Stuck in a suicidal ideation loop, need to break out and get work done
September 9, 2013 5:29 PM   Subscribe

I just failed on a number of work deadlines and finally got an email from my boss pointing it out and asking for more focus and productivity. I think, I've just realized, that I do this on purpose in order to force people who believe in me to see me as the failure that I feel/know I am in my heart. This has dropped me into a mental brainworm loop of "I deserve to be dead/why am I alive/I should be dead/I don't deserve to live in this world." I know I wont make an attempt, I've trained myself well in ways not to. But I need to break myself out of this mental loop and get some work done today as I will be unavailable for other reasons for the rest of the week. For the same time limitations I don't have time to go hunting for therapy, at least not in the short term.

I've dealt with suicidal ideation since early childhood, and have a few failed suicide attempts in my history, none recently.

I'm on antidepressants, which do make a big difference but today my mental state is bigger than they are.

Please give me any advice you have on breaking out of negative mental loops and on getting work done when it feels like a mountain and you're afraid to even open a file to begin.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried MoodGym?
posted by Dr. Zira at 5:37 PM on September 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Be aware of what your mind is doing. You said you've been having "I deserve to be dead" thoughts. When you think of these, say to yourself: "Ruminating." Because that is what you are doing. You don't need to say it mad at yourself or tell yourself to stop, but you need to recognize you're doing it as frequently as possible.

There is a zen tradition of saying, "Is it true?" after each belief-thought. When you're thinking all of the trashy "I'm no good" stuff that I'm not going to try to talk you out of, be rigorous in just asking, "Is it true?" after each one. And if you can, let it go instead of getting in a back or forth about whether you measure up. Anyway, your depressive thoughts are very likely going to hamper your work performance. But the best reason to get out of depression is because you will feel happier when you do. Re: time constraints, you should think about how you want to prioritize your basic well being.

I have a saying that I keep written down on a sheet of paper that is lying around in my apartment, "Just because I'm believing it, doesn't mean it is true." Which is a very good saying if you can get past the apparent absurdity of it.
posted by mermily at 5:43 PM on September 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

For work only, can you bring in a coworker onto your project to assist? If you are stuck in a non-productive loop, bringing someone else to whom you are responsible AND who can help you stay on-track might be of help.
posted by xingcat at 5:43 PM on September 9, 2013

Is it feasible for you to take a nap? That works for me when intellectually I can think of solutions for 'breaking out of negative mental loops' but in reality there's no way I can actually get myself moving. After a nap, I tend to find the energy to get moving, and then the initial action becomes self-reinforcing.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 5:45 PM on September 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

Sometimes I find that thinking I deserve to be dead is really just a way out of thinking I'd better get my ass in gear and do the work I need to do. So I decide, consciously, that I will revisit the question of whether I should kill myself ONLY AFTER I finish all the projects I'm supposed to finish.

In other words, it's more procrastination. Like being on the internet. What I would like you to do right now is close metafilter and any other interesting sites you have open, and work your BUTT off for the rest of the day and any time any thoughts arise, whether they are "I deserve to be dead" or "I wonder whether anyone has responded to my question on", tell yourself that you are not allowed to think about anything but work until you have completed at least the minimum amount you have to do before you become unavailable.

Just do one thing at a time. In the same way you are not allowed to think about anything not on message, you also are not allowed to think about any project other than the one that you are working on right now. When that's done, you move to the next.

It's like meditation. A concentration practice. When you find that your attention has shifted, shift it back. It's simple. Not easy, but simple. It's the difference between being lost in thought and being aware that you're thinking. Each time you come to awareness that you're back in your loop, make a note that you're back in your loop, and that in and of itself brings you out of it.

A drop at a time.
posted by janey47 at 5:48 PM on September 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

I sympathize. I've been in similar situations. What's helped me is: first, tell myself my self worth should not be tied to job performance. It's ridiculous that who we are as human beings gets tied to our jobs, but it seems very common in western capitalist societies.

Second, put aside your emotions (don't suppress, just mentally put them aside for later processing). This will allow you to focus in getting work done.

Third: assess, define, & deliver. What's the scope of work? What does your boss expect you to get done & by when? Is that reasonable given your situation? If not, communicate to your boss ASAP what you cannot take on. If it is reasonable, inform your boss on your commitment to getting it done, then hunker down & deliver.

(If it's a big task, it always helps to break it down into smaller, reasonable chunks of work that can get done in 2-3hr blocks. )

Hope that helps, good luck!
posted by lychee at 5:50 PM on September 9, 2013

Depression like you are talking about (and while I'm no psychologist it sure sounds like depression from here) is not something that can be dealt with entirely or quickly through coping mechanisms. Nor is it something that can be quickly dealt with through therapy. Both of those things are useful in the long term, but for most people they take months or years of hard work to start having a strong effect, and for many people they are never enough.

One thing that can work faster, for some people, is medication. It certainly helps me. It's not a magic bullet and it can be frustrating just finding a medication where the beneficial effects outweigh the side effects, but if I were you I would be setting up an appointment with a psychiatrist or even just a general practitioner to talk about getting on antidepressants, ASAP. If you want to do a little pre-research on various antidepressants, the best resource I've found is crazymeds, which gives a pretty no-nonsense breakdown of what you can expect from various medications, based on reports from people who take them.

Coming back to the subject of coping mechanisms though, if I wanted quick results I would look less toward changing my thought patterns directly and more toward doing things that are both good for me and good for abating my depression. I am talking about things like socializing, getting exercise, finding a hobby or interest group to take part in, talking to my loved ones, and mental self care. What in your life lifts you up, makes you feel good, makes you feel like life is worth living? Do more of that, especially if it's something you haven't done in a while or something that stretches your horizons a little bit. Depression has a way of giving the sufferer a sort of insidious tunnel vision, and breaking out of that can really help.

Also, and this is something that sounds utterly ridiculous and cheesy but which works for me as well as or better than anything else, is to look at yourself in the mirror on a regular basis (at least once a day) and say to your reflection, in a strong and unequivocal voice, "I am awesome. I am amazing. I am smart and capable and I am a good person who deserves good things." Repeat this mantra, or one like it, several times over while looking yourself square in the eye. You will feel extremely silly doing it, but then I promise you will feel a bit better. The key though is to say it out loud, and to say it with conviction -- even though it may seem completely stupid and even though you may not believe it (especially at first).

That's the best advice I can give you in terms of getting yourself strong, short-term results to get yourself through this pit and out the other side. You can do this. You are not weak. Being depressed doesn't mean you are weak -- it means you are struggling with a slippery, powerful, manipulative foe that wants to break you down, undermine you, wear you out, and sap your self-confidence and esteem. You are a tough motherfucker to have fought this on your own for as long as you have and as well as you have. Keep at it. It won't just go away, but you can beat it back when it comes at you like this. You can do it.
posted by Scientist at 5:52 PM on September 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

What you're dealing with here is probably best categorized (in the short run) as "intrusive thoughts."

One technique that works for me sometimes is to say something along the lines of "I keep thinking about wanting to die, and that's really flipping irritating, but anyway, I choose not to die right now. Instead, I'm [doing the thing I'm doing.]" This tends to work better when I'm doing something like driving, which doesn't require verbal results.

Also, this may be a manifestation of you hating this work (rather than hating yourself, or whatever.) If that's the case, various "getting things done" techniques folks with ADHD use may actually be really helpful.
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 6:03 PM on September 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

You say you don't have time to hunt for therapy. Does your job offer what is called an "employee assistance program" or EAP? Many jobs do; you might check with HR. If so, it will be a phone number you can call confidentially, and you tell them you need to see a therapist, and they will find one and make an appointment for you. It can be a really good way to skip the hunting/deciding/etc part.

You could address the intrusive thoughts, and also whatever internal stuff is holding you back at work.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:09 PM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

One thing I've tried to do in life is to develop some compassion for myself. This is distinct from feeling sorry for myself. If I were in your position tonight, I'd reflect that I am unhappy and struggling because I am in a situation which is actually, truly bad (tormented by depressive self-loathing) and that it's completely understandable that this is causing me difficulties. I'd reflect that this is transitory, and that it is possible to get better. I'd try to focus on what small, concrete accomplishments I could actually complete this very night, and then try to set about doing them. If work proved impossible, I'd resort to any kind of physical activity, perhaps some aimless (to an observer) house cleaning and organizing. I'd let myself feel good about this puttering and rearranging of house debris as much as possible.

The thing is, though, as someone said above, depression reaches a point where you can't really fight it successfully with these kinds of methods, and, at that time, you need an experienced professional to guide you.

Take care of yourself. You can get better, you don't have to live like this, even if, at times, that seems false.
posted by thelonius at 6:14 PM on September 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

I have said this before and I will say it again: you cannot afford to not seek therapy. If you are purposefully setting up self-fulfilling prophecies so that you fail in order to confirm a warped view you have of yourself, you are eventually going to lose your job, and then where will you be? You deserve to view yourself correctly, to see yourself as worthy and competent and capable, not one step away from ruin all the time.

You are asking for help. Take what we're saying seriously. Make going to therapy the job you go to to save your primary occupation. You will be better for it.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:13 PM on September 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

For some strange reason, doing this really helped me. It was nice to have a list to accomplish each day, and then a list I could look at to see all I had accomplished.
posted by 4ster at 8:14 PM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

A little exercise goes a long way w/r/t my mental well-being.

Also, ditto the compassion comment above. Accept that you're in a tough spot and figure out what is the minimum you need to do. If the list is impossible to finish, it will be very hard to motivate yourself.
posted by salvia at 12:54 AM on September 10, 2013

I don't have time to go hunting for therapy. If your job is in jeopardy, you don't have time not to find a therapist. Your company may have an Employee Assistance Program(EAP), and you could see someone pretty quickly. You are probably eligible to take Family Medical Leave to deal with your serious illness. Suicidal ideation may have become your way of expressing I'm intensely miserable, and it needs to be addressed. I got references, interviewed several therapists, and lucked out with a therapist who has also been helpful with coaching on issues at work. I do a lot of perseverating, and mindfulness, meditation and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy(CBT) has been helpful. I've also had to take sick time to deal with a pile of built-up stress that was causing serious illness.

You can try substitution - When you think I wish I was dead, substitute an accurate feeling I'm overwhelmed by depression or My anxiety is huge and terrifying right now or Having suicidal thoughts means my feelings are overtaking my thinking mind. Then you can respond to your own brain with They're just feelings, and I can experience them without acting on them. and I'm having these bad feelings again. Keep breathing. and maybe some meditation where you repeat phrases that express compassion for yourself. I'm a terrific person who has serious depression and It sucks to have the disease of clinical depression.

Depression meds are not enough. Anti-depressants alone are far less effective than anti-depressants + therapy. Feeling better is so good that it's well woth the time you invest to get there. And while you feel that you will not act on your suicidal thoughts, they are a real sign that you could harm yourself. One way to deal with this is to consciously say to yourself, and to another person, out loud, I promise that I will not harm myself this week. or I promise that if I feel like harming myself, I will call X, or go to an emergency room.

Have you been tested for Attention Deficit Disorder? Getting treated can be really helpful for dealing with all sorts of issues, and a lot of the treatment is developing successful skills. Even using coffee strategically can help - maintaining a level of caffeination that help you get stuff done, but not too much to feel jittery or unable to sleep at night.

At work, do one thing that needs to be done. It may not be the most urgent thing, but doing something useful makes you feel a little better, and you can leverage that into doing the next thing. At one point, I answered questions on just to get myself typing and thing, and feeling productive. Then I could answer email, write work documents, etc. return calls, etc.

Do you have a support network? Ask friends for help. I had a friend who was in bad shape, and I would call her every morning on my way to work, just to check in and help her get going. Friends help me by listening, and helping me accomplish tasks that have become stupidly overwhelming. Do you have a friend who would walk with you at lunch or after work? or help you find a therapist?

I wish you the best. Please don't harm yourself; we need you. Every person who replied here did because they care, and the mods probably corresponded with you before posting this, because they care.
posted by theora55 at 8:42 AM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

Everyone has posted some very good ideas. I can tell you as someone who has had this problem for about 30 years now, it can and will get better. The important thing is you try. Learning to think differently is easily the most difficult lesson anyone can learn. But it will change for the better, albeit slowly.
I want to really emphasize, however, the idea of staying active. Find something or somethings that when you do them you feel in a flow. It could be anything. Dancing, painting, reading, singing, gardening. Because while you are doing these things you aren't ruminating about yourself... you are simply living.
Nthing the exercise idea too. There really is no better medication. And find some way to mediate a few minutes a day. It will suck at first. Your mind won't want to. But just sit with your eyes closed for 10 minutes and think about your breathing. Nothing more.
With all of these practices you will notice, over time, your mind becoming stronger and more focused. You might still have the ruminations but you will more easily be able to see them for what they are. That thoughts are not things!
And finally don't isolate. As others have said, just go be around people. Take a book to the coffee shop. Take your camera to the park. Watch other people enjoying being alive, and you will learn how to as well.
You might also learn something hard, something for which you have no background. Chinese? Calculus? Anatomy? Anything where you have to learn a difficult subject will teach you focus and confidence.
If I can be of more help please email. And take care of yourself.
posted by jtexman1 at 11:40 AM on September 10, 2013

I found this piece incredibly instructive when stuck in a similar anxious loop. In particular, these portions:

When we feel squeezed, there's a tendency for mind to become small. We feel miserable, like a victim, like a pathetic, hopeless case. Yet believe it or not, at that moment of hassle or bewilderment or embarrassment, our minds could become bigger. Instead of taking what's occurred as a statement of personal weakness or someone else's power, instead of feeling we are stupid or someone else is unkind, we could drop all the complaints about ourselves and others. We could be there, feeling off guard, not knowing what to do, just hanging out there with the raw and tender energy of the moment. This is the place where we begin to learn the meaning behind the concepts and the words.

We're so used to running from discomfort, and we're so predictable. If we don't like it, we strike out at someone or beat up on ourselves. We want to have security and certainty of some kind when actually we have no ground to stand on at all.


So how do we relate to that squeeze? Somehow, someone finally needs to encourage us to be inquisitive about this unknown territory and about the unanswerable question of what's going to happen next.

The state of nowness is available in that moment of squeeze. In that awkward, ambiguous moment is our own wisdom mind. Right there in the uncertainty of everyday chaos is our own wisdom mind.

We need encouragement to experiment and try this kind of thing. It's quite daring, and maybe we feel we aren't up to it. But that's the point. Right there in that inadequate, restless feeling is our wisdom mind. We can simply experiment. There's absolutely nothing to lose. We could experiment with not getting tossed around by right and wrong and with learning to relax with groundlessness.

One can be grateful that a long lineage of teachers has worked with holding their seats with the big squeeze. They were tested and failed and still kept exploring how to just stay there, not seeking solid ground. They trained again and again throughout their lives not to give up on themselves and not to run away when the bottom fell out of their concepts and their noble ideals.

The method she calls "no more struggle" is what really sparked a breakthrough for me. When I would start to feel groundless, afraid, anxious, I would try to control those feelings. If I couldn't control them, I would lash out at myself, and become more scared and anxious--what if I lose control completely? What if I have to be hospitalized? How can I be struggling with something so stupid?

Reading her words, in particular her first method, turned all of that on its head. What if, instead of trying to control or eliminate those feelings, I simply sat with them--experimented, as she asks, with not getting tossed around by them? Suddenly my anxiety felt less like terror, and more like a deep, profound vulnerability. My perception of it changed so drastically that I literally felt it deserved a new label. It was still raw but not quite so scary when I simply took a step towards it instead of trying to vacuum it all up and stick it in a box somewhere or throw it away.

She has a line about reversing our fundamental pattern of trying to prove that pain is a mistake and wouldn't exist if only we did all the right things. This is undoubtedly one of the most brilliant lines I have ever read. How many of us spend most of our lives doing that? It is such epic truth; it cuts right to the heart of the matter. What I really needed was a coach who I could tell had been through what I was going through before (and then some), and was there to talk to me about it, to be a bit of a guide.

This passage is also key for me:

Often in our daily lives we panic. We feel heart palpitations and stomach rumblings because we are arguing with someone or because we had a beautiful plan and it's not working out. How do we walk into those dramas? How do we deal with those demons, which are basically our hopes and fears? How do we stop struggling against ourselves? Machig Labdron advises that we go to places that scare us. But how do we do that?

We're trying to learn not to split ourselves between our "good side" and our "bad side," between our "pure side" and our "impure side." The elemental struggle is with our feeling of being wrong, with our guilt and shame at what we are. That's what we have to befriend. The point is that we can dissolve the sense of dualism between us and them, between this and that, between here and there, by moving toward what we find difficult and wish to push away.

In terms of everyday experience, these methods encourage us not to feel embarrassed about ourselves. There is nothing to be embarrassed about. It's like ethnic cooking. We could be proud to display our Jewish matzo balls, our Indian curry, our African-American chitlins, our middle-American hamburger and fries. There's a lot of juicy stuff we could be proud of. Chaos is part of our home ground. Instead of looking for something higher or purer, work with it just as it is.

The world we find ourselves in, the person we think we are—these are our working bases. This charnel ground called life is the manifestation of wisdom. This wisdom is the basis of freedom and also the basis of confusion. In every moment of time, we make a choice. Which way do we go? How do we relate to the raw material of our existence?

Practice approaching yourself nonjudgmentally. That is the essence of her first method. It is available to everyone but it really does take practice. We flex our analytical, judging, planning muscles so often that the muscles of nonjudgment begin to atrophy away. We might sit down to practice nonjudgment and immediately think "This isn't working; I don't know how to do this; why can't I do even this correctly?" And should that surprise us? Should that anger us? Isn't that what the world constantly encourages us to do, to find solid ground, to say who's right and who's wrong, what's good and what's bad? When those thoughts arise, smile at them and return to practicing nonjudgment. You and your experiences are unique but suffering and chaos are ordinary, unconditioned, universal--they tie us together as the stuff of the human condition.

Trust her that what you are experiencing is "basic energy, the play of wisdom" and that you can work with it, first, by seeing everything about who you are and what you have done without judgment or bias, and in doing so, ceasing to struggle with what you had become so accustomed to labeling as bad, shameful, inadequate, painful, or in any way not enough. No part of you is a mistake to be erased away.
posted by holympus at 6:05 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Can you briefly distract yourself with a small win? Like, do a couple of words in a crossword puzzle, take a walk around the block, wash your coffee cup or straighten your desk? When my brain gets stuck it helps for my body to move--whether it's exercise or just activity.

For what it's worth, is it possible that you failed to meet the deadlines because you don't like the job? You may not be able to just go out and get a better job--if only!--but recognizing why you're doing it might help you to stop. (And it makes it easier for me to get shit done--I realize that I can either spend my day/week/month with this stuff I don't want to do hanging over me, or I can just get it out of the way so I can think about more enjoyable things.)

I would reprioritize therapy, though.
posted by elizeh at 4:35 PM on September 11, 2013

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