Future Imperfect
August 6, 2018 11:28 AM   Subscribe

What free or low cost methods, techniques, reading material, podcasts, etc. should I be using or studying to better support myself when I don't have a support system?

Background: It's very difficult for me to say this, so here goes. I've searched on here and on the web at large, but most advice seems to be from or directed toward people that at least have a serious romantic partner, a sibling or other close relative, or a friend. I am single, female, in my twenties, no dependents, with a small immediate family and no friends. Support for my relatives only goes one way -- from me to them -- and asking for help isn't an option. I am the person you go to when you need help. I have a vested interest in keeping it together. I have two jobs, and I do a part-time job's worth of volunteering already; I try to be reliable, stable, and utterly self-sufficient, and I don't want to make friends anymore -- too busy, too many flaws and vulnerabilities. I'm an extreme introvert and keep as much as I can to myself and try to power through every day, but it isn't working as well lately. I've rolled down all my grand ambitions and all my abstract problems and shut them away because I have more immediate needs to address -- food, bills, shelter -- so I don't think I'm reaching too far. I can't seem to make any long-term goals anymore, other than supporting myself and my relatives. Getting to 30 seems like another chore. I have been in therapy, both out and inpatient, but I can't afford it anymore time or money-wise, even with sliding scale.

Question: I am emotionally and financially strapped, so my ability to find resources to fix this issue is extremely limited. What's out there for people like me who can only rely on themselves to get through hard times? Is there an emotional and mental equivalent of Dave Ramsey's budgeting advice that I've overlooked? I've scoured advice columns and various other self-help paradigms over the summer, but I feel like I'm not really getting any closer to fixing myself or figuring things out. I don't really have anyone else to ask, so I hope this is OK to post here, and maybe it can help someone else. If not, please skip or delete, and I'm sorry. Thank you.
posted by Freeze Peach to Human Relations (6 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Well, since you are somewhat accepting of Dave Ramsey already, then his recommended book for people in your situation is Boundaries, by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. (Obligatory pro-Metafilter Amazon link here.) If you are financially strapped, get it from a libray first to make sure you like it. But it has helped a lot of people in your situation.

I am very similar to you in that I am a natural introvert, my family brings me more grief than joy, and I did not ask people for help. It only took me about 44 years to learn that was wrong. Even though it goes against our nature, it is one of the best ways to make life easier. You don't even have to be friends with people to ask for help. A combination of PTSD and anxiety symptoms made it very difficult for me to study math and science in college (I could charm or BS my way through any language-dependent course.) I had to take my required Chemistry class four times until I got it right by forming a study group that helped me to get the required C+ or higher grade. We met two or three times a week in the library and helped each other to study. We all passed the class. We did not become BFFs, and they never asked anything else of me emotionally. Getting a support network doesn't mean forming an intense friendship. It means being there for other people, and they are there for you, in a relationship that you get to define.

Also, you seem pretty sure your family is of no worth. That might not be true. People are surprisingly capable of rising to the occasion sometimes. Try a small ask first-- "Hey, I am really struggling with two jobs and school. Do you think you could pack a paper-bag lunch for me every day?" Or, "Sometimes I need you to turn off the TV and we spend ten minutes together talking about the grocery budget." Little things. They are your family, and they probably love you in some way-- don't count them out. Your image is tied up as the one who supports them, you say everything only goes "one way" from you to them. Give them a chance to shatter your expectations.

I know this stuff is hard, but in your question you already recognize that your current way of doing things is not working. It is hard, but it is worth it. You think turning 30 is scary? I just turned 50, and am still struggling with the same problems. But I can look back on the last few years and see where I stretched myself, made changes, asked for help have led to real improvements. Life is better with people who support you. No one can do it alone and be successful. You have the chance to be smarter than me and do it 20 years earlier. If you want to chat further, memail me. I am rooting for you.
posted by seasparrow at 1:07 PM on August 6, 2018 [12 favorites]

I'm not sure if this is the kind of suggestion you're looking for, but what if you cut back on the volunteering? Just temporarily, so you can have time to get your oxygen mask on. You could spend that time a) resting and recharging, b) pursuing an activity you enjoy, or c) doing some kind of piecework that can bring in enough money to hire out or buy some of the support you're providing your family.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 1:24 PM on August 6, 2018 [8 favorites]

As a single woman peeping over into the abyss of middle age and a ferocious introvert, I agree with seasparrow. You can't do it alone. Human beings aren't designed to. You need friends, at the least. Yes, that requires (at least eventually) exposing vulnerabilities, which can be downright terrifying in the moment. Yes, it requires tolerating other people's flaws, which can be infuriating. But I think you are already sensing that the mindset of total self-reliance is a trap, one walled in by fear and pride and insecurity.

I've run into a couple of weird, rough situations this year and I've been very pleasantly surprised by how people have turned out to help me. Your need for this kind of help will only get older and the inevitable toll of time starts hitting your body and those close to you. Now is the time to start investing in relationships that involve mutual care.
posted by praemunire at 2:04 PM on August 6, 2018 [9 favorites]

(Jeez, that last bit should be "will only get stronger as you get older...")
posted by praemunire at 2:42 PM on August 6, 2018

It's hard to tell whether you're looking for resources on how best to weather life overall as a single, friendless person (with family obligations), or whether you're looking for resources on how to be happy about it.

If the former, my thinking is that there's no comprehensive guide on how to live completely absent of any external help, because such a thing is so insanely difficult that the people doing it have neither time nor inclination to write a book or a blog or whatever. Rather, your best bet would be to find financial and health advice books/manuals/blogs that suit your temperament. The way to ensure financial independence is to make as much money as you can, save as much as you can stomach, and not get sick.*

If the latter, it may be helpful to start googling "resilience," as there is kind of a lot of recent writing on the subject, and it seems like one of the key traits necessary to thrive when lacking external supports is to have strong internal buttressing.

Finally: I would use caution in assuming that how things are now is how they'll be forever. Being in your 20s is hard. REALLY hard, especially if you didn't grow up rich and white. Being in your 20s, working a bunch of jobs and feeling like you have to help everyone while nobody will help you and everyone else just sucks is SUPER COMMON. But for a lot of people, this gradually changes and improves. This is not to say that your feelings are invalid or that you shouldn't plan for long-term self sufficiency! Just, try to be aware if you start shifting from "this is my tough current reality" to "this is my hopeless perpetual forever and nothing ever will change," because the latter is a false and dangerous thought path.

I and most of the people I know could have written your post in our 20s. Today, as middle-aged folks, our lives look very different. Many of us do now have partners and friends; most of us have managed to establish better jobs or careers; in some cases, our relatives became more self-supporting (in others, we just became more able to help them).

To be honest it sounds like you're describing burnout, more than anything, and I would second the suggestion of dropping your demanding volunteer commitment** before the burnout starts to affect the health and financial aspects that you need most for an independent life.

*may not apply in actual normal non-death-cult nations with functioning health systems, unlike the US.
**Unless it is a CLEAR stepping-stone to a better-paid career that will get you out of the two-job rat race
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:12 PM on August 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

I just wanted to come back and thank you all -- seasparrow, chesty_a_arthur, praemunire, and We put out faith in Blast Hardcheese (I've admired your username for so long) -- for your very thoughtful, detailed responses! I've been thinking about them all week and I'll continue referencing them in the future. I favorited everyone's answers and will mark them all best as well since you really got to the heart of the ACTUAL issue. You're right about humans needing humans because we're just made that way -- I realized this the hard way throughout the week, after I posted this question. I wouldn't have fully come to the realization without your help. And you all happen to be some of my favorite commenters!

I've been in a dark place for too long, and seriously considered something I can't come back from. Therefore, I made the decision to return to therapy and hopefully course correct back onto medication I sorely need; I'll be dropping one of these jobs and moving to something that's much higher paid to support the move. (The volunteer gig has a finite end date and is definitely a stepping stone, so I'm still committed to that for now.)

I also opened up to my family a lot more -- it isn't that I think they weren't capable, necessarily, but more that I didn't want to be seen as incapable, or vulnerable and dependent. In the same vein, it's why I mentioned flaws and vulnerabilities in regards to friends -- not other people's, but my own. I have been too afraid to expose myself to others due to many issues that need to be worked out in therapy. Thankfully my family is more or less pretty OK and not abusive or anything, so no harm done there.

If I can update this down the road with my progress, I will. Thanks again!
posted by Freeze Peach at 10:58 AM on August 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

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