Severe depression and self-doubt about intelligence and people?
February 23, 2015 6:46 PM   Subscribe

I have been experiencing terrible bouts of depression and anxiety for the past four months or so now. I also have turbulent mood swings, ranging from being content in the morning, and scornfully miserable in the afternoon. I'm not certain what is causing all of this. I'm not an emotionally stable person; always unhappy and anxious. I have lost all desire to fulfill my hobbies, which includes: writing, reading, watching documentaries, deep conversations, watching old films, debating, poetry, social activism, and learning knowledge in general. I do not think I'm intellectual or socially exciting enough, therefore I have abandoned all of my hobbies.

I find no excitement and joy with my life. I'm rarely happy for a full day, because I'm constantly brooding about the negativity of myself and the world; a constant state of misery and exhaustion. All I do is attend university classes, and drift on home playing video games mindlessly. I rarely see my friends, since I have erased them from my life, mostly. I feel as if though my life is switched on autopilot; numb and existence is complete boredom - my mind is isolated. I see the world in a very negative light, especially in terms of the lack of intelligence surrounding society. I find most people are ignorant and lack critical thinking skills, which makes me become depressed, since most people are adsorbed with popular culture, make-up, sports, and consumerist shopping. Frankly, I feel as if I'm an outsider, that I do not belong with this species group. Why is it difficult to find open-minded and culturally rounded people that embrace wisdom and are open to all angles? Secondly, I'm constantly doubting my intelligence all the time, particularly my intellect. I'm always comparing my intelligence to my Professors, which is making me feel like a speck of dust, putting their intellect on a golden podium. I think striving to become an intellect and a scholar can be seen as a cultural burden, because most people do not value this mode of intelligence. I currently feel very trapped, lost, and perplexed with myself; since I do not know myself at all - this has made me become jaded, aloof, and closed off. I'm not sure if trying to grasp Marxist and Foucault theory is going to make me any happier or not - I'm not sure why I put such an emphasis on intellectualism - is it truly that important? I feel pressured to read intellectual articles and watch prestigious films in order to be viewed as entertaining and sophisticated for people. However, at the same time, I find it difficult to find people that are engaged in my interests. I constantly obsess about my intelligence to the point where it is driving me batty. It is very unhealthy and it is inflicting a wave of depression on my shoulders. I cannot take the weight off. I simply do not know how to socially relax and enjoy small talk, mindless chatter that most people (and my family), enjoy on a regular basis. Why are many people not curious? Many people do not ask philosophical questions or read literature anymore? I'm no Tesla or Einstein, but most people cannot form a staunch political opinion about many topics, and it is down right depressing. Many people are socially ignorant about world issues, poverty, war, etc.

Perhaps I'm taking life too seriously, and I need to learn how to project a relaxing atmosphere about conversations and life. Maybe deep talks are overrated to begin with. I have tried therapy on numerous occasions, but it does not always help. I know that change comes from within, but I find it very difficult to shift my negative standpoint about the world to a positive standpoint. Please, help me shift my bleak rumination to a positive tone. How can I strive to replenish my intellectual hobbies again, without caring what people think. I find it difficult to connect with many people emotionally and intellectually in someways, which is probably why I have abandoned my hobbies in the first place, because it is simply easier to live in ignorance. Thinking requires an extensive effort and time, constantly challenging new ideas is thinking outside the norm, which most people do not. How can I accept this socialized condition, and accept myself and accomplishments? I have always wanted to become a scholar, but I do not think I have the brains, stamina, memory, and verbal articulation to compete in academia. I'm not a quick reader, and it takes time to grasp theories and material. Maybe not becoming an academic is not the end of the world. I really feel lost with my identity. How can I accept the world we live in and not becoming so depressed and change my existential attitude? Wealthy advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
posted by RearWindow to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
You're describing many symptoms of major depression. Depression can cause distortions and work in a bad feedback loop with anxiety... making you question your intelligence, worry more about what people think, etc.

Have you told any of this to a doctor?
posted by zennie at 7:04 PM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

Your first step should be to visit your doctor so you can have your blood tested. You could have a thyroid problem, a major vitamin deficiency, or something else going on that could be fixed with medical treatment.

Next, if you don't have one already, you should speak to a therapist or a psychiatrist about your depression, anxiety, and crippling self doubt. There are likely resources in your community that can help you get the professional support you need so you can get your life back.

Hope you feel better soon.
posted by Hermione Granger at 7:05 PM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

You sound depressed. If therapy "doesn't always work," then it has worked some of the time. If you are in college, you likely have free access to at least one counselor and maybe more. Give it a try.
posted by bunderful at 7:07 PM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

sounds like you're going down the rabbit hole spiraling into anxiety and self-doubt. or what i affectionately like to call my "OCD Spiral of Despair". remind yourself when this happens that it is not you freaking out, but your monkey mind. or whatever affectionate term will help you step back and take a deep breath. mindfulness and meditation might help, you're too much in your head and need to distance from the crippling "MUST KNOW ALL FIX ALL BE ALL" and immediacy of everything. what helps me is vigorous cardio/exercise which incidentally, happens to do wonders for depression. those good ole endorphins really are a magic trick. breathe deep and focus on your breath when you start ruminating on "the meaning of life" and such.

fwiw, i feel this way sometimes too. what helps me is reminding myself not to be so hard or perfectionist on myself and realizing that i don't have to take myself so seriously. that what other people think are none of my business, and to not waste energy and mental space on people who bring no value to your life. cultivate your hobbies again, and maybe then you will find more people attune to your particular flavor of intellectual bent. thinking, chess club? or something whereabouts, but good luck. there are incredibly vapid shallow people, and overly intellectual socially awkward people and lots of other individuals in between. it helps not to box people though. some people you think aren't or couldn't be as deep as you'd like might surprise you. it takes a lot of energy to get to a mental space on the level you're thirsting for and most people are incapable or genuinely reserve their energy for special/sporadic moments. you will find your tribe, it takes time. but it helps if you just put yourself out there and see what happens.
posted by lunastellasol at 7:43 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Please understand that how you are feeling now is not permanent.

When you've gone to therapy, how much sessions did you complete? It could be that you haven't given it enough time or you would work better with a different style. Please try to find a therapist and stick with them. Print your question out and hand it to her or him. Also, as mentioned above, please talk to a doctor or psychiatrist about this. Be honest with them—they're there to help you.

When asked what their favorite foods are, fancy chefs often say something simple like a grilled cheese, good scrambled eggs, or lasagna. It's okay to live an academic life and also enjoy simpler, less sophisticated things. In fact, it's healthy too. Students tend to perform better when they give their brains a chance to rest. When comparing your intellect to your professors, realize that they've had decade(s) more experience than you—it's not a fair comparison. And you only see them for a tiny fraction of their lives.
posted by JackBurden at 7:52 PM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

This and your last question point to self doubt accompanied by a major depressive disorder. I would strongly suggest that you seek out a therapist to help you sort through this. Peace...
posted by HuronBob at 7:54 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

You need a doctor. Please go to a doctor.
posted by bq at 8:22 PM on February 23, 2015

During your next break (spring break?) go somewhere without Internet, just books. Your reading speed should increase and you'll get more out of that week than a year's worth of pretentious articles. That will help you decide whether you can pursue your preferred career.
posted by michaelh at 8:35 PM on February 23, 2015

I also wondered if something biological wasn't going on, like vitamin or thyroid issue. Nthing that you need a blood tests and a doctor.
posted by jbenben at 9:11 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I want to emphasize what I'm sure many others will. You are describing not just depression, but the way that depression twists and distorts your perception of the world on a fundamental level. Depression not only tells lies, it poisons the truth and goodness of the world, your life, and the people around you. A worldview filtered through depression is a falsely grey one and the decisions and evaluations it leads you to make -- about anything and everything -- are wrong ones to one extent or another.

It deserves no deference and only defiance.

Depression cloaks itself and seeks to dissuade you from getting help. Keep trying with the doctors. Sometimes it can take several tries and a not inconsiderable amount of work to get results with them, but those results are nearly always forthcoming sooner or later, and they can make all the difference in the world, to everything.
posted by Drexen at 8:06 AM on February 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Destroy and rebuild yourself.
There's no reason you should remain attached to your identity. And there's no need to accept, or regard, the world we live in as something requiring change from you.
The only part of the world you have real control over is yourself. That is the fulcrum of existance really.
All you need is a long enough lever. Therefore, you build one.

Look, not being what you want to be is not a big problem. It seems like one, but it's not.
Trust me, I'm at the point where I am what I wanted to be and I've discovered it's not the best thing to be. So over the course of the last decade or so I've been trying to revamp myself.
It's hard. A bit like being a concert pianist or brain surgeon or other highly specialized person trying to eradicate all the years of training and reactions. Switch from being a bodybuilder to a marathon runner. Long, hard, nasty painful road.

Fortunately you're starting from a zero base with your desire to become a scholar. People don't wake up one day and discover they can bench press 500lbs.
Your advantage lies in knowing what you want.
So, develop the stamina, memory and verbal articulation. Practice, practice, practice. At least 45 minutes a day.
Read and use vocabulary. Practice speaking before a mirror. Develop the accent you want. Study your material.

Shouldn't take more than 6-12 months to see a result doing only 45 minutes a day. Faster if you devote an hour or more. But it has to be absolute, otherwise you won't make any progress no matter what kind of time you put in.
You can't slack off one day and wait for feeling motivated. And you can't just phone it in day after day. It has to be active, willing, attentive and singular participation in the practice.

The difference between a professional and a dilettante is commitment. Once you develop the habit of practicing whether you like it or not, then you'll make progress.

After that, maybe 5 years before you're an expert in your field - given the commitment and attention.

But again, ignore the relationship between your identity and the outside world. Those interactions are an illusion.

Change yourself and - seemingly miraculously - the nature of those interactions changes.

Other advice above about seeing a doctor is a good idea. A brain scan might help as well to get an idea about the nature of the thing.

I mean, if your computer were buggy you'd check out the software AND the hardware, no?
So, same deal. Medication might help. *shrug* IANAD.

But for the other stuff, change your habits, change yourself and become the change you wish to see and the world most definately will turn.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:33 AM on February 24, 2015 [9 favorites]

I've been there - recently, in fact. The term "spiral" makes sense to me and when that happens, I really need to clear my head. Do you live someplace cold? Going outside for a short walk is really helpful, especially when it's cold. It's hard to think about my lame life when I'm outside and it's really cold. Then I get a cup of coffee and get mad that it's dripping for no reason or that a guy honked at me but it's better to be mad at that guy or coffee than just ... cranky and stuck.

At some point, I concluded that getting in these sorts is not productive and as a human mortal person with a limited amount of time on this planet, it would be preferable to do something productive with that time than to think about what a waste of space I am. I can think about what a waste of space I am while I'm on the bus or walking home from work. I should try to do work at work. So I try to make a list of things to do and go down the list. The list works for me because when I start spiraling, I can look at it and think, HEY, you have to do this thing, remember? Also, I'm trying therapy again. I find that while talking to a therapist may or may not be helpful, it is 100% not helpful if I don't go.

Afternoons are rough for me, too, which is when my list and short walk come in. Who told you that the things that interest you aren't intellectual or socially exciting enough? They're wrong. Did you tell yourself that? You're wrong. Well, "wrong" isn't the correct word but the value of your interests is irrelevant. They're things that interest you? You should pursue them until they don't interest you anymore and not a moment sooner. This isn't high school where someone says "oh, you like the Barenaked Ladies? They're DUMB" and it's the end of the world. I had a book on my Amazon wish list about refugees escaping from North Korea. My family saw it while Christmas shopping and was like, why do you want that book? I wanted it because I thought it looked interesting. No one got it for me for Christmas but whatever, I'll get it from the library. I think it's interesting. That's what matters.

Louis CK said something in a routine about how it's tough being moderately smart because you're smart enough to know that others are smarter than you. The thing is, there is always going to be someone better or smarter than you. I like running. I am slow. I don't care. I run because I like running so as long as there's water and a shower somewhere near the finish line, I'm a happy camper. You do your thing. I can't do your thing because it's your thing. So try to find out what your things are and do them.

Put one foot in front of the other. That's all you have to do. Like I said, I think to do lists are helpful so I started one for you. Take a walk. Look at clouds. Drink some ice water. Look up counseling options at your school. Call the counseling center. See when the next appointment is - you don't have to make an appointment, just see when it is. Do *one* thing. Then another thing. And keep going. I know that in some ways, it's not that easy but in some ways, it is. So just do one thing and see how it goes.
posted by kat518 at 11:20 AM on February 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

What I'm about to say does not negate the need for a doctor and some therapy, but since that's been covered I do want to address some points in your question more specifically because I can really relate to this inferiority/superiority rollercoaster, including the daily cycle.

Step 1 is recognizing that there is a major contradiction in what you're saying. On the one hand you think you're too intellectual and cultured and curious to fit in with our species. On the other hand you feel really pressured to do more highbrow things and learn more highbrow stuff in order to be viewed as an intellectual. IMO, the only thing you can do to resolve this conflict is be true to yourself. Wowing people with your amazing knowledge of Foucault is not something that will make you happy or popular, except in a circle of Foucault fanatics, which... well. My bona fides as an intellectual are impeccable, but my favorite movie is Zoolander. So far, nobody has tried to take away my PhD. What I'm trying to say is that you really need to free yourself from these unrealistic expectations . I guarantee that your intelligence sparkles through, regardless of whether you're talking about video games or literary theory. Furthermore, I guarantee that if you want to be a scholar, you are more than capable of doing so (although given the current academic market it may not be prudent anyway). Study what you like. Talk about what you like. Don't condescend and don't idol-worship. We're all just people--you, the idiot next door, the professor in front of you. Everyone has their own intrinsic worth and their own interests. Treating your depression is necessary for you to internalize all of this. Then, things will get better.
posted by karbonokapi at 11:23 AM on February 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

What you're doing is called Ruminating. I use the capital R because when psychiatrists talk about Ruminating they mean something specific and unhelpful that your brain does. Depressed people's brains are inclined to do it a lot, and it tends to make us more depressed. So the advice above to see an MD (because some medical conditions can cause depression) and also a therapist is spot on.
Regarding the professors who are oh-so-smarter than you, I have a story that may be relevant. As an undergrad, I had a class with a visiting instructor who was just brilliant. He fluently used lots of multi-syllable words, and had really interesting and thought-provoking observations about the texts that we were studying, etc. I went to his house to babysit his daughter. In the bathroom I found several issues of Soap Opera Digest. I said something to him like 'You don't strike me as a soap opera fan' and he said he was a big fan. I don't remember which ones he watched but he was really excited to talk about them. Just as excited as he was to talk about literary theory and Anselm Keifer.
posted by tuesdayschild at 3:16 PM on February 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

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