how to engage in self-care when responsibilities get in the way
June 8, 2013 9:42 AM   Subscribe

I'm depressed, in a gruesome summer class, and feel like there just aren't enough hours in the day to handle both my responsibilities and my well-being. How do busy people balance these things? Why do we even bother with these pesky responsibilities that society imposes on us?

To start, I have depression, anxiety, and ADHD, so self-care, positive thinking and time management are not things I excel at. By self-care I do not mean hygiene-related things-- I am good about showering, grooming, etc. I struggle when it comes to catering to my emotional/spiritual needs. When I take on a new responsibility (like my miserable-but-necessary summer class), the first things that get cut from my schedule and priorities are yoga, socializing (which was down to a bare minimum due to my depression anyway), sleep, chores. I'm a perfectionist and extremely critical of myself. When it comes to things like grades, especially, I tend to get way too wrapped up in the details of something and start having black-and-white thinking, where I can either completely throw myself into a task or just blow it off. I feel like a non-depressed person would be better able to look at the summer class as a very temporary issue that will yield a good result: I'm taking the classes as a post-bacc to cover pre-reqs for dental school admission. But all I can see is my day-to-day misery. It just feels like such a bleak existence. I have several hours of class, then I have several hours of studying every day, and I'm working 10 hrs a week. I don't mean to sound whiney-- I am 100% aware that there are a lot of people who balance school/work/responsibilities and I really want to know how they do it without going insane. So, to those of you who have had to deal with a grueling academic undertaking, or had to balance work with school, or work long hours, or anything else that took up a lot of your time, what sacrifices did you make? How did you ensure that your own needs were met without forsaking your responsibilities? How did you focus on the "big picture" and what the eventual outcome of your hard work would be? How did you incorporate socializing into your schedule?

Another part of this problem is that I find myself wondering what it's all even for. Not in a "what's the point of living" kind of way, but in a "what's the point of these stupid responsibilities?" kind of way. It's like I'm succumbing to this rat race that may not even make me happy in the end. I feel like there are two paths in life: the practical way, where you pick a profession that you like well enough and will earn you a comfortable living and some stability and pays the bills, or the adventurous way, where you follow your passion like art or music or acting, risk everything, travel, and you either Make It or you become a better person because of your experiences. I also feel like you pick one path and give up all the aspects of the other. I know on a deeper level that this can't be right. How can I have practicality without feeling like I'm giving up all the fun in life? It's not even like I'd have the balls to pick up and leave to do these "adventurous" things that I dream of without having my life set up-- it's more of a hypothetical thing. I flirt with the fantasy of joining the Peace Corps or becoming an English teacher in Thailand/yoga instructor/artist/fashion designer/author/some other artsy job and going on retreats and training in places like Costa Rica and moving to somewhere like Colorado or Oregon or Europe where my practical friends with their 9-5 jobs won't be able to put a damper on my dreams. But part of me feels like this fantasy is partially driven by a desire to rebel against what is expected. Part of me just wants to have a regular job like my friends with regular hours and regular responsibilities. Do Real People in the Real World have these same feelings and fantasies? Am I losing my mind? There is no way everyone with a day job lives a vapid life. I need help understanding this. I want someone to tell me that it's okay to have a job that's not your dream job, and it's okay to have money for things and to have security and a routine. I need to hear that there are ways to have excitement in life without becoming a nomad.

I should probably add that I do like/have an interest in dentistry. It just feels like the path to get there is so. freaking. long. Which leaves me plenty of time for negative self-talk about how I'm a sell-out and I better LOVE dentistry since I'm spending a million years trying to become a dentist, how I'll be a couple of years older than my dental school cohorts, and then I start having my yoga/art fantasies and the cycle ensues.

Thanks for reading.
posted by DayTripper to Grab Bag (9 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Two words that I didn't see in your post: therapy and counseling. Or medication, prescription, doctor, medical...

That's what I do to ensure that my own needs are met without forsaking my responsibilities. That's how I've worked on figuring out the difference between unrealistic fantasies and and what's possible. That's where I've learned that it's possible to have excitement in life without becoming a nomad, and heard that it's okay to have a job that's not your dream job, and it's okay to have money for things and to have security and a routine.

Seriously. It takes a lot of work and a lot of talking with people who can work with you in depth on these issues and who don't have something to gain or lose depending on which choices you make.

Attending support groups (in person and online) and talking with fellow travelers also helps a lot. Feel free to MeMail.
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 9:56 AM on June 8, 2013

Also, you're new here, so you may not have seen this page on the Wiki yet. This section is especially helpful for your situation.
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 10:02 AM on June 8, 2013

Do you have slower periods (like, before you started taking this summer course, or after) where you can prepare yourself for the busy times? One of the ways I deal with busy times is I get things set up for myself beforehand - like, there was this one semester where I took three graduate classes while working six days a week. So over my Christmas holiday I cooked meals ahead and stocked my cabinets with reasonably healthy food, I bought enough deodorant and laundry detergent and toilet paper and that kind of stuff to last me four months, I tried to see as much of my friends and family as I could since I knew I wasn't going to be able to see them much over the next few months. I didn't have to think too much about how temporary that semester was because I knew it was temporary and I was planning for it to be temporary from the beginning.

I think you need to acknowledge that what you're doing *is* hard, that even non-depressed people experience serious self-doubt when they're embarking on a multi-year project like becoming a dentist, and that it's entirely sensible to question whether this is what you really want to be doing. I think Puppetman is right, therapy would help you deal with some of these feelings if you're not in therapy already, and help you straighten out what is useful awareness of the difficulties you're facing and what is unnecessary, unhelpful catastrophizing.
posted by mskyle at 10:23 AM on June 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

Have you tried putting your schedule in writing? First put down the time you have to be in class and the hours that you work. Then put down a reasonable amount of study time each day. Then look at the time you have left over and schedule self-care things, going for the most beneficial to you first. If you find that this doesn't work because your study time expands to fill all available free time, I would definitely recommend therapy ASAP. Work/life balance is a skill that can be learned, and therapy can definitely help with that.
posted by epj at 10:24 AM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: edit: I'm in therapy and on medication.
posted by DayTripper at 11:45 AM on June 8, 2013

That is a dense post. Others are already addressing the depression part.

As far as balancing adventure and stability in the field of dentistry. You'll have a real, great skill that is much needed around the world. A former roommate of mine, a dentist, worked a few months a year in Gambia to help out kids in rural communities. There is Dentists Without Borders and not to forget the undeserved within the US who need free, mobile dental care.
posted by travelwithcats at 12:09 PM on June 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

As to how to survive busy periods. Sleep and eat well. Everything else you can muddle through but sleep in particular is really important.

You don't have time to spend the evening with friends, call one of them and have a half hr chat. Make a point of doing that regularly.

You don't have time to do an hr of yoga 3x week....get up 15 mins early and do sun salutations every morning. If you plan to do self care first thing, before things get frantic, you're much more likely to do it.

So don't look at this as all or nothing. If you do you're setting yourself up for failure.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:12 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ianyd, but you might want to see a therapist to seef if you suffer from OCPD.
posted by FunkyHelix at 4:12 PM on June 8, 2013

A friend of mine who went into medicine has done more international travel than anyone else I know, starting on med school and residency breaks.

You probably aren't getting paid much in your 10 hour/week job, if you are training to become a dentist it might make a lot more sense financially to rely on loans to cover that so you aren't so short on time that you burn out. That will give you more time to do what you HAVE to do to keep going, like yoga.

Plenty of people who aren't yoga instructors, or who are yoga instructors for a class or two a week, go on yoga retreats as well. There's no reason you have to give that up.

I flirt with the fantasy of joining the Peace Corps or becoming an English teacher in Thailand/yoga instructor/artist/fashion designer/author/some other artsy job and going on retreats and training in places like Costa Rica and moving to somewhere like Colorado or Oregon or Europe where my practical friends with their 9-5 jobs won't be able to put a damper on my dreams.

It seems like you are fantasizing that these things would give you a chance to get rid of your responsibilities and stress. Everyone thinks about that sometimes.

But while you might not have your current responsibilities, you'd end up with new ones! Trying to make a living as an artist comes with a lot of financial stresses, promoting yourself and renting a studio to teach yoga fulltime will have you working FAR more than 40 hours a week, and the Peace Corps may put you in charge of a project you don't get to leave at work and go home from for two years.

I'm not sure where Colorado and Oregon fit in there. You seems to be conceiving of them as mythical places where people don't work 9-5 or go to dental school. I've been to both of these places and I can personally assure you that many people live in CO and OR who have 9-5 jobs and boring responsibilities, they are not some mythical land of milk and honey. If you like Colorado or Oregon, apply to dental school there.
posted by yohko at 8:16 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

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