I like my life, but I don't like myself
May 18, 2015 4:16 AM   Subscribe

I'm a woman in my thirties, very happily married, in an interesting career. I love my partner, friends, and home. I have been treated for depression fairly successfully. So why do I feel like such a loser?

It's hard to articulate what's going on here exactly, apart from vague feelings of inadequacy and feeling invisible and worthless to the world at large and to myself.

I love my partner like crazy and don't want anyone else, but I'm tormented by the thought that people think I'm ugly and that this is holding me back in life. I try to dress well, but I'm overweight and out of shape. It feels like no one ever sees me. Nobody checks me out. For whatever it's worth, I'm also extremely shy and awkward. Objectively speaking, I am much less attractive than average: my face isn't symmetrical, I look bloated and lumpy, and my skin is easily irritated. I'm not sure why this matters in the big scheme of things, except that it kind of hurts to know you're ugly.

Similarly, I enjoy my job, but spend a great deal of time thinking about how people younger than me are much further along in this career path (admittedly a tricky-to-navigate and poorly-paid one), about how the people I went to college with are better educated and have "professions" while I do not, about how it just plain sounds unimpressive to be working a barely-minimum-wage job requiring little skill while you're heading toward middle age. I like the work itself. My boss is a gem, and my partner and friends are encouraging, but I am very low on the totem pole at work and don't feel valued by the organization or most of the employees there.

I spend an awful lot of time thinking about all this. Why does it matter if one is doing less well than, say, the average middle-class American person? Who cares? Why do I care? Why do I obsess over this and not something more meaningful?

I have been diagnosed with major depression and Asperger's syndrome for many years. I am on medication and go to therapy. My current psychiatrist thinks this antidepressant has worked better than any in the past, and I agree. I don't cry every day or want to hurt myself now. But somehow this nagging self-loathing and preoccupation with the idea that I deserve more (what does it mean to "deserve" anything, anyway?) never subsides.

One more thing, I used to be passionate about creative writing, but have largely stopped bothering in the last few years (interestingly, as my depression has been more successfully treated) because it has gotten harder for me to write anything. This eats away at me sometimes but I don't know what to do about it.

(Thanks for reading, and sorry for the long text and lack of a clear question. This was the best I could do.)
posted by lilpinksockpuppet to Human Relations (18 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Why does it matter if one is doing less well than, say, the average middle-class American person? Who cares? Why do I care? Why do I obsess over this and not something more meaningful?

Fundamentally, the reason it matters is because it matters to almost everybody. You don't live in a vacuum and there's something inherent that makes us compare ourselves to our surroundings. But depression makes it worse. It sounds like your meds are doing pretty well, but this sort of thing is exactly the stuff that a good therapist is more helpful with than good drugs. It's mostly a matter of getting help with breaking bad mental habits and refocusing your energy towards the stuff you really want to change.
posted by Sequence at 4:45 AM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Think about the person who you love the most in the world. A friend, your husband, a child, and then imagine picking them apart the way you pick yourself apart every single day. You wouldn't do it because you are not a horrible person. Stop being a horrible person to yourself. Therapy should have addressed this. Your inner dialog is set to critical. Blame your mother for this and then reset it. Commit to only having nice thoughts for a full week. It will feel weird at first but do it anyway. Don't go past a mirror without telling yourself that you are lovely and you have nice eyes. Make a list of things that are good about you and remember that you are an overly critical perfectionist who is too hard on yourself so make the list as if you were writing about someone else. You are a creative writer. Your brain stretches to take in the possibility of everything. Stretch your brain to take in the possibility that you have been wrong about yourself every minute of every day of your entire life and that you might actually be a pretty good person. And then don't beat yourself up about not knowing this sooner, just know it.
posted by myselfasme at 5:08 AM on May 18, 2015 [26 favorites]

From an anonymous Mefite:
Regarding your concerns about your appearance, I asked a question relating to ugliness under a sockpuppet account:

Namecalling by strangers

I found the answers helpful, especially from those who put my question in a feminist context or who said that they themselves are ugly but awesome.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 5:38 AM on May 18, 2015 [6 favorites]

Don't compare your first draft to others' highlight reel.

Each of these things that you desire are well within your control and well within your grasp, and looking at them, I feel that once you start dipping your toe into the water for each of them, the corresponding ripples with improve your life and fill you with joy and wonder.

Once you start working out, you'll feel better, look better and just plain be happier. Ignore the scale; take "before" pictures and take occasional "now" photos to document your amazing journey.

Once you start eating cleaner, your body will respond with wonderful energy.

Once you start writing daily morning pages, your mind will expand, your thoughts, as accurate or as inaccurate as they are, will be down and can be examined in the light of day.

Take care of yourself, be patient with yourself, love yourself, and most of all, just treat yourself as you would treat your best friend in the world.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 5:45 AM on May 18, 2015 [18 favorites]

Best answer: Why do I obsess over this and not something more meaningful?
This is just another way of devaluing and dismissing yourself. The way you feel about yourself is incredibly meaningful. Self-talk has a lot of weight. What happens in our heads shapes how we interact with the world. Don't discount this.

I'm glad you asked this question.

Have you been honest with your therapist (psychiatrist or other) about this? I had a situation once where my therapist told me there wasn't much I needed from her because I seemed ok and that's because I wasn't telling her the whole story. I couldn't; I wasn't capable yet of facing it, but you sound like you can clearly articulate how you feel. So try this if you have not. They may have methods to help you address this.

I keep a gratitude journal off and on. I write down three things that were good that day on a new blank page at the end of the day.

Finally I am not that physically attractive and I've found that working out and specifically strength training helps me see how awesome my body is. Feeling strong and capable physically helps me appreciate this bag of meat I'm destined to haul around for all of my days on earth, no matter how much it conforms to the current "standard" of beauty in my part of the world.

Best of luck to you.
posted by sockermom at 5:51 AM on May 18, 2015 [7 favorites]

You mention a psychiatrist, but do you have a therapist? I found medication was very useful for crisis management, when I was in that place, but talk therapy is what helped with self-esteem, motivation, and seeing my worth in everyday life. A psychiatrist treats you medically, but a good therapist can give you exercises and tactics for self-talk and working on yourself in a way that can help with the ennui you're talking about.
posted by xingcat at 6:17 AM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

it is perfectly normal to feel frustrated that your career is way behind where it should be when you know you can do better. This is especially challenging for people with Asperger's who may be lacking the "soft skills" necessary to progress professionally compared to their peers even though their intellectual and professional talents are competitive. Have you thought about addressing this specific issue with your therapist? If anything, trying to improve your position professionally may give you something to "do" that you can continually work on and improve upon and that is something that helps keep a person feel like they're "going somewhere" which leads to improved personal satisfaction.
posted by deanc at 6:43 AM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Because you mentioned creative writing, you may find Eric Maisel's work helpful. He has done several books about depression in creative people, including The Van Gogh Blues and Rethinking Depression. He addresses the strong need for meaning and purpose that can often trigger depression and how one can create one's own meaning on a daily basis.
posted by alicat at 8:02 AM on May 18, 2015 [5 favorites]

I have some of the same issues you do so I'm definitely not claiming to have all the answers but two things that have been really helpful to me have Brene Brown's book The Gifts of Imperfection (I feel like it's the only self help book I'll ever need - I just need to find a way of remembering it when I need it) and getting into minimalism as a lifestyle (there are lots of blogs about this), because the focus there is much more on who you are on the inside than material markers of "success". Both of these things helped me look at my life in a different way and appreciate it more and also work on not caring so much what other people think and comparing myself to them and instead working more on becoming myself.
posted by Jess the Mess at 9:09 AM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Some of your thoughts seem like textbook examples of distorted thinking associated with depression, which can be addressed through cognitive behavioural therapy. Is this something you have already tried? I assume that you may have, but even so you may benefit from a refresher with a new CBT therapist and/or trying some of the exercises in a book like Feeling Good.

Other thoughts:

-- have you considered signing up for a creative writing course? It seems like your creative spark needs an external nudge, and a class or an online course might help. It sounds like you need the creative outlet, and like you have a talent in that direction, so maybe some structured exercises and prompts etc would help unlock that side of you again.

-- does your job leave you time to volunteer for a cause you are passionate about? Making an immediate practical difference to something that matters may help to change your perception of yourself. I've found that volunteering helps to turn my energy outwards and weakens my negative inward focus on my appearance and how my career compares with other people's awesomeness. If you don't have a frontline type job, where you deal with people's problems every day, you can easily start to imagine that everyone in the world, except you, lives a kind of Facebook profile life of neverending brilliance and achievement and great parties. Voluntary work can bring you into contact with the reality of other people's lives and give you more perspective on who you are and what you have to give.
posted by Aravis76 at 9:30 AM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Similarly, I enjoy my job, but spend a great deal of time thinking about how people younger than me are much further along in this career path (admittedly a tricky-to-navigate and poorly-paid one), about how the people I went to college with are better educated and have "professions" while I do not, about how it just plain sounds unimpressive to be working a barely-minimum-wage job requiring little skill while you're heading toward middle age.

The thing is, you have only now found the medication that has mitigated the worst of your depression. All this time, you've been getting by with one hand tied behind your back. It's not really fair of you to judge yourself against people who haven't had that experience. Your path is your own; compare yourself to where you've been. Show yourself some compassion, and be patient with the work you're doing to heal yourself.

Also, despite the difficulties you've faced, you've navigated your way through a tricky industry into a job and workplace you like, found a partner you love who loves you, and built up a network of supportive friends. That's pretty good, if you ask me.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:43 AM on May 18, 2015 [7 favorites]

I have been treated for depression fairly successfully. So why do I feel like such a loser?

I think maybe it might be worth looking at how successful that treatment has actually been so far. Most of the time it isn't only about how well the medication (if used) works, it's also about talk therapy and digging out the roots of things.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:45 AM on May 18, 2015 [6 favorites]

Feeling valued by your employer is more important than you make it seem. Don't discount that. Our jobs take up so much of our lives, and are so important for living, that they end up defining us to some extent even if we don't want them to. Regardless of my relationships and activities outside of work, I've found that it's hard to think of myself as a valued member of society if the company I work for doesn't seem to think I'm all that valuable. Feeling like a loser at your job will make you feel bad about yourself even when you're not there.

And the lack of creative output is legitimately alarming for a formerly creative person. Just getting yourself involved in some sort of creative activity with other people could help a lot. Have you looked into any local community groups you could get involved with? Knitting, art classes, community theater, any volunteering? I think that if you're able to get into something like that, you'll gain new perspective, see that you aren't actually a loser and that you are capable of doing work that makes you feel more valued.

I don't know what you look like, but really, if you're doing work that people truly appreciate and you feel appreciated, your appearance matters less and less.
posted by wondermouse at 1:42 PM on May 18, 2015

I'm on my phone so I can't link, but there's a TedRadio Hourpodcast kind of on this theme which was quite good. They talk to Alain deBotton about his book Status Anxiety which I haven't read but you might like.

In The Geography of Bliss the author travels around to the worlds happiest and unhappiest places looking for commonalities. One of the biggest is wage disparity: happy countries are very egalitarian with minimal wage gap. The wage gap in the US is huge. I think some of what you're feeling is not uncommon; depression or no.
posted by jrobin276 at 2:52 PM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Also consider how you're framing your job. I have a friend who works at a large bookstore. When she was recently asked at a party, she waved her hand and said self-depricatingly, "Oh, I just work at X bookstore." I said, "You say that, but what you do is more than 'just work at X bookstore'. You manage the children's section, you encourage kids to read more, and you help people who want to do that for the kids in their lives." This led to her opening up more in the conversation, and we could see her happiness about her job shine through. Maybe your job doesn't pay well. Maybe you're not keeping up with the Joneses, job-wise. But what do you like about your job? Let's say you work at a clothing store. Instead of saying, "Oh, I just work for H&M", you could say something like, "I work for H&M, with a great group of people." Then you can launch into your latest happy story about helping someone find the perfect outfit (or whatever floats your boat).
posted by RogueTech at 10:25 PM on May 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

I once complained to a therapist about my job. She said "it could be worse, you could be a highly paid lawyer with a big house and trophy wife who hates every minute of their 80 hour work week."
posted by xammerboy at 2:37 PM on May 19, 2015

Remember that food and exercise are medicine. Getting active, going off gluten, eating a low sugar diet, and taking mood-supporting nutrients like vitamin D and magnesium work wonders if you give them a chance.
posted by rumbles at 6:35 PM on May 19, 2015

Response by poster: I just wanted to check back in and say thank you for all the compassion and insight I received above. I marked the answers as "best" that seemed like they might also be applicable to someone in different circumstances, but they were really all best answers.
posted by lilpinksockpuppet at 4:44 AM on June 14, 2015

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