21 year old University student in a rut, bad habits creeping up to me
May 12, 2013 12:56 PM   Subscribe

I am currently in a transition stage in my life--ending my Study Abroad semester in France, potentially moving out of a dysfunctional home after moving back in temporarily, spending a lot of time on my own traveling/at home. I'm writing because for some unbearable time, I've been feeling like my life is in a rut. I don't play my guitar or sing my own music anymore. I eat badly and without thought--often eat pasta dishes or friend eggs for a meal twice or thrice a day. I am messy as ever--My tiny room is in a disarray and I have a hard time keeping it even regularly clean. I've gained about 6 lbs since I've been here. I don't work out--I guess I lack the motivation to do so here. I listen to music all day, eat whatever I want, go out and enjoy a party whenever I feel like it, get dinner at awesome restaurants often. I just have no structure and it seriously is having an impact on my discipline and motivation levels.

I do keep very active in school and am doing well in my courses. I spent a lot of quality time with new friends, I have learned new skills here and overall it is going okay. The semester is over now, so I spend a majority of my time applying for internships.

But I also spend a majority of my time on YouTube, watching all kinds of videos--interviews of my favorite celebrities, fashion videos, comedy, sitcom bits, talk show segments for hours.

I used to take much better care of my skin, hair, weight--I even made moderately successful YouTube videos on hair masks, skin masks, nutrition videos...I used to work out out pretty regularly. It's been 6 months since my last visit to the gym. I haven't done a face mask in months--I used to do them once a week minimum! My skin looks okay, but it could look better. I gained weight, so though my style is still important to me and I dress nicely for myself, I am saddened and feel limited in my clothing choices. :/

I feel tired, unmotivated to work out, kind of lonely/depressed, anxious about returning home, I am not paying attention to my looks, my room is frequently a mess, I spend too much time online, I don't eat very healthy anymore...the crux of the problem is I keep trying to define who I am in relation to this world around me, a world which I want to succeed in. Lately, I've been feeling more at odds with who I am than ever. I'm changing and evolving, yet I also feel exhausted. This can lead to a lethargic, depressed-like state of boredom and tension.

Does anyone know how I feel? How do I snap myself out of a rut in feasible ways? How do you get back to being disciplined after 5 months of practically unregulated freedom? I am doing the basic things to keep myself alive and relatively well--eating, sleeping, keeping touch with family, doing laundry and cooking often, doing decent in school, looking for a job, not spending too wildly. However, I feel in an emotional rut due to my undisciplined choices.

Can someone help me out? I feel guilty for not uphelding myself to a higher standard. How can I get back to the grind?
posted by rhythm_queen to Human Relations (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You're going through a tough period in your life. It's OK to have a messy room and while away the time listening to music and watching stuff online.

Also, come on, FRANCE. It would be criminal for you not to gain weight after a semester abroad in France.

That said, does your school offer any kind of counseling services? Because it sounds like you are dealing with a little bit of depression, and you could probably use someone to talk to about it.
posted by Sara C. at 1:00 PM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Just wanted to say that yes, my home university in Toronto offers counselling services. I have missed my relationship with my counsellor while being here in France.

I email her occasionally and she does respond, but it has been quite difficult to not have an unbiased yet caring person on board with all these changes and challenges facing me.

Yes, French desserts (all kinds of tarts, cookies, cakes, pastries) have gotten the absolute best of me here, along with grilled vegetable quiche! Being a vegetarian means I haven't tried moules frites which I hear is very tasty... I love flams, French cheese, French bread, milk-bread.... Some of the stuff available in Carrefoure, the main French grocery chain here is just addictively good.

It's hard to stop eating and its been hard understanding what makes me happy. I'm sleeping in all day and feeling tired. I feel depressed sometimes right as soon as I wake up, for no reason. I find myself wondering all the time if the people around me are truly happy, as often I've been feeling emotionally dammed and numb.
posted by rhythm_queen at 1:15 PM on May 12, 2013

Take action in small ways. Go for a short walk, play guitar for 15 minutes. Don't think about your life in units bigger than a day for a while. That is, don't feed this idea that you are in a rut, instead, think about the specific things you did today that you feel good about, and how you are going to build on them tomorrow.
posted by thelonius at 1:20 PM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just got myself on a low dose of an SSRI, on the advice of my therapist. I've been struggling with depression for most of my life, and it definitely makes a difference in my mood and ability to get stuff accomplished. No guarantee it will work for you, but it may be worth a shot since many of the things you are writing about sound familiar to me.
posted by Alterscape at 1:22 PM on May 12, 2013

Best answer: Yes, I know how you feel. I spent a year living in France. You gain weight. It's... the nature of the beast.

I also would recommend using this time as your last big hoorah. I mean, who knows when you'll next be abroad! Yes, I know you know this. Isn't there a train you could be taking somewhere? A museum you want to visit? Even a patch of grass you could be having flan on?

Being abroad can be a disconnected time. My advice is, unless you actively want to be clean, forget about the room. Forget about the hours on youtube a day. There's a logic behind it. You're somewhere where, you have a relatively artificial life, no roots, no work, possibly little schooling (study abroad tends to be light).

There's a lot to explore in France. The history-- the revolution, the 19th century, the 60s' student protests, France's imperial history and the way its past injustices have shaped the fabric of society to day. There's operas, movie theaters, universities. Even walking by the Seine is potentially more interesting than a day back home.

Give yourself a big hug, and get out there in the sunshine. Remember, this is an adventure!
posted by kettleoffish at 1:23 PM on May 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I do keep very active in school and am doing well in my courses. I spent a lot of quality time with new friends, I have learned new skills here and overall it is going okay.


keeping touch with family, doing laundry and cooking often, doing decent in school, looking for a job, not spending too wildly.

I was about to anecdote on a similar period of my life pre and post a stint in college where in both times i was feeling this way, but the thing is that if you're doing all those things relatively fine... the problem here isn't a little bit of irresponsibility.

Yea, you should probably be getting out of your place more and doing activities outside, and maybe eating a little bit better... but the vast majority of this rut seems to be a psychological one, and not the type of psychological one where you start to withdraw from your life and let everything fall apart.(or at least, very very minor as those go).

You're doing pretty alright, and you just feel existentially in a rut. I can't escape the feeling that this is the beast of a billion backs of depression, which has clamped on to myself and most of my family in similar "decent, but some minor stuff isn't ideal" situations like this.

I definitely had issues with depressing in that stage of my life, and several friends did as well. I'm not one of the people to say "go talk to a professional!" per se, but that might be the thing to do here. I'd mostly just consider it from the framing of "Actually, everything is objectively pretty much fine. there are no major problems in my life. Why do i feel like everything is so fucked if logically it isn't all that much? Maybe this is depression :O".

Because with me, yea, uh, it was.
posted by emptythought at 1:46 PM on May 12, 2013

Consider this might be culture shock - being away from home for such a long time makes you question yourself as well as life stuff.

First, it is draining to be bombarded ALL DAY LONG with input that feels foreign. Missing subtle communication points and confusing social conventions is something you more or less expect, but it comes on top of basically everything being different. Food, street signs, your bed, not necessarily knowing how to get yourself out of trouble. Sometimes it feels like someone pulled the rug from under your feet, and sometimes it feels like you're 11 years old.

Staying at home and listening to music and surfing online might be your way of seeking shelter in the familiar. Of course I don't know your innermost motivations, but it seems likely...

So in your place I would try to cut myself some slack, it all sounds perfectly normal for a period abroad (I've done this twice in different countries). And definitely try to follow kettleoffish's advice. Forget about "functioning" and focus on enjoying yourself and discovering. You're in France, have fun! Do stuff! And let yourself be foreign and clumsy and disorganized.
posted by ipsative at 1:48 PM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Honey, you are asking the same question to some extent every month, and I really think you ought to aggressively look into getting yourself a therapist who can treat depression and anxiety as well as help you move away from your abusive family once and for all. This is not a case of you having some bad habits. This is you having a world of troubles sitting on your shoulders for far too long, and it's starting to take its toll. It is okay to need someone objective to help you through this. Please reach out if you need some resources -- I can point you to them, as can many other members of the MeFi community. Good luck.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 2:03 PM on May 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

Give yourself a break. You are doing a lot of very positive things: living in a different country, staying active with your school, doing well in your studies, getting to know your new friends. I imagine those things are keeping you very busy, if not exhausted!

Maybe something's gotta give. Maybe you NEED some down time just to give your brain a chance to absorb all these big changes. If this is the first time you've been away from your family, I think that's kind of a giant clue. Maybe part of you is resting up to get the courage to make another leap. Or maybe you need to grieve a bit.

Those things are all right. No one exercises and grooms and eats 100% perfectly throughout all phases of their lives. We're human. We have rough patches, and sometimes taking care of yourself through a rough path means watching some youtube and not judging yourself for it.

Do see if you can find someone to talk to and do try to exercise, even if it's just a short walk.
posted by bunderful at 2:29 PM on May 12, 2013

I wouldn't go straight to "You're depressed." (Thought you may be.) Like you said, you are in a rut.

I was in a rut where I wasted way too much time online and neglected other things. I deleted my Tumblr account -- I had thousands of followers and it became too important to me so I deleted it and I can never get it back, which helped. I found workout buddies -- they would say "We are going to the gym tonight at 7" and I'd feel like I had to go too. I wouldn't go on my own, but surrounding myself with goal-oriented people who had their lives together forced me to be similar. And I started taking on social hobbies, like covering a minor sports league for a website -- they hooked me up with press credentials and I go to the games, interview players/coaches, meet other media there -- it's fun and I feel like I'm accomplishing something and building a portfolio.

You might want to just set aside one day where you vow to get your place totally clean -- you can't feel like your life is organized or together when you are surrounded by disorganization and messiness. Start with cleaning your place and I bet it will help things will fall into place -- you feel like the rest of your goals are possible. Shut off your computer and unhook your internet so you can't be tempted to go online while you should be cleaning.
posted by AppleTurnover at 2:29 PM on May 12, 2013

These Birds of a Feather is absolutely right. This is not a rut. This is an accumulation of lifelong adversity and struggles. It's a serious situation and calls for serious help. Tips, tricks, and hacks from well-intentioned and knowledgeable strangers on AskMeFi are not going to cut it.
posted by Dansaman at 3:50 PM on May 12, 2013

Response by poster: What exactly am I to do?

The advise from well-intentioned and knowledgeable strangers on Ask.me is not something I'd restrict to "Tips, tricks and hacks."

Just getting emails from anyone who knows what I'm going through has helped, so has reading others accounts of similar events.

Sorry if I am wearing out my welcome. Things are rough sometimes, and this site has historically helped me get my head on straight. I do ask for help whenever I need it, which I think is a good habit.

Hope to get therapy soon, but it's a bad time right now.
posted by rhythm_queen at 4:15 PM on May 12, 2013

How do I snap myself out of a rut in feasible ways? How do you get back to being disciplined after 5 months of practically unregulated freedom?

Just focusing on this issue of unregulated free time, what I find works best is to impose a structure on myself. Use the pomodoro technique to get basic hygiene stuff and household cleanup done if those things bother you a lot. You don't have to regulate every minute of your day, just set aside two blocks of time, set some goals that you want to accomplish, and set your timer.

I find that once I start getting work done using this method, I keep getting things done and more ambitious goals seem feasible. It's getting me through the last parts of grad school, anyway.
posted by _cave at 5:13 PM on May 12, 2013

I can relate somewhat. I just graduated university and moved halfway across the country for a job. I don't know anyone out here. My weekends are lonely and usually confined to my apartment. I'm increasingly reliant on downers to keep my anxiety in check. And I gained almost 20 pounds in 4 months, so I wouldn't worry too much about the 6.

You're in France, eat up. You can loose 6 pounds easy in less than a month with little effort. I've often had this cycle during college of being destructively undisciplined for a few months followed by a balls to the wall effort to get straightened up and motivated, which in turn leads to more stress and another relapse.

Just try your best and don't beat yourself up. You have a lot of time left in your life to make mistakes that won't really matter 2 years from now, never mind in the long term. It's just practice for the real world. I see so many people seething with frustration and pent up rage on a daily basis because they never learned the fine art of not giving a shit about the little things. Just today, some angry looking used up middle age man at the grocery store yelled at me that I was a dumbass because I drove through some parking lot lines (at no inconvenience of anyone). At first I felt like saying something, but then I just felt pity for a guy who gets worked up over shit like that. Must be a horrible way to live.

Don't cheat yourself out of opportunities, but don't take life too seriously. You'll just end up in the ground sooner.
posted by WhitenoisE at 5:39 PM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I can also relate; I too first came to France as a year-long exchange student, leaving behind my abusive (so, dysfunctional, obviously) family.

If you're just ending your semester, as in 3-4 months in the country, it is prime time for the lowest point of culture shock to hit. It can be a bit more difficult in France because there are so many positive stereotypes about the country when it comes to tourism (not when it comes to French people *shrug* just goes to show how silly stereotypes are); everyone wants to visit/wishes they were there and such, so feeling down gets compiled with "but people DREAM of being in my shoes", especially if you, too, dreamt of doing just what you are.

You're at a bunch of major turning points in life:
- studying (barebones just for your degree)
- adjusting to different study/school habits and formalities
- leaving behind family and wondering what your independent future will be
- visiting a different country (not "just" visiting, but visiting is part of it and a thing unto itself, as you realize a lot more when you get older - I'm 37 and seriously wonder how I managed to pack so much cheap sightseeing into short stays, turns out it was part of being a bright-eyed, energy-packed 21-year-old)
- living in a different culture
- speaking a different language
- eating different food
- experiencing true freedom from your family in a way that's not always possible in your home country (even if you didn't live with them or nearby)

Long story short, I don't think this is necessarily depression either, although depression could be part of it. It was in my case, but it wasn't related to being overseas, or studying (which I loved), or freedom (which I totally enjoyed, still do)... it was a LOT more "holy *$#@ what am I going to do with the rest of my life". Being in France contributed to that: I've had a love affair with the whole shebang of France ever since I started learning the language at age 10. A short visit when I was 19 drove home that, yes, my heart was absolutely serious about the country, its people, their values, et cetera. So I did everything I could to qualify for the direct exchange, year-long program. And when I managed that, got here, and succeeded beyond what any other exchange student had (I was the first to get above 11/20 in courses; I averaged 12,5 across all courses, getting 13 and 14 in a couple), I realized two huge things: I wanted to stay in France, and I could actually succeed in doing that. Which meant, by proxy, I could envisage a future in which my abusive family was SOL as far as their manipulative, sadistic shit went ("sadistic" is a quote from my therapist, who is not one to throw around loaded terms lightly; it took 3 years of therapy before she said it to me). Which was like... you may be able to imagine... 21 years of pushing through muck and mud and crap and on top of all that, having stuff that had nothing to do with me shunted onto me, done. Over. BASTA, as they say here in Nice (it's both Italian & Ni├žois).

So, if you too are in a place where you're doing something close to your heart (it doesn't necessarily need to be France, I wrote about it because that is indeed what is very close to my heart, so much that I am a naturalized French citizen as of two years ago), nearing the end of your studies and seriously envisaging your future as an independent person, and in a foreign country, that is a serious head rush. Head rushes, like stereotypes, have two sides to them :) One side, the positive, acts as a motivator; the flip side, the "negative" (think of it as it's used in science, devoid of moral attributes), is the very real void of what was once real. It is the absence of a great deal of things you have grown to count on as "reality". That absence, especially if your reality has had a good deal of morally-negative experiences with family, can feel utterly bewildering because it's a double-negative. In other words: you may be feeling "pheeeew, urgh" and sad about it, yet going, "why the hey would I be sad about leaving behind something difficult?!" and then FRANCE!!1! and "what the... why... what is this lethargy and stuff and nonsense?!?!"

What got me through the down times was focusing on what I loved, because I loved it. That was a lesson I learned thanks to being surrounded by wonderful teachers in my childhood. It turns out that seeking what tugs at your heart, identifying it, testing it (sometimes one heart-tuggy thing is actually a cover for another, or, you're simply not able to even test it, or when you do, you find out you literally can't - for instance, my brother loves planes, but is colorblind to red and green; he can never be a pilot, but he CAN be a flight mechanic, which he is), and then doing it because you know you really love it, is pretty much the Secret Of Life. It will help tide you over, and by tiding you over, you may find your energy coming back, or find your energy's being directed to other things, or it may indeed not come back and it turns out to be a depression that needs treated, in which case you do what you can to get yourself in a position where you can get the help you need. It all takes time, and filling that time with things that fulfill you, no matter how small, will help.
posted by fraula at 1:49 AM on May 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

Go easy on yourself. YOu sound like to have a pretty full life, everyone needs a break now and then. Your idea of a "rut" sounds like my perfect day because I work 7 days a week. Once you hit the working world, you should definitely not beat yourself up for eating eggs and watching youtube. You'll still probably have to push yourself to pamper yourself with skincare and play guitar, but once you get over teh hump and actually do it, the positive feedback cycle will make it easier to pick it up and do it the next day.
posted by WeekendJen at 7:11 AM on May 13, 2013

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