What's wrong with me?
January 17, 2007 6:52 PM   Subscribe

What's wrong with me? I feel as though my ability to handle daily life is spiraling downward. Why, when I seemingly have everything going for me, can I not seem to get myself back on track?

A little background: I am male, mid 30s, married (8 years), and have 7 kids (2 from previous marriage, 2 from current marriage, wife has 3 from previous marriage – yes we do believe in birth control – no we do not plan to have any more – all kids live with us). I own a business with approximately 50 employees. My income is decent (500K-750K) but our lifestyle choices have made money tight (I know it’s pathetic but hey we all make bad decisions at times – right?). My wife is wonderful. I love her tremendously but also feel incredible dislike for her at times. She has insecurity issues that cause her to blame me for many things and withhold the trust that I desire. I’m getting better at dealing with this and so is she. I’d say I feel tremendous love 99% of the time and absolute dislike 1% of the time. I’m pretty honest (never cheated on my wife or my taxes – hopefully never will). Our kids are all pretty good kids (ages from 18 to 4). I have difficulties with my wife’s kids (typical step parent problems of not feeling included, not feeling respected, jealousy, etc.) This is difficult to deal with at times. But most of the problems are probably my issues and the kids are decent kids. Most things have always come very easy to me. In school I was always popular and made friends easy. In my family I was always the golden child who could do no wrong. I always received straight A’s in high school and college with very little studying and finished both (engineering degree) in 75% of the required time. I am a procrastinator and quite lazy. Much of my procrastination I feel is due to my perfectionist tendencies the rest due to my laziness. I have been a health freak since a very young age (4th grade) –exercising and watching what I eat very closely. For a time my parents worried I was anorexic, but that phase passed and throughout most of my life I have maintained a very healthy weight (BMI 21-22). I have difficulty saying no or hurting someone’s feelings (this was probably the only reason I married my first wife). Along these same lines, I have big guilt problems and make many decisions based on guilt. I am an atheist.

Now the problem: I feel as though I am steps away from falling over a cliff (or seconds away from a meltdown, or inches away from the edge – pick whichever you prefer). Over the past two years my weight has been fluctuating like mad. I’ll gain 30 pounds in a month (yes one month – that’s like an extra 3500 calories a day), during which I’m miserable (just absolutely miserable and can’t move, falling asleep on the couch because I’m so full and can’t move – but ahh the food does seem almost like a drug that numbs me somehow). During this time I stop exercising and just gorge. Then over the next 2-3 months I lose it all (usually around 3lbs per week). I know this isn’t healthy and clearly points to an eating disorder (BED), but I do not think that is my main problem and more of a symptom. I am struggling at work. My business is too dependent on me and although I’m trying to hire the right people to fix this I cannot seem to focus and worry that in a few years my business will be gone because of this. This causes me a great deal of stress because although I often think I’d be happier without the business, I need the income for at least another 5-7 years to pay for many of the bad decisions we have made in our personal lives (yes the old adage if you make more, you just spend more fits very well with our lives at this point – I am fixing this but like I said it’ll take at least 5 years). Every morning I have hope and think that today is the day when I’m going to get my act together. But by noon I just fall apart and lose all productivity, and during binge phases just start eating like crazy. I often think that if the days were only 12 hours long I might be able to manage. I honestly can say that I do not enjoy too many things in life and do not believe I ever have. It seems that everything I’ve ever done (sports, etc.), I did just to be the best at. I would devote countless hours practicing, etc. but never enjoying. It’s the same today. I’m an excellent skier but hate skiing. If I go it’s only to show off. Clearly I have ego problems. The only thing I consistently enjoy is sex (of which I have a lot – averaging I’d guess 12-14 times per week – yes my wife is an angel when it comes to that). But immediately after sex I just feel a void (followed by an intense desire to eat). My friends, employees, etc. all think I really have it together but they couldn’t be more wrong. I think that earlier in life I had a lot of dreams (or a better term may be illusions) that kept me going. The illusions are gone now and reality has set in. Life seems very tiring and if I could blink it away I often feel like I would.

Can anyone fix me?

P.S. I have tried therapy but it didn’t help. I never take medicine (even aspirin) so while you can suggest medication I doubt I’ll take it (this is do to some stupid vision I have of myself being pure, healthy and natural – how ironic). Also, while you can encourage me to find god (and I’ll appreciate that you care and are trying to help), I’m a devout atheist and you’ll have just as much luck converting me as I would converting you.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (38 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
What you need is the right therapist. You've tried therapy and it didn't help. There are two reasons for this:

1) The wrong therapist (whether methodology or attitude)
2) Uncooperative patient (which is perfectly understandable in light of point 1)

Shop around. Think about your friends. Whose (constructive, beneficial, and useful) advice do you take the most? Find a therapist who is like that person.

Think of therapy as going to the gym. it's hard work. And jebus fuck is it unpleasant if you're not in shape. But if you push through that, if you just make yourself keep working, you will see those results. God doesn't matter, fuck medication, this is about you. If you wanted to lose 20 pounds, would you be asking us to tell you how to do so without getting a trainer or changing your diet? Of course not.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:05 PM on January 17, 2007

Every morning I have hope and think that today is the day when I’m going to get my act together.

Thinking like that is just going to set you up for failure. You can't get your act together in one day. Just take one small step toward getting your act together every day. And if you have a setback, you're allowed to. Just because you binged today, doesn't mean that when you wake up the next day you need to binge.

Therpay is often a matter of finding the right therapist for you. If you don't click with the first one, try another, then another. I know you need to save money right now, but this is not the place to be cutting back. It's not going to just work, but the right therapist can give you ways to deal with your anxiety or depression or whatever makes you feel the way you do.

Since you are against medication, you might want to find a general practitioner who is an osteopath instead of an MD, because osteopaths focus on treating the whole person as opposed to just throwing a drug at someone (not that MDs necessarily do, but osteopaths specifically don't). They are real physicians with real medical degrees, though -- I'm not trying to send you to a new-age healer. He or she will be able help you find a good therapist who won't necessarily want to treat you with medication, and the osteopath may be able to give you coping skills. Or if you feel comfortable with your current doctor, talk to him or her.

You also might want to try yoga because no one cares whether you're good at it -- part of the point is not being competitive, so if you enjoy it, it could be great for you. No matter what, though, if you can think of something that you truly enjoy doing, set aside some time regularly to do it.

Good luck.
posted by Airhen at 7:19 PM on January 17, 2007

Somehow my comment was cut off. You might want to find an osteopath
as opposed to an MD as your general practitioner because they are specifically trained to treat the whole person and seek solutions other than medication. (And, yes, they are real doctors, with real medical degrees). This person will help refer you to a therapist and may have coping skills to offer you as well.

Try yoga. It's not a cure-all, but part of the point is not being competitive. No one cares how good you are at it. It could be something you find you actually enjoy. But no matter what, find something (besides eating) that you truly enjoy and set aside some time to do it regularly.
posted by Airhen at 7:23 PM on January 17, 2007

As much as everyone says medication is not the option, it's not necessarily one to be dismissed easily. I was (and continue to be to some extent) the same as you, and I suddenly found myself at that proverbial cliff during my junior year of college. I did therapy for quite a while, but I found it really hard to palate, considering I was pursing psychological counseling myself. (I completely agree that the right therapeutic course and counselor would be the best option.)

However, after a few months, nothing was different. I decided to speak to my doctor about meds (considering my mother, father, brother, grandmother, aunt, uncle, and grandfather are currently on or have been on anti-depressants). I took my medication every day for about six months, and then I titrated myself off. In some way it cleared me up, made me more motivated, and more importantly, helped me concentrate. I started meds too late, and irreparably damaged my college transcripts, so I can't urge you enough to at least learn about them. I know you won't necesarily take them considering your attitude, but nothing else worked for me. And it was a very temporary course of action.

YOU AREN'T BROKEN AND DON'T NEED FIXING. Like any proper garment, your life just needs a little adjustment to fit properly.
posted by santojulieta at 7:30 PM on January 17, 2007

Maybe this article from someone else who thought depression didn't need to be medicated until he found himself beaten down by it might give you a different perspective on therapy and medicine?

Hell and Back

posted by MsMolly at 7:31 PM on January 17, 2007

I am of the opinion that you can spend years in talk therapy and never feel better. If you feel you are "on the edge" -- of a meltdown, or of hurting yourself, of violence -- of anything, you are in crisis, and crisis situations require intervention.

I really, really, really strongly advise you to reconsider your position on medication. If you discovered that you were diabetic, would you refuse insulin even if you knew doing so could kill you? You are suffering and there is NO NEED to continue on the way you are and accept your fate. There IS help out there and many people have felt the way you do right now. At least go to a doctor, even your family doctor, and tell them, "I feel like I am about to break down." They will help.

If you can't do this of your own volition then do it for your family, as someone who feels the way you do right now is incapable of being the parent and partner that they deserve. PLEASE GET HELP.
posted by loiseau at 7:37 PM on January 17, 2007

I feel an overwhelming urge to hug you and say "There, there."

I think you sound stressed and depressed, and I also think that something along the lines of cognitive-behavioral therapy would be extremely helpful for you.

It may not seem this way to you, but you sound like a pretty darn together guy. (Parenting 7 kids?!? Running a business? Maintaining what sounds like a quite excellent marriage? Man, I'm single, no kids, I don't run a business, and I'm proud of myself if I can find clean socks.)

It also sounds like you've accidentally set up a number of unhelpful thought patterns: "It will take forever to get out of debt. I'm unhappy at work. I'm not in control of my body or my eating."

I've had heaps of therapy (yes. I'm one of those people.) and tried medication, and neither finding out where I went wrong in my childhood or taking pills was as helpful, in the long term, as learning to catch myself in ridiculous thought patterns and swap in increasingly more useful ones.

From other threads in this vein here, I suspect that you're going to get a some SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP NOW!!!!!! OR YOU MIGHT DIE!!!!!! comments, and certainly, I think it can be extremely helpful to have a therapist in your corner. Really, really, really helpful. But I also hope that you can hear that I don't think there's anything wrong with you. You're not broken. You haven't fucked up. You're not doomed to feel awful forever.

You have a lot of responsibilities, and you're shouldering them as best you can. Seriously, I'm in awe that you can handle all of that, and I think if you could replace some of your gloomier thought patterns with some even marginally more cheerful ones, you might well find that things aren't as bleak as they seem when you're slumped on the couch, thinking about How Much Everything Sucks And You're Going To Die.

Be kind to yourself, if you can. Good luck.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 7:40 PM on January 17, 2007

never enjoying. It’s the same today. I’m an excellent skier but hate skiing. If I go it’s only to show off. Clearly I have ego problems. The only thing I consistently enjoy is sex (of which I have a lot – averaging I’d guess 12-14 times per week – yes my wife is an angel when it comes to that). But immediately after sex I just feel a void (followed by an intense desire to eat).

Pure, healthy and natural? Yeah, but you're super-stressed. And you need to learn to enjoy, really enjoy. You need joy in your day. Healthy ego, not ego that leaves you empty of anything good or substantial. Sex doesn't seem to be doing you any good; it sounds almost like an addiction or a crutch, like compulsive eating, that urge you have.

Do you meditate? YOu should. Lots of posts here about that. I know that emptiness you describe, but I overcame it. You have a very complicated life to deal with, though. You need to carve some space to take care of you. There are lots of books out there. I could recommend one that's based on meditation and joy, but you can probably find one that suits you personally if meditation and joy seem worth trying to you.
posted by Listener at 8:09 PM on January 17, 2007

while you can suggest medication I doubt I’ll take it (this is do to some stupid vision I have of myself being pure, healthy and natural

You've got enough hurdles to cross without setting up new, arbitrary ones based on some idealized vision that even you know is ridiculous.

Which is not to say that medication is the only answer -- it may or may not be at all what you need. I'm more pointing this out as one example of a pattern that recurs over and over in your story:

"X causes me stress. I've thought about changing X, or made a halfhearted attempt at it, but my one attempt at a solution didn't work or is taking too long or probably wouldn't help anyway, so I'm just feeling more stress about it. But anyway, X isn't so bad, it's not the real problem, because there's Y, which causes me stress. I've thought about changing Y, but..."

Lather, rinse, repeat.

This stands out for me because I do it too: it's really easy to talk yourself out of doing anything to solve a problem when the solution isn't immediately clear, and anyway there are all these other things to worry about too.

Don't try to solve everything all at once. Telling yourself "This is the day I'm going to FIX EVERYTHING IN MY WHOLE LIFE." gives you a huge impassable crevasse. Start with the small stuff. I mean really small, like 15 minutes small. Those little things are probably causing you just as much stress as the big ones, but the difference is you can do something about them right now.

Don't dwell too much on the idea that nothing seems enjoyable, you don't have any interests, etc etc. You're miserable right now, so of course nothing seems enjoyable or interesting. It's hard to see it now, but as you pull out of this depression, all that stuff will come back to you naturally. Honest.

And don't think that therapy is a one-size-fits-all thing. It didn't work the one time you tried it? Screw that. Try again. Finding a therapist is like finding a friend: you can't just pick one out of a phone book and expect it to work out. I hated the idea of therapy, hated the idea of medication. But I finally hit the point where I didn't have any other ideas, so what the hell, I tried them both. The medication didn't turn out to be what I needed. The therapy did.

Maybe that'll work out the same way for you, maybe it won't, but right now what you're doing is running around in circles, digging yourself deeper and deeper into the same rut. Finding your way out of it is going to be a gradual process, and it'll be a hell of a lot easier if you let somebody help you.
posted by ook at 8:10 PM on January 17, 2007

You have a very heavy load to bear. Give yourself some credit for your successes.

I'm bipolar and have some of the same problems that you do. I'm not suggesting that you are bipolar -- I just share some of your problems. I take a lot of medications and I see a really great therapist. With both approaches, there were many adjustments and false starts. I went through six other therapists before I found this one. I worked with my psychiatrist for over 5 years to find the right cocktail for me.

My case might be unusually recalcitrant, but it can take a while for anyone to find a therapist who is a good fit.

(Full disclosure - I work for big pharma. My views do not represent my employer and do not constitute medical advice, yadda, yadda.) I know that you are not interested in medication, so I will offer just one piece of advice. If you do decide to pursue medication, go a psychiatrist. Just like you wouldn't take your car to a body shop for transmission trouble, don't go to a GP for a psychiatrist problem.< /disclosurefilter>

Good luck. I know that having the right person to talk to has made a tremendous difference in my life. I hope that you can find the right person for you.
posted by SteveTheRed at 8:10 PM on January 17, 2007

Does your wife know all of this? Like, all of it? If not, let her know. She won't lose respect for you.

I don't know you personally, but it seems like you're just a regular guy and you don't deserve to feel this way. I really hope things work out for you.
posted by teem at 9:03 PM on January 17, 2007

I'm bipolar too, and very familiar with the feeling you describe.

I'll leave it at that.
posted by konolia at 9:05 PM on January 17, 2007

Try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Get a start by reading this book, Feeling Good by Dr. David Burns. The book has lots of exercises and charts to do. It's perfect for perfectionists, who tend to do the charts lots just to get it right. Go back to a therapist who specializes in this type of therapy, as it is spot-on for perfectionists.

Let me ask you a question--what would happen if the business went under? Would your life be at an end? I'm not saying you should let it, but it might clue you in to what's going on.

Let me put this another way--do you feel a person is measured by the success they have in life at things, (work, health, looks, looks of spouse?) Your answer seems to indicate that you take great pride in these things. If so, this means that every time you do something where you can be measured, you are choosing to put your entire self worth on the line. Who wants to do anything where their entire self-worth is on the line? Generally we avoid these types of situations. Hence, procrastination. You can get away with this type of living for a long time. Eventually, it catches up with you, as anxiety that you will lose your value as a human builds up.

What I'm saying is this--the goals of making your business (and life) work and keeping your self-esteem afloat are probably not 100% compatible. Sometimes making that manufacturing process triple-redundant so you have it right and are a good person, isn't worth the $1,000,000 price tag.

So take your self-esteem out of the mix. I think a better way of looking at life is that people either have no real "self-worth" to be measured, or that each and every person, simply has the same worth by virtue of their birth as a human being. When you stop trying to constantly prop up your self worth, much less will be on the line.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:17 PM on January 17, 2007

I'll not harp on the therapy angle, but it sounds from your post like you have several eminantly fixable problems, but lack the will and/or motivation to get started on them. You feel trapped by your business and debt, and it's hard to see a way out, but it can be done.

I agree with the previous comments that expecting to "get your act together" all at once is more than anyone could possibly expect. Use your perfectionism to your advantage by putting it to work solving your problems, one at a time.

For example, if you want some hard medicine regarding your debts, post the details of your financial problems on FatWallet Finance. While you'll no doubt be ridiculed (that's the nature of most dicussion forums on the net these days), you will also likely receive some excellent advice, and hopefully formulate an executable plan to start beating your debt problem in less time than you think. For inspiration, see this thread.

Having taken this concrete step, maybe in a couple of months you'll start to see a light at the end of the debt tunnel, and can turn your talents loose on fixing your business, and so on and so on.

Whichever way you choose to attack things, best of luck.
posted by JohnYaYa at 10:08 PM on January 17, 2007

I read an article by an old school microsoft employee once that offered the following advice to anyone finding their chosen profession has become a drudge after they start making a lot of money:

save a million, invest some of it wisely to keep you afloat and quit. Get out before it does you in, and find something else you love to spend your time doing, preferably for money. Ever wanted to start a restaurant? Being rich and a capable earner makes a loan not to hard to get. Ever wanted to write? With a tidy sum in the bank you might be able to float yourself with no income for a year and see where it takes you.

Of course, with 7 kids and a wealthy lifestyle, this means making some changes, or it might mean that you have to save a LOT more than a mil. You'd have to sell your house if it's bigger than you absolutely need, and start living more economically in just about every area of your life. But hey, they say money can't buy happiness. Maybe changing your life and pursuing a new direction can.
posted by shmegegge at 10:22 PM on January 17, 2007

It sounds like you've conquered as much of the outside world as you need to. Now, inward!

Therapists are usually a pretty good adjunct when it comes to getting one's personal shit in order. They can't help you in any direct way; They can just show you some tools that work and sit with you while you figure out how to use them.

I would definitely try a few more therapists before I gave up on that route, while keeping in mind that you are the one who will have to do the heavy lifting.

I never take medicine (even aspirin) so while you can suggest medication I doubt I’ll take it (this is due to some stupid vision I have of myself being pure, healthy and natural – how ironic).

As an atheist you should probably consider the idea that human happiness is of very little concern to evolution. As long as you breed and support the kids, you are fulfilling your purpose as a life form -- your mental state is a third order side effect at best.

Considering this generally brings people to a fork in the road. Either

a) "Maybe I'll rethink that atheist bit and decide that humans were created and that happiness is part of our pure state."


b) "Maybe natural does not automatically mean good. Maybe the human body is complex system that needs to be tweaked to work the way I want it to."

As the ever eloquent Yogi Berra said: When you come to a fork in the road, take it!

(I personally went the complex system route, and after several years of different physical approaches -- martial arts, meditation, yoga, etc -- finally settled on anti-depressants as being the most effective and least disruptive solution. YMMV.)
posted by tkolar at 10:31 PM on January 17, 2007

posted by nanojath at 11:08 PM on January 17, 2007

What about, instead of a therapist, a life coach or a psychologist who can help you work out what you want? It seems to me that your values are driving you mad, and maybe it's time to re-evalaute those values. You said you can ski well but you don't like it. What do you like? I think maybe you're one of the very few successful people in the world who could do whatever they wanted, if they wanted, but you're not doing that because you think you should be working your butt off at being the best whatever.

What if you took time off (between 1/2 an hour to 3 weeks) and went to a retreat and spent some time first thinking of some questions like, what would you like to achieve in your life, what would you like to experience and then spend the rest of the time thinking of the answers to those questions.

I suspect that the part of your character that makes you so successful is also what's making unhappy. I also think that you have the ability to analyse the situation, if you give yourself enough time, and come up with a solution.

Off the wall ways of approaching it that you might not have considered already - mind mapping, tarot cards (no, wait, I'm an atheist too, and you can use these random results from visual stimulating cards to think about human issues and personal issues), psychotropic drugs (okay, i'm not really serious about that one. There are a number of journals on the market that can provide pathways for you to think about your choices. One I have on my shelf is called the "Illustrated Discovery Journal< creating a visual autobiography of your authentic self.br>
Regarding the debt, that's the easiest part. Get in a financial advisor, do a budget, force it to work by channelling money before you receive it.

As someone who experiences depression and anxiety, what you are talking about sounds very familiar to me. However, I choose not to use drugs (anymore) because while the drugs i did use did have a beneficial effect, I didn't like the side effects of loss of libido, sometimes nausea, and most of all, flatlining through life with no highs or lows, feeling not like me. I try to exercise enough so that natural endorphins etc do their thing, but I think that doesn't always work for me. And even though I've read Burns book (linked above), and subscribe to his theory, I can not always retrieve myself from irrationallity.

If the case is the same for you, it might be that a short period (maybe two months) experiencing anti-depressants might be enough for you to "pull yourself together" and then you can re-approach life without the burden of feeling like it's all going to shatter.

A final suggestion to you is to not rule out opportunities for relief if they are not immoral, like using medication or talking to a therapist or a coach. I know sometimes I frame a problem with most (if not all) solutions already denied and that only makes me feel more isolated, panicky, suicidal because there is no way out. There is always a choice, not always a palatable one.

Good luck with everything and if you'd like to chat, my email is in my profile.
posted by b33j at 11:11 PM on January 17, 2007

I was (am) you on a much smaller and limited scale, did great in school and professionally, but in my case not well socially. It sounds like you've done everything right and invested all your self-worth in your accomplishments without ever stepping back to work on your emotional health and maturity. I don't mean "mature" in the acts like a grownup way, I mean in the level of development and thoughtfulness you've put into yourself.

All these things you're stressing over? Are not big deals, rationally. They are things that can be fixed through time and effort. You just get caught up working yourself into a tizzy over them, making them into giant insurmountable things that are going to send you into a nervous meltdown.

What helped me was medication (just for a few months) because I respond very well to anti-depressants without any of the side-effects, plus a few visits to a Cognitive Behavior Therapist who pointed out to me that though I may be smart and rational when dealing with the outside world, inside I was basing my emotions on very illogical thoughts.

You need a way to step back and realize your thinking patterns that are causing yourself so much stress are flawed and not illogical.
posted by lychee at 11:37 PM on January 17, 2007

Oops, "are flawed and not logical.
posted by lychee at 11:37 PM on January 17, 2007

simplify it.
you need a life change.
review the most important things in your life,
then make a life change which resets them as the priority.
posted by edtut at 12:41 AM on January 18, 2007

Taking what you've said explicitly, along with a little reading between the lines, I see you trapped in an endless, self-perpetuating cycle of highs and lows, rushes and crashes. It's what some refer to as an "addictive personality." This is a pretty nonscientific term, but I believe it has a physiological basis. Put crudely, you seek thrills as sort of a self-correction mechanism for a biochemical instability that you were probably born with. But again, this "self-correction" actually perpetuates the problem. Because of the biochemical instability itself, things affect you more intensely than they affect other people. They give you a rush, and the rush causes a crash, which leads you to thrill-seek to again get the rush, and so on and so forth forever.

Let me give you some examples of what I mean. Let's assume that two things, sex and food, both function as "highs" for you (even if you don't feel "high."). The pattern is evident:

The only thing I consistently enjoy is sex (of which I have a lot – averaging I’d guess 12-14 times per week – yes my wife is an angel when it comes to that). But immediately after sex I just feel a void (followed by an intense desire to eat).

12-14 times a week is a lot of sex. I'm sure you know this. But if it functions for you as a means of getting your rush, twice a day seems pretty reasonable. And then the rush causes the crash - the void - which causes you to crave your other means of getting a rush: food.

I’ll gain 30 pounds in a month (yes one month – that’s like an extra 3500 calories a day), during which I’m miserable (just absolutely miserable and can’t move, falling asleep on the couch because I’m so full and can’t move – but ahh the food does seem almost like a drug that numbs me somehow). During this time I stop exercising and just gorge. Then over the next 2-3 months I lose it all (usually around 3lbs per week).

I can't state this any better than you already have. I would also guess that during the months after your binge cycles, obsessive exercise substitutes for food as your means of getting your rush. (It's important to note here that even though you're losing weight and ostensibly getting healthier, your behavior here is not healthy. You're still trapped in a cycle of highs and lows - just a more attractively, acceptably packaged one).

Other aspects of your post point to the pattern I've described here as well: your spending habits, your feelings for your wife, your work habits, your "perfectionism" versus your "laziness." It's all highs and lows, with the lows causing you to seek the highs, and the highs resulting in the lows.

Maybe it's manic-depression, maybe not. I'm just going to be vague and again call it "biochemical instability."

So, what to do? I'm sort of a cheerleader for this program, which is, at its essence, geared toward correcting biochemical instability. It's helped me a whole lot. You might find it helps you, too. If not, you might want to consider talking to a psychiatrist about this. Psychiatric medication might not seem so abhorrent to you if you see it as correcting an instability - SSRIs like Prozac help supplement low levels of serotonin, for example - rather than as a crutch or something unhealthy or unnatural. Look at it this way: your body, in its well-meaning but wayward way, is already trying to correct for your weird brain chemistry. That's what it's doing when it's seeking the highs - it's trying to hoist itself out of its lows the best way it knows how. But in doing so, it just fucks things up even more. An SSRI (I'm not saying that you need one or that low serotonin is your problem, just using it as an example) would, over time, give you a nice, steady level of this chemical. There's only so much you can accomplish by sheer will.

I hope what I've said is helpful, and I wish you the best of luck. If it's not obvious enough already, this is a problem I've been dealing with my whole life, and I know how difficult it is. Just do the best you can, and try not to be so hard on yourself - recognize what's in your power to change and what isn't in your power to change (and what isn't in your power to change right now, but can be changed long-term.). Best of luck to you!!
posted by granted at 1:08 AM on January 18, 2007

Oh, reading your post makes me want to come over there and give you a hug.

Nothing is wrong with either of you. Both of you are doing a major amount of work every day, one managing 7 kids and the other managing a business. You are probably helping and caring for people and problems all day, without much time to recharge your bodies, minds and spirits.

Consider the zoo: like any higher primate in a regimented and stressful situation, you two will have a few compulsions - eating and fear are pretty common ones, and they are really minor compared to the other sorts that you could be having - gambling, drugs, infidelity, shoplifting, etc!

You have several problems and they are all fixable, but the number one problem (and most easily fixed, possibly?) is the question of your wife's insecurity. Work on that and you have a great foundation to address the other problems. To build trust, you need time to actually be together as husband and wife rather than caretakers.

Usual moneyed solutions to these problems include 1) a maid and child minder for your wife and 2) some alone time for yourself on a regular basis, and 3) some alone time for you and your wife so you can re-connect on more than a sexual level.

It takes a long time to reestablish the kind of total trust that you want from her. It's wonderful that you want that. Have you told her so? I can think of lots of partners that would like their partner to sit down with them, look them in the eyes, and say, "Darling, I want to make you feel safe and secure in every cell of your body, and I want you to know that you can trust me absolutely."

Where is her insecurity coming from? Is there anything you can do to fix that? Some people need pretty constant reinforcement against their fears, I certainly do. If you try to do what you can to work on her insecurity you will feel better. Tell her you love her when you think of it. When she's pleasing to you, let her know with your smile and reaction. It will be a huge boost to your self regard to see that simple efforts on your part make such a difference in her life, and a demonstration of your ability to solve problems to yourself.

One trick I can share with you is that your wife will be less insecure if you share fully with her what the problems are and what you're doing to fix them, and give her a do-able part to play in the process. It could be anything from empowering her to remind you when you are binging - and to buy healthier (and less) food - to asking her to give you a long back rub. And heap the positivity on her when she does it. The fact that you have sex so often probably means that she's motivated to help you out/feel connected to you/enjoy life with you in other ways as well.
posted by By The Grace of God at 2:13 AM on January 18, 2007

Just want to chime in and say that you have your priorities a little skewed if you are miserable and on verge of a meltdown, but are sure that you shouldn't try medication that could help fix an organic imbalance. If it doesn't work, you don't have to keep using it and it can't possibly be worse than the extra 3500 calories a day you sometimes binge on.

You may have to completely crash and start losing everything you love and enjoy before you take this more seriously, and that can sometimes be what it takes. Or you can just try getting some good medical help now and avoid all that.

One other thing you can consider is ECT, which is amazingly effective for certain types of depression and is nothing like "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest". You'll need to meet with a psychiatrist to determine if that is the way to go. They will most likely want to try some of the other solutions first.

So, get help and stop making shallow excuses as to why you can't get "certain" kinds of help. You owe it to all around you and especially yourself.

Good luck.
posted by qwip at 3:15 AM on January 18, 2007

If you want your life to change, you have to change your life.

You know what hasn't worked. Don't do that.
posted by ewkpates at 3:45 AM on January 18, 2007

I'm not a doctor or therapist or mental health professional...but you sound very depressed. I hear what you're saying about therapy not really doing it for you - I go to therapy, but I'm kind of skeptical that it's all that helpful, especially because my current therapist is out of her fucking mind. However, I have been dealing with severe depression, anxiety, and compulsive overeating for the past few years and am starting to find things that work for me.

Here is what has been helpful for me in treating my depression:

1. Medication - I currently take Citalopram (generic version of Celexa). I know you said no medicine, but Citalopram has made a huge impact on my previously almost crippling anxiety and a less-significant but existant impact on my depression. I have almost no side effects from it, except that I sleep a little more soundly on it.

2. Exercise - This has been #1 in terms of my depression treatment. I don't love exercise itself, but I try to do it at least 30-45 minutes a day because afterwards I truly feel like a new person. The impact it has on my mood is just amazing.

3. Sunlight - It's harder in the winter, but go outside and get a little sunlight. It really does help your mood.

4. Journal - Spend some time thinking about what's going on under your feelings, both when you're binging and when you're dieting. What is food giving you that life isn't giving you? What are you escaping from or numbing yourself to? I've done some hardcore journalling on this. I have some clues as to why I binge, and I've found this out and explored them through journalling. Not only is the journalling cathartic in itself, but it has also been helpful in starting constructive conversations with my therapist.

5. Read - There is a wealth of literature on emotional eating / binge eating / depression. Do some research and pick up some books.

6. Do Fun Things - Don't be all work & no play - no one expects you to and life isn't worth living without having some fun. What relaxes you? What do you enjoy? Even if it's reading a good book or watching a movie...make it a POINT, an ASSIGNMENT for yourself, to do SOMETHING that is purely for fun every day.
posted by tastybrains at 6:54 AM on January 18, 2007

Watch American Beauty to motivate you to get back to what you used to love doing. Listen to "Escape" by Rupert Holmes to motivate you to see what you used to love in your wife. If all else fails, you make a shit-load of money. Divorce your wife and become a bachelor again. Open up a bar (not club) in a college town and bar tend so you can meet new people and possibly someone thats not insecure and "blah". Good luck!
posted by deeman at 6:54 AM on January 18, 2007

You, my friend, are spiritually LOST.

This has nothing to do with being an atheist. There are things out there bigger than you. You need to get in touch with them. And I'm not talking about God. I'm talking about the universe, and I'm talking about your own mind.

Take some time off. Meditate, travel. Get to know the world and get to know yourself.

If you want a short cut, take some acid or something. But you seriously need to get a new perspective somehow.

Volunteer! Go out and build houses for habitat for humanity. Start a charity. Do something completely selfless and get in touch with people in 'the real world'.

I think you're a good person who is coming up against the hard reality that material success isn't everything. That's a good instinct. Now do something with it.

I don't think 'getting your shit together' is the answer. You're doing alright. I get the feeling that you can't get your shit together because you're bored. Make a change.
posted by empath at 7:01 AM on January 18, 2007

Maybe look into Buddhism? As an atheist, I've found a lot of its teachings very appealing and helpful in dealing with these types of feelings.
posted by Durin's Bane at 7:03 AM on January 18, 2007

I see that someone already suggested cognitive behavior therapy, which I think would be an excellent option for someone in this situation. I also just want to say that I think feelings of unsatisfaction or even emptyness are common for almost everyone, unfortunately, and the only thing that's helped me with those types of feelings is trying to engage with people who I care about in meaningful ways, and trying to spend my times on projects or work that has meaning and excitement for me. For me that means getting off the internet (when I can pull it together!), not sitting in front of movies, or whatever.

I just want to note that I hesitated to answer this thread because some of the statistics about your life come off as, well, difficult to believe. You have an exceptionally high income, you have sex quite a lot for anyone - especially someone with 7 kids - and from the way you describe it, you've been successful at everything you've tried. Each of these facts are unusual, and combined, they are, very unusual.

I hope that this question is real, and if so, good luck to you.
posted by serazin at 7:19 AM on January 18, 2007

You, my friend, are spiritually LOST.

Assuming we're addressing an actual person and not a fictional character: You might want to remain open minded about the atheism and skip the LSD but what empath and Durin's Bane otherwise said. Get on the path to spritual awareness Mr Anon, some how, some way. I have only one bit of advice as you start your journey: practice humility, if you chose volunteerism or Buddhism for example, don't set out to be a super-volunteer or super-Buddhist better than any volunteer or Buddhist the world has ever known, don't look on it as yet another proving ground, competition, or field to conquor. Consider yourself less than those who've gone before you. Oh, and don't try keeping score by how many checks you write - get out and put your own personal time and effort into it.
posted by scheptech at 7:32 AM on January 18, 2007

I think that one thing that engineering education may miss, that liberal arts education tries to provide, is a fuller sense of connection to other people. That's something that religion can also provide, but I hope that connection to others can be achieved without religion.

After receiving my "education" in computer science at an OK engineering school, I started working my way through some books. I realize that you may be too busy for this kind of approach. Maybe a class, with a truly inspiring teacher? It might be really helpful to study philosophy; there are so few philosophy professor positions compared to philosophy Ph.D's that those who do get to teach might be unusually good.

Philosophy may or may not give you more connection to the world, but it may help you understand or refine your own motivations.

You also need something to look forward to. What are you working for? This is critical. I'm trying to answer that one for myself. Religion has ready answers for this; without religion, we have to work extra hard to figure it out. It may be that therapy would help, but philosophy could be one way to start and/or to prepare for the therapy work, so that you can more easily define your personal philosophy and find a therapist who matches your philosophy.
posted by amtho at 7:34 AM on January 18, 2007

Yeah, you sound empty. And you're trying to fill up that emptiness with food, sex, making money, and it's just not working.

You tried therapy and it didn't help? Nthing the people who said you have to shop around for therapists. Did you marry the first woman you liked? Presumably not, and you didn't give up on dating after the first one didn't work out.

As for anti-depressants? Don't forget that for many people, a short course is useful to just help you over the hump and to be able to start focusing on helping yourself. They are not a crutch, they are just a leg-up.
posted by gaspode at 7:37 AM on January 18, 2007

You're more than simply empty. You're hollow. You've never really figured out what makes you happy. You've gone through life being the golden child and I would bet you're now determined to be the prefect husband, father and boss. You're too "perfect" to be anything but what you think is the ideal for the people in your life who you love and who you love. This is not a bad thing, it's actually a great thing, but unless you're able to know yourself enough to make yourself happy (i.e, love and take care of yourself) then you're never going to be happy and all the energy you put out into the world will feel like it's going down the drain. You over eat, over exercise and over sex, desperate for some real happiness. This is the way a child or teen will express a need for control or attention.

You remind me of Swede Levov the main character from Philip Roth's American Pastoral. A man buried alive within himself. COngratualtions on taking the first step towards trying to change. The other thing I would do now is to stop the treadmill you're on and get away from your life for a week or two. Clear the deck and tie up loose ends and make plans (and stick to them!!) to go on a retreat, visit an old friend in another part of the country...go somewhere you love, the mountains the sea, an old hotel in the Canadian wildernessm, a monastary. Somewhere where you can spend som time alone and the pace is slower. Turn off the cell phone and don't bring the laptop. It seems you're worried about the business, but there has to be someone there or somoeone you can hire to hold down the fort for a couple of weeks. Do this now before this explodes into something much worse. And think of how that will effect the people you love.

Good luck.
posted by Skygazer at 11:35 AM on January 18, 2007

You are depressed. There are ways to get un-depressed (therapy, drugs, exercise, etc.). You seem to have rejected all of them (except exercise from time to time). You need to revisit the ways to become un-depressed. Shop therapists, try drugs (therapist prescribed or otherwise - although I'd avoid "otherwise" due to the kids, costs and other responsibilities), stop over-eating and keep exercising.

You know what you need to do, quit avoiding and do it. I know it's hard, believe me - I know that (I avoided drugs for years; they have been a literal lifesafer). Good luck, anon.
posted by deborah at 11:54 AM on January 18, 2007

Travel! Travel is fun and expands the mind. Take the family and go to another country, preferably one with a very different culture and different priorities. Sometimes getting away from your standard routine can be a real eye-opener, especially if you go somewhere where the majority of people live in a completely different way and have very different priorities. It'll be great for the kids too. On $500k you shouldn't have any trouble saving for a decent holiday, and if you do, get some financial counselling.
posted by andraste at 2:05 PM on January 18, 2007

I know this isn’t healthy and clearly points to an eating disorder (BED), but I do not think that is my main problem and more of a symptom.

For the record, you could say that of any eating disorder. Or addiction. Or alcoholism. Or gambling. It's always a manifestation of something wrong at a deeper level, obviously, that's why the approach is - guess? - therapy (or therapy + meds) and not just taking alcohol, drugs, money or food away.

But hey, you don't even wanna hear about therapy...

And that's is not very clever of you, because lots of people who benefited from therapy had a lot of resistance to it at the beginning. Therapy isn't a miracle approach and it's not the one answer to all life problems, it's not necessary and can even be counterproductive if you already knew what you want in life, what you enjoy, and how to get there. For people who don't, therapy can be a great tool to help them first realise where they want to go and then at least start the journey on their own legs.

Now I understand that, because soo many times here the answer to questions about life crises and deep personal problems is 'get therapy', it sounds like there's some kind of therapist conspiracy to take over the world, but in fact, it's just because soo many of these questions are in fact best asked directly to a professional, rather than to random strangers on the internet, no matter how much cleverer and more fabulous than you.
posted by pleeker at 9:44 AM on January 19, 2007

I can totally relate to you and I feel your pain. I am going to a doctor tomorrow to get onto some medication and then once my head is right, I will be able to make some sound decisions.

Meds are not bad,they have helped many people. Its just seems to have taboo against them because it's the brain.
Which many do not understand. Shop around until you get the right doctor for you for this time in your life,

Dont forget the ONE DAY AT A TIME>
posted by tailormade at 11:51 PM on November 20, 2007

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