I've Run Out Of Damn Shoes TO Drop
June 18, 2014 9:50 AM   Subscribe

After a solid 6-year stretch of one-thing-after-another bad luck, things are finally turning around - but I am still automatically reacting as if another disaster is impending, when there's no sign one is. Help snap me out of it?

I've mentioned it before in a few threads, but I got hit with a doozy of a list of bad luck for the past few years - three job changes, eight roommate changes, a breakup, death of a pet, a breakin and the theft of a computer, the crash-and-burn of the computer after that, the crash-and-burn of the computer after that, chronic insomnia, breaking a foot, Hurricane Sandy, just one g-darn thing after another. Fortunately it didn't send me off gibbering into a corner - I was able to grit my teeth and buckle down and tough my way through it all, which is kind of awesome and I've been patting myself on the back.

But then recently, I realized that I've started gritting my teeth and preparing to tough through things that haven't even happened yet, and potentially may not happen at all. Like - my lease will be up for renewal in a few months, and I'm a good tenant and have always paid rent on time and the super told me the landlord loves me, and the most he's raised the monthly rent in the last 8 years of tenancy has been $90 (in the middle of the recession, natch). But I recently caught myself looking at Craigslist ads anyway, and trying to steel myself for having to move "if I get priced out or the lease doesn't get renewed." I even went as far as to use Googlemaps to work out how long the commute to work would be with a given apartment before I realized it was profoundly strange to be getting that anxious about something which had only a slim chance of even happening.

Have I gotten too used to "something bad's about to happen" as my new normal, and how would you suggest snapping myself out of permanent impending-crisis mode?
posted by EmpressCallipygos to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, I think you have been traumatized by your run of bad luck. And I think just about anyone would, because you DID have one bad thing after another happen. You should pat yourself on the back for soldiering through.

Can you see a therapist for a short period of time? You seem like the perfect candidate for CBT. If not, a do-it-yourself CBT program like MoodGym might help you. I think yoga would help you, too.

More than anything, "tincture of time" should help as well. Rest, relaxation, exercise, and a pattern of good things happening to you (like getting your lease renewed) should get you on a more optimistic track.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:57 AM on June 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

What you're talking about sounds similar to some of my PTSD reactions. Sometimes when you go through a lot of trauma - and honestly, trauma can absolutely result from destabilization - your brain just works out that this is how life is now, and it needs to be ready to adapt on the fly.

I don't know if your brain can be snapped out of impending crisis mode, but one thing I've found to help is to implement deliberate slowing motions if you can. Try to focus more on the now. "What do I have to do today? I have to do everything for today before I am allowed to worry about tomorrow" type stuff.

Good luck, this is shitty and hard.
posted by corb at 10:01 AM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

There's a difference between being paranoid and being prepared. Is it realistic that you rent will go up? Are apartments in your area getting becoming scarcer, or the market getting flooded with tenants? Then it makes sense to calmly prepare for the possibility that your landlord will jack up your rent.

Preparedness turns into paranoia when it becomes detrimental to your success, broadly defined. Yes, you should be prepared for a stroke of bad luck by doing things like saving money, watching your health, getting renters insurance, planning for minor foibles like having to move, etc. But you also need to be in a good state of mind to deal with the unexpected. Being anxious about random disasters will leave you in a terrible mental state when something really unexpected happens.

The best state of mind is to be calm and prepared. Be practical. Keep at least six months of living expenses on hand at all times. Stay in shape. Get all your ducks in a row and then allow yourself to be cautiously optimistic that things will work out. That's all anyone can really do. We are all subject to the whims of the god of chaos, some of us just are better prepared to weather the storm.
posted by deathpanels at 10:06 AM on June 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

I realized that I've started gritting my teeth and preparing to tough through things that haven't even happened yet, and potentially may not happen at all.

After this lead in I was expecting to read about how you're preparing for the collapse of civilization. Not that you're doing the totally reasonable thing of worrying about an apartment lease a couple months ahead of its expiration in a notoriously difficult leasing market.

Maybe this is obvious but it seems like your actions are not the problem but rather how you are thinking about those actions.
posted by mullacc at 10:09 AM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

One thought, which may or may not help, but I'm serious about it - we moved a month ago, and maybe 6 months before that, I was staring at my bookshelves thinking "What should I pack today?" and then stopping, and talking to myself with "Wait. Normal people don't pack their 650 SF apartment 6 months in advance when we don't even know where we're moving." That stuck. "Normal people don't do X." My therapist approved.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 10:33 AM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sounds like mild PTSD to me too. You just can't unclench. I get it.

I find having a financial cushion really helps. There are very few issues that money can't solve, so when I'm feeling nervous, I curtail spending and put more in savings. I also mentally plan for the contingency. I WOULD glance at Craigslist ads, and I would price movers, just in case. I'd also talk to the landlord to let him know that you want to re-up and that earlier is just as good as three months from now.

I also find having projects really helps me re-focus on thing other than the anticipation of the next disaster. Take a certification class, or do something with fitness, or clean the shit out of your apartment (that one works for me.) Take control of what you CAN control.

Prayer or meditation helps. I frequently say this prayer, "Thank you Gods and Goddesses, I really appreciate this stress-free day." I may pour out a beer for Sekhmet, just to be on the safe side.

Donating time or items or money to causes that help people can be soothing as well. It tells the Universe, "Hey! I appreciated the help when I needed it, and now that I have an abundance (however small) I am confident that I can afford to contribute."

Hang in there!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:35 AM on June 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

Have I gotten too used to "something bad's about to happen" as my new normal, and how would you suggest snapping myself out of permanent impending-crisis mode?

Quite possibly. It took me about 3 years after my last hell-run (divorce, serious family illness, death of a parent, 3 moves, 3 lost pets, 2 job losses, 2 breakups) to get my mind out of immediate-crisis mode. Nothing special helped get me out of it; just time, and a few instances of "see? nothing bad happened" to bolster my understanding that I was not cursed or doomed to endless failure.

It's quite normal to scan the rental market when one's lease is coming up; however, I'd suggest just scanning it and not rushing out to find a place. Let yourself get through the lease renewal; it will probably be just fine and you can stay put and settled, and that will be the First Big Thing that went okay. And it will help, so much!

Hang in there!
posted by like_a_friend at 10:36 AM on June 18, 2014

Our brains really do get stuck in "fight/flight/freeze" mode during periods of trauma, and a long string of minor-ish traumas can actually keep us stuck there more than one big discrete trauma. I have been taught that it takes a good six months free of trauma or major changes for our neurotransmitters to recalibrate and get to a point where we can even really do any sort of cognitive-behavioral work.

I know that looking at resources for coping with PTSD is going to sound like major overkill, but a lot of the coping techniques are helpful for almost any kind of anxiety. Mindfulness and self-care are especially important. Peter Levine also has some articles about treating and processing trauma, which might be helpful.
posted by jaguar at 10:39 AM on June 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Maybe reframing can help?

Shit happens. And I roll with the punches. Life throws me lemons and I rock said lemons.

You've handled a lot of stuff very well, you're still standing, and you've got community support including here on the green. You can handle what life throws at you!

So now you can kinda relax, and if things worry you then think "hey bring it on!"

Ask your friends to write you a list of awesome things about you and put it in your kitchen.

Nurture your relationships with people.

Do things that leave you with a sense of mastery and control. Learn a new sport?
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:42 AM on June 18, 2014

One thing that helped me after a string of family tragedies is to celebrate the crap out of things that go right, for you and for the people around you. Your niece has a baby? Celebrate! Your friend got a promotion? Celebrate! You have a clean bill of health? Celebrate! The celebration doesn't have to be a Big Party (although it can be, if you enjoy Big Parties) - it could be taking someone out for dinner, writing them a heartfelt note of congratulations, or going out for a drink. I found that the process of organizing people to come together for something happy, and/or emailing/calling people with good news (even if it's not "my" good news, but someone else's good news who is close to me) was very healing.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 10:58 AM on June 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

I've been sitting here trying to figure out how to say what I want to say without sounding like one of those "think about how bad other people have it" folks, but I think I'm going to fail. Just trust me that I say the following as someone who has a tendency to do this herself.

It sounds like you've crafted this mental image of yourself as someone to whom bad things happen but you are a fighter and awesome and will beat them all. And then you're selectively remembering and catastrophizing and compiling a big list of bad things in order to prove this to yourself.

Did the loss of the second and third computer cause significant financial hardship or the loss of your work? What about some of the roommate turnover? Was it significantly damaging to you in some personal or financial way? I guess I'm just wondering why you're even bothering to remember some of this stuff, particularly over the course of six years. You're poised to fight so you're looking for battles. Maybe it would help if you take a deep breath, relax, and think of these things not as bad luck, but just life. Life is always throwing some kind of crap at you. If you focus on each new thing as a new battle to overcome, it gets awfully tiring. If it becomes background noise, it doesn't take your energy.

Why don't you try crafting a new mental image of yourself, a more relaxed and positive one, and making a list of things that have happened in the past six years to fit that?
posted by unannihilated at 11:23 AM on June 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

Two handy tricks I use myself to shift focus.

(1) stop and think about anything you are grateful for, like...your health, your nice neighbor. Don't stop until you run out of things.

(2) lie down and imagine yourself nestled comfortably in the hands of whatever your idea of a higher power is (stolen from an AA friend).
posted by PJSibling at 11:34 AM on June 18, 2014

I agree that you are a good candidate for CBT, or another similar modality which is mindfulness based CBT. Jon Kabat-Zinn is the pioneer in MBCT, and he has some cheap audio books for download. I found the Mindfulness for Pain Relief audio book helpful.

Also this weekend I happened to borrow the Smile at Fear DVD from Pema Chodron. We are all afraid of things from time to time and this DVD had some helpful discussion on this topic. Granted I watched this DVD after having a course of MBCT training and reading some of Chodron's other works, so you may not get the same results cold. Being present with your fear is a pretty powerful thing.
posted by crazycanuck at 12:54 PM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Building reserves is what helps me.

Savings are good of course, but also "social capital" in the form of a support network, skills like changing a wheel, supplies like a torch and spare batteries and a first aid kit and a shovel and plenty of spare toilet paper. Good backups, of course!

Partly this just makes me feel better. Partly it turns minor disasters into momentary setbacks, and momentary setbacks into nothing at all, and thereby removes some of the constant reinforcement that Shit Happens. I feel like this gives me more mental energy to cope with the times that shit really does happen and the first aid kit can't fix it.
posted by emilyw at 12:59 PM on June 18, 2014

There was a period of several years when it was indeed just one damn thing after another. EVERY time the phone rang I would think "What fresh hell is this?" (a Dorothy Parker line, actually) and more likely than not it would be something, topped by dearly loved younger brother in a car crash that left him a quad and son attempting suicide.

But then the bad stuff stopped piling up, and life has been smoother. At first the phone ringing brought the expectation of fresh hell, but it didn't happen, and I -- slowly -- relaxed and now I no longer expect trouble. I didn't do anything specific, except try to appreciate the sweetness of the present.

You will get better. It's surprising how many people have had patches of really bad weather, but the clouds do clear.

Good luck!
posted by kestralwing at 1:09 PM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, all, for the advice so far; even the "you don't have it that bad" comments are fair and perspective-helping. (Although that was the hell of it, was that each of the individual things that happened were kind of blows that I could get on top of and move on, but what was annoying was that just as soon as I got over one hurdle something came and knocked me right back down again right away, and I was feeling like a Weeble - and then feeling guilty for complaining in the first place because "it's just the computer". But when it's the computer coming after the cat coming after the roommate coming after the breakin coming after the broken foot coming after...etc., you start feeling pecked to death by ducks a bit. And yeah, the loss of the computer DID cause some financial setbacks because I'm a writer.)

And to address something else:

Yes, you should be prepared for a stroke of bad luck by doing things like saving money, watching your health, getting renters insurance, planning for minor foibles like having to move, etc. But you also need to be in a good state of mind to deal with the unexpected. Being anxious about random disasters will leave you in a terrible mental state when something really unexpected happens.

It is the anxiety I'm talking about. It's one thing to browse apartment listings "just in case", it's quite another to be browsing apartment listings and grieving for the loss of the apartment when you don't even know you're going to lose it. My mindset wasn't "just in case", it was "I'm definitely going to have to". And that seems messed up.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:49 PM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

For me, the hell has gone on for over 13 years and has been gradually getting better but I had a good cry recently on the walk home. So I feel pretty worn thin at times. Here are things that help me keep it together and not get into this mode of just expecting tomorrow to be yet more gloom and doom:

1) "Count your blessings" -- List what has gone or is going right.
2) Listen to soothing music.
3) Eat a good meal. Not just something nutritious but something enjoyable and delicious.
4) Generally try to seek out pleasurable experiences, whether good music, good food, sexual gratification, fun social events -- whatever gives you joy or pleasure.
5) Look for the silver lining -- One example: did the computer crash "force" you to basically upgrade to something newer and shinier that you wouldn't have spent the money on had it not happened? If so, take a minute to appreciate that and not see it as all down side. (Don't just make stuff up. Find actual, real benefits or this does not help.)
6) Look for evidence or clues concerning the negatives that the "road not taken" may have had. This might include something like gossip from former co-workers cluing you that things really went to hell after you departed and, oh, god, changing jobs was probably the lesser evil.
7) Problem solve, especially if there is any pattern or reason to believe some of these problems grew out of something in particular. For example, if the broken foot was due, in part, to the chronic insomnia (tripping because you were tired or that sort of thing), work on that insomnia and try to get it under control so you are less likely to have further incidents of that sort.
posted by Michele in California at 2:52 PM on June 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Are you hermitting? Or participating but keeping a lot of yourself on reserve, kinda watching yourself try to be normal?

Getting beaten down by a series of slings and arrows tends to make maintaining one's social life a bit difficult: the time-suck of handling crises, worrying about the expense of typical social activities, feeling like a big drag with nothing but more bad news to talk about, NOT wanting to talk out the feelings, totally well-meaning inquiries that are irrationally irritating (oh my god if someone asks me about "my health" in that "just checking" tone one more time I'm going to lose it), etc.

It's easy for friendships to suffer if you get out of the habit of regular contact, but then the brain starts to echo and rattle in some not-helping feedback-loops of anxiety.

Okay I am totally projecting myself all over your question, obviously. But if I could go back three years to a really, really rough several months of ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME WHAT NOW (having cancer, partner's sudden unemployment, shady accounting errors on our mortgage, getting heartbreakingly friend-dumped by one of my closest friends, parents' serious health setbacks) I would handle things differently.

I did just fine with the "could have been worse" calm resolve, but I should have told my friends and even coworkers a lot more about what I was feeling and kept them in closer arm's reach. I thought I was trying not to burden people with sad stuff, but it turns out that the price was denying myself perspective and connection to the rest of myself.
posted by desuetude at 10:47 PM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

There's nothing wrong with being prepared. I'm sorry you're not enjoying things in the moment, but in my experience that will change as time passes and you have more experiences of things going well. If you were pre-emptively moving out of your apartment because this one was surely too good to last, I think that would be something to worry about, but what you're doing now seems more likely to result in things continuing to go well, frankly.

Try reading The Luck Factor by Richard Wiseman. Lucky people tend to believe things will continue to go well for them in the future. Are you all like "onoz I'm sealing my own unhappy fate!" Chill. The way they do it is to keep their eyes peeled for opportunity, among other things.
posted by tel3path at 6:20 AM on June 20, 2014

Response by poster: Checking back in: I have started experimenting with an herbal supplement that is meant to cut back on cortisol production, and that's helping some.

Also addressing the people who said that "there's nothing wrong with being prepared" - I agree. But what I was experiencing wasn't just "I'm going to be prepared", I was shooting past that into "I'm emotionally assuming this is happening and am starting to get bummed out about having to move". That was the bit that scared me.

But I think the cortisol-theory is working - at least it cleared my head enough to do some back-of-the-envelope calculations on what my rent raise would most likely be, which isn't bad at all, and then that helped. But my point is that this is a move I would have ordinarily thought to do all on my own way sooner, before I was feeling "it's not fair I'm gonna have to move". So I'm thinking that that may have something to do with it, that there was just so much stress hormone floating around that leaping to worst-case-scenario was just what I was wired to do, and clearing some of that up is helping me remember that "no, this could also all work out just fine. Chill." Which helps me prepare much more effectively.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:49 AM on July 16, 2014

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