Overcoming a Stigma of Helplessness
January 24, 2013 4:51 PM   Subscribe

Hey all. Posting my questions to this community has been very helpful. I'm thankful so far for the advice I've been getting. This question has to do with something I've been struggling with my whole adulthood. I was diagnosed with clinical depression in my teens, and since then it's really limited a lot of what I can do. It didn't help much that I married a very overbearing person when I was 19 who basically took over my life for me. I left him two years ago and I've been recovering from my depression thanks to medication and a lot of self help techniques. I've started exercising and eating right, and I've lost weight, which I'm happy about. My next goal is to become self sufficient. My work ethic needs help though because I have a lot of trouble getting things done. I believe it stems from all those years I spent in deep depression and not being able to take care of myself. I procrastinate out of being overwhelmed and fearful of outcomes. I wouldn't call it laziness. It's just tough for me to learn a new way of living. Any advice on how to deal with this and improve my work ethic? I believe it's due time I start getting out of my own way. Thank you MeFi community. :)
posted by Cybria to Work & Money (12 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Try to think of yourself as being oriented in the right general direction, and take pride in that and your continued forward motion (and diverging from the path is okay; just get back on once you realise you've strayed) instead of large concrete goals. If you are consistently doing the right things to get where you want to be, you will get there -- maybe not quickly, but it sounds like you need your goal to be to a better yourself rather than to be better than other people right now.

When you are sidetracked by being "overwhelmed and fearful of outcomes," ask yourself if you are at that moment -- don't slow down to waste time berating yourself for yesterday's mistakes! -- doing your own personal best. If the answer is yes (and it is okay to admit that your personal best is not always going to be heroic) then fine; stop worrying. If the answer is no, get back on the stick -- but without self-recrimination.
posted by kmennie at 5:03 PM on January 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

How many years were you depressed and out of work as an adult? It does take time to build the pathways and automatic responses in your brain after a long period of depression and inaction. Baby steps are the way forward, and you can build on each step as it becomes a part of your routine. You might want to take a part-time job (if you haven't already) and build towards self-sufficiency rather than trying to learn all of the aspects of self-sufficiency and job performance at once in a full-time, high-pressure scenario.
posted by decathexis at 5:08 PM on January 24, 2013

It sounds like you've come through a great deal, for which I'd like to commend you :) It sounds like you still would like to undertake a great deal of personal growth, though, so perhaps therapy would be a viable path for you to start setting some goals and having some in-person accountability and help moving towards them. Perhaps a solution focused therapist would be up your alley. He or she will ask you questions like.... What, exactly, does self-sufficient look like to *you*? How would *you* like to go about doing things? What, specifically, are these tasks & things? And make sure when you ask yourself how you would like to do these things, it's not this overwhelmingly general "things". It's a specific action or task... baby steps. Complete one step with it's own unique name and meaning... and move on to the next naturally occurring step. I wish you the best, and I hope MeFi brings you some comfort and inspiration!
posted by acertainseason at 5:15 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: decathexis I haven't had a full time job since 2008. I have worked online part time as a freelance writer. I want to make more doing that, but it was always difficult with my condition. Transportation issues have kept me from working outside the home, but I think that might change soon. I think a part time would help me a lot.
posted by Cybria at 5:18 PM on January 24, 2013

Best answer: Well done on getting this far Cybria. I can empathise with your question. I find making a a list of things I want to get done is useful, and satisfying to cross them off too.
I started off with 3 realistic things I could get done in the next hour, i wrote them on a white board and as I completed each one I would get up and cross it off before moving to the next. I'm now at the point where I write up a list of things that are reasonable to get done in a day and I then prioritise them based on urgency & how they fit together, and then go for it.
My lists include everything from work tasks, personal tasks like laundry or paying a bill, personal frivolous goals like "i will have one great cup of coffee" or "i will stand in the sun for 10 mins" etc.
If I don't complete my list, i try a learning approach e.g. "did I expect too much of myself?" "was there an external reason I didn't get it done?" "what could I do differently next time?" Rather than blame or beating myself up over it.

This ramping up/learning approach over a number of months helped me to grow my self motivation muscle and now I find my own momentum.
Good luck!
posted by MT at 5:31 PM on January 24, 2013 [13 favorites]

One kind of minor thing that helped me feel more capable was cooking. I've always been a pretty decent cook and liked doing it but I mostly stuck to basic stuff that I already know. They stopped making this stir fry in a bag product that we liked (the kind where you just have to add chicken or beef) and I got curious about what it would take to make my own teriyaki sauce. I looked up a recipe online and gave it a shot (worst outcome would be that I tossed 30 cents worth of ingredients).

So now, I see stuff and think, "I bet I can make that!" I have a couple of really good cookbooks so I look stuff in there or find a recipe online and it usually turns out great or it turns out okay and I make it better next time.

This has bled into other areas too. I started to wonder what other stuff I had assumed would be hard is actually easy. I got less afraid to try new things and learn new skills and I'm a lot less afraid of failure. There were a lot of other factors but that helped.
posted by VTX at 6:36 PM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

I was also going to recommend cooking, not just because it's a good skill to have, but because (assuming you are not using horrendously expensive ingredients) the stakes are low compared to the payoff--if your recipe is transcendant, great! If not, well, it's a few bucks' worth of groceries into the trash and an excuse to have grilled cheese for dinner again. Also, developing a repertoire of tasty, healthy dishes you can make confidently and without a lot of effort is a good way to stay nourished when you're feeling low (not eating properly can make depression so much worse) and give you at least one win for the day.

Another basic skill that will come in handy is simply keeping your space tidy. I clean a lot when I'm not feeling well--not because it makes me feel better, but because I hate doing it, and I figure if I'm not feeling well, I'm not enjoying myself anyway so I might as well do it now so I don't have to waste happy time doing something I don't like. I call it "consolidating the suck." I really think having a tidy space makes me feel more on top of things and empowered to do other things. And again, the stakes for failure are low. It's hard to clean a toilet and end up with something less clean than it was before. Apartment Therapy has a great 20-minutes-a-day, 30-day cleaning schedule that is totally doable.
posted by elizeh at 7:43 PM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The book "The Mindful Way Through Anxiety" was recommended to me. I've only just started reading it, but it seems to be geared to just this kind of situation.
posted by gjc at 8:43 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I sympathize with your situation, Cybria. Have you considered volunteering nearby, at a homeless or animal shelter, or a soup kitchen, for example? Reading to kids or seniors? Anything. That can be a way to feel useful and accomplished, without the same expectations and pressure as a paying job. It's also social and introduces you to new people.
posted by walla at 7:14 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

In addition to the many tips here, you might take a look at your medication. A conventional SSRI nudged me out of a deep depression, but I didn't get my "get it done!" mojo back until we switched me to Valdoxan. The change was clear and happened within days. Of course, your mileage could definitely vary.
posted by ceiba at 8:44 AM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

One of the things I've found has really helped is Turtle Steps. Turtle Steps are really small steps toward a goal that you reward yourself for achieving. If you can't do the step, it's too big, so break it down even more. Then honestly reward yourself. Turn trying and attempting into something positive that you focus on, and it becomes easier to try.

I also love UnFuck Your Habitat and the associated iPhone app as a self-motivator and way to track my goals that feels more engaging and encouraging than discouraging. It's not for everyone, but the trick is finding what works for you, and assuming there is something that will work rather than thinking you are somehow "bad" for things that work for other people not working for you.
posted by Deoridhe at 4:57 PM on January 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

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