How to start caring again
April 25, 2016 6:17 PM   Subscribe

He died and I'm feeling stuck.

My dad died suddenly last Christmas. I still get teary when I see anything that reminds me of him and I try not to dwell too much on memories because I might break down and cry, but I've reached the point where I feel okay on a day-to-day basis. However, while hanging out with friends is fine and fun and distracting, I can't seem to bring myself to care about day-to-day responsibilities.

I'm starting a new job on Monday but I lined it up before this happened, and I'm worried about how I'll do because I've been very distracted at work. My apartment is a huge mess and though I can see that it's kinda gross I just let the laundry, dishes, and trash pile up. I know I need to clean and I want to, but then I just end up laying on the couch and marathoning television. I work as an artist and owe some customers some artwork but I keeping putting it off, which I know will hurt my artistic reputation. Emails have gone unanswered for weeks. I don't exercise or eat as well as I should (which makes me feel extra guilty since my dad died of a heart attack). I have been in a casual relationship with a guy for a while which I was enjoying but now I feel like it's just another source of frustration because I'm wasting time...but I don't feel motivated to date. I feel like I had a lot of drive and motivation heading toward the new year, but now I'm stuck in a rut and even though I want to change things I just...don't.

What can I do to shake myself out of this? I know that it take time, but I feel like I'm wasting it--my dad was fairly young, retirement age, and even though I know I'm still reasonably young at late-20s/early 30s the scared part of my brain is telling me life is half-over. I can't seem to make myself move and do things I need to do...being distracted and avoiding is easier.

Have thought about therapy but haven't gone yet.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
My mom died just before I turned 30 (and my dad had died the previous year) and I was in full IDGAF mode for about 18 months.

I went to therapy (tremendously helpful, and I was lucky to have an awesome therapist). I also just... Faked my life, I guess. I acted as if: I cared about my job; my basic hygiene; the cleanliness of my apartment. Soon, the combination of therapy and pretending to care combined to bring me back into some level of balance.

It may not take you as long; your process may (will) look different. But you will get through. I'm very sorry for your loss.
posted by rtha at 6:32 PM on April 25, 2016 [13 favorites]

Therapy is what helped me get past that feeling when I lost my mom suddenly (also at Christmas). The hole in your heart and your world is so huge that first year that other parts of your life can't help but fall in. A therapist can help you heal that hole. It's been 5 years and while every once in a while talking about my mom catches me off guard with tears, mostly I smile when I think of her now. I'm so very sorry about your dad.
posted by cecic at 6:49 PM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

- Call a cleaning service and hire a deep clean. Go ahead and interview folks so you are comfortable with the service. I just used to find a new service and it was very very easy!

- Go easy on yourself, but for goodness sake get your home cleaned.

- After home is cleaned, make decisions and design a plan of action.

- PLEASE PLEASE get your home cleaned before you start your new job. PLEASE.

You can face the rest if your home is clean. Get your home cleaned. You can do this.
posted by jbenben at 7:13 PM on April 25, 2016 [8 favorites]

My dad died when I was in my 2nd year of undergrad and I already wasn't doing well. This made things much, much worse. It took me about 2.5 years to snap out of things. Its not even that I was thinking about him all that much, it was just part of a general malaise that I was under. What worked for me at the end was to not spend time at home. I went from spending all my time at home wasting time (watching TV, on the computer, hanging out with friends) to being home pretty much only to sleep. I'd go to class, the gym, the library/student centre to read, and then home at the end of the day. I'd still hang out with friends but I'd be doing it outside of home.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 7:14 PM on April 25, 2016

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that your dad made you and cared about you and loved you and wanted you to live a great life and not to die figuratively along with him. I love my two children more than all the light in the world and I want them to go on fighting and loving and enjoying life long after I'm gone. I'm sorry for your loss. Good luck.
posted by history is a weapon at 7:33 PM on April 25, 2016 [14 favorites]

Small steps. Cleaning your whole apartment and making new friends and starting a new job is daunting to anyone. So pick a small, small thing. Throw away five pieces of trash. Then after watching a trashy episode of whatever throw away another five.

Then go for a cup of coffee in between episodes, maybe with a friend. I get overwhelmed when I want to do hours of work for sure, even if it's stuff I enjoy and want to do. So I just break things down in my mind, ten second task at a time. Sometimes I only do one thing and go to get a cup of coffee. Often I get in the groove and knock out of bunch of things. So just do a few pieces of trash, etc as a goal.
posted by Kalmya at 7:43 PM on April 25, 2016 [9 favorites]

You're grieving a parent. This is pretty normal.

Going on antidepressants for a year or so to help you through the worst of it might be a good idea. Wellbutrin (buproprion) works faster than SSRIs.

I'm sure that after your dad died a few friends or relatives offered, "If there's anything I can do, call me. No, seriously, I mean it." Call them and find one who can come ASAP and stay with you for at least a week and help you get your shit together (cleaning, making a doctor's appointment to get on antidepressants, general organizing, etc).
posted by Jacqueline at 8:22 PM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

I was going to say the same thing as history is a weapon said. Your dad loved you, and what he would want is for you to go on living life to its fullest. He raised you to prosper and flourish, and although it's not easy to shake your grief, trying to go forward with your life is the best way for you to honor him. You may have to just fake it for a while, but eventually it will get easier. Best wishes to you.
posted by OCDan at 10:36 PM on April 25, 2016

After you lose someone you love, it takes the time it takes to learn the new normal. Four months is a pretty short time. I lost both my parents in a span of just over 2 years and it sucked and I will probably never be "over it", and that mess started over a decade ago. And I definitely agree that the only way to get through feeling overwhelmed is to start with the smallest step and keep going.

That said, whenever someone says they feel "stuck" and then describes having trouble getting motivated to do fundamental life activities like basic cleaning, maintaining relationships, working, and says that they're avoiding almost everything, I think "depression"as well as "grief". Especially since you're kind of describing anhedonia, too - although you're fine with your friends, you don't enjoy your previously fun relationship or the art that you presumably found rewarding. In addition to the therapy, I think you should consider medication, at least for a while (I don't know whether a year, as someone suggested, is an appropriate timeframe - that's something to decide with your health care provider.)
posted by gingerest at 12:31 AM on April 26, 2016

I agree that this sounds like depression, and that depression after the loss of a loved one is very, very normal, especially only four months in! As other commenters have mentioned, this process can take years.

I just want to echo Jacqueline's comment — you need to ask for help. I know even this can be hard and scary but you do have people in your life who love you, and you need to let them know that you are struggling.

There is a whole side-aspect of depression that tells us we aren't allowed to admit to being depressed. But honestly, even just giving a name to those feelings, daring to utter the truth out loud — "I am depressed" takes away some of the illness's power. Asking for help here is a first step. Now ask the people who love you.
posted by Brittanie at 2:12 AM on April 26, 2016

This was me. My mum died when I was 26. Grief is one thing but months after losing her I just couldn't do things, didn't care about stuff and felt anxious that everything and everyone else I cared about was going to slip away from me. I did a lot of procrastinating at work and crying in supermarkets and picking stupid fights with my partner.

After months of this, and with some trepidation, I started taking antidepressants. After a week on them I found I could just do some things again. It felt like a minor miracle - one night I did the dishes and made myself dinner, and then I didn't pick a fight with my partner or cry for hours. I was still sad and missed my mother constantly but I was able to get on with things a bit, and I mostly didn't cry in public. It was like my brain was wrung out from the intensity of my grief and I needed some neurochemical help for a while. I had a few sessions with a psychologist to talk things out, and that helped too. And I told my friends and family that I wasn't doing well. Your mileage may vary, of course, but everyone I knew was very supportive and encouraging, and just knowing I didn't need to pretend to be coping around the people most important to me made me feel less like things were hideously out of control.

What you're experiencing may be grief or it may be grief overlaid with depression. Don't let the fact that your misery has an obvious cause stop you from seeking help.
posted by escapepod at 5:25 AM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

Could you get a very small thing to care about? Like an easy-care plant such as a very hardy cactus that wouldn't die if you lost track of it for a while? Or go the other route and get a kitten that would pounce on your chest and yowl at your face and demand immediate action? Sorry if the mere thought of this causes exhaustion.

I don't understand how people do this: when it happens to me, I know I'll be on the floor for a year or two, minimum. The current economy does not well accommodate the occasional need to lie down and not get up for a while, and I think that's a bad problem. People can't just whip back into action two weeks after terrible calamity. I'm so sorry about your father.
posted by Don Pepino at 10:23 AM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oof, I'm so sorry to hear about your dad. I'm in a similar boat right now, although 10 years older than you, and what's helped me most was:

Finding a support group (having other bereaved people around to bounce ideas off of or to give multiple new perspectives was useful to me and I'm glad I did it early because I really wasn't and still am not ready to lean on friends)
Doing just what Kalmya suggested, small steps. Setting timers for 10 minutes to wash dishes or toss out recycling, and rewarding myself with Netflix for the rest of the afternoon.
Allowing myself to break down and cry sometimes. This is far easier said than done, but I know if I don't carve out a little time to do this on my own, it'll come out in other, possibly more damaging ways. I feel your resistance to it - I have a lot of it myself, and I'm working with my therapist to figure out the reason(s) for it.

It's early days yet and while you should definitely prioritize cleaning, I hope you don't judge yourself too harshly for everything else. You've got a lot to work through.
posted by Recliner of Rage at 11:26 PM on April 26, 2016

My mother died almost 2 months ago from cancer. I think about it all the time. I smell something that reminds me of her, I see her in myself when I look in the mirror, songs remind me of her, things she loved. When I'm happy and excited about something I want to call her, when I'm sad about something I want to call her. Then I remember I can't anymore.
My boyfriend has kept me together mostly to be honest. If you can find it in you to turn to someone, try to talk about it. I embrace thinking about my mother and being upset. I want to feel it. I feel like society avoids death and no value is given to grieving anymore. Losing a parent is heartbreaking. I feel like I am missing something, I physically feel it.
So my advice, feel how you're feeling, he was your father. I agree with someone above, get someone to clean your apartment for you. Fake it. I have gotten to a somewhat 'normal' place by faking it. I mostly just want to sit around and watch TV. Try reading. Especially something trashy you're unable to put down. Books engross you and allow you to totally switch off in a way tv doesn't.
I just joined a gym and that's really helping. I know people always say that, it always made me feel guilty that I didn't do it. But people are right, endorphins are so powerful. And I feel better about myself.
Do not beat yourself up above all, be kind to yourself. If you want someone to talk to, feel free to memail me and we can chat.
posted by shesbenevolent at 7:41 AM on April 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

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