'm feeling ground down by always having to stay on top of the housekeeping and I'm feeling like everyone else is so much more on top of it than me, is I turn it around and say, "you know what, though? I live alone, and I don't have to do this if I don't want to, so there." And I spend a day doing fuck-all, where I don't take a shower and don't brush my hair and do only the things that I personally feel like doing, and every once in a while reminding myself that I get to fuck off all day and all the rest of the people I know are boring people who have to vacuum and stuff, and it makes some inner child in me giggle.

Sometimes that's all it takes to re-frame it for me - a reminder that living alone means I do not have to be as consistent as someone who lives with a family would. And that reminds me that I have a certain privilege that they don't, and that keeping my home updated is something I am doing for myself rather than a social-obligation kind of thing; I don't have to please anyone but me, and that means what I say goes. And that gets me thinking that you know, I deserve to have everything just the way I feel it should be.

And usually it's only a couple days before I start admitting that "okay, yes, it does look better if the kitchen counters are cleared off...." but I'm still kind of riding the high of "it's all about me" so instead of feeling like an obligation, it becomes "I'm making the kitchen look good because I deserve to have a really good-looking kitchen", and then it becomes a self-care thing.

People who live alone have the luxury of saying "fuck it" to the cleaning once in a while, and that usually re-sets it so I am the focus of things rather than some sort of outside arbiter of social expectations. When it becomes "all about me" again, then all those things I do to take care of myself really become things I do to take care of myself rather than my feeling like they're things I do because society expects you to.

It's weird, but if it sounds like it could work, go for it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:19 AM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't have too much to add but just wanted to say thank you for posting this. I'm in the same situation as you and it's really, really hard.

What I found to help is treat work similar to how they treat work - if they're off email from 5pm until 9am the next morning, do the same thing. If they don't work on the weekends, you shouldn't work on the weekends. Know what is generally expected of you as a general employee across the company board and adhere to that. Just because you live alone doesn't mean that your time isn't as valuable as theirs.

You're not alone. There's lots of us in the same boat.
posted by floweredfish at 6:23 AM on October 16, 2012

I'll come at it from a different angle. I have had several coworkers tell me that they admire how calm & collected I am, how I always seem to have it all together. I smile and say "Thank you", but internally I'm thinking, "You have no idea... you really have no idea."

I ate 3 granola bars for dinner tonight and have 8 loads of laundry waiting to go to the laundromat because our washer died and a friend offered us one but I have to find a truck and a dolly so I can get it from his house to our house. I'll most likely get about 5 hours of sleep tonight because I stay up way too late, given the o'dark o'clock time I need to get up in the morning. Every other week I'm panicking looking for a gas station because I didn't leave the house early enough AGAIN to fill the tank, so I need to find a gas station NOW or I won't have enough gas to get home. I have a presentation to give tomorrow at noon and I haven't even started it. I'll get it done and it will be serviceable but I'll wish I'd started it last week like I'd meant to.

This is all to say: as others have mentioned above, you have no idea what's going on behind the scenes. Most people do not have their acts together, and have some amount of chaos and disorder going on. Also, I don't have kids, but I do have a spouse, and as others have said, it does give me the benefit of having someone to split chores with - and yet, I still ate granola bars for dinner.
posted by RogueTech at 7:48 PM on October 16, 2012

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