How can I get my life in order
April 11, 2014 8:24 AM   Subscribe

I'm currently 21 years old (female). I live at home with my dad and his girlfriend of 17 years. I work two jobs (one at a sandwich shop I've been at for 5 years and another at a coffee shop I've been at for 7 months). I also attend community college and this is my third year there, I will have my associates degree at the end of summer in general studies, I want to transfer to a state university in my area but don't even know what I want to go for.

There are a lot of things about my life that I don't like. First off my family relationships. My parents weren't together when I was born, apparently both me and my sister who is ten years older were accidents. My mom is severely mentally ill with schizophrenia, she only has a fifth grade education and is on disability. She was in and out of mental hospitals when I was a kid, I only lived with her for the first year of my life until my sister came over and found out she was extremely ill, couldn't take care of me. She was also an alcoholic and would get drunk when I visited her on the weekends, and get extremely angry and just start shouting about stuff and how horrible my dad and stepmom were. I lived with my dad and his girlfriend who moved in when I was four with her two kids. My dad was very uninvolved, even told me that I pretty much raised myself and don't really have a family here. I didn't get along with my stepmom or her kids. Flash forward to today. I feel resentful of my parents. I haven't talked to my mom in a year as she is very emotionally abusive. My dad tries to talk to me sometimes just asking what I'm doing and I want to cultivate a good relationship with him but I just feel so angry towards him. He asks me what I'm doing today and I jut get snappy with him. My stepmom is cold towards me, but when he kids come over she is all very loving towards them. Her kids have moved out, they're 21 and 19, the 19 year old has a baby and both of them aren't in college or anything but support themselves mostly. I would really like to have positive relationships with my family but I just feel like they bing out the worst in me

Second my mental health. I feel like basically my whole life I've had depression. I also have social anxiety. I feel like I don't have any self esteem, I feel hopeless about the future. I keep thinking lately that if maybe I would have tried to be a better daughter, tried being more social and making friends in school I would be better off, but I know those are useless thoughts. When I'm home I'm basically in my room all the time, on my phone on the internet. I didn't care to wake up for my 8am class so I had to withdraw from it. I want to sleep all the time. I work out a few days a week and that helps some. I just keep falling back into the same old patterns and it depresses me, like why should it ever be different. I overthink things way too much but don't know how to break the habit

I have a boyfriend of five years. He really tries to support me and does a pretty good job of it, his family is so good and nice to me. I just keep thinking he deserves better than me, I haven't told him that I withdrew from a class because I wasn't showing up, he doesn't know that I just sit in my room all day in bed when we don't hang out, I feel too ashamed for him to know that. He is one year away from graduating as a pharmacist. I'm so proud of him and he's great, but I feel so much lesser than him and we will probably be moving in together when he graduates. I don't even know hat I want to major in, my da thinks college is a waste of money. I keep getting so stressed out about the future that I have headaches and throw up. I know there's a better person inside me, I jut need to pick something to study and do it. I haven't done to well so far in college, I have a 2.something, I know I'm capable of so much better.

I just feel really lost in life and don't know how to permanently get over my struggles. There has to be a way. I hate feeling so worthless.
posted by anon1129 to Human Relations (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Well, you pretty much need to sort out the depression (and yes, it sounds pretty much exactly like the depression I had when I was 18). Go to the health center, give them a brief version of your family history and say, "I believe I have clinical depression, I have a feeling of hopelessness, I sleep all the time, and I am directionless."

As for your family situation, it sucks. I have no more to say about it because it is what it is.

You can sit down with your dad and tell him, "I have a lot of resentment about my childhood, and about how detatched you were with me then and how detatched you are with me now. I'd like to have a relationship with you, but I have to deal with some of my depression problems first."

As for your Mom, there's nothing you can do there. Best to forget it.

As for what your Dad thinks of college/university, who cares?

I recommend enrolling in the cheapest state university you can find. Declare a major in your favorite subject. I did English, but if nothing else do Accounting or Business or something like that.

Take some classes in your first semester that can apply to most any degree. Talk with an advisor there, the university may have some testing that you can take to detect aptitude. I took testing like this through my job and discovered an aptitude and weirdly enough an interest in finance and accounting. Blew me away.

When you have depression/anxiety, nothing seems like a good option. So you have two things to do:

1. Get treated, a GP is a great start. My anxiety is 100% treated with meds, Husbunny's Depression is treated with meds. Neither of us is in therapy, and that works for us. You may WANT therapy, and that's cool too.

2. Keep on, keeping on. Enroll in University. If you hate it, you can drop out. I'd recommend living on campus if you can. Roommates can be awesome or shitty, but in the dorms you're surrounded by activity, and everything you might want to do is right there!

One thing that will really help is not to schedule 8:00 AM classes. I blew them off 100% of the time, and it would have made a HUGE difference if I had just attended class from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM.

You have two jobs, so you're good there.

Hang in there and put one foot in front of the other. All things considered, you're doing amazingly well!

And your family, it really helps to forgive them. Not for them, but for yourself. Your mom is mentally ill and she's not responsible for what she did in the past or what she's doing now. Pity her, and pray for her to get help, but disengage, while she's as deeply into her illness as you say, she can't be a whole person, let alone a mom.

As for your Dad, forgive him for being young and foolish. He did the best he could with the tools and understanding he had. He is human. He probably loves you, he just doesn't know anything about parenting.

Your stepmom, who knows, she may be a jerk, but you have a home with them for now. She could have been a better stepmom, who knows why she wasn't.

You are not your family, nor are you what your family says you are.

Today, you can change everything about your life. Make an appointment at the student health center, or hell, just stroll on in there! It'll be the best thing you ever did.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:38 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The problems you have are difficult but not insurmountable problems. There is a way to slowly but surely chip away at each of them and overcome these struggles to build a better life for yourself.

I'm not afraid to say that it won't happen overnight. Don't expect them to go away permanently, at least not anytime soon. But if you truly do want to get to a better place and grow into the person you are inside (which I can tell you want to), you can and will get there. The key is to make small, but meaningful, positive changes, one day, week, and month at a time.

The main problem as I see is that you don't have a strong anchor in your life aside from your boyfriend who you think deserves better. I don't think so. He is with you because he sees something in you. Appreciate that, not everyone has it.

I feel like there are a few things you should start doing one at a time to start shaping your life:

- You are depressed and I'd first recommend you see a good therapist right away. It will take time but the work you and she/he will do together will bring about many changes in you.

- I'd also say that perhaps starting a meditation practice will truly benefit you in flushing away some of the negative energy within you. But again, it won't be overnight. It is well-known and proven that meditation is a powerful thing over the long-term.

- Often helping others helps one to overcome one's own struggles. Can you volunteer towards a good cause that you feel like you care about?

- Please don't spend so much time in your room, in an environment that is dragging you down. It is one thing that you have to live with your family. Perhaps circumstances are making you do that right now. But in the time that you do have control over, you are choosing to be in the same space, which is not healthy for you.

- In this moment, it will be hard for you to create a positive direction for your life but I'd say every now and then, think about how you'd like your life to be, ignoring what it is right now. It will be disappointing at first because you'll just see the problems you have but my hope is that vision will help you to strive to make changes.

I realize in this moment you will have a hard time to see the light at the end of the tunnel but nothing is permanent and this phase of your life will pass, but only if you decide and make consistent, even if small efforts to change and grow and find the beautiful person there is within you.
posted by blizkreeg at 8:43 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think, when you're 21 and the tail end of puberty is just chemically making some things harder than they'll be in a few more years, you have two paths you can take: pursue treatment until you feel sturdier on your feet, OR just draw a line and decide to put all the other uncertainties aside and go do the one thing you know you must do: make it possible to have a career and support yourself.

Go to college, get a degree in business. It's fine if you decide to do something later; even artists have to create invoices and pay taxes. For two years, all things should serve the purpose of getting that degree. To that end, do not move in with your boyfriend if it is any way avoidable, because you need time to live with yourself and focus on getting a degree. If you move in with him right now, this sunk in depression, you're going to end up having to distance yourself from him, too, eventually. (Like when lying about school catches up with you. Stop that.) A roommate would be better.

This makes your days really easy to schedule out:
- Get up in the morning and clean yourself
- Go to school
- Go to work
- Do your schoolwork
- Spend at least an hour outside with actual sunlight entering into your eyeballs, even if you are physically in the shade. This is for depression-easing purposes. You can combine this time with exercise for the same reason, or keep going to the gym if that works for you.
- Clean your living environment
- Go to sleep in the evening so that you are getting at least 7 hours of nighttime sleep.

Any other tasks you try to put on that list have to serve the purpose of getting a degree. Even social activities should be things that make you more enthusiastic, or at least not make it harder, to do your schoolwork. (As in, watch your drinking and partying. You'd be better off in a sport or hobby that isn't competitive drinking.)

- It doesn't matter what your dad thinks. Get some distance from him before you try to work on that relationship. Do not have a relationship with your mother if it is bad for you.
- Talk to someone - GP, Urgent Care, Planned Parenthood - about antidepressants. It really sounds like you could just use help generating some momentum right now.

Find somewhere else to spend that time you've been spending in your room. Sit at Starbucks or go walk laps around the mall or do volunteer work.

You get a choice, to a certain extent, about how much of your childhood pain you bring into adulthood. Don't let depression tell you otherwise. You can be very mindful that you got a bad deal as a kid but use it as rocket fuel to get somewhere else, or you can let it be a lead weight. I think you would feel better if you just let everything go - or at least put it aside for a while. You've got another 60-80 years to figure it out.

All of these things will help you naturally feel better about yourself, and then the sense of accomplishment will further fuel you.

And, my final advice to young women who are depressed: get off the pill. Go to Planned Parenthood and get an IUD, or you can try stop-gapping with NuvaRing but a lot of people find that makes them more or less as crazy as the pill. If you have no other choice but the pill, then you need to prioritize the antidepressants.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:53 AM on April 11, 2014 [6 favorites]

Best answer: As a caveat to some of the great previous posts: It's not necessarily a good idea to try and have emotionally complex discussions with family about past suffering until you're stable enough to deal with anything they say. Sadly the shit is often not like the movies. Apologies imply guilt, and it's easy for others to just grow angry.

I think you should make judicious use of your boyfriend, and his future earning potential. You say 5 years, how old is he? Did you start dating when you were 16 and he was 20? Or are you in a country where pharm is undergrad not grad degree? No judgement either way, just curious.

You need to focus on the small picture. Let the bigger picture work itself out. We know all bigger pictures require productive healthy days. So throw out any concerns about 'grand life goals' and work on your day. Don't know what you want to do? That's fine. But whatever it is, your success in the 8am class is necessary. Totally clueless? That's fine, but whatever you want waking up and being productive is necessary.

It won't be easy. Right now you are essentially telling yourself "I want to do X" then you are not doing it. Your goal is to find a support network of your boyfriend/his family/a therapist/friends where you have more motivation to follow through with the commands you send to yourself.

Best of luck. This is a marathon not a montage :)

Edit: I like the idea of you majoring in business. Go to any state school that accepts you and try to do their business program. The good news is business is pretty easy and rarely requires a rigorous background in math. And it provides you with a set of skills that at the very least will help you start a job. (while I ended up going back for a more mathematically rigorous graduate degree, my undergrad was in business. Which helped me get a job between undergrad and grad while many of my friends couldn't).
posted by jjmoney at 9:23 AM on April 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I agree with JJmoney, this is some terrific advice with the caveat that you should probably wait on the discussion with Dad. Dad sounds like he might feel some guilt, but that doesn't mean he's ready to discuss the big stuff - and having a stepmother who is that unfriendly (read: jealous) is not going to help. Instead of talking, maybe what you and your dad can do is spend time doing activities together. Hiking, canoeing, volunteering to do beach or state park cleanup, etc. You'll spend time together, don't have to talk about heavy things, and you'll also get regular exercise.

Regular exercise will also help you feel better while you work on the depression.

I agree with Ruthless that you can't do anything about your mother. The only thing you can do is control your reaction. Talk therapy will help with that. Antidepressants are also a tool you can use with talk therapy, to clear away the cobwebs while you dig the nasty stuff out of the attic. I suggest you look for someone called a cognitive behavior therapist, many of these people are MSWs (people with masters in social work) or similar, and have a sliding scale based on what you make. You can start by looking up therapists on the Psychology Today website.

Also, I have to say, although you're depressed, you're also in a relationship and you have two jobs. You've also acknowledged many of the problems you have and how you're not coping the best way possible. This is something to be proud of.
posted by mitschlag at 9:51 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, and let me also add that a business degree is something you can use in a variety of fields. Get a minor in something you feel passionate about.
posted by mitschlag at 9:52 AM on April 11, 2014

Best answer: I'm in a long-term relationship with a woman who suffers from depression. (This is actually my second depression-affected LTR out of the three that I've had in my life.) What you're describing sounds so, so much like stuff she deals with. We're both pushing 40, and by comparison, her upbringing was much more stable and supportive than yours. What you wrote resonated with me both because of the similarity of symptoms and what you said about your relationship with your boyfriend.

She beats herself up a lot despite her accomplishments. And she thinks she isn't good enough for me. As I've told her -- and, thankfully, her therapist echoed this -- that's not her call to make. It's mine. And the voice in her head that tells her she's not good enough for me (or her friends, or her career, or her other accomplishments) is the depression talking.

Recently, she was out of work, and then out health insurance, and so she went off her meds and is only now getting back on them. When she finally saw her therapist again and said she was worried about even being able to hold down a job and feeling worthless for that, her therapist rightly pointed out that she wouldn't feel the same way if she was sick with the flu or pneumonia or something. She has a medical problem. It just doesn't show itself in physical symptoms. I strongly suspect you have the same thing going on. (I would also imagine that your boyfriend, if he's studying for a career as a pharmacist, won't understand all this.)

You absolutely need to get checked out for depression. The process of finding good help and then finding the right medicine can be daunting and stressful and unpleasant, but I can all but guarantee you that it's worth it. And even if you don't have clinical depression, just having that ruled out will make a difference.

You sound like a wonderful person to me. You care about other people and you've slugged it through a very rough family situation, and those are not small things. Holding down a 2.whatever while dealing with everything you've got going on is also no small thing.

Also, your dad's just plain wrong about college.

As said, hang in there. You've made it this far.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:24 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow. Thank you for all the thoughtful, insightful advice. Thanks so much.

I agree on the not focusing on family issues and just focus on what I need to do to graduate and get a career, and focus on feeling better. I will try to get other issues off of my mind.

I don't really think I communicated how bad the depression is. I have felt on the verge of years for the past few days, my stress level is way too high and I think from the chronic anxiety and depression I can't focus well or think clearly. I feel like I can't communicate with people do to me not really registering what they're saying because I'm off in my own head thinking deeply about something. I don't know how I manage to function at work, I know I'm barely getting by.

My worst fear is becoming like my mom, I look at myself in the mirror sometimes and it scares me because I resemble her. I feel like y eyes look dead. I really don't recognize that person.

I know that I desperately need to get help for the depression, but it seems like my problems are causing the depression so I just need to fix the problems, but I don't have the energy. Maybe meds would help, it can't hurt too much to try I guess. I will try to work on getting into a routine, staying off the internet and relieving stress

Also, my boyfriend is 22 almost 23, he did a six year pharmacy program, he's just two years older than I am. He talks about marriage and how he wants to spend his life with me, but for some reason I don't feel excited. I just don't feel ready I guess because I feel like I have things to sort out. Idk, I'm a very confused person I guess.
posted by anon1129 at 1:29 PM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I know that I desperately need to get help for the depression, but it seems like my problems are causing the depression so I just need to fix the problems, but I don't have the energy. Maybe meds would help, it can't hurt too much to try I guess. I will try to work on getting into a routine, staying off the internet and relieving stress.

This also sounds all too familiar to me. Happens with my girlfriend a lot.

I agree with the other poster(s) in that exercise can help, so if you can do that, do it. But all these other problems -- especially your difficulty in paying attention and therefore dealing with people -- may be much, much easier to handle if you are on the correct medication. I'm not your doctor, so I obviously can't say for sure that's going on with you, but I've heard so much of this so many times.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 2:34 PM on April 11, 2014

Best answer: People do what they know how to do – what they’ve learned, what they’ve seen and known – given their limitations, and the internal and external resources they had at the time. This is as true for you as it is for your mom and your dad.

With your parents - even when there is external help, sometimes people are just not in a place where they can make use of it. But, you’ve shown that you have tremendous internal resources already – two jobs? 2. something GPA under difficult conditions? Even with social anxiety, you’ve been able to develop a loving relationship with someone who sees your value, even if you can’t see it right now? You have already shown yourself to be resilient and resourceful. Reaching out for help here is another example of that. I think everyone here agrees you’ve a lot of potential to make use of the potential you have and don’t even know about, given a chance. And you know it, too - you know that 2.something GPA is not the limit of your ability. I am sure you have many other strengths that will show themselves, given the opportunity.

What can make a difference in terms of doing things differently, is having new experiences, and encountering new ideas. Therapy is one way to crack open a window. Physically getting out of this loop is an important one too. Even if all you can manage for now is an hour or two at Starbucks, like Lyn Never suggested.

Right now, being at home, everything is a reminder of the pain you’ve felt, for a long long time. And you’re locked into those feelings and thoughts, and every interaction with your family makes them stronger. New interactions, with new people, in a new environment, will give you a chance to open up to a different way of being and feeling.

You’ll have the rest of your life to come to a full understanding of what’s happened to you and your family; it can take a long time to do that. And it’s extremely hard to do it when you’re still in the middle of the very dynamics you want to understand and get past.

I know that I desperately need to get help for the depression, but it seems like my problems are causing the depression so I just need to fix the problems, but I don't have the energy. Maybe meds would help, it can't hurt too much to try I guess. I will try to work on getting into a routine, staying off the internet and relieving stress

Chicken and egg at this point, right? You can move a little towards addressing the depression at the same time that you work to address the problems. Definitely get help for the depression. Right away, as a matter of urgency.

If there is a way to move out in the short to medium term, do it, with a roommate, I agree with others. I think you’re right, you do have things to work out, and although your boyfriend loves you, being with him all the time might make it harder for you to do that.

I think you absolutely should go to school – that is your ticket, 100%, your dad is wrong - but I’m wondering (because I don’t know how it works in the US) – what would be implications, in terms of loans and transfer agreements, of holding off, just for a little while? I’m wondering if it might be an idea to first set a goal of moving out and just make getting better a priority, and developing more skills in terms of self-care, maybe clarifying some of the questions you have about career, through volunteering, for example.

But if the only way to transfer/get loans is to do it this year, and if that’s the only way to get you out of the house from a financial point of view, absolutely go for it. I agree that business is a safe major if your interests aren’t clear yet.

I have no idea if this is something offered by your local state school, but some universities accommodate students with diagnosed illnesses (mental illnesses as well as physical ones), by for example reducing the minimum course load required for full time status. Is there someone at your college who can help you work out the details and make a plan? (First step, again, is getting a diagnosis and getting help.)

Best of luck to you. You’re so much stronger than you feel right now.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:55 AM on April 12, 2014

Best answer: Right now, you must focus on getting treatment for your depression. Find someone you will see regularly who can prescribe meds (or train you in CBT which is just as helpful), get you to spill your guts, provide an external point of view, and motivate you to do things. Also practice one or two habits that help treat depression. Exercise can help getting you tired (the good kind) and keeping regular hours (if the jobs aren't doing it for you), and volunteering can be surprisingly rewarding. Meditation is another activity people often recommend, and it can help with anxiety issues. Find a positive activity, talk about it with someone you see regularly (you could start with your therapist, or work colleagues, but I think your boyfriend of 5 years will be very supportive), and start doing it regularly. That should get your mental health in a better place and free up energy for other things.

Medium term, I think your focus should be on improving your environment and support network. Drop the shame and start discussing your health more openly. Dulled emotions (one facet of depression) can actually be freeing and you should start giving fewer shits about imagined judgement; discuss it as you would discuss a medical issue which you don't control directly, but which you are fighting and treating on multiple fronts. Moving on campus could be quite positive and relieve the stress of harmful family dynamics. Just talk with the school about their options for counselling and one or two activities so that you have built-in support ready when you arrive.
posted by Tobu at 7:50 PM on April 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks to each one of you for the kind words and excellent advice. I will take to heart what each one of you has suggested, starting with applying to the college I want to go to and considering majors. Thanks so much
posted by anon1129 at 11:24 PM on April 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

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