How do I cope with the end of the world without making others unhappy?
August 31, 2013 7:04 AM   Subscribe

I'm not a survivalist, but I don't feel good about the world. I feel like conversations (around the lunch table, with friends and family, etc) are all sort of hovering slightly above desperation, with regards to things like the financial system, wars, politics, surveillance, technology, depression, etc. It feels like every room is full of elephants and nobody knows what to say about them. Sometimes I feel like I'm draining the joy from the situation -- though I mostly keep all my fears to myself, I worry that I somehow remind everyone of "the darkness." It has something to do with suppression. I don't think I'm alone in feeling like this, so I wonder if there are any intelligent resources for the psychological and social aspects of it.
posted by mbrock to Human Relations (31 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Feeling that the world is hopeless and that you are making people around you feel bad are common thought distortions associated with depression. Get help. There's a lot of awesome out there when you are healthy enough to enjoy it.
posted by arrmatie at 7:23 AM on August 31, 2013 [31 favorites]

Sometimes I feel like I'm draining the joy from the situation -- though I mostly keep all my fears to myself, I worry that I somehow remind everyone of "the darkness." It has something to do with suppression. I don't think I'm alone in feeling like this, so I wonder if there are any intelligent resources for the psychological and social aspects of it.

Are you looking to no longer feel like this, or are you looking for people discussing what this is like?

If you want to stop feeling like this, one place to start might be a one-week news diet -- no NPR, no CNN, no news articles of any sort. Spend any time saved doing a hobby, or volunteering, or trying new things.

Also, I'm sure I won't be the only person to ask this, but have you been screened for depression?
posted by pie ninja at 7:23 AM on August 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

I get this, but you may find that those elephants aren't visible to everyone else.

When I'm depressed, I feel constantly a low level of fear, shame and disappointment. I also worry that if I talk to anyone about it, that it might be contagious - my worst fear is confiding in someone I love and them seeing that I am right, the world is awful, and then I've broken them too.

When I'm beating depression, I see that life is a spectrum, and that for every terrible thing that happens out there, many wonderful things also happen - for every person who has an injustice meted upon them, a child is saved from death by a team of surgeons who studied most of their adult lives just for that moment; a firefighter stays in a burning building just a little longer to bring out a frightened animal; a person stops to talk to a homeless person on the street and buys them lunch.

Depression can be a black dog that leans on you heavily at every moment, or a thick choking fog that is frightening and oppressive, or the horror movie soundtrack playing quietly in your mind that you don't know how to switch off.

The good news: there are people out there who have devoted their careers to helping with it, and if you want help then it is there for you. Being in pain all the time, whether physical or emotional, shouldn't be the acceptable norm, so whether it's a therapist, yoga, meditation, medication, or all of the above, reach out - it gets a lot better than this.
posted by greenish at 7:35 AM on August 31, 2013 [14 favorites]

Every generation worries that they're going to be the last one, often for good reason (nuclear war! plague! Orwellian police-states!), and yet the human species has kept on stumbling forward somehow. It always helps me to study history and see how the leading thinkers and scientists of every historical era have so often been completely and utterly wrong about their doomsday predictions for the future. (This is one very limited sample, but you can find plenty more: It also helps to see that, for all the problems that we face, we've gone through so much worse and somehow made it through.

Now, of course, there's the separate issue of coping with the horrible things that happen in the world every day that don't mean the end of the world, to which the only real answer is that you have to shut a lot of it out if you want to stay sane. Others can give you better advice about that part than I can, but seeing a therapist may be a good idea.
posted by UncleBoomee at 7:44 AM on August 31, 2013 [10 favorites]

Taking a few weeks off of news and social media will make you find ways to entertain yourself in the world around you. Provided that your immediate circle of influence is not wrought with despair, you can only feel better about things after a little while. Go make some bread from scratch, and share with some people you care about in life. Stop thinking so much about people in bad situations that you've never met because those strangers probably aren't thinking about your lassitude.

Your friends aren't spying on you, your neighbors aren't at war with you, your family isn't seizing your property. Be happy with what you've got in life, and go on a negativity diet to sort out the rest. Maybe you can think of a positive way to make some small wordly changes in the meantime.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:45 AM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, you could cope in the same way, but to a dog or a cat, and I think you'd worry less about draining the joy from the situation.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:51 AM on August 31, 2013

Having read a fair bunch of historical texts by pessimistic people, I mean to have understood that doomthinkery is a human condition and not an indication of actual impending doom. Listen to the others here and get your pessimism sorted out. It isn't reality you're addressing.
posted by Namlit at 7:53 AM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

So there are things that you can do something about that are good.
There are things that you can't do something with but are still good.
There are things that you can do something about that are bad where you can do some good.
There are things that you cant't do something about that are bad where someone else can do some good.
There are things that you cant't do something about that are bad where even someone else can't do anything about them either.

Focus less on what's out of your control, and more on what you can control.
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:56 AM on August 31, 2013 [5 favorites]

Well, no, I don't think you're alone in feeling like right now in history there are a LOT of tumultuous changes and a lot of new risks. But tumultous circumstances and the potential demise of entire villages, societies have loomed over many societies and cultures that have come before us.

So yes people of the past and present have had various amount of concern, fear, hopelessness about the coming of DOOM. So far, some humans have survived through all of that right? I'd bet humanity will be around for quite a while longer in some form, it's just how rough the ride will be and how many of us keep on keeping on that's in question.

So, to address your survivability issues, in terms of how well prepared you will be to meet whatever challenges may arise, you need to get your health and emotional strength in order, and mental acuity to have the capacity to see the things which are good, the resources which are available, and for any potential disaster you can think of to both critically assess the level of actual risk (to avoid panic and catastophizing over very low risk or almost no risk possibilities) and to think of potential solutions for any potential problems that have a potential.

The economy is bad, that's real. Is your situation ok? If not, work to address that. Are you worried about your family and community? Start at home, planning out how you and community members could address potential infrastructure collapses by working together. Work in your community to get more self sufficiency programs going such as rainwater collection, local farming initiatives and community gardening projects and more.

So in short, yes to addressing mood/health issues that are overwhelming, but also, yes your environment may have cultivated this state in you in terms of the world being indeed unstable right now and you not having enough protective buffers in your life or internal self to keep up a healthy and pro-active attitude about the world. There has always been poverty and suffering in the world, and predictions of the end of humanity have been with us for centuries. If you look at the lives and societies of people more inclined to see the world through these lens you might see some trends (I believe depressive realism accounts for some sorts of depressive sorts of thinking) however I'm also a hopeful depressive in that I think the world is full of pain but through right action and work and using our strength and skills with the right knowledge and wisdom, we can cultivate healthy and happy lives for many around us, and hopefully ourselves. It's not a certainty that any given person can, but you can only find out if you try.

I think the recommendation to therapy is useful, the assumption your perception is wrong, may or may not be useful. You can decide that. But right now you sound pretty stuck, and miserable. It might be nice to envisions something better and to move through that? You're upset because "the world" is miserable, but lot's of people in the world are having a blast, and you could be one of them. If you can get there you'll have more power to help anyone who truly is trapped in misery by poverty, famine, disease etc.

If you want everyone to share your worldview, what is it you want them to do? To be miserable and hopeless or to share your concerns there are huge huge problems in the world (quite true) and to work towards solutions? Also best case scenario we're all headed for doom. You pretty much HAVE to learn to enjoy the ride despite how messed up this place we're in is, or you won't have any fun at all. And that's the pits, right?

There IS a lot of unbearable suffering in the world. Don't drown over that fact, rise up to do something about it. And cherish every moment of joy and happiness you can find. So far as we know, we only get one life. Also, there are lot's of people working to alleviate and prevent the suffering of the world, and many share your feelings while trying to carry out their quest. For professionals this is called "burnout" and it's a sign you need more support and to rebuild your health and maybe take a break from drowning in the others problems enough to focus on feeling good and healthy and connected in your own life. Get therapy, massages, hobbies, things that bring you joy and remind you life is worth living, whatever that means to you. (I do believe biological depression is a real thing to, which is telling you something in your body is not healthy for which all the same things are helpful but the actual medical condition will need to be addressed as well, possibly through medication).

And yes, this, "the only real answer is that you have to shut a lot of it out if you want to stay sane." Some of don't instinctual shut out others suffering. This is good for empathy, bad for health-- and ironically/tragically often bad for building the strength and well being needed to help others once you have the sight and heart to see their suffering. It's a major issue "helper types" cope with- keeping year heart open enough to care, but protecting yourself from the world's suffering enough to keep your emotional and mental well being in tact. It's a very difficult balance and I find professionals tend to lean one way or the other- cold/bureaucratic but often more effective (by some measures)- or more loving and connected but more likely to have burnout, secondary trauma, or mental health problems from working with suffering people.

Sorry this is long, you wrote this from the perspective of a depressive realist which is a controversial position that may in some ways bear some accuracy to the realities of life, but also is harmful to mental wellbeing--- you don't need to see all bad things accurately, to some degree you need to choose health over accuracy if you've reached a point that your willingness to see the tragedies of life is destroying your health and ability to have any enjoyment/love/happiness at all.

What I can tell you is that , while on some measurements of accuracy depressive types can sometimes be more accurate, depressive realism is not innately "more accurate" on all points. Depression as a clinical illness relates to worse accuracy of thinking in many regards, so you do need to check your thinking out with an open mind and willingness to challenge the "wisdom" of depressive thinking. Opening your mind to the truth can cause pain that is based in reality, however most humans are not very accurate in their perceptions to begin so any positions that are causing you this much pain should likely be evaluated carefully for both accuracy and actual worth to your life. (I.e. something might be true but does it need to absorb the majority of your thinking, and what is the benefit of allowing it too vs moving on to something enjoyable?)
posted by xarnop at 8:00 AM on August 31, 2013 [10 favorites]

So yes, you sound depressed. I think you should see a therapist. For the idea that the whole damn world is going to hell...

Well, I broke the world up into things I can help with and things I can't. So let's start with things I can help with(because I think there's a lot)

I picked a job that helps people. if I do my job well, I can help more that 100,000 working families get better pensions and health benefits. That's not a lot in the grand scheme of things(much less than 1% of the world's population, but those 100,000 families really do meaningfully benefit from what I do). Because I'm an expert in this particular field, I can write articles and lobby lawmakers about it and sometimes increase my influence to help working families that way.

I volunteer. I've done something like 3500 hours of volunteer work. I've helped feed people who are hungry, beautified public parks, restored houses for people who needed it you get the idea... It wasn't all that much, but I think I made this corner of the world a little better.

I give to charities that I know are run well.

And as to everything else that I can't help with (Syria, global warning, starving Haitian children) fuck it. No really fuck it. It's someone else's problem. I take care of my little corner of the world. Someone else will have to take care of that. I turn the news off.
posted by bananafish at 8:16 AM on August 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

Thanks a lot for your answers! So, yes, I don't doubt that I have at least a mild or moderate kind of depression, and I'm working on that. I've been meditating somewhat seriously for about two years, I'm starting on St John's wort, running, changing jobs, etc. I could do more, but at least I've gotten to a place where I'm somewhat proactive about it.

I don't fret too much about literal doomsday, just the normal concerns about where we're heading. I know the situation isn't uniquely bad, like, even the Roman Empire came crashing down, but I get these feelings of some sort of unreality when I'm talking to someone at work and suddenly I start to think about dying empires and stuff.

It's funny, my reaction to your first questions about "Have you considered that you might be depressed?" was something like "Duh, isn't almost everyone?" Most people probably do experience more happiness than me, but in conversations with other people, the sadness about stuff really does seem palpable, something terrible seems to come up in nearly every conversation, to be quickly laughed away or steered away from after some awkward silence... When I'm one-on-one with someone it can feel almost unbearable, until one of us comes up with something lighter to talk about.

I guess some part of this is a social reality, some part is my personal depression and sadness. I suppose I'm looking to learn skills for staying buoyant in social situations, regardless of whether it's me or someone else or the whole situation that brings out the heavy stuff. Hearing your answers already makes me feel better knowing that other people have felt the same thing.
posted by mbrock at 8:20 AM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ok, mbrokck, you are willing to see the sorrow that others redirect themselves from. Redirection is a useful skill and it sounds like you are asking for advice on mastering this technique which comes more naturally to many others.

Innate health, inspires some of that difference. For many people their system senses the emotions are too heavy, it's not productive, redirects, and it's all done with the same level of speed and innate instict one pulls ones hand away from a fire.

Too much truth is literally harmful to the human mind and literally- body. The brain, processing negative content and emotions, is literally struggling on the cellular level- it's an interesting field of research and I'm looking fora good article but if you're interested you can probably search "brain negative content" etc in pub med or google scholar.

My point being- the actual results being found may uncover some truths to what you're observing, and you noticing that others are avoiding negative content while you're plunging right in/overwhelmed is something real you're observing. I still think a therapist could give you some really productive techniwues to deal with this- and also that supporting your mental wellness overall will make this process come more naturally so you don't have to think about it.

There's a LOT of thoughts that will help you redirect, i.e. what draws you toward going into others suffering instead of having a boundary where their suffering is their own, the world's suffering is it's own, and you only get involved if invited or you can do something productive to carry the load or alleviate it? You're doing the "drowning with" thing which might be romantic if your spouse is dying and wants you to sit by their side and dive into every emotion they have, but it's not a good day to day strategy for relating to others.

I am a highly sensitive person, I see the world's pain too, it's also because my own pain is very loud, so when I see others pain, I get a heightened reaction of concern/awareness that is also related to my own issues sometimes more than theirs.

For me, when someone is suffering I stop the "drown with" instinct pro-actively and instead switch to joining them in avoidance if that's their choice, although I will sometimes file "I see, that person has some suffering they might like help with or struggle with at some point" and I think, on a subconscious level when people share just a hint of their pain they are hoping for just a hint of acknowledgement. That knowing that says "I see you have pain" and witnessing of their humanity but that you can then redirect within youself with something like "Yes there is suffering in the world, I'm sorry you have this experience of it friend".

I'm not sure I'm describing this well, and the techniques you find may be different than mine. I tend to carry people without even meaning to in my life if I don't watch out for that and the problems that come of it. I think the book "feeling good" might help you challenge some of your thinking, and how you interact with others, and again, therapy would probably be great with this if you find the right person, specifically with examining why this is a problem for you and what techniques could be used to mitigate it.
posted by xarnop at 8:37 AM on August 31, 2013 [5 favorites]

It's funny, my reaction to your first questions about "Have you considered that you might be depressed?" was something like "Duh, isn't almost everyone?"

No, they're not. Although this is a sentiment I frequently hear from depressed people (and I believed myself before getting real help).

Forget the St. John's Wort. You wouldn't take echinacea if you were coughing up blood. St John's Wort has more drug interactions and is less effective than most conventional antidepressants.
posted by arrmatie at 8:39 AM on August 31, 2013 [21 favorites]

You might consider whether you've been surrounding yourself to some extent with people who are similarly depressed. Having found myself at various points with friends and acquaintances like that, and at other points with friends and acquaintances who were fundamentally optimistic, I think it really made a difference with respect to my own state of mind.

As for bouyancy, I don't know if this helps but I was just reading the wikipedia article about David Niven for some reason and it had the following quote: 'When asked why he seemed so incredibly cheerful all the time: "Well, old bean, life is really so bloody awful that I feel it's my absolute duty to be chirpy and try and make everybody else happy too".' Judging by the very deep well of knowledge I gleaned from that article, I don't think he meant that lightly.
posted by egg drop at 8:47 AM on August 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

Everyone is giving good advice on depression and I think that advice is worth pursuing. However you may also wish to look into the Transition Movement and see if there is a Transition group where you live. It's basically a grassroots movement to promote resilience in communities as well as lowering carbon footprints. In my town we started a local orchard, run a local food stall, give workshops on making homes more energy efficient etc.
People do care, people are concerned, and together we do make things happen.
posted by shibori at 9:00 AM on August 31, 2013 [5 favorites]

If you're feeling depressed, you should definitely see a doctor, especially if the depression has been going on for awhile. You might feel a lot better just with a low dose of anti-depressant, for instance.

But I have these end-of-the-world type fears, too -- not Armageddon, but societal and economic collapse. And yes, I'm depressed. And yes, I'm seeing a doctor and I'm in therapy. That doesn't necessarily make the fears go away. And it doesn't make them unfounded, either.

The one non-therapy thing that I would recommend (in addition to therapy) is reading A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn. The reason I recommend this is that Zinn basically talks about ALL the terrible things that have happened since folks of European ancestry first explored the western hemisphere. If you read the book, you'll see that there has always been oppression and unrest and revolution and impending doom. It will make you angry, and then it may make you feel a bit better about where we are now, because with context you'll see our situation isn't entirely unique. That doesn't make it not bad, but it ameliorates some of the end-times feelings.
posted by brina at 9:25 AM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your reaction to the world is normal, sane, and I would not characterize you as depressd. However, being upset isn't helping things get better, y'know?

Nthing taking solution based action in your daily life, like media diets and community participation.

I know it feels isolating heading to starbuck's while there's so much pain and crazy in the world. That's something you have to make peace with privately.

I try to stay silently mindful of the bad stuff, while maintaing a strong hope that Humanity's innate humanity will ultimately prevail.

There are a bunch of psychopaths and sociopaths at the top of this thing heavily invested in convincing the masses all over the world that our base nature is to hurt one another, that all is hopeless, and that we should all live in fear of them and one another.

It is not true that man is basically evil or that our situation is hopeless, but getting you to believe this makes you (and everyone else who buys into this programming) easier to control.

Silently affirm every time you find yourself conflicted or worrying that people are basically good and we're being told lies. Follow it up with a random act of kindness, or simply take a moment to imagine smiling people going about their business. Practice this ritual as an antidote and to keep yourself from adding to the overall problem.

In other words, be the 100th monkey.
posted by jbenben at 9:36 AM on August 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

We are all heading for the grave anyways. Humanity is a interesting story that has some sort of conclusion that you have no control over. Live your life the best you can, there is no other option.
posted by zebraantelope at 9:51 AM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Twas ever thus.

I've been a doomer since the 1973 Oil Embargo and yet, we're still muddling through.

Every generation worries that they're going to be the last one

I can't agree, not every generation; but certainly most everyone who's been around since The Bomb feels this way. And yet, here we are, life goes on.
posted by Rash at 10:08 AM on August 31, 2013

No, not everyone is depressed, and Nanukthedog has your answer.
posted by Namlit at 11:13 AM on August 31, 2013

It's funny, my reaction to your first questions about "Have you considered that you might be depressed?" was something like "Duh, isn't almost everyone?"

No. And the ones that are (that really want to get better) see a therapist & maybe take some meds. Life doesn't need to be lived in the constant fog and fear of depression/anxiety. Please seek some professional help to supplement your coping skills.
posted by fireandthud at 11:30 AM on August 31, 2013

For me, it has made a huge difference to limit my news consumption and focus on what I can do in my own life. I can't singlehandedly stop climate change, but I could plant a garden, travel by bike and help my friends get bikes set up, etc. I'm more likely to see a positive trajectory when I focus on my own life and activities.

When I do read the news, I try to challenge my tendency to create apocalyptic story lines. Does all the surveillance news add up to a story of the US descending into a totalitarian regime, OR is it a story of some bad decisions being revealed, leading to political reform and more widespread adoption of pro-privacy tools?
posted by salvia at 12:02 PM on August 31, 2013

Thank you, point taken. I exaggerated about everyone being depressed, I know many people who aren't in the slightest. I will look for a therapist ASAP. Thank you for your concern.

I'm still curious if there are any books or other resources specifically about how to handle it when difficult or sad topics come up in conversation. The things that we tend to squirm away from but that still come up. Like when someone says "sorry I can't come, I'm going to a funeral." And not even just the terrible things like death, even just little things like when the conversation turns to how "everyone just stares at their phones nowadays" or parents talking about how they never get enough sleep or coworkers talking about company decisions etc. You know what I mean? How do you turn that around? Or talk about that stuff in a way that's good and helpful?
posted by mbrock at 12:16 PM on August 31, 2013

It seems to me that you have two separate issues, which are being conflated here:

Issue #1:
You may be depressed. That's a medical condition, so the proper person to help you with that is a doctor. The first step would be to call your GP for an appointment or referral.

FYI, St. John's wort and anti-depressants usually can't mix, so you may be delaying medical treatment for your (possible) depression by taking St. John's wort now. Imo, it would be productive to stop taking it while you pursue medical treatment.

Issue #2:
You suspect the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Thinking so isn't on its face delusional or sick or ridiculous; dissent and disillusionment aren't pathological. You could suffer from depression as a medical issue *and* be quite reasonably upset about the status quo. And if you have a rational belief about something, the proper thing to do is to better align how you live your life so it's in accordance with that belief.

Right now, it sounds like you're preoccupied with pretending to others that you don't hold this belief. You say you're worried about betraying that you do believe the world is on a foul course and hurting people/getting ostracized by exposing them to those thoughts. Other people here are saying maybe you'd pretend better if you forced yourself to be more ignorant of world events.

Personally, I don't think being a political/social apostate is the answer; I think that pretending ever harder that things are OK, when you don't think they are, will only increase the dissonance you're feeling, and therefore only increase your feelings of powerlessness, frustration, and isolation. I think the only answer is that actively try and change the things you think are bad about how things are now.

You sound like you have a vision for how the world, or at least one small part of it, should be -- you have just as much right to communicate that vision and try to make it a reality as anyone else does. There is no moral reason the Koch brothers, or Chaney, or Clinton, or Ghandi, or MLK, or William the Conqueror, or *whoever* get to put their fingerprints on the clay of our civilization and you don't. There are practical reasons, though, and it's your job to figure out what the practical obstacles to making your vision a reality are and to try and problem-solve your way around them.

You can be a true believer in how our society runs, an apostate, or a reformer; it sounds like you don't believe, and apostasy isn't working, so what do you have left? Imo you have to at least *try* reforming things.

Maybe you'll fail horribly and things will get worse and worse until the chunks of the planet are blown to smithereens, and you'll be like Einstein despairing over supplying the physics necessary to build the bomb -- could happen. Or maybe you'll be a failure who dies alone in a gutter, utterly unheard -- could also happen. But at least if you're true to yourself and your beliefs, you won't feel the alienation you do now.

To reform something, you have to:
1. understand how that thing currently works;
2. have a clear idea for how it should work;
3. create a plan that uses the resources at hand to get from #1 to #2; and,
4. put that plan into action -- adjusting/scrapping/augmenting that plan as necessary.

If you feel as though your ideas about how things work, or how they should work, or how to get them to work how they should, aren't coherent because you lack the knowledge or know-how to make them coherent, then education is the first step. Honestly, I am in grad school right now working on my version of this. If you already have all that in place, then now is the time to put your plan into action. Either way -- be brave! You deserve to shape the world as much as any of the bastards/saints who have shaped it thus far. And believe me, a lot of other hats are going to be in the ring regardless, so you might as well throw yours in, too.

Please don't waste your life on policing yourself so you sound convincing when mouthing the party lines, or on playing pretend so you're not a bummer. That shit is trivial.
posted by rue72 at 12:22 PM on August 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

Avoid the news. I have commented on this before. Tldr: news is slanted very negatively and rarely gives you any good news to balance the bad.

Focus on solving you own problems. You cannot save the world but if your life is improving, the world seems a lot less dire.

Light one small candle rather than curse the dark.

Instead of reading or watching the news, go to museums, art galleries, read webcomix, etc.

Eat right, exercise, take your vitamins, sleep enough and all that other boring stuff you hear every day and don't really want to do. A sound mind in a sound body. When you feel like crap and are tired all the time, it is hard to not be depressed and depressing.

As you start fixing your own crap, you will find that your presence really provokes people who want to whine about their lives but don't want to make the hard decisions, do the work, etc. Politely spend less time with them. You cannot force anyone else to get their act together. Spend more time with folks who are fixing their shit.

Let me repeat the "read comics" thing. And watch romantic comedies and other lighter fair. Humor often addresses serious social ills that are otherwise not okay or not comfortable to talk about. Humorists are often very socially observant people who have found a better answer to the problem than ugly confrontation. Other art forms also have a lot of value, but humor has special, premium value during dark times. And it can help you figure out how to talk to other people about uncomfortable observations.
posted by Michele in California at 12:37 PM on August 31, 2013

And not even just the terrible things like death, even just little things like when the conversation turns to how "everyone just stares at their phones nowadays" or parents talking about how they never get enough sleep or coworkers talking about company decisions etc. You know what I mean? How do you turn that around? Or talk about that stuff in a way that's good and helpful?

...for the most part, people do not find "oh, my boss is a moron" to be a debilitatingly sad conversation, and bitching about smartphones is kind of our generation's version of "sheesh, some weather we're having huh?!" So it's interesting that you conflate these with a world's end kind of mindset. It is also not on you to turn around the daily irritations of other peoples' lives--just keep your own life bearable.

If even this sort of non-entity negativity is wearing you down, I will not say that this is indicative of a problem on your part--you just might be way way more sensitive to negativity than most people. But it does mean, then, that people above are right, you can only start to curate a much much more positive-leaning group of acquaintances.
posted by like_a_friend at 2:17 PM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Read this book. It worked for me.
posted by dobie at 6:54 PM on August 31, 2013

In addition to the above, the worst case scenario is "It's all true and it's all doomed." And even if you assume that as given, it means you are living in the last Golden Age, and you should enjoy the good times (and yourself) while you can. The time to be sad about loss is after it's lost.

(I was once stuck for a long period of time in a shitty situation, and the memory of my earlier better life, how much easier everything was, the constant wish that things could simply be like again, it was hard. My take-message has been to cherish things while they are good, because there will be no shortage of opportunity to be sad once they're gone, so it's not like you need a head-start on being sad!)
posted by anonymisc at 10:32 PM on August 31, 2013

You may indeed be depressed, and seeking medical advice may help, as may avoiding the news, getting outside more, taking up painting or flint knapping, volunteering....

But it seems to me that you are really asking about something else. You say "I feel like conversations (around the lunch table, with friends and family, etc) are all sort of hovering slightly above desperation, with regards to things like the financial system, wars, politics, surveillance, technology, depression, etc."

And I am not depressed, my friends are not depressed, I do not even have television access except through my computer, I avoid doom-talkers and opinionaters of all sorts. But there is something wrong. I've thought of it in terms of "Where's the outrage?" Federal sequestration has caused immense harm across the country, but we're spending $52.6 billion in 2013 alone on "intelligence gathering." Something to remember: 1 million seconds is roughly 11 days. 1 billion seconds is roughly 35 years. Where's the outrage?

Banks report record profits for the last quarter. Big Pharma continues to make monster profits with no government oversight whatsoever. City employees everywhere are forced to take unpaid furlough days, and then make up the work when they get back. (This used to be called "pay cuts" and "speeding up the line" when there was anyone to be outraged by injustice to workers.) Where's the outrage?

But if your friends and family are like mine, when these subjects come up, everyone just nods and looks kind of desperate and changes the subject. I don't have any particular answer for you -- but I was very glad to see your question.

For what it's worth, I think there are a couple of things happening right now that are, in fact, different than the past.

1) I went to the World's Fair in Seattle in 1961 and saw a computer! It filled an entire room. It was very impressive. It did practically nothing. If you didn't live through that time, you cannot imagine how much and how fast things have changed. I love the changes, the ways to access knowledge, to connect with each other -- 3-d printing, nanotechnology -- bring it on! But it's massive social change in a very short time.

2) Our culture, and I'm primarily referring to the US, has allowed money to become how we measure value. And we as a people have accepted that, and if we don't have money we don't have anything else to be really proud of, and we don't think we have the right -- or the power! -- to change things. But this isn't true, it's propaganda. When I get too discouraged about this, I reread one of Gene Sharp's books.

So when my immediate circle gets into those conversations, I try to say something positive, and then.... I change the subject. It helps if you have one person with whom you can talk honestly; I hope you have or can find someone.
posted by kestralwing at 11:05 PM on August 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

Hmm, I bitch about work, about my lack of payrise (i.e. the economy) etc quite regularly. My only reaction to recent revelations about surveillance was 'how can that be a surprise to anybody?'. But I do not equate any of that with the end of the world or lose any sleep over it. From the conversation patterns you describe I could imagine that the awkward pauses ensue because it becomes clear to the person you're talking to, that you do evaluate these things very differently.

What I believe contributes greatly to my overall happiness is my not following news to any degree and observing what news I do take in with great detachment because I either can't impact what happens or don't care. Let me explain what I mean. For the last 15 years now I have lived in countries where I could not vote. And I don't really care if they raise taxes or build new roads or schools in my country of birth because none of that affects me in any way. So there is no point in following politics, either where I live or where I used to live. As a result I can observe politics from the margins, with a degree of amusement at the antics of the 'actors' but I can't get excited by it. I also cannot do anything about natural disasters occurring or not, I donate to help efforts as I see fit. I also educate myself about some of the more long standing problems in developing countries and support organisations I feel make a difference to these problems. So I am not oblivious to hardship or to the privilege I benefit from as inhabitant of the first world. But I do not feel compelled to solve the world's problems either.

But let me also tell you a story, based on my family's history. I am German as is all my maternal family. My great grandmother was born in 1898, as one of 9 children in a working class family. She survived WWI as a very young woman and lost several of her brothers. She was widowed with 3 young children during the depression. She survived WWII, including losing her son and being bombed out of her family home. She found herself raising her two grandchildren after the war in a home that didn't have solid walls and that she had to share with a bunch of strangers who had nowhere to live for a good few years and rebuilt the family home living on very little. She died aged 96.

Each of these experiences is enough to cause people great pain and anxiety. And one after the other in a single lifetime they could easily cause people to despair and give up. But she was a happy and content woman. She was a funny, loving great grandmother and she was grateful for ever day she lived, even though she survived all but two of her siblings, both her husbands, all her children, one of her grandchildren and one of her great grandchildren.

And she is not alone. Everybody in that generation had to overcome these problems and everybody lost loved ones in these wars. But most managed to come through these experiences albeit with scars. She is representative of that generation, she had scars, especially about the loss of her children. Would she have chosen to experience all these things - certainly not. But confronted with them she managed to keep herself and her family going. She must have been scared and desperate many a time. But she carried on and came out the other end. So even when these things come to pass, as they did for that generation of people, this does not necessarily mean the end of the world, as is evidenced all over the world where people have to endure these kind of experiences. It's just that we now know more about what is happening in real time. Which brings me back to less news.

So yes, therapy and potentially medication, definitely less news and more faith in human spirit being able to deal with what it has to deal with.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:26 AM on September 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

It also occurs to me that you might be interested in being more aware/involved in the problems of the world than the people you associate with. As in, you might want to find people who LIKE exploring their emotions, talking about difficult things, facing societal and interpersonal problems head on. Are you WANTING more emotional expression, sharing, support, problem solving between you and the people you interact with?

It might not be that you need to stuff more, or change your feelings, but find a way to seek heavy thinkers, social activists, emotionally intelligent people who like exploring the issues you see other people stopping short of exploring- and DOING something about it.

Again, I can't exactly tell what's going on here from what you've said, and I am not a therapist, but if you explore the depression hypothesis and it doesn't fit, it might just be you're a critical thinker and problem solver and are frustrated because you aren't getting your hands in the mess and making a positive impact the way you want.

The suggestions to view yourself as depressed and medicate until you shut up the feelings you're having would probably be really wrong if something like that is what's going on. And I do wonder how many awesome activists who see the worlds problems and feel weighed down by it are shoved through the "depressed/shut up the feelings/medication" route when it's really a disrespectful way to view humans with deep souls who see the world a little different than others and often have very huge gifts for humanity as a result.

But I want to reiterate- drowning in a well of misery in and of itself is not helpful to anyone (periods of mourning may be, but indefinite suffering/hopelessness is basically not good and certainly not compatible with health or functioning)-- so finding a way out is absolutely a good idea.

I think most people should have a therapist because this world is a damaging place that will crush the souls and very lives of anyone not resilient enough to fight against such forces. (Again, I'm somewhat of a depressive realist so go figure) Whether you use a therapist to treat a condition called depression, or to empower yourself to interact with the world and make a positive impact (or both) I do think it would be more helpful than jogging/st.john's wort, and musing on metafilter.

Also having been through a lot of trauma and physical pain, for better or worse, the body sort of shuts down during some of the worst types of pain. Yes it does mean people go crazy/loose functioning in their bodies because the shutting down process often involves actually shutting down some physiological processes in the body which can be very bad for long term health or even survival-- but the point is, as long as the tortured masses can get a hold of pain killers and drugs to numb the hell of life, I have to accept that as a good enough solution until we can make a better society that is more responsive to human suffering. All in good time. You MUST have hope. Without hope there will never be a better future. The good you experience rests in the work, love and hope, even through desperation and near certainty of failure, of millions of living beings before you. Always hold on to hope, even if there is no logical reason to do so.
posted by xarnop at 7:41 AM on September 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

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