Feeling/being happy? How? Help me.
May 14, 2008 2:13 PM   Subscribe

Feeling/being happy? How? Help me. I'm not 100% sure where to start with this one except I wanted to pose the question to fellow metafilterer's after my meeting with my psychologist today.... read on.

I've always been trying to hone in on my problems to address them better and figure out just why I feel how I feel.

The one thing I came up with today is that I have no motivation to be happy, to be social around anyone, to be my old self, to go to class, to have a career. WHEN I feel like this that is. This lethargic, self-pitying, worrying about what everyone else thinks, etc mood occurs in my life about 60-65% of the time and it's a burden.

I try and keep my head up, hence the 35-40% where I don't feel like all is hopeless. However, a great deal of my interactions in a given day occur in that 60-65% shitty feeling zone and my perspective when dealing with those things is just entirely out of whack.

I end up saying the wrong thing, jumping to the completely wrong or unfounded accusations, pacing around worrying that I am too needy on other people for my happiness because I don't have much of my own right now.

I don't have a particularly large amount to be worrying about right now and as I've said in the past, my life (crappy physical feelings aside) is a good one. I say that particularly because some people always ask, well you must be hiding something or harboring some deep childhood trauma. People can't believe I guess that I just generally have really shitty self-esteem and am capable of being very intelligent when I'm in a good mood.

Just for additional info:

I try and live the healthiest life possible. I get exercise (at least 25-30 mins) on a daily basis and generally eat the right foods about half the time. I take a B-Complex vitamin, 2 tablespoons of flax seed oil, 30 mg of lexapro, and nexium on a daily basis to battle anxiety/depression.

I've never bought the whole start volunteering places and you'll magically feel better, so I'd rather exclude that suggestion and other just "feel good" suggestions. I want practical advice of how I can kick my own ass.

How do I do this? Particularly, for those that are depressed/anxious like I am , how are you dealing with it? Is it getting better?
posted by isoman2kx to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
There's something I don't understand. You say this question occurred to you after a meeting with your psychologist... But shouldn't your psychologist be helping you to figure that out? Hasn't he or she given you any sort of help? Because, that's what psychologists are for. It might be a little hard for us to give you valuable advice unless you clear up what your psychologist has already suggested or otherwise has you doing.
posted by Ms. Saint at 2:25 PM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Print your question and give it to your psychologist at your next session.
posted by Carol Anne at 2:27 PM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

You may find The Mindful Way Through Depression helpful.

Also, you don't have to have experienced out and out childhood trauma for your upbringing to contribute to depression. The phrase "kick my own ass" has connotations of disciplining your way out of the hole, which is probably not going to be effective or sustainable. You might want to look closely at where that idea comes from.
posted by Estragon at 2:28 PM on May 14, 2008

I don't have an answer to your specific question. However, if your current psychologist is not helping you fix your problems, I think you should be open to the idea of seeing a new psychologist.
posted by xotis at 2:29 PM on May 14, 2008

If there was a magical secret to this then no-one would be depression, everyone would be happy and therapist would be out of work.

Different things work for different people. For some it gets better on its own, some people find therpay very helpful, other people prefer medication (which you seem to be already on - have you discussed changing to something else/ changing your dosage - if you still feel like shit 60% of the time, its not working very well)

Have you tried CBT? You sound like a good candidate (generally functioning but struggling with 'incorrect' thoughts/actions)
posted by missmagenta at 2:37 PM on May 14, 2008

You need leverage on yourself. You're doing what you're doing because you perceive the benefits to outweigh the costs. When you perceive the opposite, you'll take action. Give a lot of money to someone that you trust not to give it back to you unless you achieve what you want to achieve. That will give you an incentive.
posted by mpls2 at 2:39 PM on May 14, 2008

What have you changed in your life in the month since you last asked basically the same question? Have you taken any of the advice in that thread?
posted by bcwinters at 2:41 PM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

You are essentially telling us you exhibit depressed symptoms 60-65% of the time (unhappy, antisocial, unmotivated towards classes & career, lethargy, self-pity, worry, hopelessness), and your question seems to be how you can "kick your ass" out of depression.

You can't. If you could, the pharmaceutical companies would have absolutely no market for antidepressants, and therapists would have a very tough time making a living.

Also, your post is full of self-criticism, right down to the approach you want to take, which is kicking your own ass. Consider what standards you hold yourself up to, and then ask yourself if you'd hold someone else up to said standards, or if to do so would be unreasonable or cruel. Although it sounds trite, I have always found the saying "depression is anger turned inwards" to be rather accurate.

How do you kick your own ass out of depression? I'll answer a translation of that question: how do you take concerted, solid, pragmatic action towards getting yourself out of depression? It's a multifaceted question, but the three things I've done are: (i) made a solid effort to study those resources — Ask Mefi questions, books, articles, webpages — that catch my eye and that I think can teach me something; (ii) make sure to actively jot down thoughts, insights, behaviors, habits, etc. that occur to me between appointments; and (iii) whenever I have felt the instinct towards not talking about something in therapy, I take that as a sign that I must talk about it, and do.
posted by WCityMike at 2:47 PM on May 14, 2008

You need to stop whining and start doing. I know that sounded snarky, but you've shared a lot of yourself here, and most of it indicates you talk a lot about feeling bad and do very little.

Like others have said, there is no magic formula. Do more things you enjoy, despite any reasons you have for not doing so. When doing the necessary things in life you don't enjoy, think of them as a means an end, the end being the things you enjoy.

You probably think that looking out for yourself and pursuing your own happiness makes you selfish, but since whatever you're doing now isn't helping you live an enjoyable life, you need to try a new tact anyhow.

You probably think that trying new things will result in failure and/or embarrassment. You're totally right - just do new things anyway until you find something that doesn't.

Doing hard things is the path to growth. Stay within your comfort zone and you'll stay within your misery zone as well.

You're going to feel unsuccessful. You're going to meet people who don't like you. You're going to lose money, waste time and feel regrets. But you're also going to learn what works for you, and you're going to learn to be less ashamed of it.

And for heaven's sake, use your psychologist or fire them so they can use their time on people who plan to change. START DOING THINGS.

(BTW, I feel like you most of the time. You're not unique. Society is broken, most people are unhappy. You can only fix your own situation, so start focusing on your enjoyment.)
posted by chudmonkey at 2:53 PM on May 14, 2008 [5 favorites]

mpls2 has a point:
You seem to be doing things just because you perceive a potential "reward" in them: "I try and live the healthiest life possible. I get exercise (at least 25-30 mins) on a daily basis and generally eat the right foods about half the time. I take a B-Complex vitamin, 2 tablespoons of flax seed oil, 30 mg of lexapro, and nexium on a daily basis to battle anxiety/depression." Drugs, chemicals, and proper nutrition are not enough - your body is not simply a machine.

That said, I think you should refrain from categorizing the time you spend throughout the day into "30% good, 70% bad" - that's polarizing your experience to no end except frustration. Try to consider WHY you feel bad during these times. Is it in social situations? Are you experiencing self-doubt? Are you perhaps simply tired towards the end of the day? You have to dig deep beyond these patterns to understand what's going on in your mind that is manifesting these feelings - and believe me: it's not going to come down to something as menial as doubling your flax seed oil input.

Fight the good fight, you're on the right track to be elucidating these feelings, sharing them with people, and asking for help.
posted by tybeet at 2:55 PM on May 14, 2008

It's a frustrating situation, not least because those feelings tend to spiral like crazy, making them quite hard to shake off on your own. I would second estragon - trying to discipline yourself out of depression is only going to make the problem worse. Maybe you can try to isolate the problem? Rather than focusing on you, focusing on the particular thing that's making you feel bad? This may only work if there's something specific that's setting you off.

A good chunk of dealing with depression (at least for me) seems to be accepting it - which, sadly, means making time for it, acknowledging that I can't make it go away, and treating it as clinically as possible in the meantime.

Not sure if that helps - but I do hope you feel better.
posted by puckish at 3:02 PM on May 14, 2008

I know exactly how you feel and I know how difficult it can be to deal with this. I wonder though if you might be expecting too much, too soon. I like what WCityMike said:

How do you kick your own ass out of depression? I'll answer a translation of that question: how do you take concerted, solid, pragmatic action towards getting yourself out of depression?

That's exactly right. I sometime feel like I should be able to do something and then, just like that! snap out of it. I'm learning that's it's not so easy and it's not the overnight transformation I would like it to be. It is just day by day, little by little trying to get better. It is having one, JUST ONE specific instance in a day of thousands of self defeating thoughts and actions where I do (or think) something different. Instead of grossly misinterpreting someone's actions and starting on my downward spiral of thinking I'm a useless failure that no one likes etc, maybe I just shrug it off by telling myself that person is having a bad day. Or go down the CBT route and ask myself if there's a chance that my thinking could be faulty. Or maybe I tell myself that it is more important for me to concentrate on my work than cultvating revenge fantasies or WHATEVER. Just stopping it before it starts. I try to do this once a day where I would not have been able to do it before. Sometimes it takes everything I have to just do one thing differently, and some days I do really well. But it is in these small small steps that progress is made and it can be painfully slow. But I just keep at it, and I am slowly finding that I feel better. Above all you must be patient and kind to yourself.

Things like exercise and sunlight and socialising with other people help as well, but just try to do a little bit each day. Hang around people who support you and love you and steer clear of people that make you feel bad. I hope you find some relief.
posted by triggerfinger at 3:44 PM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

25 minutes of exercise is a chore, not an experience.

The fun starts kicking in after around an hour. Into the 2nd hour's where the runner's high is strongest and real conditioning happens.

The point of exercise is to put your body into a good shape, and getting OUT INTO THE WORLD and EXPERIENCING it.
posted by tachikaze at 3:56 PM on May 14, 2008

I also think that CBT might be a good option. Some of the techniques have been quite helpful with my anxiety because they let me feel like I'm actually doing something and being trying to actively travel down the path to feeling better.

I recognize in what you've said a familiar tendency to think your problems to death, without ever actually owning them and trying to fix them. I spent years analyzing what I felt and why I thought I felt that way, but never really committed myself to changing. I think being an intelligent person can just make it all worse because you're used to being able wrap your head around a problem and then solving it, but mental/emotional health stuff doesn't necessarily work that way. Even when you don't like being unhappy, it's still safe and familiar if you've felt it for a long time. It's scary to try to change because you fear you might fail. It's a cycle of negative thoughts and feelings that lead to a miserable, nonspecific sort of helplessness.

That said, there isn't a magical pill, type of therapy, supplement, or activity that will magically go poof! And then all your problems are gone. You've spend your whole life getting to this point; the journey away from it will take as long as it takes. For me at least, it's a little bit like an alcoholic who makes the choice, over and over again, every day (and sometimes every minute) not to drink. I choose not to let my anxiety run my life. I do my breathing, meditation, CBT exercises, body awareness, etc. like a practice. I say, "I'm choosing to take the steps to help myself be happier," even when, in the moment, they don't seem to be helping much. Some days, I fall off the wagon and feel awful, but then I can look back and see the progress I've made, it and motivates me to keep going.
posted by mostlymartha at 4:15 PM on May 14, 2008

Thanks mostlymartha. I guess that's how I feel too. I've never actually tried to fix things. To me, things never warranted fixing almost. Fixing things means you have a specific problem to me, like say you're afraid of man-eating spiders burning down your house in the middle of the night. THAT'S a specific problem that warrants changing, however, feeling "soso" on a daily basis is a general problem that doesn't have a lot of specificity. Therefore, I don't really feel the need to fix it, but maybe I'm looking at that the wrong way too.

Like, a lot of the time when I feel like this, it's like well nothing dramatic has happened in my life. Therefore it just feels like I'm weak and even if I think positive, I can't think away the non-specificity of the depression/anxiety, does that make sense? lol

Fixing a general problem should ideally be about 80000 times easier, but it just doesn't seem like that so far and it's deflating. I'll start trying to look at my progress on a daily basis though and when there is no progress, there's just no progress then. There's no need to fret about it, as long as there are days that have progress.
posted by isoman2kx at 4:31 PM on May 14, 2008

That being said, to those that have replied about my psychologist in general. We were going to answer the questions we came up with at the end of the session for next time, I was posting the questions here on metafilter before the next time though.

In terms of motivation and criticism of not being able to lift myself up off the ground, it's hard. It really is hard. I know I'm not telling you guys here things you don't already know, but just because you can say well you haven't done anything to better yourself or blah blah blah. I have. It's not for a lack of trying. Maybe it is for a lack of consistent trying, but not trying.

Is it really that difficult to understand that I'm devoid of life/energy some days and that in itself makes me feel like not changing it?
posted by isoman2kx at 4:35 PM on May 14, 2008

It's not hard to understand - I feel like that everyday. Since I was 16 years old, at least, I've felt totally disconnected from the world. I've felt like doing anything was useless, because I'd either succeed and not care or fail and feel miserable. Consequently, I'm a social hermit, generally lazy and a lot of people don't like me. I spend all my time thinking about things, analyzing situations I'll likely never be in, but rarely doing anything novel or exciting and I feel lonely and hopeless because of this.

But I know this for a fact: When I try new things and meet new people, I generally feel good about it. My malaise is such that this only happens a few times a year, but I'm also very happy at home with my fiance so I don't feel alone very often.

It seems the only difference between you and I is that I've been trying specific things to help myself. I know I only have 7 years on you, but you can still learn from my experience.

If I was anywhere near Houston, I'd be dragging you outside for some fun right now. Instead, I'll just offer you my e-mail address. Talk to me anytime you like, and I will judge you mercilessly and try to be nice about it. I will give you all the advice about living as a sad-but-trying-to-be-happy dude that I can muster. You will see that it's all about taking risks and getting practice. You can do it, man.
posted by chudmonkey at 5:27 PM on May 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

Look up "dysthymia". Wikipedia says it is less serious than major depression but I think that that perspective is changing - it is not as debilitating as major depression but it can be just as hard or harder to treat. It is a real mental healthy problem that deserves respect. It will probably take time before things get signficantly better - be patient with yourself and have faith that you are following process that will eventually get you where you want to be.

Obviously your therapist is your best resource but here are two thoughts, for what they are worth:

For some things, you just need to fake it until you make it - like getting out of bed and showing up for school or work. Don't expect it to make you happy but see if you notice a sense of accomplishment for getting these done despite the depression trying to drag you down. Just getting up and doing what needs to be done can be the difference between a lousy day and an OK one. Try to include some things that used to make you happy. It's OK if they don't make you happy now but you are putting yourself in a place where something nice just might happen.

I just start doing an exercise called 3 Blessings after I found some research which shows that this particular exercise is effective at reducing depression in just 1 week and increasing happiness in a month. (Not say it is cure, but you feel better than when you started.) In it's simplest form, every night before you go to sleep think of three things that went well that day and why. There are instructions here.

Good luck.
posted by metahawk at 6:12 PM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have generalized anxiety disorder and yoga and meditation have helped me tremendously.
posted by All.star at 6:51 PM on May 14, 2008

I don't know if this'll help you, but for me, I used to go through phases like, "okay, I'm not very happy or energetic. This sucks. Hmm, everyone else seems happy. Oh my god, something's wrong with me. This really sucks. What's wrong with me? How am I going to fix myself? I've got to get out of this sucky state."

A much more useful trick has been to get clearer about what I want. This seems to happen by me doing something that makes me feel happy, (usually accidentally), and then trying to figure out what that was, and then figure out how to do more of that. I've tried to build up this picture in my head of what I want my life to actually be, and try to figure out what it'll take to get there, rather than judge myself for not being there. I figure there's actually a lot of trial and error involved, so why dwell on the state of having erred? Particularly since it takes a lot of effort for me to keep in mind what I'm trial-and-erroring my way to. Is this making any sense?

Okay, a metaphor. Life = an ocean. My ideal life (unbeknownst to me) = coasting across the water on a surfboard. Before, I'd think "god, here I am in the water. Hey, what just happened? Oh, but now I'm cold again. Oh look, a fish. This is not comfortable. The waves are crashing over my head here. I just keep going up and down. Man, I really AM cold. Nobody else seems this cold. What's wrong with me? I suck. Oh my god, I'm going to freeze to death because I suck." Now, I'm trying to think, "god, here I am in the water. Hey, what just happened? That was kind of fun. Oh, but now I'm cold again. What happened to the fun thing? That was great. Floating here feeling cold seems different from that. Aha, because I'm not up on the surfboard. The trick seems to be to stand up on the surfboard. Okay, ready, go! Hmm, the board scooted right out from under me. okay, let's try pointing the board upstream this time. ready, go! ah, I fell again. I'm cold. Hey, some fish. No, never mind that, see that woman standing up on her board, what's her trick? Ah, the wave pushes her board, amazing! Okay, I'll wait for the wave." Et cetera.

So whereas, occasionally, I can start really feeling cold, and thinking about the water, and feeling messed up for having a life where I'm getting washed over by waves, now I try to figure out what feels better. Because "what's wrong with me?" doesn't help at all in the trial-and-error of learning to "surf." And real life is even tougher since it's not just surfing vs. floating; people find happiness all different ways; some even like floating. So I try to put my energy into seeing what made me feel good and then learning to do that deliberately, and try to put no energy into the "i'm cold, I must suck" line of thinking except to take it as a reminder that I need to figure out what I'd rather be doing.

Anyway, I know metaphors only go so far. Good luck!
posted by salvia at 7:35 PM on May 14, 2008 [5 favorites]

I've never bought the whole start volunteering places and you'll magically feel better, so I'd rather exclude that suggestion and other just "feel good" suggestions. I want practical advice of how I can kick my own ass.

Well, if you begin by immediately discounting that practical advice, you get to enjoy the comfort of staying right where you are and feeling just as you do.

Start to question your own assurance that you know exactly what new experiences are going to do for you, whether you "buy" them or not.

Depression thrives on routine and fear of change. It absolutely loves it when you talk yourself out of stuff before even trying it.

Give things a chance. You know there's a nugget of you that knows how to feel better and would like to feel better. Stop letting the gray and dreary part of you call the shots, and get on the side of the part of you that is actually kind of curious about whether things would look different to you if you had the courage to try a few new things - the courage to believe that maybe you don't actually have it all figured out and wrapped up in a neat little hopeless package.
posted by Miko at 7:37 PM on May 14, 2008 [3 favorites]

You know, you might check into other medical problems that could be contributing to your depression. From my own perspective, I am seeing a therapist and using a great workbook, Mind Over Mood, but I also had a sleep study not long ago showing that I was suffering from Restless Leg Syndrome at night, which is causing some very erratic sleep patterns. While this may or may not be the sole cause of my depression and daily fatigue, it is certainly a contributing factor. I would recommend getting a sleep study just to see if you are sleeping restfully. Apnea can have similar unpleasant effects, as well as anything else, internal or external, that can prevent you from getting a regular full night's rest.

If there aren't any other factors then I highly recommend the above book for helping you learn to turn your thoughts around. Despite my condition it has really helped me to curb negative thoughts and find evidence for a more positive outlook.
posted by mockdeep at 7:53 PM on May 14, 2008

Miko's point is what jumped into my mind when reading your question. If you prejudge things such that your response to "volunteering?" is "no! give me better/faster/results-now-please!" well, then, you might end up just discounting everything, thinking that there's got to be a better way. And if you do that continuously, you're likely to end up doing nothing at all. Try shifting your focus from the "results" to the "process" as well.

Taking the volunteering example as a "for instance," let's say you sign up to spend an hour cleaning a river, cooking for the homeless, whatever, and schedule it for an early weekend you'd normally lay in. So, day comes, you go outside, grumble-grumble-I'd-rather-be-lying-on-the-couch-grumble-grumble, and you cook/clean for an hour, and go home. Maybe you will talk to/meet new people and enjoy it -- if so, yay for starting to be your old social self, finding a new interest, etc. Alternatively, maybe it will suck: no one will talk to you, you wish you slept in, etc. Does that mean the process of volunteering didn't DO anything? Of course not. For one thing, you've helped people in need. If all of us did that one extra hour, imagine how much we could more we could be contributing. Also, you just put your self and your desire to say "f- it all" aside to help people. Even if for one hour, it's highly commendable. Why? Because you DID it, and you DID something, which in the context of depression is much much better than nothing.

Anyway, just to wrap up my ramble, I also recommend doing the excercises in "Feeling Good" which I've been reading after seeing it recommended on AskMeFi, and am so far finding it helpful and enlightening. Good luck/hang in there.
posted by NikitaNikita at 8:23 PM on May 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm surprised that nobody has suggested that the lexapro doesn't seem to be helping, and so maybe you should switch antidepressants. What does your psychologist say about that? How long have you been on the 30mg lexapro? Has it slowly stopped working or did it never work?
posted by miss tea at 4:07 AM on May 15, 2008

You exercise regularly. You take supplements regularly. You go bathroom and dress yourself. You can put one foot in front of the other.

We could argue about whether the drugs help, or if they help anyone. We could discuss what might make you feel better, and what might not.

The bottom line, though, is that like exercise and supplements, you've got things to do and you do them. The issue is that you a) aren't doing enough of the things you need to do, and b) you are spending too much time in your head.

Stop trying to be happy. Do what needs to be done. It's fine if you live your life like a robot. It's not fine if that robot spends it's time thinking about it's being lethargic, self-pitying, and worrying.

Make some lists of things that should be done and do them. If you find yourself with time to think, then add to the list. Organize, stay focused, stay productive. Right now, how you feel about it is just a distraction.
posted by ewkpates at 4:40 AM on May 15, 2008

Miss Tea

We've tried 10 mg for 2 weeks, 20 mg for 2 weeks, and now we're currently trying 30 mg for 2 weeks before presumably switching to another medicine.

The 30 mg is now in it's 3rd day. So far, eh? lol
posted by isoman2kx at 9:39 AM on May 15, 2008

Ah, that makes sense. I bet once you get on an effective dose of an effective medicine you'll be able to step back a little and get to the point where you can "kick your ass" into a better place. Good luck.
posted by miss tea at 4:13 AM on May 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

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