How do I get myself out of this rut?
February 13, 2015 4:45 PM   Subscribe

I’m in a rut. I focus so hard on what I dislike about myself and my situation that I can’t motivate myself to get out of it. How do I stop dwelling on these things? How do I start? Lots of self-centered complaints inside.

I think I'm a piece of shit and I want to stop dwelling on it. I’m a man in my mid-20s. I live with my parents. Every month I pay them a rent at about half the market rate. I've never rented an apartment, with or without roommates.

I’ve drifted away from the few childhood friends I ever had. I have one friend from college, but he isn't connected to a larger social group. I've made some friends from the internet, but they're not close, and I haven't tried to make my way into their friend groups. In any case, I don't know how I would do that. I feel ungrateful writing about them this way. In the past, I didn't really try to make friends. After a while, there didn't seem to be a point.

I haven't been in any relationships. I haven't had sex. I focus too much on these. I haven't tried to date. I’ve never asked anyone out. There doesn't seem to be a point. I have a pornography habit which I hate, but which I've never managed to quit.

I'm unattractive: fat, weak, with a sunken chest and with inflamed acne all over my face and upper body because an allergy keeps me from taking the medication. My penis is on the small side of average. The fat doesn't help. My appearance aside, my obvious mental issues suggest to me that even if I got into a relationship, I would probably be an emotional leech, completely terrible for the other person. This is partly the mental issues talking, but it can't be totally inaccurate. Around my friends I worry I'm dragging the mood down or trying too hard to have everyone's attention at all times.

I don't have hobbies or regular activities. I've lost interest in the world around me. When I get home, I read forums and social networks until I get tired. Often I play computer games to pass time. They used to be satisfying, but not anymore. I play because I feel bored and agitated and I feel bored and agitated when I play. I don’t feel any inclination toward any other activity in particular.

Likewise, I’m still in the same low-level pink-collar job I got a few months after graduating from college. I’ve had it for a few years now. I don’t like it, but I haven’t made any effort to find a better one. I can’t advance. If I wanted to stay with the company, I’d have to relocate. I don’t want to relocate. I don’t know what kind of job I want. I never had any particular ambition.

My college major won’t do. I graduated thanks to my professors’ leniency. They saw potential, so they gave me some slack. I’m bad at the tasks I went to college to learn how to do. A freelance job I took after graduating fell through because I was incompetent. I took the job I have now as a temp because I needed to pay my student loans. I got hired full-time about a year later. The student loans are still there. If they weren’t, I could move out. Financially, I'm doing all right thanks to my family's help. I have a fair amount of money saved up for emergencies, health costs, and so on.

I've been in therapy for depression and anxiety, but I haven't tried medication. I’m not opposed to medicating the issue. I've been considering it for some time now. I don't know whether the problem is severe enough to warrant medication. I would need to talk it over with my therapist.

I’m in a rut. I don’t know how to get out. I don't feel optimistic about the likelihood of getting out. It feels as though I’ve let so many problems grow up around me for so long that I can’t untangle myself from them anymore. I think I need to be able to take my eyes off the totality of them to get started on any one of them, but I don’t know how to do that. What should I do? How do I know where to start?
posted by The Man Who Wore the Sock to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
It does not matter where you start.

Just do something. Tomorrow, sometime, anytime, go for a walk. Walk 5 min. Or 10, or 15, or whatever you feel in the moment. There, you did more tomorrow than you did today. Repeat.

Test your theory… do you really mean it? Imagine the worst possible scenario or the most audacious. Like, "tomorrow, I will quit my job and move to Mozambique." How does that make you feel? Excited? Terrified? Examine that feeling. Repeat test.

One day at a time. Imagine something different. Try something different.
posted by slipthought at 4:57 PM on February 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Do you have a car? Sounds like you may need one, if you don't. Or an occasional vacation, even a small one. You need some real novelty to shake up and wake up your brain.

A student loan deferment may be worth doing, as long as your loans aren't private and won't accrue interest. Think of something worthwhile to do with the money you save, such as finding a form of exercise you enjoy (which should greatly help with the agitation.)

Or just start walking. The easiest form of exercise for most. Stretching and walking settle your nerves.

Low motivation, losing interest, and feeling like there's little to look forward to, over a long period of time, warrants intervention.

See a doctor and check for any deficiencies that cause lethargy. Eat well.
posted by serena15221 at 5:04 PM on February 13, 2015

There are all kinds of approaches, therapies, ideas, suggestions that could be applied to this but let me give you a very simple, very effective, one to start with.

Stop talking yourself out of doing things.

Listen to your internal dialog and change it from listing all the reason to not do the things into reasons to do the things.

Seriously, that's it.
posted by trinity8-director at 5:08 PM on February 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

As much as I dislike the idea of life coaches, you might do some research and find a good life coach in your area who can guide you to set and reach goals.

Where do you see yourself a year from now? Where would you like to be by age 30?

You're a young male so you should be able to makes gains in strength relatively quickly. Can you join a gym and go after work to exercise instead of going home to video games and forums?

If you're afraid of being needy in relationships it may be best to concentrate on yourself. Take some time (maybe 6 months or so) to set a short term goal and reach it. When you reach goals it improves your confidence.

Self-discipline is vital. It's easy to go home and play video games. It's easy to stay in the dead-end job and feel sorry for yourself. It's hard to get out of your comfort zone but it's necessary. When you do, you will feel better mentally and have more to offer others.

Life is difficult. We all have struggles and we all have things happen to us. You can realize that you don't have to be a victim of circumstance. Get yourself unstuck (nobody can do it for you). It sounds like you are ready and starting to itch to do something differently. Your boredom and restlessness is a good sign. Good luck.
posted by Fairchild at 5:38 PM on February 13, 2015

Best answer: You sound depressed and should discuss medication with your therapist.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:39 PM on February 13, 2015 [6 favorites]

I've never rented an apartment, with or without roommates.
I haven't tried to make my way into their friend groups
I haven't been in any relationships. I haven't had sex.
I haven't tried to date. I’ve never asked anyone out.
I haven’t made any effort to find a better one.

You easily pick out what you haven't done, here's my advice: do these things. I understand that your circumstances and depression mean you don't see a point in doing those things. But trust me, after you start working towards the things you want, and seeing results, you will stop feeling like there is no point.

I was like you through most of high school, depression and all, but I've never had any help from my parents, and living in poverty (and at points being homeless) forced me to work for what I want. Right now you have a lot of excuses and reasons not to change (excuses being your outlook, reasons being that you have financial help from your parents and you aren't in true dire straights). And, without something pushing you to change, you're just going to have to find it in yourself to do it. You want it? Go get it. All of these things are reasonable and can by had if you apply yourself. This is the truth, dispell any pessimistic voice inside your head telling you otherwise.
posted by FirstMateKate at 5:43 PM on February 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I recommend this book a lot because it changed my life: There Is Nothing Wrong with You: Going Beyond Self-Hate by Zen teacher Cheri Huber. (I recommend her work regularly because it has changed my life and made me much happier on a day-to-day and moment-to-moment basis.)
posted by Lexica at 5:53 PM on February 13, 2015 [8 favorites]

When I was in a similar "my life and I suck in equal measure" rut, I had a bit of a meltdown the result of which was acknowledgement that there were three kinds of things on my list of suckage: 1) things that I had control over, 2) things I could improve but that I ultimately didn't have 100% control of, and 3) things outside of my control.

I made a pact with myself that I would actively work on the things in category 1, make efforts where I had influence for things in category 2, and let the things in category 3 go. There is no point worrying about things you can't change. But be brutally honest with yourself about what you have some control over. Your impulse will be to throw everything in category 3.

For example, your weight is category 1 - you can make strides with that. Not having sex yet is category 2 - you can't make someone sleep with you, but if you work on feeling good about yourself and build up your body confidence with some weight loss and exercise, you're in a much better position to attact a mate. Your chest is category 3 - it is what it is.

Add in therapy to help you make forward progress and you can make some significant improvement to your life. I know because I did it and felt very much like you at one point.
posted by cecic at 6:00 PM on February 13, 2015

For some reason this quote really resonated with me recently and pushed me to make some changes:
"I just woke up one day and decided I didn't want to feel like this anymore, or ever again. So I changed. I had lots of excuses for not being able to change, but at the end of the day, they were excuses. Being able to change starts with: Your decision to change."
posted by Sassyfras at 6:13 PM on February 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If I were you, I'd start with exercise. Try to make it to the gym once a week on the weekend or even on a weekday if you aren't too tired from work, and then ramp it up. This will, in time, help you with your appearance, which should help you gain confidence in asking people out. It's also a regular activity you can do and something you can feel good about. Plus, exercising is good for the skin (as long as you aren't exercising outdoors for long periods without sunscreen).

I mean, if you were to focus on a bunch of things at once, I can see how that would seem stressful. Like "Oh, I have to start eating well and exercise and go to therapy and get confidence to ask girls out and find a regular activity and get a better job"... that's just too much to do.

So focus on a regular exercise routine, and I believe your mood will improve, then your body, then your life. And then keep building momentum from there. You're very lucky to have your parents' support. Instead of thinking it's too late for you, this of this as the perfect time in your life to blossom into the person you were always meant to be. There may be some mishaps along the way, but you've got a good support structure around you, so nothing is life or death here.
posted by madonna of the unloved at 6:23 PM on February 13, 2015 [5 favorites]

Nth exercise. Your body state is foundational to anything else you could do. Improving your physical fitness will help sharpen your mind, so you can better see your options, and lift your mood, in addition to its other benefits. For me, these have included a real sense of empowerment in terms of the goals I have been able to achieve - going faster, and increasing times or loads - all those are measurable goals that have been more important to me than the almost incidental effects of changes to body shape. It can be wonderful stress relief, as well - no matter what else happens in your day, you can forget your worries and enjoy an absolutely clear purpose for at least an hour. It does take a little while to get over initial discomfort - it's not going to necessarily feel amazing right away - but you could anticipate some of those beneficial effects within a few weeks.

I'm not an athlete, I have limits, and I'm just talking about recreational fitness, but these kinds of improvements and the resulting sense of accomplishment are available to anyone. It doesn't cost money, you don't even have to go to a gym. If you don't know where to start, join one of the many weight loss/fitness forums that are out there. (There are knowledgeable people in most of the well-known ones, you'll soon figure out who they are.) Lots of people on there are also coping with mental health issues or are in moments of transition or decision, and many are happy to chat about that.

My college major won’t do. I graduated thanks to my professors’ leniency. They saw potential, so they gave me some slack. I’m bad at the tasks I went to college to learn how to do. A freelance job I took after graduating fell through because I was incompetent.

People who are in a position to know think you have potential. That doesn't just go away, though it does need to be honed. Luckily, that is something that you will be able to do, once you see some improvement in your mental health issues. Keep talking to your therapist. How long have you been seeing this person, by the way?
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:07 PM on February 13, 2015

Best answer: It sounds to me like medication is a good next step.

One of the things my therapist and I talk about a lot is patterns of behaviour. We all have them; sometimes they're effective and sometimes they're not. Something she likes to focus on is the idea that even a tiny change to a maladaptive pattern is still a change! And when you're altering lifelong patterns of behaviour, any change is a big change.

Another thing we talk about a lot is validation, especially self-validation and the minimizing of accomplishments. To wit:

I took the job I have now as a temp because I needed to pay my student loans. I got hired full-time about a year later.

Companies don't--barring nepotistic connections--hire temps into fulltime if they're incompetent. You obviously worked well enough to be considered an asset to the company. That is a success! You have succeeded at something!

It might be useful to google the term 'cognitive error.' Consistently negating or minimizing accomplishments is one of them, and there are strategies to work around that.

I echo madonna above; try starting with exercise. This doesn't mean join a gym, necessarily--that can be setting oneself up for failure. Try getting more exercise in smaller steps: walk one bus stop past where you normally wait. Park a block away from work. If taking an elevator, try walking one flight of stairs up or two down if you're not going far.

Set goals. Use the SMART rubric:

Time-limited (as in, "This week I will walk 100 metres every day," e.g.)

And reward yourself appropriately for achieving your goal.

As an example, I like to smoke things that aren't tobacco. So I've turned doing so into a reward. My goal is to spend ten minutes tidying my apartment every day. That is a Specific goal, it's Measurable in time, and it's Achievable and Realistic. It's also Time-limited, as in it is a goal I need to achieve before going to sleep. On days that I meet the goal, I reward myself with a joint. On days I don't, I (mostly) deny myself that particular pleasure, and I radically accept that today was a day that didn't get done. Tomorrow is a new day.

Also, looking at ways to ameliorate the things you dislike about yourself can be helpful. Concerned about the size of your penis? Well, one very important thing to consider is that the usual statistic about average penis size is based on self-reporting, and almost all men lie. Another important thing to consider, if you're a male-bodied person who prefers sex with female-bodied people, is that fingers and tongue have exactly nothing to do with any other bodily attributes, so work on your dexterity. If you prefer male-bodied people, sure there's a lot of size-objectification in the queer male world, and at the same time, if you prefer to bottom size doesn't matter much. And if you prefer to top, there's a surprising number of guys out there who actively prefer smaller penises on their partners, for tolerably obvious reasons.

You said you like to play video games, though they hold no particular pleasure right now. I know exactly how that feels. One thing that has helped me is to really examine what exactly I (used to) like about HobbyActivity_X. What am I gaining from this activity? What does it give me? Perhaps try thinking about those things, and aggressively throw yourself into participating in the experience. 'Fake it 'til you make it' might be a cliche, but it's surprisingly effective.

I think, though, from what you've said, that medication may well be a really good--albeit difficult--first step to take (IANAD, IANYD, TINMA). I was on Wellbutrin to get through the worst of my depression, I tolerated it well--it is apparently the most widely-tolerated antidepressant--so maybe start there. It may help to think of your depression as a headache that gets in the way of enjoying things. Taking away the headache won't automatically make you enjoy something, but it does remove a barrier.

Life can get better. It really can. Sometimes that happens quickly, sometimes it takes longer, and it does require hard work. And you can get there. There's contact info in my profile if you would like to speak privately, and hopefully jaguar shows up here to give their always-excellent insight.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:27 PM on February 13, 2015 [5 favorites]

I think you should just pick a long-term goal and go for it, even if you feel unmotivated
. Self-esteem is cumulative. As you inch toward your goal (exercise or career or a hobby, doesn't really matter) your self opinion will be reshaped. "Fake it till you make it" actually kind of works. You can hypnotize yourself into believing you are a capable person through repetition and consistency. Right now you're telling yourself over and over that you're no good, so you continue to believe it.
posted by deathpanels at 4:33 AM on February 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

The two tools that have been most helpful for me when stuck and sad are 1) making habits work for me and 2) connecting with other humans.

How we form habits is really interesting, and habits are really powerful. And a rut is in large part a collection of habits that have turned on us.

Tiny Habits is really great for learning how to build new habits.

You have a lot of advice to exercise, and it's definitely something that can boost your mood and dramatically change your self-perception. It can start as simply as doing a few pushups in the morning. (The link is targeted towards women but describes how to work your way into doing a full pushup if you need that).

You seem very isolated. Most of the things you list as issues are not that unusual - none of those things should keep you from connecting with other people. As an introvert I sometimes forget to seek out the company of others, and then I wonder why I feel so depressed. I struggle with socializing for the sake of socializing - I have to be at my most confident and outgoing to go to a bar and talk to strangers. But there are many times when I have been lifted out of the doldrums just by virtue of being around others. Looking at your question I wonder if we have that in common. So I suggest looking into your local Toastmasters or improv classes - either one of these can be fun, build your confidence, and help you connect. Or look for a hobby that gets you out of the house and around others - guitar, board games, book clubs, singing in a choir. If can sing but are hesitant to join a choir, PM me.

Finally, talk to your therapist about whether medication is right for you. And if you feel you aren't getting help from therapy, look for another therapist.

Good luck, OP. You deserve to be happy.
posted by bunderful at 6:03 AM on February 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

The first thing you should do is get to a medical doctor for a full physical. Discuss antidepressants with him or her. This can change your perceptions considerably. Also, see if there's something other than the one med for your skin, perhaps something topical. Doing small, physical things can really help your outlook.

Join a gym. Planet Fitness or Anytime Fitness are $10 per month. There might be something similar close to you. They're great because you go, you work out and no one really cares. Honestly, no one is staring at you or judging you or paying any attention to you. Really.

Porn is warping your mind regarding women and sex and your body. Healthy sexuality doesn't really have anything to do with bodies or penis size or any of that. It's about two people connecting physically. Porn doesn't generally show that, and....I guess, just stop imbibing porn and start using your imagination. Put blocks on your computer so you can't get to that kind of content.

Start exploring hobbies. Whatever is interesting. Challenge yourself to do one thing a week that's out of your comfort zone. Accept that it will suck a little bit, but with each attempt, it will get easier and easier. Hell, just go to a movie. I'd recommend taking a weekly class. Creative writing, pottery, pastels. These are often offered through extension programs at community colleges. Look through a catalog and see what interests. Or start taking classes in Excel, Access, SQL, programming languages, things that can lead to better job opportunities.

Living with your parents isn't the end of the world. Keep doing that for the support and comfort until you feel more confident. Then get into a roommate situation. You'll have folks to connect with, and you'll make friends, but don't do this until you are ready.

Once you start making steps towards better things, you'll gain confidence and you'll be ready to tackle other jobs. Very few of us are doing things we studied in school. You're not sentenced to 'pink collar' (really Dude, that's just obnoxious) work forever. Get some skills and get other work, elsewhere.

None of this has to be done all at once. Step by step it gets easier.

I wish you luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:30 AM on February 14, 2015

Antidepressants often help people get to the point where they can start making changes in their lives that will further help treat their depression, like exercising and finding meaningful activities. Without medication, those sorts of steps can just seem completely overwhelmingly impossible -- which turns into a vicious cycle, because rather than realizing that they are doing everything they can but need more help, people with under-treated depression and anxiety think they're not trying hard enough, which makes everything feel worse.

I would definitely talk to your therapist about medications, and if they are not someone who can prescribe medications, I would also talk to your doctor (your general practitioner is fine) about it. (Some therapists are reflexively anti-medication, which is as silly an across-the-board position to take as it would be to declare that everyone should take medication. If your therapist is absolutely opposed to medication rather than someone who will help you to figure out your own goals, you may want to find a new therapist.)
posted by jaguar at 8:59 AM on February 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

How long have you been seeing this therapist? If it's been a while and you aren't making progress, it may be time for a new therapist.

Nthing exercise, getting a physical, changing habits by starting small, eating right, and all the other things people do to take care of themselves.

I recommend this book all the time, and here I go again: Feeling Good by David Burns. Helped me a lot.
posted by islandeady at 9:30 AM on February 14, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers, everyone.

You're not sentenced to 'pink collar' (really Dude, that's just obnoxious) work forever.

You're right. That was a bad way to phrase what I meant. It's sexist and also, I think, incorrect, as I do data entry. I wasn't thinking straight when I wrote this post, but that's not an excuse. Sorry, and thanks for calling it out.

How long have you been seeing this therapist?

I think it's been a few months now. Maybe since September. I'll bring up medication at my next appointment.

I recommend this book all the time, and here I go again: Feeling Good by David Burns.

I have the Feeling Good Workbook. I'll make an effort to read it and apply it more often.

Do you have a car? Sounds like you may need one, if you don't.

I have a car.
posted by The Man Who Wore the Sock at 12:21 PM on February 14, 2015

I, I, I , I

Me, MY, I, Mine

This is your entire post.

You are incredibly self-centered. And I'm saying this with love. You need to realize that you are not the center of the universe. Start putting your focus on things outside of yourself. Of course you don't have any hobbies- You can't start a hobby until you take the focus off yourself. In order to start running you have to remove the thought of "I am fat, I am lazy, I don't run....etc, etc" and replace those with "This is the perfect time of day for a run, This outfit is perfect for a run outside, The weather is brisk, but that neighborhood will be fun to run through...etc, etc"

Forget yourself. You're really not half as interesting as your brain thinks you are. :) None of us are that interesting. Think about what you'd like to do and put all your focus on doing those things so you don't have an ounce of focus left to put on yourself. Do this long enough and you yourself will start to change into someone you like more anyway. This might take practice, but once you master it, you'll be so much happier.
posted by manderin at 10:06 PM on February 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm very surprised at the amount of answers telling you to buck up and force yourself to do things. You sound clinically depressed and there's no amount of "pulling yourself up by the bootstraps" that will solve that.

Please discuss medication with your therapist or perhaps seek a new therapist. If you have described your problems to them as clearly as you have here, I'm concerned that your therapist would not mention the possibility of medication. Finding the right medication can be difficult, but if you have the support of a good therapist, I think it is do-able.

You sound like you are really suffering. Even if you are holding down a job and going through the motions of life, it doesn't mean you can't be in a great deal of pain from depression.

You can MeMail me if you want to. Life doesn't have to suck this bad. Really.
posted by joeyjoejoejr at 10:04 AM on February 15, 2015 [5 favorites]

I think you need to be on medication - because all those negatives are the same negatives that most of us clinically depressed people can recite like the rosary. Medication really, honestly does make a difference.

The other thing I'd suggest, and just as strongly, is to sign up for some volunteer work - get signed up so you have to show up regularly and do things to make life better for someone else. You'll find you think about yourself much less than you do now and you'll actually feel good about yourself every time you make that other person smile. You'll be surprised at how much good it will do to your own self-esteem when you're forgetting all about yourself and giving all you've got to helping someone else.

If you don't want to get in too deep to begin with, volunteer at a hospital pushing the book cart or at a food bank; that way you can put off the one-on-one stuff like helping a developmentally disabled kid learn to enjoy dancing or reading to an old person in a nursing home.

Medicine first, though. Hope you feel much much better soon because you're not half as bad as you think you are and the world needs your qualities and skills to make it a better place.
posted by aryma at 8:24 PM on February 15, 2015

Response by poster: I, I, I , I

Me, MY, I, Mine

This is your entire post.

Yes. This is a disordered way of thinking. That's why I posted the question under "Health & Fitness," not "Human Relations," and that's why the question is "Where do I start to remedy this?" not "Do I need to remedy this?" It's also why I fear I'm an emotional leech, as I wrote in the post.

Forget yourself. You're really not half as interesting as your brain thinks you are. :) None of us are that interesting. Think about what you'd like to do and put all your focus on doing those things so you don't have an ounce of focus left to put on yourself.

Man, why didn't I just think of something to do and then do it? Oh yeah, my brain is garbage and prefers death to life.

I considered getting medication around this time last year, but decided to put it off. I figured my situation wasn't that bad. I won't make that mistake again this year. Thanks, everyone.
posted by The Man Who Wore the Sock at 9:42 AM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Something that may help is reframing statements like "my brain is garbage" to avoid the self-judgement. Perhaps "my brain is injured and it is fixable."
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:34 AM on February 17, 2015

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