Is "toleration" all I have to look forward to?
November 8, 2012 7:13 PM   Subscribe

Is it normal to go through life feeling drained with most interactions with people and feeling like you do not fit in anywhere or that you have to suppress your mind/personality to fit in? Or is this just another fact of depression? If it is normal can teach me how to tolerate it?

First of the bat, let's get the technical information out of the way: I am diagnosed with Chronic Major Depression (26 years!). I am in weekly therapy with the best therapist of my life. I am medicated with a combo of AD/Benzo/Mood-stabilizer/PTSD nightmare controller. I have (according to my doctor tried every single use AD available and have tried countless combinations) done my best with meds. I exercise daily, I have a dog, I use a therapy light in the winter, I take Vitamin D. Blah, blah, I am doing everything everyone in the world suggests to do.

The problem I have is interacting with people or organizations or trying to hold down a job. Even with volunteering I struggle. I just feel like I don't fit in anywhere. Any depression support group I've tried seems to be made for people who are mentally ill and not doing what needs to be done. Or are mentally ill and no offence, not as smart as I. And I'm not that smart. I struggle with math, can't really hold down a job, can't cook well, don't know how computers work, etc.

I'm also some sort of mixed up gender and sexuality. Genderqueer and swinging from Gay to Bisexaul if I fall in love with a man. But wait! I have found my community before. I've embraced that before and felt alienated as well because I wasn't gay enough, or, whatever.

Basically, what I'm asking is it normal to find it hard to tolerate interactions with most people? To feel like you constantly have to shape yourself and dull yourself down to fit somewhere? Is this what life is like for people who are "mentally well"?

How do I fake it better with everyday life without feeling drained and more depressed?
posted by kanata to Human Relations (16 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
The problem I have is interacting with people or organizations or trying to hold down a job. Even with volunteering I struggle.

Hang in there with the treatment.

I used to have depression, and now I don't. I'm also an introvert, in that I'm drained by spending a lot of time with other people. But! I like people. I like hanging out - it's just not something I want to do every night, where more extroverted people might prefer that. I mostly feel like I belong, and the times or ways when I feel a little odd-man-out are not terribly frequent or intense.

I'm also queer (I'm a dyke). I work in a fairly boring office with a lot of ordinary people who are also very nice and pretty fun one-on-one. I feel like I fit there nearly as well as I do in my queer group of friends/chosen family. My work and non-work personas are not identical but they're similar.

So, not being any kind of doctor or therapist, I'm going to say, based on my own experience, that those are pretty solidly symptoms of depression.
posted by rtha at 7:20 PM on November 8, 2012

I also suffer from depression and I can also say that the feelings you describe aren't normal. More is possible from life
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 8:01 PM on November 8, 2012

many people have to be "on" at work, so yes, i think many people do some version of this. we are all different, and i'm sure some of the people you work with also feel like they can't be 100% themselves at work. it might be nice if everyone you had to be around to make money had the same taste in politics and culture and whatever, but often those things don't overlap. so if you have to smile and nod when you want to tell them they don't know what they're talking about, or when you can't tell that really good joke you'd tell if you were having the same conversation with your friends: that's ok, you're not around them to have fun but to get something done.

it can be a little less draining if you keep in perspective what you're doing it all for, and by remembering that the other person is probably also holding a little back because they don't want to offend you. at the same time you can enjoy what you have in common with your co-workers. when you hang out with your friends you can say and do whatever you want.
posted by cupcake1337 at 8:06 PM on November 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have been both healthy and depressed at various times in my life. The times I have been depressed where mostly when I have been forced into structured social settings, where one's life is set-up to revolve around one's "peer group," such as high school, and also now (as I am returning to college). I am not sure if this is a chicken-or-the-egg thing, but in such situations, I feel like there is a certain norm one is supposed to conform to, yet I do not want to give up my personal outlook and beliefs, which I value, in order to conform to the expectations of the majority of the people I am surrounded by.

In healthy times, I am apt to feel slightly out of place depending on the situation, but I have much more energy to overcome it/think outside the box. I am probably equal parts introverted and extroverted, but definitely a very reserved person. I have, over the years, gotten good at the art of small talk and talking to strangers. In work settings, I normally adapt well to the group of people I work with. I have been an outlier many of times (youngest, least drama in their lives, etc.), but knowing that my life does not have to revolve around my coworkers seems to make it a lot of easier to enjoy my interactions with them.

I, personally, seem to do best where I am interacting with a fairly diverse group of people. I have never attended a support group, but I could imagine that with everyone meeting to discuss depression, and if you don't feel as "worse off", perhaps, as everyone, you might feel alienated. I am not sure what organizations/in which capacity you are volunteering, but if the volunteers are a fairly homogeneous group (maybe they're mostly stay-at-home moms or from a particular religious organization) the same phenomenon could be happening.

Groups tend to share a group mindset, in my experience. If you cannot or do not want to conform to said mindset, you will likely be unhappy with the group. I suggest looking down multiple avenues for a social life and realize you don't have to find friends/connections in just one place. Maybe Craigslist? Take a community college course or community ed. course (if budget permits)? My social circle is made up of friends I made through a variety of different ways. I would say, take it slow and don't give up if you don't feel like you instantaneously click with anyone. Also, if you haven't volunteered there already, I would suggest The Salvation Army. (I have worked at a few locations previously and there were all types. I think, at the very least, it could be an interesting experience.)

I wish you the best of luck.
posted by sevenofspades at 8:12 PM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Further to my earlier comment, finding belonging doesn't mean finding people who are exactly the same as you, it means finding people who can and do love you the way you are. I think the depression makes it harder because it makes it almost impossible to conceive that anyone could like you - hell, I don't even like myself - so it's quite difficult to see that others appreciate you.

The important thing to remember is that the depressed brain lies. You are worthwhile and valuable even if you can't see right now.

Keep doing the good and healthy things, find snippets of hope and I think that it will get better in time.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 8:19 PM on November 8, 2012 [8 favorites]

For whatever reason I only handle individuals well, not groups. Like, at all. I kinda can't stand them and am not myself and have to leave. I'm not especially depressed. Folks have lots of different social quirks. I think it's pretty independent of general mental health, more an aspect of disposition.

Do you like your own company? Individuals? Your dog?
posted by ead at 10:05 PM on November 8, 2012

"...To feel like you constantly have to shape yourself and dull yourself down to fit somewhere?"

As far as I can see, many people don't ever do this - they don't really think about it. They just are who they are, and adhere to normal social expectations of course, but they are not constantly monitoring their "fit-in-ableness." I was shocked to see this in my family-in-law and realized how healthy it is, and that is when I realized how often I did/do it to myself, and how it triggers my own depression.

Because, as Heart_On_Sleeve said, the depressed brain LIES - this "fit-in-ableness" is monitored by the depressed brain that dislikes you no matter what you do! Those perceptions are warped and probably unfair, not only to the depressed person but to those around them as well.

That's all to say - you don't necessarily have to "shape yourself" either. People like myself, and maybe you too, are doing this because we believe that we can somehow "make people like us more" or believe "we have some terrible things to hide, we are unlovable". Or we interpret people's innocuous statements or opinions as reflecting on ourselves somehow:
She: "I love X topic!"
Me + depressed brain: "Shit, I don't know anything about X topic. I'm so stupid."

Without having other context, it struck me that your statement about "not being gay enough or whatever" to fit in with the gay community could have been one of these instances of over-interpretation, rejection anticipation, or even somehow unconsciously searching for rejection. Maybe that is something you could examine with your therapist - what exactly made you feel alienated? It could very well be that the group wasn't a good fit for you (or even just one person), which is also fine, but clarifying exactly what it was that bothered you back them coudl help you find a better group next time.

Of course, there are instances where it's appropriate to "shape and form" oneself to fit in, but one can do that fairly and consciously, rather than destructively and instinctively.
It sounds like you're doing a lot of good for yourself already in so many other areas, which is fantastic. This is the next step in feeling better. Good luck!
posted by Pieprz at 11:46 PM on November 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

Thanks for taking me seriously and seeing where I am coming from. To answer some questions: I'm a complete introvert but have come out of my shell since having a dog. I can now strike up small talk with people, introduce myself to strangers, ask questions, etc. I love my dog, and I prefer people one on one.

The "not gay enough": was finding myself in a community where many gay people did not accept me because I would not identify as "gay" and remained sure that I was "bi". Many put downs, and mocking amongst group of friends. The genderqueer, non binary, gender identification is new to me (I never really knew words for that or other people existed like me until Metafilter) and I have yet to meet any openly identified people.

I am just wondering if this is a personality quirk. The problem I've been noticing in mental illness clubhouses and in a few jobs I have is not that I expect to have deep meaningful conversations with everyone who agrees with me or shares my interests, but I have very low tolerance for b.s.

I don't understand how to navigate work/group b.s. I don't understand the point of meetings that drift off into personal stories. I don't understand why it takes one hour to decide to make a poster and "make it pretty". I don't understand why a lot of volunteering doesn't focus on concrete goals but in the process.

I tend to isolate so I am just wondering if this is depression or do "normal" people just have better abilities to tolerate all the mindless interactions that people do? I understand that there is value in the socialization part of volunteering but I can't understand why this kind of interaction is preferred over my learning the information I need to learn through books or the internet.
posted by kanata at 8:48 AM on November 9, 2012

kanata, you may relate to Jonathan Rauch's introvert manifesto. The last three paragraphs you wrote could've been lifted from it. The piece is intended to explain introverts to extroverts, but it has value for introverts who haven't self-identified yet. Once you understand your own mental framework (if this is indeed your mental framework), you can recognize it in others and focus on developing relationships with other introverts. These relationships are much less stressful to maintain than those with extroverts.

I spend a fair bit of time reassuring normal people that I'm not mad at them when I don't answer my phone or leave their party after two hours. Fellow introverts know not to take it personally. I have a few friends with whom I'll get together and sit and not chat -- we read books or draw or whatever. It's not that we don't like other people, we're just more self-contained and relate to them differently.
posted by cirocco at 10:39 AM on November 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think for me it seems to take a lot of energy, but it takes less energy and I can actually enjoy it when my meds are working. The quote I think by Albert Einstein that you cannot solve a problem with the mind that created it was told to me a long time ago. That is one reason I need to have a support group because I can't always trust my thinking. It took me a long time to accept that I need other people and to do things I don't always feel like doing, like socializing but it does seem to help me in the long run. Another thing that seems to help me is trying not to compare myself to others and look for similarities instead. For example when you mentioned that you feel you are smarter than those in the support groups. I am sure you have some things in common and if you ARE smarter, maybe you can help them. Sometimes it is not always about me and when I can help others, I feel like perhaps there is a purpose and a reason for why I go through the things I do. Reminding myself to focus on what is similar helps my self esteem and I seem to get along more and fit in.
posted by heatherly at 11:00 AM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

i'm suprised that so many people are latching onto the mental illness thing.

I don't understand how to navigate work/group b.s. I don't understand the point of meetings that drift off into personal stories. I don't understand why it takes one hour to decide to make a poster and "make it pretty". I don't understand why a lot of volunteering doesn't focus on concrete goals but in the process.

to actually answer your questions: "b.s." can mean a lot of different things, so people can have different tolerances to different kinds of things that could be described like that. meetings drifting can bring people together, if you're looking for a functional explanation.

maybe this stuff is new to you and you haven't learned to ignore it/get people back on track. it's a social skill that can take practice. or, maybe the work and volunteer situations you've been in so far have been with very dysfunctional groups.

one thing you don't say, and i'd like to hear a follow up: what would you do if you didn't tolerate them? what would you do or say? tell them they're being ridiculous? stop participating in the group? how bad is it for you tolerating them now: is it just kinda annoying or does it give you panic attacks?
posted by cupcake1337 at 5:34 PM on November 9, 2012

They are probably focusing on mental illness cause I was wondering if it was depression.

To follow up cupcake1337: I would probably quit. I'm heading that way with the volunteering. I find myself coming home from meetings/work and just feeling worse as the night goes on. Feeling physically drained, mentally drained. I feel like I don't understand the world and I'm better off never leaving my house. I find myself not sleeping as I start to panic at the idea of going back and dealing with people who seem to thrive or act on randomness.

In work situations in the past I've failed because of my depression and part of it is I just don't seem to understand the purpose of most of my tasks. It all seems so pointless. This spans from commercial baking (that at least had a point but my body couldn't handle the hours and stress) to secretarial work (where I can do the work but have been told I don't present a happy enough exterior - I'm perfectly polite and engage in small talk with fellow staff but have a naturally down turned mouth and can't seem to grasp the fakeness needed to deal with life).

I can understand meeting drifting and the benefit of sharing stories but I just find it irritating when one person drifts off topic and nothing gets achieved and everyone says it was a good meeting.
posted by kanata at 7:25 PM on November 9, 2012

In short it makes me feel like I'm either an insane person who is not getting what other people get, or the sanest person around who sees that we just spent an hour discussing nothing and have agreed to meet to discuss the results of that nothing.
posted by kanata at 7:27 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a very small tolerance for bullshit/smalltalk, am an introvert, am chronically depressed and have a weird gender/sexual identity as well. I see a lot of myself in the feelings you've described except... and forgive me for my phrasing here, it's all I could come up with... I'm less self-absorbed. The world doesn't revolve around me and not everything has to be a boatload of fun (though yes normative society makes me want to bash my head against a wall).

It sounds like where you're struggling is with the expected social niceties of normative society. You see how fake these are and wonder why you need to do them. The short answer is that it eases social interactions: it's honestly nothing more than social lubricant. You can get by socially without them... but it's awkward for all the parts involved. Add in some niceties and oh there we go, most of the parts are trundling along just fine and a few feel kind of gooey. You're the gooey part. Sorry.

Nobody likes small talk unless they get to talk about themselves. Of course you're bored when other people are talking about themselves - that's pretty normal (unless you're really interested in that person, which is what I try to convince myself of in the moment so I can get through the interaction). Making posters pretty is the dullest fucking thing ever but it needs to be done (well ok some people might like it but I sure don't). I try to tackle it from an organizational perspective (ie. make it tidy!) instead of an aesthetic perspective (ie. make it pretty!) because it makes me give a bit of a shit. Making concrete goals is hard and sometimes the energy just isn't there, but I'd disengage quite quickly if there were absolutely none to be worked toward (most of my volunteering has been event-based, which is a good way to get around that).

As to the not gay enough thing (which I remember and hated so much), try to find if there's a queer-identified scene in your city. My city's not that big but there's a sizeable non-binary gender/sexuality (ie. genderqueer, pansexual, bisexual, fluid, queer, etc. inclusive) network here. It's pretty female-assigned-at-birth centric but I've found decent people that way and it's given me better grounding plus a place without the normative scripts of everywhere else.

Wow this comment is disjointed. I apologize. Feel free to memail me for clarification or commiseration.
posted by buteo at 2:26 AM on November 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

Thanks everyone. You gave me a perspective on it that I hadn't thought of. Reading that introvert article summed up a lot of what I've been feeling. I've always called myself shy because I've tended to isolate from my depression but I realized after reading that article that in the past year I've actually not been isolating - I just can't handle more than one-two days where I'm constantly around people (even close friends) because I end up like this. At least realizing I'm just really introverted helps me not feel like I'm broken because I can't deal with people.

I also agree that I'm self-involved somewhat. Depression does that to a person and I know that when I get into an organization and it doesn't make sense to me I tend to get a) judgmental b) want to change it so it is not so random and c) hide my emotions and start speaking in "policy wonk" language and want all the changes to happen now! Which probably is not the best way to approach volunteering and a support group.

Also from reading your answers I realized my main problem is: I'm transgendered, bisexual, atheist, introvert, physical and sexual assault survivor with chronic depression/ptsd/anxiety living in a small town where these are not the norm and services are rare. Which, I think, would be enough to drive most people to feel like they don't fit in.
posted by kanata at 7:17 PM on November 10, 2012

Yup, your circumstances may be playing a role in your feeling out of place. Hopefully the interwebs can help you find some welcoming, understanding people if there are few locally. We can't all live in major metropolitan areas. Not that geography defines open-mindedness.

I think it's useful to remember that people go to meetings for many purposes other than the stated one - to be heard, feel important, be part of something, stop something - and sometimes those things, as well as social needs, have to be dealt with through "off-topic" discussions. But if part of the purpose of the meeting is to build "buy-in", that off-topic stuff can be really important. And sometimes it's exhausting. Try not to expect too much work to happen in meetings and you won't be disappointed. :)
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 6:52 PM on November 13, 2012

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