fear and self-loathing in medium-sized city USA
September 26, 2013 8:39 AM   Subscribe

New(ish) city, new jobs, still at home, mental health issues: I'm at a very transitional place right now, and can't seem to get any traction. I recognize the value in stability for stability's sake, but feel like I'm doing it for somebody else (my family, an idea of what I should do) versus what I want. How do I go forward without sputtering out?

Where I'm at: I have been working hard to re-establish myself after I decided to forego professional grad school plans due to the trifecta of uncertainty about the profession, lack of funds, and a sudden hospitalization for depression/bipolar. That was all 3 months ago. Since then, I've found two jobs (newish field and similar field), started reaching out to the few people I know in the area, got myself a couple of hobbies and volunteer shifts and other things to take me out into the world, and am working very hard to find a place to live (sleeping in a futon in essentially a large closet at my mom's apartment for now).

The trouble right now is that my mood is so unstable, and my satisfaction and confidence and self-respect is so completely ready to give out at a moment's notice, that I haven't felt the sense of "well, this is all okay because I'm working towards goals I believe in!" Part of that is that I didn't really "pick" this plan, but it all sort of happened out of medical and financial necessity (read: broke, valuing being near doctor's right now, etc.) If I had my choice, I'd be either 1,500 miles away back with my community of friends, or on some kind of adventure to a new city, a new country..

What I'd really like is some help for how to keep things together. Or even a suggestion of "just let it all fall apart" would be nice, ha, but I don't think I'm going to hear that. It's very hard for me not to just start skipping out of responsibilities, make an impulsive decision such as leaving town, or just falling and staying in that dark place. I've gone down the suicidality path before and, while I'm not at a point of action or anything, it's becoming a prominent part of my thoughts.

I think the single hardest part about this isn't the practical aspects of the situation. It's the knowledge that, while I can like sit here and pet my sister's dog and feel content and present in the world, I know that I can lose access to that at a moment's notice too, that it feels like all my windows are open and any breeze can come in and mess with all of the papers and blow them everywhere, and a kind of fatalistic understanding of this is who I am is seeping in. Social anxiety is especially relentless, though at this point I'm "functionally" extroverted and well(ish)-adjusted. My therapist is trying to "get to the root of my self-hatred" and that's also exposing a lot of aspects of my emotional life, repression and anger and sadness, that are very welcome but also emphasize the me-as-shell thing.

Okay, almost done with snowflake details: this theme of self-hatrad versus self confidence and restlessness/rejection of stability has been dogging me since middle school, and stem from a lot of situations and dynamics I didn't choose (moving a lot, abuse), but has moved on to patterns I actively create in my life. I guess it's not too different from themes many folks experience growing up. I just am getting nervous about the intensity of the self-loathing and my inability to find contentment/accept things settling in and not letting go. Oof. My apologies for self-seriousness and I appreciate any thoughts as always.
posted by elephantsvanish to Human Relations (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Does your therapist understand that your suicidal thoughts are returning? You have done a good job of explaining how you feel here. Consider printing your post and giving it to your therapist.
posted by michellenoel at 8:45 AM on September 26, 2013

Wow, do you know how AMAZINGLY you are doing? I want to give you a massive congratulatory hug!

You've dealt with a bipolar diagnosis, poor/transient living conditions, a complete change of direction in your education/career, and more besides. And yet, here you are, working, contributing to society via that and even more via volunteering, taking SERIOUS responsibility for your own wellbeing, and reaching out for help, which all by itself can be a huge and difficult thing to do.

GO YOU. No wonder you're tired. No wonder you feel like you might give out at any moment.

I want you to know two things - firstly, that you are doing so much better than you probably think you are. You feel like you've built this fragile house of cards that could tumble at any moment, but there are folk who'd go through what you've gotten through and marvel at you, thinking "where the bejesus did they get those cards?!". I'd love it if you took a second to feel proud of everything you've done so far, and you should do that every day if you can.

Secondly, michellenoel is right - for the times when it gets you hard, when you feel like you're not managing on your own, your therapist should be there for you. Explain next time you see them that right now the long-term stuff might need to go on hold while you deal with the more urgent issues that are getting in the way day-to-day.

Also, regarding the friends you had in your old city community - can you get in contact with them to widen your support network? I'm thinking along the lines of "hey friend, I've had a really tough time since moving and am in a kind of low place at the moment. When I'm back on my feet, I can't wait to come back and visit so we can have some quality time together. In the meantime, would you be up for me calling you now and again, because you mean a lot to me and being in touch with you would be extra awesome right now."

Anyway, you have my respect and admiration for getting yourself to where you are so far. I hope you continue to reach out to us mefites if you need to while you continue your journey.
posted by greenish at 9:19 AM on September 26, 2013 [12 favorites]

lack of funds, and a sudden hospitalization for depression/bipolar (3 months ago), found two jobs (newish field and similar field), started reaching out to the few people I know in the area, got myself a couple of hobbies and volunteer shifts and other things to take me out into the world, and am working very hard to find a place to live (sleeping in a futon in essentially a large closet at my mom's apartment for now). greenish is right - you are doing really well.

Part of that is that I didn't really "pick" this plan, but it all sort of happened Stop, take a deep breath, and remember to give yourself credit and recognize your progress and successes, which are significant (hint - part of self-esteem is learning to see what you do well).

trouble right now is that my mood is so unstable, and my satisfaction and confidence and self-respect is so completely ready to give out at a moment's notice ... What I'd really like is some help for how to keep things together. Or even a suggestion of "just let it all fall apart" ... Social anxiety is especially relentless
Talk to a really skilled doctor, possibly a psychiatrist, about the best meds to take for mood and anxiety. Xanax and other meds can help deal with social anxiety on a sporadic basis. Just carrying xanax helps me cope, because I know if it gets really bad, I have a secret weapon with me. Different anti-depressants affect anxiety.

letting it fall apart tends to make you feel worse.

Especially as we head into the dark months, sunshine helps, as does getting outside - the more nature the better. Exercise is known to help depression; take the dog for walks, or whatever works for you.

You sound overwhelmed, for good reason. Get someone to help you make a list of the things that are overwhelming you, prioritize them, and break them down into tiny components. Get a wall calendar. Have a small, achievable task every day. When you accomplish the task, you put a big star on that day. When you get 5 stars, you get a reward, like a star sticker on door, or go grab a cookie. When you get 5 small rewards, you get a bigger reward. Tasks and rewards must be tangible and visible. Every time I look at my pedicure, I am reminded that I accomplished a difficult task. Every time I see the daily stars on my calendar, or the sparkly star stickers on the fridge, I feel a tiny bit better, and these rewards stimulate the desired behaviors.

My therapist uses CBT, mindfulness, coaching and other techniques. it's been very helpful during a very difficult time.
posted by theora55 at 11:55 AM on September 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I've been in similar situations, I didn't realise how much not having my own safe-space was wigging me out. So take into account that not staying on a futon, and having your own, door close-able bedroom will make you feel way way better.

It sucks, but there's just usually a couple of things like that that need to get sorted for you to flip from insecure-worried-danger mode to secure. Hygiene factors if you will.
Figure out what the biggest are, and kind of just don't worry about the smaller things are at the moment. I mean, probably everything will be worrying you, but often they are displaced worry from "I don't have my own burrow" small-animal-brain panic.
posted by Elysum at 5:07 PM on September 26, 2013

OMG, You are doing great! I’ve been through similar – I moved overseas ‘permanently’ about a year and a half ago. New house, new job. I still haven’t really made friends, but am friends with my husband’s friends and their significant others. We are almost back on our feet after paying for our move and misc minor disasters/surprises (dentist bill, health issues, car for job, diabetic cat, etc…). My husband has had a series of jobs but the recent one is permanent and seems to be working out well. We’re about to move for a third time since coming back (I asked the mold question a few days ago). I also got into graduate school and decided not to go for similar reasons. I do not really have hobbies (unless watching Stephen Fry documentaries while lying on the couch drinking cocoa counts!), do not volunteer, and generally do not get out much and have been feeling really run down lately (for good reason). I do not have a mental health diagnosis; in fact, my therapist thinks a lot of my blues are from being physically tired (I’m super anaemic) rather than vice-versa. But did you hear that? I’m in therapy too. I, too, am having much trouble getting traction. It’s hard. You are doing AMAZING.

Lots of life is not your choice. All you can do is choose how you react and what you do with the hand you’re dealt. Hang in there. You joke about ‘just let it all fall apart’ – and I agree, don’t do that in the way you’ve described. However, learning to accept that 100% stability doesn’t really exist is huge. You seem to both reject achievable stability and crave perceived stability at the same time… me too. There are days I want to just run away! But really, we both know it won’t help since complete security just doesn’t exist (plus, ‘wherever you go, there YOU are’ yadda yadda…).

I have been increasingly anxious (no help from my hormones/body), and am really working hard at this right now. You are not alone. I think as more and more life happens to you over time, it cracks you open – my sense of self is not as defined as it once was, but perhaps I am just softening and becoming more compassionate. No one NO ONE ‘has it together’. I could just as easily written a paragraph that made my life sound super awesome and together – and while both paragraphs would be true, neither is the whole truth. As soon as you pry below the surface at all, you’ll find that everyone’s lives are leaky and imperfect in some way, and that they are struggling something. I highly recommend Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron (uplifting, despite the title! This about letting things fall apart in a good way, as in, just letting things be what they are – no more, no less, not good or bad) and Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes by William Bridges. I also like the Maven Circle podcasts – many are around topics like finding balance on a day-to-day basis, pacing yourself, etc. It’s just nice to hear they other people are struggling with the same things I am. Go to yoga and/or a meditation group, sit in the sun every day, and you’re in therapy already I assume. Also, Esme Wang writes a lovely blog about living with mental illness and she’s starting a course soon on using journaling to get through difficult times which looks good – maybe that would help, esp in conjunction with therapy? I haven’t taken it, but I’ve taken similar online classes from Susannah Conway. And, oh yes, This Comic by Allie Bosch (who’s most recent two comics – eighteen months apart – describe her own battle with depression). You are in good, good company. Just breathe and keep existing, one day at a time.

This was a good question… I’m telling you all the things I need to keep telling myself ;)
MeMail me if you want.
posted by jrobin276 at 5:52 PM on September 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to let you know that I am right there with you. Smallish rural town, new job, still trying to get my bachelors while working full time and struggling with a tense homelife and clinical depression. The good news is I'm stubborn as can be and refuse to give up. I hope you won't either. I hope we are both in a better place in our lives in 6 months to a year. MeMail me if you need someone to talk to, cause I think it helps to have someone who knows where you are coming from. *hugs*
posted by Driven at 12:01 PM on October 10, 2013

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