I spent EIGHT months for you! And for WHAT?!
July 1, 2008 5:00 AM   Subscribe

I feel like I'm going through a breakup - only it isn't with a person, it's with an intangible thing. I know intellectually that I'll get better, but it's just been the first few days and I'm hurting so much. How do I heal?

Something I've been working on for about 8 months straight has ended for me (not in my favour) and I'm feeling very odd, strange, sick.

I'm going through all the stages of grief, and then some - angry because I spent all that time on essentially nothing, sadness that I didn't get what I hoped for, thankful that I don't have to deal with some people that don't respect me, disappointed that I don't get to deal with the people I quite adored, upset that the disrespectful people were chosen over me, sour grapes that "well if that's how they'll be then I'm glad I'm not going!!", lost because I don't know what to do next, etc etc. All those emotions are piling in the pit of my stomach and they are making me really really nauseous - though I can't throw up.

This isn't the biggest disappointment I've ever had to face. I've faced things of this level before. It takes time and I don't quite notice when I recover, but it happens eventually. There has been a lot that I've learnt through this process, so it's not a complete waste. I know that I'll eventually get better, move on, find something else. I know all that intellectually.

Yet I still can't get rid of all those emotions making me ill. I've got about a few days to go before I head back for Australia, and I'm in the middle of nowhere (parents' house), so there isn't much to distract me. I have a website to make and a few books to read, but I can't even concentrate - I just feel sleepy or ill. My parents are trying to help...but it's not quite working at the moment.

As soon as I arrive in Australia, I have a week-long summit, followed by my last uni semester. It's all work experience stuff so there aren't any regular classes, but even until now I don't quite know how my schedule is like (you have to apply for projects; I'm still waiting to hear which ones I've got. I also arranged them in the expectation that this project would work out and now I have to probably rearrange stuff). I won't be near my comforting boyfriend, or my other usual distractions/stuff that helps, till about the 11th. That's a while away. I'm looking forward to the summit, but I'm worried that I won't be able to concentrate or give my best.

This thing I've been working on was meant to be my next step after uni, and now I have nothing. (Some of my other plans have collapsed too due to factors outside my control.) While I know I still have a few months before I have to think about it, and I don't have to rush into anything, I can't help but feel totally empty and lost. I was counting on this to be freedom, but now I feel just as trapped - doesn't help that my mum's pushing me to get permanent residency when (a) the rules change so quickly (b) the likelihood is rare.

I'm trying to look for other options, but at this point I don't know what I even WANT to do. This massive fall is making me wary of bringing my hopes up. I gave up on a lot of opportunities so that I could focus on this one thing - I felt that if I didn't give it enough attention I wouldn't do so well. Didn't work anyway. So now I don't know what to do.

Is it strange to feel like you're going through a breakup, when you haven't even broken up with ANYONE? I've heard the reasons for what happened and they actually paint me in a good light - but that doesn't make me any less sad. The last time I was disappointed it took me about a month to recover, so maybe I'm just being impatient, but I hate having only my anguish to wallow in. These manic emotions and sickness is driving me mad.

What can I do? What could I do at least for the next few days before I head back to Australia (or even when I'm there, because I'm sure I'm not going to recover THAT quickly even with a summit, work experience, and boyfriend to distract me). How do I get myself past this disappointment and be brave enough to look out & explore other opportunities? Will eating a pint of ice cream help?

(I have gone through a breakup, but it wasn't long and we were back together, and the time in between was mostly spent trying to fix our issues.)

What do I do? How do I cope? This sucks.
posted by divabat to Human Relations (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think it is at all unusual to be going through what you are going through. The underlying process of grief is deep seated and common to a lot more that just grief as its normally understood.

As to what to do, I think the way to go is treating like a break up (and you can probably find lots of advice on that elsewhere here): look after yourself, treat yourself — if eating ice cream is going to make you feel better, then eat ice cream, if wandering through a park is, go wandering. Sooner or later you will want to find another direction, something that will take the place of what you have lost, but like a relationship it is probably a good idea not to rush into this. You might find it helpful to find a project that takes you in one of two directions; either where the focus is away from yourself, where the outcome is greater for others,and matters less for yourself, though you can share the pleasure of a satisfactory outcome or alternatively find something you can do by and for yourself, where the outcome is not determined or affected by others. Neither of these should be the next big thing, or anything but a temporary distraction, or better yet a way of finding yourself again, of rediscovering what it is about you that is good and worthwhile. It might seem to be little consolation now, but going through the reaction you are, speaks to me that there is plenty that is.

Like a breakup, time is the ultimate healer and it is worth knowing that our perception, at the time, of how long and how much it is going hurt, has been shown to be an over estimation. Things get better quicker that we believe they will.
posted by tallus at 5:28 AM on July 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry for what you're going through. I am sure your situation is more intense, but I have experienced the sort of thing you mean. It's normal to feel like it's a breakup -- it's affecting your life in the same way a hideous messy breakup would. As tallus said above, time is the ultimate healer. It sounds pretty useless right now when you're miserable, but it is true. Time brings distance, perspective, healing. You'll stop feeling sick, you'll start thinking about what you're going to do instead. In a few years (or less!) you may well be able to say, "That time sucked on ice, but if it hadn't gone like that I would never have done [what you end up doing instead]."

In the meantime, you need something to occupy your mind and energies, something to help you spend the time it takes to heal. Sure, have some ice cream, but also go for a walk -- or a run -- or go dancing -- exercise of any sort is a good thing, you can work out frustrations and you will probably sleep better.

I also recommend several of your very favorite feel-good movies back to back. Good old fashioned escapism!
posted by tomboko at 6:03 AM on July 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Sounds totally normal to me. The break up comparison is accurate, I think... but just like the breakup, things get better eventually and your perspective looking back will be very different than your perspective now.

You cope by taking care of yourself, doing things that make you happy, and basically soldiering on whether or not you want to. Allow yourself to feel what you feel (sad, disappointed, etc), but don't wallow or let this be the excuse to make bad choices.

I also thinks it helps to realize that what you do is not who you are (any more than whom you date is who you are) -- your identity does not need to be so tied to your studies or your profession. You can do that if you want -- many people do -- but realize that it is a choice you are making, and one consequence of that choice is to make rejection that much more devastating.
posted by Forktine at 6:05 AM on July 1, 2008

angry because I spent all that time on essentially nothing,

sadness that I didn't get what I hoped for,

thankful that I don't have to deal with some people that don't respect me,

disappointed that I don't get to deal with the people I quite adored,

upset that the disrespectful people were chosen over me,

sour grapes that "well if that's how they'll be then I'm glad I'm not going!!",

lost because I don't know what to do next, etc etc.

You provide your own answer:

There has been a lot that I've learnt through this process, so it's not a complete waste. I know that I'll eventually get better, move on, find something else. I know all that intellectually.

Just press on. Be positive - even if falsely so. Force yourself to smile. Say bad things about the people who let you down. Plan your revenge.

Is it strange to feel like you're going through a breakup, when you haven't even broken up with ANYONE?

Try writing a book that never gets published. The divorce was easier and didn't linger as long.
posted by three blind mice at 6:09 AM on July 1, 2008

What three blind mice said.

"Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination are omnipotent. The slogan "press on" has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race."
- Calvin Coolidge
posted by fire&wings at 6:15 AM on July 1, 2008 [11 favorites]

I don't often agree with three blind mice (in the Blue, anyway), but there's a lot to be said for "acting as if" - act as if you're okay with where you are, act as if you know it will get better, act as if you really are glad you had the experience, even if it didn't turn out the way you'd hoped (you seem to know this in your head, but having that feeling take hold in the rest of you will take time). You don't have to do this all the time - you probably can't - but nail a smile onto your face and just pretend, for a little while each day. I had a fairly terrible weekend, and went to work yesterday although I didn't really want to. I only told one person about my terrible weekend, and spent the rest of the day interacting with co-workers as though nothing had happened. It made me feel a little better - more stable, more centered.

Some years ago I got laid off from a great job. My last day was also the day that my first big solo project went to press. Feeling empty? Check. Feeling bereft, betrayed? Check. Feeling broken up with? Check check check.

I had compatriots - groups of us were getting laid off at the same time - so there was misery in my company, which made it a little easier. Still, I had plenty of time to brood and mourn and be depressed. I was kind to myself - watched bad TV, ate ice cream, etc. Is there some TV series you've been meaning to get into? Rent a bunch of the DVDs and immerse yourself.

Is there a project around the house you can occupy yourself with? That stuff that needs sorting out, or the thing that needs painting, or the whatsis that you've been meaning to fix/throw out/rewire/whatever. Go for a run or a walk or a climb. Is there a short-term volunteer opportunity? Dog-walker at the animal shelter, sandwich-maker at the food bank....Is there an elderly neighbor who needs a little help around the house or yard, or needs help running errands?

Good luck to you, and take good care.
posted by rtha at 6:41 AM on July 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

You need a rebound. Nothing serious, just a fun fling.

That is to say, find some other project to keep you interested and your mind off the past at least for a little while. Keep it casual, no need to bury yourself in work, but having something fun to do might help you get through this.

Unlike the usual rebound advice though, don't worry about it getting too serious, it might be awesome.
posted by explosion at 6:55 AM on July 1, 2008

The feelings that you describe sound like a great deal like the feelings one experiences after losing an electoral campaign. Especially the whole part about having poured all your energy into "nothing."

For me, there seems to be an extra tension in addition to the regular grief/anger/disappointment: I don't seem to know what sort of feelings and memories it's OK to take away from it.

For example, some of the most fun and most confidence-building moments or my personal and professional life came during the 2004 US Presidential. That didn't end well. I immediately felt that it really sucked that I was going to have to jettison all of my positive associations because it had all gone toward "nothing." One day (and it didn't take long, maybe 10 days) I looked down and I was just over it.

I would suggest that you will figuratively slap yourself in the face soon enough and your brain will sort this stuff out right. Just don't let it mess you up too bad in the interim.

But the real advice that I have is this: Anything you learned on your project, and any growth that you underwent--that is still yours. Any time that you are trying to push the envelope or trying to beat some new challenge, it is impossible to pour your energy into nothing. You're always at least putting it into yourself.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 6:55 AM on July 1, 2008 [4 favorites]

I just went through/am going through my own painful life change and I'd have to say that posting your message here is a great step in the recovery process. From your message, it sounds like you know that your feelings will pass, so it's a matter of distracting yourself from obsessing about your (natural) sadness, while you wait for that to happen. I, myself, recently posted a similar question - some of the answers helped me and may help you, but actually the process of checking to see if I had answers and reading what they were helped take my mind off things and lift my spirits. Get more involved in Ask MeFi and answer some other folks questions, if you think you can help (you'll notice that I'm taking my own advice). Lifting your nose out of your naval is enormously helpful - which is NOT AT ALL to say that your pain isn't real and legitimate, just that you don't need to think about it all the time for it to work itself out. Really -- I can assure you 100% that it will. In the meantime -- see a comedy. Read some David Sedaris. Let your mom do your laundry. Help your mom do the laundry and bask in her praise.
posted by katyjack at 10:15 AM on July 1, 2008

I feel from your description that your time in Australia is something you see (at least at the moment) as something you don't necessarily want to be rushed or compelled into extending, but I wonder if embracing it will pay dividends for you in the future.

When I finished uni, I too felt as if there was nothing else out there for me that could possibly live up to a) what I'd planned to be doing but was not and b) the friends/learning/culture/fun/etc of living on campus. I laid pretty low for a while - literally, with mononucleosis, in bed, while my friends were off in India at a wedding. Just four weeks after college and I seriously thought my body was just...giving up.

But then, in the course of my bedside websurfing, I read about some English-teaching courses, and getting more and more stir-crazy by the hour, a few months later was on my way to Poland to get certified. Now, almost three years later, I'm nowhere near where I thought I'd be, but I definitely feel how I wanted to be feeling after working for all this time: that I'm not just a wage slave, that my work makes a difference in people's lives, that I'm helping expose all kinds of people to new information and technologies they didn't have access to before, that I'm learning as much as I'm helping people learn.

The opportunities you seek seem like they must exist on the ground in Australia. Again, my knowledge of local specifics is nonexistent, but I imagine there are people and organizations there whose interests mesh, or at least overlap, with your own. A deepening of your work - even in the city/town/whatever where you go to uni! - can help you find a new focus, hone a new skill, open a new door.

Until you get back to Oz, spend some time with family (it sounds like you're at home) and see if they'll give you some advice on recovering from setbacks. Reach out to your professional network online and see if you can line a small project or activity up for your last semester. You never know where it might lead.
posted by mdonley at 10:28 AM on July 1, 2008

Is there a good reason you're being so vague about what this thing was? I'm assuming it is not anonymity because your profile is pretty clearly identifying. I ask only because I feel like a better understanding of what specifically you were working on- and how it might have affected your future if it had worked out differently - might encourage some practical advice that could be helpful. (If you're just looking for more general "how to deal with atypical grief" advice though ignore me - I never found anything better than time and finding a new girlfriend, er, project though).
posted by nanojath at 1:48 PM on July 1, 2008

Response by poster: mdonley: Oh I'm not cutting out staying in Australia as an option; indeed, I quite like Brisbane. I just don't want to be forced into it and not be able to consider other stuff.

nanojath: I spent 8 months and 3 attempts to get into one of the KaosPilots schools, all unsuccessfully. I didn't mention it here because I've mentioned it before on other AskMefi questions and I think people are sick of me saying it over and over :P
posted by divabat at 6:01 PM on July 1, 2008

Sorry, I see that if I'd poked around more this probably would have been pretty obvious.

I wonder if this might be a good time to try to break down the goal you and and figure out what the things were about it that excited you, the specific qualities. I mean, it sounds like an interesting educational venue, but an education is a means to an end, not an end in itself, and there are always multiple approaches to every end. If you can start to feel not that you were cut off from your dreams but only that one possible avenue to them was cut off, it might start opening your mind up to where to look next.

The other thing I think is helpful is to focus on what positive things you learned through the experience. I once got a job that was honestly the closest thing I've ever seen to being "perfect" for me on paper. I was so eager to get it that when I got an interview afterward I was just steeling myself to assume I wouldn't be chosen so I wouldn't be disappointed. Well, I got it and it was just terrible, a terrible dysfunctional environment that really wrung me out and kind of did a number on me emotionally. My only regret now is that it took me so long to get over the sort of disappointment and crisis of self-confidence so that I could realize and get value from the fact that I learned an incredible amount, despite all the problems. As strange as it may seem, if you can integrate it possible, facing and going through serious failure is a huge confidence booster because fearing failure is one of the biggest things that holds us back from striving for higher goals. I wouldn't want that time back any more, although I could still wish I'd dealt with it better in some respects. But it was really very formative and important for me.
posted by nanojath at 2:42 PM on July 5, 2008

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