Waiting for therapy - how to cope in the meantime?
October 29, 2019 6:14 PM   Subscribe

I'm deeply depressed and can't see a therapist until mid-December. Seeking advice and strategies on dealing with myself until then. Snowstorm inside.

I've been waking up every day for the past two months with intense self-loathing and a one-two punch of extreme regret and fear about my future. It eases up at night enough for me to relax a bit, but I dread going to sleep because I know I'll wake up from good dreams only to nosedive again. I've dealt with dissatisfaction and a generally low mood for years, and this is hands down the worst I have ever felt. I used to cope by telling myself I had ample time to change, but at 29 I'm finally getting hit by the reality of a lifetime wasted on anxiety, mistakes, and inaction while my friends are starting to become successful and fulfilled from years of hard work. I feel trapped.

Bonus: unemployed since graduating with my hard-to-market Bachelors in May and relatively socially isolated due to said friends being at different life stages. I've been keeping a consistent sleep schedule and forcing myself to apply for jobs, but getting rejected for even minimum wage stopgap work is adding insult to injury.

I'm not suicidal nor at risk of self-harm or addiction, so the crisis services available to me would most likely do more harm than good. My only other option for getting professional help sooner is paying out of pocket for a therapist who doesn't accept insurance, which I can't really afford for any meaningful length of time without wiping out a big chunk of my savings and adding more stress to this whole situation.

Things that help very temporarily:
- My dogs, other people's dogs, staring at the birds in my yard until they get creeped out and fly away
- Showering, putting on soft clothing, and burying myself under a pile of blankets like a toddler
- Reading when my mind is slowed down enough
- Caffeine - sometimes tips me over into hypomania, which obviously makes things worse in the long run
- Trying very hard to have a sense of humor about all of this - not to sound like the Joker or anything, but same issue as caffeine

Common recommendations that haven't helped:
- Exercising, walking in nature, attempts at mindfulness/meditation, etc.
- Anything food-related, be it a healthy diet or treating myself
- My family
- Knitting, crocheting, adult coloring books - hit a weird engaging-but-not-enough spot that sends my thoughts into overdrive
- Speaking with friends - I just end up feeling guilty for taking up their very limited free time even when I know they want to help
- Activities outside of the house - I went to a big concert and a museum over the weekend and was in such a haze that I barely remember either
- TV, movies, music, games - they aren't really fun anymore, focusing is a struggle, and a big part of the regret is my failure to pursue an entertainment career so they honestly kinda hurt to engage with

I'm pretty desperate to feel less like a hopeless trash fire of a person for the next month and a half, so any and all ideas are welcome.
posted by mcfighty to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Just wait. Know that you don't have to do anything about it without help. Been there. It's tough. But the worst thing is to think you have to change it NOW.

You've tried the usual recommendations and they haven't helped. They usually don't.

This advice won't help you feel better today but in my experience it's what you have to do. Wait. There is time to fix everything, no matter how bad it feels now. But you need professional help.
posted by tmdonahue at 6:30 PM on October 29, 2019 [3 favorites]

Do you have a primary care physician who could start you on a low-dose of an antidepressant? Even without insurance, many SSRIs are only a few bucks. Medicine isn't for everyone but it's what I'd do if I were in your shoes right now.
posted by smorgasbord at 6:30 PM on October 29, 2019 [10 favorites]

I know it's mentioned a lot on AskMe but if you feel up to it, one thing to try might be some low-risk forms of volunteering - especially if it's something where you are helping out but not having to do much social interaction or going out of your house, at least in the initial stages. This could be sending text messages or post cards for your local political candidate's campaign, or proofreading ebooks for Project Gutenberg (although I don't know if you include books in the list of entertainment items you'd prefer not to engage with so your mileage on this one may vary), or providing virtual visual assistance for blind or low-vision persons, or (since you mentioned observing the birds in your backyard) tracking bird populations.

Since it's volunteer work it may give you a sense of structure and purpose, but with less to lose since some or most of these activities above can be done on your time frame.
posted by nightrecordings at 6:44 PM on October 29, 2019 [4 favorites]

I was on a loooong waiting list for therapy and really circling the drain, so in the meantime I went to a psychiatric urgent care, described my symptoms to a psychiatric nurse practitioner, and walked out with a prescription for an antidepressant. I couldn’t stand the wait any longer (I just knew it was time and I could not wait; sounds like you may be at that point as well.)

The rx has made therapy more effective and neither the psychiatric nurse practitioner nor my therapist have judged me for getting meds before talk therapy, rather than the other way around.
posted by kapers at 7:00 PM on October 29, 2019 [4 favorites]

Keep petting your doggos and getting decent sleep. You said mindfulness stuff hasn’t worked for you, but I found parts of The Happiness Trap useful. It borrows from mindfulness techniques but not for meditation. Doing the activities would sometimes feel silly, and could be hit or miss, but I was surprised with how well some of them diffused the really painful thoughts.
posted by Drosera at 7:56 PM on October 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

A good idea to pursue medication sooner than later. Not that you don't have real problems that you need to solve, but it does sound like your brain is not helping, and a lot of the medications that might come up are things that either take awhile to kick in or that need tapering up (or both) and the sooner you get started there, the faster they can help you.

There are some books that can give you at least some of what a therapist can, not that they're a complete replacement but I often recommend them if you can't make it at the moment: Feeling Good, Calming the Emotional Storm being two that I've used personally at various points to deal with things being overwhelming in different ways. Neither of them is perfect, but they've helped. I have not tried the Happiness Trap, which is in a similar vein, but have heard good things and would second checking it out, too; at this stage a lot of it is just experimenting.
posted by Sequence at 8:02 PM on October 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

As a fellow person who lives with depression, I notice that you don’t mention medication at all. It’s not the only thing that I use to manage my depression, but it’s the thing that makes it a manageable, livable chronic condition for me, rather than the thing that was eventually going to kill me.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:14 PM on October 29, 2019 [3 favorites]

I just want to say how awesome you seem, because you were able to pull together such a rational list of what works and what doesn’t, and many of us just dig into “nothing works” when it’s like this.

Therapy isn’t going to fix you in week one, so in the meantime I’d keep building that list of what soothes you and what doesn’t. There are Internet forums and chat rooms and websites for stopgap therapy, which will be more miss than hot, but you might find some comfort in the interim.
posted by OrangeVelour at 8:30 PM on October 29, 2019 [4 favorites]

Depression is a lying liar who lies, you know? And it really loves to set up shop. You're aware that your friends want to help, yet you feel guilty for "taking up their very limited free time;" you believe crisis services "would most likely do more harm than good;" you either suffer for another month and a half or you nearly empty your savings account... I applaud you for compiling the list of things that help and identifying the stuff which depletes you. If you're not proud of yourself for putting together this question, and posting it, you ought to be.

If bird watching is helpful, put up a feeder or two. (Don't place them within reach of the dogs.) If you want to try medication, previous posters have covered that route. Perhaps you could find a short-term therapist accepting sliding-scale payments? If you've set a therapy appointment for mid-December, could you contact that therapist and ask about your eligibility for reduced payments until coverage kicks in? (If the therapist can't see you sooner for whatever reason, they may be able to suggest other avenues in the meantime. The big healthcare provider where I am will refer to their clinics in that meantime, which are free if you're unemployed.)

You're recognizing the ongoing issues and you've figured out a few useful measures until you get treatment. You have time to start over. You're amazing.
posted by Iris Gambol at 9:09 PM on October 29, 2019

This might sound silly, but I genuinely didn't know that you can just ask for medication for things like this first and spill your weary soul to a therapist later. I'm going to call and get a referral tomorrow.

I used to do Zooniverse to distract myself back when this was more of a "I'm bummed out" thing than a "I am an irredeemable affront to the universe" thing, so I think the low-pressure volunteering suggestions will indeed help me feel a less like a useless lump in the meantime. I also bought Feeling Good at the beginning of the year when I was busy with school and it completely slipped my mind, funnily enough. This shit really has a way of making you forget everything that ever made you feel even a little good or hopeful, huh?

Thank you, everyone, for your suggestions and kind words. You're helping me sleep a little easier tonight.
posted by mcfighty at 11:29 PM on October 29, 2019 [12 favorites]

I'm sorry to hear you're having such a hard time. It's really brave to ask for help, and if you don't mind me saying so, you come across as really pretty smart and doing a good job of taking care of yourself during a really rough time.

Something I learned that helped me when I was at the lowest of my lows, when I was past the end of my rope and didn't know what the fuck to do: the mantra "Improve, appreciate, connect, protect."

Doing any act in those categories shores up your sense of your own value in the world. What you do doesn't have to be connected to anything at all that you are struggling with.

Improve anything--if your feet are cold, put on some socks. If there are dishes in the living room, take them to the kitchen. Work on a drawing in progress. Put $5 in your savings account. Something.

Appreciate anything--a pretty tree turning colors, a song you love, the softness of the skin on your forearms, how good warm water feels in the shower, the postal carrier for bringing your mail every day reliably. Something.

Same with connect and protect. Friendly small talk with the cashier at the convenience store counts. A text with a friend. A professional massage. Or: tend your houseplants, take your cat to the vet for a checkup, volunteer at a food bank and help food-insecure people in your area.

It sounds like many of the things that give you solace fit into these categories. They're little affirmations that you do matter, that you do have impact, that you can make the world a better place, that the world is a place that you can be in and even enjoy.

I hope this helps fill in the gaps a little. Take care.
posted by Sublimity at 3:25 AM on October 30, 2019 [8 favorites]

I have also used that mantra at very low times (learned on this very website from sublimity!) and have also found it to be helpful.

No matter what the depression says, you are doing a good job. I’m proud of you for taking the steps to get help.
posted by ocherdraco at 5:22 AM on October 30, 2019 [6 favorites]

When I was in a similar situation, the therapist I was scheduled to see (eventually) sent me a link to this ACT workbook. It's really helpful, simple, and straightforward (and I've been using it for almost 10 months, mostly as an adjunct to my therapy). The author, who is more or less the founder of ACT, has a number of other books and resources (like his website and TED talks--there are a couple) that you might find helpful in the short term. I've been listening to this audiobook of his lately.

FYI the person in question suffers/suffered from intense anxiety for much of his early life, and he talks about his experiences with anxiety quite vividly in some of these resources, so maybe avoid the audiobooks and such if that would make you uncomfortable. But ACT itself is compatible with addressing depression, and the workbook etc. do address this. If you, like me, want to feel like you're actively learning and participating in your path to therapy, these might be good places to start. They've been very helpful for me.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:13 AM on October 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

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