I'm watching myself sabotage myself and I'm going crazy.
February 8, 2016 10:56 AM   Subscribe

I have a very clear vision of the life I want, but I can't stop sabotaging myself. It's like being unable to stop your legs from running off of a cliff. Please help before I run my life into the ground.

I'm a freelance ghostwriter who is good at what she does, but I've never been able to fully get off the ground with my business. I'm living on my own for the first time in a long time without any financial support. I've been crippled in the past by clinical depression, which I'm now taking medication for and leading a more active life.

Most recently, after weeks of sending out emails, I finally got a reply from a company saying that they would work with me if I could satisfactorily complete two paid assignments. Initially I was psyched. Thrilled, even. But then the fear set in. It manifests as a feel of muscle paralysis, an aching stomach, headaches. I had all weekend to finish those assignments, but I kept putting it off. I finished one of them Friday, but I reviewed the instructions again and realized I did it all wrong. I was so discouraged that anytime I even thought about writing those blog posts, my head would start hurting and my stomach would go in knots.

I've failed so many times at this...I think a part of me is just scared stiff that I will fail again. I kept avoiding and avoiding the work until the last minute, then I quickly finished them because the content manager emailed me asking if I could email him the assignments today. I hope I haven't blown it. I want to get out of my way. It's so hard. My head is aching so bad and my stomach hurts. I want to kill this illogical part of my brain that won't let me move on from the past. If there's anyone out there who has overcome this, I would like to hear from you.
posted by Cybria to Work & Money (14 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Therapy therapy therapy. You need someone to talk this through with, the self-sabotage is incredibly common and not your fault, but the best place to start is seriously talk therapy.

Perfectionism and fear of failure go hand in hand: it's nice to have help reframing what the worse case scenario might be since it's so so hard to see out from the fog in our own heads.
posted by lydhre at 11:10 AM on February 8, 2016 [11 favorites]

So what if you fail? So what if you blow it. There's always next time.

I know you know intellectually that perfection is the enemy of good enough, now you have to make yourself BELIEVE it.

Even if you did the thing perfectly, there was always the chance they would select another person for the job anyway.

Do the best that you can with the appropriate level of energy and 90% of the time it will be good enough. 10% of the time it won't be. Oh well.

I promise, the world won't end, no one will die, and sometimes no one will ever know that you didn't dot the lower-case j on page 34.

Life is full of failure. I fail regularly. The consequences sometimes suck, most of the time you learn from failure and you move on, usually to something better.

Now, how to do this? Practice. In non-critical things, go ahead and do it half-assed. Write your own blog and just put down whatever. Don't agonize over it, just write. DON'T READ THE COMMENTS.

When you do fail, see it as the opportunity it is. Answer these questions. "What could I have done differently?" "What did I learn from this?" "What steps do I need to take to do this better next time." Then move on.

Get used to it. People fail. You're a people. No one will love you less for it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:10 AM on February 8, 2016 [14 favorites]

I think you are not being realistic about how many times you need to fail in order to succeed. The odds are against you in the beginning and they keep getting better with each failure. Learn from it. If they reject your work call them and ask for constructive criticism and do better next time.
posted by any major dude at 11:14 AM on February 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you're having physical symptoms as a result of anxiety, your anxiety is out of control and you should see a therapist about it. This isn't a "tips and tricks" thing.
posted by sweetkid at 11:27 AM on February 8, 2016 [9 favorites]

I get anxious about writing (different context, though); have similar physical symptoms. I got really great answers to this question, may be helpful to you. Also, I like the ideas in The Now Habit, which discusses (and offers ways of coping with) many of the achievement/failure-related fears that commonly block people from doing the things they need to do.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:28 AM on February 8, 2016

What happens when you have a glass of wine? Does it make you too fuzzy to work?
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:52 AM on February 8, 2016

Best answer: I agree that the anxiety - and the shame-spiralling, which is the biggest tip-off to me - needs its own channel of management. These are depression levels of suffering that aren't fixable just by getting better habits.

The basics of acting this way, though, are human nature, and that's why "productivity" is a multi-billion-dollar business. In that sense, you need to spend some time thinking really hard about how you (the specific you-person, not the general you) work, and set yourself up to succeed as much as you can.

If, for example, you know you get your best most efficient writing work done in the mornings, you need to make it easy for that to happen and only make appointments and do email in the afternoons. Or if un-answered email or invoicing or whatever admin stuff stresses you out all day if you don't knock them out first, set up your workflow in that direction. Help yourself, literally do yourself favors (that's the Past Me/Future Me a lot of people talk about - let Past Me be the one who looks out for Future Me's interests) to make getting the work done as easy as possible.

People have been the "thrive against deadline" type since time was invented, so don't waste a lot of time anxiously wishing you weren't that way and use that energy for getting more work done.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:01 PM on February 8, 2016 [15 favorites]

Meditation has helped me a little. I do the same things you do. But making time to meditate can be it's own stress and pressure. I think the above advice is all great. Give yourself space to fail. We all fail, it's OK. You are, still lovable, still valuable, really, you are!
posted by WalkerWestridge at 12:38 PM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

See if your doctor will treat you for migraine (if that's what you have, and it seems likely) with a triptan drug. They're not addictive like some painkillers.

Also, you might want a professional ally -- maybe a life/professional coach? Just _someone_ to talk to you regularly and remind you that the world has nice people in it, and to remind you about why writing was fun in the first place.
posted by amtho at 1:11 PM on February 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Here's one way to frame what's going on with the fear and procrastination:

The part of your brain that, as you say, "won't let you move on from the past" wants the best for you and, because of past experiences or role models or whatever, it (you!) thinks that the best way to protect you and keep you safe is to keep you away from failure (or, perhaps, success). So that part of you fights really hard against the part of you that wants to succeed. It distracts you and won't let you concentrate. It tells you stories of doom.

One way I've found to deal with that part of me is to thank it (me!) for working so hard to keep me safe but that at this point in my life, I don't need it to do that work any more. When it tells me stories of doom, I remind myself it is trying to keep me safe but those stories aren't true. I'm not in danger the way it thinks I am. Failing at a task isn't going to kill me. Success isn't going to cause people around me to stop loving me. I'm ok and that part of me can relax now.

(If this framing appeals to you, you might consider reading about gestalt therapy.)
posted by mcduff at 1:21 PM on February 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

Depression can also mask (and exacerbate) ADD symptoms. You might find treating some of this medically helps on both fronts.
posted by judith at 2:26 PM on February 8, 2016

Yeah this sounds like extreme anxiety to me. Therapy did not help my anxiety, only meds did. And meds helped DRAMATICALLY in a short span of time. Something to think about.
posted by a strong female character at 3:18 PM on February 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

I experience many aspects of your situation on an ongoing basis. It sucks, no?

"My head is aching so bad and my stomach hurts."
In North America/Europe, patient reports to healthcare providers of depression or depressive symptoms are dramatically lower in those who were born (and especially those who grew up) in Asia. Increased reports of non-specific pain in different parts of the body accounted for the difference, and indeed, the (report of) manifestation of pain was a strong marker for clinical depression that was non-reported to the healthcare practitioner (I should be able to find the reference, if you like).

Perhaps your current therapy regimen is not currently working as well as expectations, to yourself and to your healthcare provider alike.

"but I reviewed the instructions again and realized I did it all wrong"
... is it possible to have an independent assessment of that situation? I get exactly the same feeling, but much of the time it's me second guessing myself and getting an inaccurately low assessment of my actual success.

Goddamned, but if that isn't the story of my life; under-valuing my achievements. I suspect that may be a commonality between us.
posted by porpoise at 8:41 PM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have a very similar situation, in part this is due to biology, simple chemistry and genetics from birth and another part is belief systems held in the sub-conscious. It's a huge struggle to keep equilibrium and move forward toward any endeavor that eventually won't end up either half-done or sabotaged. Based on what I've learned from those in the know about such matters, it seems the key to healing is also 2 fold, one to work on the biology - whatever this entails - diet, exercise, medication if needed, supplements, massage etc. and the other matter is changing belief system and self-talk - (inner critic) to a loving parent who is nurturing and nourishing to the soul. No more beating self up. Self needs a break and needs love. Look into changing belief systems from negative to positive. Cheers and all good wishes.
posted by watercarrier at 7:28 AM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

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