I can't go on. I'll go on.
February 15, 2017 1:52 AM   Subscribe

I have had a completely crap year/two years/five years. Everyone in my family of origin has died (separately, 1-2 years apart, unexpectedly each time). I developed a chronic illness. And now, of course, there's the election and the current administration wreaking havoc with my emotions/sanity. How do I recognize whether my emotional problems have become acute, and if so, what the heck do I do about it?

The most recent death (my younger sister, in her early thirties) happened just over a year ago, and the chronic disease diagnosis happened six months ago. I feel like I should be putting myself back together by now, but mentally I seem to be getting worse and not better. I'm on SSRIs and benzodiazepines, and I was seeing a therapist on and off for a long time before I determined that I wasn't getting any further help out of her (her priority level: "send little gifts to your nieces to remind them that you care"; mine: "I blame myself for everything that's ever happened to me and I can't think of any reason to live."). I've searched for another therapist but I live in a rural area and they're hard to find; plus my other medical expenses have eaten up most of my money.

I'm starting to feel like I'm at the end of my rope, but I don't even know what to do with that information. Like, I can't let go. There's nothing to catch me. I have a mortgage to pay, a kid to take care of, and no parents or extended family to fall back on. I'm not going to hurt myself (the least I can do for my kid is actually be around), so I don't feel like I need to check myself into an inpatient facility. Should I take a leave of absence from my job? I'm tempted, but I don't know if I'll be any better in a month or two.

(I am able to come to work most days, but my job allows me to zone out on the internet for a lot of time before anyone notices my work suffering. Plus my spouse works with me so I'm able to lean on them heavily for emotional support here.)

What do you do when you literally can't even?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I'm so sorry about what you have had to deal with. Sounds to me like you need to check with your doctor/prescriber that the meds are doing what they should, but having been in a somewhat similar place, I do have a couple of thoughts.

It's February and assuming you're in the northern hemisphere, it's mid-winter and there may be an element of SAD affecting you. If you can get outside for 15-20 minutes a day, that could help, but just recognizing that that might be going on can help.

Personally, I have become convinced in recent years that there are some other basic self-care things that can make a big difference or at least help lay a foundation for improvement. Sleep - are you getting 8 hours? Aim for that. Diet - try reducing sugar and increasing vegetables. Exercise - doesn't have to be dramatic, but just a daily walk or something a big more vigorous a few times a week. Environment - make your bed and do the dishes each day. Brush your teeth.
posted by idb at 5:14 AM on February 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

I had the same thing happen to me. Both my parents and my favorite aunt died within 6 months of each other, and then my husband was diagnosed with MDS, this life-threatening blood disorder. I didn't have time to lose it.

I am sorry you have to go through this, it totally sucks. And it takes what it takes in terms of time, there is no set schedule. I at first gave myself six months to get over it, but looking back I see that is so ridiculous. There is hope, and aside from taking good care of yourself, there is a natural restorative power in life that will take place eventually. I focused on small things for daily happiness, things I was grateful for. I did have good support from friends and my in-laws.

I went to therapy and learned that we heal from grief sometimes by talking with others about it, people who are friends who have had similar experiences. That helped me a lot. Hang on and don't rush it. Going to work can be good just to make you focus on something else, and at times give you a sense of accomplishing something.
posted by chocolatetiara at 5:31 AM on February 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

To start off, I've been there. I was so sick a couple years ago (while working full time) that I literally hoped I would die in my sleep. I'm not exaggerating. It was a bad time.

Thing one that helped: Finding a competent doctor to figure out what the hell was going on with my body.

Thing two: A Good therapist.

Now, thing one: You just got a diagnosis 6 months ago right? Well, double check everything. Make sure you have a doctor that believes you and most importantly, does everything they can to help. If they're stumped they should be sending you to a specialist, not just turning you away with different meds. Try treatments. Check your diet and see if anything there could be affecting you. Try to get enough sleep.

Thing two: When I met my therapist (whom I haven't spoken to in quite a few months due to my own stuff) I asked for someone who had some knowledge of chronic illness. And I lucked out. I found someone I really like, she got me, she believed me. She helped me realize I absolutely needed to leave my job. She helped me organize just WTF to do with figuring out doctor's appointments and what was wrong with me.

At that point, starting therapy, I was past my rope. The rope had left me miles back.

And it helped immensely.

So try a new therapist. Again, ask if they have experience with dealing with these situations.

I've finally been doing better. Some treatments have helped, I figured out some major health things (hello needing glasses to the point that I was having daily migraines and constant vertigo and my ear stopped working properly...) And NOW I can set goals for myself. I do Instagram and I have an Etsy where I sell art.

BUT I wouldn't have gotten here without a great doctor and an amazing therapist.

Now, I'm still stuck at home. And things still suck. But I wouldn't have been able to keep going without getting my actual baseline physical and mental health topped off.

So while self care things (getting dressed, doing the dishes) have definitely helped me, there was a very long time where someone telling me to do the dishes would have made me sob. I literally couldn't physically stand long enough to do them. And I HATED myself for not being able to do the fucking dishes.

Start with small goals. Don't beat yourself up when you don't meet them. Give yourself props for any literal small thing you accomplish. Like putting shoes on. Or starting a new med. Start there.

Message me if you feel like it.
posted by Crystalinne at 5:42 AM on February 15, 2017 [11 favorites]

Great advice already.

Do you feel connected to your community? If so, great. If not, are there ways to reach out and let your community know what you're going through? So that some other folks who care (in addition to your partner) can offer their support. It sounds cliché but sometimes it takes a village to get through really difficult times.

I live in a rural area and I have chronic illness too. I hate asking for help, but sometimes I have to, because I can't do everything myself. In fact, recently, I was talking to someone I am familiar with and was asking her to help me with something and came to find out that she shares the same illness that I do. After that conversation, I didn't feel so alone, and who knows maybe we will talk about it again one of these days.

I'm really sorry for your losses and your challenges. Hope you feel stronger soon.
posted by strelitzia at 6:20 AM on February 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

You have had grief on grief on grief. I am so sorry. It is cumulative. One day you will look back at now and be surprised you said "I should be putting myself back together by now" -- both because of course you ARE but also because it is still the hard time. Be gentle.

On a practical level if you can find a better therapist, I think that would be a good start. See your doctor regularly. If you think a leave from work might help, get a doctor's note and start with a week or two...see if losing the structure of work helps or hinders. If it helps, take a bit longer.

Mobilize your network...let your friends know so they can be there for you.

Things that have helped me in similar times are below but please take anything useful but leave the rest...everyone is very different.

- mantras..."this is what getting through looks like" (i.e. feels like shit)
- eating simply - veggie soup + cheese and crackers etc. for weeks. Boring but healthy enough
- exercise...for me a class works because my sole effort goes into getting there, but can be anything
- cuddling my kids...not putting it on them to comfort me but comfort happened regardless. I let my then-5 year old watch Transformers on my lap while my dad was given a 10% chance of surviving the day and I swear Optimus Prime saved me...and my kid was not ruined by media
- making myself watch a comedy a week even if it felt like a chore...even one chuckle seemed to impact my biochemistry
- giving myself also an hour a week to cry, sometimes watching movies deliberately to do so
- the equivalent of a book club - light social time talking about something other than our lives" -- again really hard to get to, but good once I did.
- letting my 'tribe' -- boss, friends, neighbors -- help me in small and large ways. I try to pay it back now
- seriously congratulating myself on all small victories. Got clean underwear on? Score!
- letting go of the idea that a "good person" has a beautiful home, artisanal free-trade coffee, etc. where I am wanting to do that, sure. But normal average messy takeaway container living can be a total win
posted by warriorqueen at 6:29 AM on February 15, 2017 [9 favorites]

Lots of great practical advice above. I'll add a few things that I have been taught by therapists, art and generally wise people when I have felt very, very low in the face of the harsh realities of life in case it helps:

It is easy to exhaust yourself by ruminating on your current state. Depression breeds guilt and painful, unproductive self-awareness. You are where you are. It's not comfortable but there's nothing factually or qualitatively wrong with it. You're not required to be joyful in life. You're only task is to handle your responsibilities and not be a monstrous person to others, and you seem to be hitting that bar. Try not to waste the limited energy you need to devote to your functioning - a very arduous task at the moment - on appraising your progress toward feeling good.

Your plate is full of harsh endings right now but beginnings still exist. You don't have them yet and you don't get to decide when they arrive. Unfortunately for you, you have had to wait a very long time, but they are not just possible, they are inevitable. It's just the cycle of life and things.

You are just one surprise away from receiving something that may offer some relief from your darkness - a kind act from a stranger, a surreal and unexpected laugh, a passage from a book - it's out there and it will find you and give you reasons to continue.

The mere fact that you are asking for advice is evidence that you still have rope. You want to overcome and see the other side of what has happened to you. That is all you need to do it.
posted by amycup at 8:01 AM on February 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am so sorry--you have faced a lot of loss in a short period of time, and that is made even harder by the chronic illness (which is another type of loss). Life is just so unfair sometimes.

Something I've found helpful is an online support group for people who have been through the same type of major losses I went through. The other members all "get it" and I don't need to explain or justify anything about how I'm feeling. There's no judgment, and there's lots of encouragement. I can write a post anytime I need to and someone will respond fairly quickly (it's a pretty busy board). And interestingly, when I was also diagnosed recently with a chronic condition, it turned out several other members have the same diagnosis and were able to give some support and advice.

Can you find an online group you click with? It has to be the right one, but when you find your people, it can be an enormous relief.

I hope you are able to find some support--I am rooting for you.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:33 AM on February 15, 2017

I don't have any great advice for you since I'm stuck in a similar boat, but just want to mention that SSRIs make me not care about anything, which made it even HARDER for me to try to find reasons to live. So I'd consider a discussion of medication chances with your doctor to be a priority.
posted by metasarah at 8:39 AM on February 15, 2017

I feel like I should be putting myself back together by now, but mentally I seem to be getting worse and not better.

I think that TV and movie depictions of grief give people the idea that you are in bad shape for a while, but then you get over it and you're fine. This is absolutely untrue. There is no "should." You have been going through some things that are truly devastating. Accept that you're allowed to have whatever feelings you have. Real-life grief comes in waves. You may feel pretty OK for a while, then go right back to emotions that are so strong, it's as if the loss is completely new again. That is totally normal.

You are dealing with so much right now. It's going to be very hard for a long, long time, but you will get through this and things will eventually look better, but not on any predetermined schedule. Please try to be kind to yourself.
posted by FencingGal at 12:47 PM on February 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

Therapy is the obvious initial recourse, but you know that and are working on it, so I'll just echo the exhortation to stick with the notion and talk about a couple other things.

I took a medical leave of absence from work for about three months around two years ago, because I had hit the end of my rope and just couldn't do it anymore. Based on what you're saying here and assuming it's a possible choice, I recommend it. As long as it's done through FMLA and your work's leave unit (if such a thing exists), your job cannot legally be threatened. Different organizations have different compensations: some treat any such absence as unpaid leave, period; mine offered 12 weeks of 60% pay, with unpaid extension to a year, essentially treating it as a short-term disability. Any compensation you may be eligible for will have an impact on your choice, of course, given your family responsibilities, so I would encourage you to be sure you know your employer's policy on the subject.

When I took my leave, I shifted from seeing my therapist once a week to seeing him twice or three times a week. We talked extensively about options, including long-term inpatient care, which I considered seriously. I ended up not doing that, but I was very grateful to have a professional helping me through my options in the short and long run. I'm confident that I made the best choices I could, because I had as much information as I wanted about all of them.

After my leave, I wasn't "better", which is to say "cured". But I was "better", which is to say "better equipped to contend with what's happening". I hope the same for you, whatever path you take.
posted by Errant at 2:38 AM on February 16, 2017

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