This question was just one more thing to do
October 2, 2015 12:13 PM   Subscribe

I feel like I'm suffering from caregiver burnout though I'm not really a caregiver. How do I recharge? How do I prevent this from happening again?

I work in middle management and have to manage up and mange down.
I run a small business with a strong customer service component.
My roommate does not understand concepts like cleaning or buying toilet paper.
My parents are independent but will not be in 10 years. How to prepare for that I already have to think about. More and more, I have to interpret the world for them, though I have for a long time.

I don't have a partner and haven't in two years. It's the longest I've ever gone in 15 years without one. Year 1 I enjoyed my independence. Year 2 I searched. I put on my best face, played the exhausting game of polite pretend, and it was never enough. There were so many perfectly crushing experiences, beautiful in their design almost, that I gave up. There are no prospects in sight. It makes me sad.

I do have friends who can be great. But these days I'm the one who remembers the birthdays and goes out of her way and gets back in touch and makes the plan. I feel like no one ever does as much for me lately. And a friend does not hold you while you go to sleep at night or have dinner ready in a few hour's notice on demand.

All the things I could do to help myself feel like so many more obligations and just serve to remind me that I have to do it all myself. I hired a marketing firm to help with the business, and they did a disastrous job, so bad I had to proofread their copy for typos. Now I'm behind AND have to look for another firm or do the work myself. Get a massage? Sure, let me just add researching places to get a massage to my list of things to do. Yes, I can ask my roommate to buy toilet paper, but why should I have to? Why can't you just know to buy it? Going on vacation helped, but in a few weeks it was right back to the way it was before. And the planning was stressful.

Not to mention that these things make me feel like shit. Oh, you're a singleton worn out by your middle class office job with benefits? Better hire this underpaid person with six children to clean your place. No, you don't have to spend five minutes helping a stranger find the park. Well, but what if they took my grumpiness personally and it ruined their day?

The only thing I enjoy is eating junk food and watching TV. I'm tired all the time. This is bad because I'm gaining weight, which makes me feel bad, and I'm neglecting all the things I have to do. My bills are overdue. My business is suffering. But then I think, well who cares? So what if I gain 10 pounds, no one will see me naked anyway. Who cares if my room is a mess, no one sees it but me. Who cares if I blew hundreds on takeout last month, this is the only enjoyment I get from my life.

I take an antidepressant. Maybe it doesn't work anymore. I don't know. I've taken it for five years.

Assume big city and upper middle-class resources.

How do I dig out from here? I am so tired.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I take an antidepressant. Maybe it doesn't work anymore.

your post screams out depressed to me. i would discuss this with whoever prescribes the meds.

edit: also, upper middle class, but roommate?
posted by andrewcooke at 12:24 PM on October 2, 2015 [18 favorites]

I understand your situation. The best way to recharge is to ask yourself: "what is your passion?" What would you rather do with your energy?" I don't know where you live, but it is proven that spending time in nature can vastly improve one's mood. If you go for a walk in your local park, you may not even need to spend time researching. If you could carve out 30 minutes every day to just appreciate nature, it might improve matters considerably.

I have learned from experience that some people need to be managed, including your roomate. Sure, people can buy toilet paper, but many need to be told to do so. Maybe your roommate relies on you to run the place. I know it's a drain, but it needs to be done.

I don't have a solution for issues with friends, but I've had to end friendships because people were not willing to make an effort. I do think you should see someone who could help with stress management, doing it all by yourself is taking a toll. Peace.
posted by dragonbaby07 at 12:29 PM on October 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Forgive me for offering one more thing to research but if you are in the US, a lot of health care centers offer stress management classes - typically 6-8 weeks that give you a whole bunch of new tools to try out. Then you can pick what seems to help the most. Otherwise, if I was going to pick one thing, it would be some for exercise - get your body moving, your energy up, balance calories, reduce depression - really a magic pill. If even that seems too hard, then your depression is kicking up in a big way and needs to be addressed
posted by metahawk at 12:32 PM on October 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

First, go see a doctor and get a checkup. The antidepressant can't work if you have some other underlying cause that is contributing to your burnout and depression.

I know how you feel because I have been there -- in my case it was thyroid, but these symptoms could also be caused by iron deficiency, low D, sleep apnea, or a number of other causes. Your doctor can screen you for those causes.

If it is one of those things, you will feel SO MUCH BETTER once you are treated.
posted by pie ninja at 12:34 PM on October 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

Wow that's a lot on your mind! No wonder you're worn out.

I know someone will come along who can speak intelligently about anti-depressants, so I won't address that, but I think that has a lot to do with what you're feeling.

What I will say is that some of this seems like it's taking up a lot of mental space when it shouldn't be. If you've tried to stop worrying and you can't, that's different. But it sounds to me like you are taking on perhaps more than you need to:

* Remembing birthdays. I'm going to guess you're not in your early 20s. You don't have to remember people's birthdays if you don't want to. Or, just send a card. Be the person who sends a really cool card – not the person that organizes a labor-intensive birthday dinner.

* Your parents getting older. You're already worrying about something that may or may not happen ten years down the road. That seems unnecessary.

* If you hired someone to create marketing materials for you, and it came back less than satisfactory, send it back to them till they get it right.

* Add toilet paper to the Amazon subscribe-and-save list.

I know when I'm feeling worn out/unappreciated/all work no play, I go to the bookstore. I get a coffee, look at books, sit down with a magazine, and after a while of just being chill, I feel better. Is there a place like that for you, that involves no planning? Go there, today if possible.
posted by lyssabee at 12:35 PM on October 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

You sound like you are burnt out and lonely. It is SO hard. I definitely agree with the others about getting a checkup and seeing if your antidepressant can be changed to help out a little.

But one other thing I want to gently suggest is that you try to not let your disappointment in others ruin your outlook. A lot of the things you mention that bother you make it sound as though you think if someone else was in your life they could help take some of these burdens off your shoulders. But is that really a good reason to have a friend or partner? I'm sure you know it's not. You don't get into relationships with people because they are going to pick up the toilet paper or plan things for you - you get into these relationships because they are good people you have things in common with. Everything else is just a bonus.

Also, being partnered or married or whatever doesn't necessarily guarantee the burden will be less. If anything, there's more meals to cook, more TP to buy. My husband is just as busy as I am so there's no way I can expect him to do the things I don't have time for.
posted by joan_holloway at 12:44 PM on October 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

seconding exercise - both for depression, and for weight. it's hard to get started, i know, but really worth it.
posted by andrewcooke at 12:52 PM on October 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

As someone who deals with a lot of this stuff too, let me just say:

Yes, this sucks. It sucks a lot. Respectfully to joan_holloway, having been partnered and now being not-partnered: you are correct. There is only you to run errands, fix dinner, and at the end of the night if you are crying in bed, it is only you there. I am sorry, I know what this is like, and I know that it can, in fact, be a horrible, loudly-keening pain that never ceases.

I know. And I am sorry.

Things I do to alleviate the fact that sometimes I look at my cat and think, "so this is it" include:

1) Grocery Delivery/Amazon subscribe-and-save (Instacart/Shipt)
2) Previously, cleaning person. Stop worrying about whether you are better off than them, if having a cleaning person clears up an ounce of mental space and you can afford it, do it.
3) Task Rabbit / Personal assistant for things that drag the life out of me
4) STOP BEING THE PERSON WHO PLANS ALL THE THINGS. Just stop. It's okay. I know that it's easy to feel like your value to the group is caught up in being The Person Who Plans. It's not true. Depression lies, and this is one of the ones that I am MOST susceptible to, the lie of "people only like me because I do X or Y thing for them."
5) Join a gym or something and make that a priority in whatever way you have to.
6) Ask for one-on-one time with friends. Tell someone how much pain you're in. It's okay.

Please meMail me if you want. I'm sorry, I go through this all the time, too, and it's just the worst.
posted by Medieval Maven at 12:59 PM on October 2, 2015 [12 favorites]

Did you see any of the emotional labor threads? (I only linked a few.) You may feel like you have caregiver burnout because you do have caregiver burnout.

Switching up antidepressants, therapy, self-care, exercise, diet, etc. can all help with that, but a lot of your post sounds to me like you're expending more energy on other people than you have. You're allowed to not do that, even if it's helping your parents interpret the world or remembering your friends' significant dates. Or you can do it some of the time, when you have the energy, but not when you're already drained.

Work and roommate are harder, certainly: it sounds like the customer-service oriented nature of your work requires those people skills. Can you, therefore, decline some of the more-optional parts of work, like planning happy hours? Or can you delegate researching those new marketing firms to someone below you, so you just have to interview them and pick one? With the roommate: can you get a new roommate, or get a place alone? What about hire a cleaning person (labor now saving labor later)?
posted by mchorn at 1:03 PM on October 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

You need to accept your own limitations and those of others. Once you do that, you can stop beating yourself up.

If you need a certain level of clean, either live alone or get a cleaner. Toilet paper can be bought in bulk and delivered to your door by Amazon and other services. You can click on it over a glass of wine and can split the cost with her. It really just sounds like you're upset that she's not reading your mind or doesn't have your standards.

You need to treat yours and others with compassion and care. It takes practice.
posted by discopolo at 1:11 PM on October 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you were taking an antacid, or a painkiller, or something to make a skin condition go away, and you noticed that over time the medication seemed to not work as well as it used to, you would probably go to the doctor and say "hey something's up, the problem isn't getting better anymore!" right? There's totally nothing wrong with doing the same thing for an antidepressant.
posted by poffin boffin at 1:17 PM on October 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

I have bouts of feeling the way you are feeling now from time to time, and I agree with Medieval Maven that this is just the worst, and I'm really sorry that anyone ever has to deal with it.

Every now and then I say that depression is like a living organism in the respect that it will fight to stay "alive" within you. One of the ways it does this in me is that, when I'm already feeling overwhelmed, depression will get my mind to create thoughts about burdens that don't exist, or make me think about them as lasting forever when there's no way of knowing how long they'll last.

I mean, if you buy toilet paper at the store today, that's one thing and it's over and done and you're fine. But depression turns it into: I ALWAYS have to do this and my roommate NEVER does this and not only that but it is completely UNFAIR that I would have to ask my roommate to do it even though there's every possibility that they would help out were I to ask.

Or like, sure, your parents are aging, but it's only when we're already burdened with other issues that the fact that they will not be independent in 10 or so years becomes a big issue that makes us want to curl up and cry. For data points, my parents were nearing 40 when I was born and there was every likelihood that my siblings and I would have a LOT of caretaking to do for a really long time. As it happened, both parents died quickly and decisively after a short illness, so that is a possible outcome for you, too. Don't borrow trouble, that's just depression trying to get the best of you.

Here's one thing that I have to look out for and maybe you do, too. When I'm depressed, I will deliberately not do what I want to do or what will help me out, and there's a weird way in which I make it someone else's fault even though the only person making the decision is me and the only person to suffer is me. When I find that kind of decision creeping up on me, like, oh hell no I'm not going to get a massage because that's just one MORE thing I would have to research when I'm already burned out from planning birthday parties for other people that they don't even appreciate, I have to give myself a time out, because it's always the result of HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, tired) and it's not a real decision. I don't even know if this makes sense, but it's something I see very clearly in myself so maybe it rings a bell with you.

I do think that your anti-depressant isn't working or could be tweaked, and a complete blood count is a good idea. If you're not taking a B complex, start doing so now. Many of us have been in your shoes and have found light that follows darkness. Nothing is forever, everything changes. It may change for the worse for a while but then it changes again, so be brave, have courage, be good to yourself, don't let depression think for you, and try to stay cognizant of self-defeating thoughts that only lead you to more anger and pain. We're all on your side.
posted by janey47 at 1:25 PM on October 2, 2015 [11 favorites]

Others have covered some of the aspects of this question related to depression, and for that I am grateful. But I have just one thing to add. This:

No, you don't have to spend five minutes helping a stranger find the park. Well, but what if they took my grumpiness personally and it ruined their day?
Personally, I find it very gratifying to be kind. I generally make an effort to thank people and to compliment people. But you can say no without being unkind. You can say, "I'm so sorry, I can't help you right now, I hope you find the park soon!" That's not grumpy, especially not if you do it with a smile or with a kind vocal tone.

If they take the fact that you did not spend time helping them and it ruins their day, that lies squarely on them. They allowed their day to be ruined by someone not giving something to them that they wanted. Even when people are obviously grumpy directly to me it only bothers me for a few minutes and then I forget about it. But no matter their reaction it does not matter. You have to take care of yourself before you worry about taking care of random strangers who can't find the park.

And the same holds true for friends. I posted a question here about two or maybe even three years ago now where I said, essentially, that I felt undervalued and under appreciated by so many of my friends, and how much that hurt. Especially because I always went out of my way for them, I baked birthday cakes and dropped everything when they called just to help.

And overwhelmingly Metafilter said to me, well, stop doing things that aren't proportionate to the way your friends treat you. Don't do things for them that they won't do for you.

And then I lost some of these "friends" or I willingly left them behind when it became incredibly evident that they were using me and didn't care about how it affected me. But now I have new friends. It took awhile but I found people who didn't use me because I had developed a better sense of self and better boundaries. And as I have said here often, one of the main things that led me down this path (aside from metafilter, as a matter of fact) was therapy.

And now, when I email someone and they don't email me back, I don't take it personally. In fact, often I am the one who is terrible about replying, now, because I am so busy with my own stuff that it slips my mind and goes off my radar. And the people who are my friends? They get that and they understand and I know that if it bothered them they would say something to me about it, and I would work harder to make sure they knew they were valued in my life. The people that I am friends with now are people that I have chosen to be friends with, and I am not under any obligation to continue those friendships - if the friendship is not working, I will tell them, and if nothing changes, I can and will walk away. And no one expects cakes from me anymore. If they wanted one, they would ask. And if I feel like making one, I will, even if they don't ask! And it goes without saying that if a friend needed me, I would be there in a heartbeat. But not if that sentiment is not reciprocated.

I hope that makes sense. I went off on a bit of a tangent. But it seems central to your question: it seems like you feel obligated to take care of others and to put their needs above yours. You are not obligated to do this. In fact, doing this is actively harmful to yourself. No wonder you feel like you have caregiver burnout. You are caring for everyone else's feelings - even strangers - and not your own.

Take care of yourself. Do one nice thing for you tonight. And I know this step is hard and is a chore, but it will have long dividends: find a therapist and talk to them about this stuff.

Best of luck.
posted by sockermom at 1:54 PM on October 2, 2015 [11 favorites]

My first thought is fuck your job. When you're single, you really need to like your job, since it becomes more central to your life and less of a means to an end. And you don't have dependents. So fuck it. Nix the job, and the rest will follow.

Be brave and think outside the box. Let the business go and try a new branch of the working world. Become a tour guide or something. Or get an office job but one in a different field. Just break the mold. You'll be learning new things and meeting new people and potentially killing all birds with one stone.

Nix the job!
posted by quincunx at 2:06 PM on October 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

Other people have addressed the antidepressant, but I'll just chime in to say, yes, it happened to me. I took Wellbutrin for 15 years & it was great. Now it's not, so I'm in the process of switching.

I want to go back to the massage thing. You say you've been single for two years. That means it may have been two years since you've had significant skin-to-skin contact. We humans need this contact; it's part of having a body. So, please reconsider massage. And instead of trying to research and optimize and find absolutely the best massage therapist ever, do one of these things:
1. Call your local Massage Envy and book an appointment. (If you don't have that biz nearby, google "licensed massage therapist" and your zip code. Go with the first person on the list.)
2. Call somebody you know who gets massages, and ask them for a name & number.
In either case, you'll get a massage. Even if it's not fantastic, it will probably feel quite good. Your body will thank you.
posted by tuesdayschild at 2:14 PM on October 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

You sound overwhelmed – there's a kind of shrill sound in your writing that makes me suspect you're suffering from overload, rather than depression.

If I understand you, you have both a full-time job and a side business. Maybe you need to scale down, let one of those two things go, get a smaller place to live – a place where you don't need a roommate to make ends meet – and free up some time and brain cycles.

Also: if friends pick up on your frantic vibe they won't ask you to do things, not because they don't like you but because they're bound to assume you're always too busy.
posted by zadcat at 3:38 PM on October 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to add that I believe that there is nothing wrong with hiring a person to do cleaning or yard work for you as long as (1) you may them a reasonable wage - no exploitation and (2) you treat them with dignity and respect. It is their job - find someone who is good at and takes pride in their work. Treat them like the professional that they are. Then you can both feel good about the transaction - you give them money, they do a professional job, you get something you want (maybe not NEED, but want) and they get to earn a living to pay for the things that they want and need. So, misplaced pity for the service people is a poor excuse not to get help when you are feeling overwhelmed.
posted by metahawk at 5:50 PM on October 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh hey me from another location! Probably checking up on depression meds is a good idea, like other commenters say. I haven't gone that route myself - I'm a fan of self-care as necessary but also of noticing what the root causes of problems are and tackling those directly, and fortunately I've only encountered mild situational depression so far. Here are some things I've done:

Job: Not feeling valued or supported at my job sucks when that happens, and takes energy away from all the other areas of my life. For various reasons kind of related to customer service type issues, that happens regularly no matter how well I actually perform my job. When I have the energy, I've organized colleagues to change some of the features of my job that particularly bug me. I had the opportunity last year, with a bunch of new people coming on board, to get a new initiative started that brings my department closer to performing one of our tasks in a manner consistent with what research has shown to be most effective. Because everyone is thinking about some of the issues this brought up, and because the change is coming from everyone on a department-wide basis now, some of the work processes I had been employing in the past that had not been valued or rewarded because of how different they were are now becoming more regularized and thus more valued and rewarded. Sometimes I don't have the energy for pushing for that sort of change, though. Stepping back from my job, keeping a very deliberate emotional wall between my work and my life/sense of self, and pushing back against the tendency in my industry for people to define themselves by the job and see it as a calling rather than just a job - these have all been helpful tactics for me in my lower-energy times as well. This has involved letting some work friendships lapse a bit and actively fostering friendships unrelated to work (I moved to current location for this job, so that was initially my main social outlet).

Taking a year to go far away and do different things was super helpful too, though not an option for most people.

Re: contracting people not doing the jobs that you hired them for: fire them? That's an economic transaction, not a social transaction, and if they are not fulfilling their end of the transaction, it's okay to cut off the economic relationship (following the language of whatever contract you signed for hiring their labor, of course), and find a different contractor who can do the job instead. I would also be frustrated and discouraged that they hire out their services but can't even produce edited copy - I mean, that's way more than just, "eh, it wasn't really the style that I was looking for," that's actual incompetence at their job. Which has cost you time and money. If you are in a big city, though, there are likely other people who are competent at their job who you could hire instead. Are there online professional forums where you could get recommendations before making another hire? Is it okay or within industry standards to ask potential contractors to pull together a little initial mini-proposal? At the least, they should have a portfolio of samples of their work that you could review? This is maybe another area where what you do right now will depend on your energy level: doing the work yourself is a reasonable short-term option. When you have the energy, especially since that sounds like the sort of task that might be a recurring need for your business (?), searching out a company whose work you can depend on will probably save you stress and frustration in the long run. Plan that searching and evaluation time into your project schedules though?

Home: I haven't had a roommate in quite a while, so this advice is not from direct personal experience. Would having a conversation with your roommate something like the following help? To roommate: "Hey, I've been feeling really burnt out lately, and as part of that have been stressing about some housework and house maintenance issues. Can we sit down some time this week when you also have time to discuss stuff and talk about chores?" Ideally, roommate would agree and schedule a time. Then, at the talk, maybe start by making a list of all the housework/maintenance tasks that need doing, along with frequency, and any notes from either of you about required or prefered method (I'm picky about how dishes are washed, for example; though that's part of why I live alone now that I am financially able to do so). Ideally, this sets the discussion up as a collaborative process rather than putting the roommate on the defensive about where they've been falling down on the job. Then write down times that the tasks require (including planning time, not just doing time!). Then split the tasks up.

If your roommate won't participate in that sort of a process, what's your rooming situation? Do you own the place and they are renting a room from you? The opposite? Co-renters on a shared place? In the first situation, you have a lot of power: give ample notice before the renewal date of roommate's lease, but add some conditions to the lease around shared housework. (This is not mean so long as roommate has ample time to decide if they want to live with the clarified rules or not, and find a different place to live if not.) In the other two situations, you might need to move if roommate absolutely won't budge on housework stuff and it's really stressing you out. But moving would also give you the opportunity to clarify rules around housework at the start of any new living arrangement. Hopefully, though, roommate is compassionate and will make an effort to help releive the home maintenace portions of your stress and burnout!

Friends: So, I was an odd teenager. I didn't go through the rebellious phase until, I dunno, mid-20s or so. Instead, I read books on psychology of teenage girls, and somehow came up with the idea of just directly communicating to my parents, "I need a hug" or "I need some attention." My parents were decent, so they were able to respond to that with hugs or appropriate levels of attention, without going the "oh my gosh is everything ok what's wrong???!" over-reaction route. So I had this great story to bring up to new friends everywhere I've moved since then, and most folks think that it is totally awesome. The common response I get is, "oh my gosh, I totally wish I could just ask for hugs from friends whenever I needed them!" Which has led to having a culture among my friend groups of - not demanding hugs from people ('cause I also have friends who are not comfortable with such physical contact) - but it being normalized and not a big deal to ask for hugs on a regular basis. It may be relevant here that I don't tend to hang out with people who are overly concerned with acting like grown-ups; and I do tend to hang out with people who are generally compassionate, aware and accepting of mental health needs, minor to major.

It's not a perfect system. Sometimes I get irritable and want attention but everyone is just rubbing me the wrong way. Changing up some of my routines sometimes helps with that. Sometimes letting myself be a hermit for a bit helps. Going for long walks or drives helps me. Wilderness helps me. Exercise generally helps. Somewhat paradoxically, engaging in some activism and organising that feels like I'm making a difference in something important and systemic (not just one-on-one helping), even though I'm already feeling overly busy and caretaker-fatigued, helps me. For me, I get stressed when I feel overworked but not stimulated or challenged in that work, so the sense of purpose helps. Also, with an activist group (at least, a socially healthy one), everyone is working together, so it helps counteract that feeling of not being supported in what I'm doing.

Dating: The major strength of online dating is also its major disadvantage: it helps you meet people you wouldn't otherwise meet or associate with. Sometimes they are cool people. Many times there's a reason you wouldn't otherwise meet or associate with them. It sounds like taking a break from dating is a good idea for you right now. When you have the energy, you can face that again. Maybe before you do, find a trusted friend or therapist and talk through your expectations, your boundaries and how you will maintain them, and your needs and desires and how you will convey them and ask for them to be met?

Parents: What other support systems do your parents have? Do you have the opportunity to coordinate with these other supports?

Other: I turn to the Hyperbole and a Half comic on adulting when I need reminders that my stress and burnout is reasonable and not a personal failing. Also, I've followed the advice of this Captain Awkward guest post to make lists of things that I've accomplished in addition to or instead of to-do lists when I'm feeling overwhelmed. I have a couple friends I can report these lists of accomplished tasks to, because saying it aloud to another human being also makes it more real. That has also helped me.

The other thing that I learned growing up in tourist-destination areas is that there is always some other helpful person a little farther down the road to give directions, or help the people in the next step toward the park, once you've put them on the correct track. I have, in fact, given directions that involved "Step 2: ask someone at this new destination for the next step in the directions." I avoid taking my grumpy out on other people, eg. by politely declining interactions, quickly excusing or extracting myself from unwanted social situations without saying anything explicitly rude to or about other people "Now is not a good time, sorry." is a lovely phrase); as well as announcing to closer friends at the start of an interaction "I'm feeling irritable" (or hangry, or whatever) when that is the case, so that they have the context for my less effusive demeanor. But it's okay to feel grumpy; and it's okay to not be up for generously giving of yourself in random social interactions at any and all times.

Having plans and seeing a route to things improving, even if that will take a few months or a year, helps me as well - it helps me feel un-stuck, even though the actual circumstances have not yet improved. Thus my focussing on each of the individual details. Ignore this advice if this approach is not helpful for you, of course!
posted by sockpuppet13 at 10:47 AM on October 3, 2015

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