Resources for someone who feels too much
October 19, 2016 8:54 PM   Subscribe

A friend recently messaged me to ask: "Do you ever get the feeling like you feel absolutely too much about everything and you worry so much that you can't even exist anymore? I feel like I have no barrier to protect myself against all the sad and all the what ifs of the world and maybe I'm faulty." Is this anxiety, or something else? What resources can I point her to while she works toward finding the time and money for therapy?

I do know the feeling well, and have assured her as much so she knows she's not "faulty". But I also learned coping skills that my friend doesn't seem to have learned, and don't know how to help her learn how to let things go the way I do (or even if that would be a helpful approach for her). This has been an issue for her her entire life, but it's gotten much more intense since she had a child. She knows therapy is probably a good idea, but it's going to be awhile before she can make it happen. We're not sure if the root issue here is anxiety or something more specific, but searching for resources has been challenging. We'd appreciate anything you can share!
posted by rhiannonstone to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Investigate the concept of "Highly Sensitive People." There are many online resources and books about this. It sounds like this could be her temperament and it's not faulty at all! Otherwise, it could be anxiety about being a new parent, OCD, depression or some other mental health issue. It's also possible that it's hormonal depending on how long ago she gave birth. Lastly, there may be some triggering of her own childhood vulnerability going on because she now has a child of her own. It could be a combination of these factors too. Reading up on these ideas could help, and if there's a new mom support group she might also find solace there. The local hospitals' maternity/obgyn departments might be offering such meetings, and they might also be found on Meetup. I think it's great that you are there to support your friend, and probably just having these conversations eases her mind a bit also.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 10:40 PM on October 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

Yes, it could be anxiety. Therapy would most definitely be the best place for her to discuss this and work out the best treatment. She might benefit from something like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. If she's unable to go to a therapist right now, I believe there are CBT workbooks and worksheets.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 10:45 PM on October 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

How long ago did your friend give birth? After my son was born, I swore I could hear/sense the "earth breathing," among other fun extrasensory-type things. Good times.

My life completely changed. I can no longer enjoy violent films, most emotionally callous pop culture and media. Negative or weird people. All of my boundaries were permeable. I spent/spend a lot of time crying over news events.

Hormones? IDK. I did find valid ways to cope, mostly upping my meditation regime.

Just writing to let your friend know she is not alone and I'm not sure what the phenomenon is. I did not (and do not think) it was post-partum depression, but I bet this experience and that get confused a lot and might be related, so she should stay self-aware. It does fade in a few years, my son is 5 now.

I still remember so much from that time which fits your friend's impressions. I have no direct resources, I muddled through with acupuncture, exercise, a strict media diet (question in my askme history!) and meditation. Don't be me - wine doesn't help, even if some mom's use it.
posted by jbenben at 10:54 PM on October 19, 2016 [19 favorites]

I would try using an app like Clue or the like to rule out this isn't cycle related. I definitely feel this way more during some times than others but it took forever to make the connection cause it never occurred to me that they could be related.
posted by bleep at 11:44 PM on October 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I felt like that a lot when I was younger, before I started taking anti-depressants. The pills did the trick for me. (Well, most of the time.)
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:50 AM on October 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

After giving birth to our baby, my wife observed very similar changes as what jbenben mentioned: no taste for horror movies, an increase in sensitivity and sentimentality, getting easily upset by negativity in the news and social media.

Meditation, journaling, and talk therapy are often good places to start inquiring into unfamiliar and/or upsetting emotional responses.
posted by theorique at 2:31 AM on October 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

Yeah, I could totally have sent that message verbatim at any point in the last 21 years (I'm 32 and have been depressed since I was 11). I'm currently on a fairly low dose SSRI (zoloft) and that helps a lot. Specifically that was prescribed for my anxiety, but I think the way it helps me not get into an anxious spiral is helping me remap a lot of bad learned behaviors about how to process a lot of input.

I've read up on the aforementioned "highly sensitive people" and I fit a lot of the criteria but I fit a lot of other frameworks too. Your friend might find it more useful than I have. Really the only thing that's clearly worked for me long-term is the zoloft, but I was coming from probably a lower place than her. Now that I'm bobbing back up to functional, I'll be able to work on those coping mechanisms that you have. No clue if I'll be able to drop the Rx, but I'll take what I can get. At least part of my deal is hereditary, so I'm likely looking at a lifetime of brain drugs. But I look at it like folks who need insulin - my brain just doesn't produce the right ratio of chemicals, their pancreas doesn't release insulin in the right way. Doesn't mean either of us should suffer our whole lives, or die.

One thing that's become clear to me since 1998 or so is that modern society seriously does not do right by a much wider swathe of people than we want to believe. I think that your friend likely falls into a range of "normal" that would be perfectly livable and make her life full of small pleasures and empathy for others if she didn't live right now when we're bombarded by data and inputs and false needs every second. On the other hand, things like the internet and digital recording helps us find each other and gives voices to people who would otherwise have none.

Therapy can be one really great way to help us neurodivergent people figure out what's worth paying attention to, but there are other ways too. Worrying is not inherently bad, after all - it helps us figure out what actions to take and when - it's just bad when we're worrying about things we can't do anything about. I think right now for example your friend can feel okay worrying about her kid, but worrying about global warming is not her responsibility. Starting with big choices like that, and then narrowing down pair by pair until you're being very specific (worry about baby getting enough calories, don't worry about breast feeding or not, etc) can be a good exercise when she's getting that "EVERYTHING IS AWFUL I AM BROKEN" feeling.

And yeah, if she's in the US, have her set up multiple reminders for november 8th and ask you or another friend to make sure she voted, and then help her block basically everything about the election she possibly can. Just... she doesn't need that.
posted by Mizu at 2:50 AM on October 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

Yes, that has been a description of the last 30 years or so for me. I have at various times been diagnosed with anxiety, dysthymia, and major depression, FWIW.

Medication helps some. CBT helps some. Mindfulness meditation used to not help at all, but more recently it does. Gardening and knitting help - doing concrete physical things that cause new things to exist. Therapy hasn't been that helpful for me beyond giving me a place to test out some of the CBT I taught myself from books, but YMMV.
posted by Stacey at 3:41 AM on October 20, 2016

I have depression (in remission), OCD (likewise), and a small child (here to stay as long as I have a say in it). Depression and anxiety disorders tend to muddle around with each other, so it might not be an either-or thing, plus pregnancy and childbirth can muck up your hormones, and raising a kid involves constant emotional and physical work and a continuously-heightened personal-terror-level. And this year happens to be a particularly stressful, unignoreable year. Age can also be a factor, and so can recent loss if she's had any; I have a vivid memory of when I was about thirty - after my father died, before I had a kid, during a time of relative mental health - of realizing how much sadness was in the world for what seemed like the first time, and having trouble shaking it.

She's far from alone.

For me, the winning formula has been a combination of antidepressants, regular exercise, sufficient downtime, and healthy social connections - both online and off, with parents and non-parents alike. I belong to a few online mom groups where talking about mental health and asking for help are encouraged, and they're really helpful.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:42 AM on October 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Depression and anxiety disorders tend to muddle around with each other, so it might not be an either-or thing,


There are books that may help like this or this, but books are not a useful way of getting help for some people.
posted by Jahaza at 7:43 AM on October 20, 2016

Oh, another thing is that while she's waiting to connect with a psychiatrist, her primary care doctor (or her OBGYN if her child was born recently) may be willing to start her on an SSRI.
posted by Jahaza at 7:45 AM on October 20, 2016

i know it sounds super cheesy, but the highly sensitive person's workbook might be helpful. it definitely applied to me and i found it interesting and a little helpful.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 11:40 AM on October 20, 2016

The Ask Polly archives are pretty good for reminders that sometimes the problem is not you, but the society you're trying to get by in.
posted by yarntheory at 5:43 PM on October 20, 2016

This sounds like DEEP depression to me, whether post-partum or not. "So much you can't even exist anymore" is a major red flag to me that she is really not okay. Not being able to let things go is a huge red flag.

RED FLAG IS UP. She needs help. And support.

When I'm deep in depression mode, I never mention it to anyone. Saying it out loud means she needs help. Now.

I'm the person who needs help, so I can't give you "what to do next" but...please make sure she and her family are safe. I hope like hell I'm overreacting.

Your friend needs a therapist, or a doctor to see her right now. Pretend it's a breast lump. It's RIGHT NOW HAVE IT LOOKED AT. She needs to know she is safe, it's normal, brains aren't perfect, post-partum depression is real, she hasn't done A SINGLE THING WRONG (yelling, sorry...I've seen this go badly, so...).

Please help her get help right now, okay?
posted by metasav at 8:08 PM on October 20, 2016

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