How to get rid of a feeling of imminent doom.
November 1, 2014 5:45 PM   Subscribe

I moved back to North America after four years in Europe to start a Masters program here. The lead up to leaving was awful and now I’m here, it’s actually worse than I thought it would be. When do I know when I’ve tried hard enough?

Since moving back, I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night with a terrible feeling of imminent doom in my gut and a general feeling of malaise being here.

I feel so out of place here, and nothing feels “right.” Although technically “home,” my program is a five hour flight from where my parents live. It’s been two months and things haven’t been getting significantly better, in fact, this underlying feeling of clamoring anxiety has actually been getting worse. I feel like I’m stuck.

I’m doing the things that I should be doing, I try to go out at least one night or two a week with classmates, I try to exercise regularly, but everything just feels so “wrong.”

I’ve started seeing a therapist who says that I need to give it my best shot here and I shouldn’t let me emotions guide my decisions. She says I’m mourning leaving Europe and also mourning the relationship I ended to come here.

But the thing is, this feeling I have now, this feeling of profound panic and unease, the only other times I’ve felt this way is when I’ve been in an unhealthy relationship that I should end but for whatever reason, don’t.

I’ve made a couple of significant moves in my life and I’ve always adapted so much quicker than how I’m adapting now. I’ve never felt this way about a new place before.
Shortly after I got off the plane here, my overwhelming thought was: “I just want to settle down with someone and get married.”

I’m afraid if I leave the program now I’ll regret it in the future (I was working in a pretty poorly paying job in Europe) but I can go back (I have dual citizenship)

I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to feel like I’m running away, yet at the same time, I don’t know how to stop feeling so miserable here. I'm not used to feeling so awful. When do I know when I've tried hard enough?

(On a side note, if anyone has any tips or tricks for falling (back) asleep, I’m sure my sleep deprivation is not helping matters)
posted by twill to Human Relations (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I would see a medical doctor and get evaluated for depression and/or anxiety. There may be a biological explanation for some of what you are feeling -- that sense of "doom" and insomnia are how my anxiety typically presents itself.
posted by pantarei70 at 6:00 PM on November 1, 2014 [7 favorites]

I moved from a place I loved in Japan to a place in the US that I had never even visited. It took me six months to stop actively hating it and around another six months for me to really come to terms with living there.

Shortly after I got off the plane here, my overwhelming thought was: “I just want to settle down with someone and get married.”

This makes me think it is about more than the place and moving back won't solve everything.

Insomnia makes everything worse - more exercise during the day and meditation at night can help, but it might be time to see a doctor.
posted by betweenthebars at 6:11 PM on November 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: A valuable lesson for me was that the grit and determination we use to get through tough professional and academic experiences is not applicable to relationships. The flip side is that the red flags and boundaries we have to enforce to get out of mediocre or bad relstionships is not applicable to academic and professional advancement.

Getting out of your low paying job in your previous home and forging a new path means uprooting yourself to a new place and going into a new environment that you might not he comfortable with. If you aren't able to do this, then nothing will change. The experience is temporary-- each semester is just 13 weeks long, and you only have 3-4 semesters.

Reflect upon why you decided to go to this program and what your goals are. If you want things to change in your life, you will need to push your personal limits.
posted by deanc at 6:39 PM on November 1, 2014 [10 favorites]

Is this Master's program only like a year long? You'll get through it. Then you can always go back to Europe with a Master's, if you really want to.
posted by stoneandstar at 6:40 PM on November 1, 2014

  waking up in the middle of the night with a terrible feeling of imminent doom in my gut

  nothing feels “right.”

  feeling of profound panic and unease

These all sound like the symptoms of an anxiety disorder. It is totally normal and expected to feel uneasy after such a big move, but this sounds like true anxiety, not just normal nervousness (especially the feeling of doom in your gut [and I know exactly the feeling you mean]). It's great that you are already seeing a therapist, but I second the recommendation of seeking a medical doctor or psychiatrist so you can be evaluated for anxiety.
posted by dangerbird at 7:00 PM on November 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

Modern life is unnatural and sometimes psychologically harmful. It sounds like nothing's wrong with you. You just need a home -- a tribe or close group -- of at least 2-3 other people. Move into a shared living situation with people you can call friends, and eat dinner with the same people most days, and you'll feel great.

I'm also in grad school for a 1-year Master's, and am kind of lonely. The above is what I miss. Fixing the loneliness (the cause) works better than medicating the anxiety (the symptom).
posted by sninctown at 7:24 PM on November 1, 2014 [10 favorites]

You are allowed to push back what your therapist said to you: they mean well, but you get to decide what works for you.

It may be helpful to seek out similar students to talk to. "Homesickness" usually lasts around 3-6 months, so you are still within that timeline. But you get to decide how much you are comfortable in this uncomfortable period.
posted by troytroy at 7:34 PM on November 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Dump the Masters program! Just quit. You know this is wrong for you. Look at what you say:

The lead up to leaving was awful and now I’m here, it’s actually worse than I thought it would be[...]I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night with a terrible feeling of imminent doom[...]I’ve always adapted so much quicker than how I’m adapting now. I’ve never felt this way about a new place before.

The fact that you've (a) always adapted so much quicker and (b) never felt this way before just proves you know what to do. You're in an unusual situation which you need to extricate yourself from.
posted by mono blanco at 7:49 PM on November 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Could you be experiencing reverse culture shock?
posted by embrangled at 7:52 PM on November 1, 2014

I'd get a workup and a physical done by a doc. There's physical disorders that can cause anxiety, and they're treatable. Thyroid disorders are an example of this.
posted by spinifex23 at 8:23 PM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don't think any of us can say what is going on with you -- whether it's mere "homesickness", mourning (though this being an aspect seems likely to me), or whether you have an anxiety disorder and with treatment all will be well ( not that these are exclusive). In other words, we don't know your situation.

Only you can know what your limit is, and what feels right to you. Only you can know if you've "tried hard enough". It's not about weakness and strength, it's about you and your situation, and human limits.

I was in a similar situation when I went to the town I was to go to grad school in for several days to look for an apartment. I got, like you, an over-whelmingly sick feeling that everything about that endeavor was "wrong". It was excruciating, and one of the strangest experiences of my life, and an excruciating decision to turn it down. But I was right, I never would have gotten through those two years, and I knew it then. There was much in my life that was wrong at that time, even before considering the move, and I knew, I really did, that that attempt would completely break me, that it was not right. I knew it when I was having those feelings, and I know it even more many years later.

On the other hand, had I stayed (even though I can't contemplate that as having even been possible, but then your situation is probably not as intense as mine since you're already making it to some degree) I bet I would have benefited from therapy and anxiety medication ( yes I had a deep pervasive pattern of anxiety aside from the possibility of that move), and close relationships. But that was precisely it, I had no remotely close relationships, no friendships at all, no family relationships that was anything bordering on healthy, and I knew leaving the one thing I did have, my city, would kill me. That city which I was not from, which I had no family in, no friends in, but which was my only "home", I would have severed all connection to if I had left. I didn't have the "strength" for that. Without friends and a "tribe" as sninctown calls it, I knew I was groundless and that if I moved it would be like falling through a gaping black hole. I felt it.

And I reiterate that I think(now) that it is very possible that medication would have covered up these feelings. But that's not what the problem was. These were intelligent feelings, ones that are always getting covered over anyway. That is the problem.

On the other hand, that's just my experience not yours. I just wanted to share some thoughts with you beyond the " get your anxiety treated and that's your answer", or "just leave".

Oh, and I should say, I'm not necessarily against medication, in case one thinks one has to be for or against.
posted by Blitz at 8:26 PM on November 1, 2014 [7 favorites]

Like others, I often have immediate, emotional, gut reactions to decisions I've made or am about to make, and I have usually regretted not listening to my gut feelings (although I'm not sure how much of this regret could be explained by hindsight bias). So I certainly think you should take your emotions seriously as you plan your next step.

However, the language you use in your question does give me pause. You say you are experiencing feelings of "imminent doom"; this is quite a specific (and unpleasant sounding!) descriptor, and it is also the exact language that is used to describe a symptom of a whole bunch of potentially serious illnesses.

So, as others have suggested above, I think your first step should be to visit your GP. Once you have ruled out purely physiological causes for your experiences you will be in a position to think more about whether your feelings give you reason to step away from or continue on in your current program. Your doctor can also give you advice about your sleep issues.
posted by girl flaneur at 8:56 PM on November 1, 2014

Response by poster: FWIW: I have seen a doctor and I've ticked off a lot of the boxes and been diagnosed with GAD, and prescribed a SSRI-- which I do not want to take. The thing is, the thing is, that I know this is situational. Yes, I am experiencing pretty severe anxiety right now, but I also strongly feel like my anxiety, as other posters have suggested, is rational anxiety and is coming from somewhere.
posted by twill at 9:24 PM on November 1, 2014

Another perspective: these profound moments of anxiety, distress, unease that you experience now as 'situational' (I agree with your feelings about this) might be related to the big step up you are making in life. Whenever I have a 'step up' situation I am also consumed with dread, second guessing etc. it's awful.

You are reaching the limits of your apparent capacities and the test ahead seems too big to you right now. The idea of stepping back by getting married/settled down is one at doesn't involve this profound shake up and step up. (It might be the very biggest step up for others, but for you it's a 'safe' choice.)

Recognise every day that you are doing something very difficult. Take moments in the day, before a 'step up' activity, to congratulate yourself on this step up. A private system of reward might help. For example, I find going to therapy sessions or medical appointments very hard so when I make it through one of these things, I give myself an hour to read a new magazine, or drink a coffee in a nice cafe or something small.
posted by honey-barbara at 9:53 PM on November 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Where in Europe? Where in the US? Could weather / climate also be a factor?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:57 PM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you want to figure out where the anxiety is coming from it might be worthwhile to see a counselor or psychologist -- someone who specializes in figuring out feelings, who doesn't prescribe medication. Psychiatrists tend to see problems requiring medication, psychologists tend to see problems requiring talk therapy, and counselors tend to see problems requiring counseling.
posted by sninctown at 10:25 PM on November 1, 2014

Who are you, demographically? I ask because if you're a woman approaching 30 with a desire to get married, have kids, and establish a career all at once, that panic is understandable.

Anecdotally (this too is probably uselessly to you, hindsight bias operative here also), I've had a feeling of wrongness like you describe, and definitely regret ignoring it, to this day. In my case, I did the opposite of what you propose - I stayed far away with the wrong person, vs. returning home to establish myself in a career. I did eventually come home, but feel I should have done it much, much sooner. I also have a GAD diagnosis. To me anyway, GAD nerves and that panic around a very real fork in the road felt different.

Was the relationship you ended a good one? Are you having thoughts of marrying that person, or just of getting married?
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:48 PM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I feel like there is a false dichotomy here. Aren't there grad schools where you were? Is there no way to have the best of both worlds, a "step up" without losing your "tribe?"
posted by salvia at 11:52 PM on November 1, 2014

My husband has GAD too... His anxiety sort of peaked recently though it was well founded and situational. He's taking Lexapro (and melatonin) "for now" and will likely wean off it when we're over this hump. Listening to your gut is not automatically at odds with sleeping better and eliminating the "impending sense of doom". Take the meds AND make some changes. The meds will help you stay OR go - neither is easy.
posted by jrobin276 at 1:43 AM on November 2, 2014

I think it's fine to make decisions based on feelings, but I don't like letting panic or anxiety overrule all the other feelings I've got.* Medication might cover things up, but it might also give the non-anxiety part of you the chance to actually be heard. Regardless, there are ways to approach anxiety that don't involve drugs. Especially in a case like this, where you have a specific decision to make that can involve different pros and cons, it sounds like maybe something like CBT might be useful. (It's a kind of therapy that tries to help you separate your feelings out and address the actual things you are anxious about one by one.) You could try looking for a CBT therapist, or there are a lot of recommendations for The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook (I think? I'm not linking to it because I'm not sure it's the right one and I have no personal experience with it in any case. Looking up anxiety workbook on amazon brings up a bunch of candidates.) Regardless of what you decide to do, it could give you useful skills to use in general in this kind of situation.

I think for right now two things might be useful. The first is the idea that whatever you decide to do, things will be okay. If you leave your program and go back to Europe, it might take you time to get back on a better financial track, but it'll be okay. If you decide to stay for the length of your program, you will either make your peace with the place or make peace with hating it, and you'll be okay. The other thing might be, even if you decide to leave, to find one place in your new area that you like and feel good just being at. Some place you can feel some sort of connection to or affection for.

Cutting back on caffeine might help a little if that's relevant, and benadryl might help with sleep. Music or podcasts (I'd go for comedy, personally) might be distracting enough to help you sleep after the doom feelings. Meditation and other exercises would in theory also help, but I think it's common to need to practice a lot before it can start to help in times of full-blown panic.

* I should say that sometimes, despite everything I try, I can't get rid of the panic. If the thing I'm panicked about is not truly, unavoidably important, I do sometimes choose to just give myself a break.
posted by egg drop at 7:24 AM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Good for you for seeing a counselor. Definitely see a psychiatrist. Are you making new friends? Spending time with people in your program? Are there other international students in a club you can go to?

You're not the first one to go through this. I was eager to leave home for boarding school and for college, and study abroad in London---but there were tears, always tears. (ridiculous story: I cried in a Tesco once because I couldn't figure out the laundry detergent I should get---some poor kindly lady had to help me and I was like,"I don't know why this is so stressful for me! I dont know why I'm crying!")

But I got home, did laundry, etc. You'll be okay. Just focus on feeling well and spending time with other people and self care.
posted by discopolo at 11:07 AM on November 2, 2014

Zzzquil is available over the counter by the way. But see a psychiatrist and mention sleep problems.
posted by discopolo at 11:09 AM on November 2, 2014

Wow, you have a lot going on. Moving to a new place, starting a graduate program... that's a high stress situation. I can totally understand why you're having trouble.

Here's what I do when I can't sleep due to anxiety. I gave this advice to my wife, and it worked for her, too.

Lie in bed with your eyes closed in whatever position is most comfortable. Start counting backwards from 100 to 0, one number every time you inhale or exhale. Don't try to breathe deep or change your breathing on purpose. Just in... 99... out... 98... Alternatively, match your breathing to your heartbeat (I usually do three heartbeats every time I breathe in/out).

I find that I can never make it to zero. Around 60 or 70, my mind starts to wander, and it becomes harder to keep track of where I am in the countdown. Pick up with the last number you can remember when you find your mind wandering. I almost never make it to zero.

I spent years living with generalized anxiety and depression. I finally got sick of it and talked to my doctor. He put me on a SSRI, and it was seriously like magic. I wish I had done it years ago.
posted by joebakes at 3:48 PM on November 2, 2014

Response by poster: If anyone comes back to this question, I thought it might be worth while to post a follow up.

Almost six months from the date of the original posting and I'm routinely sleeping through the night and no longer feeling the same sense of imminent doom.

I'm still not 100% sure about my graduate program but I'm ok with that at the moment.

Things that helped:
* Seeing a therapist
* Meeting a couple of friends and sharing a weekly dinner with them.
* Really clicking with one of my housemates
* Doing yoga
* Starting a part-time job
* Dallying in online dating
* Getting into a regular 9 to 5 routine
* Exercise
* Meditation

What I wish I had known: the pain of leaving a 'home' is real and at times pretty acute. Sitting with the pain may have been the last thing I wanted to do, but pushing it away and playing all sorts of mental 'what if' games was infinitely worse.
posted by twill at 10:30 PM on April 19, 2015

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