I'm stuck
June 26, 2020 1:51 AM   Subscribe

I've mentioned in several contexts here that I struggle with PTSD. I'm very underemployed, so my economy is in free fall. I need to do something now, and I 'm not doing and haven't for several months on end. How can I get myself to do something for me?

I'm really good at doing things for others. People know me a smart, accomplished person, who can solve complex problems and work in cross-disciplinary settings. My family and friends see me as a generous host and a good cook. My home and our family farm that I manage are beautiful, albeit sometimes messy when I am far down. Some people see me as always happy. But I'm not. I've been depressed more or less consistently since 2001 (yes, 9/11 was a trigger, but combined with other stuff). I struggle to manage even the smallest things for myself.
During those near 19 years, I've put on 30 kilos, and I need to lose at least 15 before elective (necessary) surgery this autumn.
I need to find a way to earn the last 50-60% of my income, and optimally that needs to be by doing something I love, not fulfilling other's needs.
I need to organize my day, so I get things done, but also have spare time for sports and spending time with friends.
Does anyone know how to do this? Has anyone overcome decades of depression?

In 2016 I lost the best job I ever had. I had struggled with handling it, it turned out because my boss and a couple of others wanted to get rid of me but couldn't because I was doing well. Instead they began to invent "problems" they reported to HR, all lies, so I became increasingly paranoid.

This triggered the PTSD I had relatively successfully managed till then, which came from a violent and mentally abusive relationship, and now I have paralyzing anxiety attacks, flashbacks and nightmares to go with the depression.

On top of that, my mother started setting her apartment on fire, which led to new bouts of anxiety sort of layered on the rest. She abused me when I was a child, and at the same time, I felt responsible for my younger siblings.

I have medication for emergencies, but have been doing well without during corona, and I don't feel it is what I need right now. My doctor is very helpful.

Sorry about the wall of text.
posted by mumimor to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I have medication for emergencies, but have been doing well without during corona, and I don't feel it is what I need right now. My doctor is very helpful.

There's a cognitive dissonance between feeling like you're doing well but having a wall of text on how not well you are doing. Managing your anxiety and depression will make it easier for you to do the things for yourself that you need to do. This reads like someone who has unmanaged anxiety getting in the way of being able to live their life well - I know from experience.

Medications may not be the permanent or ideal answer, but at a minimum you should be discussing with your doctor why you're not taking your meds, whether or not there are better ones for your current situation, and whether or not other interventions like therapy would help. PTSD, anxiety and depression are medical conditions that are worth dealing with medically if you have a helpful doctor on your side.
posted by daveinpei at 4:21 AM on June 26 [7 favorites]

I have medication for emergencies, but have been doing well without during corona

This statement is a 100% percent reversal of the tone and content of the rest of your message.

You are not doing well, and I hereby grant you the world’s permission to make that priority one in your life.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:15 AM on June 26 [7 favorites]

There was a study a while back that caught my fancy and has informed my self care since then.

If you put someone in an MRI machine and ask them about themselves a certain part of the brain lights up. If you ask them to consider other people a different part of the brain lights up. And now the kicker: if you ask them about themselves in the future the part of the brain for others lights up.

What this means is that your future self, arguably the person who needs to be taken care of, registers as a different person in your brain. For me (and it sounds like for you) this can be a useful phenomenon because I take much better care of other people than I do myself.

By thinking of my future self as a different person I am (sometimes at least) able to do things for them that I can’t motivate myself to do for myself.

Just another perspective.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:28 AM on June 26 [24 favorites]

Thanks for your replies so far. I won't threadsit, but after writing and going for a walk, I realized several things about the question.

First of all, during 19 years of depression, I have tried several meds and several therapists, and sometimes it has been really helpful and sometimes not. I'm in a far better place than I was four years ago. My doctor and I agreed that right now, I have medicin I can take for panic attacks (sorry, it's not here, and I forget the name, but its an anti-psychotic drug), when I really think I'm dying. They haven't happened during corona at all, except for the first night of lock-down.
The other meds I have taken work well for my general depression and base level anxiety, but they also prevent me from doing the work I love. Even at the very lowest doses the side effects are very overpowering for me.

When I put it all down in writing, I realized that the main issue is that I have been conditioned to feel rewarded when I do stuff for others (wether I'm paid or not), and to feel bad (as in: I am a bad person, as well as feeling bad inside) when I do stuff for myself. I need to break that conditioning. I need to allow myself to enjoy my life and work. Right now I can't afford therapy, and I don't imagine Mefites can or should be my therapists, which is why I asked for experiences. Have you tried something that worked for you? I'll try it too!

What I am doing now is exercising a lot more, and eating more healthy food, and that is helpful.
I'm also keeping a "dream diary" to keep a record of the nightmares, and that is surprisingly helpful. Before I could go around with the fear from the dream all day, and fear then sleep at night even as I was exhausted. Writing them down keeps them under control.
I haven't had flashbacks or panic attacks since I started the dream diary.
posted by mumimor at 5:48 AM on June 26 [2 favorites]

Is it possible that this "She abused me when I was a child, and at the same time, I felt responsible for my younger siblings." is part of why you feel rewarded for doing for others and bad for taking care of yourself?

What has helped me is to have an (imaginary -- but also out loud, if possible) conversation with the person who originally "taught" me to have unhelpful ideas about myself. So, for example, I tell the mother-who-lives-in-my-head that what she says is mean and untrue and that I won't listen to her anymore. I imagine what she'd say in response and I shut her down with something like "you have no power over me and, actually, I feel sorry for you." And then I work hard to recognize when her messages appear in my head so that I can take a moment to notice them and think "yeah, that's an old message and it's untrue."

If this sounds like it might be helpful, I'd be happy to have a conversation over DM if you have any questions or what a cheerleader.
posted by mcduff at 6:32 AM on June 26 [5 favorites]

I have found it useful to think of the good things for myself as a thing I am doing for others. “Man, this is really impacting my family! They would be so much better off if I could “blah”.
posted by corb at 7:47 AM on June 26 [1 favorite]

Future You is not you. Future You is a completely different person from Present You, and in fact, while you know some things about their background you are an outsider only guessing about their feelings and their situation. Future You is not you, but they are an integral member of your family and community's support system and network. They have been a bedrock member of that community, doing much of the heavy lifting.

Okay, so now keep in mind that there is this family member who has not been receiving your support and affection because you have been taking them for granted. They are so reliable that, as the years peeled by, they always showed up and have always done those helpful things for your family. But they have also been something of a black sheep in the family, sort of like a grandfather who never got an education so isn't considered a good influence or a role model for the children, despite so solidly and reliably being the one who pays the bills. Your family hasn't prioritized this person due to his apparent strength and independence and his perceived inability to appreciate what other people enjoy. He has been left out and they expect him to look after himself instead of making plans to support him during his difficulties.

Future You is gruff and a bit prickly and has one heck of an ego, and tends to scoff, "Don't need any help!" But you know them well enough to know that sometimes they hurt and sometimes they are exhausted, and there are so many things they are grieving for, and they have gone through some unbelievably bad times. So how do you love and extend your care taking to that person?

I know this is silly - but Future You was also a kid once and liked treats and expressions of affection and reassurance and used to be scared and angry and desperately tried to do the right thing even when it was so hard - that kid that Future You used to be is still inside and a part of Future You. Their needs are still some of Future You's unmet needs.

So add Future You to the list of people whose well being matters and start doing little things for them at first. Start doing unimportant small things for them. Future You loves a certain sort of sweet? When you get the groceries pick up some of that sweet and take it home for Future You, and put it somewhere they will find it at a time they will appreciate it. Future You is going to be dog exhausted when they get home tonight? Before you leave the house grab some pajamas and the cuddliest socks you can find and throw them on the bed so they can change out of work clothes. And get the tea set up, just ready to turn the kettle on when they get home so a cup of hot tea will be so quick. You can't meet them at the door because the person in the kitchen will be Future You, not the you that you are now, but you can set up these gestures of love for that person. They will find them when they get there.

Future You would be so glad if you put some money aside for when they needed it. They might spend it on someone else because they are generous like that, but Future You would be so relieved to be able to make that choice.

If it's time to get some exercise and go running, you are not doing it to look after your own health. You are running for Future You, the same way you Run for the Cure for all those women with breast cancer. When you are actually running, you are running towards Future You. At the end of the run Future You will be there and happy because someone looked after their health and did a run for them.

Future You needs to lose weight. Right now you might not be able to resist temptation to slather those vegetables with butter, but with Future You it's easy to inflict a do-as-I-say-not-do-as-I-do, and work on removing the cues that led you to slather things with butter by not buying butter, or by hiding it in the bottom of the freezer. It's important that Future You doesn't just feel bereft because there is no butter, so make them a savoury onion and vinegar dressing for the vegetables that they can put on their dinner tonight. Otherwise they will feel like you are just being mean. Think of the cues that currently trigger the behaviour you don't want to be doing, and for the sake of poor hopeful Future You, find ways to get rid of those cues, to hide them or eliminate them so that when it comes time for Future You to do the wrong thing, someone loving has set it up so that doing the wrong thing takes some effort and doing the right thing is easy.

Future You is your secret friend so commit to doing something daily for them. Get out the nice pen. Call the dentist and make an appointment. Refuse to spend money on one of your bottomless pits of need and tell them that another family member needs that cash and you have already told them you will pay the dentist for them, so you just don't have it this week.

Leave something nice in a book for Future You to find. Tuck that bookmark into the book on the bedside table thinking to yourself, "Wonder how they'll feel when they find this? Will they notice? Will they see it and know it's there because someone loves them? Will they feel loved?"

You'll know if they don't notice or don't feel loved, and just like when you try to fix something nice for someone to eat and they eat it but they are not delighted, you use Future You's dull response to recalibrate and find something different that might give them a lift, might give them a sense that you have their back and were there in the past looking out for them.

Future You is not you, and you are the one person most ideally situated to look after them. For example you know that Future You needs a job. But you are the one who can look up the job listings for them, you are the one who can get in touch with people on the fringe of your support network and chat, setting it up so that Future You can ask them for job leads. You are the one who can call the job leads so that Future You has a chance of a job interview. You are the one who can say f*** that and ignore promising job leads that would be a job that Future You would hate. You are the one that can collaborate with people now and say, "Future Me needs job ideas. You got any ideas of types of jobs that Future Me could apply for?" And you can carry home information for Future You.

If you can stick through how silly it feels to set up surprises for yourself by picturing yourself as a completely different person and do a few things over a few days, it will pay off in better mental health and morale. Future You has to learn to trust Past You, as sometimes, although Past You has always done the very best they could, sometimes circumstances were hard and they didn't remember how Future You was going to feel. But Past You has already done many, many things for Future You, so it won't take that many gestures and projects now for Future You to start feeling confident, and to get into the habit of paying it forward, so that their own Future You has some wonderful things to look forward to.
posted by Jane the Brown at 8:04 AM on June 26 [18 favorites]

From your follow-up:

It might be helpful to think about this as you having a good habit you want to develop (recognizing and fulfilling your needs). Journaling is a typical suggestion, and it sounds like a dream journal is already being helpful? Maybe a needs/wants journal where you outline things you need and want to do to take care of yourself and any progress you make on them would be good? IME the key thing with this approach celebrating any progress. The point isn't so much to reach a certain goal. The point is to break the existing bad association and re-establish the natural link between 'taking care of self' and 'feeling good'

Another idea is to treat it exactly like habit development: Pick one small change you can do every day and try to do that. I started with really astoundingly excellent socks and reminding myself that I was worth astoundingly excellent socks because I was a person and wanted them. The reminding is key here - the point isn't that you 'deserve' whatever you choose, the point is that you are a person who has needs and wants and it's a good, worthy thing to fulfill those just because.

And yes, we can't all just do whatever we want, but the problem you've identified is that you don't feel like your needs and wants are worthy of being fulfilled / you aren't fulfilling your needs and wants. Now's not the time to worry over whether you should do what you want - your instincts are leading you astray on this topic and need some retraining.
posted by Ahniya at 7:07 PM on June 26 [2 favorites]

All of you, thanks so much for your inputs.
They brought up a lot of emotions that I am trying to parse. After I'd read them all, I smiled at myself in the mirror, and for the first time in years saw a real smile. (I may have smiled out in society, but alone with my feelings I am mostly just numb).
Another thing that may be happening, but it is too soon to say, is that I seem to be losing weight rapidly. During my seperation and divorce I also put on a lot of weight, if not as much as now. And from the moment I locked the door to my own apartment for the first time, I started losing it all, with no conscious effort. Self-care=health.
So your answers have perhaps already helped more than I had even imagined.
I am trying out your different suggestions, and may return and mark if some turn out to be more helpful than others, for future reference.
Thanks again.
posted by mumimor at 12:30 AM on July 2

« Older How to describe nationality/heritage when a parent...   |   What to take with me to Zurich? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments