Please help me snap myself out of this
November 13, 2013 3:18 PM   Subscribe

I am depressed/anxious and self-sabotaging by doing little to no work at my job. My boss has not yet said anything to me about my un-/non-productivity, but I have to think she'll cotton on sooner or later. Help me figure out a) how to start working again and b) whether I should say anything to my boss. Predictably, there is more inside.

I hate my job. I find no meaning in it (or in anything else. I am in therapy. I have an appointment on Friday. I will continue to discuss this with my therapist). I am the study coordinator for a research project. My boss is the only other person on the project. She has a million other things going on, however, and doesn't spend very much time on my project. Thus, it's up to me to execute basically the entire thing. We are woefully behind schedule (mostly down to factors other than me not doing my job) which makes the whole thing even more stressful.

My boss and I are friends -- we hang out outside of work, live near one another, etc. I feel like I should say something to her ("Hey, I've been morbidly depressed recently, and have been struggling at work.") On the other hand, admitting that I've basically been doing nothing for the past couple of weeks doesn't sound like the smartest move.

I think much of my ennui is impostor syndrome related -- by not doing my work, I'm showing my boss how wrong she was to have trusted me to do this job. All I want to do is quit, and I realize that I'm most likely self-sabotaging at work so that they'll fire me and I can go sit on the couch and eat Kit Kats. This is not feasible, as I need to be able to continue paying rent and living expenses.

The sabotage isn't all work-related -- I was training for a marathon but let myself lapse in the last few weeks of training, such that I'm not sure I'll be able to finish the race. I was eating healthfully and had cut down on my alcohol intake, but now I'm bingeing on carbs and drinking too much.

The actual questions:

1. How do I snap out of self-sabotage, when it is driven by impostor syndrome and deep self-loathing?

2. Do I talk to my boss about this? If so, how do I frame it to maximize the help I get from her and minimize the likelihood of getting sacked?

Anonymous because I'd rather not have my mental health status linked back to my identity. Throwaway e-mail is fatuous.prose at gmail dot com.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I have felt like you. Prozac helps. You might not need Prozac, but don't rule it out if your therapist suggests it.
posted by tacodave at 3:46 PM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was in a similar position until I received some positive feedback during my yearly evaluation on the tiny bit of work I had done. It gave me a realistic yardstick to measure myself by rather than the criteria my depression invented for me.

I don't know that I would have personally sought out an evaluation or if it's feasible for you to do so, so I don't know how helpful this information is.
posted by tofu_crouton at 4:06 PM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hi, I'm so sorry that you're going through this. I know first hand how painful and paralyzing depression can be. I'm going to throw out some strategies that have worked for me at different times, however, you do not NEED to try any or all of them. Please don't read them, attempt all of them, and then give up, as I see that pattern a lot when people are depressed and self-sabotaging. Most of these are in response to question 1. As to whether or not to talk with your boss, I'll leave that to those better versed than I in work dynamics.

First, I really like a TED talk by Ann Cuddy, on body language, and hormonal feedback. If you make it about 8-10 minutes in she talks about her own struggle with imposter syndrome and what she did to overcome that as well as what she has found effective scientifically. I'd recomend that.

If you can, stop drinking. Remove the alcohol from the house. Alcohol is a depressant, and while it may provide temporary relief it can also increase the negative feelings, the guilt, the loss of self worth, etc.

You are training for a marathon! That is awesome! If you feel not quite up to 26.2, perhaps you could have a kick ass 13.1?? For most of us, that would be a huge accomplishment. Maybe, just maybe, it would also motivate you to sign up for another 26.2 a couple of months after the half?

Tomorrow, when you get to work, pick one thing that you are going to do. Even if you only can motivate yourself to do it for about an hour, at least it's something. It's a starting point. And when the voices that tell you your a fraud and a failure start up, you can remind them about that thing you did today. Don't make a list of all 300 things you are behind on and try to do them all. That will be overwhelming, just pick one thing, and do it. And if you can, do one more thing when that's over.

The self loathing is usually the depression talking. I try to talk back. THESE are the things I am good at! I tell it, even when I don't feel proud, even when I feel weak, I remind my depression that I am not worthless, and I'm not going to sit on the couch eating kit kats.

One thing I've found is I don't usually snap out of it, I slowly climb out, learning the techniques I took years to learn in therapy. I don't fall as hard anymore. A few weeks ago, I was heading home from work, plopping on the couch and eating junk food. When I noticed it, I just bought more veggies at the store. I made plans to go somewhere instead of heading home from work to the couch. For someone else, it would have been nothing, but for me it was RECOGNIZING PATTERNS and trying to BREAK THE CYCLE, and that was a pretty big deal for me. Hooray!

Feel free to memail if you want to discuss more. You are worth taking care of yourself, and being kind to yourself. And you are worth more than whatever your head is telling you right now.
posted by thankyouforyourconsideration at 4:33 PM on November 13, 2013 [12 favorites]

I've gone through this several times. The best fix is to find a job you don't hate. I know you can't do that tomorrow, but you'd be surprised how much more productive you can be when you enjoy your job even a little. Even if you currently feel doomed to procrastinate and underachieve forever, it makes a huge difference.

Antidepressants help too, of course. They won't make you love your job, but they'll help you like yourself.

Don't tell your boss what's going on, at least not in the way you do here. There's a decent chance she won't understand what depression is like or how it affects your performance. She will understand "I haven't been doing my work." And, however sympathetic she may be to your personal situation, her job is to make sure you do your job.

Instead, see if she'll agree to short check-in meetings once a week. These should be at the same day and time every week, and preferably in the middle of the day so you have time to prepare but won't spend the whole day dreading it. You can phrase this request like "I know you've been busy and we've all been stressed on this project, and I think it would help me to check in once a week." This way, you have regular deadlines and someone to hold you accountable, which your job currently seems to be lacking - and that's fatal to productivity. (If it doesn't matter when something gets done and no one seems to notice, what's the point in doing it?)

In the meantime, start with small ways to increase your productivity. Making a small to-do list helps me. So does challenging myself to do 20 uninterrupted minutes of work. When I've mastered 20, I increase to 30, to an hour. Even and especially if it's tedious, unnecessary work you usually dread. Getting something small done will give you a little sense of accomplishment and relief, and that will motivate you to do more. Your goal is to break the streak of inertia however you can; once it's broken, things feel a little bit easier.

When I just can't get it together and waste an entire workday, I usually have to remind myself not to feel bad about it: it doesn't get that time back, and it doesn't motivate me to do better. Instead, I forgive myself and resolve that I will get to work immediately when I get to my desk the next morning. I don't promise to be productive the whole day, just to do some work before checking my personal email or Mefi or whatever. And I do it. The way I start the workday sets the tone for the rest of it. If I start the day off productive, I'll be more likely to sustain that productivity; if I start the day dreading and avoiding my work, I'll never get that motivation. Tomorrow, try doing 15 straight minutes of work the moment you get in. See if that helps somewhat.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:58 PM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Is it possible that you are suffering from SAD? Have you looked into getting a light box? Also, have you had your vitamin D levels tested? It took me a couple of weeks of using the light box and making sure I take my vitamin D every day to really feel the difference between, errrrghhh, can't do anything, life sucks and so do I, to, hey, I can do stuff! I still hate doing certain things (I'm looking at you, toilet cleaning), but I can do them.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:27 PM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oy, you're in a really hard spot. I feel like when we get into ruts as deep as this, we find the act of seeking advice soothing, but we tend to ignore the actual content of the advice. We could all tell you the things you should do right now, but you have to make the choice to do something different. You need to make that choice, but you also need help to follow through

A marathon sounds like a good idea for you, but at the same time, it's a lonely activity that you have to have self organization to do. What about a sport that involves a coach, or a team that depends on you instead?

Your work is also solitary - your boss doesn't even know you're totally blowing off your work. Can you find a way to force a collaboration, so you have someone to answer to every day, thereby forcing yourself to work? And meanwhile, consider seeking advice from a career counselor about a more satisfying line of work to move toward?

Your depression sounds overwhelming. When you talk to your therapist, I hope you make this clear. I would specifically say to the therapist that you find no meaning in anything but you want to change. Can your therapist recommend other services or professionals to augment your work in therapy?

The obvious things to consider to augment everything you're working on right now are both antidepressants and CBT which, while not the magic bullet it is portrayed as, has a pretty solid evidence-base behind it.

After you've chosen a few manageable interventions (to throw out an example, antidepressants, joining a soccer team, and roping your boss into daily progress check-ins) then it's a matter of doing your life one day at a time, putting one foot in front of another, and faking it till you make it. "Today I'll do 3 things I have to do for work. Today I'll take my prozac. Today I'll go to soccer practice." Game yourself with rewards, incentives, and forced accountability, and then just keep doing that every day, until functioning effectively becomes a habit.

It's not easy, but you're clearly a smart, hard-working person. I think you can do it.
posted by latkes at 8:02 PM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had a funk like this about a month ago. My solution was two-fold. First, I read Feeling Good by David Burns. Second, I set a semi-long term goal that incorporated tasks in my current situation as part of my long term strategy. For example, I decided that finishing my current dreaded projects was a first step in achieving what I REALLY waned. For me, this magically started to change my attitude about the BS I was dealing with. I knew the BS was a means to an end and wasn't going to last forever... Wish I had time for a more in-depth answer, but wanted to at least share the above.
posted by thorny at 8:31 PM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here's what I'd do. First, if medication is recommended, take it.

Secondly, meet with your boss and say, "Can we set up a time to take stock of the project? I'm stuck and need some guidance."

Have things ready so you can show her where you are, and make a list of things that need to happen to complete it. Or, even ask her, "Here's where we are right now. What needs to happen and in what time-frame to move this forward?"

Then, map out a linear time frame, with benchmarks. Arrange to have very short update sessions with your manager weekly, even 15 minutes, so that you can stay on track.

Don't approach her with any discussion of your mental state specifically, or tell her you've been staring at the walls for the past month. She'll likely not have noticed and do you really want to plant that seed?

She may be thrilled with where you are, or most likely it won't set off any alarm bells.

She'll be happy that you've given her an update, and that you're thinking about how to execute. In fact, if you type up the plan as a report, she can kick it up the chain of command and it will make HER look good.

That's it.

Don't beat yourself up. I call those periods "recharging."
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:52 AM on November 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's not the end of the world that you've gone through a period of non-productivity at work. I think it's more common than you might be aware. Some people have entire careers of non-productivity. I think it's a good sign that you're not OK with it and want to do something about it. I agree with others that you shouldn't tell your boss about your depression, but that you should meet with her to discuss how things are going. I've experienced similar feelings that were alleviated when I scheduled an evaluation with my boss.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 9:40 AM on November 14, 2013

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