Summer blues
May 16, 2016 7:47 PM   Subscribe

I hate being home from school so much that I have spiraled back into depression and panic attacks. Help!

This year I moved away to college figuring it would be the last time I ever lived at home. I have hardly any friends here, my parents and I have a very uncomfortable history, my whole relationship with my family is awkward and ambiguous at best, and there's a long-established pattern of falling into depression whenever I'm in this house. At school are all of the people I've been closest with in my entire life. Now I'm back here.

I had plenty of plans for the summer - books to read, places to go - that I now feel unmotivated to carry out. I just feel really dull and unhappy for the first time in a very long time, and this feeling has encroached on all of my relationships and interests. I take Ativan veeery sparingly during the year for anxiety, and the other evening I found myself taking three.

I did not anticipate this at all because I feel like I'm perfectly capable of being happy by myself. Usually I appreciate eventlessness very deeply. I frequently choose not to spend time with my friends/SO in lieu of doing me stuff. And I certainly do not need classes to be a motivated learner. So what is happening here? What do I even do to resolve this?
posted by myitkyina to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The first year I went back to my parents' place in the summer break from university, I felt like that too. It took me most of the summer to realise I had lost or forgotten about "coping patterns" I had developed over my teenage years for living in that house. For example, as a teenager, I almost never sat in the common rooms of the house. If I was at home, I was in my room doing things, and I'd set up my room more like a tiny studio apartment than a bedroom. And I spent a lot of time at the library, or going for long walks. That way interacting with my family and their craziness was not a default thing that happened constantly throughout the day, but rather something that I chose to do at times and places when it suited me.

When I came back in summer, I was at first behaving more like a guest in someone's home - sitting in the living room when I was at home, which meant constant interactions with my family. And not feeling like I could go out quite as often, because I was "visiting". Once I changed those patterns, things were much easier.

I had also gotten used to a lot of independence living away from home, like cooking for myself the sorts of things I liked to eat, and eating at times that suited me, getting up and going to bed at times that suited me, saving up chores for one day a week and getting them all done at once, not attending religious services. When I came back "home", I was expected to drop those new habits and fit back in with the way my parents did everything, which was very stressful for me. In some families, you might be able to openly discuss those issues and negotiate compromises.Hopefully you can try that?

I don't know if any of these issues are the same as the ones you are facing, but if so, maybe my experience can give you some ideas about things that might work for you too. In general though, I think you want to examine how your life at "home" with your family is different from the life you had started to build for yourself, and try to see how you can either temporarily adapt back to the "home" way of being, or negotiate something that is more like what you prefer.
posted by lollusc at 7:55 PM on May 16, 2016 [7 favorites]

THis happens to me every time I go home and spend time with my parents; I can completely understand what you're describing. It has been 20 years since I went to college and it still happens to me! Basically, I think it's not you (or me), but your reaction to a bad situation. It's unlikely you can change the situation (10 years of trying did not help me, so I did give up a while back). So what can you do to change your reaction to the situation?

Myself, I no longer actually stay in my parents' home; it is just easier to get a cheap hotel and actually visit them rather than stay with them. (I also don't go home often or for extended periods...) But I imagine that you don't have this option and must stay in their home. I would suggest then making every effort to maintain other relationships to keep that connection to the world you're happy in, so that you are 'virtually' not totally stuck in your parent's home. I also have had a good experience wtih Talkspace as a 'relationship' that can keep me out of my head a bit. Make formal schedules of when you're going to do all those things that you see falling by the wayside. The first one will seem silly to schedule, but it will be easier after that.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 7:55 PM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Can you move in with a friend for the summer? Maybe spend the summer living at the beach and bartending? Or just get a job in general that takes you out of the house for large chunks of time? Do you plan to live on campus next year? If not, go ahead and rent whatever place you plan to rent next year.
posted by greta simone at 8:24 PM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is extremely common-- happened to me in college, and I actually have a great relationship with my family (and had friends around too). I agree with lollusc that you were just free to live your life exactly how you saw fit-- including enjoying extended periods of "me" time without interruption-- and now you're sort of obligated to these people who are very different from you but to whom you feel obligated for existential reasons. You can't live your life the way you like to, and even if their intrusions/suggestions are, on some level, "right," that doesn't mean they work for you or your lifestyle or your identity as a young person.

If I were you, I'd do my best to get away-- go on a vacation, visit and stay with friends, volunteer away from home-- anything to get back some personal space. Even if that just means leaving the house every day for a few hours (or from 9 to 5 like it's your time to "work" on yourself), do it! Let the feelings of guilt subside; you will be unbearable if you feel cooped up, so better to be a healthy version of yourself.
posted by stoneandstar at 9:29 PM on May 16, 2016

If you have major issues with your family, feeling trapped with them is naturally going to be depressing. Also, going home can really feel like regressing, especially when you're so young and adulthood still feels new and weird. (It never stops being weird, but it gets much less new.) You find yourself back in the old place, looking at those old walls and maybe having those same old arguments with your family, and it feels like all your progress has been undone, or you never went anywhere.

Your hometown can become a toxic place for you too. I'm like that about Long Beach. I have a bad memory to go with almost every street corner there, and when I'm there for any length of time all those bad memories add up.

But if there's anything you love about your hometown, try to embrace that. Go out and do the stuff you can only do there. Maybe try thinking of this as a goodbye. If you come back to this town, you'll be a visitor, not a local. It's not impossible you'll never just "hang out" there again.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 9:50 PM on May 16, 2016

To resolve this? Leave. Being there is the issue; go. Staying (rather than doing the things you had planned for yourself) is actively choosing misery, and that seems dumb and self-destructive, so don't. GTFO, and choose to escape a miserable situation.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 10:33 PM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

I can second what most other people are saying here - this is totally expected and there's absolutely nothing wrong with you for feeling this way. The advice to leave might be correct in your situation, but you asked for hints to help you cope within this setting.

I never went to college or lived with roommates - when I moved out of my parents' house, it was to a job that was well-paid enough (and in a cheap enough town) that I could go straight from my parents' home to my own place. So I never really had that progression that a lot of people get, from home through college through a roommate situation in a first job to a place of your own. I quickly became used to living by myself - getting up and doing my own thing in the mornings before work, going to bed when I needed to, eating what I needed to and at a time that suited me, all the things people mention.

Before I moved out of my parents' house, I basically had the use of two rooms upstairs - one bedroom that was pretty much just for sleeping in, and one office/study type room that I could work in. I spent most of my time across those two rooms while I lived there, and didn't spend a lot of time doing family stuff, watching their TV and so on. When I went back late last year for a period of a few months because of some health issues, my mum had started her own business and taken up the office/study (which is totally reasonable) and so I only had my bedroom, which felt super claustrophobic and tiny. I'd gone (temporarily) from having a lovely little house with a garden, proper computer desk setup, living room, kitchen, double bedrooms, bathroom and so on to sitting on my old teenage single bed with my laptop perched on my knee. It felt like I'd failed, like all the gains and wins I'd made in the intervening five years had never happened, like I was back to being a dependent child again.

Something that might work for you, if it applies, is to clean up your old bedroom. Get all the crap from when you were a teenager (minus any valuables or sentimental items), sort them into bin bags and take them up to the recycling centre. It worked super well for me - you do not need those old clothes from high school, you do not need the broken Nokia you had in 2003, you do not need a copy of your school report from ten years ago. Clearing all that dusty old shit out of those dismal cupboards and giving the room a good, thorough clean and tidy (and perhaps even some new decor) really helps to stop it feeling like your crusty old teenage bedroom where you were trapped for years and more like the place where grown-up, independent you is staying in the temporary period while you're with them.

Another thing I did have to do during the period when I was staying with family was to have a conversation about independence and needing personal space and time - it wasn't a particularly easy conversation to have, because it's really difficult to say "I want to spend less time around you" without it sounding mean, but I believe it's a necessary conversation in this situation. Going straight from lots of me-time to no me-time is bad for your mental health if you're the kind of person who appreciates a lot of time to get lost in personal projects, thoughts, contemplation and so on. I had to have a conversation around things like "if my bedroom door is closed, I'm probably busy concentrating on something, please don't barge in". It's give and take - you're in their house, but you're your own person now and not their child, and I think it's sometimes difficult for parents to adjust to the fact that this person who's staying in their house is now a lot more independent of them.

Taking a look at your hometown with a fresh view might also help - I know that hometowns, as places you ended up living by accident of birth, often feel dreary and a bit miserable when compared to the place you now live in by choice. But if you've got free time and transport, it might be nice to spend some days being a tourist in the area where you grew up, finding beautiful places to visit and hike and take bike rides. The area where I grew up is lovely, and I never appreciated it that much when I was there, and it was super nice to take trips out and enjoy it from the point of view of a visitor from outside rather than an unwilling resident.

I think the key is really to take a fresh look and a fresh approach to a place that might on the surface seem familiar in an unwelcome way, but now you're a different person could have hidden benefits or at least become tolerable. I'm back in work and living in my pretty little house now, and my health problems are being managed a little better - these things pass, and before you know it you'll be back at college too.
posted by winterhill at 4:24 AM on May 17, 2016

Sign up for volunteer work for good causes to keep yourself busy and occupied.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:55 AM on May 17, 2016

I get this same feeling when I am back in my childhood home for more than about 5 hours (and I'm in my mid-30s) and even stronger when I'm not engaged in some activity. I can't sit around for long, but am fine if I am doing something--cleaning out the garage, mowing the lawn, etc.

If I needed to be home for a while right now (please, Zeus, let me avoid that), I'd set up a routine that gets me out of the house, while helping my parents so I don't feel like a complete slime. So, something like:
-eat breakfast
-take a walk
-do activity with parent (help them clean up, mow lawn, etc.)
-have lunch with parent
-go to coffee shop or library for the afternoon to read/work, etc.
-have dinner out with friends (when possible) or parents when not

I would also set up a calendar letting my parent know things like "we will have dinner at 6pm on Wednesdays together" and "I will be at yoga from 4:30 to 5 every day" etc. That would help me with the independence/boundaries, but also keep them in the loop as to what is going on, so they aren't nagging.
posted by chiefthe at 6:10 AM on May 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

This used to happen to me too - a combination of all my old habits coming back, family dynamics, and dealing with my parents' restrictions on my time was rough.

I spent one summer working a job cleaning dorms at the local university just to get out of the house as much as possible. It was hard work, but I got to listen to a bunch of audiobooks and it was much better than lying around my parents' house feeling trapped.

You need more structure, as well as reasons for getting out and doings things instead of being all up in your own head.

Some suggestions:
-set yourself a daily schedule and keep it!
-keep in touch with your school friends; share an online activity together
-take a class at a local college
-take an online class from your university
-get syllabi for your classes next semester and start the readings
-study for grad school exams if that's relevant
-get a summer job or two
-find a volunteer activity or two
-join a gym and take some fitness classes there
-schedule daily walks/runs/swims/hikes and keep the schedule
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:00 AM on May 17, 2016

This happened to me as well, both my first summer home from college and when I had to move back into the family home in my early 20s after an unsuccessful job search. I too had a complicated relationship with the person who raised me and felt incredibly isolated in my hometown, far away from all of my good friends. Here are some things I found helpful:

--Drag yourself out of the house whenever possible. If your town has a coffee shop or library, find a comfortable corner there in which to read those books.
--Reach out to friends via phone/text/social media whenever possible. This was especially difficult for me as I often feel anxiety about reaching out to people or asking for help because I always worry I'm interrupting their lives. Generally, though, people will be happy to hear from you!
--Look for work, if you feel up to it. If you're in the US, there's a good chance retail and food service establishments near you will be looking for seasonal employees. A summer job at one of these places can help you get out of the house, meet new people, and save up some cash. I ended up as a grocery store cashier for both of my stints at home, and I count those jobs as two of the more valuable experiences of my life.
--Explore parts of your town you don't know as well. This could mean taking walks in different neighborhoods or window shopping/browsing some stores you've never been to before.
--If there's a theatre nearby, take yourself on dates to the movies when you can.
--Seconding the suggestion of cleaning your old bedroom.
posted by come_back_breathing at 9:04 AM on May 17, 2016

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