How messed up am I, exactly?
April 8, 2016 1:59 AM   Subscribe

I would like to know whether I am a hopeless mess or simply too strict with myself.

As detailed by my history here, I have been struggling with anxiety and depression for about three years. Lately, I had finally gotten to a really good place mentally, only to be thrown a health curveball (awful periods, chronically stuffed nose preventing restful sleep, dizziness and extreme weakness) I am slowly getting on top of this, but finding doctors who actually try to help me is hard, and once they hear I've had mental health issues before, it's completely over, even though I suspect some of those issues may have been caused by hormone irregularities. Anyhow, the GP I am seeing right now suggest psychotherapy "to help me deal with my health problems", and yesterday I felt so awful I decided to take her up on it. I'm pretty apprehensive, because the last time I had therapy after quitting grad school in Japan due to my depression, I didn't feel it helped a lot and my therapist mostly tried to change me (go to ncausedightclubs when I hate loud noise and crave deep human connections, not superficial ones) and when my insurance stopped paying for the sessions, I didn't feel a lot better.

What motivated me to get therapy now is this: I moved from my home country to Switzerland to be with my partner, and because I found a job here whereas my home town has close to no jobs in my field. While work is not great, I love living with my partner and finally feel happy because I have what I wanted, which is a loving family. My parents are a bit complicated and slightly emotionally abusive, which left me with self-confidence issues, but I do love my grandmother and my niece and like that I can easily fly to see them for a long weekend, which I couldn't in Japan. Now my partner told me that he might have to go back to Japan for a year to gain work experience if he cannot find anything here. This hit me incredibly hard, because the thought of having to stay here alone scares me. Not only am I not really healthy right now, I wouldn't have moved here if it weren't for my partner, and don't really want to stay here alone. However, I cannot go with him to Japan because I'm in the middle of a job contract that I probably shouldn't breach if I want to find employment after this, because it's my first proper job and my CV looks spotty enough as it is. It could also leave us without income if my partner cannot find employment even after the one year in Japan. While nothing is set in stone yet, the prospect of staying here alone for a year has me crying at work and sobbing at home. It probably brought back a lot of old fears from my time in Japan.

I know now that I don't necessarily fear loneliness. I used to be quite the loner before I met my partner, travelled alone etc. and am good at entertaining myself. Obviously, I prefer to be around people I love, and it is my ultimate goal to have a family. However, I probably fear being isolated especially in case of illness. While I have become better at soothing or at least distracting myself and think I would probably not fall apart completely anymore (though I have to say I do worry about that a little because what would happen to my employability if I did?), I don't feel ready to tough it out alone, especially now that I'm not doing great health-wise. I know a year is not long, but it's also not a time span I want to waste because I didn't even come here to do something I want to do, I came here to be with my partner. Sure, I'm glad I have this job considering the economy, and I could probably use the experience to find something better in a few years, but to be honest, if I had to work a job for the heck of it, I would have chosen one closer to people I love. Right now, I go back and forth between wanting to see this as an opportunity to work on myself and maybe go out and do some new things if I finally feel healthy again, and resenting the whole thing because it's not what I wanted. Then I scold myself for not being more grateful that I have a job at all, and then I go back to lamenting the direction my life is taking.
During and after my depression, I thought a lot about what life is actually for, and what makes life worth it to me. I have figured out things that are important to me and things that make me happy, plus things that make me sad. This is not what I wanted from life and it is making me sad, but I'm not sure if it's something I'm allowed to complained about or if I should put on my grown-up pants and suck it up. In this question I asked, a lot of people told me that being an adult means you get to define your life, which sounds great, but what if reality has other plans?

I see a lot of people my age moving around for their careers seemingly without blinking an eye, and I envy them their independence and feel small and helpless in comparison. Then again, I know lots of people who never left their hometown and are very happy with it, so I don't think I have to be like that and ultimately, I know that life is a not a competition. I just still feel like I'm failing because I get so sad and scared at the idea of toughing it out on my own for something that's not even making me happy. And then I scold myself again for being a spoilt brat. Will I ever be truly independent? I always figured that if I really had to be alone some day, I'd move to the beach and do just enough online work to live frugally, and spend the rest of my time writing books and watching turtles, but I probably shouldn't do that now when I have another 40 years of career to think of and a chance to have that family I want when my partner comes back, plus my grandmother's last years to spend close to her. I never thought that what I'm asking for is too much...

I'm sorry this got so long. I swear I will try to make therapy work this time, and I am trying hard to get help with my health issues. I just need to know how messed up I actually am, how much of a spoilt brat etc. and if it ever gets better or if I just have to live with not getting everything I want. Thank you so much for reading this far.
posted by LoonyLovegood to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think what with health problems and being stranded in a different country alone you're having a very hard time. I'd be a mess, too! But, this is temporary. It's not always going to be this way. Concentrate on surviving the now.
This is the time to be extra nice to yourself.
- Get professional help (therapy) to deal with those emotions
- do everything to make your life easier, not harder. Make that your priority right now.
- work on finding friends, maintaining old friendships (skype or whatnot) and remaining in contact with people who make you feel strong and grounded.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:17 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

You don't sound bratty at all. You sound like you're going through a very stressful time and you're beating yourself up about the way you feel. You're dealing with health crap and doctor frustrations and the prospect of your partner moving away for a whole year and a job that it sounds like you don't enjoy very much. That's a lot!

You keep talking about how lucky you are to have a job at all and how you need to suck it up and stop being a baby, and I think that's your parents talking. You say they're somewhat emotionally abusive, and it sounds like you've internalized a lot of their criticism. That's the kind of a stuff a good therapist can help you with. You've got to go in there and really be ready to dig into your problems. Confront stuff. Ask yourself the hard questions. If this therapist doesn't feel right, try another therapist.

You can Skype with your partner and your family, it's not like the old days where being overseas meant you were just not going to see each other. And you could look at this time as a chance to do all sorts of things your partner doesn't like to do. You can watch movies they'd hate and go to concerts that would bore them or go hiking places that would give them hives. This could be a period of wonderful self-indulgence, where you really go crazy with your hobbies and make awful messes all over the house. Now is the time to write that novel or make that Lego Enterprise-D!

If you don't have friends in the area, start doing social stuff. Volunteer, join a club.

Stop kicking your own ass. You're OK.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:40 AM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

My husband and I have spent a good part of our relationship living long-distance, both before we were married (11 years in May) and after. At one point he was working offshore and we had no way to get in touch with each other. Thankfully, technology makes things easier now than they were when we first started dating.

I'm not going to lie to you — long distance is NOT easy. You'll need to out a LOT of faith in the fact that your relationship can survive it. Do you have that faith? If not, that's absolutely something you can work on in therapy. You can also work on your fear of isolation and illness, and find ways to be more independent, in therapy.

I have a wonky family too — with the exception of one person, I am complete on my own family-wise. They are not "there" for me. It actually took a lot of work for me to be able to depend emotionally upon my husband because I had spent so much of my life as a fiercely independent person. A couple of years ago I went through some pretty drastic life changes when I decided, as you say, to start defining my own life. My husband was 100% there for it. The thought of your loved one changing can be scary (even if they're making changes for the better) but part of a good relationship is rolling with those punches. If you have that kind of relationship, you're already well on your way to making this bump in the road successful in the long run. And if you don't think your relationship can withstand this... well, then, why are you in it?

With regards to therapy, you need to keep trial and error-ing with it until you find the right person. Do not leave your job. Then you'll BOTH be out of work.
posted by Brittanie at 3:47 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Even though you've agreed to see the therapist, you sound reluctant. I see a therapist obsensibly to help with dealing with my health issues, and I love it. He's a pain therapist in a hospital setting, and that has made a huge difference helping me understand what I'm going through is okay. And he's offered some very insightful advice and help me discover other issues that have made learning to deal with my limitations more difficult (in my case, ADHD, which complicates managing my physical issues because the motivation and goal directed behavior just isn't there.)

Having said that, if your therapist doesn't feel right, then find another. I've seen 4 therapists in the past 5 years. The first kept wanting to bring the conversation back to very stereotypical therapy areas, and wanted to dig into my family history, and seemed more comfortable there. I didn't have a problem with it in theory, but that wasn't why I was there, I wanted to get help coping with the sudden life shift and frustration over my health. Then I saw a pain therapist, different than I was seeing now and he was good- he worked to explain the mechanisms of chronic pain and helped me deal with the feelings I had over having the rug pulled out in my life figuratively. Then he retired and I saw my current therapist very briefly, but my insurance changed. So I saw another woman who wasn't specifically a pain therapist but said she he a lot of chronic pain patients. Every time I talked about pain issues with her, she had sort of a deer in headlights look. She tried to emphathize, but really seemed out of her depth. So I just didn't have therapy for a while. And my depression creeped in until I had a moment of suicidal ideation that scared the hell out of me. So I went back to the second pain therapist (fortunately for me, in the intervening time, my insurance changed yet again.) I adore him, I think he's better than the first. Pain therapist, though it may just be that he's closer to my age so we have more culturally in common, which makes some of the stranger things I admit to well, not so strange and my gen-x sense of humor not fall flat as it did with the therapist who retired.

The point being, a therapist really can be great, and don't think of it as something that you need to be coerced into. Here is someone that will help you with issues that other people won't necessarily understand. And someone, because of the confidentiality of therapy, can really be someone that you can tell (or ask about) issues that you just can't people that you have an obligation to. Not that it's easy, a good therapist will challenge you. But go in with an open mind, while remembering that the first therapist might not be the right therapist. Not that therapy is the problem.

The other issue I struggled with was the worry that a therapist would try and minimize my physical ailments and blame it on my mental health. It was a fear of not being seen as not legitimately "sick". And while we did explore this avenue, it never felt like it was done in a way that lessened what I was experiencing. Instead it was taking an inventory to make sure that my therapist had an accurate picture of my mental and physical health so he could help me to the best of his abilities.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 3:55 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Can we maybe get away from the long-distance thing a bit? We have done that before - although it was when I was still living at home - and it's not really the big problem here. It's more me staying behind where I only came because of him, and not really wanting to be here without him all that much. I also can't skype with my grandmother, only call.
Also, I will do therapy, so let's take that as a given, okay?

On the one hand, I feel like if I can get through this, I finally won't have to be afraid anymore, but on the other hand, it's similar to Japan in that it won't really be the real trial in independence and more in sticking to something I don't want while precious time with people I love goes to waste. Especially since I know how it is to be depressed enough to want to die, I feel like I should live life the way I want to live it... but how if that's not possible?
posted by LoonyLovegood at 4:00 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Therapy is all about the relationship with your doctor. If you don't mesh with your doc, you're probably not going to feel like you're getting anything out of it. (As you have already discovered.) My Dad is a behaviorist and would tell you that your feelings, while important to you in the moment, don't really have any long term bearing on your life. When you look back on your life, you don't remember how you felt, you remember what you did.

I would stick out your contract. It's good for your career and it's good for your esteem. You can't keep viewing yourself as the person who gives up.

You aren't that far away from folks who love you and you're in one of the best places in Europe for quality of life. Make the best of that! Is there a certification program you can do? Are there recreational classes you can take? Is there something you can do in your spare time that engages and interests you? You have to be in a place for about a year before it feels like your home, before you make friends and have a social network. Staying involved with things and people outside of your home will help a lot.

Now for the health stuff. Keep hammering at it. Try everything. Many people will tell you that chronic stuffed nose might be a food intolerance. Have you explored that? Try an elimination diet to see if that helps. It sounds like woo, but it doesn't really cost anything to try and you might find that changing your diet can help a TON!

As for rough periods...I'm praying you have a female GYN to explore this with. Most male GYNs don't grasp and understand how bad and painful periods can be. I will say that as counter-intuitive as it seems, exercise can really help, especially something that involves stretching, like Pilates. It helped me a ton (right up until I had a hysterectomy, which, BTW, was FANTASTIC!) Another thought is to see if you can get a blood test for your hormone levels. My family doesn't produce progesterone well, which causes terrible irritability and depression. (It also means that during childbirth, labor is slow). You can replace any hormone you're deficient in, and it can make a HUGE difference.

Are you on an anti-anxiety or anti-depressant? That can help a lot, both in the short and long term.

While you're very happy when you're with your partner, he can't be your sole source of comfort, entertainment and support. It's really important that you start finding folks to befriend. No one is going to be that deep connection you crave, some friends will be superficial people you enjoy spending time with. Others might be people you discuss philosophy with. Still others may be lifelong connections. But all of this takes time, and some people aren't comfortable diving as deep as you'd like for social contact. Don't dismiss them, you can still enjoy time with them!

Reframe your expectations. There will always be others who are making more money, working at better jobs, getting a better education...whatever. Good for them! Your life isn't about a scorecard. It's about living each day as your best self. Strive for that.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:15 AM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

This book, the Mindful Way Through Depression, may help you.
posted by girlpublisher at 5:52 AM on April 8, 2016

Okay, to answer your question as posed, which is

I would like to know whether I am a hopeless mess or simply too strict with myself.

The answer is: no, I do not think you are a hopeless mess.

Please don't overlook this section on the There Is Help wiki page and, obviously, a lot of the other sections will have helpful and relevant stuff too.

Apologies if this seems like a statement of the bleedin' obvious, but if you want to solve this on your own you are certain to find *something* on there that will help.
posted by tel3path at 6:30 AM on April 8, 2016

I think LoonyLovegood feels the need to stay in Switzerland for job reasons.

Hey! I've been there. It sucked. Finally I took an entirely new career path, because I wanted to be closer to people who I knew and loved and had stuff in common with. I am way happier.

I guess there are some people who can just pick up and go and bloom and accumulate an awesome tribe wherever they go for work, but if you can't do that, that does not mean there is ANYTHING wrong with you.

Feeling lonely when you're separated from the people you love is not normal. Having trouble settling in and making friends in a new place is normal.

It sounds like you feel like you need to fill out the rest of your contract on this job, for career reasons. First, make sure that's actually true. If not, what would you rather be doing? Secondly, if it is true that you need to finish out this contract, that's not really the end of the world: you have an end date! Decide what you want to do next. Decide what you want to do in Switzerland before you leave (for me, I would want to try section-hiking the Swiss Alpine Pass route from Sargans to Montreux, obviously your mileage may vary).
posted by mskyle at 7:09 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm confused about what's wrong with Switzerland? Since the contract is finite, I'm confused why you won't be using this time to do things you might enjoy that you can only do in/from Switzerland?

Lastly, your partner might maybe leave - that's not definite yet - so why are you panicking now??

Most of your health problems are exacerbated by stress. You catastrophize a lot, and this pulls you away from enjoying life, it also has immediate and long term detrimental physical effects.

Yes, therapy. The stress and poor mental habits (catastrophizing, inability to enjoy the present moment) are curable and you don't have to live like this anymore. Now is a great time to start. Don't wait.
posted by jbenben at 7:57 AM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

I understand how you feel. I could have written a lot of this post. I'll try to address your questions.

How messed up am I, exactly?

I don't think you're messed up. I think you probably just feel out of step with the prevailing zeitgeist. We live in a hyper-mobile era. Many people nowadays tend to move a lot, constantly re-form their social circles, rely on technology to stay connected to their nearest and dearest. Nothing wrong with that, but for some people it doesn't really work that well. If you're more someone who likes to feel rooted in a place, someone family-oriented, someone who's not great at (or just not comfortable with) picking up and making a whole new friend circle every couple of years, then the hyper-mobile lifestyle is not for you. It's not for me either. It's just difficult to come to terms with that, because so many people are living hyper-mobile lives right now, so you feel out of step. But it's okay. You just have to come to terms with being the kind of person you are. (In other words, I basically agree with mskyle—except for when she said "Feeling lonely when you're separated from the people you love is not normal." It is normal, in my book.)

a lot of people told me that being an adult means you get to define your life, which sounds great, but what if reality has other plans?

I'm not all that far into adulthood, myself, so I can't make any sweeping statements and don't want to sound like I consider myself an expert on anything, as I'm not. But I guess I don't really think "being an adult means you get to define your life," because as you've found, most adults have outside factors limiting the number of choices they can make. For example: family, partners, and jobs. You aren't 100% free to make whatever choices you want, given those limitations; you have to make trade-offs instead.

If your partner does move to Japan, then it sounds like you have to choose whether to prioritize your personal life (i.e., move closer to family and caring for your mental health) or your professional life (i.e., keep your job so as to avoid resume gaps or looking flighty). That sucks. I've been there (am there). Ideally we wouldn't have to choose. I can't fix that, or give advice on what to choose, really, since it's your life and values that we're talking about, not mine.* But hopefully framing it this way might at least help clarify the situation, and might show you that there is a choice; you can choose your personal life if you want to. In that case, your next step would be to focus on how to mitigate the professional consequences.

Last: I winced when I saw how many answers basically said "Just have fun and enjoy yourself in Switzerland!!!" When you're depressed, nothing is very fun, including Switzerland. Don't feel guilty if you're not having fun.

*All right: Actually I will tell you what I'd do. I'd prioritize my mental health and being close to the people and places where I felt healthiest and happiest, rather than trying to force myself to bloom where planted. But that's me. You may be totally different.
posted by honey wheat at 8:45 AM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Personally, I have never felt more alone and out of place and unhappy without seeming cause, than when I lived in Switzerland (two years in Zurich and two years in Geneva). I've lived in eight other countries, and have never experienced anything like it. Despite having friends there, and meeting new people, and exploring activities and taking random classes, the atmosphere I experienced over the course of my years there was not something I could overcome. This is absolutely not to say that this is your experience, or to make a passing judgement of everyone living in that country. It is simply my experience, and if I was in a similar place as what you are describing, I would try to stick out the job contract if it will substantially help your future job prospects, but treat staying there like a small war to survive. I would AIM to thrive and work on my own projects (therapy sounds ideal and important if you find a good therapist, as well as art classes or something similar which you can work on further by yourself after work, as well as cooking a lot of delicious things in your evenings, or doing a strict elimination diet as someone suggested above since it is much easier to do when living alone, etc.), but I'd still really acknowledge the difficulties, and not judge yourself for struggling or label yourself with negative words. Perhaps medication could help as well, even if you only need it short-term. But I found it very hard to thrive there as a 'foreigner,' and while I personally don't know if that's what you are struggling with, I wanted to share my experience in case it seems relevant.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 9:50 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Get a new primary care doctor who believes you and wants to help you.
Go to therapy and find someone who you mesh with.

Trust me. I've had mystery illness bullshit that ended up being a gallbladder problem (that tested normal) and I have POTS. Guess what, POTS causes major anxiety symptoms and anxiety attacks. So I know when doctors would be like "sounds like anxiety, blah blah." Yet I was sitting there saying "No, this is different, I feel so sick I can't function. This isn't' just anxiety." But lots of people brushed me off.

So, I went to therapy. And my therapist believed me that something was going on, physically. She helped me organize what appointments I should do first, helped me realize I needed to leave my job, helped me cope while waiting for test results and dealing with long appointments and MRIs.

That along with a GP that was willing to test me and send me to specialists helped me cope and realize what was wrong. I had to walk a fine line between "I have anxiety" and "This is not all due to anxiety." Going to therapy and letting doctors know I was seeking treatment and that my therapist in fact was in my corner really helped people take me seriously.
posted by Crystalinne at 11:33 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Feeling lonely when you're separated from the people you love is not normal.

Whoops, I meant to say that it IS normal. I think I edited it from originally saying that it was not ABNORMAL. But it's super normal.
posted by mskyle at 11:52 AM on April 8, 2016

Looking at your posting history, you have been uprooted a lot, sometimes under really crappy circumstances like that nanny job. In that context, a year in Switzerland potentially without your partner seems much more stressful than it would in isolation. In your shoes a lot of people would be stressed out and looking to settle somewhere and not just stay in yet another place for a year. If you do decide you have to make the best of this situation, at least don't add to the stress by telling yourself there's something the matter with you for not liking it.
posted by BibiRose at 3:26 PM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

« Older I have 45 days, no restrictions, no limits. Where...   |   "Great to see you again, Nancy! No, wait, Shona.... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.