What is the feeling of having a feeling, of knowing a feeling, and following a feeling?
July 15, 2008 7:43 PM   Subscribe

A good friend of mine just took his own life. That's not what this question is about...it's more about direction. This is long, so bear with me.

I guess that's not entirely accurate. It's sort of about his death. Before I explain I want to throw out a couple "please's". Here they are:
1. Please don't ask for details about what he did.
2. Please don't tell me to talk to a therapist. I'm talking.
3. Please don't tell me sorry, because I'm not sorry for me.

Ok, so that's out of the way. Background---he was bipolar for a long time, in and out of the hospital, on and off medication, etc. About a year ago I had to be part of the team who asked him not to come back to work, as he'd become a liability. We didn't put it like that. If anything, he was a Buddhist, completely unselfish but also steadfastly unbelieving in an afterlife. He was an artist with an engineering degree (and a sculpture degree, but he was a mixed-media kinda guy)---a strange outlook with gifted hands.

So on Saturday he took the final step. I think that, given the circumstances, he tried to change his mind at the end and it was too late. I'll never know. Regardless, here's where this gets deep:

I don't think I feel much anymore. I haven't for a long, long time. Not just this, but I mean anything. I don't feel like I love my girlfriend most of the time, I don't feel like excited when I hear about friends having babies, I don't look at things with forboding, I don't get worried. I want a child, I'm ready I think, but last month we thought my girlfriend might be pregnant and I didn't FEEL it, dammit, just a shimmer of excitement and no worry at all. I don't have any problem sleeping, and I don't have any problem doing my job. I enjoy my life, I just don't get mad/sad/super happy. I haven't cried but for the death of a pet in...I think...almost 10 years. I got moist when a classmate passed away a couple months ago, but I didn't cry. I still haven't cried over my friend. I might at the service, but I don't know. I've totally destroyed myself physically in the last couple years, broken bones, sprains, strains, etc---no tears, no missing even a days work.

The only thing I can attribute that to is that, about 10 years ago, I got marginally falsely accused of some bad shit, went to court, did a little time, have a record. I think it was more traumatizing than I realize, and maybe there's some PTSD floating around in there somewhere. I pretty much call bullshit on that though, because there's on time and place I feel ALIVE and RIGHT, which is the next part of this...

Today I went to the youth center where he and I both worked for a long long time. I went there more for the teens, so they could talk and question me and just to be there for them. I know I got more out of it than they did, at least today. When I'm there I'm glad and there's a spring in my step, and when I'm talking with these folks I've grown so close to it's like it's where I absolutely need to be. I worked there for 9 years, I only left because they couldn't afford to pay me anymore. I still sneak out there whenever I can.

A couple years ago, I almost *almost* went back to grad school for counseling. Not psychology or psychiatry, nothing like that--just counseling. Just helping young people find a self-wrought path in the maze. I never did it though, because my student loans were wrecked and I didn't have any money.

I still don't have any money, but my loans are fixed.

I feel like this is my opportunity to pick a concrete reason to go back. I have no delusions about being able to save him---he needed a hospital. I've come to a point of stagnation in my current job, sort of a crisis of conscience really I think, and I find that I like it less every day. There's a lot more to that, but I'll leave it as it stands.

SO, for the question(s)...
I'm not beholden to anyplace. Where has a FANTASTIC youth based counseling Masters or PhD program that is NOT for in-school guidance counselors. (Our hometown Uni has one, but if I'm gonna do this I wanna do it RIGHT.)


In your experience with this sort of thing, what did you feel? Did you feel anything? I don't feel guilt so much as I feel like it's a terrible waste of a brilliant mind and artist, and I feel like it's an active dialogue on mental healthcare in America. I'm a get-your-hands-dirty kinda guy, so now I want to do something about it. Give me direction.

Also feel free to tell me anything else you might have to share. You can even yell at me.

Also---thanks for letting me babble. My girlfriend is completely unable to comprehend and deal with stress and loss. She's been shut down completely since the news came, and she and he didn't even get along.
posted by TomMelee to Education (19 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I've never gone through this sort of thing, so I don't have any advice regarding your lack of feeling much sadness or grief (yet?). Personally, I'm the same way - I've earned the nickname of The Rock because when everyone else falls apart, I'm the one to lean on. I've dealt with grief and sadness in my life, but not the way most people do, and some may think I'm weird. I'm not a crier either, but I don't think that's the only way to react to things. I think we're all different in our methods of coping, and however you're feeling (or not feeling) - don't fight it.

That said, maybe you can combine the two desires you have - going back to school and getting on the path to a new career where you can use your talent and your passion, and digging in to and getting something done about the state of mental healthcare. I don't know if I'll make much sense, because I'm not as eloquent as the other posters that will answer this will be, but if you can follow your idea through in honor of your friend, it may take care of several of your needs in one fell swoop.

We all need a "push" sometimes, or a reason to do things. Maybe this is your reason and what has happened will help you to get on your way to help prevent this happening to someone else's friend someday.
posted by slyboots421 at 8:05 PM on July 15, 2008

Best answer: I do need to say this...your friend may have technically committed suicide, but the real truth is he had a fatal case of bipolar disorder. The disease killed him.

Oh, and some of the "not feeling" you described? That can actually be a form of depression. (There's more than one way to experience depression.) When I suffered from it it was if my emotions had been shot full of novocaine. My personal theory is that when bad stuff is just way too bad to handle emotionally, the mind protects itself by becoming "comfortably numb."

I have known a couple of widows who each described to me that immediately after their husband's death, they were actually numb and "doing okay" for several weeks following. The emotional part of themselves had shut down, enabling them to get through the funeral and the other practical details. Later on, the emotions did come.

For you, I would say it is very likely that you have ptsd or something similar. It is encouraging that you have found something in your life that does make you feel alive, and your instinct to pursue that is a good one.

One other thing-if at any time a therapist or counselor suggests medication, don't dismiss the idea immediately. Sometimes a short term stint with an antidepressant or something can be incredibly helpful-it'll give your body a rest from the effects of stress. Later on you can discontinue and be fine.
posted by konolia at 8:23 PM on July 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

Social work schools are full of private sector refugees who decided late in their careers that they wanted to make a difference instead of making money, so you certainly won't be alone in that respect. I would recommend talking to as many practicing mental health professionals as you can, conduct some informational interviews with people who have jobs you might interested in doing to get their read on the field. Having passion is necessary but at some point every person in mental health/human services has to temper their expectations. Working with any troubled population is a long odds game, you'll watch one client after the next fail repeatedly, sometimes until they get locked up for good, others until they get themselves killed or kill themselves. That might be worth taking into consideration how that might wind up interacting with your PTSD history, though even the most seasoned professionals struggle to process that kind of outcome.

It can really wear on you over time, but then a crisis situation comes up that you can step into and really use your abilities to impact someone's life and it makes sense again. That's my experience, at least.
posted by The Straightener at 8:30 PM on July 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

TomMelee, I know from your previous answers in AskMe that you do incredible, hard, amazing, life-saving work. You give a LOT to those around you. I wonder if you're not keeping ANY for yourself?

You're a very awesome person who is probably quite depressed, and has just experienced a tragedy. Please be very gentle with yourself right now, and when the smoke clears....maybe you can take a new tack on things.

You do so much for so many, do for you, too.
posted by tristeza at 8:31 PM on July 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It could be that your experience 10 years ago has left you without much enthusiasm for the typical middle-class stages of life (relationship with a partner, having children, doing your job), and the youth center work is more meaningful to you. If that's the case, there's nothing wrong with feeling the way you do, it's just different than the script many of us follow.

As for your friend, well another script we're given says we're supposed to feel/behave a certain way when someone dies. Is it possible, knowing how much your friend had suffered, that you're feeling relief for him, or even something more positive than that? Relief for yourself too, given your history together? We're not supposed to feel neutral or godforbid positive in response to death, but I think it's more common than people let on.
posted by headnsouth at 8:39 PM on July 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't know whether you may be depressed or not. I suspect you'll figure that out if you are talking to someone already. Some people are just more/less sensative than others.

But I definitely think you should go back to grad school! Don't live your life not doing what you love. If you don't go back, you will only think of the what-ifs. What would your life have been like if you had gone? Don't stay in something you don't absolutely enjoy (your job).

I unfortunately can't recommend any good schools.
posted by Perpetual Seeker at 8:40 PM on July 15, 2008

In your experience with this sort of thing, what did you feel? Did you feel anything?

I don't remember feeling any sharp pangs of grief when a friend of mine killed himself under similar circumstances. More a sense of inevitability and sadness.

Can't tell you what to do about your life, except to say that the best jobs I've ever had I've been amazed that people would actually pay me to do -- I would have done them for free.
posted by tkolar at 9:04 PM on July 15, 2008

Let me preference my answer with the fact i have no expertise in these sorts of matters, but I have a gut opinion. I would say do not go to grad school yet. It sounds like you are using grad school to run from this or to run to something that is not yet clearly defined. I would suck it up ( you sound like the kind of guy who is good at that) and wait a year marking time, going to your job and helping with the kids as much as you can until you know that your grief has manifested itself in whatever way it will. I think making life changing decisions at times like these can be either the best decisions or the worst. the odds are probably 50-50 so wait and get some perspective.

Good luck.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:25 PM on July 15, 2008

Best answer: In my experience with this sort of thing, I felt thoughtful, sad and like I wanted to honor my friend's life by doing something positive with mine. I wasn't shocked. I was only surprised he hadn't successfully killed himself years before. I didn't even cry, which felt weird. We all have different ways of mourning.

I hope that your friend found the peace he was looking for.
posted by pluckysparrow at 9:34 PM on July 15, 2008

Best answer: I know you're ostensibly looking for advice on grad schools, but you've probably noted from the responses that the thing people are keying in on is your current state of being . . . which I think should be noted.

Based on what you shared, I'll share the following and hope that it's helpful in some fashion: I think we'd probably get along, or at least recognize each other. It sounds like you're a Black Belt in helping others and in making everything OK (or as OK as possible) for those around you. And you get off on that. You're good at it. It's rewarding. On target?

But that natural instinct to help has a hidden cost that maybe you're just now discovering, which is that you know how to take care of others, but when it comes to taking care of yourself, well not so good. But it's hard to see, of course, cause you can and do always compare you current state of affairs (I'm healthy, I'm loved, I like the world, etc) to a laundry list of stuff you don't have to deal with (but maybe friends and loved ones do) like being bipolar, etc.

Maybe I'm off base, but I'd note that this post was spurred by the tragic death of a friend but you go out of your way to distance your post from the event that spurred you to post.

TomMelee, you seem like a super competent, super caring, loving person. And also someone who's been through a bunch of shit and has every right to admit and feel traumatized and generally fucked with by the random and "unfair" events that fall on people's head if they have the chance to hang around on this planet for any period of time.

Speaking from very recent personal experience, I'd highly recommend finding a counselor of some sort (hopefully recommended by someone you can trust) that you can just plop down and TALK to . . . no agenda other than having a sounding board. Seriously. Feel free to email me (see profile) if you'd like any more perspective. Hang in there..
posted by donovan at 10:21 PM on July 15, 2008

I'll honor your pleases. I wish you the best. This book meant a lot to me.
posted by phrontist at 10:22 PM on July 15, 2008

Best answer: In California, at least, a Master's in Counseling Psychology would be good preparation for what you want to do. (PsychD is doctorate so it has large research component, the master in counseling is focused on counseling skills.) Some master's programs are targeted to recent graduates, others are at least 50% older (35+) students. I would recommend one with a mixed age students - you can learn a lot from your classmates.

However, counseling is incredibly personal and draining work - when I looked into this field everyone said you have to do your own work first. Not that you have to be problem-free but you have to really understand yourself and your problems so they won't get in the way of helping others with their problems. So, I second waiting a year, do research on where you want to go and what you want to do but most of all, work with your therapist to re-find your feelings.
posted by metahawk at 11:14 PM on July 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Wow, I swear I've been down this same path for the last five years or so. And from where I was for the last five years, the last two-and-a-half months has been the best time of my life. My dad passed away about five years ago, and for some reason, I didn't feel the kind of sadness most people would when they lost their father. A part of it was indifference and the rest was just relief (he had been sufferring for a year). Wirhin a year of him passing away, I got into a bad problem with the law and just scraped through without any major problems because I was a juvenile.

From then on, the pressure of studies (which I was getting progressively worse at), the shame of my stupidity and perhaps some amount of undiagnosed depression and no help from anyone sent me down a self-destructive path for the better part of four years. With the benefit of hindsight, my mistakes are crystal clear to me. What got me back to what I am today was also quite accidental.

You're feeling miserable. And the only bright part of your day/week seems to be when you're at the youth center. Could you perhaps take a month-long break (maybe longer?) from your work and just do a few things for yourself? Why not enjoy your time at the youth help center without expecting to get paid? Travel/trek mountains for a bit, get together with old friends? You're working with a therapist, which will help you get through this, or atleast give you a pair of ears and a shoulder when you want to cry. Why not think about some great times from your past and trying to live it again? Why not make new great memories? You've probably heard the quote which goes something like “Twenty years from now, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do, rather than the things you did.”

So go out and have fun!
posted by cyanide at 1:14 AM on July 16, 2008

Best answer: To me, you sound angry about being falsely convicted and serving time. That is understandable. It seems to me that because you are so angry about it you are unable to move on until those feelings are resolved.

Meanwhile, the only thing you feel emotionally attached to are the kids who need your counseling. Those kids are probably just like you were and if you had been on the right track you wouldn't have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. I suspect you are a good deal angry at yourself and you prevent yourself from enjoying anything.

Also, you sound extremely defensive and you seem to put up a lot of rules and barriers to try to control you experience. Even here on mefi. That is normal for someone who has been screwed over. It is usually people who are the most rigid who are hurting the most. You want to protect yourself.

You very much want to sort things out so you are keenly interested in a degree in counseling. My Mom, a long time counselor, admits that most people who go into counseling are partly there because they are trying to fix themselves. (She counseled at-risk youths too and battered women and now she works for DHS.)

My thoughts are you are going to have to feel the extent of your pain, anger, loss, confusion and grief. You can't just divorce yourself from it. It is there. You will carry it around until you let it out. You can't escape it by distracting yourself.

I'm not saying you are doing anything wrong. It sounds like you are doing a lot things right and working very hard to get things together. Helping others does tremendous things to help you heal. You heal each other. It's a beautiful thing.

You don't want to be told to see a therapist because that is exactly where your butt needs to be. Going to a therapist is a step toward dealing with all these feeling you are smashing down. You do need to see a counselor or go to a support group. Sometimes support groups are better because you get multiple perspectives not just what you and your therapist can come up with. You sound determined and you are reaching out. You will get there.
posted by i_love_squirrels at 5:40 AM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: There's a lot of good stuff in this thread. Thanks to every single person who posted. Just some clarifications:
*I don't work at the youth center any more. I work for another, larger, much better known NPO now, but I don't work with families anymore.
*I have no interest in a social work degree, in any format what so ever.
*I have worked in the mental health field before, for a mental health company, while I was working at the youth center. I wasn't a counselor so much as a triage worker. I have no fear of the field and know full well the ramifications of working with this population.
*FWIW, I wasn't really wrongfully convicted. In WV knowing about the commission of a crime and not reporting it is charged the same way as actually doing the crime. Pretty awesome.

That being said, there really is a lot of good, caring stuff here. I got a couple mefi mails that were also really fantastic. I love mefi because so often there's a post that I read and say "wow I thought I was the only person who did that...", and then it's full of people who do the same thing. I'm glad to see that I'm not the only person who's comfortably numb a lot of the time. Seems like a paradox to say that.

Also, thanks for your kind words. I think that I'm sort of a redneck-man in that I don't like praise, don't feel like I have any reason to receive "attaboys" for doing my job, and I do feel that purification comes through hard work. I don't know if that makes sense.

Please don't stop feeding me your ideas. I really appreciate that nobody's walking on eggshells---I don't find any comfort in fluffy BS. I haven't picked a best answer *yet* because I'm hoping maybe more folks will chime in and because I need to reread everyone's thoughts at least a couple more times.

Again, thanks.
posted by TomMelee at 9:45 AM on July 16, 2008

In your experience with this sort of thing, what did you feel? Did you feel anything?

My cousin killed himself on May 26 of last year, the same day I got engaged and graduated with my Master's degree (he couldn't have known this since we were estranged - I say this to make it clear it wasn't a fuck-you kind of thing). I should have been excited by the momentous changes in my life but my feelings were much the same as you describe - an inner deadness of feeling. I wasn't told about his death until a few days after my graduation/engagement party, and after that everything went downhill. We were supposed to move to a new state and I couldn't bring myself to pack. I didn't look for a job and was unemployed for six months before taking a shit job out of desperation. I wasn't sad so much as cold. I felt guilty about any brief moments of happiness I had.

I didn't really snap out of it until I started planning my wedding and plotting to escape the shit job. Looking towards the future has helped me a lot, as has therapy and medication.

I can't answer as to what you should do now, but I wanted to tell you that you are not alone.
posted by desjardins at 10:09 AM on July 16, 2008

check your mefi mail, if you'd like to.
posted by Soulbee at 11:41 AM on July 16, 2008

Best answer: A few of the thoughts that ran through my head in reading your post-

When you said you feel numb and that you have for a long long time, the first thing that came to my mind was depression. I was in a similar place and just remember feeling really irritable (and not much else) all the time and I was surprised when I was diagnosed with depression because my idea of depression was quite different from what I was experiencing. You say you've felt this way for a long time but do you remember a time when you were happy and when you did get excited about things? Personally, I could remember feeling like that - I could remember it perfectly, feeling so happy at one point, but it seemed so abstract to me, like I was watching a movie about someone else's life. I knew I had been in that place but couldn't really imagine it or feel it anymore, if that makes sense?

I also have experience I think more than my fair share of death for someone my age and like someone said above, everyone deals with it differently. The first death I experienced was a friend when I was 17 and I was absolutely devastated. Ever since then, I always have a different response. More often than not, I don't cry, even though I'm sad. I struggle with this as I have a fear that I'm some sort of an unfeeling monster and I still haven't come to a resolution for myself on this matter but somehow I have to think that it has to do with how we all process death. I sometimes wonder if I just never really get to the point of truly accepting it and I just let myself get used to not seeing a person anymore, I don't know. The point I'm trying to make is that I understand how you feel and if this were the only thing you mentioned, I wouldn't think there is anything necessarily wrong; the only reason my mind turned to depression is because you said you don't really feel anything, be it happiness, anger or sadness. Just a visit to the doctor may be enough to get a better idea on whether this could be depression for you.

Yes, you definitely should go back to school. If this is what you love, you should do it - you're obviously talented and the world needs more people like you. Do it, do it, do it. I wish I could help you out a bit with specific schools but I'm sure someone will come along who can.

Also, if you're looking for a book, I would definitely second When Things Fall Apart as recommended by phrontist above. It is based on principles of buddhism and I didn't really know much about buddhism when I first read it, but I found it to be gentle and comforting and it helped a lot towards changing (for the better) my view of myself and the world.

All the best.
posted by triggerfinger at 1:16 PM on July 16, 2008

Best answer: it sounds to me like you should not go to grad school. if you are good at the work you do, and like it, then keep doing it. don't take yourself out of the loop for a few years. besides, it's probably a little late in the year to start applying for fall programs. maybe you can volunteer at that youth center, or another one. if you have the money and some vacation time, you can probably volunteer overseas, which i think would really shake some of the cobwebs off.

the numbness you describe sounds a lot like depression. have you discussed that possibility with your therapist?

best wishes to you. your friend was lucky to have you in his life.
posted by thinkingwoman at 1:21 PM on July 16, 2008

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