How are you all, well, doing (this)?
July 24, 2016 12:25 PM   Subscribe

My therapist said that I seem to have strange ideas of how other people live and cope.

Right now, I am alone in a country that is not my own. I came here to be with my partner, who recently had to move back to his home country. I don't really like the job I have here, that is, the job itself is fine, but a colleague is giving me trouble and there is a lot of unreasonable behaviour going on. Nonetheless, I will stay here until the end of my contract in January, because my job history is important to me, there are no jobs in my field in my hometown (so moving back closer to family is not an option) and I already have a gap in my resumé from quitting grad school three years ago, which is well-documented here on MeFi.
The reasons for my breakdown back then, it now seems, were hormonal imbalances. I have recently been diagnosed with endometriosis and put on the pill which works surprisingly well for me, and I have a tentative diagnosis of Hashimoto's thyroiditis as well and have been taking replacement hormones. Overall, I am feeling okay. Even though I am alone in a situation I didn't even choose (as opposed to 2013, where I chose to go abroad for school and to live alone), I am doing much better than back then.

That said, I still feel... odd. Since the only feelings I know are my own, I don't know how normal they are. My therapist says I am doing really well considering the situation, and I tend to agree. BUT I can't help but wonder: Would I still be doing this okay if it wasn't temporary? After my contract ends, I will most probably follow my partner to Japan and get married, and I am even thinking of going back to finish my degree now that I would have his support and my conditions are being treated. We are in daily contact via Skype/Facetime/Messenger, so I rarely feel really alone, but I still dread hanging up, and the thought of not talking to anyone I know during the weekend in case everyone is busy makes me anxious.
I can also call my family whenever I want, so I usually have someone to talk to if I need it, although we never talk about anything really deep. I also message my best friend in Japan much more often. I don't have any good friends here, just colleagues I sometimes eat lunch with or rarely go out with after work, and since I'll only be here for another seven months, I don't think that will change much, although I certainly want to go out with them more once I finished moving, and also go out more by myself. I have planned more activities, like yoga class and horseback riding, which I always dreamt of learning. Right now, I am still recuperating from moving and a bad cold, and adjusting my thyroid meds, and spend the weekends and evenings at home alone in front of the TV or computer, or with a book or my 3DS, sometimes with my fiancé on Skype in the background, and in the evenings after he went to sleep in Japan, alone. Two weekends ago, I went to the zoo by myself, and next weekend, I want to go somewhere for sightseeing as well as maybe to the cinema alone. I don't mind it per se - I am certainly not having sobbing breakdowns like I did when I was clinically depressed - but I feel like I am kind of wasting time and distracting myself. My therapist gently asked me how I thought most other people spent their days, and if I didn't have unrealistic expectations.

My question is: Am I doing this right? Of course, when you're sick, watching reruns of Charmed and working on your Harry Potter fanfiction are great, but shouldn't I be doing something else? More? I'm especially worried about those weekends when for some reason, neither my fiancé nor my family will be available to talk and the weather is too bad to go out. Shouldn't I be fine no matter who I have and what plans I have for next year? Or is that the unrealistic expectation my therapist is talking about? Granted, without my fiancé, I'd never be in this situation and would have done something completely different that might be making me happy now even alone.
I am pretty worried that if this wasn't temporary and the end to it wasn't being together with my partner for hopefully the rest of our lives, I'd be much less okay with being here alone, and that scares me because I hate to be so reliant on others.

It just seems like when I read questions about moods and loneliness (I guess I don't feel lonely, just uneasy to have no one close by in case something happens) it always seems like people here on MetaFilter tell the asker that they have to find peace within themselves, be content, not rely on others etc., so I sometimes feel like a big adult failure when reading here, especially for wanting to get married.
posted by LoonyLovegood to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I would encourage you to ban the word "should" from your vocabulary. Relatedly, it does not matter if I think you are "doing this right" or if other strangers on the Internet or your fiance or your family or your friends think you are "doing this right." The only opinion that matters for that question is your own, just like the only expectations that matter are yours.

One thing I've been doing lately is asking myself "What do I need in this moment," and then doing what I can to meet that need. At the end of the day, I legitimately need some nutritious food, I need to sit on my couch with my cat, I need to knit for awhile. That is enough. Meeting my own needs - even if someone else might label them frivolous or thin - is enough.

Take care.
posted by sockermom at 12:34 PM on July 24, 2016 [20 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds like you're doing perfectly fine. (Except that you feel a bit alone for the moment, but since you'll be leaving soon, that's normal and lucky for you, has an end date.) I just got done with a particularly intense period of work/research and found that I didn't know what to do with myself when I wasn't *so* busy all the time... but I'm quite sure that when previously I had free time, I spent it playing 3DS, watching television shows with my boyfriend, and going out to restaurants and cafes that we wanted to try. That's perfectly normal!

Also, spending time with my family, particularly my small nieces and nephews, tends to make my life feel more meaningful after all. But when it's just me & boyfriend, yep, that's the kind of stuff we do.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:36 PM on July 24, 2016

Best answer: I am pretty worried that if this wasn't temporary and the end to it wasn't being together with my partner for hopefully the rest of our lives, I'd be much less okay with being here alone, and that scares me because I hate to be so reliant on others.
First, the reason you are not putting down roots is exactly because you are here for the short term so blaming yourself for not doing better is ignoring the very good reasons why you are where you are.

Second, you came there to be with your partner. If your partner were still there with you, you would be doing much better. So you had a good plan, life changed and now things are harder.

Third, people need other people. Recent research is showing more and more about the power of healthy attachment. (See Sue Johnson's website if you want to read about this). You seem to believe that you should be loving the isolation but that is not normal for most people. If this was your long-term situation then either you would adapt or, more likely, you would form local connections to support you. You don't want to be desperately needing others but it is OK that you don't like being isolated.

My vote is give yourself permission to let you be you - do this in the way that feel natural and see if that works for you.
posted by metahawk at 12:39 PM on July 24, 2016

Best answer: Sounds to me like you are doing just fine. You've got two major things going on in your life. Your job and your upcoming plans. The first takes a lot of actual time. The second, a lot of mental/emotional time.

Whether you have any further time for a third thing like yoga or horseback riding only you can tell. If you do, great. If not, no biggie. Kick back and relax with TV, book, computer, 3DS.
posted by mono blanco at 12:40 PM on July 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Shouldn't I be fine no matter who I have and what plans I have for next year?

I don't know that this is the case. There's a lot of emphasis in our society on self-reliance, and it's true that it's a good thing and important. But no one is completely self-reliant. We do need community, friendship, and meaningful connection. It's a legitimate need.

Even though you are only in your area for a few more months, you could still test the waters on connecting with others. It doesn't have to be a deep and meaningful friendship that will stand the test of the next 20 years - once I was temporarily in a strange (to me) town and made friends with another woman who lived nearby. We would go out for ice cream or see the local sights together, and that connection made a big difference for me.
posted by bunderful at 12:47 PM on July 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

I read your post twice, trying to find anything that sounds odd...and I couldn't. You're behaving well within the norms of someone who is between places and has a lot on their plate. I suspect I would be in an emotionallyworse place than you are, frankly. I wonder what your therapist meant?
If your situation weren't temporary things would be different. But it is and they aren't. And I think you should do things that make you feel good about yourself and give you a sense ofachievement. This could be a gym membership but just as easily could be a blogging challenge.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:01 PM on July 24, 2016

Best answer: i live in another country (chile; i am english). it has been fucking hard at times. it still can be, sometimes, and i have been here for 14 years (and am currently waiting for nationalisation papers - yay!)

i guess if you didn't ask me, and just knew me socially, you wouldn't know that there are times when i have been crying my eyes out with frustration (no criticism of chile/chileans implied - it's just different). and i always assumed other people were better at this than me, but maybe i just don't see them frustrated too.

i wouldn't have survived without my chilean partner. if you're alone and sticking it out then in my book you're doing wonderfully.

anyway, just a data point.
posted by andrewcooke at 1:02 PM on July 24, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I agree with everyone else about the concept of "doing it right", but to answer your question about how other people handle it: When I failed out of grad school due to massive depression, I came home and spent a couple months on my parents' couch watching TV, surfing the web, and recuperating. Then one day I felt like Getting Stuff Done, and I did, and it was great. I got a job, life moved on, etc. But before I could do that I had to spend the time convalescing, even after the acute phase of my depression was over. It took a while to get as low as I did, so it makes sense that it took a while to get back to a normal level.
And as regards needing other people: American culture is fairly unusual in the degree of emphasis it places on self-reliance. When I studied abroad in Italy, people were shocked to find that I went to college in a city three hours from my home; I was literally asked, "Don't they have universities in your home city?". Which of course we did, but the program I wanted was available at the one in the other city. To most Americans I was staying close to home for college; to Italians it was bizarre that I would leave home at all -- my host brother, who was exactly my age, was still living with his parents and indeed continued to do so until he married in his late 20s. Applying American standards to yourself may be overly harsh. Relationships are important, and all the more so when you're out of your normal comfort zone where nothing feels familiar.
posted by katemonster at 1:10 PM on July 24, 2016 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I think I agree with your therapist that you have unrealistic expectations of how good at coping people should be. It sounds like you're having normal, healthy responses to the situation (minus the weird over thinking that is making you doubt that).

It is definitely okay to be "in limbo" and to be aware that you're in limbo and to make decisions on the basis of being in limbo that are different from the decisions you'd make if you weren't in limbo.

It is not dependent or needy at all to be having an easier time because you know that there are people available for support. That is very normal. That is a statement that could be true of basically any human being, and frankly, I'd worry about human beings for whom that is not true, who feel no discernible difference when they have support from others vs when they don't -- that would sound really pathological and worrisome to me, not "self-reliant".
posted by Cozybee at 1:10 PM on July 24, 2016

Best answer: My first move to a place I had never been was torture. My second move was easier, but still hard. It is a lot to adjust to.

My policy during difficult times is "bread and circus": Stay adequately fed and keep yourself entertained during down time. If you are too tired to write fan fiction, then play games. If you are too tired for that, watch videos or read.
posted by Michele in California at 1:16 PM on July 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

I have crazy good coping skillz. And I have dug myself a hole deeper than most people could ever deal with. Crazy good coping skillz are not a good thing to have innately. Your body is telling you, you should change something. You have a gameplan for change. You are a rockstar.

Once the hole is deep, nthing hang out with people locally. At least a few group outings a weeks is a good goal. Exercise (cardio) and good sleep can make life easier to manage with. Meditation is also wondeful.
posted by Kalmya at 1:17 PM on July 24, 2016

Best answer: Just as a data point, I'm pretty settled in a situation of my own choosing (more or less) and I socialize with other people 1-2 times a month, have a couple of "productive" hobbies (cooking, gardening) that get kept up fairly well, several other hobbies I wish I spent more time on, and wish I was the kind of person who went horseback riding and yoga and hiking (I live in Los Angeles, these things are literally in my neighborhood) but I'm not and I don't. I'd like to be the kind of person who has the leftover brain cycles to be serious about my writing, but I'm not. My job takes up a good bit of brainspace, evenings are usually TV (we try to watch good TV at least) and reading. When my husband is working away or evenings, I do those things by myself.

It is torment for me to have to do "stuff" on weeknights. Invariably, some sort of work emergency will crop up if I dare make plans, but even if that doesn't happen I dread it all day and my bedtime routine is all fucked up and I get terrible sleep and the next day I'm a zombie on. If it's a very special event, I'll go out on a Friday night, otherwise Saturday and limited Sunday events are all I'm interested in.

This is adulthood, I'm afraid. This is about par for the course even for my friends who are actors and artists, except the actors do often have some kind of show or class or work 1-7 nights a week and so don't have any other hobbies and don't really cook or eat. The ones with kids talk wistfully about using the toilet alone one day, and then perhaps a yoga class next decade.

You had another person up in your airspace all the time up until a couple of weeks ago. You haven't had enough time to adjust and rearrange to fill the space yet or even feel settled - in a period of your life that is quite unsettled generally - but you also have a lifestyle right now that is more or less normal to a lot of people, so I do think your expectations are too high. You *can* be that person zipping off to the opera between horseback yoga food pantry classes, there are people who thrive on that kind of busy-ness, but it's work to do it, it's not anybody's effortless life and it doesn't suit everyone.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:19 PM on July 24, 2016 [6 favorites]

Sounds like things are working for you, you just need to make sure you're taking care of yourself.

One way to frame this is to describe yourself having to mark time being alone in a strange country until January.

A second way to frame it is to viewing yourself as being able to have the freedom to explore another country and garner unique memories of experiences to share with your family and partner.

Be in the moment for what you are doing, whether it be the sightseeing trip you have planned or holed up at home for a rejuvenating weekend.

Soccermom said it well--delete "should" from your vocabulary.
posted by BlueHorse at 2:31 PM on July 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm not sure how to take it, what you say your therapist said.

Is she saying that most people would cope with living on their own without family or intimate companionship or even much assurance of having company over a weekend, and they wouldn't feel a thing? In that case, she would be wrong. Either that or I'm a mess because although I'm a loner in many ways, I need to be near family or at least friends and I become really unhappy if I'm not.

Is she saying that most people would be a bit lonely in your circumstances and you're expecting to be more happy/content than, say, Jane Average or Ray Reasonable would be in your shoes? If that's what she meant, if she meant we need to take the rough with the smooth sometimes and you can't go around thinking everyone else is necessarily happier than you? I could agree with that.

For the record, you sound like you're doing great. You have gotten on top of your thyroid problems, you have a diagnosis for another disorder that surely has been getting you down, you're no longer as depressed as you were the last time you described your current situation, and you're talking to friends and family, looking forward to joining your BF in January, and in the meantime taking yourself out to have a Good Time If It Kills You Dammit. Those are all good actions that will lead to good consequences.

January isn't so very far away, so you have companionship to look forward to. I'm not sure you're being fair to yourself by asking "but what if it wasn't temporary" - you're someone who needs to be with family to be happy, and that's just the way it is, and that's actually more healthy than not. And it is temporary, so hey.

I advise you to take lots of pictures when you go out sightseeing, because you'll always have them to look back on and they're a great way of reminding yourself that life isn't so bad - a surprisingly great way. You can look at the pictures and remember you didn't feel good when you took them but you still have those memories to enjoy from a happier vantage point.
posted by tel3path at 2:52 PM on July 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

You sound like me: I'm currently in Argentina doing a 6-week program apart from my husband. I'm pretty lonely, although I go out with classmates occasionally. Normally I come home from classes and waste several hours on the internet, reading fanfiction or Metafilter or on Facebook.*Should* I be going out and experiencing this great country that I'm only going to be in for a limited time? Sure, I guess, but it's not like I'm NOT doing that. I just also have to do things that are me-centered or where I can switch off my brain and chill.

I think your therapist was trying to encourage you to see that you're not handling things any differently from anyone else, and in fact there is nothing wrong with the way you or anyone else needs to spend their downtime.
posted by chainsofreedom at 3:08 PM on July 24, 2016

Best answer: I am pretty worried that if this wasn't temporary and the end to it wasn't being together with my partner for hopefully the rest of our lives, I'd be much less okay with being here alone, and that scares me because I hate to be so reliant on others.

That's because you would be (less okay), because that would be a much worse and different situation. Unless you're not human, and are somehow masquerading as a human posting on Askmetafilter, you are reliant on others. And if you're not fortunate, then that can be terrifying.

it always seems like people here on MetaFilter tell the asker that they have to find peace within themselves, be content, not rely on others etc.

Well. if you see the same idea regurgitated over and over, perhaps the thing to do is question it all the more, especially when it's presented as some deep and obvious wisdom. If anyone is to find peace "within themselves" it would only be by a relation to others. A relation to others is at least chronologically always prior to any relation to ourselves. Others and the relationships with others are not a "luxury" you're supposed to find a way to do without.

In your last post you mention how you see neither depression nor anxiety as "normal". Whether it's the norm or not it's certainly not unhealthy. You don't mention exactly what your therapist said, but perhaps this is part of what she was getting at? The view you seem to have that what you're experiencing is inappropriate? From what you've described it seems you are relatively alone, and your "anxiety" or whatever, your whole experience and difficulty with it, seems to make sense.
posted by Blitz at 3:44 PM on July 24, 2016 [4 favorites]

Is it possible that your therapist meant "sometimes people spend a weekend at home alone even if they aren't recovering from an illness (or some other "reason") and it may not be reasonable to expect to be Doing Important Things with Special People constantly?" I think this varies a lot by temperament though -- I'm usually done with people after work and spend a lot of time on solitary hobbies, or just reading. The woman I'm seeing is very energetic and plans 2-3 things after work and mostly busy weekend days. We compromise by doing things together sometimes. Point is there are many different ways to be happy and content, and I agree with the poster above about banishing "should" from your vocabulary. Do what you need to do for you and don't feel guilty if it's more or less than others you know!
posted by Alterscape at 4:16 PM on July 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Sorry to be unclear! Yes, she meant that other people surely hang out at home and watch TV when they feel like it, and surely they sometimes feel sad or uneasy.

Thank you so, so much for all these kind and compassionate answers. I wish I could mark them all as best answers.

You're right, I am scared of not being able to cope if I were all alone, probably because I still expect things to go wrong. My partner could leave or die, my parents will die before me, my little niece will not want to play with Aunt Loony anymore... So if it's normal to rely on others, that's pretty scary.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 10:10 PM on July 24, 2016 [5 favorites]

Best answer: You're right, I am scared of not being able to cope if I were all alone, probably because I still expect things to go wrong. My partner could leave or die, my parents will die before me, my little niece will not want to play with Aunt Loony anymore... So if it's normal to rely on others, that's pretty scary.

This is a thing that can and does happen to people and could happen to you, though depending on your personal and family demographics may be much more or less likely. Since you don't mention any terminal illnesses, dangerous circumstances, etc, and since it sounds like you have a fairly geographically and generationally diverse intimate support network, it seems like not the most imminently practical thing to worry about.

Lots of things can happen in life and many are not really possible or practical to emotionally or logistically prepare for, beyond generally remind care of your mental and physical health, which it sounds like you're doing. Then you just kind of have to trust yourself to make the best (your best) of whatever life ends up dealing with you.

I actually think cultivating contentment with yourself and your choices is pretty great preparation for... future contentment with yourself and your choices. I don't think this is a case, even if there were ever such a case, where self-doubt would motivate you in a constructive way.
posted by Salamandrous at 9:59 AM on July 26, 2016

« Older Which unlocked phone to buy in the US for use in...   |   Tastiest vegan protein powder? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.