What will it take to make me feel better?
January 5, 2014 1:20 PM   Subscribe

After a particularly bad holiday season, I am feeling unhappy and dissatisfied with my life. I want things to change, but can't bring myself to actually do anything to help that change occur. This is a long one, so I apologize in advance...

Before this holiday season, I was already in a not-so-good place - my job has been very demanding and stressful, while requiring tedious work different from what I thought I'd be doing; my lack of a significant other has been frustrating (esp. given that I've never had one and am in my late twenties); and I've been feeling I made a mistake pursuing the graduate degree I earned (the only jobs in the field that interested me were those like the one I have now, and as noted above, that job has turned out to not be what I thought it'd be).

Then, in a one-two punch, I lost both my father and grandmother the week of Christmas (literally one died the day after the other; we found out while burying the first). While in one sense it was a good thing (they'd been ill for a while, and I had been helping provide care, going on a weekly basis to visit, etc.), I simply haven't been able to think of it as such - in fact, I'm just not thinking about because I don't want to (can't?) deal with it.

This has been my general M.O. with the problems in my life - I avoid them. I don't want to deal with negative things (events, emotions) so I mentally run away from them. This in turn means I don't do anything to fix things until I'm backed into a corner and have no choice (e.g. leave projects until the day before a deadline, avoid interacting with people I'm attracted to unless I absolutely have to, etc).

I've gone to therapy multiple times in my life, but it's ultimately of little practical use as it doesn't lead to change, likely because 1) It seems I'm pretty insightful on my own (so I know my flaws + why I have them) and 2) my knowledge doesn't change my desire to avoid negative things.

Right now, I just don't want to care - it would be easier to accept that life will simply be a certain way, and live with it - but the logical part of me recognizes that this is unhealthy. My desire to not care is so great, however, that it is restraining me from doing anything to change. Even writing this, I physically feel myself restraining the part of me that would start doing things differently (it feels like pressure on my chest).

I don't know what to do, or if there's even anything I can do to stop feeling this way. My logical side wants to do things to feel better, because I'm certainly not happy right now, but my emotional side wants to avoid so I don't feel any pain that change might bring. Honestly, I'm not even sure if I should be dealing with this right now given the two deaths that occurred.

I can't raise any of this with my family, as they're all suffering right now, and I can't bring it up with my few friends either - I don't like sharing these parts of myself, in part because I don't like causing others problems, and in part because it feels unsafe to put myself out there like that. This post feels like an exception as it is anonymous.

I still don't want to bring people down, but I feel like I need the help so...any advice would be appreciated. Thanks.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (11 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
You feel like therapy isn't of practical value because you're already self-aware. You have insight into your problems.

Therapy doesn't just highlight your flaws. It gives you tools with which to deal with them.

Give therapy another chance. At the very least, try grief counseling. You've gone through a lot in such a short time. You need to take care of yourself.

Meanwhile, and on top of that, if anonymous writing helps you feel better? Try an anonymous blog, tumblr, something.
posted by RainyJay at 2:08 PM on January 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry that you are going through such a tough time. Hugs.

Two things: first, have you tried cognitive behavioral therapy? It is a modality of treatment focused on addressing specific behavioral patterns, like your tendency to be avoidant. I highly recommend it. Here is a resource that can help you find a CBT provider in your area.

Second, this - I've gone to therapy multiple times in my life, but it's ultimately of little practical use as it doesn't lead to change, likely because 1) It seems I'm pretty insightful on my own (so I know my flaws + why I have them) and 2) my knowledge doesn't change my desire to avoid negative things. - used to describe me. I too have gone to therapy multiple times in my life, and while having an outlet did bring me some relief, I never experienced an "aha! this!" moment in a therapeutic session because most of the time I was merely using therapy as a sounding board for my own insights.

Until I finally found a therapist that truly matched me in a way that made me feel completely understood. (She had extensive background in my graduate-level field.) Nearly a year of sessions with her finally led me to a revelation that, once made, changed my life in a significant way.

Keep trying.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 2:11 PM on January 5, 2014 [6 favorites]

You have gone through, and are going through, an incredibly difficult time! It's going to be hard for a while, which may not seem like a comforting thought - but sometimes you simply have to say to yourself "the only way out is through" and then focus on the getting through it. Experiment with things to make yourself feel better. Try it all. Wallowing, writing, exercising, therapy, group therapy, art classes, whatever. Take stock of what helps and do more of that. Give yourself permission to stop doing the things that don't.

You say that therapy isn't that useful for you because you are self aware, and certainly that is obvious from how you've phrased the question. However, in a way, that's like saying "I don't need a personal trainer because I know how to exercise." Maybe you can do it yourself, but digging yourself out a hole of depression, grief and malaise is a lot of work. Why not get someone to help you think through what works? Someone who can help you frame the glut of emotions and things to do and hopes and dreams and frustrations as a series of things to be dealt with, piece by piece. Because that shit is hard to figure out by yourself. Just feeling overwhelmed with it alone - all the grief and feelings of being defeated and being beat down by life - that's depressing enough. So give yourself a break and see if you can find a therapist who can help you in this particular way, if you can. I would really strongly suggest you make it one of the things you experiment with to make yourself feel better.

When I went through a particularly difficult time a few years ago, I signed up for the AFSP Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk. It was an 18 mile walk - I raised money to do it, and it was a challenge that I focused a lot of that frustrated-at-circumstances-beyond-my-control energy on that. It was hard enough that there were times on the walk that I really wanted to give up, which is sort of the point - pushing yourself through the really difficult times even when you can't necessarily see the reason why in the moment. It helped, in a long-lasting sort of way. I'm not suggesting you do exactly that, but specific challenges to focus yourself on - either an athletic goal, or a fundraising goal, or both! Can give you some place to put your energy that is good for the world and those around you, and can give you some healing on top of it all.

And of course, be extra kind and nice to yourself. Say soothing things to yourself. Make yourself a cup of tea and get under a blanket and give yourself a big hug. Cook yourself healthy, tasty food. If you can afford it, get a massage, go to a spa, take a hot bath. Don't let the dark feelings make you turn on yourself. You can be your own best friend and know best what will make you feel better.

And here is a big hug from me, a stranger on the internet. I am genuinely sorry that you are having such a hard time. I have been through my own extremely frustrating periods of time where everything exploded all at once, and I felt terribly alone with it. Ultimately, I remember what was the hardest about it was really not knowing if I was really going to get through it, or if I was just going to feel like that forever. People kept telling me I would feel better and I just wanted to know when. It turns out I got through it - and I'm stronger and grateful for that time in my life now. I know how to get myself through a crisis and I consider myself a killer friend to have now.

Good luck and I hope you start feeling better soon!
posted by pazazygeek at 2:28 PM on January 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm so sorry for your loss.

Try goal-oriented therapy with a therapist who is enthusiastic about working with you on a plan for those goals. That could be something you bring up with a therapist you already know, or you may have to do some shopping.

DBT might also be something to look into, instead of CBT.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:45 PM on January 5, 2014

one way to think about that feeling of "everything sucks, I must not fix it at any cost!" is this: everything sucks, so doing something different isn't going to suck MORE.

It's like how people say, hey, you're grieving your breakup, what better time to regrout your tub? Honestly, you've had two tremendous losses at one of the worst times for such losses, that there's almost nothing that's going to make you feel better in one hour, or one day, or one week. As you've said, your current avoidance process isn't making you feel better. So what if it'll be painful to do X or Y? It's *already* painful doing what you're doing.

I think this might be why fitness metaphors apply so well to depression and grief, because you're confronting the idea of overcoming inertia in what feels like a very physical way. So all the things you're recoiling from doing? Just do it. Nike that shit. Make the most of not caring. The little inside voice that says "noooo! change is scary!" You don't care. "But nothing will get better!" You don't care.

It's not a long-term solution, because you aren't and shouldn't try to be a robot. But sometimes that not-caring is the protection you need to escape the apathy and start taking those necessary risks for improvement. Allie Brosh writes about this very, very well here.
posted by like_a_friend at 3:59 PM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I can't raise any of this with my family, as they're all suffering right now, and I can't bring it up with my few friends either - I don't like sharing these parts of myself, in part because I don't like causing others problems, and in part because it feels unsafe to put myself out there like that

You realize this is exactly at the heart of the issue you're raising? You want to connect with people and your own emotions, but you're avoiding doing so. (My hunch is that you also avoided doing so with your previous therapists, which is why nothing changed.) Pick one friend or family member, whoever feels the safest (not "safe," just "the safest"), and change how you related to them. Let them help you; put yourself out there.
posted by jaguar at 4:07 PM on January 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

When you are somewhere where everything thing sucks, doing even the smallest little thing that doesn't suck will make a difference. There is no one right thing - just a gradual building-up of little things that, over time, will mean that things suck less.

So every time you can muster the energy or motivation to do one thing (anything, even if it's just washing your hair) that makes things better, just do that thing. Consciously. And make a mental note of feeling better afterwards ("Wow, my hair feels so nice when it's not greasy").

It will take time, but you will reach a point where there's a critical mass of things happening that means things don't suck so much, and some time after that, you'll realise that you're feeling better than you did. And some time after that, you'll feel like you're making your life, rather than having it happen to you.

Good luck. Be gentle with yourself.
posted by girlgenius at 4:19 PM on January 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

It sounds to me like part of the reason you feel like you can't start to think about/process your recent losses is that it feels like opening up to that grieving process will break a dam inside you and allow all these other feelings to overwhelm you. One of the strengths of therapy for me (and like you, I've never actually felt like I was getting anywhere with long term talk style therapy) was just to have someone there in the room with me when I made the choice to put the first crack in that dam - a safety preserver if you will. I first went my current therapist in October because I was spending large portions of my day just lying around on the floor. I'm paid through February, and honestly am not planning to go back after that. But in the meantime, I was able to talk out some serious fears I was having about my family and my direction in life. I no longer feel my self doubt as a crushing physical sensation and shortness of breath! No longer lying on the floor! I'm not going to call myself cured, because insightful folks like ourselves know it's more complicated than that, but it's in a better and more capable stage than it was even a month ago.

It doesn't have to be therapy - allowing yourself to open up to a close friend or family member can serve the same function, but for me knowing that I didn't have to be nice to my therapist or think of my therapist's feelings made it a lot easier to speak my feelings. Short term medication is also possible, especially as a tool to ease some of that feeling of crisis and equip you to better take care of yourself. But all of the paths out from where you are right now (and they're there! They exist!) start with reaching out to someone. It is worth it. You're worth it.
posted by theweasel at 5:09 PM on January 5, 2014

It wouldn't hurt to consider medicating yourself for what sounds like anxiety. Weight on your chest is a common, classic anxiety symptom.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:25 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

First I want to say that you are going through a lot right now, and it takes some time after sudden painful losses before you can operate on a normal level. So no matter how you approach your current situation, you will certainly be grieving the deaths of your father and grandmother. You may even find that you're grieving your helping role with them, even if it seemed like a great burden while you were doing it. You might even find yourself mad at them for dying because while they were alive you could spend all your energy on them and you wouldn't have to face your additional issues of depression. Grief takes a lot of forms, and anger is certainly one of them.

But, like a living organism, depression will do anything to sustain itself. One of its best survival techniques is to put a voice in our head that says, "No one can solve my problems but me. I can't solve my problems, therefore they cannot be solved." It sounds so logical, but it leaves out the greater factor of help from others. That's neither here nor there -- folks above this comment have said very helpful things about asking for help and from whom.

All I want to say is that depression is a trickster. Don't believe its lies. And yeah, it's easier to let the depression wash over you and not take the admittedly exhausting steps to slog your way out of it. That's the desire not to care that's sitting on your chest. It's not a part of you. It's like an infection that you can get rid of but you have to take your antibiotics first.

For me, it was a very important step to separate "me" from "depression." If you think of it as *your* depression, you might cling to it the way a battered child clings to its abusive parent. If instead you think of it as a temporary burden, you might be able to peek around the corners of this giant monstrosity you have to carry around with you, and see that life without this monkey on your back would be more pleasant, and easier, and in fact enjoyable. I mean, if there's no payoff, why not use avoidance? But there is a payoff, and unburdening yourself of the big weight on your chest is only the beginning.

Don't let depression trick you into acting like someone who is not your true self.

Also consider having a complete physical to see whether there are other issues at play that could be corrected with medication. I have thyroid issues that I forget about for months at a time until my meds need adjustment. Or like I found out I was allergic to tetracycline when I got really cranky all the time.

Take good care. I wish you the best.
posted by janey47 at 5:19 PM on January 7, 2014

I am not going to repeat all the good things that have said here but the one thing that looks like you might change for real is that energy sucking job you have...someone once told me when I was at a spot much like yours that they made a list of 5 things to do the next day....even if it was buy coffee and the like. I tried it and when I started checking off those 5 things I realized I was making decisions...and then I made some bigger ones such as divorce the idiot who was sucking my life blood but to this day I always start with 5 things. Anymore than that and I just get nothing done because it overwhelms me. PS I think you should share with your family that you are down over losing your family members They probably miss them as well.
posted by OhSusannah at 12:34 PM on January 8, 2014

« Older Help me find a rolling storage/cart to store all...   |   Should I tell my boss about my miscarriage? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.