Dead ends everywhere I look
October 10, 2013 5:10 PM   Subscribe

That I've posed this question more than once before in various forms doesn't say very many good things, but the circumstances being what they are, I have to hope the answer is yet to be found. That's all I've got really- hope.I'm a 23 year old recent college grad ( in May, with a BA in psychology from Stony Brook University in NY), looking for love, a job, a journey and a purpose. I'm also in a wheelchair, unable to speak fluently in an increasing percentage of life situations, grossly overweight, unmotivated and uninspired. Help me build a life away from my couch and outside of daytime TV, Facebook and lies.

A little more about why I feel landlocked:
- I have cerebral palsy: I'm thankfully 100% mentally but use a scooter and electric wheelchair to get around. I don't yet drive (I don't know if it's even physically feasible for me to start, and a car with hand controls is prohibitively expensive). I do, begrudingly, make use of NYC public transportation when I can, but it's so much more laborious of an endeavor for me than most ( worrying about battery life, catching buses, finding curbs, etc) that I don't do it often. My parents are able to drive me from place to place for now, but they're both busy and at some point, it becomes socially unacceptable to need to do this. Also part of the roadblock that is CP is a speech fluency and spasticity issue that seems to get worse every day. Where it was once limited to the phone and to new situations in which I'd be prone to social anxiety, I've reached a point where I'm unable to talk to my own family without much effort and physical distress. Needless to say, it's wreaked havoc on my social life and doesn't bode well for me in terms of job opportunities in our interconnected and social society. I should note here that I love people and would, if I were only physically able to, be around them all day.

Apart from the CP, the six years it took me to finish undergrad left me with little to show for them. I began to suffer a cadre of stubborn depressive symptoms from the end of sophomore year on ( lack of energy, need for lots of sleep, overeating, etc). I've managed to make do with Prozac but still struggle sometimes. The most crippling part of the condition is the way in which it prevented me from getting the most out of my colllege experience. university. It was too difficult for me to develop a meaningful relationship with most of them as I avoided office hours for the most part ( where I didn't, it was only to get an extension or advice on how to keep from failing a class) and kept to myself during lecture. It obviously follows that I have no research experience of any kind, no independent study experience and no real awards. My grades from sophomore year on are an exercise in confusion- all As one semester, half Cs/Ds, half As the next ( sometimes Ds in subjects I'd done amazingly in the semester before).

More difficult to reconcile than all this the fact that I've never ever followed through on anything and will always look for the easiest and most comfortable way out. People say I can write, but I hate writing ( I don't feel that I see the world's through a writer's eyes), I did reasonably well in certain neuroscience and psychology courses in school but I just feel like the biggest loser when talking about things like that because as intellectual as people have built me up to be, I hate reading, am not passionately curious about most anything, get tired easily and my emotional maturity needs fortifying. I feel like a big, dumb waste of space.
I've kicked around an ADHD diagnosis.... I cannot, under any circumstances, take stimulants ( even a low dose) because of high blood pressure so I just feel like mine will be a waste of a life. Anti depressants don't help, rewards don't help, chunking doesn't help. I don't care about anything enough and feel like I never will, because I never have, even as a child.

All this isn't to say that I don't have a very, very rough vision of where I'd like to go from here at least as far as the near future is concerned:
- All my friends are doing the whole TOEFL thing in places like Thailand and Israel. I'd like to travel and gain experience/meet new people, but that's tough with all of my physical limitations
- I'd like to make a decent salary at some point. How do I get and keep a job, though, with my brain and body being the way they are?
- I'd like to date and make friends with new people.... I have precious few who I talk to outside of Facebook, because of my anxiety.
- I'd like to lose weight. My problem though is that I use food as an antianxiety/anti hyperactivity drug and being hungry is more uncomfortable for me in a physical sense than I'd ever be able to bear long term. I need to be stuffed, and that on carbs and fat ( protein does nothing) in order to be happy. I know I don't have long to live if I keep on this trend.

Will I ever have a good, fulfilling and independent life? How can I make this happen?
posted by marsbar77 to Grab Bag (25 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I think the main thing to keep in mind is that you're 23...most people are just trying to figure out their lives at that age.

Are you currently in therapy? I know it's the go-to answer here, but I think if you had someone to talk about this to, you could work on some strategies for the next phase in your life.
posted by xingcat at 5:18 PM on October 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

I've never ever followed through on anything and will always look for the easiest and most comfortable way out.

You have a college degree, so this is clearly untrue. I can only guess about the degree of truth in the other hopeless and helpless sounding statements you made, which sound like your depression talking rather than any objective assessment.

You talk about throwing around an ADHD diagnosis, but you don't talk about what treatment you're getting for your mental health issues aside from having tried medications in the past. I really think this is the main thing you should be pursuing before coming to any conclusions about what you will do with your life.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 5:20 PM on October 10, 2013 [8 favorites]

And by the way, I also suspect you are judging yourself pretty harshly based on your criticisms of your college experience.

The majority of undergrads don't graduate with any significant research experience or awards, and it is only a small number who complete independent studies. None of those things are prerequisite for achieving your life goals.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 5:22 PM on October 10, 2013 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Not to threadsit but- the only reason I finished college was because my parents pushed, pushed and pushed. That, and my entire family is comprised of successful people- the shame of bucking that trend would have been too great. That, and I couldn't throw away 2 years of college and the 50K it cost me.
I see a psychiatrist and psychologist. Neither of them has been able to tell me things I don't already know or offer solutions beyond the typical self-help lines and cookie cutter strategies. And I've seen many before them.
posted by marsbar77 at 5:24 PM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: One last thing- 'the don't be too hard on yourself' thing hasn't led me anywhere good, unfortunately. I *haven't* pushed myself and look where I am. Sometimes, it isn't in your head and the circumstances just suck.
posted by marsbar77 at 5:28 PM on October 10, 2013

Has the idea of a service dog ever been broached? It seems likely you'd be a prime candidate.
posted by ptm at 5:29 PM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Regarding speech fluency: were any of the answers from your previous question (which was focused primarily on the speech fluency issue) helpful? Were you able to be assessed by a speech pathologist, for example?
posted by scody at 5:32 PM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

(and I realize that the tone of my question may come off as confrontational, which I don't intend at all.)
posted by scody at 5:33 PM on October 10, 2013

Have you checked into Access-A-Ride? You might be eligible.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:34 PM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I actually do use AAR now. Forgot to erase that part from the previous posting. It isn't perfect, but it gets me to the mall/park/etc. Everything else still applies though
posted by marsbar77 at 5:36 PM on October 10, 2013

I can only speak to your situation where it concerns therapy. One thing I wished someone had told me when I first started seeking it out was that if you're not feeling better, and you don't feel like your therapist is telling you anything useful, then find another one. Keep talking and looking until you find the right therapist for you. I had stopped therapy many times thinking it would never work for me or that I was doing it wrong. Years later I have someone great and it's a huge help.

You seem determined to frame the things you've done or haven't done as being failings. You know what? At the end of the day, you got through college. That is great. I would push all of the pressure and anxiety over a career and whatnot out of your immediate plans and work on your mental well being first. And part of that process is not "stop being so hard on yourself" but "look at the way you see yourself"
posted by mooza at 5:37 PM on October 10, 2013 [5 favorites]

You say you don't care about anything enough, but if that were true, you wouldn't keep posting on here. I'm not going to accept any excuses you make up about that.

Are you involved with any groups for people with cerebral palsy? They could advise you on practical challenges and give you ideas for a suitable career or travel. You could probably find an online forum. You might make friends that way, too.

Don't focus on dating yet. It won't fix your problems, and you don't want to base your happiness on something so unstable. You can have a fulfilling life without it for a while.
posted by Comet Bug at 5:57 PM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't say "I got through college but that's because my parents pushed and pushed and pushed". There are many other people who could say things like "I got through college but I had close friends" or "I got through college but I had a good living situation", they could say these things but they don't, at least not as a way to dismiss their accomplishments. You got through college with your parents pushing you, that's okay, that was your form of support.

You say you're ready for a journey. I'd say you're already on one (though I understand your point about feeling stuck). I don't mean this in a cheesy way, or to downplay your difficulty but I think it might help you to see where you are right now with as part of the journey rather than thinking of it merely as something that needs to be overcome. It may add a little meaning to your life right now, and that can be extremely helpful.

As for practical advice, I admit I can't speak from having a problematic relationship with food myself, however I have looked at a lot of the books on mindfulness and food (for my mom), and I think the argument that a poor relationship to food (and yourself) can be helped in this way is very convincing. Here is just one :
posted by Blitz at 6:11 PM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

IANAD but my first thought was that you have serious untreated anxiety issues that are doing a number on your mental and physical health. That seems to fit the timeline of your age and the escalating CP/speech disfluency issues, and also sounds like it's behind the ED that's sprung up as a coping mechanism. You know yourself better than a random internet stranger, but at a glance (at this question and your previous Asks) an anxiety disorder seems like a more fitting dx than ADHD. A lot of people I know who have the depression+anxiety double combo have reported that Prozac doesn't work very well on the anxiety front; it might be worth a shot to ask your therapist (or GP or whoever is prescribing your Prozac) about an anti-anxiety med, which would probably help with the vicious shame spirals you're dealing with even if it doesn't have an affect on the somatic issues. It would definitely be much healthier and more effective than stuffing, which you describe as "medicating"-- not to be snarky, but you've identified that this is a situation that needs medication, so maybe you could try real meds to treat it?

I also want to point out that powering through 4 years of college after having a hard time with the first two is a legit accomplishment-- that might be hard to see right now, but it's something that a lot of people I know haven't been able to do, with a lot more resources. I think you will have a good and fulfilling life, but I think you need to take your mental health seriously, and consult your doctors. A bingeing ED and the kind of social anxiety you're describing are not things to ignore. Good luck.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 6:13 PM on October 10, 2013 [7 favorites]

I'd suggest picking just one thing to change and sticking to it.

My advice would be to focus on losing weight. It'll increase your feelings of control, improve your health and your mood.

Set modest goals like losing a pound a week. Talk to your parents about helping you achieve your goals - or at least not undermining them by being feeders. Track your progress so you can feel good about it.

Figure out how you can exercise. It'll take a while for benefits to show up but exercise is a fantastic mood leveler in addition to all its other benefits.
posted by srboisvert at 6:20 PM on October 10, 2013

NYC Adaptive Climbing
posted by snarfles at 6:54 PM on October 10, 2013

How do I get and keep a job, though, with my brain and body being the way they are?

Are you connected with any organizations like United Cerebral Palsy? I know that, at least here in Maine, they do a ton of workforce development work, helping match people who are in exactly your point in life with jobs that fit their skills, interests, and abilities.
posted by anastasiav at 7:35 PM on October 10, 2013

I've seen your posts before and this one is making me tear up. I want to tell you something. After a long lifetime of making good decisons, no decisions, and many, many, many bad decisions, I finally found some peace after I grew older. And the peace came when I realized that within our parameters, we really do what we want. Despite our limitations and all our agony about what we should do, what we should have done, and where we are supposed to be in Life. As an example, I realized that I always say I want to lose weight but really,underneath it all, I really want to binge eat more. During the times that I wanted to lose weight more, then I always lost weight. There's a huge difference between what we really want and what we think we should want. I think when we accept the things we really truly want, things come more naturally. We take the baby steps we need to get to get those things and we accept them in the form they come.

When you feel ready for friendship and love and more relationships, brainstorm and form your plan to open your life and your heart to that. I always object to the idea that to looking more attractive increases your chances of attracting love. Nevertheless, making the effort to look more attractive is part of the unspoken signals in society that tell people we are looking for approval and possibly a partner. I think this is why the desire to lose weight will often override a persons desire to overeat. It's just a matter of which desire is more intense.

You got the degree; no matter what the motivation was for you to get it, you there's nothing wrong with your brain and your mind. You can get a fulfilling job. When you feel ready, make your plan. And remember that it's okay to change your mind about what you want. Don't beat yourself up. It's all life and its your life.

I wish you peace and I hope you find it a lot more quickly then I did. Best wishes.
posted by gt2 at 9:24 PM on October 10, 2013 [8 favorites]

Please don't diet until you have begun treatment for your eating disorder! People with disordered eating can't "just cut back on food" or follow even the healthiest eating regime without really looking seriously (ideally, with the help of a professional) at what choices and behaviors might trigger a cycle of disordered eating.

And you need to get good treatment for your depression and anxiety and whatever other psychological/neurological issues you've got going on. If the treatment modalities you're using don't work, you need to try new ones; if talk therapy isn't working, try CBT or DBT or acceptance therapy. "Nothing works" is the siren song of a brain that's trying to kill you.

Are you familiar with Liz Henry's work? She is a visible advocate for disability rights and one of the smartest people on the Internet. Her blog, articles, etc. may have some useful resources.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:31 PM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hi there, I have CP too, although a more mild form. Big picture, I have struggled with the same sorts of "life doubts" as you have and struggled with depression and anxiety on and off for a long time. Totally understandable that dealing with CP (and how it can affect everything) + life uncertainties as a young adult have triggered your current mood and life view.

A lot of people are going to recommend therapy for anxiety and depression. And I second this! (Psych drugs keep me stable. Therapy continues to change my life for the better.)

But I think what sometimes gets overlooked for people with major physical problems like CP, are the secondary characteristics, like speech difficulty. How much they are barriers to daily life. And that they are worthy of attention and treatment. Because they affect daily life. Have you seen a speech therapist recently? Are there things that have worked in the past?

Feel free to mefi mail me.
posted by warm_planet at 10:00 PM on October 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have multiple disabilities as well, although not cp. One of which has rendered me unable to drive -- so I know how that sucks!

Others have recommended therapy and I agree with them 100%.

Are you in the US? Get in touch with your local vocational rehabilitation! They have people who can help you figure out what you *can* do work/fun wise. They have occupational therapists that can help you find workarounds. They can also hook you up to local services. If you need help figuring out who to contact, PM me and I'll help you.

My area has mobility transportation for those of us that are a. unable to drive and/or b. unable to use the regular buses (where I am not all buses have lifts and there is no way to know when the ones with a life will be in the schedule and/or c. unable to get to the bus stop. My Mobility (Baltimore, MD) has issues that render it difficult to use in certain situations but it does help give my drivers relief and me some independence.
posted by Librarygeek at 3:24 AM on October 11, 2013

I think it would really help you to engage with people active in the disability movement. You are dealing with a world that's not adapted to your abilities, and although therapy will help you to deal with that, a big part of feeling better about yourself is going to be reprogramming your brain to stop telling you you're the one failing or letting people down because of things you're not able to do. A good place to start is listening to the BBC Ouch! podcast - including all the back episodes, there's some real goodies in the archive - which is hilarious and interesting but also a great way to desensitise yourself to all the cues you're getting from an ablist environment (I suspect the presenters of Ouch! would in no way endorse such an earnest phrasing, but what the hell). I started listening out of general interest and because I found the presenters funny, but I found after time that it really changed the way I thought about my own mental health problems and the limitations they impose. But more than that, get active, get angry, hang out with other disabled people so that you can laugh about stupid ramps that aren't in the right places and share how frustrated you are when your mouth doesn't work. You're not a waste of space - you're a person struggling with a world that often doesn't respond to your needs very well.
And push your doctors for more help - different meds, more therapy, help with supported exercise etc. You sound really depressed and fed up, and because of that you're not best placed to be assessing how likely it is that your situation will improve. If a psychologist tells you to think positive, they are a crappy psychologist because that is not a helpful thing to say to anyone with depression. There exist good psychologists.

I've never ever followed through on anything and will always look for the easiest and most comfortable way out.

Look, I don't know your situation in and out, but I used to say this to myself when I'd been depressed for years and it was bollocks. A lot of the time depression is like trying to row a boat with a fork. You keep moving it about faster and faster, and all that happens is that the water splashes about and you don't go anywhere. Calling yourself names and abusing yourself isn't working. You need a different approach.
posted by Acheman at 5:05 AM on October 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'd like to date and make friends with new people.... I have precious few who I talk to outside of Facebook, because of my anxiety.

There was a Dear Abby a while back that stuck with me:
DEAR ABBY: I'm a 28-year-old man who was born disabled. I have not had a date in years. I'd like to date and have a girlfriend, but when women look at me, all they see is my wheelchair.

I'm a good person, well-mannered, respectful, caring and compassionate. Any advice you can offer would be appreciated. -- LONELY IN ILLINOIS

DEAR LONELY: I'm glad you wrote because it's important that you not allow yourself to be isolated. Get out and participate in activities you enjoy that include like-minded people. While you may have been born disabled, I'm sure you have abilities and talents that would be welcomed if you choose to volunteer them.

If you haven't already, search the various online dating sites for both disabled and nondisabled individuals or contact a disability advocacy organization for guidance or to help you get access. Seek advice within the disabled community (in person or online) from individuals who have more experience with dating than you do. They can also help you navigate any physical barriers that might prevent you from dating, if that's an issue.

There's a saying, "Seek and ye shall find," and it applies in your situation. I wish you the best of luck.
I don't know what it's like for you. I've dealt with depression and anxiety, and I had enough trouble forcing myself out the door even when I theoretically had everything going for me (health, job, friends and family), and I can't imagine how tough it must be for you to have that and your physical ailments. But I know that there are other people out there who can help. You just have to find them.

So I urge you to keep telling your story. Like Abby said, look for a dating site for disabled individuals (and not because "ew wheelchair", but because "we know wheelchair and have some experience"). And a general dating site, because you're a person first. And try a different therapist. I've dealt with three; two were fantastic, and one was a giant waste of time. Re: weight, caloriecount or sparkpeople are decent and supportive sites, both for monitoring what you put into your mouth as well as maybe feeling a little better about yourself as distinct from your weight. It doesn't even have to be Health At Every Size, even a little bit of "I am not my weight" will help.

And just for a minute, put aside what you can't do. What can you do? What do you like to do? What do you do that gives you actual pleasure to be alive and yourself?

It took you 6 years and a lot of pushing to get your degree. But you earned your degree. Not your parents, not your professors, not random people on the street. You did that. I wonder what else you can do?
posted by disconnect at 8:06 AM on October 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

You have a lot stacked against you, but that doesn't give you permission to give up.

Take things in small, manageable steps.

1. See a medical doctor, get everything tested, things progress so quickly with technology these days that there may be new drugs or therapies that may prove helpful to you. Be sure to mention your eating disorder.

2. Be honest with your therapists. I suspect that you bullshit them about your feelings or abilities, hence you're not getting good feedback. If that's not the case, then you may want to talk to a therapist who specifically deals with folks who have CP, or other disabilities, someone who him or herself may be disabled. Be sure to mention your eating disorder.

3. Realize that the physical and the mental are connected. If you feel shitty physically, you'll fell shitty mentally. Carbs and garbage food won't help with that. (I ought to know.) See if your doctor can give you a food plan and an exercise plan. Perhaps as physical therapy. Learning movements that you can do to help you make the most of your physical condition (swimming?) will help you lose weight, build strength and make you feel better over all.

Once you have the physical and mental as squared away as possible,

4. Check in with an Occupational Therapist. These folks are there to help you with everyday activities and can help get you set up and ready for the world of work.

5. Take any job you are able to do. Working gives one motivation and self-esteem. You get out, you go places, you do stuff. It's not always easy, it sometimes sucks. But I'd rather be in my cube doing the most mind-numbing Excel crap, than home on the sofa watching Maury.

6. Support groups. I cannot emphasize how helpful a support group can be. You can meet others who struggle with what you struggle with, you trade stories of tips that can help you, and you can even network. If one person with CP got a job someplace, perhaps they can help you get one too.

7. Get in touch with UCP. They have lots of services, avail yourself of them! You'll meet folks who know the system and can hook you up!

That helpless feeling you have is depression, and it's so common that everyone I know, especially me, is on some kind of drug for it. Your brain is lying to you. When you have one of those hopeless thoughts, tell your brain, "You're lying. Sure, this disability SUCKS, but I have options."

Say it and say it and say it.

Hang in there kiddo, you've accomplished a LOT all things considered, and there's a bunch more waiting for you out there!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:59 AM on October 11, 2013

It really sounds like your current treatment isn't working. If your therapy isn't working, get a new therapist. If the medication doesn't work, talk to your doctor about switching. Personally, I've tried many SSRIs and they have done nothing for me, but SNRIs are very effective for me.

The thing about depression and anxiety is that it convinces you that you are worthless, that treatment doesn't work, that nothing is worth your time and you can't do anything. It's not that you're a worthless waste of space, it's that you have an illness (depression and anxiety) that without treatment, makes you unable to really see yourself or the world around you.

College is the past. I don't know a single person that looks back on college and thinks that they did the best they possibly could and applied themselves 100% to every class, every assignment, every test. What you did or did not do in college is irrelevant. You had a lot of odds stacked against you, and you finished it and got your degree. That's yours, you did it, no one else.

There are things you can do for ADHD that are not medication. Things like getting enough sleep, exercise, cognitive behavioral therapy, organizing and time management techniques, etc. And if you don't have ADHD, you might still find a lot of these helpful.

As for the weight loss, as others have mentioned that you really need to talk to a therapist about having an eating disorder. However, just as a person who has lost a significant amount of weight, I can say it gets easier. You don't have to be hungry all the time, you don't have to eat tiny portions of diet sized foods. If it is helpful to have people online to chat with about weight loss, you could check out the subreddit loseit.
posted by inertia at 12:43 PM on October 11, 2013

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