Help me get to work!
December 12, 2017 6:53 AM   Subscribe

I am experiencing severe anxiety lately that's making it difficult for me to go to work. My mind mostly feels fine, but my body is rebelling and I'm getting migraines, shaking hands, and especially nausea and vomiting. I need little strategies to get myself to work. Once I'm there and settle down I'm OK.

- I'm not physically ill. These are common symptoms of severe anxiety for me.
- I can't afford therapy etc. so please don't suggest that.
- I'm out of sick time, so every day I stay home is money off of my paycheque.
- My employer is extremely inflexible about work times etc. So there is no possibility of working from home or flex hours. I've tried.

I'm really, really overwhelmed right now. I had a lot of stressful family situations this year. My sister has a chronic illness, almost died, then had surgery for something else, then decided to leave her husband but changed her mind. My mentally ill mother - who abused me until I left home - is coming to visit for Christmas and is sending me obsessive messages all day and expects me to drop everything to spend every minute with her. My father won't talk to me for unknown reasons I don't have the mental energy to guess at. I had no vacation time at work because I was sick so much (salmonella poisoning, bronchitis). I can barely afford to live in my city and every month it's a strain to pay my bills. I had to get a part time job, which I am grateful for but... I'm exhausted. I have a long, awful commute. I developed tendinitis in one ankle which made moving around very painful. I hate my full-time job - my manager refuses to speak to me, co-workers regularly give me the silent treatment, I'm routinely belittled, undermined, and condescended to (usually w/sexist undertones), and there are a slew of restrictive rules that I have to follow. I'm job searching, which is also stressful. My apartment building is a dump and I have to dodge garbage, maggots, and kitty litter when I enter or exit the building. My neighbours are chain smokers. Oh and I just moved to this city a year and a half ago and I'm isolated except for my sister and co-workers. I don't have time to go to meetups or hobby type stuff, and my confidence is so crap right now I probably wouldn't even if I could. I do not have the money to fix any of this shit.

When I'm not trying to not vomit, I basically just want to scream at everyone all the time.

Soooo please help me get my ass to work so I don't get fired and end up in a shelter somewhere. I'm on SSRIs but they just make me fat(ter). Doc won't prescribe benzos. I considered getting a bit drunk before I leave for work but that seems like a terrible idea.
posted by Stonkle to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety is available on Kindle. You can't do it in a day but you can get started today.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:19 AM on December 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

First, I'm sorry you're going through all this. This is a LOT for one person to handle.

My mentally ill mother - who abused me until I left home - is coming to visit for Christmas and is sending me obsessive messages all day and expects me to drop everything to spend every minute with her.

This is probably the most immediate stressor that you can "fix." Tell her you have other plans for Christmas (lie if you must) and you will not be seeing her. Each text message gets answered with "I'm busy right now/I can't do the thing." I don't recommend a whole confrontation, just use a lot of white lies until you get more stabilized. It's OK to lie to people who are abusing you, in order to get out of danger. (You are in danger.)

I'm told that pot works for both anxiety and nausea (in some people) but I have no experience with it. I don't know what the laws are like where you are (otherwise that'd be an additional stressor...). First I'd try your doctor's office again and be very clear that anxiety is destroying your life and you need help now. There are alternatives to benzos.
posted by AFABulous at 7:23 AM on December 12, 2017 [6 favorites]

Make going to work as easy as possible: clothes laid out, lunch packed, breakfast laid out. Shower the night before, do your makeup at work or on the bus. Take away all your decisions right now. As soon as you wake up listen to five minutes of relaxation then get out of the house as quick as possible.
Big post it notes all over reminding you that this is temporary. Reminders that you promised yourself to go to work so you can get out of this hell house.
Tell your mom you can’t have her for Christmas.
It probably seems impossible but it’s not. Imagine you had a stroke; no one would expect you to host Christmas.
posted by SyraCarol at 7:37 AM on December 12, 2017 [10 favorites]

You could try a Cup of Calm.

I'm not sure if it's available where you live. I would be happy to mail you a box if you like.
posted by slipthought at 7:39 AM on December 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Psi bands are a physical aid for nausea.

I'm also going to trot out this link about breathing cadences and which specific ones are calming.

A quality lavendar essential oil inhaler, if you are smell-inclined. Mine is just a tiny perfume tester tube that I refill from a bigger bottle. People say peppermint oil for nausea, but pure lavendar is my jam. Memail me if you are so inclined; I will assemble one and post it to you posthaste.

Good audio for your awful commute. Ravi shankar or binaurally-embedded electronica or podcasts with soothing narrators or psych-drone. Something that, for you, is a reward for hitting the road.

Lastly, the invisible mask of Jareth.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 7:49 AM on December 12, 2017 [6 favorites]

Very specifically about the getting to work part: you don't have a lot of time for fun stuff during the rest of your day, so try to find something fun (and preferably free) you can do while you're riding to work. Get some books (maybe even e-books or audiobooks!) from the library, play Animal Crossing Pocket Camp with us, find some podcasts or music you really like. Something to look forward to a little and make the experience suck less -- and you can't feel guilty about wasting time when you could be job-searching because you're on your way to work. Take the time you're already stuck using for your commute to get a little enjoyment back for yourself.

And yeah, get your stuff ready the night before. That'll help.
posted by asperity at 7:51 AM on December 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Oh, wow. I'm so sorry you're going through all of this. It's too much for one person to handle, really. Truly, it is. You should first of all just outright congratulate yourself for making it through without completely losing it.

I agree that you have to remind yourself that all of this will be temporary because you're working on dealing with your family, figuring out a different work situation, and maybe also finding a better place to live.

But I think you also have to realize that getting into a healthier emotional/physical space right now may be the single best thing you can do to make these better futures possible.

The first thing I would do, then, is hard core prioritize: work and rest/self care are what you're doing for right now; starting the process of changing things and dealing with your family are what you're doing when you can breath again. In that order.

So if I were in your situation, I would give myself a week to take things one day at a time and ruthlessly schedule only two things everyday: 1) get to work, 2) recharge/get ready for tomorrow. Only after those two things are done would I tackle the other things. And if I wasn't recharged/ready for tomorrow, then I wouldn't tackle those other things. Again, I would remind myself that I'm in triage mode: this mode is necessary and it's temporary -- this is what I'm doing for right now -- so that I can have the strength I'll need for later.

It sounds like things with your family are stressful but that there's no crisis that needs you to take any action or that can't wait for 5-7 days. So the second thing I'd do is generate boilerplate language I could use during my triage mode: "So sorry to hear that! I'm overwhelmed right now, but I'll get back to you in a couple of days." "Thanks for that info. I'm overwhelmed right now, but I'll get back to you in a couple of days." "I don't know, let me think about that. I'm overwhelmed right now, but I'll get back to you in a couple of days." "Ok. Like I said, I'm overwhelmed right now, but I'll get back to you in a couple of days." And then I wouldn't communicate further after that last one.

I'd keep my head down, get my work done, and ignore as much b.s. as I could at work by just focusing on getting to the end of my day so that I get could back to recharging/resetting. I realize that going home to a place you don't like living makes this also a potential source of stress, but do what you can: tidy up a bit, stock in some cans of your favorite soup for easy dinners, go to bed early and look forward to sleeping. Look forward to other small pleasures, too: listening to music or reading a book on your commute, watching a tv show in bed, taking a hot shower, lighting a candle that smells nice, having a cup of tea, whatever.

You've been giving a lot to the other people in your life; you've been working really hard; you've been through the wringer. It's not only time for you to rest and regroup, it sounds like you absolutely have to in order to keep going and move on to a better place.
posted by pinkacademic at 8:29 AM on December 12, 2017 [6 favorites]

Try MoodGym an "interactive self-help book for depression and anxiety." There's also an app.

And yes, prioritize your self-care. Make sure you are eating and sleeping as well as you can. If you can get out into nature (a park or garden) at least once a week, then do so - it can be very comforting. Soothing music and podcasts can also help.

Upping your intake of magnesium is worth a try, too. Take supplements or soak in a hot bath with a few drops of lavender oil and some Epsom salts.

How much do you need or want Mom in your life? Can you tell her that you won't spend the holidays with her? Can you block her texts? It sounds like she is a major stressor, she is abusive, and she makes your life worse.

Good luck - it sounds like circumstances are really awful for you now, but we're pulling for you.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:34 AM on December 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I’m so sorry. This sounds very stressful. I’ve been in a state of overwhelm for a while now with different challenges. What is saving me is listening to riveting or uplifting podcasts. Whenever I have to do something that I have avoidance issues around, I put on earbuds and listen to something that totally takes me away from my stressors. Alan Watts or a meditation or anything that brings a different perspective to my life does wonders. At the end of the podcast I look around and see that I’ve cleaned up or gotten ready for work or whatever else I was overwhelmed by. It’s a tiny step, but it does help.
posted by Vaike at 8:49 AM on December 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Something that's given me a bit of breathing space during times of high stress is acupressure: applying pressure with your fingertips on certain points of the body, while closing your eyes and breathing deeply for three to five minutes.

It's not hard to do, it costs nothing, and it takes very little time; here's an easy-to-follow handout.

These are my favorites, though your mileage may vary, per usual:
Point in the Outer Wrist: Press point in the indentation on the outside of the crease of the wrist, down from the pinky.

Sore Spot: Locate a sore spot in the left side of the chest about 2-3 inches down from the collar bone and about 2 inches to the side of the sternum.
Take care -- you'll be in my thoughts.
posted by virago at 9:15 AM on December 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

One thing my friends remind me of, when I start making lists like yours, is not to catastrophize—try to think less about how everything around you is a huge wall of things that suck, and instead focus on the small things you can actually influence at any given time. Achieving small things might give you more confidence to proceeed, too.

In the case of your sister, it sounds like she and her spouse are on a similar journey to a lot of people who face chronic illnesses. Reading about that might be useful to you in supporting her in her decisions (or could make you feel more stressed out, but seeing the pattern might be useful to make it all a little more abstract and a bit less personal). Ultimately, though, her issues are her issues, and you don't have to bear the weight of her decisions. You don't have an obligation to listen to her beyond the point it starts affecting your own mental health; you can care deeply about your sister and still set boundaries on that sort of support. This is likely difficult for both her and her husband, and a lot of relationships where people face this don't do well. it's not on you to fix that for them, though. Hopefully they're also in therapy individually and/or together for this, and if they're not, that would be something to gently encourage.

I know that's tough when she's one of your main sources of emotional support, though. If it helps to see this as transactional, that might be a way forward: Try treating the sharing of emotional burdens as something where each of you should get the chance to have the floor and talk about what's difficult, then support the other when it's their turn to share something, then try to talk about something else fun or interesting (I know, easier said than done some days) besides what's difficult for each of you. Something like that formula, though, has been useful for me when I feel like I'm leaning on a few people too much with difficult life stuff and I want to make sure things remain mutually supportive but not overwhelming for me or the other people. I forget or decide to set that aside sometimes, and things don't always have to be equal in every conversation, but striving for that balance overall might be a good goal. Boundaries are good.

With your mother, don't engage. With your father, don't spend extra time and mental bandwidth wondering what's up. Your mother will start to get the idea and perhaps consolidate her messages if you don't volley the crazy right back to her; your father, well, it's up to him to be an adult and tell you what's up himself, or not. You need to focus on your own needs right now, and it's OK to do that. They are who they are at this point in life and probably won't change, so your only obligation is to figure out how to cope with that (or not! avoidance is a totally valid coping strategy when you're dealing with family members who can't handle their own emotions well and lack good boundaries).

I'm sorry to hear about the job situation—hopefully the job search will pan out soon and things will start to improve. For now, though, try not to dwell upon the outright or micro aggressions you're getting in the workplace. Avoid battles. I know how traumatic it can be to be to feel like you're trapped in a toxic, punitive job situation, yet need it to support yourself, even as you're doing part-time work outside of it to keep going. Just keep applying to things. Try cold-emailing places in your line of work if they don't have openings posted to do informational interviews. Of course that all takes energy and will, and I didn't always follow through on my best of intentions in that regard when I was in a toxic environment once upon a time. it's hard! It's OK to acknowledge this is hard. You will likely feel so much better once you get out of there, even if right now it doesn't seem possible to ever feel better some days.

Meanwhile, something free that can be useful to help recast things for yourself when you're feeling this pervasive sense of anxiety is Woebot, a bot for cognitive behavioral therapy. A friend mentioned it a while back, and while some days I get annoyed by the bot and don't want to talk, it's been kind of useful to work on exercises with it to think through some of my negative self-talk.

Also, a few things about your living situation: 1. I've had tendinitis in other areas and long-standing issues with weak ankles going out on me, and I know how frustrating and limiting it can be. If there are any gentle exercises you can do to help strengthen that area, I would definitely suggest making a routine to do that daily. It will make a difference over time. 2. That said, you should perhaps try to get out more if you can manage it, if it's safe to do so (not too icy, etc.). If there's a local park, or even a bench somewhere away from the grossness of your entryway where you can sit and people-watch, or a library nearby you can go to for a while, it might be worth doing that, just so you're not continually shuttling between places you hate, but have third spaces to exist in for a while each day or week, where there's no pressure to interact and/or spend money. 3. Control what you can control in your own space—within your apartment, do what you can to keep it clean, an OK scent, and a space where you feel comfortable and warm and safe. Sometimes taking care of those little things in your immediate environment can make you feel better able to deal with everything else outside, even if it sounds silly or trivial in comparison to other things in your life. Your need for a safe, welcoming space is not trivial. 4. Remind yourself that when you get a better job, you can start apartment-searching. But in fact, you could start searching occasionally now, unless it feels overwhelming. Maybe there's another space out there that would help relieve some of the financial burden you feel right now and also be a cleaner, healthier environment. It's worth looking, if only to have a sense of what's out there for when you're ready to move, as well as just in case you find a better space that's possible to move to now.

Of course, that's a lot of "should" statements from me. Don't listen to my or anyone else's shoulds or oughts unless you feel up to it. Take anyone's advice with a grain of salt. Do what you are up for and what you feel like you need to do, and don't judge yourself for doing it. Don't worry about your weight; focus on building strength and flexibility, both emotionally and physically. Lean on us if you need to—post questions here about specific things when stuff comes up. Maybe we can help! Hang in there.
posted by limeonaire at 10:46 AM on December 12, 2017 [6 favorites]

I am so, so sorry you're going through this tremendous amount of stress. Don't drink.

Can you get a second opinion for anxiety? Some doctors see All Patients Who Ask as drug seekers, but not all. This is exactly what benzos were created for. You can ask for a partial fill to get you through the next couple of weeks. And if the SSRI you're on isn't working, you can ask for something else. We all know horror stories of people who are addicted to benzos, but they can do a tremendous amount of good in situations where you just need a bit of mental space to think clearly and figure out your next move. A good doctor will see the benefit to you (even if it's not a benzo, maybe a different SSRI). You don't have a ton of resources and you need help. I would absolutely get another opinion. Perhaps benzos aren't right for you for another reason, but there are other anti-anxiety medications available.

You didn't mention the proximity of your job to your apartment, but is there any way to walk a couple of blocks each day? Whether it's on the way to work, from work, or on your lunch break? When you feel trapped, moving your body is exactly the LAST thing you want to do.... and it's probably something that will help more than you realize.

Best of luck, and if you'd like a set of sea-bands, I have a brand new set I can mail to you. I bought them for morning sickness which disappeared the day after they arrived in the mail.
posted by onecircleaday at 10:55 AM on December 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Are you able to wake up earlier? If so, then I'd there a coffeeshop or someplace nice near your work where you can go 45 minutes early, sit, and relax for a bit before you start your day? (Coffee might be expensive, but you can sit for the price of a cookie too usually, and maybe that's worth it.)

If that's not an option but you can still get up earlier, is there something pleasant you could do in the mornings before you go out to work? Even better if you can pick up that activity for a bit when you get back home. It's a way of taking reclaiming your day a little from your stupid boss and coworkers.

For pure panic reactions, I've never tried this myself but people here keep recommending this thing where you fill the sink or a big bowl with cold water and dip your face in it. Supposedly there's a diving reflex or something that calms you down. Worth trying?

I don't know if you live alone or with a roommate, but if there's a roommate could you recruit them to kick you out of the apartment when it's time to go? (If you live alone, any chance moving to a shared situation would give you some more breathing room?) Alternatively, is there anyone you know who can call you when it's time to leave and talk with you until you're well on your way to work?

At any rate, you deserve kudos for what you're doing: the second job, the job search - it's not easy and you should be really, really impressed with yourself (seriously). I really hope things get better very soon.
posted by trig at 12:00 PM on December 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

So sorry! This sounds really stressful and hard.

This may not be very helpful for your situation, but there is quite a bit of good research showing that exercise is one of the most effective treatments for anxiety. You don't need to train for a marathon or anything too intense to get the benefits.

Mayo Clinic "How To"

New York Times coverage
Resistance Training Reduces Anxiety Symptoms

You mentioned that you're having some ankle issues, so maybe doing some sort of resistance training? There's body-weight exercises you can do at home with no equipment and resistance bands are around $10.
posted by forkisbetter at 2:44 PM on December 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

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