How to go from surviving to thriving
November 29, 2017 1:27 PM   Subscribe

This is heavily influenced by winter depression but seeing as how the world and society is not set up to be fair and random horrible things happen to people how do you learn to accept it and what's the purpose of you life in the face of that?

Obviously not talking suicide or anything like that cause ironically I'm happier than ever (meaning I actually experience happiness) but I am really struggling with the fact that I really have no sense of self and that the world exists the way it does.

My winter sads is turning it all into what's the point of this life since it seems like I have been in survival mode forever and have the type of life that people would rather deny happens. Right now I'm having a huge block on how other people just accept that this life is unfair and not let it turn them into angry depressive burn this world down hermit.

I imagine this is something everyone comes to terms with but how do you do that? How do you find purpose when you have had a crap abusive childhood and have had the deck stacked against you from the beginning? When surviving people trying to kill your soul is your biggest achievement but society fills you with shame and the message that you are wrong and broken?

How do you go from surviving day to day to actually moving on? How do you not scream and never stop or dump the world when it is so obviously unfair? How do you just accept that and get on with it in a way that doesn't feel like you are just a cog in a broken machine?

How do you accept children get abused and the systems are broken and that there isn't anything you can do to fix it now?

I hope this makes sense but I guess how do you find happiness that feels meaningful amongst the crap?

I am in therapy, loving my dog (tho she's away with family a fair bit due to my health issues), writing three good things a day, reading, exercising, etc ... But how do you make it feel meaningful in the face of the world being so unfair and not feel alone with it?
posted by kanata to Human Relations (34 answers total) 64 users marked this as a favorite
I throw hours and hours of volunteer time into the Girl Scouts and pet my dog a lot.

Volunteer. And get yourself in the company of other people who are volunteering. Doing things for others, even very small things on a small scale, makes you feel better about yourself and your world.
posted by phunniemee at 1:33 PM on November 29, 2017 [9 favorites]

I find that minimizing time spent online really helps. Too much negative news 24 hrs. a day. Also, +1 for volunteering.
posted by cwarmy at 1:41 PM on November 29, 2017 [14 favorites]

The Three Principles framework originally developed by Sydney Banks has a lot of value in helping us understand the origins of human well-being and resilience.

It was later turned into the "Health Realization Model" of psychology by psychologists such as Roger Mills and others. Richard Carlson, the late popular psychologist and writer, also did some work in this area (I recommend You Can Be Happy No Matter What for his work in this area).
posted by theorique at 1:44 PM on November 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

I really liked Vic Strecher's TED talk On Purpose, which led me to read his books "On Purpose" (a graphic novel) and "Life on Purpose." Strecher had a daughter who developed severe heart disease as an infant and died young, and much of it is how he managed to live with that.

I'm not 100% sure that's the exact TED talk of his I listened to. He has several.

I'm also finding the Buddhist podcast Urban Dharma helpful.
posted by FencingGal at 1:59 PM on November 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Some time when you are feeling less distressed, maybe take a look at Man's Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl. It's an upsetting but ultimately uplifting read about the human capacity to find meaning amidst suffering.

The world is indeed chaotic and unfair, and it's not wrong to feel angry and bleak. That said, I wonder if your anger is really directed toward people or institutions that failed you?

I too am a survivor of trauma, and lately I have been giving myself permission to be radically kind to myself and center my own needs. I am a super empathetic person but have realized that worrying over the world's ills literally helps no one.

In Far From the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy (an author I don't generally enjoy) has this beautiful image of love "growing up in the interstices of a mass of hard prosaic reality." See also Leonard Cohen's "There is a crack in everything / That's how the light gets in." Your mileage may vary, but it gives me hope.
posted by toastedcheese at 2:01 PM on November 29, 2017 [12 favorites]

Sleep enough, and not too much
Drink enough water, eat good food
Get at least 1/2 hour of brisk exercise (walking or equivalent to get your heart rate up is good) each day
Talk to people on the phone and in person
Write letters
Be in contact with people who have less than you, in addition to folks who are at or above your socio economic status.
posted by bilabial at 2:06 PM on November 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

Terry Pratchett's Hogfather probably comes the closest to explaining my thoughts on it, but there's probably too much exposition required to go into that here. Good book, though, and funny, you might give it a go.

To sum him up more prosaically, I suppose I am not more angry that the world is unfair because I do not expect the world to be fair. The world merely is. Justice is a lie. Meaning is a lie. They are lies we tell ourselves in order to be. We're just monkeys on a blue rock running around with monkey brains doing the stuff that monkeys do. Sometimes we write The Iliad.

It follows, then, that meaning is not a thing the world can give me. Meaning is not external to myself. Meaning is a thing I choose to create. I decide what I value, I try to live in accordance with those values, if I succeed my life will have been meaningful. I don't know that I am succeeding. But if I fail according to my own lights, then I take at least this small comfort, that the life I lived will have been mine alone, a thing gone out of the world that cannot be replaced. That's all I've got, really.
posted by Diablevert at 2:18 PM on November 29, 2017 [43 favorites]

At a certain point (close to 40, I'm 40 now), I just decided, well, life is hard, it's not getting better, not much to do about it, so I might as well be happy. Now, obviously I'm not perky-joyful-happy all the time, but I'm in a fairly decent mood, all things considered.

This is also (obviously) backed up by an industrial-strength cocktail of antidepressants, though I do not have a therapist right now.

HOW did I arrive at this state of mind? I think mostly by getting older. I could not have pulled this off even as recently as 5 years ago, even if I had had good mental health care at the time.
posted by 8603 at 3:04 PM on November 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

I really like this talk by Andrew Solomon

He takes issue with the "search" for meaning. One phrase that stuck with me was "forge meaning, build identity".

2nding Terry Pratchett, and especially Hogfather. There's a DVD as well as a book.
posted by Calvin and the Duplicators at 3:05 PM on November 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

I do not expect the world to be fair. The world merely is. Justice is a lie. Meaning is a lie. They are lies we tell ourselves in order to be. We're just monkeys on a blue rock running around with monkey brains doing the stuff that monkeys do. Sometimes we write The Iliad.

It follows, then, that meaning is not a thing the world can give me. Meaning is not external to myself. Meaning is a thing I choose to create.

I'm pretty much on the same page, though I also frequently encounter circumstances in which meaning should not be created on the grounds that doing so causes more problems than it fixes.

I really have no sense of self

Go outside. Get naked. Stand straight up with your bare feet planted firmly on the ground. Slap yourself on the chest while declaring "I am this."

Tat tvam asi. Thou art that. Spend a bit of time creating a meaning for that. Make a project of recognizing distinctions between that which is you and that which is not you, and distinguishing circumstances in which those distinctions are applicable from those in which they are less so.

and that the world exists the way it does

You are a very small part of the world. It's not all about you. If you expect the whole world to conform to your own conception of how it ought to be, you will inevitably spend your life falling miserably short of that expectation.

So don't do that. Do your best to behave like a decent human being, learn to take control of your own attention, fix what you perceive to be broken when it is within your power to do so, and remind yourself that that is the best that any of us can ever do, have ever been able to do or will ever be able to do.

You're no better than anybody else, but you're no worse either.
posted by flabdablet at 3:11 PM on November 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

Limit your time online and maximize your time outside.
posted by AFABulous at 4:00 PM on November 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

I recently dropped my kid off at daycare and the sheer Lord of the Flies nature of the playground nearly had me in tears.

Then out of nowhere one little girl offered to share her toy with my son.

It was a bright light in a sea of selfishness.

May I become a source of peace and refuge for all living beings.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 4:16 PM on November 29, 2017 [7 favorites]

But how do you find what's meaningful to you? People say to do that or be yourself but how do you do that when you don't know who you are? If justice and truth are meaningless and the world just is then why do people do anything? Why are people protesting or getting mad about injustices? If life has no meaning then what's the point of doing anything? That's where I'm stuck at. People tell me to create meaning myself but no one tells me how you do that. If life just is then why do other people who have been hurt stay here? Why bother being upset someone is a pedophile when that's just the way it is? So I should find meaning in myself but if I'm not important (which I heavily agree with) and you're not important then why do we bother surviving through horrible things?

Not trying to be defensive and yeah I am mad at the people that failed me but what's the point of doing anything if that's just the way the world is.
posted by kanata at 5:13 PM on November 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

You are incredibly important! You are a miracle! The odds of your existence are astronomically tiny. You have the capacity to share love, and make other people happy. You can also cause pain and sadness in other living beings. That's incredible power and importance. You can experience beauty, awe and joy, as well as sadness and regret. There is boundless nature and beauty in the world - it means everything, and it means nothing.

Each one of us is everything and nothing. That gives me cause to wonder even in the darkest of times.
posted by Jellybean_Slybun at 5:29 PM on November 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

I forgot the quote but it basically said something like even if you can't make yourself happy, make someone else's life a little easier...which is why there is always the cliched advice of 'volunteer'. Because it's true. I have a service-type job (teaching) so even though I'm always stressed, there's meaning in it.

But honestly, as a fellow "SAD" sufferer, I'm now taking huge amounts of vitamin D, Omega-3 fish oils and other vitamins and going to bed embarrassingly early to get WAY more sleep and I feel much better. (Even in these times of all bad news all the time).

Also, you may need a better therapist, honestly, many are not that great. You are just supposed to make your little corner of the universe a bit better, try to make a small positive impact, or at least no overtly negative impacts, that's all we can really do sometimes... upon re-reading, I think maybe also act as an advocate for other people who were abused, help in any way that you can.
posted by bquarters at 5:51 PM on November 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think I'm in danger of becoming "That Person Who Goes Into AskMe Threads and Pathologizes Stuff" but I know so. many. people. who thought life was meaningless and couldn't figure out how to find or make meaning of their own and eventually realized that the solution to this was medication. You mentioned you were in therapy but not whether you had discussed meds. My non-medical, lay person opinion is that I think maybe it is time to do that. It can be better than this. That whole process of figuring out a sense of self can be flat-out exhilarating if the brain chemistry all lines up right.
posted by capricorn at 5:55 PM on November 29, 2017 [6 favorites]

How do you find what's meaningful to you? Turn off the internet and be with yourself. Read books. Walk. Hike. Garden. Talk to people - neighbors, store clerks, strangers. Eventually you will see a thread of what compels you. Follow that. Be open to the process. Don't force it.

Some people protest just to protest. Some protest because they are passionate about the cause. You don't have to be an activist.

Find what compels you and love that. I mean choose to LOVE that - spread the love you have in you to that effort. It could be solitary - create a backyard bee oasis, or it could be volunteering, it could be writing, it could be a job. Spend your days giving your love, peace, kindness to that.

This can take years. Don't be hard on yourself in the process.

Love yourself too. Be gentle. Be patient.
posted by ChristineSings at 6:42 PM on November 29, 2017 [7 favorites]

The Strecher material I referenced in my initial answer attempts to answer many of your follow-up questions. In general, you’re talking about huge issues that can’t be solved with a paragraph here.
posted by FencingGal at 7:13 PM on November 29, 2017

I think we discover the meanings we have already put on situations; and we spend our lives challenging those meanings. You already have assigned a meaning to your families actions. What would it be like to rethink that meaning?
posted by SyraCarol at 7:16 PM on November 29, 2017

...but what's the point of doing anything if that's just the way the world is.

Some unfairness is from the way that living systems have found success; some seeds spread by the winds land on rocks, and others no more deserving land on fertile ground. But a large part of the environment that humans interact with is other humans. Some of those humans do evil things, sometimes whole societies do evil things. (My personal belief is this is because humans are rationalizing creatures, and can rationalize an awful lot of pain for someone else in return for a little pleasure of their own) And these can be changed and are changed by human action.
It is a common trope that someone effected by some terrible thing then goes on to struggle against it. But your purpose does not have to be shaped by your worst experiences. In fact, it could be shaped your best experiences. That is, sure, some people become doctors trying to cure cancer because someone they loved died from cancer. But some other people become doctors trying to cure cancer because they took an introductory course and became fascinated with the problem and found joy in the problem solving aspect. Please feel free to find purpose in something that brings you joy.
The fact is, most people live life without any specific purpose, other than to try to arrange a future that has some variety of good times and interesting challenges.
posted by 445supermag at 8:17 PM on November 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

I know where you're coming from, and I choose to focus on food, which is the elemental reason we are here. I decide what I am going to eat, or create. Yogurt and blueberries. Do I want Mexican? I will create that.

I also like to read. It calms my mind. I can't go to sleep without a book. Any book.

Every day, I make a list, I write it down, even if it's "Do the dishes" or "Shower" I write it down, you know why: because it gets it out of my head. The act of writing it down gets it out of my head, and even if I don't do it, it's gone.

You can choose to focus on existentialism or something else, I guess. Why are we here. I have no idea. But I do know that we have to eat every day. I can't help what happens to the rest of the world, I can say I'm sorry, and give when I am able, but the world goes round and round without me, so I cook some nice food, and we eat.

My advice: pick something and do it. Don't look back. Just do it.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 11:24 PM on November 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

How do you make it feel meaningful in the face of the world being so unfair and not feel alone with it?

Faith. It helps me understand and accept my place in the world with clarity and humility. It helps me recognize that certain emotions (such as anger and frustration) in response to life's inherent unfairness are not only futile but have the dangerous potential to consume me (incrementally or all at once) if I don't consciously discipline them and channel them towards positive energy/productive pursuits. Faith helps me make peace with our imperfect world and my limitations as a human being - therefore allowing me to focus on what I can do with the cards I've been dealt, for myself and my community. Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist, remarked "We're in hell to the degree that we're distant from the Good."

Also - watching YouTube videos of golden retrievers being adorable, reading novels by Marilynne Robinson, spending time in nature, appreciating the good in people.
posted by tackypink at 11:57 PM on November 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

what's the point of doing anything if that's just the way the world is

What's the point of doing nothing?
posted by flabdablet at 1:48 AM on November 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

how do you find what's meaningful to you?

Mostly, I do it by learning to recognize when I've been living in my own head for too long, which gives me the opportunity to go outside and get with trees and live there for a while.
posted by flabdablet at 1:53 AM on November 30, 2017

I could have written this a year ago - I felt totally trapped in an ugly, awful world where people were suffering all the time, I had no ability to consent to this existence (which demands a lot of individuals in terms of participation and interaction) at the time when I was made, the people who made me were abusive and I felt like I'd never be free of that legacy. I was passively suicidal for most of the last ten years, and actively suicidal some of the time, but convinced that it would be ethically monstrous to inflict the kind of damage that killing myself would do on the people who (in my view then) were stupid enough to love me even though I was objectively terrible, which made me feel even more trapped.

I was convinced that my lack of a plan for my life, my lack of desire around being alive and doing stuff, and my almost non-existent sense of self were big serious intractable problems that were hopeless, and that I'd never be able to be happy unless I could solve them, and I'd never solve them because they were hopeless and intractable.

Fast forward a year and I'm happier than I've ever been as an adult, and happier than I thought it was possible to be. In retrospect, the lack of plan/lack of desire/lack of sense of self stuff were all depression symptoms working on depression logic, and from where I am now I can see a lot more clearly that taking those problems on their own terms and trying to work through them wasn't going to help, because the logic was so circular and messed up. I had to do things by stealth to make myself happier (even while I believed it was impossible to be happy), and then when I got happy enough because those things started paying off, the hopeless intractable problems stopped being actual issues, because they were depression symptoms and I was no longer depressed.

I did a lot of smallish things that helped a huge amount, and they became self-sustaining by lifting the depression enough that there was room for other more positive things to grow. I am aware that some of the things I did require tremendous privilege, and everybody's individual mileage on what will be helpful is going to differ.

Things that helped me were:

Stopping being afraid of my own feelings. This took a lot of time and therapy and trying and it was hard and scary. I grew up with people who found their own feelings (and mine by extension) SO GROSS that we were conditioned constantly as kids that the worst thing to be was emotional, people who were in touch with their feelings were disgusting in some sort of ineffable way etc. I believe a lot of the pain and depression I experienced throughout adolescence and early adulthood was as a result of the fact that I'd been trained to scream "NO!" inside whenever I was close to feeling anything, and shove those feelings away hard. I found the idea of being more in touch with my emotions deeply revolting and terrifying, and so much of my misery was bound up in pushing them away and not dealing with them. I felt a constant sense of dread for about ten years, the feeling of trying not to feel some really difficult feelings, and I had no tools for examining my feelings dispassionately and thinking critically about how to deal with them. Now I am able to identify feelings when they come up, examine them from a comfortable distance, choose whether or not to engage with them, talk back to them rather than having them consume me. This took a lot of time and pain and therapy and hard work.

Stopping repressing my deepest desires (mostly creative needs). From 2012-2017 I let depression tell me that it was gross and egotistical to want to write and do creative stuff, that self-expression was inherently revolting and that people who did it were terrible and narcissistic. I was also terrified of failing at something I cared so much about, and I let those fears and feelings straitjacket me to the point where I lost significant aspects of my former identity in the process. It was terrifying knowing that I now hated the idea of the thing I used to love, and that I didn't have anything meaningful internally to replace it, and this significantly contributed to ongoing feelings of emptiness, worthlessness etc. I fixed this by...

Making a conscious effort to fill up the tank. For me this is taking the time to read (I can't write if I don't read, it turns out, and I spent years too depressed to read thinking I was actually too depressed to write and not really understanding the link between the two). Part of this was giving myself permission to read things I actually liked rather than things that felt worthy (hangover from a literature degree at a high-pressure university). I've read a ton of YA fantasy this year, and I try to make at least some time each day for either music, reading or writing. I found the time to do this by...

Stopping consuming all news media and 80+% of social media. There's an argument to be made that the world has always been a horrible unfair place in which terrible things happen constantly to people who deserve better. The difference now is we have unprecedented levels of access to coverage of all of those horrible things. It has never been easier to know more about more horrors. Again, I'm aware this requires a degree of privilege, but I have stopped engaging entirely with what's going on in the wider world and it's had a massive impact on my personal contentment. Just because That Man is president and my own country is bollocking up its future for stupid racist reasons doesn't mean I have to spend all my time worrying about those things or their implications. There isn't a whole lot I can do to control what's going on, and it makes me significantly more unhappy to have to know about it all the time. Also, selfishly (and learning that it's fine to be selfish some/most of the time as long as it isn't hurting other people has been another piece to this whole thing), I'm not planning to have kids so I don't have any real reason to be invested in the future of humanity. Yes, it would be much nicer if people were basically decent to one another and capitalism was less awful and grinding and we could find a way to prioritise human happiness and care over accumulating money - I've always been an idealist when it comes to human potential - but in some ways it was healthier for me to let go and say "fine, you guys can fuck this whole thing up if you want to but I'm not going to make myself unhappy watching".

If things do happen to kick off with North Korea and someone drops the big one, I have been so happy lately that it will be enough I was able to feel that even if everything goes horribly wrong, and if it doesn't go horribly wrong I am happy enough that I feel confident I can live a good life. It doesn't help at all to spend time worrying about whether or not things are going to go horribly wrong imminently. I do not need to bear the suffering of the entire world just because the world is imperfect and I am capable of perceiving that. It feels weird and, again, selfish to turn away in the face of endless human suffering, but I am putting on my own oxygen mask first god damn it. I am putting my energy into my job, social relationships and hobbies instead of letting it get eaten up by everything that's wrong with the world.

Improving my housing situation. Again, huge privilege. I always felt uncomfortable renting and I was lucky enough to be able to buy a place this year. Our old place was tiny and dark with limited privacy, terrible parking and lots of neighbour noise. Our new place is bright and spacious in a quiet neighbourhood. I would never have taken the steps to buying if my partner hadn't prompted me to, because I was depressed enough that I couldn't see the point of moving and I didn't realise how much it was contributing to my chronic unhappiness. Moving also gave me a more pleasant space to pursue activities that fill up my tank, as mentioned above.

Taking an even view of myself. This came with time and increased happiness. Previously I was very caught up in having a deeply negative view of myself and my own potential, to the point where it became a kind of weird narcissism (self-obsession in the negative, always painting myself negatively first so that no one else could hurt my fragile self-esteem by telling me I was bad at something, getting hung up on the potential for perfection and how far away I was from that in reality). Getting some more space inside my brain for non-negative thoughts has meant I can look at myself more objectively, find things I like, tolerate my own quirks and weirdnesses more. I don't particularly hate myself at the moment and there was a very long period of time where it felt like that could never be true.

Therapy. All of the above was underpinned with lots of therapy. I struggled so much with emotional honesty at the beginning of the process that I ended up changing therapists a couple of times - I got more comfortable with opening up, but there were still things I wouldn't admit to or talk about with the earlier therapists. Each time I changed I widened my own boundaries on emotional honesty, to the point where I could actually be honest about some deeply-buried difficult stuff. Getting validation that yes, my childhood was incredibly crappy in spite of my parents providing for me materially in every way was also transformational. I spent whole years stuck in the idea that I could never be happy because the people who made me fucked me up so badly in the process of doing it, and in retrospect that was a thing that I just needed whole years to process. I'm still mad at my parents for being irresponsible enough to have kids when they had no emotional capacity to raise them in a healthy way, as I believe this is one of the most unethical things a person can do, but I'm no longer so mad at them that it eats at me every day.

Giving up on medication for now. This is not medical advice and is definitely not for everyone, but I'd tried eight drugs in nine years and they'd all either done nothing or made things worse or given me horrible side effects. I'd also had some traumatic encounters with ill-informed doctors, so my faith and trust in the medical profession when it comes to mental health was incredibly low. I'd also been assuming for years that my problems were wholly chemical because I didn't want to deal with the big pile of trauma I'd been repressing, so I was expecting medication to do all the work for me and me to have to do none of it and I was constantly disappointed when it didn't work. Taking that out of the equation meant I couldn't blame my bad mental health on terrible doctors or drugs that didn't work any more - I and only I was responsible for whether I survived this or let it kill me, and that was a surprisingly powerful motivator. It took me years to be ready to make this shift.

I don't want to make any of this sound easy, because it wasn't. I'm also aware how impossible and stupid most helpful suggestions sound when you're actively depressed. I spent years thinking happiness was only possible for stupid people and I was smart enough to see how terrible things were and thus could never be happy, which wasn't true (see also: can't do therapy with someone who isn't as smart as me; all I actually needed was for them to be smarter than me at feelings rather than smarter than me overall). I thought happiness was a leap of faith I'd have to take and I have never done well with taking things on faith when I don't understand how they're supposed to work. I spent hours arguing with my partner about the fact that he thought I could be happy and I didn't, and he'd get infuriated that I was literally arguing against the possibility of happiness. All of that was depression symptoms, in retrospect.

To change, I didn't need to solve the problems of purpose or identity; I needed enough of the underlying stuff to slowly shift so that I got a higher baseline level of happiness (or even not-depression or less-depression in the early stages) that I could then actively engage with and build upon. It was a slow snowballing of things getting better rather than figuring out by logic how to fix my life - the lack of plan/purpose/self was symptom rather than cause. A year ago I would have argued point blank with anyone that my life was awful and I would inevitably kill myself at some point - and I'd been depressed long enough that recovery honestly didn't seem possible at all - and now I do not feel even slightly like that. I genuinely enjoy my life. I feel happy and content in ways that I thought were totally impossible. It can and does happen, even when it's felt hopeless and impossible for a long time.
posted by terretu at 2:00 AM on November 30, 2017 [37 favorites]

People say to do that or be yourself but how do you do that when you don't know who you are?

Oh it's even more than that: in order to be yourself, you have to believe you're worth being. Abusive childhoods are very good at destroying that fundamental belief. Society doesn't help once you get out.

Asking what the point of life is, isn't just about the outer world; it's also about your inner world. "Why should I care about myself when no one else does?" Previously I would ask myself that question in spite of being a person that – occasional cranky mefi comments notwithstanding – a lot of people genuinely like, I couldn't figure out what the hell they saw in me. Even though they'd say it. I'd grown up with my core circle telling me I had no value; ignoring me; treating me like crap. Wider society does the same, especially if/when you're a minority some way (in my case, a woman).

I had plenty of things that others saw as an identity, but some of which I only saw as characteristics, and still others that I now consider essential, but for decades was almost completely blind to. Or not necessarily blind, but I saw them as givens. "Of course I care about people, who doesn't?!" Well it turns out plenty of people don't. But the comparison is superficial; it's not what gives meaning.

For me it was a combination of time, separation from abusers, and just meeting person after person who cares about me, and realizing that a few of them have cared about me for decades, to where I could no longer deny I'm valued. It would have been deeply unfair to them to consider myself worthless. (Abused kids are good at putting even their self-worth into others' perspective, ha.) That people truly care about my existence, and that I too care about my existence. Once I accepted that, all the rest followed.
posted by fraula at 2:04 AM on November 30, 2017 [10 favorites]

If justice and truth are meaningless and the world just is then why do people do anything?

That's a serious philosophical question to which there is no generally agreed upon answer. My own conclusion about it is that more behaviour than most people are willing to admit is simply habitual.
posted by flabdablet at 5:29 AM on November 30, 2017

But how do you find what's meaningful to you? People say to do that or be yourself but how do you do that when you don't know who you are?

The best answer I can give you is - try stuff, even stuff on first glance does not seem like your cup of tea. DO NOT accept the "everything is meaningless" things that your brain is telling you because it's irrational. You do not know what the experience of all the things, or even 1% of the things, will mean to you because you haven't done most things before - so you do not have enough data to categorically and rationally reject things.

My own examples:

1) I got over my depression and anxiety and showed up at a powerlifting gym where I felt COMPLETELY intimidated. A year later, I felt intensely confident and had found a thing I really, really love. Every ounce of my being told me not to show up the first, and the second, night but I overcame it.

2) One day, I decided to build a walnut side table out of scratch. I borrowed tools from the local tool library and STRUGGLED to complete the project. The table is not perfect but it's pretty nice and I found I really enjoyed it. I then took on building a bed from scratch and it was intensely difficult, but the skills I learned from the table transferred and it was a lot better. Now I build stuff using only woodworking joinery and every project is easier and better than the last.

If justice and truth are meaningless and the world just is then why do people do anything?

Even if justice and truth are meaningless in the abstract, they mean something in the tangible. I find I am less depressed when I focus on making the lives of my family, friends, coworkers, neighbors and local community better. Even if systemic conditions do not improve, serving a hot meal to people who do not have a hot meal today is justice, truth, and improvement for those people. Find tangible ways to serve those around you as kindness really does impact people living under systemically horrible conditions.
posted by notorious medium at 7:29 AM on November 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Just some practical advice to help drive off the winter sads from my own experience:

1. Take a true break from Facebook, etc. for a month. People always make their lives seem glowing and it isn't real and it doesn't help to have that realistic looking lie shoved in your face.

2. Make yourself take a walk at noon. Get the fuck outside while the sun is at it's brightest, even if it's raining. I lived in Juneau, one of the gloomiest winters on earth. It helps. CAN'T SAY IT ENOUGH, GET OUTSIDE. Even if it means just standing around outside.

3. Celebrate winter by doing things you can only do in winter. I ice skate and suck at it. I ski and suck at it. Doesn't matter, I now get outside in winter and enjoy it and it makes me so much happier.

4. Don't consume too much news and watch stupid funny movies instead.

5. Try to think of the crazy, happy things that happen. Little things. And shut yourself off from big-picture noise. Here is my list for today:
a. My dog is hilarious and I am lucky to have found him.
b. It didn't start raining hard until after I finished my bike ride
c. Somewhere in this town is a kid who never thought they would succeed at college who is amazed that they are getting an A in chemistry.
d. Use a SAD light. I haven't used one but a friend has used one to great success.

I know you can't really practical your way out of depression but these are some things that have helped me gain control of those feelings.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:17 AM on November 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Thanks everyone. You helped me at least recognize that I need to double down on self-care and maybe just shut out the world for awhile and take care of myself so I just went through twitter and unfollowed anything political/world news and take FB off my phone. I also realized the problem is that since I don't know who I am I end up trying to shape myself into what I think other people want me to be and that's causing a lot of the distress I've been feeling. Not having anyone I can just be myself with is making it hard and I guess a lot of the anger is.. well, just angry that my childhood happened and how unfair it is.. which is a good thing on one side as that means I've accepted it wasn't my fault...but not so good when i end up so angry at the world I don't feel like being here. And that maybe I should focus on the small happy things like that I actually can feel happiness now after a life time of being numb and that having two things I love (my dog! and being creative) is a big deal. And I should spend more time focusing on that instead of obsessing on the shit show of the world re: sexual assaults and being triggered everytime someone dismisses them or acts like no big deal. Also, to get off my butt and buy some more vitamin D and keep using my SAD lamp and going for walks.

As to the wider question of what's the purpose of life... well, I think I'm hitting that no fucks left to give stage of being a early 40's female identified person where I have a well of anger at all the heavy stuff ladened upon us...and that I need to try to find out who I am and what I want to make of this life...and I guess that is something I am going to have to figure out myself. Sigh. thanks again.
posted by kanata at 12:06 PM on November 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure something like this can be articulated generally enough, but one thing that recently helped me was to recognize things I had been doing since I was a kid, and that I'm good at. Little things, like being able to recognize the same melody fragment in two different songs, or muscle memory techniques you use in your day-to-day, or being mechanically inclined. It's not immediately apparent how to use these realizations, but I think it's important and helpful and it can feed decisions throughout your life in subtle ways to look at the things that are really you. And they're there!
posted by rhizome at 1:19 PM on November 30, 2017

I stopped reading/following news and TV which helped quite a bit. I figured it'll still be there regardless if I watch it or not.

As I get older I realize I still have problems but the criteria of problems have changed from then to now. When I feel tired I think about animals like cats who just seem to take life day by day and they are content. Sometimes I follow my seasonal shows and then I pick and re-watch seasons I liked in the past if I can't find anything new.

Typically, I spend a lot of time reading and borrowing books from libraries as my current room is small. Then I've placed my old tablet so I now I add books to my Kindle which I can stack up free from physical space confinements. Also, I can't have any pets or plants so I spend time at the local cat cafe or stores to kill time.

I used to play a lot of games but I'm on hiatus since the toxicity of the community was dragging me down after awhile. I still like games the concept but in reality I stopped caring as much.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 2:03 PM on November 30, 2017

People say to do that or be yourself but how do you do that when you don't know who you are? If justice and truth are meaningless and the world just is then why do people do anything? Why are people protesting or getting mad about injustices? If life has no meaning then what's the point of doing anything?

These are the questions that religion was created to answer. (Not things like, "how was the planet formed," for which we have better tools.)

Which doesn't mean the answer is "go get a religion!" but... maybe acknowledge that a spiritual approach to the questions may be more useful than a psychological one. The point is to find answers that are meaningful to you, not answers that are meaningful to "people in the categories in which you find yourself."

It's not so much that "life has no meaning," in the grand cosmic sense, but that "a couple-million years of human existence has not made any such meaning apparent to us." It's right up there with "is there sentient life in the Andromeda Galaxy" - could be; could be not; the answer doesn't actually have any importance to us. However, that doesn't mean that there is no meaning available. Life does have meaning to those of us caught up in it. We get to decide what that meaning is, and how important it is to us.

And it's exhausting, as you've noticed.

It can be less tiring to give up trying to find "the correct meaning" for life, and go for: What inspires me? Why would I want to live another 20-30-50+ years? What impact do I care to have on the people around me, if it's all going to be dust in another couple-thousand years anyway?

Or, as the pop culture quote has it: If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 5:36 PM on November 30, 2017

If you want to find yourself and discover meaning, I think you have learn to let feelings be your guide.

I've been working a lot the last couple of years on learning to appreciate what my feelings can do for me. I used to basically think that logic was the only way to figure things out, and emotions were just a false distraction that needed to be ignored and pushed aside. But lately I'm appreciating that, as a human being, I have a very sophisticated system of processing complex information about relationships, my environment, and myself—stuff so complicated that it might be difficult or impossible to sift through the vast amount of sometimes-contradictory data it takes to navigate some of life's problems. Evolution has created feelings for a reason. I should make use of them and appreciate their power.

So, what feels attractive and interesting and true to you? What feels repulsive and terrible and wrong to you? What feels resonant? What invokes your feelings of awe? What seems beautiful? And appreciate that this list of things, and what goes in what category, is unique to you. Nobody else has this same sense of the world.
posted by BrashTech at 10:44 AM on December 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

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