Is this what "goal accomplished" should feel like?
December 11, 2014 4:54 PM   Subscribe

Hi Mefites, I just finished a huge project, and now I'm in this awful vacuum state… I've never had a baby but my friends joke it might be a postpartum thing… Please help me. It destroys me, it destroys my relationship with my SO.

Ok, I accomplished this huge thing (and I did it well), and now I'm free till January… and yet I can't for the life of me relax. I can't even enjoy the pleasure of having finished this huge thing. I don't even know how to celebrate this… I'm in this awful angst state… I wish I were absolutely somewhere else, in the mountains maybe, hiking all day long, away from any thoughts, with kittens, tons of kittens… But it is just not possible right now.

Things I think would help but that I can't do for now :
- going back to my family. I wish I could, because there's ton of cats and forests and wonderful people, but I can't till Christmas.

Things I do but don't see results for now :
- sleeping (I sleep 14 hours per night, after a whole month of 3 hours per night)
- running (I love running, but the pleasure lasts one hour max per day)
- reading (but I am too tired right now to read more than 20 pages in a row).

Things I do but that I'd rather don't
- browsing the internets
- cooking much more than I need

I'm from a creative field, and I can't even write, draw, make anything… right now not doing anything scares me to death. But I'm too tired to do anything besides simple tasks / simple workouts. I'm sad, depressed, nothing makes me laugh, except maybe some Malcom in the middle episodes…
And my boyfriend doesn't understand much of what's going on in my head… he's becoming to be understandably pissed…
I don't have courage to go out and meet friends… I'll try and invite some Saturday night though…

I don't know what's going on, how long it will last…
I made an appointment with a therapist, but it will be only next week…

If you have lived something similar, or have a clue what's going on, can you help me? By sharing your experiences, giving me some advice, or books to read… and by giving me examples of sentences I can use to explain my SO I'm not sulking or doing things in an intentional manner...

Thank you in advance!
(oh and pardon my English)
posted by OrangeCat to Human Relations (22 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: sleeping (I sleep 14 hours per night, after a whole month of 3 hours per night)

It sounds like you are simply exhausted. Some study showed that being chronically short of sleep physically ages you. Rest and sleep all you want and try to eat well. Occupy yourself passively when you are awake, like watching TV. It will get better when you are a bit more recovered from this.

((HUGS)) if you want them.
posted by Michele in California at 5:00 PM on December 11, 2014 [12 favorites]

Best answer: Something very, very similar happened to me. For me, one factor was that my habitual stress and worry had nothing to focus on, so I was on edge with nothing to use it for. Another factor was that I'd structured meaning in my life around accomplishing that goal, and now that it was done... what was the point of anything? I think what you're describing is totally normal and that you should, as much as possible, just enjoy resting and doing nothing. For me, it faded after a month or so, after I found a new effort to work on. I'd describe it as being "exhausted" and "burned out" and "needing to recharge," and then needing to find a new project that excites you.
posted by salvia at 5:02 PM on December 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I have this feeling pretty regularly, though admittedly not quite as intense as your describe. After a large creative endeavor that absorbs me for months at a time, I will finish feeling quite drained, and I'll feel unsteady, between poles. Sadness.

The thing that I want to tell you is that it's totally normal to feel that way after a large creative energy expenditure like that. Reasonable even. The trick is to recognize that it's happening and to be honest about it. With your SO, with yourself. If you try and fight it, or to think "I should just snap out of it", you're denying what's right in front of you. That's not really that good for you mentally, IMO.

Tell your SO what's going on. Explain that these transitions are always hard. They'll get less so the better you get at anticipating and accepting them.


I think that you should perhaps cut down on the sleeping just a bit. As luxurious as it is, I might suggest that lethargy makes one feel worse.
Hikes: Nothing breaks me out like breaking out into a sweat.

Finally, regarding your particular brand of sadness. I have always found Rilke's Letters to a Young poet to be especially illuminating. This isn't my favorite translation, but it gets the point across:

" It seems to me that almost all our sadnesses are moments of tension, which we feel as paralysis because we no longer hear our astonished emotions living. Because we are alone with the unfamiliar presence that has entered us; because everything we trust and are used to is for a moment taken away from us; because we stand in the midst of a transition where we cannot remain standing. That is why the sadness passes: the new presence inside us, the presence that has been added, has entered our heart, has gone into its innermost chamber and is no longer even there, is already in our bloodstream. And we don't know what it was. We could easily be made to believe that nothing happened, and yet we have changed, as a house that a guest has entered changes.

We can't say who has come, perhaps we will never know, but many signs indicate that the future enters us in this way in order to be transformed in us, long before it happens. And that is why it is so important to be solitary and attentive when one is sad: because the seemingly uneventful and motionless moment when our future steps into us is so much closer to life than that other loud and accidental point of time when it happens to us as if from outside. The quieter we are, the more patient and open we are in our sadnesses, the more deeply and serenely the new presence can enter us, and the more we can make it our own, the more it becomes our fate; and later on, when it "happens" (that is, steps forth out of us to other people), we will feel related and close to it in our innermost being.

And that is necessary. It is necessary - and toward this point our development will move, little by little - that nothing alien happen to us, but only what has long been our own. People have already had to rethink so many concepts of motion; and they will also gradually come to realize that what we call fate does not come into us from the outside, but emerges from us. It is only because so many people have not absorbed and transformed their fates while they were living in them that they have not realized what was emerging from them; it was so alien to them that, in their confusion and fear, they thought it must have entered them at the very moment they became aware of it, for they swore they had never before found anything like that inside them. just as people for a long time had a wrong idea about the sun's motion, they are even now wrong about the motion of what is to come. The future stands still, dear Mr. Kappus, but we move in infinite space."
posted by asavage at 5:07 PM on December 11, 2014 [24 favorites]

Best answer: This would happen at a smaller scale to me whenever academic quarters end (I'd also get suuuuuper anxious), I think it's a dramatic physiological reaction to exhaustion. The way that I always understood it was that my brain had all these stress chemicals sloshing around in it, and then suddenly the actual source of stress just... ended, and my body couldn't recalibrate so easily. We're all just chemical machines, and your calibration is super, super off. Long-term sleep deprivation has all kinds of dramatic psychological and physical effects, and they can take a long time to wear off. Be kind to yourself, be patient with your brain chemistry, and make sure you're eating and getting a little exercise if you can handle it. Read fanfic, watch dumb tv, and best of all, do something marginally creative that takes no real brainpower, like craft kits for kids or something, if you can bear to. Organize a crafternoon with some friends if you can't get yourself moving on your own. You don't have to make anything good, just remind yourself that you enjoy making things. This may take a while before you're ready, though, so priority #1 is to be kind to yourself and let yourself recover.

If your boyfriend isn't being kind to you then you should read him the riot act. Or better yet, let one of your friends or colleagues who understands this process do it for you.
posted by you're a kitty! at 5:09 PM on December 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

This is standard for me. It rarely lasts more than 5-7 days for me (sometimes longer if I was losing a lot of sleep near the end), though, which I'm guessing it's been a lot longer for you if it destroyed your relationship. If it's been more than a month, go get a physical to make sure you haven't been ignoring a serious health issue in the rush of finishing your project.

Make a schedule of normal daily activities - sleep no more than 8-9 hours, eat real food 3 times a day, hydrate, and practice some self-care because, yeah, it is a sort of postpartum experience. It will pass, but don't blow off any physical issues you might be having.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:12 PM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes, I remember going through this sort of exhausted haunting when I was in school and completed huge exams. So much work, stress, work, work, work, not eating properly, not sleeping, stress, stress, stress and then, suddenly, it's over. But, my body and mind were both completely exhausted and haunted by the sensation that I had to be doing something that I was already behind on. It was like being in a waking anxiety dream. Awful.

Nurture yourself. SLEEP. Eat well. Pamper your body. Don't push yourself to do things that you feel like you "should" be doing. Do relaxing things that help you to reduce the stress and toll that this project took on you. I'm betting that a lot of what is happening is that your fuse is burned down and you're trying to pretend that things are normal and that you can just keep go, go, going. Watch Malcolm in the Middle, watch silly movies. Rest. Go get a massage. Feed yourself well. Tell your boyfriend that you have burnout and that it's making you feel terrible. Ask him to pamper you a bit.

This goes away if you let yourself recover. You'll go back to creative work and being able to read more than 20 pages. You'll be able to enjoy the immense feeling of accomplishment that you completed your project. But, for now, rest and recharge and don't be frustrated with yourself or feel bad about doing it. Hugs to you. This is a hard place to be. Be nice to yourself.
posted by quince at 5:15 PM on December 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

You might enjoy reading The Artist's Way.
posted by oinopaponton at 5:24 PM on December 11, 2014

Take a small trip or go do something fun. Even if it's just skiing lessons or something that is a new challenge, but a fun challenge. Reward yourself.

Sleeping 14 hours a night is not normal. It sounds like you deprived yourself of sleep on a regular basis for a long time, but after a couple "catch up" nights, you should not be continually sleeping double what is normal. Get yourself into a normal routine. Have a bed time and set an alarm. There is such a thing as too much sleep and it can affect how alert you feel. If you're unable to just stick to 8 hours of sleep after trying, you may want to speak with a doctor.
posted by AppleTurnover at 5:25 PM on December 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yeah the curse of success. I think in David Mamets book about his first film he recalls a conversation with a really famous director where he ask about the period right after the end of principal photography and how he crashed. The 'other famous director' said he was sick in bed for a week after every shoot.

Frankly you sound like your doing pretty good. We on the green give you permission to laze and veg and also to pamper yourself. Treats. Goodies.

Note on running, the best effects are weeks and months later. Keep at it, don't over do it.
posted by sammyo at 5:29 PM on December 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh and seconding AppleTurnover's sleep observation. Couple-three days then straight eight.
posted by sammyo at 5:31 PM on December 11, 2014

A similar thing happened to me after I graduated from my grueling program in a creative field. It took me about 3-4 months to recuperate. I think this is very normal. Extreme overwork, focus and giving it everything you've got creatively, and's over.

Anecdotally, a couple of friends have told me that this happened to them after they got married, having spent months stressing out and planning the big event.
posted by Klaxon Aoooogah at 5:34 PM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Sleep is the human version of "did you try turning it off and back on again?" Sleep, watch trashy TV, get some glossy magazines, gently occupy your brain, REST. You are completely enervated. If you were my 3-year-old you would proceed to sobbing while incoherently insisting you don't need to go to bed because you aren't tired.

It takes TIME to switch gears and power down after a stress period like you've just been through, and having your emotions all over the place after you've been driving so hard towards something is normal. It takes me some pre-relaxing to get to being able to relax. Get a coloring book and color pictures. Anything to wind down!

With all that extra cooking, have you thought about taking cookies to your local firehouse or local ER?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:42 PM on December 11, 2014 [10 favorites]

Best answer: A few months before I finished my dissertation, my advisor warned me that I would feel a little depressed when done. I thought she was crazy. She was right.

I slept more and worried less, but I had to relearn what it was like to be a human again. Times of intense stress are so exhausting.

It sounds to me that you're undergoing the same thing. I think it took a little more than a month to recover for every year I was in grad school. That isn't a formula for you - it sounds like you had more stress in a condensed amount of time while mine was spread out. In my recovery time, I babied myself a lot - I read and watched TV and cooked good foods and slept. So, I think all you need is time. It's good you are exercising and sleeping and cooking - I think you're on the road to recovery.
posted by umwhat at 5:49 PM on December 11, 2014 [7 favorites]

Family of painters here. After a painting is finished, there is this. After you are done painting for and working towards an exhibition, there is this. It can last until you find the next big thing to work towards.
posted by coevals at 6:32 PM on December 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: This happened to me after I finished my dissertation. There were two things that helped me -- first, I learned a new hobby (knitting) that occupied me both physically and mentally. Second, I did a lot of walking. I think the two things are somewhat meditative and physical -- I needed that combination to help me physically reconnect with myself and try to feel human again. I'm not saying you should knit or walk -- maybe for you it will be painting and swimming. Or maybe reading classic literature, or taking a kick boxing class, or training your cat to fetch. My point is just to pick something, preferably something with a physical component.
posted by OrangeDisk at 6:52 PM on December 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Me too, dissertation.

Swim, soak in a hot tub, get massages. Watch silly movies. Take long walks. Make xmas presents by hand.
posted by mareli at 7:54 PM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Me too, at the end of every semester and after other big projects or learning experiences are over, DOUBLE especially if it's winter (I get some seasonal depression on top of the exhaustion/let-down feeling.)

Rest. Recharge. Think of yourself as Persephone in the underworld-- spring will come back for you in its own time. Watch a lot of mindless TV-- if you want to feel productive, write about the TV you're watching on Tumblr or Facebook or wherever. Chat with other fan in a low-stress online environment. Spend a lot of time outside in the sun, if you can, hiking's good too. Gentle volunteering might help-- is there a community garden where you can go weed a few rows by yourself? Since all my work is very intellectual, I like finding odd tasks to do by hand, even if it's just fixing a broken lamp or doing a little car maintenance. It's a different kind of intelligence, but it still feels productive.

When you start feeling a little better, but hopefully not too far in the future, plan a low-effort party (maybe a potluck with lots of champagne?) to celebrate that you're done! Let your friends come and toast your success. Give yourself an end time, a happy marker that this thing is over, that you're waving it goodbye. It's a wake for your project but it's also your triumph! It's okay to feel proud of yourself and elated and melancholy that it's over all at once-- tell your friends, they'll understand. Having an 'event' like this will help you signal your body and mind that you're really done, and you can make space for the next great adventure, whenever you're ready.

Tell your boyfriend what's going on, and that you might be a little reserved for a while, and that you need the time to recover after a grueling process. Your body doesn't know the difference between stresses-- for all it can tell, you've just been to war and returned home. Be kind to yourself, it's fine to take time off.

Congratulations on finishing your project! I hope you find some really quality time to relax and recouperate.
posted by WidgetAlley at 8:23 PM on December 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: It's called Post-Achievement Depression aka Post Goal Depression aka Post Olympic Depression Syndrome (the latter used to specifically to describe Olympic athletes who fall into depression after winning the medal) and it's pretty common.

You can look these terms up and find all sorts ideas, but the main gist is the reason for the depression comes from the person wrapping up their identity into the goal itself, so when they finally achieve the goal they fall into a depression because once the project is done they have in a subconscious sense lost their identity.

For the past few months you were so wrapped up in your project that you basically BECAME your project. Now your project is done so... WHO are you now??? You may feel lost.

The mistake was tying up your identity into the project. We all tend to identify ourselves with things that we shouldn't. That's the whole basis of meditation. The purpose is to strip yourself of the false identities we create for ourselves so that we are left only with our REAL selves which can never be stripped away the way goals and achievements can. But it can be hard because when we identify with our goals we can become obsessive towards it and in a way- it's that obsession which can give us that feeling of a 'high' while the project is going. It can act like a strange drug and when the high is over we fall into withdrawal. But these highs are based on something false and that's why the low comes afterwards.

Use this as an opportunity. You've just been harshly stripped of a false identity. Your subconscious is hankering for a new identity and it's probably looking for it's next fix. Instead, try sitting or standing and just feel the energy in your body for a few minutes. That energy you feel coursing through you- THAT is you. That is your identity. Not your name, or your job or your goals but THAT. You can feel it, but you can't really name it. Do this as often as possible. Because THAT life force right there is the only thing that you are guaranteed never to lose while you're in this world. Everything else can be destroyed and therefore cannot possibly be your real identity. There is another meditation technique that was recently taught to me and I haven't used it much yet, but supposedly it's a great technique for getting into your body and getting over depression: You stand up straight first thing in the morning (and other parts of the day if you need too) and Laugh. Just Laugh. At first the laughter will be totally forced because duh it's morning, you're tired and there's nothing funny- but eventually you relax into it. I swear this technique was recommended by a monk and he said it's a great meditation to do this every day so I'm willing to give it a shot if you are.

The next time you get a project remember to do these exercises every day so that you can enjoy the benefits of achieving your goal without the pitfalls.
posted by rancher at 8:47 PM on December 11, 2014 [12 favorites]

This happened to me too after final exams and such when I was in school. When I was done, I still always kept feeling like I should be doing something or worrying about something. What helped me and sort of became my routine was reading the whole Harry Potter series again. It wasn't something new so it was much less of a task for my brain and it kept me from thinking about I feel like there's something missing.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 2:44 AM on December 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Such a normal post-project thing! I find it helps a bit to look it in the face, and think "yes, this is the regular post-project come-down", and kind of wallow in it until it passes.

It's also your allotted time to focus on yourself (not your business or your job), on your own well-being, and your own personal priorities in life. If there was ever a time to reconnect with old friends, or rediscover the joy of long walks, or watch a whole series of The Wire: This is it! Drink beer in the bath! Go to a yoga class or something else that will help you connect back with yourself and your body. Get a massage. Offer to walk your friend's dog.

As you come through it, you'll get to the point where the creative stuff starts coming back and you'll be bounding around with new ideas for the next thing.
posted by emilyw at 2:44 AM on December 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Totally normal. I felt awful after I finished my dissertation. Don't freak out too much about your creative mojo being gone. It will come back, but you've burned yourself out for now. That's okay.

If you're like me, you put off a lot of stuff while you were focusing on your project: maybe writing letters to friends, maybe TV, maybe a stack of books you want to read that weren't related to the project. That's good stuff to do, whatever you can do that doesn't make you feel too tired. At the same time, you want to occupy your brain a little bit so you don't get negative/depressive self-talk.

If you're too exhausted to read normally, maybe audio books? Maybe simple crafts?

I also find ASMR videos comforting when I'm anxious and tired. They're videos where people talk softly or make different kinds of background noises. Some viewers have an actual physical response to this and some just find it calming. justawhisperingguy has some where he basically just talks to you in a reassuring way for a while, and for some reason that helps me disconnect the self-critical portion of my brain and chill out a bit.

(There are some in non-English languages as well but I haven't investigated enough to recommend anything in particular.)
posted by shattersock at 6:21 AM on December 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you everybody! Reading your answers made me realize I was feeling guilty on top of everything, which really doesn't help.
Your good wishes touched me, and I'll experiment all the good advice and exercises you've suggested.
Thank you again!
posted by OrangeCat at 12:20 PM on December 14, 2014 [5 favorites]

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