What should I do with myself?
August 17, 2008 6:55 PM   Subscribe

What to do with myself?

I am one year out of undergrad, and struggling with severe depression that has forced me to quit my job and move back in with my parents while I am treated. The job I was working at was a very high-stress, competitive job in finance, and it likely contributed to my depression. I am not sure if I will return to the same career field when I am able.

So, basically, right now I am living at home, depressed, and doing nothing all day except seeing my therapist and waiting for the antidepressants to kick in. I am going to try to do the standard depression recommendations like getting some sunshine, exercise, etc. but honestly it's a bit difficult because I'm also dealing with some OCD-type compulsions that keep me in the house for now, although of course I'm working on that as well. It's so bizarre writing this because 2-3 years ago I was a perfectly "normal", happy, overachieving college student and things have gone downhill so fast...

Anyways, my complete lack of goals for the future is one of the things that I am sure is contributing to my depression, as well as uncertainty about what I will do with my life when I get better, if I decide that I don't want to return to finance. I think the best way to counter this is to choose something to work towards, and force myself to do it. I'm thinking a graduate or professional degree, or possibly self-study if it would potentially lead to career options. My problem is that I'm pretty unmotivated right now, and as a result I have no string feelings as to what I "want" to do. So I ask you, fellow mefites, what should I study or do? I have a 4-year degree from a good college with good grades, and I do well on standardized tests. Nothing is off the table, and I am willing to try something completely new. My degree is in the sciences with a double major in history, and I have econ/finance training from my investment banking career. But please do not limit your answers to these fields - I am completely open to anything, Thanks so much for any advice.
posted by anonymous to Education (10 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, honey, I wish I'd known at your (presumptive, young) age what I know now. That the world was there for my taking. That the only thing separating me from my dreams was my ability to believe in them and trust that I'd succeed if I continued to try. I'm so sorry you are going through this; I wish I could give you a magic philtre to make you assured of your own prowess and ability to succeed. You CAN. You will if you continue to try. Believing in yourself is the magic potion, honestly. Dumb people succeed. Annoying people succeed. Awkward people succeed. There are no limits except those of your own belief.

How to get there: Exercise daily; set goals. Eat right. Imagine whom you want to be and do everything you can to emulate that imaginary, awesome person.

Have you considered going for your MBA? I know you say you are unmotivated, but school might give you a kick in the pants and give you concrete goals. Also, your salary potential afterwards will be at a zenith for your age/stage.

I just wish I could convince you to believe in yourself and your capabilities - without knowing you, I can sincerely tell you that this ONE factor is the difference: belief in yourself. I'm sure you are intelligent and capable - your post is well-written - but that single factor can override incompetence. Believe, believe, believe. It will happen for you. Start with this and the world is yours. I wish I had.
posted by Punctual at 7:12 PM on August 17, 2008 [7 favorites]

What about temping at a less stressful job, then saving up for a cool trip somewhere?

A Bachelor's degree in anything is pretty much the biggest requirement for zillions of office jobs, and while the money won't be Wall Street, it'll be something to keep you busy. You also don't have the whole "Oh my God, I'm going to be stuck in this cube for the rest of my life" thing going on, because it's just temp work.

You don't mention if living at home is driving you batty, but if it isn't, plug away at the temp thing, save up your money, relish the chance to hang out with your folks for a bit, and head off on a trip to Mexico or Thailand or somewhere cheap and cheerful for a few months when you tire of working. Come back...and temp again if you want, or start looking for what you might now know you want to do. And in that time before and during your trip, you'll be free of stress of 100-hour work weeks, and hopefully the therapy you're going through up until them will help you clarify what it is you want...even if that means not wanting what you think you should.

This way, you've got two or three goals to work on, all with variable levels of tangible progress:

- Saving up for your trip. Every day you can "check your progress" on your bank statement! Try to save as much as possible. Make saving your first financial priority. There are lots of great blogs and AskMe posts about this...hunt around for a while to see how this can happen.
- Doing well at the temp job. You may very well end up really liking where you work, and they might like you back. Work is an incredible motivator if you're into it, and is full of tasks large and small to keep things moving along. Don't keep waiting for the *perfect* job if there's a good one that pops up; take it, run with it, ride the wave as long as you can, and if it speaks to you, keep it; if not, let it go.
- Thinking about your long-term career. All this time you're working, saving, and traveling? You're networking with friends old and new seeing what they've done with their education and experience. You're e-mailing old professors you had a good relationship with, keeping them posted on your travels and seeing if they've got any connections. You're keeping your Big Ticket Purchases to a minimum to stay as flexible as you can financially and geographically. And you're staying healthy, investing in the most valuable thing you have: the number of years you're walking on this planet.

Plenty of people come out of college/their first "real jobs" tired of the whole rat race of it all, and that's perfectly OK. You are allowed to disengage for a while; you are allowed to roam; you are allowed to avoid deciding on a path. And when you do choose a path, the great thing is that there is almost never a wrong path unless it harms you or others.

So, then, I encourage you to embrace what comes along: wax the board, suit up, paddle out, stand up as the swell rises, ride that wave as long as you can - maybe sneak into the green room if you can! - and when it sweeps into the shore, be ready to go right back out for the next one.
posted by mdonley at 7:25 PM on August 17, 2008

Just pick something, anything, you've always wanted to do and do it. At least get a part time job to get yourself out of the house so you stop ruminating. Don't be afraid of failure. You've already failed and you've come out on the other side, and you're ok, really. You're still alive, you got your good degree, good grades, and work experience. Other people with bad GPAs, no degrees, and no fingers for typing on the internet would love to be in your position, so suck it up. You wake up in the morning and time doesn't flow backward, life goes on. There is so much you can offer to the world that has nothing to do with standardized tests. Save some money and go on a trip to India and drop some acid. Get off the treadmill for a little while. You gotta trust in something higher than yourself and find what you love, as a wise man once said.
posted by Theloupgarou at 7:26 PM on August 17, 2008

You probably have no goals because you can't feel pleasure and so nothing seems like it will make you feel better and therefore you have no motivation. This is called anhedonia, and it's a big part of depression. After all, if nothing's going to be fun and exciting and enjoyable, why would anyone bother?

So, while you might want to do some career testing and see what kinds of careers those tests suggest you might be suited to, if you are indeed anhedonic, you are not likely to really discover what you "want" until you are capable of feeling pleasure again.

What you might want to do while you are waiting for the meds to work and doing therapy is volunteer somewhere helping other people in some way-- this might help you get out of the house and if you do estimable actions like this kind of work, that builds self esteem which also gets worn down during depression. This also distracts you from the rumination of depression and may, as a side effect, also help you discover the kinds of things you might like to do workwise.

It's hard not to feel better about yourself when you are doing useful things for others, even if the anhedonia means that that pleasure only lasts during the moments you are actually doing this. But those can build up as the therapy and drugs start to work.

You could also do informational interviews with people in fields you think might be cool-- this gives you social contact, too.
posted by Maias at 7:30 PM on August 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

You mentioned you have OCD-type compulsions that's keeping you indoors. Part of overcoming depression is to push aside these compulsions and GET OUTSIDE. I, too, have this weird OCD-ish compulsion to stay indoors and feel like I have to DO something, but sometimes I end up forcing myself to a walk outdoors, and that works wonders.

That said, take a relaxing walk, or find your friends to hang out with. Socialize, socialize, socialize. That's how you connect and find out what you want to do. See what others are doing and ask for help if needed. Or heck, pack up and go to Hawaii and have a blast, if you have the money.

Oh, and if you aren't doing so already, exercise with a friend. Beats working out and feeling lonely, which adds to the depression.
posted by curagea at 7:43 PM on August 17, 2008

Anyways, my complete lack of goals for the future is one of the things that I am sure is contributing to my depression, as well as uncertainty about what I will do with my life when I get better, if I decide that I don't want to return to finance.

Maybe you shouldn't worry about What To Do right now, because I'm sure you *do* have goals. Having goals and knowing what is the best career for you are different things. Your goals include, I imagine - getting and being able to hold a job, and getting to the emotional and financial point where you can move out of your parents' house. Those are excellent goals in and of themselves, and I'd caution you not to get paralyzed before taking the first steps back out into the world because of some undergrad notion that it deeply matters what that job might be. Most people don't "do with their lives" via a career - most people have jobs that pay for their lives. Is a meaningful career that uses your talents and challenges you without sapping you of the energy to do anything else best? Yes, it's best. But maybe now it'd be better to aim for "good". You have more than forty years of working life ahead of you - whatever choice you make next isn't going to govern the rest of your life.
posted by moxiedoll at 7:53 PM on August 17, 2008

Have you considered that perhaps the psychological change was precipitated by the transition from an optimistic, typical college student with a peer position and a wide-open future to a corporate functionary, with entry level status, a defined career path?

For a lot of people, such a change would precipitate depression. Personally, when I look back on it (and it's a ways back there, bucko), my first job out of school should have been depressing as hell, but it incorporated a higher status future and I had abundant optimism that powered me through the hard times. (I won't bore you with details, but I took an entry level position with a company that really wanted my skill set but had not yet established the position I'd occupy, so they put me in a low level slot just to hold me.) It was hard, but the possibilities made it tolerable.

Point is, the actual 'thing' you do may not be the key to improving your mental health. The implications of the thing might. Is there a probable path in your initial career choice to a better place? ("Better" meaning more important, more fulfilling, higher status, etc.)

One reason graduate school seems to be fulfilling to a lot of people I know may be that the optimism phase is prolonged, status is easy to establish and maintain, and the stultifying solidification into a career choice is postponed. My wife and I joke about it continuously... she'd like nothing more than to be a professional student and counsels kids to prolong it as long as possible! Medical school would be a good choice for this reason because it takes so long. Ideally, a specialization in psychiatry, which adds the most extra years of structured study, as I understand it.) Anyway, I'm rambling, as I often do. However, I do seem to know a lot of people who discover after a long course of study that they hate their choice. I know several MDs, a lot of lawyers, and a few engineers who fit this desciption to a T. Worth considering, methinks.

Good luck with your problem, and I hope the depression goes away soon.
posted by FauxScot at 10:44 PM on August 17, 2008

Go travelling! See the world, broaden your horizons, find out what you want in life. If you're poor, go hiking nearby. If you're rich, go overseas. Couldn't recommend it more highly.
posted by jozzas at 11:32 PM on August 17, 2008

Hey, I was in a pretty similar place not that long ago - I quit my job and moved halfway across the world. Which presents it's own set of problems, but at least it's something new. PM me, I'd be happy discuss it if it's an option you are considering.

Second or thirding the recommendation for physical activity - sign up for a 10k or something and train for it, having goals & meeting them is a strong boost to the ol' self. Build a ship in a bottle, carve a stump, learn to brew beer - creating something tends to have the same effect, I think. Set an attainable goal you can be proud of and go for it!
posted by troika at 11:51 PM on August 17, 2008

Do yoga at home. Learn to meditate. Work on a hobby that has absolutely nothing to do with your career, such as painting or photography.
posted by xammerboy at 3:23 PM on August 18, 2008

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