Quarter Life Crisis + Indecision Paralysis: How to deal & move forward?
January 16, 2014 12:14 PM   Subscribe

I'm a 26 year old female "Commitment Phobe" seeking advice on 1) How to feel ok making a temporary/final decision about what to do with my life and 2) When to scrap, adjust, or follow through on my decisions when the going gets tough? Messy details inside.

Hey there! I've been lurking these forums for years, having read some amazing bits of wisdom, but only recently found the courage to discuss my predicament with you lovely, wise and caring people. Basically, I'm stuck in a life of analysis paralysis and I feel like I'm about to give up on the idea that I can ever be happy with a career in the future. That's why I really need your advice on this. I know you won't let me down hive mind. I'm really sorry that this post is an eyesore and rambly in advance.

A little backstory: I currently live in Toronto, Canada with an older sibling in a home my parents bought. I am grateful that they are allowing me to pay reduced rent as cost of living here is very expensive. I decided to quit my two part-time jobs and go on Employment Insurance because I couldn't stomach the thought of being stuck in a dead-end retail job anymore. At the same time, I feel guilty about this because I have friends who struggle to make rent working menial service jobs and don't have the time to "soul search" like myself. This makes me panic that I need to find something as fast as possible because I'm taking advantage of a privilege few have that I don't actually deserve. I feel like a parasite and that I haven't earned the roof and warm bed I have over my head.

If all that wasn't enough, I also have been questioning my sexuality and that's a whole other soul searching situation that I'm not dealing well with. I'm so stressed out about finding a career that my dating life is practically non-existent. I've tried online dating with girls (only in the past few months) and guys. I just can't muster the strength to go on dates where I don't feel like I'm putting my best foot forward. I also feel like I need to get my shit together first because who would want to date someone who doesn't? My social life has also suffered from as far back as I can remember and I don't have any close friends that I can hang out with regularly. Everyone is busy with their lives and jobs and I don't like inviting myself to things I'm not invited to. Most of the friends I've talked to about this are online, but I'm trying to put myself out there with meetup groups and whatnot and socializing at activities I enjoy like the gym or soccer.

As far as choosing a career, I dropped out of college/university twice in two separate programs. One related to art and the other related to health science. I was a terrible math and physics student (never took chem, found biology was okay) in high school and university was no different. I don't know what I was thinking when I chose the science degree because I've never really had an interest in math or the hard sciences. I don't know if being good at math would have changed my interest, but it's possible. It's just that I didn't care enough as a kid to learn it well since I was too busy being addicted to video games.

I chose the art program because I enjoyed video games, specifically real-time strategy games or action rpgs, and thought it'd be cool to work in the industry. I was so addicted that I failed my Math class and barely passed French and Physics. I escaped into video games because home life was rocky with my parents and I didn't enjoy any classes except the ones where I enjoyed the teachers like English Lit and Art. I was accepted into an art program in my hometown as well, but ultimately moved away to Toronto because I wanted freedom from my parents.

At some point, I decided I couldn't deal with the workload in college. I also had just gotten out of a messy fling with someone and later on was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder although a doctor I went to said she thought it was possibly situational. My anxiety persists these days in stressful situations like extremely tight deadlines, conflict situations, and thinking about my life. Also, I've been having a lot of thoughts about mortality and how my life is finite and I'm wasting it away. In fact, I feel dizzy and light-headed just typing this out and I just realized that I've been holding my breath. I don't know why I get like this about stuff.

After being diagnosed with GAD and later GERD + Costochondritis, I sought help from my school's permanent disability program, counselors, doctors, a psychologist and even went on medication for what they said was anxiety/depression. The only psychologist I went to would yawn when I told her my problems. I attributed that to her being really old. A doctor I saw would get flustered about how there was no way I could feel extremely tired after taking her prescribed meds because the dose was so small. Even with extended deadlines in school I couldn't meet them because of how I felt. I was burned out and wanted to curl up into a ball and just shut out the world and sleep. This made me feel worse about myself because she made it seem like I didn't know my own body, that I was pretending to being affected via placebo effect. I always felt off.

I sought advice from another professional who also gave me different meds and those also made me feel numb and tired. I felt like I was just existing. Getting off of them was hell and ending up damaging my working relationships with my coworkers at the time. I almost got fired when I was weaning myself off the meds until I explained what was going on. I kind of feel like that still except I'm not on any meds at this moment and would like to keep it that way as long as possible. I'm wary of going on meds again or seeking help from mental professionals because of my past experiences with them. Could it be possible that I have ADD/ADHD and that's why those meds aren't working? People I respect have told me it doesn't exist or that it's actually a symptom of an underlying problem (diet, sleep, exercise, etc)

I want to get serious about life, have meaningful friendships and relationships, and obtain skills that would help me "level up" so to speak. However, I feel like none of that has happened. I feel disgusted with myself as I am nowhere closer to knowing what I want to do now than I did when I quit school a couple of years ago. After some encouragement from a family relative, I am half-heartedly pursuing an online education of self-learning and self-teaching myself how to code. I honestly don't know if this is the right fit. I don't even know if I want to be a designer or a front-end developer. My insecurity and self-doubt plague me and it's making it hard to really put my mind to anything these days, fearing that I've picked the wrong thing. Again. For the third time in a row.

Please help me not be afraid of life. Please :( If need be, I can provide a list of things that I think I'm good at and think I'm bad at, to narrow down potential careers I should be looking into. In fact, maybe I'll provide that later when I'm not so stressed out about typing this post out.

Thanks again for your patience, your time and kindness.
posted by anonymous to Education (12 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Lots of sort of unorganized thoughts about this, so I'm just going to say various potentially unrelated things.

1. Yes, it is really difficult to do online dating when you're unemployed and sort of unsettled in life. While I'm glad that you're working out your sexuality, and doing so via internet dating is a great idea, I have to say that I've been on OKCupid dates while unemployed, and it's always sort of depressing. I've also been on dates with people who were unemployed, and it's not easy to establish a connection with people whose main identity is of being unconnected. (This isn't to say that everyone who doesn't have a job is "unconnected", but that whole "Who am I and what am I even doing with my life" moment doesn't pair well with internet dating.)

2. I don't think you're some kind of awful freeloader or anything, but I have to say, one thing that really helped me get my shit together in my 20s was having concrete requirements in the form of having to fend for myself and pay my own bills. Yes, Toronto cost of living is high. But, no, it's not a great idea to just not have any direction and flail around and "find yourself". Hint: this is not how people find themselves. Getting a job and an apartment and needing to make things work will pretty much immediately enable you to locate yourself.

3. Get a job. Worry about a "career" later. The way to do the thing you want to do isn't to be in stasis until you beanplate your way into knowing All The Answers About Everything and then go have a life. The way to do this is to just go live. You will fuck up. You will fail. You might have some jobs you hate. You might turn 35 and suddenly realize you were always meant to be a chef or a cop or a plumber and kick yourself for not stumbling on that sooner. You might live in a terrible apartment, or sell all your books in order to keep the electricity on, or eat noodles for three months straight. So what? Just keep going. There is no permanent record, or judgment day at the end where everybody who knew they wanted to be a doctor and became a doctor and then proceeded to be a doctor their whole life "win" and people like us "lose". It's just life. Go do it.

4. You will never have freedom from your parents as long as you're living in a house they own.
posted by Sara C. at 12:31 PM on January 16, 2014 [23 favorites]

I think--this may tie into your GAD--you're putting a little too much pressure on yourself to get everything together at once. The idea that people emerge from their 20s as fully-formed adults isn't actually true for most people. It's not a checklist where you need to have your family relationships, your career, your sexuality, your health, etc. all figured out by some date--some people never fully figure those out but manage to reach a place where things are sort of OK anyway, some people find one thing that works for them in their 20s and achieve it but need something totally different by the time they're 40.

So. I would identify one thing, the thing that is having the biggest negative effect on you, and I would focus mainly on getting that thing together. I would suggest the health thing, to the extent that you can pursue it. I think once you can find treatment that works--really works--things will...well, they won't quite fall into place, but they'll be a lot easier. To use your metaphor, it's removing a negative status effect that's cratering your stats.

As for the lost time thing, you're pretty normal, I think. Most people I know in their early/mid-20s are just climbing out of the hole created by their first round of missed opportunities and bad choices. Your missed opportunities and bad choices have not created that deep of a hole.
posted by kagredon at 12:58 PM on January 16, 2014 [5 favorites]

Has a doctor prescribed you Wellbutrin? It's not an SSRI so it doesn't have a lot of the usual side-effects, and it generally makes you feel amped up vs. tired. It can make you more anxious, but your pdoc might prescribe you an anxiety med to go with it at first to see how it goes. (I have anxiety and Wellbutrin made me v. anxious at first, but eventually evened out. Obviously, tell your pdoc that you have anxiety, as it's an important consideration.)

Anyway, I would not recommend staying on it long-term, but in my experience a year or so on Wellbutrin can give you the boost you need to get thinking about reality and how to get on the ball, and then you can wean off (with pretty mild side-effects, usually) and still have that clarity and momentum. It really helped me gain perspective, even though I'm not on it anymore. (It also made me a little weird/closed off to romantic relationships, so that might not be the first area of focus in terms of getting your life on track.)
posted by stoneandstar at 12:59 PM on January 16, 2014

I was the biggest flighty twenty-ish person ever. I dropped out of college with a 2.0 after three years, and moved to California with my family.

I worked a bunch of nothing little jobs, and then I answered an ad for a $6.00 per hour, part-time, customer service job at the phone company. I figured, "this will do until something better comes along." The funny thing was, it was a pretty good job. After a year or so, I was promoted to full time, got a salary and benefits and since I was working the swing shift, I was able to go back to school and finish up my degree. (English Lit! At least I enjoyed it.)

I learned a lot, and discovered that I liked technology, I moved up and moved around, left one company, went to others, came back and basically had a wonderful career in telecommunications for 25 years. I didn't plan it that way, but I could recognize when I had fallen into a good thing. We there setbacks? Of course. I didn't love when MCI WorldCom imploded, that was no fun. But all in all, averaged out, it was pretty damn good.

So don't worry about finding a career, find a job in a good company where you have room to move up, or at least where you can support yourself on the wage.

Try looking on Career pages for good, solid companies. Bell Canada, Canadian Tire, Air Canada, etc.

My advice is to sort yourself out. If you have add/adhd, then you can learn strategies to help you. Meds for that, or for anxiety or for depression are a bitch. I have anxiety and it was untreated for decades. I'm a MUCH happier Bunny on my Celexa. You have to experiment around.

Don't write off doctors, just push to get good ones.

Once you have a job, are feeling not so down and anxious, you can test the waters with dating.

But the idea that everything is locked in for your life in your twenties is not very realistic.

I've changed my career three times (and my job title a bazillion times.) Being open and flexible will serve you well going into the future.

But for now, 50% of all of your issues can be solved with one, decent job.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:06 PM on January 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

"I feel like I'm about to give up on the idea that I can ever be happy with a career in the future."

You. Are. 26. I had similar feelings occasionally in my 20s but now, as a wise old soul in my very early 30s, please believe me when I say that this statement and others like it are depression and anxiety talking. It does not reflect reality.

"I feel guilty about this because I have friends who struggle to make rent working menial service jobs and don't have the time to "soul search" like myself."

There will always be a disparity between things you have and things other people have. Just don't be a jerk about it. My aunt and uncle paid for grad school for my cousins. My dad bought my sister a new car. None of these things actually affect me so that's what I tell myself when I think of things like that.

"I also feel like I need to get my shit together first because who would want to date someone who doesn't?"

I'm a fan of Dan Savage. He is of the opinion that to date, you must generally be in good working order. If everyone waited until they had their shit together to go on dates, humanity would have died out by now. Everyone has got something. Nobody is perfect.

"In fact, I feel dizzy and light-headed just typing this out and I just realized that I've been holding my breath."

This might seem like a random suggestion but I've found that yoga helps because it forces me to breathe and it's taught me that I can breathe through nearly anything - stress at work, stress at home, being uncomfortable, etc.

The doctor who got flustered sounds like a jerk and you should see a different one. I fought going on meds for a long time and now I'm on meds and I like them. I tried to change meds because I had been on this one for years and I went back. For me, meds aren't happy pills but they take the edge off of the lows so instead of being sad and suicidal, I'm just sad. It doesn't sound like much of an improvement, I'm sure, but damn, I have a lot more mental bandwidth now that I'm not thinking about how much the world would be a better place without me in it.

Sure, you could have ADD/ADHD. People like to say that certain conditions don't exist. Sometimes they're right and sometimes they're wrong. My husband has restless leg syndrome which tons of people say doesn't exist. I don't care what you call it but when he takes his medicine for it, he sleeps better and feels better the next day so whatever.

You can rule things out by fixing things. For example, I saw a sleep doctor when, after trying to go to bed and get up at a normal hour, I still didn't feel rested. So try sleeping and eating better and exercising and see what happens.

"I want to get serious about life, have meaningful friendships and relationships, and obtain skills that would help me "level up" so to speak. However, I feel like none of that has happened."

It doesn't just happen. You have to work at it. But if you work at it and find that you can't do it without help, you get help. Like with my sleep disorder - I tried doing the right things, I didn't move forward. I saw a doctor, got help, now I think I am moving forward. Don't try to "get serious about life" - that's an easy way to get overwhelmed. Think of something and break it into smaller steps. What skill would it be helpful for you to learn? Pick something and do it, then build on that success. The success is in doing it, not being a rock star at it.

I'm a runner but I'm slow. It's okay, though - I'm fine with being slow. Running is good for me because it's very linear. When I train for a 10 miler, I start by running three miles, then five, then seven. I don't run 10 miles. Don't try to run 10 miles. Try to run for a few minutes. Then maybe next time, try to run for a few more (metaphorically speaking).

"My insecurity and self-doubt plague me and it's making it hard to really put my mind to anything these days, fearing that I've picked the wrong thing."

If you picked the wrong thing, you will learn that you have picked the wrong thing. The sky will not fall. I don't think your family will kick you out of your house. Your hair won't fall out.

It'll be okay. Take one step a time.
posted by kat518 at 1:16 PM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

A few thoughts:

1) GAD can do crazy things to you. I have GAD. For me, one of my crutches was horrible HORRIBLE procrastination. At work. At home. In school. Everywhere. Being on a relatively low dose of an anti-depressant, Prozac in my case, really helped me. I still procrastinate, but at somewhat more normal levels. I think you need a new doctor. I think you need a new therapist too. You may like meds, you may not. You might try a few. Just talking to people about your problems will help you feel more normal about them, and that will make them a little easier to solve.

When I was at my most anxious, I hated my job, too, and I too wanted to go back to school to do something-else-but-I-don't-know-what. It also made me feel like a useless person.

I think to a lot of your insecurities and dissatisfactions are stemming from your anxiety, not the outside factors of your life. Lots of 26-year-olds haven't figured out what to do in life.

2) I'm not saying you should or should not go back to school, but I think you have to figure out what interests you or what suits you or what you'd be willing to do. Then you can decide whether college is the way to get there. What would you like to do? What's realistic? Have you ever talked to a career counselor?

3) Take this with a grain of salt: I have actually met more people, and had better friendships, from sex-oriented dating sites (e.g., AdultFriendFinder or FetLife) than OKCupid. If you're interested in exploring your sexuality, it might be a good place to go. It also can help you meet interesting, less-judgemental people. And since commitment isn't really the point, you don't have to lay your insecurities out there, or you can and people can judge you, but so what?
posted by Llamadog-dad at 1:49 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was the opposite of you through college, but I'm now 53 and I've had several different careers. Most notably, I started law school at 30, worked as a lawyer for 8 years on partner track, and then just when it was about to pay off with partnership, quit the whole thing.

This is what I'm getting at. Everything changes all the time for everyone. Don't feel like you have to make *A* single decision about any of these issues and stick with that decision for life. Take a step, then take another step.

Life is a fact-finding mission. It really does change all the time, and if you have any idea or hope that you can start down a path, stay on that path for life, and always be happy with it, you'll be disappointed. But if you view it as an adventure, it's delightful.
posted by janey47 at 4:11 PM on January 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

How to feel ok making a temporary/final decision about what to do with my life
... My insecurity and self-doubt plague me and it's making it hard to really put my mind to anything these days, fearing that I've picked the wrong thing. Again. For the third time in a row.

Think of it this way. Even if you stay at home and do nothing for a year, you are making a choice. Time will keep on ticking away, no matter what you do. You might feel you are making no progress in life but that's not true. You are living, day by day. Every twenty-four hours, another twenty-four hours is down the tube, and you'll never get it back. Everything you do costs time, and time is a dwindling resource. Every day you make a choice about how to spend your time – note the phrasing "spend", as if time is a currency. And it is. Time you spend worrying about decisions you made in the past or worrying about some distant future is time you could have spent doing something else, like teaching yourself a new language, or learning how to cook. Time. You have a lot of it. You are twenty-six. If you are lucky and you play your cards right, you have another 50+ years ahead of you. That time is yours, but it is not yours to keep; it is disappearing, slowly. You are spending it, every day, whether you like it or not.

So it only makes sense to spend your time – the only resource you really have – in ways that are worthwhile. Spend it on hobbies that bring you joy. Spend it with people whose company you appreciate. Spend it pursuing a career. Spend it pursuing another career. Hell, spend it pursuing ten careers. Spend it writing books or making art or whatever it is that brings you pleasure and enjoyment. Even if you fail, you will still have made a choice to try. No, you will not always be able to spend every moment in the way that you want at that precise moment. Sometimes practical things – health, social obligations, the need to earn rent money – will get in the way. But that's a reality of life, no matter what you do.

Say you are interested in making games but you are not currently good at making games. How long would it take for you to get better? How good do you want to be? How can you best spend your time to develop those skills? Would a training program help? If so, do you need to save up money for the program? Now imagine setting aside some of your imaginary time-tokens in a bucket labeled "Get good at designing games". This is the cost, in time, of getting good at designing games. Yes, it has a cost, but if the cost is worth it to you, you'll be happy to do it.

Me, I'm a writer. I used to have terrible anxiety about trying to become a writer, back when I couldn't even bring myself to say I'm a writer. Still do, actually. I'm still not very good at it, and still haven't gotten where I want to be, but I've gotten a lot better by putting my time in. And I will continue to put my time in until I have paid my dues. Because that time – my time – is going to be spent one way or another, whether I like it or not, and this is how I want to spend it.
posted by deathpanels at 4:51 PM on January 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


So, I am not sure if this will be helpful, but I thought I would just chime in to empathize with you and reiterate a few things that people have already said.

I can empathize a bit with being unsure of what you are doing with your life. I experienced one of those crises last summer. I'm a graduate student and after an incredibly intense/stressful semester at school and being kind of thrown off by a romantic relationship, combined with some longstanding uncertainties about whether I was in the right field, I kind of had a number of small breakdowns and barely scraped through the semester in a couple of my classes. Then, I decided to quit the internship I had lined up for the summer because I was so anxious and stressed out about the what am I doing with my life question and go "find myself." I don't really regret the decision exactly, as I had an interesting summer. But I can say that I still had sort of a rocky summer and didn't really start to feel better about the "what am I doing with my life" question or resolved about anything until I came back to school and got busy. I mean, not that I have everything figured out at this point. I still have some of the same doubts about what I am doing with my life, but at this point they kind of feel like a broken record playing in my head that I somehow need to just rise above. I think some of the concerns I have about my field are valid concerns, but I decided that they are concerns that I can live with/address and still work in the field I am in. Also, I think a good part of the reason that I was so freaked out about my life was just that I was so generally stressed out and anxious about things and this has a tricky way of amplifying things even when you realize what is happening. Final note on the finding yourself question - one thing that has made me feel better about not being completely certain about what I am doing with myself is that I have had this growing realization that a large portion of my peers at school have experienced their own doubts about things. I think everyone experiences anxiety about this - we are all just really good at hiding it from one another. The fact that others can experience similar doubts and still get on with things is kind of comforting to me.

So, in sum:
1) I think there is a lot to be said for just investing yourself in some kind of action and seeing where it leads you. Maybe try to focus on the day to day. There is always something else you could be doing, but if you let yourself get too distracted by thinking about other possibilities you are likely to end up not doing anything. I think that in continual action lies sanity, and in sanity there may be some answers. Taking time off is definitely important and serves its own purpose but I don't think it is what leads to commitment and resolution.

2) Anxiety can really amplify things. I am assuming you are already well aware of this, but it is worth reminding yourself of. I experienced many of the same feelings of being overwhelmed and feeling kind of apathetic about things at the end of this last semester as I did during the Spring semester, but this time I just took it as a sign that I was stressed out instead of that there was something fundamentally wrong with the path I was on.

3) Everyone experiences anxiety, everyone questions their life, and for me anyway, reminding myself of this makes me feel like my own feelings are just kind of run of the mill in some ways and shouldn't stop me from getting on with things.

Also, other random thought - I think you should try visiting a couple of different doctors and find one that you really vibe with. The wrong therapist can probably do more harm than good. Find someone who respects you and who you like as a person.

PS: Be nice to yourself.
posted by thesnowyslaps at 5:37 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I feel you, sister. In 2005, I was almost 27 and I had finished my master's. You think that'd be a good thing, right? Advanced degree, that shows commitment, job prospects up the wazoo, right? Nope. At that point I had a crappy attitude about jobs, and myself, and was also living at home. I felt I needed to do something for myself. I started volunteering. I also took a joe job in a call centre. Boy, that made me feel good. I had a master's, living at home, taking a minimum-wage job in a call centre? And I was 27? But at least I had some money coming in so that I could move out. Volunteering led to opportunities for short-term paid work, which led to more, and then in 2007 I got into a paid government internship program. Now I've been in government for 6.5 years. Hard to believe it's been that long. I moved out in 2006 when I didn't have a job, but I had saved up enough to pay the bills. I moved in with a friend so rent was cheaper. The important point here is that I realized that it wasn't good for me to be living at home and relying on the parents - I felt like they were enabling me and it wasn't healthy. Like you, I wanted to have relationships, etc. and there was no way that I was going to do that while still living in their house. Not because they had rules about this, but for my own comfort level. I basically wanted to live as an adult and be responsible only to myself.

So while living in a house your parents own with cheap rent looks good on paper, it's not doing anything for your independence and sense of self. You gotta do this on your own. It's only then, when you're required to do anything to survive, will you actually find your own way. Living in their house means that you're obligated to "make the most of it," and thus you end up putting tons of pressure on yourself. That's not helpful for figuring out where you need to be. #2 in Sara C.'s comment hits the nail on the head.

How to figure out where you need to be? Well, I think you need to cut the cord. Move out, find your own place with roommates. Is there anything keeping you in Toronto? Maybe move to a cheaper city. Maybe volunteer in the LGBTQ community - that'll help you with figuring out your sexuality and you'll find new friends. Job opportunities may come your way too. If you can't muster the strength to go on dates right now, don't. It's ok to not date! Just take that out of the equation right now.

The only way to know if you want to be a designer or front-end developer is to try it! Just try it, and pay attention to what you like and don't like about it. I know there is so much pressure to pick something with the belief that it should work out forever. Just try it, focus on it, get good at it, and maybe you can find work in it. It's better than nothing. And it could lead to other things. Cal Newport's book touches on this. I'm in Toronto too so memail me if you want to talk further. :) And take care of yourself - eat healthy, exercise, have good sleep hygiene. It makes a difference.
posted by foxjacket at 6:58 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is kind of a random thought, but I reacted to one small part of what you wrote:
How to feel ok making a temporary/final decision about what to do with my life

I recently read an article (sorry I can't find it) about how at every point in our lives, we assume that our future selves will be just like our current selves. We look back at our past and we recognized that we have changed between the past and now, but when we look forward to the future, we think we will always be the same as we are now.

I'm older than you -- in my mid-40s -- but I'm dealing with a similar sense of being lost and trying to figure out what the next part of my life will be like. I find the idea that my future self might be different and value different things very reassuring. It means that I only have to make the best decision for me now -- I don't have to worry about future OrangeDisk. In fact I can't, because I don't know what she will be like. I have to trust her to make the best decisions for herself when the future comes. For me, that idea takes a lot of pressure off.
posted by OrangeDisk at 8:44 AM on January 17, 2014 [8 favorites]

Man, I totally can relate. I'm also a woman, we're nearly the same age, I have GAD and depression, and used to live in Vancouver in a place subsidized by my parents. I also procrastinate a lot and love strategy games and rpgs. This is really weird but in a good way.

I took an extra year and a bit to graduate from university since I spent a full year just working, and also failed a class here and there. I was so unhealthy and miserable at the end of it all that after graduation, I didn't work for a year. I did some volunteering here and there, and made connections with the Vancouver LGBT community. I had a volunteer role, which made it easier to connect to people while I lived in semi-denial and much guilt about the state of my mental and physical health.

I was suffering from a lot of health problems, both mental and physical, none of which were diagnosed until six months into my unemployment when I was dangerously suicidal. I got on meds, found work which was an interesting experience but I was unstable and unhappy--and it wasn't clear whether it was the work or my internal state or both.

I actually made an anonymous ask question here about whether I should leave the work or put up with it, but left out a lot of details, and Mefites came up with "stick with it", which thankfully I did not do, I left the country and now am currently doing something that makes me way happier, although I still have concerns whether it's going to be a "career" or not. I don't have the answers to all my questions, but I am far more stable and happy even without taking meds or seeing a therapist at the moment.

Given my background, here is my advice in no particular order:

1. You're going to be okay. This too shall pass. Remember to breathe. All your ailments, physical and mental, are not there forever. You will heal them or manage them. It won't be overnight, but have faith in yourself and in the universe that this will all work out. When my anxiety was at its worst, my physical health was also at its worst.

2. Additionally, my anxiety was made worse by a chronic respiratory problem. Have you looked into other possible chronic conditions? For me, it was hard to keep track of my own symptoms when my brain was on the klutz, but get a check up just in case. Do you experience physical maladies that aren't quite covered by what you have been diagnosed with yet?

3. I recommend more therapy, and maybe not even CBT. I tried CBT and while it helped me become functional, a big part of my anxiety was still unresolved. I had a few sessions of insight therapy and it brought up some pretty painful things, but it goes to closer to the root of the anxiety. I have stopped seeing the insight therapist due to scheduling issues, but I honestly have been the least anxious and most mentally healthy in a long-time. I've also been doing a lot of reading on mental health and there were some books that helped me out with my personal circumstance. Feel free to MeMail me.

4. Maybe look into anxiety-countering things that are more lifestyle oriented. I used to pick a lot of sports that were adrenaline flight-or-fight triggering, which continued to fuel my anxiety. Now I've taken a break from all of that and mostly just stick to yoga. Yoga forces me to breathe deeply, remain grounded in reality, and accept things as they are. It's like moving meditation, really. I've also been doing meditation on my own time, I don't know if I'm doing them right but they sure as heck are calming.

5. Allow yourself to take a break. Give yourself a guilt-free break. Go out and enjoy yourself without worrying about how you don't have a career or you're so undeserving of what you have or whatever. Just enjoy it. Look at it as a vacation, but put a specific deadline on it. Give yourself time to enjoy the moment and life without thinking about the future for a bit, as long as you can afford it for now. Give yourself two weeks, one month, whatever you can live with. Go travel, or have a staycation, your choice. But no guilt and no videogames. Be present in the now.

6. After vacation break, find something structured to do (taking community classes, volunteering, etc.) that will help you meet new people and provide some structure to your life. Unstructured unemployment is depressing and anxiety-inducing, so get some structure. It's for your self-care and it's good for general networking. In the meantime, do any education or career research you need. Make sure you go into something full time in no more than six months after your last work day. Six months work/school-free is awesome and can be rejuvenating, but any more than that can get really depressing, trust me.

7. During this research period, just focus on getting your next decent lead for the next two years. If you can't think that far, make it the next year, or next six months. Just scale down the timeline so it's easier for you to mentally cope with. If you're really at a loss, sign up with some temp agencies and see what job leads they have. The first interview I had resulted in me getting a full-time job, which due to several factors was not something I could stick with for the long-term, but it paid the bills and was good honest work for as long as it lasted. It has nothing to do with what I'm doing now, but it was sure better than being unemployed for that same period.

8. If I were you, I wouldn't think about dating until I'm in a solid head space. Look for some LGBT-related events in your area, and pop in and see what they're like. Maybe look for an LGBT group to volunteer with. I recommend looking for the community first, figure out the romance and sexuality when you're feeling more secure about yourself. Your health and work should come first.

9. Take care of your mental health, but I recommend during it while having some kind of structure to your life. I totally have done better during more structured times in my life, even if it's not the conventional 9-5 structure. I need a sense of belonging and purpose, and to answer to other people's deadlines. If I don't have any of that, I launch into major existential crises, use the internet to answer all the endless questions puked out by my anxiety (which is why I am still addicted to Ask Metafilter), and day flies into night into day into night and oh my god what have I done for the past year? Structure is good, even if it's small. Hold on to it like a lifeboat.

10. One way to fight procrastination and anxiety is taking a break from whatever you're doing or thinking, and remembering what's important. I've become a lot more self-aware about whenever I'm fueling my own anxiety or procrastinations, and reminding myself of my intention for the day. My intention is to do work when I'm supposed to do work, to be in the moment to appreciate my family, etc. My intention is not to do more random internet research I don't need just to feed my brain's crazy-making.

11. Take it one step at a time. The more little victories you have, the more faith you will have in yourself and in the abundance of the universe again. There's no one big fix, it's all little fixes here and there. Don't think about success or comparing yourself to others. Prioritize taking care of your own health, being more stable, and finding joy every once in a while. It'll be up and down, but it'll get better.

I hope some of this helped. Feel free to MeMail me if you need someone to talk to.
posted by Hawk V at 9:05 AM on February 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older Stigmatizing Mental Illness- navigating the...   |   I need help finding training resources for Cognos... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.