Staying sane while facing an insane thing
July 28, 2013 7:33 PM   Subscribe

I am in therapy trying to deal with childhood sexual abuse. I am having a hard time keeping my adult life together and not feeling insane. How do I learn to calm down and keep going instead of wanting to cry every day?

I posted here anon in the past about what people would have liked to known if they were just beginning to deal with this issue and found the advice immensely useful. But I am still struggling and don't really know how to keep it together.

I have a great therapist. I tried a survivor group but found it to be lacking (I was put off at the first meeting where everyone laughed at the idea there might be lesbians in the group). Victim services has told me there is a two year delay in applications for funding for extra therapy unless I press charges. My GP says to get treated for my PTSD. My shrink says I just need to breathe through the anxiety attacks. Believe me when I say I have run out the limits on professional support available. Even my therapist is disgusted by the lack of help and is giving me all the extra time he can but he works for the Province too and is already overbooked.

So I am trying to deal with a lot of this alone and I feel like I am going insane. Most days it is all I can do to breathe but adult life doesn't stop for this. I am on disability so my housing is covered and my basic needs but everything is a massive struggle. I need to find a way to repress this stuff so I don't end up a crazy woman ranting on the street.

Things I need help with:

Eating. I need to eat but I can't fathom cooking so I swing between starvation and binge eating. I am too poor for meals delivered and too scattered to cook. I am already morbidly obese and this isn't helping but I don't know how to even conceive of dieting right now.

My dog. I love my dog. She has saved my life but I can only manage to make sure she is fed and played with in the yard a few times a day. Should I give her away?

I smoke. I hate that I smoke. I want to quit but just end up more emotionally upset. How do I quit in the midst of all this because the money I spend on it is making me poorer.

Hygiene. I can go days without showering. How do I fix that? I can't stand to look at my body right now.

People - how do I have normal conversations with people? All that runs through my head is the abuse so I end up wanting to answer questions like : "Why, yes, it sure is hot out - my brother had anal sex with me - how are you?" Now obviously I don't do this but I feel like I am being driven slowly insane by trying to have conversation with people. These can even be good friends. Friends that are aware of what I am struggling with but do not grasp it and tell me that I need to forgive or move on or just forget for awhile.

I try to forget for awhile but it comes back obviously and it makes it just hard to be around people. I know that isolation isn't good either. So how do I fit in better?

I am talking about most of this with my therapist but I still struggle to not feel like I am walking around in a crisis state. I hide it well but I feel like I am getting ground down by it every day. I thought maybe if I could get some advice on just this little stuff it could help.

I am journaling. Reading. Phoning and emailing my therapist too much. Realizing it isn't my fault. Meditating when I can. Grounding myself. Trying to distract in a healthy manner. Not drinking.

I can't help feel I am doing this all wrong and other people handle this better than I do. The professionals and my friends seem to think I am being too emotional over something that happened a long time ago.

In short: How do I deal with incest more calmly? I know I will survive this (I already have) but I don't know if I can do it and be in society at the same time.
posted by kanata to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

I have worked with survivors of childhood sexual abuse. It sounds like you are dealing with it more or less the same way that most people deal with it, including feeling like you need to tell everyone. Please ignore anyone who tells you you're too emotional, that you need to move on, or that you need to forgive and forget. That's not helpful right now.

You might want to check out The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook and The Courage To Heal. (It's possible your therapist has copies to borrow.) Both are very action-oriented and can help you develop concrete positive coping mechanisms as you deal with this.

It will get better. It will not feel like this forever. Please be as gentle as possible with yourself right now.
posted by jaguar at 8:04 PM on July 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I can't help feel I am doing this all wrong and other people handle this better than I do.

I think if you can try to ease up on this particular line of thought and allow yourself whatever your survival strategies are, INCLUDING smoking!, it might help you feel calmer in a global sense. Everything you're doing is fine--eating crap is fine, smoking is fine, not being a perfect dog owner is fine, calling your therapist "too much" is fine, not drinking is AMAZING. You're doing fine. (It doesn't sound like you're actually having a problem being in society, honestly.) Everything you do is a successful survival strategy and a way to resist right now. I promise.
posted by liketitanic at 8:16 PM on July 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

In re: Society thing: It is more like I have stopped giving a shit about other people. I really just find myself yelling at people in my head to shut up because I cannot handle one more moment of idle chat or a problem that isn't really a problem. This worries me because I usually am quite empathetic to other people and and care a lot about being a kind person to others. I also start crying in places where I shouldn't - grocery stores, banks, etc.

I'll stop threadsitting now.
posted by kanata at 8:22 PM on July 28, 2013

It is more like I have stopped giving a shit about other people. I really just find myself yelling at people in my head to shut up because I cannot handle one more moment of idle chat or a problem that isn't really a problem. This worries me because I usually am quite empathetic to other people and and care a lot about being a kind person to others. I also start crying in places where I shouldn't - grocery stores, banks, etc.

I felt that way, and cried that way, right after my mother died, too. I remember sitting at a party a few months later and thinking, "What the fuck do I care about the new restaurant you went to? MY MOTHER JUST DIED, ASSHOLE." I burst into tears on the street once and ended up sobbing on the shoulder of a barely-acquaintance. I am also usually a very empathic and caring and kind person, and once I was done grieving, I went back to being a very empathic and caring and kind person. Anyone dealing with any sort of major crisis is supposed to be self-centered -- how are you going to heal yourself without paying more attention than usual to yourself? -- and it's totally ok to put everyone else on the backburner. Or off the stove entirely. Let it be ok to focus on yourself right now.
posted by jaguar at 8:31 PM on July 28, 2013 [7 favorites]

It is more like I have stopped giving a shit about other people. I really just find myself yelling at people in my head to shut up because I cannot handle one more moment of idle chat or a problem that isn't really a problem. This worries me because I usually am quite empathetic to other people and and care a lot about being a kind person to others.

Oh, darlin', that's because in the past you weren't also trying to deal with your own difficulty at the same time. And now you are, and of COURSE that is going to take up more of your attention and concern, as it should.

You know how on a plane when they're telling you about the oxygen masks, and they always tell you to put your own mask on before helping someone else with theirs? well, that's what you're trying to do now - it's you're trying to put your own mask on, but the people who are telling you about their problems are like people trying to yank your hands away from your head while you're trying to put your mask on because they want you to help with theirs, or they want to ask you something and dammit can't they see you're trying to put your own mask on?

You are dealing with something very, very very big right now, which you hadn't been dealing with before when you were trying to be kind to others. So now it's time to let other people have a turn to be kind to you - you also need to be kind to you right now, because you're going through the most tough stuff.

And don't worry - you will go back to being a caring and kind person. Possibly even kinder, because you will be stronger yourself - and more compassionate, because you'll be able to tell when other people are on this same tough road you're on right now, and you will have the memory of what it felt like when you were here yourself, and you'll be better able to reach out to them. But that kindness and empathy you've always had won't go away. It just needs to be turned in towards your own self right now.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:42 PM on July 28, 2013 [8 favorites]

I just want to chime in that you're doing just fine and this is, in my experience, standard response to extensive trauma. You're doing really well with avoiding drinking- I wouldn't worry about smoking or not cooking right now. Focus on being more nice to yourself, see your coping mechanisms as medicine (albeit with side effects you don't want) but work with where you are. As better support options become available these are things you might improve on when you have better supports around you in place and you aren't in the midst of crisis as it feels right now.

I have found "harmful" behaviors only get worse when you see them as bad personal failures, rather than a sign you are needing more support than is currently available. Access to healthy prepared meals for people on disability or dealing with trauma/mental health/mobility impairment issues is a really big passion of mine because I've dealt with it and I've seen so many others deal with it. It's very very normal to deal with this, you have nothing to be ashamed of.

I remember after I got out of a really traumatic situations I would break down crying in random places as well, again there's nothing unusual about what your dealing with or how your dealing with it. You are good. Your situations sucks and it alters how you need to cope with your world and how you need to behave to cope with what you're dealing with.

Some things that have helped me, and this is literally just a list of things that may or may not help. Toss anything not appealing or toss them all and make your own list of comfort things to do! I'm writing a long list because I'm the sort that likes action steps, some people don't so this might not help you specifically:
Breathing with a focus on slow exhale-- breath out 6 seconds, in 4 start the exhale at the bottom of your torso and work the breath out to your throat. Start inhale at throat work down to bottom of torso
lay in the sun for 30 min a day (or twice if you like this)
go on a 30 min walk once or twice a day
put sesame oil on your body and take a long bath
chai tea, ginger lemon tea, something warming and soothing
self massage (there's youtube videos for this too)
go to the library and get yoga for relaxation/restorative yoga videos (I would not personally recommend the intense yoga work out, I get the ones for the elderly or health compromised people and they are relaxing and made for people with not so stretchy/healthy bodies)
Look for books that are uplifting in genres you like-- something FUN to take your mind off things, or learn about something new you've been interested in you can escape into
Volunteer opportunities- something hands on like gardening-- I volunteered for an organic farm when I was coping with a lot and it was awesome, nice people, and if you aren't wanting to be THAT social you would be near people but probably not having to talk a lot or be pleasant- you can also plant a few fall crops in your yard or in some pots on your porch, I was really excited when I planted some and they lived! (Ok after a few rounds of forgetting to water them.. work with yourself ok? You'll make mistakes right now but that's ok, just keep swimming!)
Food-buy the cheapest no cook healthy foods possible-- just accept you're not cooking right now and stock the fridge/pantry with deli meat/cheese/fruit/crackers get some frozen veggies or rice and beans and just microwave them. Try to choose food that has the least additives/yucky stuff when possible, but really truly don't judge yourself when you grab what's there... this is a time to be understanding with yourself because you're going through a lot.

You want to work WITH yourself right now not against yourself. Explore every supportive resource in your area (you can memail me and I'll help you do this if you like).

You need more support, not more shaming for struggling in the midst of this. You're doing good and you're making it through this.
posted by xarnop at 8:47 PM on July 28, 2013 [10 favorites]

Yeah, dude, this shit will fuck you up. Don't apologise or feel like you need to be feeling anything other than what you're feeling - feelings BY DEFINITION cannot be wrong. Like, ever. You are allowed to feel whatever you need to feel; hell, you're coming to terms with something about which you SHOULD be having lots of intense out-of-control feelings. Your ENTIRE world and sense of self is shifting, as you try to understand and integrate what happened to you with who you are without this trauma.

I wish there was a magic wand that I could wave and make it better. I have been through a similar process and am also walking through it with my best friend right now. Trust me: with a few varied details, either he or I could have written this askme. We are lucky to have one another, because this is a very alienating experience to have. You were isolated and controlled, and so OF COURSE you feel like no one understands or cares. But as much as I wanted to be alone and my best friend wants to just sleep to make it all go away, being with people, even people who didn't know the story, dulled the pain. Distraction is good in small doses...too much and you end up repressing it and exponentially increasing the difficulty of healing. But a little distraction is good if you can find it. I took up knitting again. My best friend is learning how to edit videos in Camtasia. It's fiddly stuff that makes you focus on the details, but if you mess it up, it doesn't really matter. You can always undo it. You can control it and lose yourself in it at the same time.

As far as food goes, here's what I did/do: find the one thing you can stand eating. It doesn't matter what it is. Eat that until you're sick of it. Then find something else. Repeat. Keeping you going is more important than what you're actually eating. I probably ate more ice cream during those months than I ever will again in my life. But I'm none the worse for wear now.

And I will say this: I had a lot of Long Dark Nights Of The Soul, where I screamed and cried myself sick, and slept in clothes and makeup and didn't clean my place for weeks. It's now been nine months, and I can say this honestly: what happened to me doesn't define me anymore, but it does explain me. It shaped me in a million ways, but it isn't Who I Am. I never thought I would get there. Some of my relationships were damaged by this process, and I definitely thought some of my friends were thinking, "OMG JUST GET OVER IT ALREADY!" (spoiler: they weren't). And through it all, some of my relationships were strengthened. My life is so much better now that I'm not constantly being triggered by stuff without knowing why. And I get to be the catalyst for helping someone I care deeply about.

Please memail me (or my gmail is the same as my Mefi name) if you need someone to talk to. You will get through this. And you should do whatever you need to in order to do that.
posted by guster4lovers at 9:22 PM on July 28, 2013 [7 favorites]

I just want to address the dog question. I recognized your username and immediately thought of your pup. I know you've asked about her here before and it was a similar question.

Don't punish yourself by giving away your little buddy. That dog gets plenty of exercise and love from you. You're a great caretaker, no matter what your self-esteem is trying to have you believe. You are a good dog owner. I have known many good dog owners in my life who give their dogs a lot less love and attention than I know you do based on my memory of your posting history.

The way out is through. Squeeze that lucky lil doggie and try to give yourself a break on this one. Animals are really, really good friends, and I promise that dog is just as lucky to have you as a buddy as you are to have her.
posted by k8lin at 11:10 PM on July 28, 2013 [12 favorites]

My suggestion is that you drive into the skid rather than fighting with the wheel. By that I mean that I don't think it's helpful to wonder if you are doing things "wrong." If you don't want to take a shower, that's fine. If you don't eat right, that's okay. When you're struggling, even smoking is okay (though I have a friend who swears by nicotine lozenges). If you don't feel up to having a conversation, you don't have to. Just excuse yourself, make up an excuse -- it doesn't matter how you do it. If you don't feel that you can take care of your dog, or if it has become too much of a burden, maybe you can ask a friend to look after her, maybe just part-time, but I believe that there is nothing that you "should" do, other than what you feel is best for you right now.

I'm not sure where this stern voice is coming from that is telling you that you "should" somehow cope better. Just coping at all is hard enough without having to listen to doubts, whether they come from within or without, that you are supposed to somehow be doing things better. A crisis is not the time to work on self-improvement, in my experience. Sometimes therapists are the ones who say that you will feel better if you put on a pretty dress or whatever, or force yourself to go out, or organize your closet. That stuff doesn't help me: it's just another burden. And then my head gets full of these burdens and "shoulds," and it's harder than ever to cope.

I haven't had your experiences. I've had difficulty coping with the day-to-day, for other reasons. This last suggestion may sound trivializing, and it is not meant to be, so forgive me if it gives offense in any way, but I have found it very helpful to immerse myself in an interest that is mindless and non-demanding, even silly -- ideally so silly that it's embarrassing to admit. (I'll admit mine: I like male high-fashion models. They have a fan following, and they're much more engaging than one might suspect.) I'm not sure what you like: maybe fantasy, sci-fi, a particular band or style of music, a particular genre of film. Anything that has a fandom is usually something that some people find engaging enough to immerse themselves in it. And you can engage with it from home, online or through books, CDs and magazines, without having to force yourself to go out if you don't want to.

I wish you the best.
posted by Vispa Teresa at 11:36 PM on July 28, 2013

I am 48. I think I am pretty recovered from the sexual abuse. But between that, being a (former) military wife, raising special needs kids, and my genetic disorder, I think there is no cure for my tendency to get annoyed with the relatively trivial, superficial things that are acceptable to discuss most of the time, regardless of the social setting. I have learned to arrange my life to just avoid that as much as possible.

I have a few people I am close to that I can really talk to and I participate in some online stuff. I am careful about how I participate but I still struggle regularly to avoid offending people. However, it is a lot better for me than it used to be. I basically mostly just opt out of the superficial social stuff and it makes it so much easier on me and I offend people a lot less. Since you are on disability and presumably not working, I think you can probably do a lot to arrange that.

These days it is possible for me to be okay with talking about "trivial" stuff and even seek it out some and feel normal-ish but that's in part because it mostly occurs in situations I can dip in and out of pretty much at will (like chat rooms). I am never really trapped with someone nattering on about wallpaper or whatever where I can't just opt out if it is making feel kinda like "Seriously???? Don't you have any REAL PROBLEMS????!!!"

Quite a few years ago, while having one of those days when I just felt really nuts, I thought of some of the "normal, well adjusted" people I knew who had seriously dysfunctional lives and lived in a permanent state of denial. I concluded those people were actually crazier than I was but still managed to go to work, pay bills, buy groceries, etc. I decided it didn't matter if I was sane or not, as long as I hid it well enough to work my way through it on my own terms and not wind up locked up and under someone else's control because of expressing it too openly.

My mother used to say that soap operas are just like real life, that the people around you all have their personal dramas whether you see it or not. I think she is right. A lot of the "sane" people around you aren't as together as you might think. Some of them just cry in the shower (or whatever) instead of wearing it on their sleeve.

There is a drug for treating depression that causes a lot of smokers to spontaneously stop smoking. It impacts a different brain chemical than most anti-depressants. You may be smoking to self medicate depression. My emails indicate the drug might be Wellbutrin. A quick google seems to back that up. You might see if you can get a prescription for it. It is sometimes prescribed to help people stop smoking.

Re hygiene: Have you tried showering versus bathes versus a sponge bath to see which one is more acceptable to you? Can you at least change clothes and wash your hair in the sink even if you do not shower/bathe? Even that much can make a big difference.

Re food: Fresh fruit; dried fruit; real cheese with good crackers; salad consisting of lettuce, feta cheese, dried fruit and some nuts; instant soup with an egg cracked into the boiling water; ramen noodles with carrots, onion and and egg added (add hard veggies like babtly carrots to the water first, egg and noodles later); cook an entire package of spaghetti noodles and put the leftovers in the fridge, then reheat with an egg or eat cold with parmesan and apple slices.

I did stuff like that while too sick to really cook and too sick to be able to just not eat. Cheese and eggs were an important source of protein. I relied a lot on dried or fresh fruit because it took less prep than vegetables. I found good quality crackers that were not sweet and treated them like a bread substitute when I just could not cope with food prep.

I also relied a lot on yogurt and carnation instant breakfast and often had cold cereal with milk for dinner. This was partly because my gut was a mess and I had trouble tolerating solid food. My rule of thumb: Stay hydrated and try get at least a few calories in every day. It takes at least two weeks to starve to death but you can die of dehydration in a couple of days.

Well, I think I said all the stuff I wanted to say. Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 12:05 AM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yes, keep your pup. I went through something similar and wondered if I were being a good cat-mum to my fuzzball; wondered if he deserved someone better... but I kept him because he was my family. I thought that was selfish at the time. Well, he IS my family, and now that I'm on the other side of that crushing depression, I can see that viewing an animal as family is, y'know, not selfish. Your pup is your family; he genuinely loves you. You're a good dog-mum. He's fed, watered, and exercised, and definitely loved.

Don't worry about smoking for now. You've got enough going on.

As for eating, I have been there and done that. Here is what can help:
- Get huge bags of rice from local Chinese supermarkets. Cook up a big batch of the stuff. Eat a portion of it, put the rest in the fridge. Use the rest cold in salads (you only need to add some diced tomatoes and tuna, for instance), reheated, or as fried rice with some scrambled eggs. I lived on rice cooked with olive oil, salt, and thyme+basil for a year. Like, I am not exaggerating. For breakfast I would have reheated rice with some coconut milk and a tablespoon of sugar. It works, and it is cheap and non-allergenic.

Showering, well, over here in Europe it's pretty common to go a few days without showering. No biggie, really. People just wash their pits, brush their hair and put on fresh deodorant.

People... omigod no kidding. "Fraula, how did you like school? " "I don't know, my favorite teacher, the one who taught me how to speak to you in French, was shot in the gut by her son who I knew personally and she didn't die from that, her son had to shoot her a few more times, did I mention she was my favorite teacher?? And that her husband she adored had just been shot in the back of the head? Oh and then the kid went on to shoot up my high school and my favorite music teacher was the first adult to walk in on it???" Jesus CHRIST. "Are you going back to the US for the holidays to see your family? It's so great to see family!" You mean the family that beat me and lied about me and told me I deserved to die and nearly managed to kill me from neglect then blamed me for not rolling over and dying?? Noooo I THINK I'LL STAY ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PLANET THANK YOU. And FUCK "blood runs thicker than water" or some such, no shit, my family drew my blood and spat on it then blamed me for making them want to spit on it, they would know.

It gets better. It's been a couple years since I impulsively wanted to react like that, though that period lasted a good long while. And I'm glad it did, in hindsight, because it is, essentially, getting in touch with that hurt, angry, sad, strong part of yourself that knows "THIS IS NOT RIGHT". In time it will become, "THAT WAS NOT RIGHT." And in more time, "That was seriously not right. Puppy hugs! Puppy hugs are always right."

It gets better. You're doing a whole lot of things that are great! Journalling helps, meditation really helps - you'll see, it builds on itself, and in time the waves of horror that make you want to scream will become waves of horror... that pass. In time. You don't need to push yourself. It's all part of the voyage. Which, I realize, sounds shitty when you're in that space of torturous anxiety and sorrow and anger and just wanting to heal already, dammit. But it does get better, and this awful part is only a portion of that path.
posted by fraula at 12:36 AM on July 29, 2013 [6 favorites]

Humans simply do not have unlimited energy. Depression, stress, anxiety, and, of course, dealing with the big life issues all consume energy. This is normal. Unfortunately, we seldom realize how MUCH energy being sick and trying to heal really does consume. You are taking care of your dog (you really are, trust me!) and working on getting healed. It sounds like you are giving your 100%. Keep it up! It can only get better.

As for the crying/stress/yelling/etc, I kinda view it like reservoirs that continually fill. Sometimes they fill faster, sometimes they fill slowly, and sometimes they just fill by trickles. If they over-fill, its going to spill out everywhere and make a mess. However, you can empty the reservoirs yourself, in safe places. Read a sad book or watch a movie you know will make you cry. The short-term emptying of it is NOT pleasant usually, but is so much better in the long run (and even near short term)

Your emotions are your emotions, and nobody can tell you they are wrong. However, to me, it does seem like you are doing a decent job of coping/healing. It isn't easy! It is huge and a lot of work. You are tearing down a lot of bad construction and clearing the mental space there for new, healthy growth. It will be ok. Just be gentle on yourself. :)
posted by Jacen at 5:53 AM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

You are doing good things. Lots of good responses up thread. I want to offer a few specific ideas about eating & smoking.

First of all, "morbidly obese" is a horrible medical label. But it's just a category on a chart - it's not who you are.

Try to get yourself some easy meal & snack options and then don't worry about portion control so much. Here are some of mine:
Peanut butter on multigrain bread.
Sweet potatoes are really healthy - you can cook them in the oven or microwave and dump toppings or eat plain.
nuts & dried fruit (eg raw Almonds & dried cranberries).
Air popped popcorn.
Veggies you can eat raw that last in the fridge(sweet peppers, carrots, celery, snow peas)
Roasted soy beans (try to go unsalted or mix unsalted w salted)

Re:smoking, there are programs in Ontario that will give you nicotine replacement products for free.I know there's one through CAMH. When you have the energy, ask your GP, pharmacist and google to see what you can find.

Another support might be provincial drug benefits if your income is really low. That might offset some costs.

A final thought about your group experience. You went once, and something disconcerting / offensive happened. Consider that their laughter might have been ironic or cynical - referencing something they'd previously talked about that wasn't clear to you. Maybe there's a facilitator you could ask? Or another group you could try? I only say this because group support can be really great at helping you realize you're not alone on this journey; others have taken it and gotten healthier too.

And really, fuck showering if you don't want to. 3 days is a long time by some standards, but really not that long or unhealthy by others.

You're so brave and strong to be facing these demons and asking for help. Best wishes.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 6:27 AM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

You know, in times like this, I think we can learn a lot from the harm reduction approach. I haven't been through what you're going through, but I have been through a couple major depressions and the deaths of people close to me and I think our bodies and brains have some pretty standard reactions (shock, grief, anger, anxiety, panic, etc).

For me, harm reduction reframes it like this: Okay, you are in a really tough spot doing a very difficult thing and it is going to suck. We are not going to find a magical way for you to deal with incest that is pleasant or that mixes well with day-to-day life. Incest recovery is just not one of those things. Let's be realistic about that.

You are putting the work in right now to deal with it and survive, and this is important. So, how can we make small, regular adjustments to your life to make this difficult and painful work more possible for you? Not to make it pleasant or easy, mind you: to make it more possible and to open up the amount of energy you need for this intensive stage of recovery.

For all of the things you listed, I would ask a few questions: How urgent is this? Is there a "good enough" or "bare minimum" version that would suffice for now? Is this helpful to your recovery, or distracting from it?
  • Eating: You have to eat something, but it doesn't need to be perfect right now. Dieting requires tons of energy, and so does recovery. It is a perfectly responsible decision to focus on recovery right now and come back to this later.
  • Smoking: Same answer as dieting. This takes waaaay more energy than you have right now, and that's okay.
  • Hygiene: Similar again. Go easy on yourself, it makes sense that this would be a tricky thing given what you are trying to work through. Do what you can, and be patient with yourself.
  • Your (adorable) dog: It sounds to me like your dog is a resource for you, more than a drain on your energy. I have friends who have also contemplated giving away pets in the midst of depression out of guilt that they weren't caring for them well enough, and when the worst of it passed they were so glad they kept them around. If your dog gives you safe, positive touch and a reason to get up in the morning and go outside for a few minutes, it sounds to me like your dog should be considered part of your recovery support team. If it would ease your mind to ask a friend to take her out for a big run a couple times a week, that sounds like a good idea too, but I think your dog is probably just fine and would be sad to lose you.
  • People and Isolation: Chitchat is also a big energy drain and difficult right now, and this is a very common thing for people who are processing Big Stuff. At the same time, I think you're right to worry about being isolated. I think the answer here is to check in with yourself regularly. Was that lunch too long? Is that friend shaming you? Is that other friend easier to hang out with? Is half an hour enough to stay connected and not be overwhelming? This will change from week to week, so keep checking back and adjusting.
I think it's also important to remember that this is a stage of recovery, not what your life is going to be like forever. It's never going to be "normal" or "okay", just like how my friend whose partner just died is never going to be okay with that. But he'll pass through this most intense grief and life will find a new normal.

It's like if your dog fell and got hurt and you were tending to her and someone else wanted you to listen to a story about their day. It's not that you don't care, it's that your dog is hurt NOW and that's more urgent! The other stuff can wait. And that's where you are now, except you are the one who is hurt. You still care about the other stuff but it's so much quieter than the loud hurt that is taking priority. And then later, when your dog is tended to and you've calmed down, THEN you will get interested in your friend's story about their day again.

Hang in there. Go gently.
posted by heatherann at 7:31 AM on July 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

First, I am impressed by how well you are already handling some of these things. You sound like an incredibly strong person, and even asking these questions is brave (as mentioned above) - and will probably go to help MeFites in the future as well. I know it is already helping me right now. That is something admirable that you should allow yourself to take credit for.

With regard to daily tasks (such as eating and showering), maybe trying a mindful and sensory approach might work for you to steady your mind? You said that you already meditate, which I (personally, YMMV) find more difficult than daily mindfulness exercises.

You might find these activities easier if you choose to frame them as little rituals or experiments that you can do to connect you to the present moment, rather than as chores. If and when you feel that you are ready, why not give it a shot?



And keep the doggie. They are amazing carers in their way. :)
posted by gohabsgo at 7:49 AM on July 29, 2013

OH ALSO. Just as whatever works for you is not "bad," if it ISN'T working for you, it's not "good," no matter how virtuous, and you can ditch it! I say this because I was just remembering that when I was in a place much like the one you are in now, meditating actually made me feel worse. So do what is effective and what works, whatever those things are. There are no good or bad survivors. There's just folks making it through.
posted by liketitanic at 5:27 PM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think the most important thing here is whether the problems you're having are getting worse, about the same as they have been, or maybe getting a little better than in the past; if they're getting worse, the problem is urgent. Yes, you're doing "fine" - doing the very best you can - but it may be more than you can be expected to overcome by yourself.

You have severe issues - big 'uns - that interfere almost constantly with your ability to have a normal life, and that's serious. There are many folks who have had to find a way to exist without becoming a basket case due to horrific childhood experiences, but there are some things that just don't seem to be something we can deal with alone and your background has damaged you badly.

I think you should consider inpatient therapy in a hospital psych unit where they address all these issues at once - you'll be safe there, which is something I think you're really looking for right now, you'll be fed and given minor responsibilities - make your bed, shower, clean up after yourself, etc. - and you'll be in the hands of people who aren't shocked or unable to fathom what you've been through - they've seen it all. They can constructively teach you ways to deal with your issues, hour by hour or minute by minute, how to recognize when these horrible memories are rearing their ugly heads and moving in on your life again, and they'll help you link up with serious outpatient help that will always be available when you need it, no questions asked.

I hope with all my heart that you get into the hands of someone who's equipped to deal with your problems and teach you how to do the same, someone you can turn it all over to.
posted by aryma at 12:38 AM on July 30, 2013

Both my mother and I went through seriously depressive episodes of a few years' duration a couple of decades back, triggered by grief, and I think we each practically lived on microwaved popcorn at the time.

As regards hygiene: if you've got a tub, what worked for me was baths instead of showers, because I could take a book or two (and soak a hand towel in warm bath water to drape over any exposed bits of me above the water line to stay warm) and lounge in the tub for an hour reading, turning the water back on to refresh it if it got cold.
posted by telophase at 10:32 AM on July 30, 2013

Thanks for your responses. I guess my main question in follow up if anyone is still reading is: Is it ok if I just do the bare minimum to survive right now? Keep my dog and I fed/watered? I feel that is all I can barely manage and am not sure if that is OK or if it makes me a bad person for not striving to be more put together?

Sorry if you answered this already or it is a chatty follow up. I am having a hard time parsing normal interaction lately.
posted by kanata at 1:18 PM on July 31, 2013

It is absolutely okay!
posted by megancita at 1:42 PM on July 31, 2013

It is absolutely okay, yes! And it's even better if you can let go of any guilt you may be holding onto about it.
posted by jaguar at 1:48 PM on July 31, 2013

One technique that helped for me when I was recently going through a tough time was that I required myself to take my medication and do one thing per day. That thing could be taking a shower, or eating lunch, or answering an email, or going to therapy, or anything at all, but it helped me feel like I was at least accomplishing something, which helped alleviate some of my own guilt about feeling useless.
posted by jaguar at 1:54 PM on July 31, 2013

It's okay. In fact, if you keep both of you adeqately hydrated, you wil be doing a better job than a lot of people and it will help you start recovering. Dehydration is wicked bad stuff and often underrecognized.
posted by Michele in California at 1:57 PM on July 31, 2013

Yes! That is absolutely okay, and a very smart approach.

Right now, your "bare minimum" includes a HUGE difficult task of processing something very difficult. You are already doing more than most people.

Be gentle with yourself. Respect the hard work that you are doing. Listen to your body and slow down when it asks you to. Pace yourself, sleep, take breaks. Cuddle your dog.
posted by heatherann at 11:07 AM on August 1, 2013

Keeping me and my cat fed and watered, and making sure I slept, was all I could handle doing for a couple weeks after 9/11 - and i was such a mess that i may not have been able to do even that without my cat's daily, er, reminding.

it iis absolutely okay if that is all you can handle right now. It does not make you weak - it means you are gathering strength to deal with something big. But one thing that made me feel better about going hermit like that, if you want to try doing this, is to tell a trusted friend what's happening - not any details, just that you are going through "some difficult stuff" right now - and then tell them you'll call them once a week or so to just quickly check in and say how you're doing ("I still feel like keeping to myself" or "feeling a bit better, maybe we can get coffee quick" or whatever). Someone whom you know will leave you bein between calls, but also someone you can call if you really are afraid you'll start doing worse.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:25 AM on August 1, 2013

I guess my main question in follow up if anyone is still reading is: Is it ok if I just do the bare minimum to survive right now? Keep my dog and I fed/watered?

posted by liketitanic at 4:20 PM on August 4, 2013

I wanted to follow up and thank everyone for your such supportive answers. I've returned to this thread many times to give me the inspiration and strength to keep going. I'm still in a huge hellish place and will be for a long time but hearing from others that it is OK that I just do the bare minimum helped in a way with letting go of guilt that I'm just focusing on myself. My therapist agreed - and it also gave me the courage to tell him that meditation is just screwing with me worse and he was supportive in me letting that go for awhile.

It also really helped to know that I am not abusing my dog by not being able to take care of her the way I want to. That sitting on the couch and cuddling her won't harm her just because I can't take her on three hour walks anymore. Thanks for your continued patience with me when I post questions that revolve around mental illness/abuse and my first instinct is to give away my pet. A lot of my friends don't get that and think I'm being stupid. It helps to know that it is kind of normal to think that way.

One thing I'm learning is that pets are great healers when you have no experience with unconditional love. And Askmefi people are a kind and supportive tribe.
posted by kanata at 10:34 AM on September 9, 2013 [7 favorites]

kanata, I'm so glad to hear you're finding a way through. Thanks for posting an update, I have been thinking about you and hoping you and your dog were okay. Dogs certainly can be great healers. All the best.
posted by heatherann at 5:47 AM on September 12, 2013

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