Embarrassed of my life.
January 12, 2016 6:37 PM   Subscribe

I experience moments of defeat. Where's my courage?

I have a lot to fix with my life. I have no career and working a dead end job. I can't afford to live by myself, I'm overweight and I'm a struggling artist. I have a really supportive and wonderful girlfriend. And I really want to feel like I'm worth the support she provides.

And most of the time, I feel like I'm not. I'm 30 and I'm at an age where I have to take action. I want to support myself. I want to be able to provide equally for my girlfriend, raise a family - make enough money to make my parents and her mother proud. I think about all I have to do, I have one setback and then I feel like crawling under a rock. I want to just accept that I'm not capable of doing anything right. That I make/made bad decisions with my life. What kind of adult am I? Why did I do this to myself?

It's becoming overwhelming embarrassing to tell people that I work part-time, that I love drawing and art, still live with my parents and that I have no college degree. It's especially embarrassing whenever I'm having a casual conversation with people my age with whom I've just met. Or catching up with an old friend from high school. I feel like my parents are embarrassed of me, that they don't trust me to take care of myself. That I'm still a child.

I've written realistic goals for myself. To find a steady full time job and save up. To begin fighting the depression with exercise. To focus on my art and to find friends.
But how to do I avoid feeling embarrassed? or have it stop feeding into my low self-esteem?
posted by morning_television to Human Relations (16 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I'd start by seeing a counselor to work on long-term strategies and look at the reasons why you're feeling this way. We can give you a lot of tips that may be awesome and helpful but reaching out for professional help can be a great start towards a long-term solution. I don't think there's anything "wrong" or embarrassing about who you are and what you're doing but you feel that way, and I'd like for you to feel better about your life!
posted by smorgasbord at 6:40 PM on January 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

I don't think investing a lot of time into your art is a setback or something to be embarrassed about if you have aspirations of making money doing it (or otherwise because hobbies are also cool). Working full time and investing in your art career may be difficult to do at the same time. Nthing you should see a counselor to help with realistic goals and self esteem. When you see people, tell them about art thing you're doing that you're passionate about. Most people will be happy for you that you're following your dream.
posted by Kalmya at 6:49 PM on January 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Have you ever been evaluated/treated for depression or anxiety? I would start there.
posted by jessca84 at 6:50 PM on January 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

It sounds like depression is at play here. If so and if you can address that then the other issues might naturally take care of themselves. That said:

But how to do I avoid feeling embarrassed? or have it stop feeding into my low self-esteem?

You avoid embarrassment by knowing you are making progress.
You know you are making progress by recognizing the small steps of progress you are making (eg not "do I have a job" but "did I find another job to apply for".
You make the small steps of progress by being persistent at failing at a task until you don't fail.
Then you start the cycle of failing (until you don't) again.

Those pithy placards about failure being necessary for success - they're the one pithy-placard that isn't just feelgood claptrap. It's stone-cold reality. The only way you get good at doing things is by doing them when you're not good at them. Everyone fails their way upward - there is no other path upward - but none fail as visibly to yourself as you, because you're the one with the front row seat.

Failing and stopping is bad. Failing and continuing is good. Either way there's failure, so don't let it get you down and stop you.
posted by anonymisc at 6:58 PM on January 12, 2016 [14 favorites]

You have written so many positive things here, can you see them?

I have a really supportive and wonderful girlfriend
I have to take action.
I want to support myself.
I love drawing and art
I've written realistic goals for myself

These are all great things! Not just external things, not just talents and successes, but the love of other people, and support within yourself. Belief in yourself. You have that! It's just a bit buried under your anxiety and depression.

I have to say this - your perceived failure is not unique - people feel the way you do at 20, 30, 40...

You have to get some treatment and start working on it. Expect it to take time to unlearn patterns of self defeat that you've built.
posted by sweetkid at 7:05 PM on January 12, 2016 [14 favorites]

I remember your art from a previous question you asked. You may not have a full-time job and a lot of cash, but your art is really damn good. It takes an insane amount of guts to not only make art but to put it out there like you have, particularly since you mention you don't have a college degree and so presumably have been doing this solo, without the support a college environment provides. It's hard to do that year after year, especially when you're dealing with depression and anxiety and trying to gain a financial foothold in a society that sorely undervalues artistic types. That is really an achievement--seriously!
posted by whistle pig at 7:23 PM on January 12, 2016 [7 favorites]

I wish I had some magic words to make you not embarrassed. But I know how you feel. I went through this same thing. I once ran out of a Walmart to avoid a conversation with a friend from high school. I was 30 years old, unemployed, and I was living at home with my parents.

My solution. I stopped telling people.

Why should casual acquaintances or people from your past who you aren't close to know all the details about your existence? You can still tell the truth and not be embarrassed about it. You have a job! That's a fantastic accomplishment just right there. You're working on your art which is honestly way more interesting to talk about that any job you'd have. You can brag about your amazing girl friend. Keep the parts that embarrass you to yourself while you work on changing them.
posted by ilovewinter at 7:25 PM on January 12, 2016 [6 favorites]

I was there. (Except music composition in the classical tradition but also sans degree.) I, however, had a full-time job that paid well but I was just as embarrassed of it and was loathe to tell people where I was working. I was near depressed that I wasn't able to pursue my art at all (80-90 hour work weeks, if you can imagine). I was fat and in my early 40s. I was seriously running out of time to make something of my life.

Then I lost my job. Then I became homeless. Then I devoted myself full-time to my music project (which will take probably like five years to get to a point where other people will find it compelling enough to donate money to).

Being homeless is miserable. But. But, I have my soul back. It's difficult to explain, especially through the bouts of suicidal depression when I'm not sure if I can make it being homeless, but there's the art. It's incredible and it keeps me going.

But god it's hard.

I'm not saying you should do the same. Hell, I'm not sure what I'm saying other than that I've been there and it was horrible and I found a way out.

Hopefully you'll find that one thing (school, job, art, whatever) that gets you so excited that you're willing to risk losing friend and family over (I've only lost one friend but it was my best friend). There's got to be something that you can just grab hold of and say "fuck you, the rest of the world, this is who I am and what I'm going to do success or failure" and do it. Pay particular attention to the failure part. It might happen and there will be people a-plenty to say "I told you so" but you'll always know that you were the one with courage while they lived out ordinary lives of little significance (ie, developing a huge ego can keep you warm at night!).
posted by bfootdav at 7:47 PM on January 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

I had a studio space in a place with 50 other artists. The majority of them have a day job, and many also have families. Don't give up your love for making art, or making art. Find a job that doesn't wreck your ability to do art. Keep on working and speak better about yourself, to yourself. Not every woman desires to keep company with a bean counter, many would be thrilled to keep company with a bean counter/artist.
posted by Oyéah at 8:18 PM on January 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Take some pleasure in the accomplishments you've got and work on making forward progress towards things you want. Do you want a regular full-time job? If so, figure out whether it's in what you are currently doing or something else . . . then start looking for jobs. (Applying for jobs sounds scary but it's secretly incredibly easy, because all you actually have to do is email your resume or fill out web forms, at least to get started.)

Everything seems scary and impossible when you just think about it in the abstract, but (at least in my experience, having been in a not so different situation from you), most of it is doable if you break it down into small enough pieces. Sleeping is easy when you know you've made real progress that day, even if you still haven't accomplished every single goal.

I've been in that spot, and breaking things into small pieces helped, even if it was in large part my terror that propelled me into taking the next step. And in terms of the shame over not having your life together (which is understandable), it may help to know that Thoreau lived with his parents until 31. Tons of other famous, accomplished people were the equivalent of today's basement-dwelling internet losers in their youth. It's not as hard as your terror is probably making it feel like to move from where you are to where you want to be.
posted by mister pointy at 8:32 PM on January 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

It just takes time to get somewhere with art. If you keep plugging away it it, involving yourself in supportive communities, and putting it out there, eventually you will start to see something for it. I have friends who are starting to see something for their efforts now, 20 years after they started. It took them that long to figure out what they wanted to say. Meanwhile, they supported themselves with jobs , part-time if it paid enough.

2nd Oyeah (sorry, on phone, can't get the aigue) - figure out a line of paid work that will support you, that's not too stressful, something that caps at 40 hours a week max. University environments might be good.

Otherwise, if you're confident in what you're doing with your art, keep putting it out there, talk to people. Something will come of it. Put some deadlines on a whiteboard and work to them. Collaborate with people, if that's comfortable. The more you do that, the more wins you'll get, and the better you'll feel. Enjoy your life now, too.

2nd telling people as little as you feel comfortable with. Come up with some short answer and put a positive spin on it. Most people aren't that bothered about the details, they just want to know a little something to settle uncertainty. Then you can move on to whatever movie or TV show people want to talk about.

A baseline level of physical energy will help fuel all that work and keep you centered. Support your health. Exercise (you may have heard ;) ) is great for stress relief and a mood boost, sleep is really, really important too (I struggle with that one :/).

You're doing fine.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:48 PM on January 12, 2016

if i ran into you in the grocery store and asked what you've been up to, and you told me you're in a really happy relationship and working on your art, i'd say, "oh, cool! what kind of stuff" and then even if you said, "bic ballpoint pen on printer paper, a graphic novel about nothing," i'd say, "oh, cool!"

and i would genuinely think it's cool. then i'd probably ask you how you and your girlfriend met, whether you've been watching transparent, etc. so one way to stop feeling embarrassed is to remember that most people are asking about the big picture, and have friendly intentions. you can control how much information you include, and can put a positive, non-embarrassing spin on it.

another way to stop being embarrassed: you're an artist, and that is cool! i am one of those people who respects dedication to art or one's craft or calling. you're pursuing your artistic vision, which is something that so many people in full time desk jobs wish they could do but they lack the courage/discipline/vision/time.

it could be anxiety that is making you feel uber-embarrassed about your life and your choices. my therapist would always remind me that those thoughts are just the anxiety talking. they are not the truth, i do not have to believe them.

i'm prone to getting overwhelmed, too, when i have a lot of tasks ahead of me in order to accomplish a goal. what helps is to think of just the next task on your list. not the whole, long list. it's not a huge big things, it's some simple smaller things.
posted by iahtl at 10:04 PM on January 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

I relate a lot to your question and am grateful for the good advice already given in its answers.

One thing I'd add is to remember that nobody is as hard on you as you are on yourself. It helps me, when I get in a cycle of feeling like a failure or being embarrassed about where I am in my life, to recognize that nobody cares. Not in a harsh nobody-gives-a-rip-about-me way, it's just that most of the people outside of you don't notice what is screaming so loudly inside your head.

Those people you're meeting or catching up with? They honestly don't care that you live with your parents, and they know you're not your job. (And if they happen to be the kind of people who do care, then they're not the kind of people worth knowing). Your friends, family, and girlfriend? They love you for you, for the way you express yourself and the way you make them feel, and what they want is for you to feel better, not for you to achieve some magical combination of career/body/money/etc.

It can take time and practice to learn to direct that uncomplicated love & support at yourself. Therapy can help. It's worth it.
posted by adastra at 12:42 AM on January 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

You need to stop looking for people's approval. Who cares if you make anyone proud? It's YOU who must be proud.

Everything you want to change in your life can be done slowly and in increments. Rather than crash dieting, choose to eat wisely. Get up and exercise if that's what you want. Do some walking.

Continue to make art.

As for working, what would happen if you returned to school to learn something? Not university, but a school where you can learn a trade. If you like art, how about learning Computer Aided Drafting?

For sure get evaluated for depression/anxiety. Clearly there's something keeping your from moving forward and if it's a chemical imbalance, it's easily corrected.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:50 AM on January 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nthing Ruthless Bunny. Don't live your life for anyone but you. I don't mean in the self centered, arrogant sense, but a live in line with YOUR values and YOUR ethics and what YOU want. You won't be any good for you or for anyone else in your life who is important to you otherwise.
And like many others have said, get professional therapeutic help. Without it, it is very easy for things in your mind to become huge; to become "reality" when in fact they are only thoughts.
Sometimes the biggest thing any of us do in any one day, is just to get out of bed and put one foot in front of the other. As long as you keep taking the next step, you will rock.
posted by jtexman1 at 6:18 AM on January 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

30 is still quite young in terms of life goals- you have at least 35 years until retirement, and possibly more. Is there a place locally where you could do a career aptitude test? Community college that has certificate programs in something you are interested in? Do you have any college under your belt? Any area colleges have degree completion programs (this is a pretty trendy area in higher education.)

When I was thirty I was a stay at home mother of two kids with a failing marriage to a pretty wealthy man. Getting out meant that I would basically say goodbye to a certain lifestyle, and I had no job prospects beyond retail. I would totally feel awful on dating sites when it said "professionals" or "college graduates" only. That was 11 years ago-I started seeing a therapist to sort out my head. I have had a job at a school as an aide for the last 10, the state is paying for me to do a degree completion program for adult learners so that I can become a certified teacher, and I am just starting my applications for graduate school. People see me as tenacious and together, when in reality I felt like a total f*ck-up for a long time. I also realized that the people on the dating sites who were looking for the types of people I wasn't were not the people I would want to date in the first place.

The way to stop feeling embarrassed is to own your life- when people ask you what you do, say you are an artist. Don't give the backstory, or anything else, if they get nosey, redirect the questions back to them. There will be plenty of people who went the traditional route, who have good paying jobs who will be totally jealous of your unconventional life. Fake it until you make it, that's my mantra.
posted by momochan at 8:38 PM on January 13, 2016

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