Needed: One Pair Of Big Girl Pants ASAP
July 21, 2014 6:29 AM   Subscribe

I am one of those adults who had to emotionally take care of myself throughout my life due to mediocre parenting. Mom and Dad weren't hugely abusive, but they didn't seem to give a fuck about my brother and I. I'm coming out of a month where I went off my meds and I think I had a hypomanic episode followed by a giant crash. While I am now back on my meds and working with my therapist and pdoc, I am craving someone in my life who would take care of me emotionally. Someone who would understand where I was coming from and why I feel the way I do. The thing is, I do live in reality and know that's not possible for the immediate foreseeable future, if ever. What can I do to self-soothe and give myself that pampered feeling? How do I find someone who gets me?

I am a married woman in my mid-thirties. Besides the fuckup of the last month, I should also add that in the past 18 months, I nearly had to have major surgery due to a cancer scare, lost two jobs and experienced marriage stress from the unemployment. Oh, and I also did six weeks of an outpatient partial hospitalization program last fall. I didn't even tell my family (besides my husband) or friends about that hospitalization.

My husband does the best he can in taking care of me, but I feel that he can only handle so much. He says he likes that I'm home, but he has major stress with his family of origin plus a demanding job. So I feel guilty asking for anything more.

My best friend lives 300 miles away and if I'm lucky, I get to see her twice a year. We call each other infrequently. She also experiences mental health issues and has a demanding job, so I feel guilty in asking her for anything more than what she can provide. My other friends are scattered around the country, with the closest one being 100 miles away. Until recently, I was friendly with some women in a creative scene in my city, but they all paired up and became friends on their own and didn't really invite me along, you know? (Note: I was not as open about my issues with them as I am with you people.)

I don't really have an official mental health diagnosis. A pdoc said I had bipolar II seven years ago, but the two psychiatrists I've seen since then have said my issues include a mood disorder, anxiety and attention issues. I did EMDR with my therapist a year ago and she said I may have some PTSD too.

So what do I do to make myself feel like I am understood, that I have worth, that I matter? My past methods of self-soothing (shopping and eating and resting) all became crutches. Your input is welcome!
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Some sort of spiritual pursuit (generally defined as an activity or practice that connects you to other people, nature, or the universe in a meaningful way, religious or not) is most likely to fill this sort of need. This is a situation where depending on a non-parent or on material things to give you worth is going to backfire.

Spirituality and Mental Health lists examples of spiritual practices:
Spiritual practices

These span a wide range, from the religious to secular – which may not be obviously spiritual. You may:

belong to a faith tradition and take part in services or other activities with other people
take part in rituals, symbolic practices and other forms of worship
go on pilgrimage and retreats
spend time enjoying nature
give of yourself in acts of compassion (including work, especially teamwork)
spend time in meditation, deep reflection or prayer
follow traditions of yoga,Tai Chi and similar disciplined practices
read scripture
listen to singing and/or playing sacred music, including songs, hymns, psalms and devotional chants
spend time in contemplative reading (of literature, poetry, philosophy etc.)
appreciate the arts
be creative - painting, sculpture, cookery, gardening etc.
make and keep good family relationships
make and keep friendships, especially those with trust and intimacy
join in team sports or other activities that involve cooperation and trust.
posted by jaguar at 6:40 AM on July 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

What I would suggest instead of looking for someone to pamper you is to find people who can understand your story. Is there a support group you can join where you can unload and express all this emptiness from being neglected in childhood? Sometimes meetup has groups like this, or ask your therapist for recommendations.

Remember that you DO have people who care: your therapist, your husband and your friend.

You could try calling your friend more. There is no shame in reaching out or calling for a 5 minute chat. You could try re-connecting (even in a superficial way) with the people in your life from that creative group. Sometimes just going to a girly movie with another woman can be a lift. I'm sure there are meetup groups for "ladies night" or book clubs you could join.

The idea here is not to unload it all on everyone, but sprinkle it a little here & there. The thing is you've been so deprived that you're starving for connection, so a 5 min call might not feel satisfying at first because you're hungry for a 2+ hour call. But if you have a few 5min chats here and there, it might take the edge off the pain you're feeling and help you feel not so alone.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:51 AM on July 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

It might be worth trying your hand at creative writing or keeping a diary (or both)? I find that keeping a daily diary gives me a sense of being listened-to, if only by myself, that keeps the feeling of being neglected and isolated at bay. I've recently started using this website as a journaling tool, because I like the fact that it sends me reminders and rewards me with little badges and things for keeping a streak going.

If you have a literary/wordy bent, you may also want to try writing poetry or short stories or a piece of longer prose that expresses something about how you feel in creative form. I often find that writing a melodramatic narrative that speaks to my id can cheer me up when nothing else does, except for bad self-soothing habits like eating too much etc.
posted by Aravis76 at 6:57 AM on July 21, 2014

I'm sorry to hear about your problems. Building yourself back up is a hard, lonely process that so often seems like one step forward, two steps backwards.

When I was in a similar situation to you (unemployed, post-breakdown, no close friends nearby) the things that made the biggest difference were outdoor physical exercise, voluntary work (not anything mental health related, just helping out in a charity shop) and practising mindfulness meditation.

Long-term, the latter made the biggest ongoing difference to my self-perception and subsequent development as a person-who-can-cope. I recommend (and have several times before on AskMe) Mindfulness in Plain English as an excellent, minimally spiritual or religious starting point.

The most dependable source of feeling like you're understood, like you have worth, like you matter, is through conscious effort in understanding yourself; actively acknowledging your strengths and the positive impact you have on others' lives as readily as you focus on things you regret or flaws you perceive in yourself. You can be your own best ally, as well as your own worst enemy.

Good luck and best wishes in your ongoing recovery.
posted by protorp at 7:08 AM on July 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

A couple of different ideas:

You said that you did an outpatient partial hospital program, but have you ever been involved in ongoing group therapy? This wouldn't have to be a big commitment, maybe just one group once a week. One specific modality to look into could be Dialectical Behavior Therapy. It was originally developed for BPD/severely suicidal patients, but it has since caught on for a lot of other uses. Honestly, though, as long as you find a good practitioner and a group of people you feel comfortable with, I think any group could help, especially as far as exposing you to people who understand where you're coming from.

Non-clinician led support groups are another option. You might look into the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) and/or the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Of course, if you have any substance abuse issues, there are lot of different options there.

Volunteering is another avenue that may help give your life meaning and improve self worth.

Lastly, there may well be plenty of reasons why this might not work for your family, but getting a pet, especially a dog could be something to consider. Obviously this is only something you should do if you really want a pet and are in a position to care for one, but I find there's nothing quite like the warmth and unconditional love that a dog can provide. It also can help get you out of the house to go for walks, and there can be something really beneficial about caring for a pet. If this isn't a possibility, you could also volunteer at animal shelter.

Good luck and hang in there!
posted by litera scripta manet at 7:26 AM on July 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

So what do I do to make myself feel like I am understood, that I have worth, that I matter?

Seconding, if you like them, 'a dog'. There are as many types of dog as there are of people, and there is really profound solace in having a dog and knowing that someone sees you completely and likes you anyway, that no matter how shitty you feel about yourself, someone is going to walk over to you and look at you and show you they think you're awesome.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 8:04 AM on July 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

I found NAMI helpful at a certain point in my life. I was lucky that I ended up in a really positive group my first time around. Large cities typically have a number of different groups with different focuses.

I also blog. I have three, a cooking one (maybe something like this to indulge your love of food), one that is specific to my MH issues and one that is completely private (password protected and unindexed). The public one is great for getting feedback from others in similar situations. The private one. Well, there's a lot of not nice stuff on there that just needed to come out.

Can you ask your therapist for recommendations for resources in your community?

Try MeetUp or your local library?

Do you exercise? I'm just throwing it out there. It doesn't help me a bit, but it does help many people.
posted by kathrynm at 8:27 AM on July 21, 2014

Sorry you're having such a hard time. Hugs to you. And a few practical thoughts:

* Lean a little more on your friends.
* Is there a mental health charity where you live? Contact them and ask if they have any kind of befriending/buddy/advocacy scheme that might pair you with a volunteer who could be your go-to person. Not for full on therapy, but just someone who can keep track of you and back you up. (Note: I don't know if this exists, I'm thinking of advocacy schemes I've heard of for adults with learning difficulties, and thinking it might exist elsewhere for adults with mental health problems). If they don't have that, maybe they have some kind of regular social events where you could become a regular, and meet people who you can talk to frankly about these things, and who will notice if you don't turn up one week.
* Look into Kristin Neff's work on self-compassion - basically the idea that you can learn to self-soothe by training yourself to be non-judgemental, gentle and kind towards yourself in the same way you would towards a friend. The benefit being that you're the one person who can always be there for yourself.
posted by penguin pie at 8:29 AM on July 21, 2014

a creative scene in my city, but they all paired up and became friends on their own and didn't really invite me along, you know? (Note: I was not as open about my issues with them as I am with you people.)

This seems full of possibilities to me:

- keep hanging out at that creative scene, and keep reaching out to the new people there until one clicks for you to friend-pair with

- find or found a creative group that takes a slightly different approach, to attract a slightly different / maybe overlapping crowd

- experiment with a little more openness about your issues through your creative art, because those pieces will resonate with people who can identify with your experiences
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 8:40 AM on July 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think maybe doing something challenging that you're interested but not overly challenging (beginning musical instrument? intro language course? something like that and maybe that will give you access to more potential friends as well) will give you a good outlet/distraction and help you feel accomplished which will help your feelings of self-worth to improve. Of course you have inherent value as an individual and I'm sure you have tons of great qualities but sometimes it's hard to see in ourselves. Tackling something tangible is often easier.

Volunteering might also be a good option if you have the time, and it's a potential way to meet people as well.
posted by hejrat at 9:11 AM on July 21, 2014

When I went through a particularly lonely period in my life, I found knitting and crafting groups that met at local stores to be really comforting. They were pre-organized, so I didn't have to do any planning besides showing up, and the knitting/craft activity provides an instant discussion starter if you're feeling more social, as well as an excuse to hang back and just kind of focus on your project if you're feeling more "I know I need to leave my house, but the idea of actually interacting with people is kind of daunting right now". Groups like this are very low-commitment while still being a good way to meet a wide variety of people.

I was 20-something at the time I was active in my local store's group, and I loved the variety of ages of the women who showed up - teens through 50/60 years old. Talking through things in my life with that group always gave me a new perspective on things I was going through. I never became particularly close with anyone in the group beyond casual friendship, but the discussions and camaraderie we had during our meetups were a definite source of comfort to me during those years where I felt really alone.

If you have any knitting or crafting stores nearby, I'd encourage you to check out their programs and classes - in addition to the social aspect, the feeling of "I MADE THIS!" is always something I enjoy feeling. I have anxiety and attention issues as well, and knitting is very, very soothing because it's something I can get into a rhythm with, which helps me practice focus and gets my mind away from anxious thoughts for a while.
posted by augustimagination at 10:36 AM on July 21, 2014

You have someone who loves you best of all - your husband. He gets you as well as anybody is likely to. Ask him to ramp up the hugs and I Love Yous, and remember to be sweet to him, which elicits more sweetness from him. who would take care of me emotionally. Someone who would understand where I was coming from and why I feel the way I do. suggests to me that you want more from someone outside yourself than is possible. One of the things I had to learn after being raised in crazyland was that my emotions are real, valid, and that I can just experience them. It may feel like anxiety, loneliness, fear, pain, hurt, etc., are going to kill me, but I've learned that those feelings can be experienced and lived through. There is no external person or anything that will fix things.

What can I do to self-soothe and give myself that pampered feeling? As much as you want pampering, the best thing is to be healthy, so establish a regular schedule - get up and go to bed at the same, eat healthy meals every day, and get exercise and sunshine. Pamper yourself with orange juice, fresh fruit, salads, whole grains, etc. Think about that walk you're going to take, remember how good the sun and breeze will feel, and maybe a square of dark chocolate when you get home. Schedule a massage. Take a long bath with a god book, a cup of tea, and a bowl of cherries. Go to the library and get a selection of music. Dance around the living room, discover Mozart, play your teenage favorites on facebook and enjoy the wonderful awfulness of them. Part of mental illness is losing the ability to enjoy things, but give yourself things to enjoy every day.

The 'person' in my life who gets me and loves me unconditionally is my dog, so if you can borrow a dog to walk and play with, that would be great.
posted by theora55 at 1:09 PM on July 21, 2014

When I feel bad or I'm going through a tough time, I find massage does wonders for my ability to self-soothe. I know you aren't working, but that may make you a perfect candidate for a massage school session, which can be ~$25, and often takes place on weekday afternoons. I'm not sure where you are, but I'm sure Google can help here.
posted by dame at 6:49 PM on July 21, 2014

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