How to start doing literally anything.
April 10, 2016 1:09 PM   Subscribe

The past two years have been pretty damn rough for me, but I feel like I'm ready to start being an adult again. Indecisiveness has turned me into a stagnant recluse and I simply can't live like this any longer. The problem is that I don't know where to start, so that's why I'm here.

I wasn't always like this. I used to have ambitions and drive and a pretty solid work ethic, but a period of adversity wasn't handled properly so I find myself where I am now- sitting at home mulling over what could've been instead of accepting my situation and moving forward. I'll try to make this question as objective as possible, but I'd like to add some details to give you all an understanding on how I've been operating.

I've become full of cognitive fallacies and half-assed excuses for why I can't, shouldn't, and won't become the person I've always wanted to be. Here are some examples of the lies I tell myself: I'm boring, balding and poor and therefore I'm undateable. I don't have many interests so I don't deserve to have any friends. I have chronic pain and therefore I can't exercise. I'm 26 years old (omg) and therefore it's too late to pursue my dreams. I'm tired of working menial jobs but I'm not qualified enough to find an interesting job. I hate where I live and therefore can't make the most of it until I leave. And the worst one of all- I'm too far behind my peers and therefore I should just give up. However, my confidence is obviously so low right now that all of these excuses seem like perfectly valid reasons to stop trying.

Here's another thing- I haven't reevaluated my ambtitions and goals in almost five years. It's like I'm holding onto the version of "me" that I wanted to be when I was a 20 year-old instead of inventing myself as I go along. Hell, I don't even know what it's like to create a five-year (or one-year) plan and actually commit to it. I used to want to go to X school in Y state and get a degree in Z field and then travel the world for a couple of years before starting whatever life in wherever I end up. I never wanted to stop moving forward. I wanted all these things and more. I just don't know if this is why dreams are dreams; the things we can't stop thinking about no matter what and won't stop pursuing, or if goals need to constantly be evaluated based on whatever seems practical at any given time in ones life.

So I guess my question revolves around decisiveness and commitment and having the courage and confidence to never give up. I don't know if it's okay to feel the way I do about my situation or if it's purely destructive, but I know I can't keep wasting my life ruminating about my past and feeling like a failure everyday. It just feels like I'm waiting for an epiphany instead of doing the bootstrapping required to change my life path.

A side note- I'm on Lamictal, Abilify, Zoloft, Vyvanse and a Buprenorphine patch for my pain issues. Medication has never solved my problems but merely prevented myself from leaping off a bridge. While I would never deny that therapy would be beneficial at this point in my life, I don't know what kind would be the most proactive. CBT would add fuel to the fire, so please don't suggest that. However, im looking for more than just therapy suggestions. I'd like to hear anecdotes and experiences and consolation instead of one person's perceived expertise right now.

Thanks for any and all responses in advance.
posted by omgkinky to Human Relations (35 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
I'm 26 years old (omg) and therefore it's too late to pursue my dreams. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
Okay, that was flippant, but seriously, 26 is a BABY! You have so much time, and you're so young, you don't even know. You can literally pursue any dream except, perhaps, child beauty pageants and competitive gymnastics.

To get doing things? Go out. Do you have any friends or family? Call one of them and say, "Let's get out of the house!" You don't even need a plan. You could go to their house, just to get you to stop being a recluse. Don't think about it, call them now.

Doing things doesn't require any motivation, really, it just requires movement. What is it that you want to do? What could be a first step (it doesn't need to be a correct first step, or even a logical first step, just a step)? Do that. Don't plan to do that, just do that. It sounds simplistic, but it really is just what requires doing.
posted by xingcat at 1:20 PM on April 10, 2016 [24 favorites]

I'm 26 years old (omg) and therefore it's too late to pursue my dreams.

This is absolutely untrue. False. Balderdash. A lie. A horrible excuse to not move forward. Incompatible with a happy/fulfilling life. etc.

I finished my undergraduate degree when I was 37. I started my graduate degree when I was 38 and I am going to finish next month at 40. Yay! I am absolutely delighted with how it has turned out. Sure I was surrounded by people in their mid and early 20s, but there were a few folks older than me in my program. My point is, it's never too late to start on your dream. What you need do is just identify the next step. That's it.

It just feels like I'm waiting for an epiphany instead of doing the bootstrapping required to change my life path.

I'm inclined to agree with you. Don't get mired down in the details if they aren't relevant to your next step. Identify the next step.

Do the next step.

Surround yourself with people that are moving in the same direction as you.
posted by Brent Parker at 1:23 PM on April 10, 2016 [8 favorites]

Can you explain what you mean about CBT adding fuel to the fire?

I was going to suggest you please read David Burns' Feeling Good. The section on Do-Nothingness really, really helped me snap out of my lack of action.
posted by rhythm_queen at 1:40 PM on April 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

For whatever it's worth, I can relate to your struggle. I'm a bit older now, but at 26 I had a lot of the same feelings. Best I can tell, we're all making it up as we go too. There's no secret sauce to Life Plans. I haven't ever had one -- I've jumped from opportunity to opportunity (or occasionally to boondoggle, but you know, adapt!) and I've worked out okay. I think the key thing is to get past the 'I am a failure in comparison to everyone else' self-talk and just do stuff. Have you seen the Ira Glass thing on taste? That perspective has been helpful to me in situations where I feel like I'm not doing things as well as I feel like I should be able to, whether in creative or technical roles.
posted by Alterscape at 1:48 PM on April 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm 32 and I struggle with similar issues a fair bit. Something that helps me is to, basically, just pick One Thing and focus on that for a while. What excites you? What interests you? What are some of those "ambtitions and goals" you haven't reevaluated? Odds are you probably don't need to reevaluate anything, just start doing one of them. Spent as little time figuring out what you have to do to begin, and as much time beginning as you can.

I'll pick an example. Say you want to write. Set aside fifteen minutes a day and write in whatever method you prefer. Pen on paper, a keyboard, whatever. Don't analyze the method, don't worry about what you'll write, just start putting words on a page, stream-of-consciousness style. Build up a habit, and eventually, you'll have writing you can do something with. Or, maybe you find you hate it, and would rather do something else. Fine. You won't know until you've tried it for at least a month.

Another example: exercise. Pick one thing to do, like take a walk around your neighborhood for thirty minutes every other day. As you get used to it, maybe take longer walks. Maybe jog part of the way. But keep doing it until it becomes a Thing You Do.

Above all, though, pick one thing. I know when I fall off the wagon, it's because I've tried to force my fragile willpower to try to do too much at once. You need to pick one thing, and change it.
posted by SansPoint at 2:02 PM on April 10, 2016 [9 favorites]

To quote a 40-year-old character from a great series of fluff novels, "I had my life planned out by 20. This isn't it."
posted by clew at 2:03 PM on April 10, 2016 [6 favorites]

I think "do one thing" is good advice. When you're stuck, it doesn't even matter what the one thing is. Doing a thing will give you a bit of energy and a feeling of accomplishment, which will make it easier to plan and do other things, when you get to them.

For that one thing, I suggest you consider a call or email to a therapist. Try the Find a Therapist search. As to therapy type, it doesn't matter. What matters is your rapport with the therapist and whether you feel understood.
posted by tuesdayschild at 2:29 PM on April 10, 2016

I'd say screw the plan, pick something and do it.

Are you working now? If so, awesome, skip to step 2. If not, get out and find anything just to get out of the house.

I'd suggest that you think about what kind of work like you'd like to do in the short term. Does it require more education? If so, check out what's on offer down at your local community college. CC is so much less hassle and intimidating than a huge university. Take some classes, explore your options. I know you can get an RN at a CC, you can also learn a lot of other health professions there. Things that get you into good jobs that pay decently. If not Radiology or nursing or Paramedic, just take general education stuff. Get an AA, then transfer to a state school, if your path lies in that direction.

Another option is to get a customer service job and work your way up. I did this at the phone company. Thought I was working part-time, ended up having a 25-year career there. (then it all blew up and I had to get another gig.)

Learn something like Salesforce, Oracle, Workday or any of the hot software packages. I started as a Salesforce Administrator knowing nothing about it, and seven years later, I'm a consultant for a large firm.

I'm completely embarrassed to admit how much of my work-life I didn't plan, but it's about 100% actually. I blew with the wind. Sometimes I got totally effed over (MCI anyone?) But I've had a honest-to-god career since before I graduated from college. I really enjoyed most of it too.

So think about what you want for next week, and then do that.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:45 PM on April 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm the same age as you. I spent the last few years feeling similarly stuck and unsatisfied with life, and it was a total waste of time. I was always trying to do the things I wanted to do, but I was so depressed that it didn't really matter. Trying to build a life for myself that I actually want to live has been a really strange experience. It's terribly confusing, and rewarding but just as discouraging.

A few things I've been doing to stay sane and productive, and sometimes kind of pleased about life: I started scheduling things that get me out of the house. Group fitness classes of any kind are great. I'm also tracking my moods daily, and checking in with a therapist once every two weeks. I'm not taking any medications.

It helps me to focus on routine, and enjoying the things I'm actually doing with my life, rather than focusing too much on the outcome. Like, if you want to learn to program, learn to enjoy learning to program, and don't obsess over whether you're an accomplished programmer.
posted by mammal at 2:50 PM on April 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

So I guess my question revolves around decisiveness and commitment and having the courage and confidence to never give up. I don't know if it's okay to feel the way I do about my situation or if it's purely destructive, but I know I can't keep wasting my life ruminating about my past and feeling like a failure everyday. It just feels like I'm waiting for an epiphany instead of doing the bootstrapping required to change my life path.
You just have to be stubborn enough to refuse to give up. I've known a lot of smart people, some ambitious and some not so ambitious. Smarts helps, but by far the one quality that indicates people who will succeed is dumb, stubborn persistence. Persistence is great because it doesn't have to reflect any deep personal qualities or talents or special skills. It's purely behavioral.

Here's an example. Want to train for a marathon? Cool. Your goal is to run the best marathon you can run. It doesn't matter if you're a naturally fast runner. It doesn't matter if you are athletically gifted. It doesn't matter how out of shape you are at the beginning of your training. The only thing that matters is running regularly, say 3-4 times a week. Let's say that's four hours a week. That's it. That is your commitment. You don't need to worry about whether or not you have it in you, you don't need to compare yourself to other people training, you just have to run, over and over again, until you get better. Stubborn persistence will get you your results. And it requires no thinking at all.

Substitute in your own thing to this formula. Write up a weekly "training" schedule for your thing and then stick to it, rain or shine, mindlessly, without question, for at least two months. After a few months, it will become like second nature. You will have hypnotized yourself into believing. You will have become a mindless working machine, a thing of pure willpower. To everyone else, you will appear to have "improved" in some way, but internally you know nothing has changed, you are just repeating your training, over and over, week after week.
posted by deathpanels at 3:02 PM on April 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

There's always a reason to stop trying, you know? If you want one, you can find one. You need to find ways to go on without talking yourself out of trying.

I'm also curious why you say CBT would add fuel to the fire, because the negative thinking you're reporting is one of the things CBT/REBT is really good at addressing. Have you had a bad experience with it?

You describe your inability to exercise as a lie you tell yourself. Are there some exercises you can do with your current pain levels? I ask because when I have been at my lowest, feeling physically stronger has often been the most rewarding small thing to achieve. Which is what you need-- something to achieve, even with small levels of reward.
posted by frumiousb at 3:58 PM on April 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yeah, 26 is a hell of a lot younger than you think. 26 is an age when you should be working toward stuff, not talking about letting go of your dreams. (Of course, we don't know what your dreams are. But even if you want to be a movie star or something super hard to attain like that, 26 is too young to give it up because you think you're too old! Give it up because you've spent years giving it absolutely everything you've got, you never booked a job and you've got a baby on the way.) Enjoy being 26! Sitting around feeling old is a waste of time, especially when you're so damn young.

It's also a waste of time to compare yourself to your peers. You have to focus on achieving what YOU want. That means knowing what really matters to you, and working for that.

When I was about your age, I was very, very sick, all the time. Weird new illnesses every few weeks, and my doctors had no clue why. I was working as a journalist but it wasn't my dream and it didn't pay enough, and I felt like time was running out. Finally I got so desperate to not be sick and miserable that I decided to smash my life and come out as transgender. I had reached a point where I was willing to try anything. It was terrifying, but I did it. It's been a rocky road since then but I feel like coming out was one of the bravest and most rewarding things I ever did.

You can confront terrifying things at any age, but 26 is a particularly fine time for it. You've still got energy like a kid, but you're not as dumb as a kid. 26 is its own super power.

These days I'm making my living selling kinky stories on Amazon. Sometimes it bothers me that I haven't done this thing or that thing, but I remind myself that I am paying my rent by sharing the weirdo sex fantasies in my head! How freaking great is that? It's certainly not what I planned for myself, but when I think about who I am and what actually makes me happy, this shit is hard to beat! Moral: Adjust your expectations based on what actually brings you happiness and what you seem to gravitate towards.

A wise woman said, Do the thing that loves you back. If you think you want to be an opera singer but you find yourself making clay pots and really enjoying it and people keep telling you how great your pots are but you're not getting anywhere with your singing and singing feels kind of like hard work, maybe it's time to embrace that you're not a failed opera singer but you are in fact a happy, successful maker of pots.

I seem to spend a lot of time telling people on Ask Metafilter to stop kicking their own butts. In your case I think you need to kick your own butt in more productive ways. Figure out what you want most in the world, and begin vigorously kicking your own butt in that direction.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:00 PM on April 10, 2016 [21 favorites]

My perspective as someone who is in her late 40s.

Periods like this come and go. They are normal. Sometimes you are up. Sometimes you are down. Some things you planned and the results are clear and satisfying. Most things are murky at best and require a long period of time to elapse before you can figure how they effected your overall story arch, and by the time you can do that, it's a moot point. This is normal and it happens to everyone no mater how successful they appear on the outside. The most important thing is to get out of bed everyday, smile, and get on with it. My favorite quote comes from one of those cheesy fortune telling rune kits they used to sell at Barnes and Noble in the 90s. It goes like this, "Stay centered, see the humor, and keep on keeping on."
posted by WalkerWestridge at 4:02 PM on April 10, 2016 [10 favorites]

At our house, we focus on our mantra. "Move forward in a positive manner." Some days that just means we managed to take a 30-minute walk, which is one of our daily goals. We ask ourselves what we can do today to move forward in a positive manner. If, at the end of the day, you've done that, this was a good day. We don't have big ambitious goals now, due to our age, but this did really help us with our careers when we were younger. Nowadays our goal is to be as healthy as possible as we age, so we try to walk and eat well every day. Sounds like small goals to you, I'm sure, but the small ones turn in to larger ones really quickly. I think it would help if you just picked one of your issues to work on, and honestly I would choose your health. Walking has huge benefits, and almost everyone can do it. Start with ten minutes if you have to. Spend those ten minutes finding another small goal that will get you started in the direction you need to go in. Good luck!
posted by raisingsand at 4:05 PM on April 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

PS my yoga, studio has specific classes geared towards people with chronic pain. Maybe there is a, similar studio in your area. You sound like you have a pretty good attitude and are realistic and level headed and not a quitter. I wish you luck and I suspect when all is said and done your life will turn out to be an amazingly good one.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 4:07 PM on April 10, 2016

If I can venture this, your post as written is VERY analytical, maybe to the point of being obsessive and stuck-in-your-head -- I wonder if this is what you mean when you say that CBT adds fuel to the fire. With its emphasis on thought-stopping/-challenging, recognizing biases, etc., CBT can just pile on more thoughts and notions to be analyzed, which I suspect is the kind of thing you'd like some respite from; maybe it's that very act of (over-)thinking that feels like the obstacle to your taking effective action. I only say this because that was my own experience with CBT, which was massively ineffective for me, e.g., the very methods taught to me for challenging "negative" thoughts could also be deployed to challenge the act itself of challenging those negative thoughts!

To that end, I'll suggest another kind of therapy: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). It takes a different tack towards difficult thoughts and feelings than CBT. But more important than that, ACT does not assume a healthy life is merely the absence of unhealthy symptoms, as many CBT approaches do -- ACT also recognizes the difficulty inherent in how we can go about building lives that grow from the values we matter most about. I hear a lot of this struggle in your post: how can I get moving in life, not just for the sake of getting moving, but so that I can get to a life worth living? It sounds like you definitely, at one point, had a very strong sense of those valued directions, and now that those directions are in doubt, you are lost and demoralized. I think ACT could do a lot to help you re-orient yourself to a path worth walking.

You can check out this site if you want to plink around for some leads on an ACT therapist (not sure how up to date this is though). I'm also happy to chat over PM. Best of luck.
posted by obliterati at 4:23 PM on April 10, 2016 [10 favorites]

24 to 26 (now 30)was defiantly a "well fuck this is as far as the world told me to go" floundering.

I got a job, it wasn't the best and want the worst.

5 years later 1) I had insurance to treat and figure out some of my chronic health conditions abs mental health 2) gain experience in my field and 3) make adult friends and find my own way.

One step at a time one day at a time. Push your boundaries of what you are comfortable with and keep going. Therapy helped me a ton, but something thst also helped wad me committing to a social thing once a week with the same group of people and I just kept going. It took me a long time to be comfortable, but I've made friends and it had been worth it.
posted by AlexiaSky at 4:31 PM on April 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I know it sucks being told by older people that omg, you are so young (I didn't appreciate it in my twenties when I felt so damn old) but the secret is... you really are so young and you really do have a tonne of time ahead of you. When I look back on my twenties, sure, it was awesome having more energy but all the doubts and insecurity sucked as did this expectation that we were supposed to have everything sorted out by then. It was quite freeing turning 30 (and I had major panic about it) and realising that the over thirties side of the fence was still super fun but everyone was so much more chilled about life. I suspect it gets even more like that when you get over 40 (I'm 39)

If you're struggling with indecisiveness, pick some simple achievements that you can do and then feel good about having some wins in your life. Even a one year plan is probably too much for right now. Start with really simple achievements. How about getting some kind of indoor plant and caring for it super well - watering each day, dusting its leaves. Or at home, go through one drawer at a time, sorting it out nicely and folding everything - things that aren't brain stressing or emotionally fraught but you can look on at the end and think, hey, that looks nice now, good job me. Build up to bigger achievements - I'm sure people can make lots of suggestions.
posted by kitten magic at 4:33 PM on April 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

You BABY (as others have said). I don't say that because you are being childish, but because you are 26! HOO BOY if I only had some of those years back. You can do this.

I am 47. And facing some of the same issues. And of course one can find truckloads of "inspirational" stories and articles, and related things that simply do not do the job. However, recently two things, both related not to "woo woo yes you can!", but here are how many days you may have left. How do you want to spend them? Here:

Your Last Good Day, from a fellow with a progressive disease reminding us all to live life while we can, and

Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator (Ted Talk), and if you can get to the end, he shows a huge grid he calls a "Life Calendar", which shows every week of a ninety year life. How many of those boxes are already used up? How many will be used up in sleeping and working? How do you know how many you actually get? That one hit me.

As for my own progress, I am finally doing a life drawing class every week. I only said I was going to do it for about five years. Is there something you can start to do today? Draw, play guitar, take up running, take singing lessons, take tennis lessons, a dancing class, a kickboxing class, woodworking? You won't be good at any of these things for some time. But if you start doing them, one day you will realize you are pretty good! And that's the only way to be good at anything. So what feels like something you want to be good at?
posted by Glinn at 4:39 PM on April 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

When your 20-year-old self made those plans, he didn't know enough to make realistic plans. It would be easy to name a hundred jobs that no one ever planned to get: insurance adjuster, bailiff, check-in guy at the car rental company. Whatever. It's a big world, and there is a place for you.

I think your immediate goal is stability. A job that you can do, a place you can live. A safe place. When you achieve that, you can think about pushing for something better.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:00 PM on April 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Quarter-life crises suck. Your twenties mostly suck. What you're experiencing is not especially special, which I don't say to be mean but as motivation: pretty much everyone goes through this, and gets through it.

I'd strongly suggest trying to stop shooting down obvious solutions. "CBT would only add fuel to the fire" is a pretty melodramatic statement for what is literally the most common solution to what ails you. But if CBT can't possibly work for you, maybe look into DBT or just find a licensed social worker or therapist and let them suggest options (including an IOP if that's at all available to you). Don't shoot every one of them down instantly - fight that urge as hard as you can, because it's just the depression droning on its usual boring-ass bullshit.

26 isn't really old enough for the death of most dreams, unless you wanted to be an Olympic gymnast or child actor. 26 isn't old enough to get to do most of the cool stuff there is to do in life, because you're not qualified to do much. Literally working at getting better at anything - you could make a list on a piece of paper and roll dice to pick it, if you want - will be an advance in your life right now.

There are many paths. Most of them are still open to you. Your generation is likely to have at least 3 distinct careers in your life, with the first one kicking in at around 28. The third one is probably literally a career that doesn't exist yet, there's not a damn thing you can do right now to be prepared for it.

There's no answers that are being kept from you. Everyone has impostor syndrome. The most successful people trick it, ignore it, or are too dumb to be affected by it, so take your pick at which one you want to try. Depression lies, you are not the only person standing confused at one of life's bus stops. You can watch buses go by all day and go nowhere, or you can pick one and get on it and see if the route it takes provides you with any inspiration, information, or maybe just a little insight into what you don't want to do.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:06 PM on April 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

This is maybe the biggest scariest plunge a person has to take as part of really truly becoming an adult (which is further maybe why not everyone ever becomes an adult).
It is miserable to grieve for the person you thought you were going to grow to be. But none of us are fortune tellers, and it would actually totally suck if we all knew exactly how things were going to play out when we were 12.
I kinda get addicted to platitudes when I'm in a funk and when I was reading your post I kept thinking "I'd rather be working for a paycheque than waiting to win the lottery", which is a line from "First Day of My Life" by Bright Eyes.
Every day, any day is the first day of your life! Celebrate tomorrow's first day of your life by taking yourself out for a coffee. And then be proud of yourself, because, hey, that's doing a thing!
posted by dotparker at 6:09 PM on April 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Most therapists I've seen use a variety of modalities and aren't just focused on CBT or Jungian analysis or whatever. I suggest looking for a garden-variety therapist who will just be a shoulder to lean on while you figure this out. They can also be helpful in terms of accountability - if you agree to do something concrete in therapy, then in my experience I want to actually get it done before the next session. And some things that I was really stuck on I was able to do in my therapist's office.

I also suggest picking a very small thing. It doesn't have to be going online and looking at the classes offered by the local University. Something small but that is a slight stretch from where you are now. If you haven't been to a concert in a while, maybe that. Or a workshop. Once going to a concert when I hadn't done anything fun like that in a long time - and pushing myself to go when I didn't feel like it - shook me out of a bad period of doldrums. So I'm a big fan of small things that represent your desire to get out of a rut.

Good luck. I have no idea whether my advice is any good or not, but I am confident that you can get past this.
posted by bunderful at 6:14 PM on April 10, 2016

These interesting friends you wish you had-- what are they into? Do they go to concerts, or cook elaborate dinners, or know all the words to all the TV shows, or make comics, or volunteer for a political campaign? Try doing one of those things. Your goal need not be to know everything about this thing, or turn it into a career; your goal is to ask good questions, if & when you meet someone who's REALLY interested in the thing.
posted by yarntheory at 6:38 PM on April 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Great advice above. As a practical act, maybe write down 10-20 things that you want to do (not life changing, just meeting friends, signing up for a class, a weekend solo camping trip) on separate pieces of paper, put them in a hat and pick one. Make sure you fully commit to it before you actually pull one out of the hat, so you won't hem and haw. It will help with the paralysis of inaction, get you started, and you can build from there.
posted by Vaike at 6:55 PM on April 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm much older than you and have always had a "damn the torpedos full steam ahead" attitude. I also have progressive neurological deterioration and the pain kept getting worse and worse. My doc put me on gabapentin and it worked wonderfully, allowing me to sleep through the night. Until I realized that I was feeling exactly how you describe yourself feeling. When I finally managed to stop taking the gabapentin, my life changed dramatically for the better, even with pain.

"Lamictal, Abilify, Zoloft, Vyvanse and a Buprenorphine patch" Before trying to invent some sort Super Plan, I would do some serious research on the side effects of each of those drugs, and also the interactions they may have. Lamictal is, like gabapentin, an anti-epilepsy drug, and works by suppressing electrical activity in the brain. Lamictal, Abilify, and Zoloft have black box suicide warnings. I'm glad Buprenorphine is helping with your pain, but that is an off-label use (unless your pain is coming from getting off heroin).

I'm not saying that you don't need any or all of these drugs. But I know that at least one of them is very similar to the drug that turned me into a "stagnant recluse." Perhaps something other than applications of will power will be able to help you. Good luck!

NOTE: DO NOT ***NOT*** STOP ANY OF THESE DRUGS COLD TURKEY! You must titrate down, a bit at a time.
posted by kestralwing at 10:04 PM on April 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

When I finally crawled out of the dark hole that was my early fifties I started by attending community presentations on subjects I was mildly interested in. I say mildly because I was still too depressed to be truly interested in anything . My therapist wanted me out of my house for any reason so I started with those type events. I found out that I would never ever be a bird watcher, that learning Italian was not in the cards for me at that time, that playing pinochle was too much work, and Tai Chi required too much balance. Those are just a few of the things I tried. Checking and chucking out all those things really helped me to engage in life again.

I finally decided to take a community college art class. I decided on ceramics. I had never taken an art class before and never viewed myself as creative in that way. It was so scary in the beginning. I was surrounded by people under 30, some very talented. Well, that art class changed my life. I took another one. And after that, I was off and running. I decided to tackle my life long fear of algebra. Eight semesters later I finally finished with that subject. Failed a few times along the way but I just kept showing up and doing my best each day. My life is very different today on every level than it was seven years ago.

So you, at 26 are really in the beginning of your adulthood. If you are lucky you will get to change your life view multiple times in the next 40 years. But no amount of therapy and/or medication will brush your teeth, dress you, and open the door. You have to do those things yourself. And you do them even though it feels awful at first. It will eventually get easier.

I hope I don't sound too preachy. I have had to crawl back to the land of the living more than once and each time I have found the effort to be worth the struggle. Good luck.
posted by cairnoflore at 10:31 PM on April 10, 2016 [8 favorites]

When I feel caught in a ruminating loop and questioning my priorities, I've found going somewhere that is outdoors and quiet is the thing that resets by brain. If possible, for long enough that I need to at least bring fixings to make one meal on the go, if not camp out overnight.

It's damn hard to work out what is really important to you in your normal surroundings, which can be a strong reinforcer of what you think should be important to you. There's something powerful in going to a place that is calm, to where you perhaps walk or bike for a while, where you engage in quiet rhythms of feeding and caring for yourself where these things take time. These trips are an end unto themselves, so there is no rush to come back with an epiphany. You will learn a lot about what is important to you, though, by observing what you love and what you miss.
posted by SakuraK at 11:27 PM on April 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

I went back to school at 27 and changed my career. Totally do-able :-)

As for how to make a five-year-plan, I would start with a brainstorm list of everything you might even remotely like to do---even stuff like see certain movies or read certain books---and start with doing the ones that are immediately achievable. It will be satisfying to be productive and Get Stuff Done, and then you can use that momentum to tackle the bigger things in a bit.
posted by JoannaC at 5:47 AM on April 11, 2016

You sound like me 3 years ago!
At 29 years old I decided to stop working admin jobs I hated and to take a chance at a real career that I would love. I found an entry level job as a receptionist at a post-production house. It took 6 months but I stuck with it. I have been here for almost 8 months and they just decided to start training me to be a producer, my dream job. If I can do it, you can! I don't have a degree, I didn't have experience in the industry. Being older actually helped me, they thought I was more reliable and wise than people just out of college. You can do it! I'm so much happier and I never thought that was possible. (I have mental health issues, also on lamictal).
posted by shesbenevolent at 8:52 AM on April 11, 2016

I hit a massive wall of (disability, ptsd, associated mental illness) burnout when I was 24 and I'm still pulling myself out of it, here are some thoughts:

- You sound like you're really hard on yourself and blame yourself for how you got into your current life. I spent a long time beating myself up for being so foolish, for having aimed for things that clearly weren't going to work out, for not quitting sooner, for daring to hope I could do the things, for not picking myself up faster, etc. All of that is wasted energy. You need to find a way to forgive yourself for the mistakes you made. You had your reasons and your circumstances that pushed you in the directions you took, you couldn't have known what you know now, and that's OK (really. it's OK). Mistakes happen and luckily life is incredibly hard to fuck up beyond all hope. You're much better off using that energy to generate forward momentum instead of running in the hamster wheel of self-blame.

This is an incredibly difficult thing to do and it's a process. Some days I am able to let it go, others I am not. Develop the ability to talk to yourself like you would to someone you really care about and treat yourself with kindness. You can't berate and self-hate yourself out of a funk, that's just not how it works. Shame got you stuck in this rut and it's a lot harder to climb back out if you're carrying something that heavy. Figure out what you have to do in order to put it down. (Therapy would probably help but I am a therapy-averse person with therapist-related trauma so I've had to do this on my own so far. Therapy isn't a requirement, try not to get too stuck on that.)

- Pick one thing that you can do right now that will make you feel a little better. Do it. It doesn't have to be a huge thing. It might feel foolish to do something simple, do it anyway to prove to yourself that you can still do things. Do something that makes you feel a little bit more like a human being and less like a cardboard box waiting to be thrown out. If possible, do something that includes a change of scenery (get out of your home/neighbourhood/workplace); I'm a nature person so I find going to something like a ravine helps a lot.

Start on the easy side and try not to be hard on yourself for how far you are from where you used/want to be. You're out of practice in Doing Things so you need to build up some confidence/test your rusty abilities instead of just diving deep, floundering, and giving up on everything all over again. Basically, the goal here is to 1) prove to yourself that you CAN do things, 2) push yourself a little bit in terms of what you think you can get done but not to the point where the fear of failure capsizes you, 3) practice.

Eventually do something that shakes up your routine and makes it impossible/really hard for you to slide back into it. I moved out of the neighbourhood I hated with every fiber of my being and got a dog because I'd always wanted one. Other options are to sign up for something with a "go to X for Y time every Z day" schedule especially if you are struggling with self-imposed routine right now.

Once you have a couple of accomplishments, it becomes easier to come up with others. I know this sounds hokey but honestly I didn't think I was capable of so many of the things that I've done in the past year and my #1 enemy was my own brain telling me I was so worthless that I shouldn't even try to do them.

- Grieve the old plan. Be sad about it, upset about it, angry about it; feel cheated, foolish, mournful. Whatever your feelings are about it, it's OK to feel them. You had a lot of hopes and dreams and some of them might never come to pass (or won't come to pass on your ideal timeline). That sucks. Sometimes the only way out is through the grief.

Once you're ready, ask yourself what you want and what you want your life to look like in 5-10-20 years. You don't need super specific things and you don't need to commit, just think over the options and imagine what it'd be like. Take into account the limitations that you now have (chronic pain, ADHD, other disabilities) but try not to get too hung up on realism. The point of this exercise is to develop some kind of hopeful feelings for the future. Brainstorm, daydream, let yourself be a little ridiculous, and tell the "I'm not good enough / that'll never happen" feelings that they're not welcome right now ("not today Satan"). I found that repeated brainstorming/daydreaming sessions led to me having a more and more cohesive idea of what I wanted, which motivated me to look up information, and eventually led to me creating something like a rough plan.

You might find that this new plan is similar to your old plan and that's totally fine but you can't just try to cut up the old plan and repurpose it. Trying to do that gets you stuck. You have to accept that the old plan didn't work and re-figure out what you want. You need to know yourself again and you can't do that by copy-pasting your pre-burnout goals over.

Basically - you need a direction before you can make a plan and it sounds like you don't have that yet, so spend some time imagining potential lives. This is your starting point. You may not have chosen it, you may not like it, but it is what it is. Start from here. Aim for where you want to be.

Best of luck!
posted by buteo at 5:09 PM on April 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

As a piece of perspective, thinking "I'm 26, I should have done A, B and C and anything else is failure" is literally a juvenile point of view. It's tied to the many years of primary and secondary education you went through where you moved through 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade and all your peers got driving licenses at 16 or whatever.

Adulthood is not like that. You are 5 years into a 70+ year haul of being a grownup. Get some perspective.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:17 PM on April 11, 2016

I was you probably without the medications, but yes, with the chronic pain. In a lot of ways, you're a hell of a lot braver than I was because at least you're trying to get help, trying to get things working.

I don't personally think the tough love comments of "you're so young" are a lot of help, because hell, you're the oldest you've ever been, and yeah, other people have had life experiences that show them that there is a way out, but you yourself, you haven't had those yet.

That's the road to put yourself on, the one that gets you away from where you are now, the one that takes you to a place where you can look back at where you used to be from a better vantage point. The spot that allows you to see other people stuck firmly where you used to be, and reach back to help them.

To be honest, though, and without fancy metaphors, life is hard fucking work. It doesn't just magically get better. I'm nearly forty, and I'm just now realizing that I'm not likely to ever have a job that gives me meaning again, and that any meaningful life I lead is going to have to exist outside the confines of work. It's a hard, painful thing to realize, and I'm still not done trying to understand that. Life isn't what we dream it's going to be when we're young, it's the things that happen to us, both the horrid and sublime, as we age, and it's about how we react to those things, how we grow from those things. Your life isn't even close to set, there are still worlds out there for you to experience. The first step is taking a moment to remember how to take your first step. Best of luck.
posted by Ghidorah at 11:25 PM on April 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm a little curious why CBT is such a hard no for you considering that it seems like analyzing and changing your behavior patterns re: your persistent cognitive fallacies might do wonders for breaking you out of that particular funk. But you know yourself better than me, so I'll take you at your word.

I will also add that those thought patterns sound INCREDIBLY toxic, but it also sounds like you know that these negative thoughts, while pervasive, are not doing you any favors, which means you're already moving in the right direction.

Personally, I like to respond to negative self thoughts ("You are so far behind on things you want to do," "You are untalented at X", etc.) with, "Yeah. And?" and move right the hell on. Because if your inner negative nelly can't come up with something more proactive than trash talk, then it's not actually helping you to solve your problem. Banish those thoughts with action. Easier said than done, I know, but inertia is a hell of a thing, and once you get moving, it's way easier to keep moving.

Trite as it sounds, the "a year from now, you'll wish you'd have started today" adage is a solid piece of advice. I've been writing a line-a-day for the past five years now on index cards, and it is amazing to me how different life can look even just a year in the future. Day to day life feels so slow and gradual, but it really doesn't have to take that long to enact real change, and you really do have quite a lot of life ahead of you in which to change things.

So I'm nthing some of the other suggestions here: pick one (JUST one) thing that you'd like to do differently. Maybe it's walk more, or research educational programs and scholarships in something you're potentially interested in, or find a new place to live, or go new places more often, but whatever it is, make it non-negotiable. Schedule it. Make it a priority. And when that becomes a thing that is just a part of your life, you can do it again with something else.

I'm seeing from your medication list that you might be suffering from some level of ADHD, so I definitely know how difficult it can be to get started on a thing and make it part of an ongoing routine. I've also definitely fallen into the "do ALL the things!" trap and then promptly did none of the things.

One thing that really helped me was to get a nice, sturdy notebook (Moleskine and Rhodia do nice work) and whenever I get a harebrained scheme or start to feel like "WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME I should be a polyglot/community activist/musician/artist/world traveler/writer/internet celebrity/food blogger/podcaster/DJ/game master/whatever by now", I write it all out in lists and bullets so I don't forget it and then in the same notebook, I write/sketch out what steps I'd actually need to take to do the thing I just wrote down.

Sometimes just looking at the thing you think you want and trying to dissect it and break it down into achievable steps can be enough for you to either realize how eminently doable the thing you want to do is or (equally important) talk yourself out of it and let it go as being not for you.

Either way, good luck. Show that brain who's boss!
posted by helloimjennsco at 1:05 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I recommend reading the memoir Not Fade Away: A Short Life Well Lived.

He didn't begin his career until age 30, and yet he accomplished so much and lived so much life until his premature death at age 50.

I felt similar to you at that age -- and then I read this book.
posted by ialas at 6:43 PM on April 17, 2016

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