slowly becoming a shut-in?
September 21, 2007 7:16 PM   Subscribe

How do you get yourself out of the house in the morning?

I am looking for general answers (whatever works for YOU) or, if you wish, answers specific to my situation. If you care about my (admittedly kind of pathetic and privileged) situation, read on.

I'm a grad student, and though I've been battling with anxiety and depression issues for most of my life, I have been having a terrible time for the past two years. My work situation is such that I have specific appointments to make on certain days, but most of the time I am expected to get stuff done on my own schedule. This makes it all too easy for me to give up and spend an entire day crying or just spacing out about once every week or two (or maybe more - I'm embarrassed to admit how much), afraid of going into work until late in the afternoon when I know no one will be there. It also doesn't help to know that no one will really call me out on my absence, because I do force myself to go to scheduled meetings out of embarrassment. I've ended up in a lab where I don't really care about the projects I am working on all that much, so I have been unsuccessful with trying the throw-myself-into-my-work, kind of thing. I am seeing a therapist, who I call on really really bad days, and I am taking celexa (citalopram) which helps a lot and I am loathe to change -- I've tried a lot of different drugs and believe me, this is the best.

I probably should have made this anonymous, but, maybe I need to be more socially outgoing on the internet. Thanks, guys.
posted by emyd to Work & Money (40 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
Honestly, you just have to do it. When I am feeling sad I have to force myself out of the house, tears and all. Sometimes I force myself to wear something pretty because it makes me feel better while I am out about about.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 7:27 PM on September 21, 2007

1. It's loath, not loathe.
2. Sometimes fucking off is okay.
3. Do something hobbyish that makes you go out.
4. It's easy to fuck off in school; it doesn't mean it'll be that way forever.
posted by dame at 7:28 PM on September 21, 2007

shower and dress as soon as I wake up
make lists of what I need to do and stick to them
posted by beckish at 7:31 PM on September 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

maybe schedule a gym class in the morning, something not so absurdly early that you'll hit the snooze button and miss it every time. Or maybe a class you pay for so you know if you miss spinning you'll have wasted 12 bucks that day.
posted by np312 at 7:35 PM on September 21, 2007

I am currently writing my dissertation 3000 miles from campus on a semester-length non-teaching fellowship. I have two appointments in the next two months. I'm naturally a night person, but because of time differences and constantly waking up in a panic thinking about something that I haven't finished yet, I usually wake up fairly early.

Every day I run before breakfast which really helps with the anxiety and stress. It also gets me out the door, and while I'm not at work yet, I'm more willing to leave again after breakfast if I have already been outside.

I don't have to work in a lab, so I sought out a spot to work that was at least as comfortable as home, which encourages me to leave the couch-suck and the bed-suck of the house. Even when I am back on the east coast teaching I tend to stay on campus or at a cafe nearby for 8 hours, typically from 9-5 minus any teaching commitments. I found that attempting to fit graduate school into a 40-hour work week wards off discouragement when things get overwhelming. I won't get my PhD in 2 years, but I will be healthy.

Do you live alone? If not, are your roommates willing to give you a hard time when you don't leave in the morning? If so, do you have any colleagues who could cheer you along? My wife is also in graduate school and when we are in the same town we really help each other. We also have colleagues with whom we can sympathize and share the burden of being the masters of our own fate. Like most things, graduate school is more difficult when you are alone.

In Summary:
fixed work schedule
buddy system
posted by billtron at 7:36 PM on September 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Your situation sounds exactly like mine when I was working on my thesis. Being depressed and having an unstructured schedule is a dangerous mix.

I don’t have a short-term solution for you, but I can tell you how I overcame my depression. I graduated and ended up getting a job that had regular (and very long) hours. At first, it was horrible, and I felt miserable. But, I was so afraid of being yelled at, fired, or looking unprepared, that I forced myself to get up and go to work each morning. However, slowly I started to get into the rhythm and actually be productive at work. The feeling that I was producing something and not just biding my time helped me to feel less depressed. I no longer felt like a useless blob.

I really believe that having structure and being forced to do things can help people feel less depressed.
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear at 7:45 PM on September 21, 2007 [4 favorites]

Up your dose of citalopram, and find someone who will enforce structure on you (as in, call you anal retenively if you're not there on time.) I've got a bitchy coworker that fills that role, and I'm in the middle of bumping up past 40mg.

I agree with you, citalopram is a really really clean SSRI. Much nicer than the NRIs that I was taking.
posted by SpecialK at 7:47 PM on September 21, 2007

You just have to do it. I set my alarm early, I hit it when it goes off, then stand right up. Eat a banana or some melon, then go to the gym.

I always start the day on my terms. Work can crush me for 8 hours afterwards and thats fine. Somehow after my workout, I just don't care that much. I can deal with thing much better.

In all actuality my morning workout is the best time of the day.
posted by sanka at 7:49 PM on September 21, 2007

Man, grad school seems to do this to a lot of people. I have gone through phases like this too. At least 75% of the grads in my program are on or have been on anti-depressants. I think the pressure of grad school, combined with a lack of structure and a potentially monastic existence creates a situation ripe for producing crippling anxiety and depression, particularly if you are already susceptible to it.

First of all. Everything is going to be okay.

Establish a daily routine. Get up at the same time every morning. Get dressed. Get out of the house for awhile. Go read or work on stuff at a coffee shop. Force yourself to interact with people a little bit every day. Exercise. Get some sunshine. Give yourself permission to take time every day to play and goof off.
posted by pluckysparrow at 7:50 PM on September 21, 2007 [3 favorites]

On days I don't have to work, I go get coffee. I really have to amp myself up for it like it's the most amazing fucking thing in the world. Ever.

So I guess what I'm trying to say, is that your daily routine shouldn't be "ugh, have to get up, have to shower, ugh ugh ugh" lie to yourself and make whatever you are doing seem like the most awesomest thing in the universe.

I am so stoked to drop my pants off at the dry cleaners! Yes!!
posted by idiotfactory at 7:59 PM on September 21, 2007 [4 favorites]

Do you have any daily needs that motivate you to leave the house? You could not keep coffee at home, for example, forcing you to go to a coffee shop (which means you'd have to get dressed, and put on shoes, and walk out the door, and say "hello" to at least one person, and once you've done that you're done with the hardest part).
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:59 PM on September 21, 2007

Your situation sounds exactly like mine when I was working on my thesis.

Ditto for me. I went through a period in graduate school where I felt like you, emyd. I had long stretches of feeling like complete shit about myself.

The people who seemed to do best in graduate school were the ones who regarded it as a regular job. They'd come to the office at eight or nine in the morning, take their seminars and teach their discussion sections, and then they'd be gone at five or six in the evening.

I think that the more you treat it like a job, the better and more stable you are likely to feel.
posted by jayder at 8:09 PM on September 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

you might try another therapist...not one to call in emergencies or on bad days, but someone who can help you come up with strategies for managing the not-so-bad days.

i have a lot of the same issues. i found that the more i got out, the easier it became. i know, it sounds really facile, but the more you have to worry about, the less time you can spend worrying about any single thing. does that make sense? so, join clubs, take classes, volunteer at the humane society, go to church/synagogue/whatever, demonstrate against apartheid, whatever moves you. i wouldn't worry about not having enough time--think about all that time you spend being spaced out and/or crying. if you're not going to work on your dissertation, you might as well do something else useful.

do you have a friend you can go to the gym with? i swear, that saved my butt during grad school. i would meet my friend at 7am every morning, no matter how hungover and/or sleep-deprived we were, and even if we could only manage fifteen minutes of walking on the treadmill, we'd do it. we both wanted to get into shape and lose weight, and we slowly did, but i found the regular exercise really helped my mood.

alternatively, how about getting a dog? you have to walk it a couple of times a day, so that will enforce some structure to your time. you can go to the park and meet people, even if just in a shallow, nod-hello way, which may keep you from withdrawing so much. and finally, pets are awesome for your mental health. they love you, the physical contact is actually really therapeutic, and they give you structure.

good luck! don't give up on yourself. you'll figure it out.
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:14 PM on September 21, 2007

Can you seek out a seminar series or find a class to sit in on?

One of my most productive stints in grad school was when I took a language class which met first thing in the morning, 5 days a week. The class let out right next to the bus which took me to my lab. At that point, it was easier to go in than to work from home. (OK, maybe not actually the most productive semester. But definitely the time when I showed up the most.)

But a few weekly seminars can add up to the same thing... you've got your tuesday pizza lunch, the Friday departmental whatever, and before you know it you've got a routine. Even the days when you don't have anything feel different -- "wow, I don't have to go anywhere today, watch how much I'll get done!" You just have to make a point of seeking them out.

Also, seconding the buddy system. Can you set up recurrent meetings with an advisor/another grad student/ somebody? I find that knowing "tomorrow I will meet with so-and-so, I want to finish this to show them" makes me much more motivated to do things, rather than waste the day. The key though is to have the meetings be automatically recurring and relatively frequent. I have at times asked my advisors to do a weekly scheduled meeting with me for a while, because I needed help pushing through something, and they were willing to do that.
posted by wyzewoman at 8:18 PM on September 21, 2007

graduate school is an endless game of extending expectations, whatever you learn how to do or understand immediately goes from impossible goal accomplished to zero point towards new impossible goal.

it helps to get far enough away to have some perspective and to take time off of the treadmill or you start to feel like the lowest form of life in the universe.

make friends, maybe even outside of the department. talk to them about stupid crap. complain. if you make into a 40 hour a week game then the time you aren't at the lab is time you allow yourself not to worry about how much you don't understand...

now i'm going to go shoot myself, i'm in the same boat...
posted by geos at 8:25 PM on September 21, 2007

The only thing that has worked for me is to associate not getting up\leaving with immense social pressures.

For example, this summer, if I went to work late, people would give me shit about it (roommates, etc.), so I never went to work late.

Now, if I skip class, I imagine that classmates will think less of me for doing so. I still skip class occasionally, but not like before.

Also, maybe see a psychiatrist and see if you can't get you some drugs for that anxiety and depression. You can also take St. John's Wort for this, which is thought to be milder and have fewer side effects. (Some peer-reviewed studies show that it's effective, others do not, so take that as you will).
posted by !Jim at 8:31 PM on September 21, 2007

The funny thing is, jobs that don't require you to maintain structure -- like many IT jobs where your employer lets you set your own hours -- are exactly the same as grad school. Get an unthinkable goal, accomplish the impossible, then move on to the next unthinkable goal.
posted by SpecialK at 8:38 PM on September 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sounds goofy, but the "What About Bob?" baby step approach carried me through some rough years. Can't face the day? Tell you what. Just go down the hall to the bathroom, you can nap on the floor. You don't have to get ready and leave, just go to the bathroom, turn on the shower, and lie down on the floor and rest while you listen to the shower hiss.

Oh, look, the mirror's fogged up. Bet that means that shower's nice and hot. Tell you what, why don't you just go stand in the shower for a few minutes? It'll feel sooooo good, maybe even better than bed. Ah, now I'm in here, I might as well get cleaned up and have a shave.

Etc. I'd talk my way into each step of the day, rather than looking at the ultimate goals of the day (go to work, make it to every single class, etc.), because doing the latter overwhelmed me.

Doing this probably got me through two years of my life in which I didn't give a fuck about anything beyond sleeping, eating, and writing my own narcissistic bullshit in notebooks. Looking back, I'm pretty sure I was clinically depressed, and baby-stepping my way through the day was about the only way I could handle it.

I had an elaborate ritual by the end that began precisely how I've outlined above, in far more detail than you'd be interested in (you should have seen the precise placement of towels I devised to nap on the bathroom floor while the shower heated up). Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't, but it worked enough to get me out in daylight more often than not.
posted by middleclasstool at 8:59 PM on September 21, 2007 [21 favorites]

forget the prescription drugs, find a good homeopath, and it may help you have a whole new lease on life.
posted by healthyliving at 9:03 PM on September 21, 2007

Don't stop taking prescriptions from a qualified therapist.
posted by middleclasstool at 9:23 PM on September 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

I got through this version of grad school hell by discovering that really there were lots of other folks like me in the same situation in my programme. We scheduled a once weekly breakfast meeting (10 am- no excuses) at a local greasy spoon to console, kick, support, inspire eachother- anything to get through it. We set it up so we had to be accountable to eachother. It worked. We all finished our programmes in good time, while many others languished.
posted by kch at 10:37 PM on September 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

grad school +1

I was like this in many ways and am not at all like this with my 9-5.
posted by salvia at 11:41 PM on September 21, 2007

Lots of coffee. Then the gym. Then a shower.

To counter the gym membership, I really like to cook, so I usually find myself going to the grocery store about 3 times a week.

I also have recently vowed not to buy any more books, which forces me to go the library.

Make some goals, write them down, put them in a place where you can see them until they become habit. If you develop habits, you'll feel bad when you don't do them.

Just don't isolate yourself. Life is short.
posted by Ostara at 11:57 PM on September 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Caffeine. It helps me get up and get enough done to feel okay. Regular sleep - the same number of hours every. night. Datapoint: you're describing how I felt while on celexa. I've since been treated more CBT style for anxiety and no longer require a daily med.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:41 AM on September 22, 2007

Wow, kch, I really like the breakfast idea! I may try an implement something like this...
posted by wyzewoman at 5:56 AM on September 22, 2007

One of my best motivators is having someone who is in some way depending on me.

I have to make dinner 3 nights a week because the person making it the other three nights a week would be pretty unhappy with me if I just skipped out of it because I didn't feel like it. Doing homework was always better if there was someone else who had to do the work with me.

Find someone to do things with. Get a . . . say . . . 10am regular meeting with someone, even if it's just for something breakfast-like.

Give yourself tiny goals, like middleclasstool. Maybe the tiny goal is to write a paragraph in a paper. Maybe the tiny goal (if you're doing honest-to-goodness scientific labwork) is to get your lab notebook properly set up for whatever experiment it is that you are doing next. Or just getting the materials together. Or doing the cleaning work for one of the random bits of equipment you have to use. Or one step of it, really.

Eat regular meals that are worth something.
posted by that girl at 6:14 AM on September 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

When I was in grad school, I was in the same position. I also blew off required classes if they didn't fit with my sleep schedule and generally never did my homework. I averaged maybe three days a week in the lab. Oddly enough, this was not incompatible with success -- I was the first in my class to pass all my quals, I had research funding, and I coauthored a journal article. (My advisor was great.)

I tried nearly every single suggestion offered here to get on a normal schedule and be happier. Prepaying for fitness classes doesn't motivate anyone who understands what a sunk cost is. The buddy system falls apart when you're quite good at convincing your buddies to blow off work and hit the bars. It's depressing to realize you care a lot more about cooking a good meal for your housemates than your research. Etc.

The one thing I didn't do was take meds. This may be an unpopular view, but I do believe that situations can make a person depressed, and I would rather try to change the situation before moving on to other approaches. Obviously, some situations are inescapable, but grad school is not one of those.

...which leads to my departure from grad school after three years. I've never regretted it; I now realize that, while I did not know it at the time, I was miserable there and would have been miserable after grad school if I had stayed on the academic track. It was very hard to come to terms with so disliking what I had spent years preparing for, but I'm quite thankful that I had the realization then and not after more years of unhappiness. Not only have I enjoyed being in the working world, but I've found that most of the "unique" aspects of academia are available elsewhere -- I still teach classes and do research, just with a more practical bent.

So, I would suggest considering a leave of absence. My experience is that people either come back super-motivated (like several friends of mine) or don't come back, so it's something of a win/win.
posted by backupjesus at 6:31 AM on September 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think backupjesus is dead on. Take a suspension and see how you feel when the pressure to work on your dissertation is lifted.
posted by tomcooke at 8:40 AM on September 22, 2007 taught me how to do this. Yes, the site is cutesy, dorky, and downright silly. Sign up for her emails and I promise you will feel your life start to change inside of a week.
posted by selfmedicating at 9:17 AM on September 22, 2007

Nth-ing coffee & coffee shops. It may sound like a cop-out to just drink a bunch of stimulants when you're feeling down, but it helps me when I feel trapped in a melancholy state of mind. When I get down in the dumps, I forget what it's like to be excited about something. Even if it is just chemically induced and technically meaningless, a good caffeine buzz can simulate that excitement and make me remember.

Coffee aside, surely you're not bummed out all the time... there must be some part of your day that gives you joy. Just try and be on the lookout for that moment and remember it the next day, in the early morning hours when you're trying to get up.
posted by Laugh_track at 9:57 AM on September 22, 2007

get a schnauzer. The damn things need to be walked at least twice a day-and if you don't, it's curtains for clean laundry. Not enough room? Walk somebody else's dog....
posted by tristanshout at 10:30 AM on September 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

All these suggestions are right on.

Also, the suggestion to consider a leave is dead-on. You don't care about your research, and you hate grad school? It's time to take a year off and get some 40 hour a week job. This will remind you that if you were to quit, it wouldn't be the end of the world, and will give you some structure to break out of the depression, and will let you consider in the cool light of day whether grad school actually will give you something you want. Everyone I know who has quit is happy they quit. (Many people I know who have stayed are also happy -- but if the program is killing you, it's time to think about using your formidable talents for something that won't kill you.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:30 AM on September 22, 2007

Get a dog. The dog will make you get up or you'll be living in poop.
posted by anildash at 12:34 PM on September 22, 2007

I've been and still am a grad student. With bipolar type II (professionally diagnosed but "untreated").

It was a lot worse when I was doing my MSc and was in a very similar situation (except my supervisor was trying to hold me back from graduating and my project was on really shakey ground for a long long time).

I'm much much better now in a different lab (PhD). Things that I'm doing differently:

1) Exercise routine every day (chinup bar, curl bar, barbells - low rep, high resistance, minimum resting) after voiding bowels and before showering. It only takes 10-15 minutes and no cost (!!) of a gym membership. By the end of the routine I'm perspiring and breathing hard. If I'm particularly sore or tired I'll skip a day, but I make myself go through a full routine the next day.

This gets my metabolism jump started, has probably helped stabilize my mood, is a way to reach a goal for myself (and hitting milestones is rewarding), and I'm starting to feel better about myself, physically.

2) Have much much better labmates who are funny and quirky and can leave me alone when I'm in hermit mode. It's nice to have "social support," or so I've noticed. The last lab, not so much. Being more socially outgoing on the internet is a good start, maybe try it on for size in the lab.

3) Only check out my standard yahoo newsfeed in the morning. All other sites are reserved for when I make it in to work. Many days I won't get a chance to check out my favourite websites until the evening. This helps get my ass out of the door.

4) Set more concrete goals for myself to be accomplished before the end of the week. If there's not a lot of benchwork (ie., waiting for things to grow/get shipped to the lab) I'll make myself go through recent literature until I find something that would be a good presentation paper for the innumerable and inevitable journal presentations. Or get a grant/paperwork completed before the deadline. Or to enter into the database all of the constructs I've made/received since the last time I made myself catalogue constructs. Or update my labbook since the last time I made myself do it.

6-ish) Set guidelines for yourself wrt getting to the lab. I aim for arriving every day before 9:30 (unless I have another appointment or obligation). Even when I don't have to, I make myself do it. The downside is that I stop sleeping at 6:58am sharp no matter what day of the week it is. That's a really annoying side effect, especially since it doesn't matter how much I drink the night before.

It also doesn't help to know that no one will really call me out on my absence

I wouldn't know so much about that but I guess it will have a lot to do with the culture of your fellow grad students, if any. In our lab, we all know who's slacking off (and our supervisor is not a hardass) and not pulling their weight around with routine maintenance/cleaning/whatever that we all unofficially share.

admittedly kind of pathetic and privileged

Pshaw. If you let yourself float through grad school, maybe. Being more proactive/dynamic may let you see yourself as more of a reluctant tragic hero or impecunious scholar adventurer.

That is, unless you're a trust-fund baby who's in grad school because you don't want to get a real job. In that case, drop the grad school thing.
posted by porpoise at 4:33 PM on September 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Set out your clothes the night before.
posted by unknowncommand at 6:06 PM on September 22, 2007

I know exactly what you mean as I went through a similar stint a few years ago when I was working from home. My suggestions would be:

Talk to your doctor and see if your antidepressant dosage can be increased. I found an increase from 50 to 75mg of my antidepressant medication made all the difference in the world.

Also consider spending some time really getting to know how depression works as it helps you manage your life to combat it. I can highly recommend this free resource -

Make your mornings enjoyable, this will encourage you to get up and work your way up to getting outside. For example, when I worked from home I would let myself have a quiet breakfast and a cup of tea while reading a good book, and then I would get to spend an hour doing something fun like drawing or watching a favourite tv episode, then I would go for a walk to get some sunshine, and then I'd settle down to work. Since I was working from home I could easily do this as I set my own schedule and it sounds like you could too.

Now that I'm working full-time in an office again I still follow this philosophy - I give myself 2 hours to get ready every morning so I've got time for a leisurely quiet breakfast, and I listen to fun audiobooks while I'm doing my makeup and tidying up the house. The key is - find stuff you really enjoy doing and incorporate a bit of them into your morning. Also realise that depression is at it's worst first thing in the morning, keep this in mind and give yourself time to adjust. I often find I'll have mornings where I wake up at 6am and want to cry and go back to bed, but by following my routine I nearly always find I'm feeling *heaps* better by about 10am. Give yourself time to take things slowly.

Also you might want to consider even a part-time job in an office rather than your current job. Working from home all the time is not generally good for someone suffering from depression - you need social connection and you need routine. Even if you only work 3 days a week in an office I think you would feel better than you do now. Or work 4 days a week and have Wednesdays off so it's easier to get through the week.

I hope that helps! Hang in there, you're not alone. Also remember to chat with your doctor, you may simply need to increase your dosage slightly and everything will become much more manageable. And remember to check out the resource I linked, it's very easy to read and very practical.
posted by katala at 6:58 PM on September 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've changed jobs recently, to one that allows me to set my own hours and work from whereever I have an internet connection. The only requirements: I get the tasks set for me done, I'm available by IM during most of the business day, and I work at least 40 hours a week. So, I'm currently sitting in a cafe with free wireless internet, on a Sunday, and hacking away at something I'm supposed to be doing. It's an awful lot like when I was doing my undergrad thesis.

To get myself moving in the morning, I have a set schedule. Out of bed, in shower, find clothes, do hair, half an hour of rss/email, then breakfast and coffee. My routine is pretty rigid. And, by the time I get to the end of it, I'm usually ready to work, because it's a rhythm that my body and brain recognise.

Because I'm an IT worker, I've also set up some subtle visual cues; my theme on my PC is set to what's appropriate: workday or weekend. If I'm looking at the workday theme, I'm working. Otherwise, I'm playing. surrounds also help. Mornings I clean off my desk, so that it looks like a workplace. Evenings I let it get cluttered and untidy, so it doesn't look as much like a work surface. I work out of the cafe I'm sitting in, two days a week; I have a couch which is my 'office' - if I'm sitting there, I'm working, elsewhere in the cafe, I'm just hanging out. Small, but important environmental cues like that help me a lot, I find. Consider setting up little ones like that if you think it may help.
posted by ysabet at 7:54 PM on September 22, 2007

Stay in bed a couple of minutes just when you wake up. Think of one thing, one small thing about today like eating a mid-morning orange or checking your personal e-mail during a break that is worth looking forward to. As Katala said, that's your reason for getting a move on.

"Today I get to ____"

If school and the lab and everything are bad enough, the others are correct - why torture yourself? There's no shame in saying "this is not for me". However, some of the above suggestions sound worth trying first. We're all rooting for you.
posted by AppleSeed at 6:14 PM on September 23, 2007

Thank you so much for asking this question (I could have written exactly the same one right now).

I haven't been doing very well at all lately, but there are things that I think are important, and that I try to do as much as I can. (Since I'm feeling exactly like you describe, I'm writing this for me as well as you - and of course, for anyone who reads this later on.)

Above all, stay on top of your mental health care. Take the medication consistently, see your therapist, and pay attention to how you're doing. If it seems like symptoms are starting to return, address it with the doctor/therapist sooner rather than later. It is easier (though not easy) to get out of a slump than it is to get out of a deep depression.

Take care of your home as much as possible. Figure out what is most important for you to keep up with, and if nothing else, do that. For me, there are 2 things that are particularly important: 1) picking the place up when things get messy (I find it hard to work when my apartment's a mess); 2) keeping the dishes washed (I'm much less likely to cook or eat at regular intervals if there's a pile of dirty dishes in the sink). Other things that really seem to help are changing my sheets frequently (helps me sleep better), and not letting laundry pile up too much.

Similarly, take care of yourself. This isn't always the easiest thing to do, especially when you have no energy or inclination. Remind yourself that you'll feel better, and remember not to underestimate the importance of that. The biggest thing for me is to take a shower and get dressed every day, the closer to when I wake up the better (I usually end up not going anywhere if I haven't taken a shower that day). Try to eat at regular intervals, and get some sort of exercise (I walk as many places as I can - no, this isn't as good as strenuous exercise, but it's better than nothing).

For me, doing the above as much as I can provides a foundation that helps me day-to-day. I am much more likely to (want to) get out of the house in the morning if I wake up, get ready, have something to eat and feel somewhat in control of my home life than if I wake up to a mess, don't take a shower until the afternoon (if at all), and decide not to eat because before I can do that I'd have to wash dishes, etc.

It doesn't always during the past few weeks. However, knowing what the few things are that help me keep my head above water definitely give me something to focus on when I feel like I've become a shut-in. I didn't go anywhere today, for example, but I did wash some dishes, and that is helping me feel more hopeful about tomorrow.

At night, I try to visualize how the next morning will go. I'll picture myself waking up, getting ready, and doing something like going for a walk to get some coffee, return some library books, or something simple like that. (Don't ask me how often this actually happens...)

Finding reasons to go out that feel like a treat instead of a punishment is important, I've finally realized. Even if it's only to go browse at a store you like, sit at a park for a while, or to borrow a DVD from the public library, that's fine. I think it's important to go out not only for meetings/work, but also just to enjoy being outside.

Realize that grad school is emotionally taxing for the vast majority of people. It's an exceedingly stressful process, and the fact that those who haven't done it often can't understand why (it looks so luxurious from the outside) doesn't help. Don't beat yourself up for being stressed out. Try not to feel guilty (I totally understand you framing your situation as one that's "pathetic," but try to get out of that mindset if you can).

You mention that you're not excited about your research. I have had the freedom to choose what I research (I'm in the social sciences), but I can tell you that there are months that go by when I don't feel excited about my project, either. I think it might be good for you to really think through whether you want to stay in the program you're in. I talk about quitting all the time, but deep down I know I'm in this until I've graduated. Is this true for you? The reason I mention this is because knowing for certain that you're not really going to quit can alleviate some stress.

I agree with others about getting a dog if at all possible (unless you don't like them...). I can't, but I am certain that I would be much, MUCH better off if I could. They're a ton of work, but they also force you to keep to some sort of schedule, get regular exercise, go outside a few times a day, etc.

If you're not already, definitely try the coffee/coffeeshop thing. I tend not to do this (costs money! caffeine is bad!), but I am planning on that for tomorrow as a way to help me break out of my own recent shut-in-ness. Maybe I'll bring along an article to read; maybe I'll just bring a crossword to work on. Either way, I'll get out of the house and that will hopefully (along with the caffeine) make me feel like I can tackle more important stuff.

In short: identify and stay on top of the few most important things that make you feel in control of your life, and visualize yourself going out to do x thing the night before, or right when you wake up. Find reasons to go out that are genuinely appealing to you (this is very important for me). Above all, don't give up on yourself or get too stressed out even if weeks go by and you feel like you'll never leave your home again. Resolve to do better tomorrow, and don't give up. Life won't always be this way.

Take care of yourself, and remember that you're NOT the only one who feels like this. Thanks again for asking this question...this thread has been enormously helpful for me.
posted by splendid animal at 1:40 AM on September 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

take a shower and get dressed like you are going to 'work' every morning. for me this at least puts me in the mindset of 'getting things done'.

go out to put your mail in a blue box, get a coffee, grab a sandwhich, anything that gets you out of the house. truly, just not being in there will help a little.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 8:09 AM on September 24, 2007

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