How can I deal with this "time off" in my life?
March 7, 2013 8:06 AM   Subscribe

Depression has upended my life and the people trying to help aren't really helping, what do I do?

After an incredibly rough year of my entire life and mental health falling apart, I quit my job and am moving back in with my family for a month or two while I complete an intensive partial inpatient therapy program for what has become life-threatening depression and anxiety. Hopefully after this I'll be able to move back into my apartment in another city, find a new job, and get on with things. But if I hear another person reassure me with the fact that it only took them three or four years to get back on their feet I might actually just give up. (The well-meaning "Oh, you're so strong!" comfort isn't helping much either.) Being idle is already making me stagnate after not even a week. As difficult to impossible as it is to motivate myself to do things, I really need to do things. I guess my question is two-fold:

1. What are some things I can do to make this month or two or three not as horrible as it might be? My relationship with my parents is pretty strained because of previous abuse - our relationship is better than it was, but living in this house isn't the best for me. I'm in a small suburban area 20 minutes outside of a city, with easy train access. I don't drive. I'm unsurprisingly pretty bad at self-care stuff.

2. I feel like I haven't heard from anyone who has gone through this sort of thing and emerged a healthy person with a life they enjoy in less than a very, very long time. It would help a lot to. I'm not imagining I'll be Better when this is over by any means, I'm aware I have a chronic condition, and it has taken me a very long time to even get to this point...but sometimes it feels like the majority of people I know who have dealt/are dealing with mental illness are totally miserable or only just coming out of total misery, or have sort of faded away. I need to know, I guess, that there is hope for something other than that. CBT/DBT isn't supposed to last for YEARS, right?

Throwaway email: Anyway, thank you!
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
1. This would be a perfect question to ask the folks at your inpatient program. The simple answer is "find things to do that you find pleasant and that aren't overwhelming - museums, parks, movies, exercise, poetry - you name it - but keep your expectations low and your goals achievable"

2. I hate to not answer your question, but honestly I don't think it is helpful to focus on other peoples' recoveries like this. You are your own hope & your own role-model. Go have the best recovery you can have, you can do it! If you hear stories about how long it takes other people, you may think it has to take a long time for you, too. And if you hear stories about how quickly other people recover, then you will have something to beat yourself up by comparison with when you don't feel great. Who cares how long it takes other people, you're not other people...
posted by facetious at 8:17 AM on March 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

1. Find a small, low-risk project that you can complete without too much strain on yourself. This can be reading a book that's good for you, doing a craft project, going for a walk every day, whatever. Just make it something accomplish-able, and something that will improve your life, if only in a small way.

2. I won't go into details here in public, but the difference for me between last year when I was in the hospital for a very bad mental time and today, when everything seems terrific, is astounding. You can pull yourself up from this, with help, in less time than you think. It's not necessarily going to happen that quickly, but it can. And even if you're not back to 100% in the short timeframe you'd like to be, things can be better, which is better than where you are now.
posted by xingcat at 8:18 AM on March 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Can you maybe post a throwaway email so that people can respond to you confidentially?

That said, a lot of people go into treatment for serious depression and don't have their lives stall out for three or four years, or forever.
posted by BibiRose at 8:19 AM on March 7, 2013

Try volunteering somewhere. It will help get you out of bed, give you a reason to take a shower in the morning. The act of helping other people can be very rewarding.

Depression is an illness, one that will take time to recover from. There is hope! You have taken the first steps in your journey to recover. As for how long will it take? Everyone is different, what matters is you. Many people have overcome depression with the correct treatment for them. You will not realize this, because they have their depression under control.

IANAD but feel free to email me, sometimes it helps to have a "pen pal" when you feel like you need to unload. Good luck and good for you for getting help for yourself.
posted by JujuB at 8:25 AM on March 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Other peoples' timelines are irrelevant to you, as mentioned above.

With the benefit of hindsight, I would say that a year out from my "bottom", I was "fairly okay, with occasional disaster."

But at the time, I was comparing myself to the very bottom, which was entirely lost (I really don't even remember anything that happened for about 5 months of my life). And at the time, I felt great. You'll start to feel better long long long before you hit a point of "completely recovered." So stop focusing, if you can, on the nebulous future-point of completely cured. Try instead to appreciate the incremental improvements that will be very shortly forthcoming.
posted by like_a_friend at 8:34 AM on March 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Understanding that you're asking anonymously and can't respond, I'd like you to really think about whether or not moving in with your parents is the smartest move for you at this point in time.

It may not be and may end up adding a new element of stress and anxiety at a time where you really need to be nurturing and loving to yourself.

Something to think about.
posted by kinetic at 8:55 AM on March 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Mod note: Added throwaway email to the question.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:04 AM on March 7, 2013

The people who are giving you a "three or four years" timeline may well be talking about the time it took them to get to an "optimally functional" state, not the time it took to get back to a "functional" state.

And as others have said, your timeline is your timeline. To flip this a bit, it seems to me incredibly encouraging that you're impatient to get back to your life and your work and your daily routines; a lot of people dealing with depressive episodes serious enough for inpatient treatment can't even imagine that.

But. You can't skip steps. You need to give yourself the time you need to build a solid foundation.

All best to you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:36 AM on March 7, 2013

I went through something pretty similar; since you asked for stories, here's mine, summarized. I grew up in an abusive household, skedaddled to the other side of the planet as soon as I reasonably could, promptly got into a relationship with an abusive man, broke up with him several years later, was technically homeless (living in a hotel) for nearly a year, then boom... got hired by a client (I'd been a freelancer) and things seemed to be looking up.

The same year I bought my apartment, a few years after being hired, things started going downhill with regards to depression. On top of it all, my job situation took a turn for the worse. It eventually got so bad that I was put on medical leave for depression. It took two months of at-home rest (paid for by French healthcare, omg, talk about a lifesaver) and therapy for me to "recover", on top of which the psychiatrist I saw (different from my therapist; he managed the medical oversight required by French law in these long-term medical leaves), gave me an extra... month!! Why? According to him, "you need it. You've never had a vacation when safe and happy in your entire life. Am I right?" and all I could do was nod. "This is not a favor," he insisted, "this is essential to your well-being; enjoy yourself, and focus on what it means to enjoy yourself. Ground yourself in that. You've never had the chance to before."

Then I went back to work, in my same company – you can do that here, though naturally it depends on a lot of factors. Honestly, I've rarely regretted choosing the company who hired me, and have come to see it as one of the ways in which I rescued myself. This is not tangential; this is essential.

When I went back to work, I felt "recovered", because, in every way, my life was better than it had ever been. Three months sufficed for that much.

But. And here is where I think you may be understanding one thing, when people you speak with mean another: it genuinely has taken me years to actually recover. Back then, I could not envision a future in which I could be healthier and happier. But every single year of talk therapy (Jungian psychoanalysis, if you're curious, but all talk therapy in which the therapeutic relationship is valued works, and this has been scientifically proven), I have improved even more. Now I'm at a point, and this blows my mind when I consider it against my mindset of a few years ago, where I can see myself in therapy for another 2-3 years to work out remaining sticking points.

This is a GOOD thing. I have a sense of self now, i.e. I know who I am, what I want from life, how to support myself, that I can enjoy life (this was something forbidden to me in more ways than one by my family), and most important of all, that I can sustain healthy relationships. I didn't think I had a right to before. Even though intellectually, I did, deep down, I thought that, hey, if even my parents and friggin' grandparents had treated me like shit, then who the hell would actually pull through for me in the end? Well, it turns out, a lot of people, my therapist included. Thus one of the great meanings of the therapeutic relationship.

You can pull through this. You probably will be much better in a month or two. Better than you may ever have been.

And it will get even better in the years that follow. So long as that's what you want, what you work towards, it will happen.
posted by fraula at 9:52 AM on March 7, 2013 [10 favorites]

I need to know, I guess, that there is hope for something other than that. CBT/DBT isn't supposed to last for YEARS, right?

I feel like I haven't heard from anyone who has gone through this sort of thing and emerged a healthy person with a life they enjoy in less than a very, very long time

Well hi, I feel like I fit the bill here. Odd coincidence, I was just talking about this in another thread. This flare-up was really bad... but it only ended up lasting about 6 months. Things slowly evened out, and I had no problems at all for years and years after that. I still can have really high anxiety levels now and then, but I have also been able to move cross-country several times, hold down stressful and demanding jobs, pay all of my many bills, take care of my dog, pursue my interests, meet people and fall in love and have relationships, do fun things, party, have great times, and generally do whatever I want to do in life.

It has been really key for me to make sure that I take care of myself. The two biggest things for me that affect how I feel are sleep and exercise. Way more that anything else, it is crucial for me to make sure I get enough sleep. When you have a lot going on or feel overwhelmed, it is really tempting to cut corners there to free up some time. I have found that I really can't do that if I want to keep my anxiety/stress levels low. I also need to exercise and be out in the sun. The littlest bit really helps here, so this is something you can do even if you do not have much energy. Just take a walk around the block before lunch if you can. I also need to put care into how I eat. If I'm not careful about it I can fall into eating in a way that increases my anxiety levels (and that is different for everyone). So I just need to make that effort to make sure I always plan in advance and have food that is going to make me feel good.

So I would say that's one good thing to do with your off-time, if as you say you're not great at self-care. See if you can take some baby steps to build up good habits and start taking care of yourself in the way you would like to.
posted by cairdeas at 12:13 PM on March 7, 2013

I want to write a lengthier reply but, I just don't have it in me right now. So here's what I try to remember every day: Depression is a filthy, insidious fucking liar and cannot be trusted. It will lie to you about everything. It will try and tell you that it's okay if you skip your meds, just this once, since you're feeling better and all. It will try and suck the color and joy out of everything around you.
I have found that in taking away its power to do that, it feels like I am accomplishing something, even when all it was was taking a shower or sitting outside and listening to the birds for a few minutes. And those moments start to compound, and build to the color returning, like that scene in Pleasantville. It's a fight, every day, but over time the fight gets easier.
posted by ApathyGirl at 12:50 PM on March 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

1. Sign up for a class in the city - ukelele, screenwriting, knitting. Get out of the house every day. Man do I know how hard this one is - I'm unemployed right now and some days it's really hard to make myself go outside. But it's important to get outside and see other humans and do stuff. Look at your community - is there a library? a coffee shop where you can hang out and read? an affordable gym where you can work out? a church that aligns with your beliefs? Take advantage of whatever is around you. Volunteer - whether in the city or locally.

2. People do get better. I know at least two people who were at one point hospitalized for mental health reasons who are now doing MUCH better. I say "at least" because: the only reason these two people have told me about these incidents is because I am very close to them and was at the time that it happened. Chances are very good that I've worked closely with, am friendly with or even related to plenty of other examples. Once it's 10 years in the past it tends to fade and it's less something that people bring up very much, even with close friends.

Good luck, OP.
posted by bunderful at 1:47 PM on March 7, 2013

1) Ask the folks in your program, as others said. They know what your limits and goals are and can advise you most specifically and helpfully. That said, you can hardly go wrong by putting together outings to libraries with special programs, museums with thoughtful exhibits, parks with remarkable views, or other low-pressure, high-reward-to-effort activities. Definitely take the time to practice self-care. Practice makes habit, if not perfect. Worth it, a thousand times over.

2) Also agree with others that you can't base your recovery expectations on how others have done/are doing, but it seems to me that you're more looking for some kind of smoke signal from those who made it to the other side of "oh, my gods, I can't live like this", at least for a while.

So, I'll answer from that perspective: getting better is generally in stages, and while it might take a while to get from non-functional to feeling groovy about life again, there are usually levels in between that make it feel like huge jumps in progress are being made (because that's true), and it's not all drudgery. Rediscovering yourself, achieving functionality, being able to make longer-term steps are all successes to celebrate along the way. The "but!" here is that you have to make a conscious effort to honour those milestones and that progress, to reward and challenge yourself as you work with your health professionals, to constantly reach toward self-awareness and taking that next step. It's totally worth it, though. It really is.
posted by batmonkey at 3:09 PM on March 7, 2013

I did something very similar years ago and got a lot better in about five to six months, and my parents are not too understanding or supportive. I wasn't back to happy and normal that fast, but far better than functional, found a decent job and moved to the city and was on my feet again.

So I would recommend, get exercise every day if you can (don't beat yourself up if you don't have the energy). It can be going on walks in your neighborhood or the city. I used to walk a couple miles to the library or a cafe or bookstore and back, and do reading/sometimes apply for jobs there. It got me out of the house and wasn't expensive. I would read Buddhist stuff at the library, Pema Chodron, the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, these types of books got me looking at things in a different way and not stuck on feeling sorry for myself. (ymmv)

I wish someone had told me to cut back on sugar, only have caffeine in the morning and go easy on it, don't eat junk food, try to stick to a good sleep schedule and get enough sleep - no staying up until 3 a.m., get some physical activity every day if you can, really really do. I can't emphasize enough that regular sleep is a big deal.

Those partial hospital folks will definitely help you out, not just with therapy but with giving you some structure to the day. I guess it starts in the morning so you have to get up and go. Please get enough sleep the night before. I would say, trust they are professionals and know how to help and try to listen to them, and follow through with what they say to do, even if you think it's kind of silly or won't work for you. And take it easy and be patient and kind to yourself. You'll be okay.
posted by citron at 4:34 PM on March 7, 2013

I went through a phase of depression- it wasn't life threatening- but it sucked. I found having a little bit of structure every day helped a lot but not TOO much structure. Some days the only thing I did was go to therapy, and that was enough. Some days I got out of bed, made coffee, got dressed, went for a walk... and went back to bed and watch a movie. Some days were better than others and I kinda forgot about the depression and I maybe did more things (worked in the garden, baby sat my friends kid, had lunch, made dinner) But some days, I didn't. I didn't work for several months, and then I started working a whatever job part-time- and that was great because it gave me structure and money. But that was maybe after 3-4 months "off".

I would try to set up a little bit of schedule for yourself, try to stick to it, but don't overwhelm yourself. The schedule can be simple for now, and include lots of things that give you pleasure as much as possible (example baths, dark chocolate, swimming, a movie, lying in the sunshine) I feel like allowing yourself pleasure is really important during these times... connecting to feeling GOOD however you can.
posted by Rocket26 at 4:43 PM on March 7, 2013

I went through depression and recovered, but my example is not what you are looking for, I think, since mine was not serious enough to require hospitalisation.

A good friend, on the other hand, was hospitalised for depression for six weeks (which is a long time in the public health system here) and was suicidal and self-harming and just a pit of near-catatonic despair for about six months before that. When they finally got her medication right during the hospital stay, she recovered back to an almost "normal" mental state pretty much right away. Then it took her maybe a couple of months to rebuild the bits of her life that had gotten broken during the depression (she'd become unemployed, got behind on bills, and her relationship with her husband was quite rocky). Then I'd say it's been a slow process over the past couple of years of getting her life and mental habits from "surviving" to "great". But she's there now! And I'd say that at any point after that first two months out of the hospital, she would have said she was totally recovered. Until she saw that things still got even better.

So I agree with others that you might well experience what feels like recovery a lot sooner than that three or four year timeline people are telling you about. It's just that recovery from mental health crises isn't a single point in time - it's a process.
posted by lollusc at 8:57 PM on March 7, 2013

I don't actually believe the word 'recovery'. For myself I call it 'new normal', and it is something you'll sort out for yourself as you continue to heal, and it will be something that will evolve as you do. It will be helpful to those around you if you can find some words to explain what that means for you, but try very hard to be patient with the people who are frightened or who feel inadequate or say stupid shit; as infuriating as they can sometimes be they often just don't know what to say or do and stupid comes out.

I also have posted notes around my home to remind myself in all things, including my mental health: *Progress not perfection*. That might also be useful for you. Speaking as one of those back from the brink people, I have every confidence that you also will be one. If you'd like to chat more I'll gladly respond via memail.
posted by mcbeth at 7:24 AM on March 8, 2013

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