How to stop this downward spiral?
February 24, 2015 6:21 PM   Subscribe

I am sick of feeling miserable.

I've been on a downward spiral for years. I think the last time I remember being happy was about 30 years ago when I was 18. I was always quiet in school, so I put up with a lot of bullying (not physical so much as verbal, and mostly from males). I wasn't the smartest in my class but took the AP classes, worked hard, and did well. When I got to college I got my first boyfriend. He didn't treat me all that well - there were a lot of things he said and did that indicated he didn't really respect me. After he broke up with me I had kind of a breakdown and had to drop out of school for awhile, but I came back and threw myself into my studies and did well. After that, I went to graduate school and got a M.S. degree, and after floundering for awhile eventually ended up in programming. I've struggled with it for twenty years - not so much the work, but the people. I never felt like I fit in. I think the (vast) majority of people in this field are "thinking" types who really don't care who they hurt in their quest to always be right (some seem to actually enjoy that humiliating others part). One even went so far as to tell me that "empathy is for losers". I've taken the Myers-Briggs and have tested strongly INFP. The few times I've been able to help someone has given me some satisfaction in a job where I mostly feel miserable and unsatisfied. I usually end up with the crap jobs that no one else wants to do.

All of this is affecting my mental health. I haven't been able to sleep well in years. Sometimes I drag myself into the office on 3 hours of sleep. I lie awake at night feeling anxious and angry and depressed. I have a "boyfriend" who has Asperger's who is a very good friend, but isn't attracted to me at all. We've been together for over 10 years with no physical affection beyond a hug. He lives 4 hours away, as does my family. I have no friends or family where I'm living now.

The funny thing is that I mostly feel good on the weekends, if lonely. I get things done, and my self-esteem perks up a little. Then I try to drag myself though another week of despair. I've been to counselors, all of whom want to put me on medication. The SSRIs make me physically sick and make the insomnia worse. The talk therapy does nothing but piss me off. I don't know what to do anymore. I'm tired, I hate my life, and I don't know what to do to make things better.
posted by jenh526 to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
SSRIs were AWFUL for me, but an SNRI changed my life.
posted by Ruki at 6:33 PM on February 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

Go to a doctor, tell them you've been previously diagnosed with depression, list the medications you've been on that made you feel ill, ask for alternatives. SSRIs are not the only medication options for depression. Tricyclics can be really good when one of your problems is insomnia, for example. And, yeah, the SNRIs, and just generally it's a really long list of options now, so if you've only tried a handful of them, it's way-way-wayyyyy too early to call it as "antidepressants don't work for you".
posted by Sequence at 6:36 PM on February 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Okay, first: wow, this sounds really hard. I'm sorry you're feeling this way, and that it's felt like this for so long.

You say SSRIs make you sick. Have you tried other medications -- SNRIs such as venlafaxine (Effexor) or Cymbalta, tricyclics or tetracyclics, or other things? DOn't discount carefully chosen doses of antipsychotics, either -- it's not a commentary on what's going on in your brain; it's just a different way of addressing it. You could really benefit from having a doctor who takes the time to help you titrate a formula and dosage that works for you.

It also sounds like you have been put in a number of situations where your self esteem has suffered and you haven't stood up for yourself. What can you do to pump your self esteem up and get away from these situations?

I recently got a new supervisor, and it has made such a huge difference that I can't even tell you. I thought things were good before, but now I have a woman at the helm who makes me realize the role that the subtlest of sexist undercurrents has played in my workplace. It sounds like you have been there, too, especially in a male-dominated field -- taking jobs that nobody wants, playing along with dickwads who tell you that "empathy is for losers" because it's easier to not make waves. It's a perfectly valid survival technique; it just keeps a sick system going.

So what WOULD make you happy -- or at least happier? If you don't like the people at your workplace, is something other than inertia keeping you in that job? Would you like to live near friends and family? Is something preventing you from moving there?

I realize that depression is a huge, huge reason why people can't make even small changes in their lives. (I am the kind of person who has been known to stay on the couch rather than get up to get something that would make me not ravenously hungry. I understand inertia.) But it sounds like you deserve an opportunity to make a change in your life that gets you closer to some of your happiness goals.

Even if you think it would take a huge effort to get what you want, closer is closer. Better is better. Happier is happier, no matter how small the increment.
posted by St. Hubbins at 6:40 PM on February 24, 2015

Adding to the SNRI chorus, if only because I wish I'd heard about the option when I first took SSRIs and had horrific side effects instead of being put off medication altogether for years. Talk therapy never did anything that I didn't already know as a survival mechanism; I don't see it as helpful until you actually feel well enough to engage with other people.
posted by solarion at 6:47 PM on February 24, 2015

First, I would lay money on this proposition: you can probably feel significantly better than you do. Suggestions aside, that would be my bet on your situation.

Suggestions will come pouring in, so I'll leave out mine.

Well, except for this one.

Let's say that you are doomed to some level of suck because humanity fate etcetera. I would urge you to consider that your present experience of suckage is chemically amplified so you're navigating with fogged lenses. There are other factors but that one is a big fucking deal, and can prevent you from bringing your own powers to bear on the problem. You have the strength and the ability to deal with at least some portion of this shit, right? But having your tools slip out of your hands all the time is exhausting, and you're probably doing lots of work in a low-traction situation--you at least deserve some fucking traction, working as hard as you are.

If chemistry has not helped in the past, that doesn't mean it won't in the future. You can tell your prescribing doc this shit (be specific) has to got to stop. Insist on it, tell her if it's working or just meh and ask around for a better shrink because it's a damned important service that you are paying a fuckton of money for.
posted by ssr_of_V at 6:53 PM on February 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

Others have already covered the medication aspect.

It might be worth really teasing apart why talk therapy pisses you off so much. One of the more difficult things about therapy is that by engaging in it, we are forcing ourselves (I am in therapy; IANATherapist) to break old patterns. That's really hard, and it's usual AFAIK to become defensive and/or aggressive during the process. So it might bear thinking about why exactly you get pissed off. And, in fact, if you can bring yourself to see a therapist, that might well be the best first thing to look at, so you can get past it.

The basic upshot is, we all settle into patterns. If the patterns aren't working for you, it's time to change them. When it's this kind of depression, that generally means some combination of medication and talk therapy.

Also, see your doctor, get a full workup including thyroid and vitamin levels. See if you can push yourself to take five minutes more exercise every day for a week--simple things like park further from work, or walk up stairs instead of the escalator or elevator, walk one bus stop further. Nothing major, just a little bit. When you can work that into your regular routine, try adding another five minutes. If you can, work your way up to some intense exercise every day, or every other day.

And give yourself permission to fail, to have bad days; coming out of these spirals is a process, and it's not linear.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:56 PM on February 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

The few times I've been able to help someone has given me some satisfaction in a job where I mostly feel miserable and unsatisfied.

I'd be depressed if most of my waking hours were spent that way. Can you transition away from programing to teaching programming, maybe to women or teen girls at a bootcamp or local workshop or a community college? Much about the culture of the tech world seems really toxic and it seems like at minimum you should work on a plan to extricate yourself from it ASAP and take your skill set somewhere you won't get treated like shit. And maybe if you teach programming, especially to other women, you can make a personal stand against the way you've been treated and train the next generation in a different way. You wouldn't be alone; there are all kinds of female friendly hacker spaces, groups like PyLadies and GirlDevelopIt that started to address these issues because the shit you've encountered is real.

This probably sounds like a huge difficult transition but I think things might finally click into place for you if you make it happen, slowly, chipping away at it in little pieces. Go to one meeting for a women's learn to program group and go from there. Yes maybe there is some other work you need to do about feeling ok with yourself no matter what's going on with your job, but imagine how much easier life would be if you felt valued and respected in your work? Every day would feel more like the weekend if you're not constantly dealing with threats to your self worth. Some of this isn't you, it really isn't, you're not crazy or wrong. Leave the tech world as fast as your legs will carry you.
posted by slow graffiti at 7:03 PM on February 24, 2015 [5 favorites]

Telling an INFP that empathy is for losers is like stabbing her through the heart. IMNSHO, anybody who would say that is a broken human being, and I feel sorry for his/her family members. (Yeah, I'm an INFP too.)
I don't know that I have anything to add to the advice above, except that if you have access to a psychiatrist (instead of a GP), please go that route. If your depression isn't lifted by a generic Rx for Prozac or similar, you need somebody with experience to help you find the right meds. And if the first psychiatrist isn't listening to you, move on to #2. It is frustrating but I believe you can find someone helpful if you keep at it. I hope you can. If you can get some of the depression & anxiety lessened, that will give you more energy to deal with the job and friends and partner issues. It's hard to attack those things when you are chronically sleep-deprived. I hope you'll let us know how it goes.
posted by tuesdayschild at 7:27 PM on February 24, 2015

I mostly feel good on the weekends, if lonely. I get things done, and my self-esteem perks up a little.

indicates to me that it's your life situation that's bringing you down.

So - change everything. Ditch your boyfriend, already! There's nothing in that relationship for you! I want to put more exclamation marks there, imagine all of them are there.

And, agree with slow graffiti - apply for jobs teaching programming at all the community colleges within a 200 mile radius, plus, some located in a few cities you've always been curious about. Or even, just, move (somewhere reasonable for your skills) and see what happens. (But only if my impression that your skill set is desirable pretty much everywhere is correct; otherwise, apply first.)

Seriously, a new job, a new city - those could dramatically change how you feel in about a week. Do it.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:27 PM on February 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

Speaking as someone who is (for various reasons I'll spare you today) not into the idea of trying the drugs: I have been taking up doing EFT/tapping lately and am finding it surprisingly beneficial. Much as it kinda sounds like hippie bunk, it's surprisingly stress-relieving and does calm you down if you follow the techniques. Even my shrink thinks it's doing me a lot of good and I can say that for most of this last month (I've been doing a lot of it lately, though I started doing it in August) I've been more cheerful/optimistic/less of an asshole than usual for most of the month. GO FIGURE.

I do concur that it sounds like the rest of your life sucks donkey balls and suddenly doing a drastic change of life would help a lot, but it's freaking hard these days to just up and move and no longer have a job and take years to find another one--but you can do the tapping thing now. I found some awesome free mp3's of how to do it that I've been trying out and would definitely recommend, especially the one about being in the same place you did not like.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:51 PM on February 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

You have to change everything RIGHT NOW. I can't even type fast enough to tell you everything I want to tell you - mainly that this is a terrible way to spend your life. YOU ONLY GET ONE. Nobody here is talking about big enough change. Your situation doesn't call for incremental change, it calls for huge, dramatic, scary, everyone-will-tell-you-you're-crazy change.

I would seriously fire any therapist who encourages you to get on medication at this point. You hate your job, your relationship sounds sad beyond belief and you live far away from your family and friends. Medicating yourself so that you can continue to tolerate a shitty set of situations is kind of nuts. What are you going to say in another 30 years?: "wow, it was sure lucky I was on SSRIs all this time so that I could keep working that job I hated without killing myself and hanging out with that guy who's never going to give me anything I need."

My math says you're 48. And I'm assuming it's just you. You don't have kids in school or a husband's job to consider. You probably have some savings if you've been working for (say) 22 years. (Lots of big assumptions here, but even if some of them are wrong ...)

You should quit. Quit your whole life. Quit your horrible job, quit your dead end relationship, pack up everything and put it in storage. Then get a notebook and a pen and book a week at a yoga retreat, or whatever solitude-y type of place will work for you. And think about all the things you ever wanted to do and why you wanted to do them. And go do some of them. Spend a year volunteering in a foreign country, teaching kids programming skills. Or go on a group trek in the Himalayas. Or go work for one of the new charity startups that are super tech-dependent. Or spend six months lying on a beach in Thailand while you figure out what to do next. Because you can't waste another 30 years being this miserable. You just can't. Please please don't.

You're in despair because your life is awful. And you won't lose everything if you take a little break and do something else for a while. You are in a solid win-win situation. If you have programming skills, you're always going to have a safety net, you're going to be able to come back and get another programming job in a year if this all blows up in your face. But please don't stay where you are.

(By the way, I work in tech and in my view, coders with empathy have great insights into how to solve customer problems. So after you clear your head and deal with 30 years worth of misery, you may want to come talk to me or other people like me about how to take your years of programming experience and build a career in a place with purpose where your empathy and insights will be valued).
posted by yogalemon at 9:30 PM on February 24, 2015 [37 favorites]

When you're depressed and unhappy it can be really hard to see how anything could ever change, and I think that is something that a professional could help you with.

I really suggest you find a copy of The Chemistry of Calm. It's a very good, generally non-woo book about treating anxiety without drugs. I thought it was very well-written, and while I personally think that drugs are a very good idea if you can find a dosage/combination that works for you, it lays out a pretty convincing path forward without them. If anything, it's a gentle introduction to mindfulness meditation and might be able to point you at ways forward that don't involve drugs or therapy per se.

Whether you need to uproot your entire life all at once, I don't know, but I will second everyone else here: I think you could be dramatically happier in another job.
posted by BungaDunga at 9:38 PM on February 24, 2015

Just adding: therapy and medication are hugely valuable for a lot of people, including me. I was hasty in my reply, and I didn't mean to imply that there wasn't any value in either of those things. But when there's an underlying terrible situation, I sort of feel like there might be a reason that therapy and medication aren't helping so much.
posted by yogalemon at 9:49 PM on February 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

You've received lots of good advice here so I don't have much to add except to say that it was when I started taking anti-depressants for the first time that I was able to find my way out of a bad marriage and a sad life. Anti-depressants don't make you happy. They give you a ground to stand on so that you can find your way to happiness. I could not have changed my whole life without the perspective that the anti-depressants afforded me.
posted by janey47 at 9:53 PM on February 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

You're going to the wrong counselors. Try a career counselor. No amount of drugs and therapy is going to make you love a life you actually hate.
posted by feets at 10:27 PM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

What would you do if you weren't afraid?

Do that--instead of working at a job you hate, living isolated from loved ones, and having a "boyfriend" you don't love.

I'm a woman in tech, around your age. I'm an ENFP, verging on I. I have purposely left the jobs where I wasn't valued, where the sexism was too entrenched, where I had little chance of being happy. (Now I'm lucky to be in a great position doing meaningful work with mostly kind, empathetic people.) I have also divorced because, while he was a nice guy, we weren't a good fit. Then I defined for myself what kind of relationship I did want, and I only dated people who seemed capable of that fit. Now I'm happily married.

These are options for you too. You can design your life. You can say "This is who I am, this is what I want, and this is my plan to make that happen." You don't have to be swept along under the control of others. If you have trouble saying who you are or what you want or making a plan, then talk therapy (with the right person) may be challenging you in difficult ways that you need.

What would you do if you weren't afraid?
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 1:39 AM on February 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

Yup. GOTTA second the radical advice here.


Go visit your family for a while. Go find a project that excites you that involves helping others. I dunno, go build some houses in Louisiana or like go volunteer in the Amazon or something.

Then do some freelance programming gigs while you get settled into a new life that isn't full of garbage and misery. OH YEAH then go to therapy.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 3:11 AM on February 25, 2015

Are you getting enough exercise? Try an hour a day of hard physical stuff, your choice. Then start looking for a new job. Maybe you'd be happier at a non-profit, at a library, or at a college- all of which hire people with your abundance of skills. Are you very tied to your current location? If you're not, consider a whole change of scene, a new place where you can work on reinventing your life. I wish you the best of luck and happiness.
posted by mareli at 8:01 AM on February 25, 2015

Listen, people are assholes. Seriously. And they're not going to change. Your coworkers are terrible people and your employer doesn't care that they're terrible people. They don't care that you're an INFP. There's no benevolent being at your job that's going to make sure you're rewarded for being a good person.

You can stay at your job and demand some space to exist there as an INFP (I personally believe you have a right to be there and be an INFP and be allowed to thrive - but that's not the point). If you stay, they'll continue to abuse you. And you will heroically be withstanding abuse, on principle. That's a TRAP, because it means you still get abused.

You need to find a different job. One with better people. They say "the best revenge is being happy." They mean "the best revenge is being happy with your abusers in your rear view mirror!"

It sounds like you're starting to realize that the world doesn't work the way it's supposed to work, (for some people, the world doesn't work the way they've been led to believe by tv or magazines.) You're waking up! Wake up!

Shake yourself off!

I find exercise to be my quickest route away from anxiety and depression (even still I rarely get around to doing it). I like to think that I'm exercising out of my body all the lies society has been telling me.

We live in a very mean, emotionally stingy era - most of us don't even remember the words and attitudes of kindness that used to exist in US society, even though they existed in our lifetimes!

The things people have been empowered to think about and say to each other by our data-collecting, media-watching, socially-networked society are appalling. And - just like this winter in the northeast - it's taking a toll on all of us.

Being depressed and anxious is everyone's new normal. It feels like a steep hill to climb because everyone is happy having you at the bottom of that hill. You're a good consumer. A miserable worker is a good worker.

What are you going to do about it!?

It has come to this: being happy, feeling like yourself, feeling able to take action, having a say in your own governance -- it's a radical stance. Most people are not going to cheer for you. Most magazines will still tell you you're doing it wrong, that you have a moral obligation to continue to improve yourself. And the chorus of idiots at work will agree! Cluck! Cluck! Cluck!

I don't know if I'm making any sense. You've touched me today! I want to shake you and wake you up! You! Are you in there somewhere behind the mean things your college boyfriend said to you 20 years ago?! Come out and play! People aren't playing at your job! People are playing over THERE! Go over there!
posted by vitabellosi at 10:22 AM on February 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

(Also, daily magnesium and Vit D has transformed my mood this winter.the magnesium is for migraine prevention. I don't know which thing is improving my mood, but I'm surprised to find that I am happy.)
posted by vitabellosi at 10:32 AM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Full disclosure: I have breezed through your question history.

I think step 1 is seeing a doctor and getting a sleep study. And treating your insomnia. You've been running on 2-3 hours of sleep per night for years, and frankly that shit is going to kill you. Not figuratively. Literally.

Sleep study. Sleep meds if you need them. Worry about the rest later.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:37 AM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

From a fellow female 40something INFP....after reading your post, my first thought was: Have you ever been screened for inattentive ADHD? Some reading that might be useful.
posted by gnomeloaf at 10:46 AM on February 25, 2015

Full disclosure: I have breezed through your question history.

I think step 1 is seeing a doctor and getting a sleep study. And treating your insomnia. You've been running on 2-3 hours of sleep per night for years, and frankly that shit is going to kill you. Not figuratively. Literally.

Sleep study. Sleep meds if you need them. Worry about the rest later.

YES. Please hie thee to your doctor and demand a sleep study ASAP. Let me tell you my story: three years ago, I was a mess. I attributed that to job-hunting in a lousy economy plus caring for my elderly dad. I was not sleepy during the day but I was unfocused, irritable, and lacked energy. Plus I had raging insomnia, and nightmares when I did fall asleep. After cycling through what felt like every sleep med on the face of the earth (one of which gave me insulin resistance. Yay. I'm still dealing with the aftermath of that) I demanded a sleep test. Lo and behold - I was waking myself up 40 times an hour. A later, home test showed 70 times an hour. I had severe sleep apnea. I was getting NO sound sleep at all. And without a regular bed partner, I had no-one to tell me that I snored or gasped for breath in my sleep.

I now have a CPAP with a heated humidifier and it is like night and day! I know what good sleep is like! I wake up feeling refreshed! I have the energy to live my life and the emotional bandwidth to cope with life's challenges. I'm more patient, more assertive, and less reactive. I'm even a better driver! ALL BECAUSE I AM GETTING A DECENT NIGHT'S SLEEP.

You may or may not have sleep apnea - but - you will never know unless you get a sleep test. And don't settle for one that just has an oximeter clipped to your finger, either - those are not sensitive enough. You want an in-lab one or a more sophisticated in-home one with a device that measures snoring, struggles for breath, and pauses in breathing. Sleep apnea is linked to depression, especially in women. And women are less likely to be diagnosed (in my own experience, ESPECIALLY if you are under 50 and/or not overweight).
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:59 AM on February 25, 2015

God bless you all. Thank you all for the kind and thoughtful advice, and for giving me some hope.
posted by jenh526 at 7:32 PM on February 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

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