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#450: How to tighten up your game at work when you’re depressed.

From The Neverending Story, Atreyu tries to pull Artax out of the swamp.

“Artax, how many times do I have to remind you that the TPS reports get put in the BLUE binders? Not the green binders. A little focus next time, please.”

Hey, Captain and Co.

I spent the past two years of my life being really depressed (and, honestly, who knows how long before that — I was only diagnosed last year, but I’ve felt pretty awful for as long as I can remember), and, through some supportive parents and medication and an awesome partner and therapy, I’ve been slowly climbing up out of it.

A year ago I was in university, but I was too depressed and dropped out. Then I spent a few months focusing on getting to a place where I could function again. Last summer, I was part of a program designed to get me back in the working world, but that fell through when I had a really awful panic attack and the program coordinator kicked me out for being too “unstable”.

Then, by some stroke of luck, I managed to get myself a job. I promised myself I would thrive there, because I wanted to live with my partner and be independent. I’d had enough of being treated like a baby who needed constant care. And, for a long while, I actually succeeded! Things went really well — I got a raise, my co-workers and bosses seemed to like me, and I was able to pay for my apartment and develop some new skills and hobbies. 

Recently, I went through another rough patch. My partner and I had some issues that needed working through — there were noises on both sides of potentially breaking up — and it was just a very stressful time. My performance at work suffered because of this (It’s been extra hard, since they recently moved and are only in once a week, so work has been very chaotic and disorganized), and my bosses pulled me in to talk about that. I promised them I’d do better, and since they talked to me, I have been doing a lot better at work! 

Only, because my eternally-absent bosses haven’t seen my improvements (someone is still complaining about me, for reasons???), they’ve taken me off the schedule and I’m 99% sure they’re going to fire me.

I just don’t know what to do any more. I just want to get back to normal, but I can’t. I want to be independent again, but I can’t seem to succeed at that.

I dunno; I guess I respect your opinion and need some advice about what to do next. Y’all are smart and usually know what to say.

I hope you have time for me.

Thanks.

For a short, sweet question this answer got pretty long and rambly.

What I want to help you with is some small tricks that will maybe help you handle depression better plus some small, mostly cosmetic changes you can make so that you appear to be keeping your shit together at work (whether or not you actually feel like you are keeping your shit together).

I don’t know how to tell you how to feel normal again or get back to ‘normal.’ I don’t know what normal is for you. I don’t know what you do next, or what you want to do.

But I do speak “corporate boss” and I can help you (and maybe others who are in your same shoes) keep your job until you decide you don’t want it anymore, and if you can’t keep this one maybe this will help you keep the next one.

A lot of this stuff is literally THE hardest stuff to do when you’re feeling down. Because the principle behind this is antithetical to who we probably are as people, seeking genuine connections and genuine expressions of ourselves. The operating principle is: Appearances count at work. Sometimes more than the actual work does.

Is that fair? No.

Should a really intelligent good worker run into trouble because they are having at temporary bout of sads or meds re-adjustment or other big life stuff? No.

But if things have been feeling off-kilter for you, a little attention to small things like the neatness of your desk, etc. can help you not only appear more focused but feel slightly more focused.

Depression is a big fat jerk. It lies to you all the time. Here are some of the lies it has told me:

Jerkbrain Lie: Organized people keep their shit together (house clean, wardrobe looking sharp, desk immaculate, bills paid on time, go to the gym regularly, floss) without expending a lot of effort. It’s only hard for you to do these things because you are lazy and stupid.

Truth: Organized people are good at taking a little time each day to put their lives in order. It only looks effortless to you – they actually put time and effort into breaking these tasks down into small, manageable routines instead of letting them pile up to the point that they actually are difficult.

Jerkbrain Lie: Mistakes are real and count in a way that your successes aren’t real and don’t count.

This dragon is really hard for me to slay, personally. I suffer from a lot of perfectionism, black & white thinking, and it’s really hard for me to recover from a mistake. Since my brain is a jerk, almost anything can be a mistake for purposes of this exercise. “Ran out of laundry quarters without realizing, now bank is closed” = “CAN’T YOU EVEN HANDLE THE SIMPLEST TAKS, JENNIFER?” Depression interferes with self-respect by making all mistakes appear equal and irrevocable, part of the neverending and totally boring and self-centered story of how terrible I am.

Truth: Everyone messes up. A mistake does not have to derail your whole life or your whole day. When you make an honest mistake (i.e., something that is not a deliberate attempt to harm or a careless disregard for the safety and well-being of others that causes harm), stop and sit with it for a few minutes. Was there something you could have done differently? Can you promise to try harder to do that next time? Does some amends or apology need to be made? Own up, do your best to amend/correct, resolve to do better, and then let it go.

Jerkbrain Lie: Feeling depressed (lazy, horrible, avoidant) means that you can’t (get to work on time, complete work tasks, do writing that you need or want to do, do housework).

Jerkbrain Closely Related Lie: You will do all of that routine boring plant maintenance work when your mood improves! But now, when you are feeling so bad, time to go back to sleep or hit “Play next episode….”

These are those insidious lies that have truth in them.

Improving your mood, like, treating your depression (maybe with meds, maybe by having a weekly safe place to deal with emotions so that they don’t eat the rest of your life) WILL improve your ability to get things done. That is actually very, very true!  It is harder to do normal stuff when you have a debilitating illness that is actively interfering with your focus and motivation. However, even if your mood does not improve, even if you feel bad, even if you feel like you can’t, even if it is hard, you still usually have to:

  • Go to work
  • Do work while you’re at work
  • Feed and dress yourself
  • Take the garbage out and do the dishes
  • Pay your bills

…or there will be consequences. So if I wait until that magical time when my mood magically improves to do anything, I won’t do anything, thereby confirming my Jerkbrain’s bad impression of me/us. So I do not know if this will help you, but sometimes it helps me to say to myself:

“Self, you can feel fucking horrible and still do the thing you need to do.”

Or, “Yup, it is hard to do this today. But hard is not impossible.”

Or, sometimes I sarcastically agree with everything the Jerkbrain is telling me.

Jerkbrain:Oh Jennifer, you are so terrible and lazy. If anyone knew how horrible you really are, they would all flee from you! Go ahead and knit your shame into a giant lumpy turtleneck of horror…oh wait, you were too stupid to learn how to knit! Remember the time you couldn’t even knit a scarf? So you gave up on it, like you gave up on playing the flute and the guitar and the piano (insert litany of every failure or defeat ever experienced here)…like you GIVE UP ON EVERYTHING. You’re just good at fooling people so they don’t think you’re a failure, but soon your luck will run out and everyone will know what a failure you are.

Me: “You’re right, I am pretty horrible. Guess I better be horrible and put on some shoes and go to work.”

It’s like, sometimes I can strike a bargain with the Jerkbrain where I get to knock out some of the stuff I need to get done as long as I agree that I’m horrible and tell myself so the entire time. FUN! But then when I’ve done the stuff I needed to do, I do actually feel a bit better. When you’re dealing with someone really unreasonable, sometimes it’s good to remind yourself that they are going to be unreasonable (be disappointed, feel bad, make a scene) no matter what you do, so you might as well do what you want to do. In this case, the unreasonable, disappointed, bad-feeling entity is you, so the trick is to say “Well, Jerkbrain, you’re going to feel shitty whether I do this work or I don’t, so I might as well do it – it’s not like NOT doing it will make things less shitty around here.”

I’m not a mental health pro, and I’m certainly not your mental health pro, but that is something that works for me sometimes. Use it if it’s useful for you.

Let’s move on to some cosmetic changes you can make at work to foil your haters and appear more productive.

Work Behaviors

Once I supervised a part-time worker who was clearly going through a major crisis. Here was the deal: She was in her late 30s, going back to college as an adult. Her 18-year-old son had signed up for the military against her wishes, because that was the only way the family could afford college for him. Then we started a war in Iraq, and he was deployed almost immediately. She was prone to depression & anxiety anyway, plus adding in the constant worry about her son and the constant horror of the news, plus the stress of being a full-time student and trying to work half-time, and she was not okay.

Then he died.

“Fell to pieces” did not begin to cover what happened. The office sent flowers, we gave about a paid month off (not usual practice for a part-time student worker, though it probably should be), we put her in touch with the EAP service, we took every piece of work we possibly could away from her and we gave it to someone else.

The person who came back to the office after that month away:

  • Was constantly disheveled – messy hair, sometimes smelled bad, rumpled clothing that didn’t match.
  • Did not show up half the time for scheduled shifts.
  • Did not call when wasn’t going to show up. So then I’d have to chase her down and try to find out what was going on.
  • Left her desk & computer a total mess, so even if you wanted to rescue some work from her and do it yourself, you couldn’t.
  • Spaced out in the middle of meetings & conversations.
  • Was super-ashamed of what was happening, so hid – came in the back way, so she didn’t have to pass my desk, didn’t pick up her phone if I called, hid the extent of undone work (as in, would lie and tell me things were almost done when they were not).
  • If you tried to set a boundary with her or mention anything that was going on or correct any of her work, would burst into tears and sob. If you made her cry, you could count on not seeing her for three-seven days of shame-hiding.

I tried offering her more time off. I hired a temp to take over most of her work and took over the rest myself. I urged her to call the EAP. I called her school employment liaison and tried to get student affairs there and get her into counseling. She and my boss and I sat down and made an action plan for getting things up to “normal.”

Finally, after about 6 months of this, the executive director of this (small, struggling) organization sat me down and said “We have tried everything we can do for ________. Things are not getting better. We hired her to make your workload manageable, that’s obviously not happening if you have to do your work + her work + chase her down for her work + bring in an outside person to do it.We have to let her go and hope she can get through this and start fresh somewhere new.”

The kicker was, *I* had to let her go.

I will never forget it, because when I fired her she got up without a word and turned and walked out of the office, slamming the door behind her.

Unfortunately, outside it had started pouring, and she had left her umbrella in my office, so 5 minutes later, there she was, drenched to the skin, coming back from her umbrella. Which I handed to her, and then she slammed the door again.

The Worst.

I don’t tell you this because I want you to feel bad for me. Things were definitely, obviously, MUCH worse for her that day.

But I can tell you what would have made a difference in keeping her employed that doesn’t have to do with her intelligence or capability or qualifications:

  • Showing up on time every day.
  • Being showered and wearing clean clothes.
  • Being honest and up front if she couldn’t complete things, updating us as to the status of tasks.
  • Leaving her work environment (desk, computer files) in a state where if she couldn’t make it we could easily figure out where she was in a project.
  • Being present and paying attention during conversations.
  • Not bursting into tears every time her work needed critique or adjustment. Hard to control sometimes, I know! But “Can you use consistent naming conventions when you save files to the servers” doesn’t mean “EVERYONE HATES YOU.”

We could have worked up to actual quality work output from there. This would have communicated “I am trying as hard as I can, and things will get better if you hang in with me a little longer.” But without those basic things, the theoretical quality of work didn’t matter – work had stopped.

Having been the super-sad person, and supervised the super-sad person, I offer you some tips on not coming across like the super-sad person.

1. Be 5-10 minutes early every day. Get your jacket stowed, your coffee or tea brewed, your computer up and running, your supplies arranged. Whatever time you have to get up and leave your house to do this, DO IT. Being early communicates to your bosses/coworkers that you want to be there and that you can pull it together to be there. You may be lying to them and to yourself when you communicate this, but the appearance of enthusiasm will help.

2. If your desk & work environment is messy, clean it (even if you have to do this after hours, it’s worth doing). Put 10-15 minutes every day into keeping it neat and organized. Even taking all the stuff related to a project and putting it in its own folder marked “Project” and then putting those folders into something like this might make a small-but-noticeable difference. It may feel like you don’t have time, and if you’re out of the habit of doing this it may feel like a silly distraction from your “real” work, but keep in mind: Looking like you have your shit together is your real work right now.

I can feel you guys rolling your eyes about this, but I once lost out on a really cool job opportunity because of a messy desk. I was out one day, and my prospective boss was trying to find something on my desk, and she couldn’t, so she didn’t hire me on permanently. All of this stuff probably shouldn’t matter, but workplaces have unwritten rules where this can and does matter. So before you jump in with a million exceptions about how things should be and what is fair and how you have a messy desk but no one cares, keep in mind that the LW is on the verge of being fired. If his or her work were so amazing that the small stuff didn’t matter, it wouldn’t matter.

It’s not just physical space. At least once/week, clean up any file directories you work with and make sure your stuff is saved to the server and labeled in a way that people can tell what it is.

3. If you feel yourself getting teary, excuse yourself. Practice a script for keeping your voice very calm as you say “Excuse me, I’ll be back in a moment” (and then go to the bathroom, to get a glass of water, take a quick walk around the building) or “Excuse me, let’s pick this discussion up after I’ve had a chance to check some figures, thanks” – a couple of stock phrases that (get you physically away) + (buy you some time) = help you compose yourself.

Now, listen, it’s bullshit and sexist to paint women as “overly emotional” if they get a bit flustered. But if you’ve been labeled as “The Crazy One” at work and keeping your job means changing that opinion, it will help you to not cry in front of assholes.

4. Document your work tasks. By which I mean:

  • Carry a notepad and pen every time you meet with your boss and write things down. Fold those things into your overall to-do list. Cross things off when you complete them, it feels really good. This is obvious, right?

Less obvious is the follow-up. I once worked for someone who would insist that they had asked me to do things that they had only meant to ask me to do. Or they wouldn’t give me any information about what was a priority. So I would be working like a busy little bee and then find out about major things that had to be done right now because it was now a crisis. Super-frustrating.

So this is what I did. Pedantic? Yes. Effective? Yes.

After any meeting with boss when tasks were assigned, I would email her:

“So based on our meeting, I am going to handle, x, y, and z. Is there a specific format you would like for y?”

Document the tasks + find a way to work in a very specific question so it doesn’t feel like total waste of their time and that there is a legit reason you are emailing.

Towards the end of the week, like, Thursday evening, I would email her a status update. Bullet-points only, no paragraphs.

“Hi boss, just wanted to update you:

  • x is handled, file is attached.
  • y is checking prices for me, she will give us an answer on Monday.
  • I should have z for you by the close of business tomorrow.

Anything else on the radar I should know about?

Thanks,

Jennifer”

Mondays, I would check in:

“Hello boss:

I hope you had a good weekend.

  • Here are the prices for y as you requested. She needs a decision from us by the end of the week to lock it in.
  • Do you have any feedback about x or z?
  • My priorities this week are to finalize x and z so that we can send them out, and to start researching a, b, and c. Anything else coming our way?

Thanks,

Jennifer”

You guys, it was so tedious. But what it did was:

  • Keep the lines of communication open with my boss in a way that was easy for her to respond to and made it easier for me to do my work.
  • Document that I was checking in with her regularly about priorities, making it harder to claim that I was ignoring her secret priorities.
  • Force me to stop and take notice of things I had accomplished. When things are really busy you can feel like you are just spinning your wheels. Sending the weekly emails where I listed the things that were getting accomplished made me feel like I was way more on top of my stuff.
  • This can be adapted to work with collaborators, especially people who you think are not on your side. You know you re doing your work just fine, but do they? “Thanks for your suggestion about x, I called your recommended vendor and she handled it for us” can mean “I know I was not on top of things before, but now you won’t have to worry about me/pick up my slack.” 

Your bosses are absent, so something like this (copy them on the emails, perhaps?) might help make the improvements more visible and tangible.

5. Prep for this meeting with your bosses like you would for a performance review. That might be all it is. If this is in fact going to be a lay-off meeting, they’ll tell you. If that happens, you can bounce back.

As a human, I had utmost sympathy for my former employee. As a coworker/boss, what I would mostly want to know from this kind of meeting is:

  • The bad stuff may never be over, but it is all more manageable now, yes? We won’t have to have more meetings like this?
  • You have a plan for what happens if things get bad again? We won’t have to have more meetings like this?
  • You can look me calmly in the eye and say “I realize that my work suffered as a result of (reasons) so I took (steps) and now things should be back to normal. You don’t have to worry about me anymore/again.” Cool! No more meetings like this!
  • You can give me some kind of plan/documented evidence over the next 3-6 months that shows that things have improved so I can satisfy (my bosses/your haters), yes? I will be able to say “Yes, I as a manager addressed the shit out of that problem to everyone’s benefit (which means mostly the company’s benefit)“, right?

Presentation

If your company has a dress code, take a look at it and make sure you comply to the extent that you can. If they don’t have a dress code, look at how your bosses and successful coworkers dress and see if you can imitate it at your price point/body type/personal style. Every industry is going to have its unwritten rules about how to dress and present yourself. Some people are going to really rock piercings, tattoos, super-fun hair colors, and twenty-hole Doc Martens and some are going to hide all of that under v-neck sweaters over button downs and trousers and a closed-toed shoe.

I do not think employers should force people to wear makeup or heels (or pantyhose in summer, ugh, my nemesis when I worked office jobs), and you can and should challenge gender-based and racist requirements when you find them. Appearance-based discrimination is a real and toxic thing.THAT SAID, most of us actually have a lot of control about how we present ourselves within a set of basic guidelines. If you are having a hard time finding or keeping a job, when in doubt, be boring.

Go through your work wardrobe, be it business-business, business-casual, or a uniform. Sew on missing buttons. Make sure every single thing has been washed, and if it needs dry-cleaning take it to the cleaner’s. If it needs to be ironed, iron it. If you don’t iron, at least hang it in the bathroom when you shower and let steam do its work. If it’s faded or stained or doesn’t really fit you, don’t wear it to work. Whatever you wear, it needs to be neat, clean, and fit you.

Self-Care

You need enough sleep on a regular schedule.

You need good food on a regular schedule.

You need whatever medical care & health services you need. Don’t neglect this.

You need whatever alone time, couple time, exercise, social time, computer time, reading time, etc. that you need.

You need to be very nice to yourself while you heal and handle hard stuff.

You’re newly living with someone and have been having a lot of conflict at home, which is not helping you. So what can you do to set up your home life so that it supports the rest of your life?

If cleaning is hard for you, can you & partner afford to hire a monthly cleaning service so that you can make sure you always live in a clean place?

Is your schedule of chores/who makes meals working for you? Does something need to be reorganized or renegotiated? Does some stupid task derail your flow? Can you ask your partner to take this on or help you with it?

Long, long ago I had a partner who used to choose 11:30 pm on a work/school night as the time to have serious “Maybe we will break up” talks or “We should have this fight we’ve been stewing over for a while…right now!” His justification was “We should never go to bed angry.”

SUPER FUN, RIGHT?

When you’re struggling to keep your shit together anyway, you cannot have this stuff going on. It is okay to go to bed angry. It is okay to schedule time to fight, to discuss, to have sex, to plan things. It is okay to say “Don’t bring up serious subjects at bedtime/right when I’m trying to get ready for work.” It’s okay to sleep separately if things aren’t working right this second. It’s okay to stop a makeout session/video game/argument/mealtime and say “I need 10 minutes to lay my clothes out for tomorrow, be right back.” My current boyfriend and I give each other wake-up calls and make sure the other person can go to bed early the night before the few days a week we have to get up super-early. Your relationship should support your self-care needs and routines.

Treating depression for me meant learning how to actually feel my feelings but also how to compartmentalize them sometimes and act as a triage nurse/gatekeeper/traffic cop about how much they are allowed to affect the functioning of my day. I think of this as the goal of therapy. Goal #1 is “start dealing with stuff in the hopes of feeling better.” Goal #2 is “actually start to feel better, learn what ‘better’ feels like, learn to imagine it at least.” Goal #3 is “learn some ways to feel more in control of my feelings so that I can have a happier life.” It is an ongoing, imperfect project but a useful and rewarding one. Maybe talk to your therapist about strategies for putting anxieties/fights/fears/conflicts into some kind of mental penalty box. “Yes, I am upset about what partner said, but this is work time right now and I will deal with that during Scheduled Anxiety & Serious Talk O’Clock.” As you and your partner find your own routine and learn to feel more secure with each other, what you’ll find is that you can actually talk about whatever it is later and resolve it, so you don’t have to worry about it the entire day.

Possibly related stuff about self-care:

Possibly related stuff about quitting a job that you hate and is a bad fit for you:

Highly related stuff about how to feel more confident at work:

I hope at least something is helpful for you, and that your big boss meeting goes as well as can be.

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281 comments
  1. I’m stunned by how useful this reply is. But also if I were in LW’s shoes (and I have been) I might feel TL;DR overwhelmed. So, LW. There’s a lot here. It’s great. If you have to, print this out, schedule some number of short sessions, and read ‘em all. Best wishes

    • JenniferP said:

      This is a valid critique. :)

    • Same with actually doing the work that implementing this advice entails – schedule bits of time in which you’ll organize your desk, clean/fix your clothes, write necessary emails, etc. It’s sort of a lot of work, but it can be done if it’s broken up into smaller tasks / blocks of working time.

      • mintylime said:

        (I see that the LW replied below and mentioned working in a coffee shop, where this isn’t applicable, but I know too many of us who do the computer work, so leaving this here anyway …)

        Doing some of this kind of work, like tidying up the desk, filing the papers, etc. makes for a really good break during the day – way better than smoking! It’s not good for your eyes at all to stare at a screen all day, and not good for the rest of you to have your butt in a chair all day.

        So, get up! Move a bit! Tidy the desk, do a few dishes, walk a circuit around the office, stretch for a minute, check in with your boss/coworkers about work-related things, get your face out of the work!

        • thegirlfrommarz said:

          I can highly recommend the UfYH principles for anything of this sort (it’s not just for unfucking your habitat!). Setting timers and taking breaks really helps.

    • Quite possible, yeah. If that’s so, LW, what I recommend is this:

      Read the response. Take a moment to feel overwhelmed. It’s okay! It’s a lot of information.

      Next, get some paper and go back through and write down the major points. Work area. Self-appearance. Habits. etc. Then you can put smaller points under the main headings. You don’t need to write down any of the reasoning or anecdotes – those things are really useful to read so you can understand the context, but once you’ve read them you don’t need to take notes on them so much.

      At that point you should just have some categories and bullet points. Just look at that for a while. Does it feel much more manageable? Try moving things into different ways of ordering them – things that will make the best impression, things that are the easiest to do, stuff like that. Just play around with them for a bit.

      I would also practice things you might like to say in your meeting. You don’t want to sound too defensive. You want to explain where things are at without making excuses. “I feel like I’ve made a lot of improvement and I’m making plans to keep going with that.” You could even show them some things you have done, like making detailed schedules for yourself to make sure you stay on top of things. If you think someone might still be complaining about you, you could ask: “I know you can’t tell me who might be saying this, but can you tell me the substance of what they’re saying so I can work on fixing the problem?” Ask them for suggestions, but make sure it’s as an extra to what you’re doing yourself, not asking them to fix everything for you. If you can, identify things you are good at right now and how you can apply it to other areas.

      Your letter doesn’t mention if they’ve actually scheduled another talk with you where this laying off might happen. If they haven’t, it might be worth taking some initiative yourself to set up a time to talk to them. Tell them you’ve been working on improving what you talked about last time but you haven’t had much chance to check in with them since then and you want to discuss how things are going.

      It may be that there’s nothing you can do to save your job. That will feel horrible and painful and like you’ve failed at everything, but you can recover from it. It will just take a bit of work.

      • Solestria said:

        If your bosses are open to it, perhaps *you* might schedule a talk with them to follow up on their concerns. “I’ve taken x, y, and z steps to address your concerns about my job performance, and I wanted to check in with you and see whether you feel those things have addressed the problem, or whether there are further things to address.” Etc. It shows a pro-active approach, and also gives a time for you to discuss with them in a straight-forward way the things that you have changed, which will bring them to their attention if they hadn’t already noticed.

        • Erika said:

          This is amazing, wonderful advice! I would love it if an employee came to me with this request after we’d had one of those dreaded meetings. Being proactive is a great strategy all around.

    • This post is an AMAZING resource that I will definitely be sharing and coming back to. No diagnosed depression here, but I do deal with a LOT of perfectionist Jerkbrain telling me that since I’ve messed up, I might as well not even try. Thanks for a healthy dose of workable reality! There are some super useful brain tools here that will help me make babysteps toward happier, more productive living.

    • LynneeMay said:

      My favorite Tumblr has a great tool for attacking overwhelming projects/to do lists… the term used on the Tumblr is a “20/10“. Basically this means breaking the task into sessions that you can handle and then MAKING yourself take a break, for example twenty (20) minutes of working on the task and then ten(10) minutes of reading email/blogs/Tumblr pics etc. Some people do 45/15 and some can only do 10/20 when they start This works really well for a lot of people mid depression or with major health issues…it is worth trying out :-)
      The Tumblr has a lot of good advice on handling life even though its main focus is on cleaning up your habitat…the url is unfuckyourhabitat.tumblr.com

  2. this was very helpful. I am currently struggling with depression in university and trying to make it through my first year. Any suggestions?

    • Tehanu said:

      First time commenting though I’ve been reading a while and am seriously in love with this blog!!!

      I work with university students in Canada (and in fact referred some students to one of Captain A’s columns when talking with them the other day who were having problems with boundaries/support for a depressed roommate). So abitjuakali, I hear you about how tough it is for you right now. And good for you for identifying that you’re depressed and for reaching out for help, because that’s for sure not always easy, especially in first year when it’s more likely you’re going to be invested in wanting to prove you can cope and adjust.

      First year university is a particularly interesting time, because so much is changing. In some ways, this sort of change is a great time to reinvent ourselves, but it’s also a time when people feel like a whole bunch of supports and structures has been kicked away. And then add in academic pressure that’s likely a fair bit more than high school (you’re smart! so are the people around you! … expectations are higher!)

      So it might be helpful to identify some of the things that helped you cope before university started, what’s changed (positive and negative, because all change can affect you) and whether there are other support systems you can substitute if things have changed since you started?

      Are you living in residence, and is there residence life staff? Residence assistants/residence life staff can help and they get a lot of training on support and referrals. If your RA isn’t someone you click with, talk to a different one, or to the equivalent of the residence life co-ordinator.

      Universities are actually also usually very good for providing counselling that is reasonably accessible for students, depending on the waiting list times. Even just calling or going by the counselling centre would be a good idea; if they don’t have an immediate appointment you can ask for some tips and strategies to help in the meantime. Sometimes, too, they’ll have drop-in hours or there might be an opening if someone cancels an appointment.

      Other students can also be supportive and helpful, including upper-years if you know any, as they’ve already gone through first year adjustments. TAs and faculty also are potentially helpful.

      Depending on your relationship with your family, they can also be supportive. One thing to be careful about, though, is the worry factor. You might be worried about telling them because of their reaction, and their reaction may be to be super-worried, and that can get deeply unhelpful quite quickly. It might be useful to think in advance about what kind of help/support you need from them, and ask for that, before they start deciding for you what you should do!

      Good luck with everything …

    • staranise said:

      Use the resources out there. I work at a University counselling centre and I see a lot of students really struggling to cope–but they won’t ask for any help for it. They’re determined to just tough it out, and not be That Whiny Student who wants exceptions or extensions or things explained in detail. But you don’t get a special award for being quiet and unobtrusive. Nobody gives you a Worked Through the Most Shit to Get to Class This Morning scholarship. Except for the glow of satisfaction of going it alone, there is literally no benefit for not asking your profs for leniency or support, or going to your counselling centre, or asking about medical or financial resources, or anything else that might help you. For students in my university, there is also no detriment to getting a depression/anxiety diagnosis from a doctor and registering with Disability Services, so they can get special accommodations, depending on how their jerkbrain hinders them. (Yes, dear friends: mental illnesses are real illnesses, and count as disabilities!)

      Also, when you’re not getting to class or getting your work done, it’s tempting to cut everything out of your life. “My paper isn’t done, I can’t go out with my friends.” But the optional things are the things that sustain you. Eat well. Get enough sleep. Socialize. Exercise. Make sure you do things that make you happy. If you strip them out of your life because you haven’t done school well enough, you’ve removed all the supports that make you healthy enough to do school well. Prioritize the student, not the schoolwork.

      • cd said:

        In university there absolutely is a benefit in not asking profs for leniency. If you get lots of extensions and then have five problem sets due the same day at the end of term, you’ve only hurt yourself. I might be rationalizing my past behavior a bit, but a number of my friends have been bitten by this.

        • staranise said:

          That’s the benefit of using the capital you have wisely, since it is limited. However, it’s not the same as never using it. Also: if you’re having trouble, ask, and get refused, on a practical level you’re not worse off than you were before (though rejection stings).

          My perspective on this stuff is way different than when I was a university student, since I think I was trying for the Suffering in Silence award. Now that I spend all my time with faculty and staff, I am like, “Heck yeah, talk to your teachers! If you’re here to learn and succeed, use what’s available to you!”

        • Mary said:

          That’s not an argument against asking for an extension – it’s an argument for using the extra time that you’re given!

          If you’re going to leave all the work until the last minute anyway, then it doesn’t matter whether it’s due in March or September. But if you can be organised enough to do it bit by bit and set your own deadlines, it can be incredibly useful.

      • Trivialmoon said:

        “But you don’t get a special award for being quiet and unobtrusive. Nobody gives you a Worked Through the Most Shit to Get to Class This Morning scholarship.”

        I so needed to hear that right now. Thank you.

      • I’ll definitely be following all of your suggestions – thank you so much! the environment here is conducive to stress, which has only aggravated this. Again, hopefully I’m on a better track now, so there is hope. Cheers :)

      • Nanani said:

        ” Nobody gives you a Worked Through the Most Shit to Get to Class This Morning scholarship. ”

        So THAT’S why I had to work all those summers to afford Uni.
        Seriously, I wish I’d had this site when I was starting school. Cannot help but mentally upvote EVERYTHING

      • Twi said:

        Thank you thank you thank you for posting this.

        I needed to read that. Because I am the person who doesn’t want to be whiny or a burden or ask for accommodations because “there are no good excuses” and “you are not dealing with things that are worse than what any other person is dealing with so WHY DO YOU SUCK AT DOING THINGS” according to my jerkbrain who is really, really good at sounding like normal, civil, and sensible rest of my brain, so much so that I don’t always realize that it is my jerkbrain speaking.
        And my jerkbrain is really good at playing on my fears of “you’re just being whiny” because I’ve had people (including a doctor I brought my concerns to before going to college) essentially tell me that I shouldn’t be so quick to jump to conclusions about bad mental health (which I read as “you’re being whiny so stop it”).
        And lately my excuse for not visiting the counseling center has been “you don’t have enough time to do the rest of your work, so you definitely don’t have time to stop doing work to visit the counseling center” which is really stupid and I didn’t realize how stupid it was until reading your comment.
        So yeah, I need to make time to visit the counseling center.

    • FlyBy said:

      Another person here who greatly benefited from the counseling center at my college. School is one of the best opportunities to get mental help – it’s usually free, and you’re at a point in your life where it can make a lot of difference. Honestly I think the therapy I got during that time has been more valuable to my life than the classes.

      Pay extra attention to sleeping, eating, exercise, and all the other stuff your body needs to be healthy. It’s really easy to let that stuff slip during college, especially during your first year, and especially if your friends are letting things slide as well. It’s not fun being the one who goes to bed at 10:00 every night, but sometimes it’s necessary.

      You can do it! You’re in for a massive amount of change, and most of it is good. Have fun!

    • Marvel said:

      I don’t know how dire your situation is, but speaking from personal experience:

      First, don’t be me: do whatever you can to avoid dropping out, because getting back in after dropping out can be a chore and a half. Your campus probably has a counseling center; if you don’t have an off-campus counselor, find out when their walk-in hours are and stop by. Generally they’ll try to match you with someone who is familiar with your specific issues and you can set up weekly or biweekly appointments from there.

      If you’re a perfectionist like me, you might be telling yourself “it’s As or nothing, so I have to ace every assignment, and if I don’t I should just drop out.” Try very hard not to do this. If your depression gets in the way and you end up failing some assignments, it’s not the end of the world. Firstly, you can always do better on later work, and secondly–say you don’t, and you end up failing the class. You can retake the class. Grades don’t matter as much as most academic perfectionists think they do, and EVERYONE is going to get a bad grade at least once, even if they don’t have depression. Stay. In. School.

      Second, if you DO find yourself failing a class and you KNOW you can’t bring your grade back up no matter what you do (try to be objective about this; don’t sabotage yourself), don’t be afraid to drop the class and take it again another semester. This is where having a counselor comes in handy for the bureaucracy bits–sometimes you can’t drop classes too late in the semester without a letter from a counselor attesting to why. I think it depends on the school.

      Third, if you need to withdraw for the semester (i.e. drop out and come back the following semester), do it. Figure out what your school’s policies are for withdrawing and returning, get a letter from your counselor if necessary; just do it. Personal anecdote time: I have social anxiety and depression as well as a very very unhealthy dose of perfectionism. I’m also transgender, for what that’s worth, which complicates all of those issues in ways I can’t even really begin to explain. Actually, physically going into the office to file withdrawal papers? TERRIFYING. And I let it get the better of me one semester: instead of going in to file my withdrawal papers, I just stopped going to class. As a consequence of this, I ended up failing all my classes, and as a consequence of THAT, I now have a really hard time getting access to certain opportunities because my GPA is so low. So, basically, I screwed myself over.

      Now, retroactively having grades stricken from the record for Reasons is a thing. I can do that. Theoretically. But it is a giant mess of paperwork, and in the meantime, I have to deal with something that could’ve been easily avoided. Despite the lies people will tell you, needing to drop out of school temporarily for mental health issues is actually a really common thing, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Go ahead and drop out if you need to. If you need a break, take a break. The school will still be there when you get back.

      WHEW, that was probably more information than you wanted, but it felt good to get all that off my chest.

      • Definitely the grades thing. In high school I got an A Bursary off four subjects. In that system, your top 5 classes in your final year were added together for a score out of 500. I was a year ahead in Spanish so it was done earlier, so I only had four Bursary subjects in my final year, but I somehow still had enough out of that 400 to hit the top band of marks. But after high school I crashed and burned. I’m finally clawing my way back and learning to consider my current A-/B+ average as pretty damn good. Especially in the first part of a degree, higher marks are really only for bragging rights if later classes aren’t limited entry. Remember kids, Cs get degrees! :P

        (Also this is my THIRD TIME at university. Yep. Third. It’s also the first time I’ve passed more than one semester in a row – I just finished my third one, still waiting to get grades back. Those previous attempts won’t matter at all in the end.)

        • The mantra for us underacheivers at my alma mater was “C is for Competent, D is for Diploma.” I think I inadvertently made a few freshman cry when I introduced them to that phrase when I was TAing for the toughest intro chemistry teacher the school had to offer.

          (The man bent over backward to help me pass three courses with him that I really didn’t deserve to pass, so I tended to discount nearly all of the complaints about him being too harsh, but in fairness it WAS a bit of a culture shock for a fresh out of high school kid who’s never really had to work hard before. It’s one thing to leave the pool where you’ve been training to try an open water swim at a local lake, another to leave the pool to try a crossing of the English Channel.)

    • Spc. Agent Bluejay said:

      I was depressed for most my time in university. It’s possible in my answer I’m going to be projecting my past all over you, but perhaps some of it will be of use to you. It’s kind of a long story, but I didn’t manage to get real treatment until after I graduated, which was just barely.

      Don’t do depression alone. Not just your friends, because if you’ve been reading along here, you’ll most likely exceed their ability to help you. See a professional. Psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist, etc. I’m a poster child for successful drug therapy, but that’s me and my particular flavour of depression and that may or may not be what’s best for you. Keep looking until you find someone who is a good fit. Beware of waitlists: I graduated before I got off the waitlist at my school’s psych services after I rejected my first shrink due to terrible fit, and lost precious time I could have been seeing someone else and getting well, which I did once I graduated and looked outside the school system. The school system is a logical place to start looking, but if it’s a no-go, look somewhere else. Your primary care physician can help you find someone. Perhaps others can chime in with other suggestions.

      Depression impairs motivation to study and complete assignments, and much of Captain’s advice above is of the keep putting one foot in front of the other variety. Student specific version of the keeping your desk tidy so that people can find stuff to cover for you when you’re not there: if studying and completeing assignment seems too daunting, aim to get enough done so that you have someplace to start asking tutors or friends for help. But I have to circle back to the point about seeing a professional of some kind to help you get well, because if you’re not actually on a path to recovering from depression, putting one foot in front of the other gets harder and harder. Muddling through university with untreated depression is a terrible way to do university.

      If you get help sooner, you’ll get much more out of your studies. If you wait until you really hit rock bottom before you do, recovery might start with baby steps. After graduating, my transcript was shot (cf: muddling through studies with untreated depression) so it was hard to figure out what to do with myself. Luckily, my parents were able to support me while I recovered and worked at a rather silly part time job. If you’ve hit rockbottom, you need to rebuild your self-worth by taking on responsibility at a level you can handle, and gradually increasing it as you get well. Eventually I got well enough that I was able to go full bore again on building an actual career.

      Anyway, you’re in first year and you’re already asking for help. To me this sounds excellent for your prospects of avoiding the long downward spiral and steep climb back out that I had. Good luck.

    • Neddy the Stylish said:

      Something that really really helped me when I was struggling with depression at uni was to have a place that I went to to study. Rather than sitting in my room in my jammies having another snack and trying to get motivated, I’d say “At 10 o’ clock I am going to leave and go down to the library, and find a desk and sit at it. After an hour I will go and have a coffee, and then return to that desk.” Then I would break up the tasks I’d need to do in order to leave for the library at that time: shower, get dressed, find keys, whatever. There’s always a risk that when you get to the library you find yourself sitting there staring into space, but I found that more often than not once I was there there were no more distractions and I might as well get on with it. Because I was going to sit in that seat until it was coffee time, and there’s nothing more dull than doing that and not studying. But I kept the focus on the period of time to be spent studying, rather than “I’m not stopping until this essay is ready,” because you don’t have direct control over how long it takes you to write a good piece of work, but you do have control of where you put your body at a particular time.

      And also: do this whether or not you have a deadline looming. When your mental health is not at its strongest, you need to make the most of good days. Other students may be able to leave everything until the night before it’s due because they know they’re not likely to be too ill on that night to manage it. Don’t wait for the deadline, and don’t wait until you feel like doing the work: put the structure into your life. Structure is your friend when you have a mental health problem.

      • the_apricot said:

        Yes! Having a place and time set aside to study helped me too, when I was depressed and high-anxiety and struggling to get through school. It didn’t always work – sometimes I didn’t manage to get there and sometimes I got there and couldn’t focus well – but doing this worked better than not doing it. It was easier for me to simply show up at a place where there was nothing to do but study, than to make myself start studying at home.

        I found that it was especially helpful for me to schedule study time right after class or another activity, because I was already out of the house and wouldn’t be derailed by failing to get myself out the door.

        The *best thing ever* was when I got a job as a study room attendant. My job was to sit at a desk and be available to answer questions, check out books, and report computer problems – so mostly I got paid (very little) to do my homework. No matter how bad my depression was, I always showed up for work, so I always got some homework done.

    • shevek returning said:

      Having dropped out of my first degree due to depression, I absolutely agree with the commenters who advise talking to your University counselling service or doctor. (Most university counselling services in the UK are committed to seeing you within a few weeks of your referral: I used mine as a postgrad and they were AWESOME.)

      However if you think your depression is interfering with your academic work or is going to interfere with your academic work, one of the best things you can do is speak to your department and lecturers/tutors as soon as possible and let them know what’s going on. If they don’t know you’re legitimately struggling with anxiety or depression, absences or missing work can look like you just don’t care. And, with a few exceptions, university staff WANT to know if you’re not doing so well so that they can help. Establish contact with your teaching staff early on and explain the situation, and then, most importantly, stay in touch. Keep up with your emails. Take advantage of their office hours to talk through any work you’re concerned about or anything you might have missed. Attend the required sessions: if you can’t, email the staff in advance. Similarly, if you think you’re going to need an extension on a piece of work, ask well in advance of the submission date. Unless they’re an absolute arsehole, they are going to be sympathetic. They might not always be able to accommodate your requests but, at the end of the day, both of you want you to get through the module.

      It’ll be hard going, no lie. Just getting through the required work is sometimes bad enough and it can feel like more work keeping those lines of communication open and negotiating those relationships when all you want to do is retreat. However, I actively avoided people when I was depressed and, in the end, it meant that not only did university staff not know that I was depressed, they didn’t know me enough to trust that I was anything beyond an absence on a register. I dropped out feeling amazingly alone and while it certainly wasn’t the worst thing that ever happened to me, I could have come out of it with better options if I’d talked to the university.

      My granny always told me to get over heavy ground as lightly as you can*, and the best way to do that is by spreading the weight around. Let other people know what you’re dealing with and work from there.

      *But then she also told me that witches can cross running water in eggshells, and to always keep an eggshell-crushing hammer handy. Strange but canny woman, my gran.

      • sasha said:

        one of the best things you can do is speak to your department and lecturers/tutors as soon as possible and let them know what’s going on. If they don’t know you’re legitimately struggling with anxiety or depression, absences or missing work can look like you just don’t care.

        THIS.

        This applies whether the problem keeping you from attending class / writing that paper / turning in that homework / wev is depression, illness, family issues, or anything else. Talk to your professor or TA, the sooner – and more often – the better! You don’t have to give hir details of what’s going on, just let hir know that you have something going on in your life that’s keeping you from attending / completing assignments. Ask hir what you can do, and if there are any accommodations that can be made. If zie is like most other profs I know, zie will be happy to work with you to find a solution that will work for both of you. Zie will be happy to know that you are actually trying, because from the professor’s side, an absent student who turns in assignments chronically late (if ever) looks like a student who doesn’t give a d&*n.

        Whatever you do, don’t wait until the end of the semester after grades have already been turned in to ask for accommodation. I had a student do this last semester. She missed, literally, half of the labs, and was late for most of those she did attend. Seeing as it was a Monday morning class at a big party school, many other students were absent each week, and she usually looked kind of rough, I assumed she’d stayed out too late the night before. She came to me at the end of the term asking for accommodation due to chronic illness, and I wanted to believe her, but by that point it was too late.

        • Michelle said:

          I’d like to second(third?) this – I had a similar situation last fall with a student – she was late to every class, missed some assignments, turned in work that was incomplete…and was sending me the message that she didn’t really care. It turns out her father was dying, and did in fact die over the break. She didn’t tell me until after the semester was over. I felt horrible, but I didn’t know. And at that point, there was nothing I could do – if she had approached me earlier, I would have worked with her.

          • Jenna said:

            Fourthing….or something.
            People can’t read your mind. They don’t know what is going on, and can not help you unless you tell them what you need.
            My roommate told me lies and led me on about his share of the rent. He said he was going to get it to me later in the week….and it kept getting pushed back.
            Turns out his hours at work had been cut waaaay down and he had to scramble to find a second job, but, he didn’t TELL ME THAT! If I had known earlier, I might have chosen to take some of the rent in work around the house, but, now that I know he lied? I’m mad, and with him working two jobs(and avoiding me) extra house work to make up doesn’t seem like an option. I’m not certain what IS an option, at this point. I still don’t have his share of the rent, and I don’t trust his promises anymore…

            So. End of derail. People aren’t mind readers, and are generally more understanding and accommodating if you tell the truth early.

    • JenniferP said:

      Go to class.

      Go to the student counseling center.

      Tell your profs what’s going on.

      Imperfect work that’s in by the deadline > theoretically perfect work you’d hand in with more time.

      • Jenna said:

        Yes.
        Show up for class. A huge amount of life is showing up neat, ready and on time.
        HUGE AMOUNT!

        In college I lived by my calendar(once I got the knack of it, at least. I did had to learn what worked for me, first). I had a notebook calendar, with lots of space to write, and it covered the entire calendar year. I wrote down every class time. I didn’t just trust that I’d remember Thursday’s class schedule. I wrote it in. I wrote down assignments, with the teacher’s minimum requirements and due dates. I wrote down test days.
        If I were doing it again, I’d also manufacture extra due dates, EARLY due dates for big projects, by scheduling a time to show them to someone for feedback, because I know myself better now. Deadlines where someone else is looking at the project work better for me than merely telling myself to get this much done by a certain date.
        I also looked up the drop dead dates….the date that I’d have to drop a class by to not get a grade.

        • My ability to get stuff done has gone up like 100000000000% since getting a smartphone. I’m pretty strongly addicted to the thing, which means that if I make use of the calendar app to input appointments and deadlines and even times when I want to get chores done, it is an absolute guarantee that I will see the reminders it sent me and that makes it much more likely that I’ll get stuff done on time. It also sends reminders to my laptop, which cuts off that avenue of distraction, too. I strongly recommend electronic calendars that send reminders on all your favorite time-wasting devices to anyone who can afford them. It’s a seriously worthwhile investment.

      • thanks. I’m going to counseling, currently on medication and hopefully looking at a better road ahead than last semester. Work is overwhelming but not impossible.
        thank you.

        • Aezy said:

          Good luck! I too have to deal with depression at uni and while the counselling here is not the best (it’s really really limited and I don’t have the funds to pay for anything better) having a supervisor or professor on board is brilliant. Also making friends in my classes has helped: if I’m having a really crappy “I can’t get out of bed what is the point in life” day I can text them and ask them to grab a copy of notes for me/explain I’m not feeling well to the teacher/ etc etc.

    • Penny R said:

      I’m a third year university student who has recently (thanks to a combo of meds, therapy and some incredible, supportive members of Team Me) found herself on the other side of a very long, very dark period of depression. Things that helped me:

      1. Tell people. I don’t mean telling everyone you meet, regardless of how uncomfortable it makes you, or using your depression as an excuse for not doing things, but you certainly should be confiding in someone. As a university student this should probably include a professor – if you’re in the UK or if you have a similar system where you are you should have a personal tutor/director of studies. I told mine when I was put on medication. It was a pretty awkward conversation, and luckily for me it was irrelevant as my academic work was pretty much the only aspect of my life that didn’t suffer as a result of my depression, but it was good to have him in the loop in case it had happened. I also told my three closest friends at university (my flatmates and one other) and my boyfriend. My boyfriend and my non-flatmate friend were so incredibly supportive and helpful that I feel a bit overwhelmed by happyfeels just thinking about it. Friends want to help you, because regardless of how little you may feel you deserve it at the time, they love you. Of course, there isn’t always a happy ending. My two flatmates couldn’t handle my depression and had no interest in cutting me any slack because of it – turning down invitations to go clubbing got me the silent treatment for days, and they banned me from having my boyfriend over to our flat because they thought he was spending too much time there, even though he was the only person who could talk me down from my hours-long crying jags. Yeah. Luckily I was able to move out fairly soon, but that taught me another important lesson: stick up for yourself. This can be incredibly difficult when you’re depressed, but being able to identify a toxic environment and extricate yourself from it can be vital. If certain people in your life aren’t interested in supporting you through your depression (which is absolutely their prerogative), the only way they can communicate that to you is if they know you’re depressed in the first place.

      2. Maintain a social life. Seriously, this is so important. I had a standing weekly lunch-date with the non-flatmate friend mentioned earlier, and just getting dressed and getting out the house helped so much. It made me feel useful and wanted. There were definitely weeks when I couldn’t manage, but the fact that she knew why (see 1) made it easier for me to be honest with her and reschedule. And the guilt of having to cancel (often at the last minute) and inconvenience her made me all the more likely to go the next week. I also was a member of a society at my university, and having to take on weekly responsibilities again helped convince me that I wasn’t useless, and also got me out of the house. Crucially, it also introduced me to a new group of people, and that social aspect was hugely important in bringing me out of my darkest periods.

      3. Use the resources available to you! My university offered a free counselling service (although you only got 6 hour long sessions). The health centre was also a big help, and I was lucky enough to get a doctor who was not only incredibly understanding but who also suffered from depression himself, and was actually on the same meds as me. The doctors at your university health centre will also have good advice, and they are used to dealing with students, so if you are interested in pursuing a medical solution, that’s the place to go. My doctor was very happy to prescribe me meds, and helped me to find the best ones for me (plus, thanks to the NHS, they were free – yay Scotland!).

      I hope this is useful, of course your mileage will vary depending on what part of the world you’re in. It’s really really difficult, but I promise it can get better.

    • keelyellenmarie said:

      1. n-thing getting counseling at school. For some reason I had this weird idea in my head when I was in college that college counseling centers are just for handling stressed-out student woes–how do I schedule my time, help I’m homesick, etc–and that they wouldn’t be able to help me with my depression. WRONG. Late teens through early twenties–the time when most people are in college–is primetime for first episodes of serious mental illness. College counseling centers know this. Yes, some of them are better than others, but all of them really do want to help you. GO NOW.

      2. Most of the strategies I discussed here were developed while I was in college. Take whatever sounds appealing to you and use the hell out of it. Bonus: the therapist discussed in said post who awesomely put up with arguing with my incredibly bratty depressed 19-year-old self was a college counseling center therapist. Despite all the limitations of counseling center therapy (there are sometimes limits on visits/school term, etc), she took amazing care of me and without her I may not have made it through college, much less stood up to my controlling parents or left my abusive fiance.

      3. Make the best use of your productive time. Learn to do the most difficult/important work when you are at your best, and use other time to do less-crucial tasks. In college, you have the unique opportunity to be really flexible with how you spend your time, so take advantage. If you find you work best late at night, that’s absolutely fine if you are able to plan your sleep accordingly. As long as you are still getting your coursework done, being social enough to keep your support network intact and yourself sane, and reliably getting sleep, you can afford to have a somewhat unconventional schedule. Of course, you don’t want to become too dependent on this strategy, since it probably won’t work outside of college, but use it judiciously to survive right now.

      • staranise said:

        Yes to counselling centres handling more than homesickness and study skills. Counselling psychology, which emerged in schools, is actually a vast field with research and methods designed to help normal populations live healthily. It’s as old as clinical psychology, which grew out of hospitals and clinics, and often as broad. (The two fields cross-pollenate and are fairly close these days, so counsellors can totally handle mental illness; but their mindset and focus are a bit different.) In some ways, the simpler the problem and easier it is to deal with, the less counsellors get to really dig in their toolbox of experience and skills.

    • Solestria said:

      Oh my god, this was me all through college. I attended a lovely small liberal arts school with tons of available help, most of which I never took advantage of, and I did poorly as a result. I’d do it very differently now.

      Steps I would take that might be helpful to you:
      -Talk to you advisor. Outline the issues, see what resources are available.
      -School counselor or other therapy outlet. Support group if there’s one available.
      -Time management help. Your school almost certainly has people to teach study skills. I have sucky time management and doubly so when I’m depressed, and I do poorly breaking things down into manageable tasks. I really, really wish I’d addressed this with the appropriate people in college who could have helped me develop those skills then.

      Good luck!

    • Kris said:

      Remember it’s OK to take a fairly light load. Don’t over do it – try to figure out what works for you. Show up to every class if at all possible – most teachers will tell you what they expect you to learn, which is a huge shortcut. If you have questions, ask! You can ask after class if you’re embarrassed to ask in front of the others. If you ask respectfully, most teachers will be happy to be helpful. If you need help, check on getting a tutor through the school. It might even be free to get turoring, and it can help a lot.
      One of the things I appreciated about college was that it was too big for most of the cliques to be noticable, so if you socialize less because you feel depressed, it’s not likely to be as noticable in college.
      Some colleges have a mathematics lab where you can get help from other students. These can be great in helping with math issues.
      If you can make procedures for how you get your school work done, that can help a lot.
      Before tests, I would go through my notes on the class and make up my own test with questions on one group of pages and answers on another group. Then I would test myself. That really helped.

      • I started by taking two papers a semester. A year later I’m moving up to three. Luckily here you can get “limited full-time” status for a few different reasons, including illness or disability, so that you still get the benefits of being full time (particularly the financial ones, our government hates part timers) because it’s been really fantastic to not have to worry about four classes at once with assignments all due in at once.

    • Isabel K. said:

      Talk to your profs ASAP. I teach at a university. Furthermore, as an adjunct, pretty much everything I teach is a GER (general education requirement – something that *has* to be taken to graduate, regardless of major), so not usually classes people are super excited to take in the first place.

      Unless a student *talks to me* , I CANNOT know if the missing class/not turning stuff in is because they don’t want to be here and are blowing stuff off (depressingly common among young first-year students who are not paying for classes themselves), or because they are a student having genuine problems that are impacting their ability to perform the activities required to pass the class. If I know, I can usually either offer an accommodation, or at least advise them in a way that allows them to escape with minimal damage to financial aid/GPA/personal finances. If, that is, they talk to me soon enough for either of us to have any real options. There are some administrative issues that even tenured full professors cannot overrule if problems come to light far enough into the semester.

      Speak up as early as possible. I don’t know *any* profs who enjoy flunking people, and most of us will do our best to help you learn and succeed. I wish you all the luck in the world.

    • Emma said:

      There is a lot of great advice for you already, but I want to add one more piece from my experience working with college students. If you are struggling with even a small problem and you don’t know how to solve it or who the right person is to ask, just go ahead and ask someone even if they’re clearly the wrong person. Friendly professors, department administrators, that person behind a desk at the dean’s office whose job title you’re not totally clear on – these people are all there for you and they know the university. They can all tell you where that form is actually supposed to go or where to look up a deadline. They do not judge you for not knowing already on your own (spoiler: none of the other undergrads do either.) Let them help you deal with mundane things so you can focus on yourself and your education.

      • miss_chevious said:

        ^^So much this! When I was a TA (freshman English FTW), I regularly had students come to me because I was the only instructor who knew their names and tell me about the issues they were having. Most of the time, those issues weren’t things they needed my help with, but they needed someone’s help and I was the only person they knew who wasn’t another student and equally lost. And it wasn’t a pain at all — it was part of my job to be available to students and help them, even if they didn’t need help with English.

        If it wasn’t my issue, I usually had a much better idea of who they should go to next, and if I didn’t, I could find out pretty easily because I was a part of the structure already. So please, ask anyone you feel comfortable asking.

    • What everyone said.

      From my experience as a depressed person in college:

      – Keep going to class. It might seem like you’re not getting anything from the lectures, and this might even be true, especially freshman year. But somewhere in the semester the material can go from Easy to Say What?

      There’s lots of other reasons to keep going to class, as other people talked about above, and a prof who never sees you is less likely to want to cut you any slack. But the class getting hard when I wasn’t looking is what got me.

      – Make friends with the secretaries. University secretaries make the world go round. They know who to talk to, they can slip you into someone’s schedule, they know how to get forms filed, they know how to work around deadlines.

      An experienced secretary is MAGIC. TRUST.

  3. KM said:

    I have been through ups and downs as well… I am totally bookmarking just this one post for future down-times! Great write, thanks. :)

  4. once upon a time said:

    I think this answer was very helpful for all of us with jobs and JerkBrains, even if we are not struggling with anxiety or depression. If you are new to your job, if you are trying to get a promotion or a raise, these are all good things to do.

  5. I’ve just been lurking for a while, haven’t been commenting at all (even though I love this site!), but I just wanted to say that this is probably the most personally useful thing I’ve seen yet here, so thank you for that, and good luck to LW with everything going on.

  6. #450 said:

    LW here!

    First, thank you. There’s a lot of stuff in here that I needed to hear but haven’t heard yet (mostly I get “HEY GIRL FIX YOUR PROBLEMS AND THEN THINGS WILL BE GREAT”) — you’re right, I can fake being fine until I actually am fine again! I’ll be reading and re-reading your advice. Seriously, thank you.

    The work advice you given is defs applicable — I work in a coffee shop, so there isn’t as much computer/recorded interpersonal stuff, but I think being in regular contact with my bosses is a good idea anyway. I will definitely be bringing a notepad to my big scary meeting tomorrow, too!

    Also, the “don’t cry” one is pretty big. I cry a lot. I am a big cryer, and I never realized that leaking fluids because I’m overwhelmed (because that’s all it is! I get too many feelings, and they come out as liquid!) could make me look like “the crazy one”. Anyone have quick tips on not crying? I’d love to work on holding it in, but such things are not accomplished overnight.

    Anyway, I’ll be reading the comments! Thank you, everyone. I felt so alone and awful when I wrote this, but I don’t anymore. Thank you thank you thank you!

    • #450 said:

      Also PS the Artax comparison?

      AHAHAHAHAHA FUCKING SPOT ON MY FRIEND SPOT ON. Especially if it’s in the context of relationshipping, boy howdy.

      • beens said:

        I get the ragetears and overwhelmed tears in stressful situations. It is purely a physical reaction to holding back the “Uh…fuck you, sir” that I’m thinking. My boss knows I will cry if we disagree (only because he’s an entitled ass – but I just leave that out).

        Since the other suggestions on stopping the tears don’t work for me, I just have to deal with it. I’ve found that if we’re in the middle of a discussion and I’m about to cry, I just straight up say, “My body is confusing the situation for something more serious than it is but these tears are totally a physical reaction and I’m still listening. Please don’t mind my face.” I say it with a sincere shrug and maybe a laugh and people generally just get over it and don’t even mention it when it happens. If you basically pretend that you’re not embarrassed or ashamed of it, they don’t feel embarrassed for you and you don’t spiral downward into focusing on how EMOTIONAL you’re appearing and instead can continue the conversation at hand. I’m the crybaby and now it’s just a silly thing that we brush off and it doesn’t even bother me anymore. You just have to prove a few times that you’re still in the game, even if your face is leaking. And honestly, it doesn’t even bother me anymore.

        • JenniferP said:

          Yep. I’ve cried at work and had to just keep going, in the end it was not a big deal.

          Where it was a big deal with my employee is that she’d cry and then not say or do anything – not do any work, not come find me later to pick up the conversation. So instead of “____ is upset, but she is doing her work” it became “If you talk to ____ about anything work related, she will cry and then you will have to do her work.”

      • Phospher said:

        This is a pretty horrible way of doing it, relies on shaming yourself for expressing feelings, and might only make a crying jag worse for some people, but once I was on the verge of crying just after a class and this snide voice in my head said, “Leaking bodily fluids in public, really? You’re basically pissing in the street.” And the tears dried up instantaneously. And since then I’ve found if I think to myself “pissing in the street” I can kind of shock myself out of crying at least temporarily, until I can get somewhere private. I suppose, harsh as it is, it doesn’t fit the usual tone of the “oh god I can’t do anything right”-spiral and it makes me detach a bit. And even though it’s such a jerkbrainy thought, it makes me somehow *identify* with the jerkbrain, so *I* feel more like the hard, pitiless, snide person (who at least wouldn’t be crying) rolling their eyes at this stupid phenomenon and less like the pitiful sad person being jeered at. And I suppose it’s also at least slightly funny.

        Generalising alert: I figure maybe this is a bit what like boys are trained to do subconsciously from a much earlier age — they’re shamed for crying earlier, (“boys don’t cry” “be brave” etc) and over the course of years this teaches them *how not to do it*. Whereas women are somewhat more permitted to cry in childhood, and then, rather abruptly, REALLY REALLY judged for it in adulthood (“weak, hysterical, erratic” etc) at which point we haven’t had any “training” in how to use the shame to turn tears off, so it just makes us feel even worse and cry even harder. Um. This is all really messed up and unhealthy for everyone! But if you can at least make the shame work to your temporary advantage within the messed up system, perhaps that’s something?

        More kindly, mindfulness techniques can really help — trying not to block the upsetting thought or feeling or push it away, but also not to engage with it, just going “okay,” and bringing your focus onto your breath and your immediate physical sensations.

    • Justine said:

      (My first time posting here. I love this site so much. So much great advice.)

      The crying thing is really hard. I have had limited success with making myself think about funny things. Or surreal things. Or boring things. Or anything other than the dark sad hole within from whence streams that salty liquid.

      Must successful though is blinking fast and not speaking until the urge to cry passes. Unfortunately, it’s super obvious that’s what I’m doing. And not speaking when dealing with boss/co-workers/customers can be tricky.

      Good luck!

      • kathleen said:

        Crying… I don’t cry pretty, so I try really hard not to do it in public. But, when you’re going they a bad patch, sometimes tears happen. So
        1) waterproof mascara on the upper lashes only (if you wear mascara), and matte neutral gray eyeshadow to cover pink puffy lids.
        2) if you start to well up, concentrate on controlling the physical process. Tilt your head back, look straight up and sniff deep. This draws the tears into your sinuses, rather than letting them spill down your cheeks.
        3) if you need to excuse yourself to cry, do that. Keep some red removing eye drops in your purse. Use them in your eyes, and also pat some of the drops on your nose and the skin around your eyes. The vasoconstrictor will help get rid of the redness and swelling.
        4) if anybody comments, roll your eyes, shrug ruefully and say that you’re fighting a sinus infection from hell.

        Also, if you tear up from just about any strong emotion, explain what you’re feeling. I was seriously pissed off at my male boss, and during our meeting I started to well up, to both of our horror. So I told him, “you need to know that I am crying because I am ANGRY. I am not sad or hurt, I am pissed off. I wish I didn’t get leaky around the eyes when I’m mad, but I do. And I am really mad, because when I did, x, you didn’t follow through with y and I got thrown under the bus.” And it actually worked out ok. We managed to work through it.

        • These are fantastic suggestions, especially #2.

          And boy howdy, I remember rage!tears and how much I hated them–I love that you came right out and said that’s what they were. I’m over 40 now, and I don’t remember when I last got rage!tears, so they can eventually go away. It took me a long time to realize that they *had* but it was awesome when that finally sunk in.

        • Jenna said:

          RAGETEARS, how I with thee would never appear again. It is so very hard to get anyone to listen to what you are saying if you are crying.
          I cried a lot more when I was younger, and it took me ages(decades) to figure out that mostly they were tears of anger. I was ANGRY, but sometimes at myself, sometimes at someone else, and sometimes at a loss of control over events/life/body.
          I was congratulating myself earlier this year at getting the crying mostly under control. My current workplace of 7 years and my current boyfriend had never seen the tears.
          Then I started having health issues, and guess what came back?
          But, at least I understand what the RAGETEARS are now. They come when I am angry at my body for betraying me, when I miss an appointment due to a schedule mixup, when someone tells me I should have done X when I wasn’t aware that X needed doing(invisible priorities, how I hate thee as well.). Generally, I am knocked out of being in control of my life or myself, and I am angry!
          What can make them worse is when people stop listening to me and try to comfort me(no, don’t hug me! Just listen to what I am saying!) because I am usually trying to talk the situation into control, get something taken care of, reschedule something so that it will work. Their reaction to my tears is actively in my way, and not helpful.

        • Quinrue said:

          Excusing yourself if possible with a promise to resume the conversation shortly is a good idea. Something in the eye, have to use the restroom, etc.

          Breathing deeply and concentrating on something else can help to stop the tears temporarily, but lately yeah I just go with explaining something like:
          “I’m really angry/frustrated/etc. right now and sometimes when I get strong emotions like that, my body decides I need to let it out by crying. Please continue and don’t mind my tears, I cry easily.”
          This helps a lot I’ve found with people who aren’t easy-criers to not feel so wrong-footed because as someone else said, if they don’t cry easily, they are thinking you must be REALLY upset to cry at work as they would have to be hugely upset to do the same. It also puts those misogynistic thoughts about women trying to manipulate with tears to rest too.

          And as others have said, if you cry but still are listening and show that you are getting your work done, etc. then folks will get over the tears just like they get over any other coworker quirk.

        • Contact lenses! If you don’t wear glasses, they are one of the best ways to explain away signs of crying, because almost everyone’s had that happen.

    • clodia said:

      On the crying – I’m not a huge cryer, so here: Have a bucket of salt.

      I have absolutely no advice for you in terms of how to cry less often. However, as someone who does have friends who cry with every big emotion, my advice is to just be cool about it. It’s not a big deal. You do this sometimes. Take a minute, get yourself together, apologize exactly once in a non-chalant way (as if you sneezed! It’s just another bodily function getting possibly-toxic crap out of your body), and then move on. If you act like it’s not a big deal, then most people will be inclined to follow your lead. If you apologize a million times, it will make you look even more “emotional”.

      Own your crying! Nothing’s wrong with it. Acknowledge the needing to take a moment, and then get back to the conversation.

      You’re awesome, LW! I’m probably going to print this out myself, as I’m going through a tough time and it’s starting to impact my work ability. Thanks for the excellent timing, and good luck tomorrow!

    • tawg said:

      Hey LW! I have a LOT of experience in crying at work. Different kinds of work. It’s awful. But here are some tactics I built up:
      – If you’re going into a scary meeting and you think you’ll cry during it, let the other people know and let them know how to react. I had to drop out of uni due to anxiety issues, so I went to my supervisor and said “I’m probably going to cry during this meeting. Just keep going. I can pay attention, and it will be really awkward, but act normal and we’ll get through this”. And he followed my direction, and I did cry a little, but because I went in there and laid down MY rules for what was going to happen, I didn’t feel so anxious about crying and therefore I didn’t cry as much.

      – If you can’t come out and say it because of power structures (no one wants to cry in front of their boss, it’s just not a good look unless you’re being paid to cry), but you feel the crying coming on, take a moment to pull back from the situation. With my last boss, I would put my hand up and say “Hang on, can you give me a minute to process that?” And I would write down the point in my notebook, and I would draw a doodle next to it to diffuse the BIG SCARY IMPLICATIONS of that note, and I would stare blankly at my page and take some deep breaths.

      – Take a box of tissues in with out – the nice and soft ones. It let’s everyone know that you’re expecting this meeting to be tough so they’ll automatically be a little gentle with you. Or you can just apologise and say that you have allergies/a cold. That way if you do cry, you’ll have tissues right where you need them, and won’t be crying on yourself or wiping your nose with a sleeve, and the people around you won’t be rushing around and trying to find you something to clean up your drips with. I found that having that little bit of control over my environment helped me. If I did cry, I would be prepared to handle it with dignity and aloe vera tissues.

      – Try to identify any thought spirals that you may slip into before hand. My thought spiral when I was in retail was something like: I’m fucking up my job -> everyone knows I’m fucking up -> people from other stores probably know I’m fucking up -> I’m going to get fired -> not even that, i’ll be fired because customers will complain about me crying at work and the REGIONAL MANAGER will come in to talk about it and that will be embarrassing and THEN I’ll get fired -> I can’t afford to lose this job -> all of the ‘I can’t be unemployed’ fears etc.
      My way of dealing with the thought spiral OF DOOM was to jump out at the end of each thought. So ‘I’m fucking up my job’ could be an exit point because ‘but everyone fucks up sometimes, so okay’. ‘I’m going to get fired’ could be an exit point because ‘they could fire anyone to be honest, so there’s a pretty good chance I’m safe’.

      – I am very good at bossing myself around, and I know this doesn’t work for anyone, but since you said that tears are liquid feelings, sometimes I can hold them back by sternly telling myself “Self, these are feelings and this meeting is not about feelings. We will deal with them later and cry and THAT IS FINE but right now we need to focus on words”. I found that it helped to have someone to dump on lined up for right after the scary meeting/shift that would be awful etc. I could hold those tears back for thirty minutes, then have someone give me tea and tissues in a private place while I sobbed. Tears are feelings that need to be let out, so sometimes having a scheduled outlet can help keep the hounds of crying at bay for a while.

      • 42tlh42 said:

        Hey, yeah, the “I have allergies” line is great! You don’t need to mention that the ‘allergy’ is to meetings! ;-) The box of tissues is a really good idea, too.
        LW, it takes so much bravery to let others in on what’s going on, and I’m impressed you were so clear and precise in your message. Sending you all the strength. VALE

    • I spent my first 35 years crying twice a day. I’m a lacrimal pro, and I was ashamed of every tear. Then I realized I felt better after I cried, that it was cathartic, and it really served to release the stress, fear, & anxiety, like @clodia says: similar to a sneeze.

      That helped me accept my crying, and realize that I wasn’t a baby. I was sad and depressed and crying is something that goes along with that. That doesn’t make other people more comfortable with crying, unfortunately, but it makes it easier for me to acknowledge, “Whoops, crying again, not a big drama, just a sneeze.”

    • Not It said:

      BREATHE. I learned some breathing exercises in yoga and I use them when I feel overwhelmed. There are many variations, but I think the two slow breaths in, two slow breaths out method is simple to do and will work quickly. Your brain will recognize the attempt to slow down and it will give you a little bit of time and space to get it together.

      The suggestion to keep track of your work accomplishments is a great one. I was required to submit a “Monthly Activity Report” at a job I had about 10 years ago and I have kept up the habit. I divide my work responsibilities into categories and then list underneath each tangible, measurable outcomes. This is really handy when I am revising my resume or asking for a raise. Also, it’s emotionally gratifying–sometimes I flip through them and think, “I did all that? Why, yes, I did! I had totally forgotten that I completely revamped the photo archiving system and now we can all find the negatives we need! Yay, me!” My current boss likes them so much she has said she is going to start writing them herself.

      I currently supervise one person and he had a death in the family recently. He had only been on the job 15 hours when he had to take an extended amount of time off. Of course, I understood, but somewhere in the back of my mind was the lurking thought, “We just started this project. Is he ever coming back? What if he doesn’t come back? What if, when he comes back, he’s not able to do much?” [This was not expressed to him. What he heard from me was, “Oh, course, I understand. Thank you for letting me know. We will be thinking of you. Please let me know if there is anything we can do.”] He handled himself beautifully, mostly by keeping the lines of communication open, by thanking everyone for their understanding, and by, most importantly, expressing how eager he was to return to work. For him, coming to work and having a routine was a comfort. He wanted to be there, which is a super-desirable characteristic to have and will carry him far.

      Good luck, LW! I hope you keep your job. Keep us updated, if you can.

      • Yes, deep breathing helps me enormously. YMMV, because all I had to do was sit in a dark room where no one was looking at me and not draw attention to myself, but it really helped me to take very deep and deliberate breaths. Concentrating on just breathing helped me to not be overwhelmed. Whenever I get weepy, I also notice that my chin quivers and my mouth starts twitching into frowns long before I start actually shedding tears, so it also helps me just to casually place my hand over my mouth like I’m leaning on my hand or like I’m being thoughtful or something.

        Take this next one with a truckload of salt, because I’m pretty sure it’s not a healthy coping mechanism at all, but when I feel overwhelmed and need to snap myself out of it in a hurry, I pinch myself hard for a few seconds. It snaps my brain out of the spiral of emotional doom pretty effectively, but it’s something I try to keep as a last resort, because I’m pretty sure that causing myself physical pain in order to short circuit emotional pain is all kinds of unhealthy.

        • I dig a thumbnail into the side of my finger in dire situations. I wouldn’t recommend it as a long-term strategy, but if you need to Not Cry and you’re about to cry, it may work.

          The other thing that works for me is to prep for the meeting by reminding myself that this is going to be awful, I may feel like crying, and that’s OK. I’m not going to cry during the meeting, but afterwards I am going to take myself somewhere private and cry as much as I need to do so. Then when you start feeling teary you remind yourself ‘self, we talked about this, just get through the next x minutes’. Take in eye make up to fix yourself up afterwards, and maybe lipstick to provide a different focal point if makeup is your thing.

    • TR said:

      For the not crying – leave if you can. Go take five minutes and cry in private and then compose yourself.
      Think of something completely not related – space out for a second – “I wonder if Ford Focus gets as good as gas mileage as they claim? If so, how?”
      Detach yourself emotionally from the moment if you can. “This hurts but I will deal with it tonight.”
      If you need to cry, than cry-there’s nothing wrong with crying-, but try hard to do it removed from your coworkers. Call a supportive, intimate relation of yours and cry to them, if necessary.
      I had a coworker who was a crier and I *hated* it. This is not to blame you for crying at work, but to help you understand why people may dislike it even without thinking it’s a sign of weakness. It’s not; but for a lot of people it is a very intense, intimate expression of emotion. A coworker crying in front of me often feels like I’m stuck in a room with an verbally fighting couple- that same feeling of violating both someone’s privacy and most intimate emotions. If said coworker would have cried in private and then came out – even if I could tell s/he had been crying – I would have been so much more comfortable around him/her.

      • Annafel said:

        Think of something completely not related – space out for a second – “I wonder if Ford Focus gets as good as gas mileage as they claim? If so, how?”

        That is great. Another thing I do to that works sometimes is concentrating on imagining literally pushing the tears downwards through my body. I think that links in with what Not It wrote above about making your body slow down. It definitely involves compartmentalisation, so you will need to let the feelings back up later, but it might help you get through some difficult moments.

        TR, I think what you wrote about seeing someone cry being the same feeling as seeing a couple fight is useful as an illustration of what people might be thinking or feeling, but I also think it’s important to acknowledge that just as the viewer is not responsible for the feelings of the crier, the crier is also not responsible for any feelings the viewer has. That is, if a person feels uncomfortable when seeing another person cry, those feelings of discomfort belong to the viewer, and the crier is not to blame for them.

        Probably that was implied in your post, I just wanted to make it explicit =)

    • I think the thing about crying in a colleague/acquaintance is that if you’re not a cryer and someone starts crying in front of you, you can’t help but think about how upset you would have to be to cry in front of them, and how much more upset you would be then because it had happened, and then you ball all that up and project it onto the other person and you’re like, “OMG, I have no idea how to handle this level of upsetness in someone I hardly know!”

      To keep from freaking people out, it might help to say ” oops — sorry — here they go again! I’ve been having some biochemical issues that cause my eyes to leak at the least provocation, usually at the most inopportune moments! I promise, I’m not as upset as it might seem. Please, just ignore the tears.”

      • TR said:

        EXACTLY! Even though rationally I know some people cry at the drop of my hat – in my family, crying is a big deal and says, “Drop everything! Person is pushed beyond limits! Irrepairable damage may have been done!”
        Alphakitty’s response might alleviate that somewhat – but I think it would be a response to use if you absolutely can’t leave for few minutes. (which may happen a lot at a coffee shop.)

      • I’ve actually cried over bread commercials. Not the ones that present a story or have any kind of emotion, just “hey, buy some bread, it’s like a dollar at this shop.” I totally use this as a funny story to explain that sometimes, there’s not a big reason behind crying.

    • Randomosity said:

      On crying: When I was a child, I cried very easily, and no amount of grade school bullies and a dad (an otherwise great guy) who would punish me for crying anywhere other than a funeral would stem Niagara Falls. Even looking like I might cry counted. Furthermore, I have never felt better after crying. I’d get headaches and a stuffed-up nose and my eyes would be red and sore. Not fun.

      In any case, I had strategies for dealing with having no safe place to cry.

      Do you have contact lenses? They’re a fabulous excuse. Your eyes can turn red even if you stop yourself, so you can claim you’re got something stuck under your contacts with no one the wiser.

      Excusing yourself. (as others have advised)

      Your own personal “Don’t Cry” mantra. I trotted this out whenever I felt tears coming on and I was in a situation where I could not leave. I haven’t needed the mantra for a couple decades. It went something like: Crying is tears, tears are water, water is dihydrogen monoxide and dihydrogen monoxide is deadly. Ban dihydrogen monoxide. (Yes, it’s silly. I made it silly on purpose. And years after I no longer needed it, I discovered Dune and the Bene Gesserit litany against fear.)

      Good luck and I hope you get the best possible outcome in your upcoming meeting.

      • mintylime said:

        Yay someone else who uses the BG Litany! [fistbump]

        I grew up someone who Did Not Cry At All. There were times I would hold my breath rather than cry. Until I turned *blue*.

        Unfortunately (in my opinion), I’ve started crying more often, sometimes on the slightest of reasons. I say unfortunately because crying has *never* made me feel any better. If it’s just “my eyes are leaking a little”, it’s just awkward and kind of … pointless? If it’s a serious cry, I just get stuffy, eye ache, head ache, and *nothing* has changed and I have to get up and do whatever needed doing anyway, but with a headache. UGH.

        So, er, no real advice on the not-crying, I’m afraid. What others have said sounds pretty good to me.

    • Bee said:

      Hi LW! I also am a HUGE crier. I cry way too easily…when I’m angry, or flustered, or annoyed…etc.

      I’ve gotten a little bit better at it over the past year, though. For me the big thing was that I used to be terrified of crying in front of people. Crying was Bad because I was a Big Baby and it was Stupid to be crying so instead I’d try to bottle it up until I exploded later in the day and was left shaken for an entire day afterward. It was a bad strategy! Then I got a friend who was like, “B, you can cry. It’s completely OK. I’m just going to ignore it because you cry when it’s actually not a big deal.” That was really helpful for me, and made me think of it as less of a big deal. And lo and behold, I cry a lot less easily now. Not sure if that is at all helpful for you, though.

      In general, when I can’t avoid it: I usually try to explain it with a “FYI, I am going to cry and I want you to ignore it.” Or I pretend that I’ve been sneezing a lot or something. Meh…

    • Anne said:

      One tool I have successfully used is to schedule crying time. Tears ARE liquid feelings, and bottling up feelings just means they start overflowing at inconvenient times. So if I’m emotionally charged up I will set aside 10 to 15 minutes of my day and cry my heart out (and scream, and curse, and hit pillows). I set an alarm clock as my timer. When that time is up I clean myself up, take a few deep breaths, and get on with life. The amazing thing it that when I do this I am able to stop myself crying any other time of day – I can say to myself “Let’s table this for our scheduled time” and it happens! Possibly because I know I have that release time coming up.

      Skills like this don’t work for everybody, I know, but it might be worth a shot?

      • human said:

        YES. I had a big crying-at-work problem and this totally worked for me. I set actual crying appointments. I would say to myself, “Ok, self, we are very upset about this and that is ok. So we are going to schedule some time to cry and wallow and do what we need to do to deal with these feelings. At 8 pm tonight we are setting aside a whole hour to cry and be upset. But right now is work time and so we need to go work. Work now, cry later: 8 pm tonight is crying time. This is work time.” It really really worked. And most of the time by 8 pm it was better and I didn’t need to cry. But if I did still need it then by god I did it. (That’s the only way this works is if you keep the promise to yourself.)

        Good luck LW. This is tough to deal with but fake it til you make it really does work (and in the process you discover you really actually are making it way more than faking it).

    • Randomosity said:

      On crying: I’m another sensitive soul with easy tears. I have some coping mechanisms born of a childhood in which I had no safe place to let it out. Furthermore, I never felt better afterwards, I got headaches, stuffed-up nose, red eyes, sore throat, you name it. Not fun. At school, I was bullied, at home I was punished. I internalized the rule: No Crying. Ever. I’m still dumping that baggage in the dumpster, but let’s talk about you and how this can help.

      1. I second and third the advice to excuse yourself if you can. Keep your voice even and fake an urgent need for the restroom if you have to. I absolutely second the visine and other things to reduce redness and puffy eyes.

      2. Do you have contacts? If you can’t leave, blame your contacts for the tearing up and red eyes. In conjunction with a restroom visit, this gives you a more dignified out.

      2.5 No contacts? Sinus problems. If you’re in the northern hemisphere, it’s that time of the year. Dust or allergies will also work.

      3. If you absolutely can’t get away and you feel a cry coming on, take a page from Dune* and create for yourself a mantra. Run it in the background during the uncomfortable meeting or say it to yourself a few times in private just before the meeting. Mine went something like this: Don’t cry. Crying is tears and tears are water and water is dihydrogen monoxide. Dihydrogen monoxide is deadly. Ban dihydrogen monoxide. (Yes, I know it’s silly. That was intentional. I needed silly. Do what works for you.)

      Good luck. I hope that your meeting goes well and that you get the best possible outcome.

      *Bene Gesserit mantra against fear.

    • Ali said:

      I am also a crier. ANY strong emotion and I am a big wet pile of sniffles. Good job review? Crying. Bad one? Definitely crying. Anxiety about talking to the big boss because she’s the big boss? Why yes, I do have unusually damp eyes.

      I find that if I am otherwise fine–still talking, not making any big deal of it, basically treating it as if I’d sneezed really hard–then other people will follow my lead about it.

      Also, an autism trick for making this easier for those of us with glasses: sometimes, it’s the eye-contact that does it for me. I am not a fan in the first place, but I usually try to at least really convincingly fake it for my bosses. When I’m getting teary but am otherwise fine, I slightly change the angle of my head so I can be staring straight at the top of my glasses. No more increasingly concerned face in my direct vision as I’m getting red and misty! This gives me a chance to recover (or stop the onset altogether if I catch it early) while still giving the appearance of polite eye-contact.

    • I just wanted to thank everyone for this thread. Because the trouble is, I am *great* at not crying. Don’t cry – just swallow all those feelings and walk around like a weird empty thing for the rest of the day. When you get home, feel like crap and like you need to cry but you’ve squished the tears too much and now they won’t come out.

      My temporary solution to this – for my last few unemployed weeks – has been “just cry. Yes, even though you’re on a crowded train/in a coffee shop/walking down the street. Just cry, no one’s going to say anything, it’s not like you know anyone here.” There have been a lot of tears.

      Unfortunately neither of these strategies are going to work at my upcoming work placement thingy. The first is just horrendously emotionally costly, and the second, obviously, won’t make a good impression. So I’m going to try everything that you all have suggested, and only use strategy #1 in absolute extremis.

      • Redgirl said:

        I’m so much like you! I always find myself feeling strong emotions and wanting to cry at times when it’s completely inappropriate. Then, when I’m home alone and I can let it all out…nothing. It’s frustrating. I’m trying to be better about just letting it come out now (I can’t even cry in front of my therapist. How pathetic is that?) although I’m quite happy to keep that tear-repression going at work!

      • It sounds like you’ve got some good strategies in place. Also, I would like to bruit the benefits of crying on public transportation. A few months back, I was having The Week From Hell and finally, I just couldn’t take it, and I *sobbed* on the tram all the way back to my neighborhood. I could kind of tell that everyone else was massively uncomfortable, but you know what? It felt pretty good. Not just the crying, but the “Don’t even start, world, because I am clearly not in a position to care about social norms!” It was liberating.

    • Marianne said:

      I remember this episode of “Friends” where the Rachel character has to have some kind of difficult conversation with her boss and she says something in advance like “I might cry, but I want you to know it is not out of anger or sadness but just because of having to have this conversation with you.” And I just thought it was the most awesome thing to say! I have used this technique as the cryer, and as the boss I can tell you, I very much appreciate it when others do this. It is truly effective, you are just giving the boss a little information, and then you can both get through the awkward conversation and your crying doesn’t have to mean anything other than you are having a difficult conversation!

      Also, just want to say to Captain Awkward, that you are the most awesome captain of awesomeness, and the internets are lucky to have you.

      • Crazy Jane said:

        Yes, this can be quite helpful. I’ve worked with a couple of people who have said, in the course of difficult meetings, “Just so you know, I’m someone who cries in difficult conversations. It doesn’t mean that I can’t think at the same time, or that I’m out of control. I might cry, but we can keep talking.” At least for me, and in the context we were in, that worked, and helped.

    • meh said:

      Bring bottled water or a cup of water. Make an excuse for that in the meeting, then take a sip when you feel yourself starting to tear up. It’s actually incredibly difficult to drink and cry, and it may help you drink instead of cry.

      • Xiba said:

        Yes, this! I’m prone to anger tears too, and this is a nice and easy way to keep the tears at bay. Combine it with a mantra of choice and you’re good.

        • meh said:

          I’m not prone to tears, but I do have a job that involves a lot of crying people in my office. Usually it’s just a few (very warranted) tears, but when someone starts to get lost in sobbing, I find getting them a drink of water is the perfect caring way to respond and help them reach a point where they are calm enough to hear the information they need me to give them. If only there was an equivalent solution for the arguing yelling people….

    • Lane said:

      On crying, because I didn’t see anyone else mention it: swallowing something actually kind of interrupts the crying reflex (I am pretty sure there is science behind why this is, with the way swallowing is related to crying, but I can’t find a good article at the moment). If I know I’m going to be in a situation that will be highly emotional, it’s nice to bring some sort of liquid along. So then when I start to feel like I might burst into tears, I can take a sip, which delays the imminent flood-of-tears and also gives me a moment to think before I say something.

      Otherwise focusing on alternate physical sensations helps (me, anyway). As a kid I wore my nails long, so when I felt like I was going to cry, I’d ball my hands into fists and dig my nails into my palms and concentration on the pain instead of whatever emotional upset was making me want to cry. That and counting breaths in/out or other kinds of repetitive, unemotional thoughts.

      Mostly I’ve found that I can’t really keep from crying at all ever, because I’m just built that way, but doing some combination of these things at least makes it so I usually can delay it until a more appropriate time.

    • thegirlfrommarz said:

      On crying at work:
      I manage quite a large team, so I have seen a lot of different reactions to difficult conversations. Crying is pretty common, and I find it a lot easier to cope with than people who are either very angry or in deep denial because it’s a response that means that the person still cares and knows that there is a problem that needs to be resolved. I actually keep a box of tissues in my office at all times because I know people may cry. I also know they cry for all sorts of reasons – because they are sad, because this is a stressful conversation, because they are tired and overworked and something happened that was the last straw, because there is something going on at home. I don’t see it as a big deal – the emotions are overflowing for whatever reason, and that’s okay. I offer them a tissue and tell them take a minute to collect themselves, and mostly that’s all they need.

      I think in your scary meeting, if you feel you’re on the verge of tears, it would be perfectly reasonable to say “Could you just give me a moment?” and then take a few seconds just to breathe, look down at your notes, have a sip of water, and then resume. Managers should understand that a conversation to talk about under-performance is very stressful for a member of staff (it’s not usually something the manager looks forward to either) and give them a bit of time to try to manage the stress.

      From a personal point of view, in the middle of a very frustrating discussion with someone (a peer) at work I once burst into tears of rage, and found myself gritting out, “I’m not crying because I’m sad, I’m crying because I’m ANGRY!” – which made us both laugh and defused the conversation a little. I perhaps wouldn’t suggest that for your meeting, though! :)

      Finally, here is my physical tip to stop crying, which usually works for me: if you feel the corners of your mouth start to turn down (which for me is the first step to crying), use your tongue on the inside of your mouth to “smooth” them back up. Swallowing (as suggested above) can also help.

    • Mongoose said:

      I cry a lot, actually, but I’ve got some shame issues regarding crying in public. I’ll try not to project those too hard.

      1. Take the space to step away. Even getting out of the stress for a half minute helps.
      2. Grounding exercising – this is sort of a variation on 1 but without being able to leave. At my job, I’m very tied to my desk so doing a brief mantra (my favorite is “Fuck this. Fuck this. Fuck this.”) sort of redirects the crying energy.
      3. Drinking water. IDK. It helps. There’s probably science but I’m not a scientist. But I will sit at my desk and take long, slow sips of water. It’s probably the same as the swallowing above.
      4. Make a space for your crying. I have weekly therapy and that is my Crying Space. For an hour, I get to cry out all of my Problems and Issues and I feel better that I pay this man money to deal with it. But having that space where it’s okay to cry (and it just isn’t work or the subway) helps me a great deal.

    • Wow, lots of advice on crying/not crying! Awesome!

      LW, I just wanted to say that I totally feel you on the coffee-shop front. I recently worked as a barista in a local, family-owned shop and that shit is STRESSFUL. It’s fast-paced, there’s a certain level of specialized knowledge you have to have, and at least in my case there were never enough skilled and reliable people scheduled.

      I actually feel like I KNOW the person Captain had to fire in the story above: we had one just like her at our shop. And while logically I know that she was going through some serious rough shit, I’d always groan inwardly and contemplate switching shifts or just straight-up quitting when I saw she was on the schedule with me. (Okay maybe not quitting…. but then again, maybe.) Working with her was fucking awful… when she bothered to show up on time. Or at all.

      So some of the Captain’s points still definitely apply, for shur. Given my experience, I’d say showing up on time is huge. Early, even better. Being consistently late, even five or ten minutes, is super noticeable by your coworkers because they come to expect it. (Fair? Hell no. True? Sadly yes.)

      If you guys don’t currently have a list of tasks/ shift, make one for yourself. Every day. Or type it up and laminate it so you can re-use it. Write stuff down and cross it off. Plus, that makes it easier to share the workload with your co-workers, ensuring you don’t get overwhelmed by having to Clean All The Things! and also proving to them in a concrete way that yes, you are useful and do things to help while you’re there.

      Wear work-appropriate clothes. This place I worked didn’t have a uniform or dress code because it was fairly new (and the owner had no idea how to run a business – that’s a separate story). One of the things that really wrecked my opinion of this particular co-worker, unfair as it was, was the way she dressed. I’m talking tube tops and short-shorts behind the counter at your local coffee-shop, y’all. I walked in, saw her behind a relatively high counter, and…. it was like in Austin Powers, with the strategically-placed pineapple or whatever? I honestly thought she had shown up to work naked. Talk about not giving a fuck (or at least not appearing to).

      She was also a fan of flowy, floppy shirts and sleeves that came perilously close to dipping into the drinks she was making. Ick. Don’t do that.

      I could write a book about that place. In the end, it was kinda miserable, but it wasn’t the work that made it that way – it was the people.

      This is more of a rant than advice – sorry about that. My main point is that the Captain’s advice is very good, and the good news is that a lot of her advice can be adapted to non-office environments.

      Also, if you do end up crying: once you’re done, go into the bathroom and grab a paper towel. Soak it in cold water and squish out most of the excess so it’s not dripping. Then fold it up and gently press it over your eyes, or just under them (if that’ll save your makeup). It feels really soothing, helps you sort of calm down and re-center, and will also help reduce some of the red-eyed puffiness that says “HEY WORLD! I’VE BEEN CRYING!” as you face customers for the rest of the day.

      Best of luck, LW. You can do it.

    • Americano said:

      Hi LW,

      I also work in a coffee shop and have had my job endangered because I was feeling depressed. I got put on probation for not “being happy”, and it was really hard. Here is some stuff I did that helped me keep my job until I was able to start genuinely feeling better:

      1. Be nice to your coworkers. They are the people reporting back to the manager. I have a tendency to be sarcastic, and I guess I took that overboard when I was feeling down, and it created tension in the shop. Be nice to them, and try to communicate with them about work that needs to be done, etc. Before you leave a shift, ask if they would like any other tasks done. Being helpful by cleaning, even if you are not on bar anymore, makes a really big difference to them, and hopefully they will pass that on to the manager.

      2. Customer service is a priority. When I was sad, customers mentioned it/complained about it to my manager, and that was a dealbreaker for her. Even if you can’t find it in you to be bubbly (an expectation that is one of the worst parts of service in my opinion), try to engage with your customers, especially the regulars. You might not be able to crack jokes or smile big, but always be polite, and ask the custies questions. I find that is the easiest way to engage and be friendly without having to fake enthusiasm. Ask them how their weekend was, did they see a movie, how is their dog/child? Try to keep the focus on them. Inevitably, people will ask you how you are. Most of the time you can easily lie and say “fine, thanks”. If it is a more in depth conversation, you can tell the truth without being a downer – “you know, things have been rough lately but they’re getting better. Want your usual?”

      Those are the main things. In my experience, if there is a problem with your coffee making skills, those can be worked on over time, but attitude toward customers will determine who stays and who goes. Working hard to ensure everything is stocked and clean will also have a big impact on your coworkers – they will appreciate the effort, and it’s hard to complain about someone who works hard and leaves the shop spotless.

      Finally, in terms of not crying, I agree with the above commenter about breathing. I breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth when I feel myself tearing up, it usually helps.

      Good luck LW! Service is a hard job, but I know you can do it! You are awesome!

      • misspiggy said:

        Great advice, Americano – but you got put on probation for not being happy? So sorry to hear that! Come and work in London, where people get slightly uncomfortable if their baristas aren’t surly or at least taciturn. (I’m being serious: since leaving I miss being treated noncommittally in cafes and restaurants. It feels like they’re paying me the compliment of recognising that I don’t need another person’s jollity to boost my day.)

        • Americano said:

          That sounds amazing! I mean, I am a polite, nice person. Why can’t that be enough? Who are these people who think that fake enthusiasm is a necessity? London, here I come!

        • Can I just say, as a person with social anxiety, HOW MUCH DO I LOVE LONDON. It is a lot. You go to London, and you’re invisible. Nobody looks at you. Nobody makes eye contact, and if they do, they pretend they didn’t. Nobody cares if you accidentally bump into them, they just pretend they tripped over an inconvenient piece of furniture. When you get served in a shop, no one will ask you any unnecessary questions or look at you overmuch.

          I love it. Being able to go about your business unacknowledged takes so much of the stress out of leaving the house. I remember once I was with my mum and she was paying for some birthday clothes she’d bought for me, and the man behind the counter was trying to be friendly and engaging, and I tried so hard to get him to leave me alone but he just kept going and after we got out I had to excuse myself to cry. I’d had a bad day and I did not want to engage with him on any level, much less have a conversation where we had to pretend to be cheery.

          My mother actually said something like “well, go on then, answer the nice man,” and criticised me afterwards for not being friendly to it. God, I wish I’d dealt with that differently. I tried to explain to my mum why it was so stressful that the man was speaking to me, but she just Did. Not. Get. It.

          It feels like people are paying me the compliment, as you said, of recognising that I wish to be left the hell alone and not have to deal with any unnecessary human interaction with strangers.

    • thesurfmonkey said:

      Hi LW, wow, that’s a lot of good tips on the crying. I don’t have any tips on the crying.

      A few years ago I worked at a coffee shop. In my experience, the most important thing that Captain Awkward said in her set of tips for Work Behaviors was #1 “Showing up on time every day.”

      Probably your coffee shop runs a little like mine did. People work in shifts, and one person can’t leave until the next person shows up and takes over for him/her. Having a coworker show up late when you’re waiting for them to take over for you was always the number one thing any of us would complain to the boss about. I used to take the bus to work, so having someone show up late to take over for me could mean I had to wait an extra hour before I could get home.

      The good thing about this is that it’s super-easy to make yourself look better again. Show up fifteen to twenty minutes early (I used to be half an hour early because of the bus schedule, but that’s more time than is really necessary). Be there with your coat stowed, your apron on, and your hands washed, about five minutes before your shift is supposed to start. That way the person about to leave has a little slack to do stuff like count out the register drawer, divide up the tips, sweep the floor, finish one last order, get themself a coffee, etc.

      Once you’re known as the person who is always early for their shift, the people you work with won’t want you to leave the job because that person is really great to have there! At a coffee shop, everyone appreciates always-early-person. So that’s my two cents.

    • wonderbink said:

      Here’s a rather odd not-crying strategy that I came across in a magazine once that worked for me when I was at my younger brother’s wedding (yeah, I cry like crazy at weddings.)

      Make a circle with your index finger and thumb, like you’re making an OK sign. Try to get the tip of the index finger and thumb as close as you possibly can without touching. Concentrating on this apparently does something to the brain that interrupts the circuit for crying.

      Unfortunately, looking at the tiny gap between the tips of your fingers isn’t something one normally does in mid-conversation, so it may not work in those kinds of situations, but in more private moments when you feel tears coming on, maybe you can give it a try.

    • It’s physically impossible to cry while looking up. It’s not a perfect solution (and it’s really obvious unless the person you’re talking to is tall), but it’s a great stopgap when you’re trying to run to a private place before you collapse, or when you’ve had your collapse and need help transitioning back to dry eyes.

    • Bittybird said:

      My trick for not crying is to take a deep breath and hold it (discreetly). The other trick, feign allergies! Like, if I’ve been crying BEFORE going somewhere, and my eyes are still a bit red/puffy, I play up hayfever/dust/encountered animal I’m allergic to and can use that if I end up tearing up again later. “Oh gosh, my eyes are so watery today, I’m really sorry!” and laugh it off. Some people can tell anyway, but you’re playing it cool and giving them the opportunity to play along with your excuse, which is better than making them deal with the awkward of “This person in front of me is crying what do I do?”

      If it’s someone I’m really close to, like my boyfriend, I’ll explain that I’m just an automatic crier and sometimes tears happen when I’m not really that upset, don’t read too much into it, but I try not to go into that with non-close people unless I have to.

    • serin said:

      I cry easily when I’m angry or frustrated or hormonal. I’ve found two things that help:

      1) In the moment: Do math in your head. “If I won 30 million dollars in the lottery … subtract taxes, that’s x … I could give half of it to Habitat, leaving x/2 … and then I’d buy my brother a car …”

      2) I don’t know if this works for everyone, but when I exercise regularly, I spend a lot less time on the verge of tears.

    • I actually do training on leadership, my organization has a few techniques we use for the BIG SCARY MEETINGS. Before the meeting practices some visualizations. Visualize yourself as powerful. Think about that time before the BIG BAD where you were kicking ass and know you have that in you. Try and remember how it feels and experience that feeling before you walk into the meeting. This may sound corny but give yourself a catchphrase to walk into the meeting with to ground yourself. Mine is “I am love in kickass form.” It allows you to short circuit the jerkbrain for a second and reset yourself. Finally, bring a water bottle or glass of water. As you may feel the jerkbrain rising, take a sip of water. Do it intentionally. It’s an intentional way of giving yourself power through an intentional act. And good luck. We all believe in you.

    • Eros Anikatos said:

      And for what it’s worth, I get what the Captain is saying here, and there’s a whole slew of unfair and unjust cultural pressures and outright sexism against women, but I’m a guy and I cry in any highly emotional situation. So you’re not alone, and it makes the assumption by the world that it’s a woman-issue all the much worse – for everyone.
      I stumbled across ways to manage it with work (I’m in a high pressure position where I have to both get criticism and give it as a part of the job), and the advice here is how I manage. They’re exercises where I tell that part of my brain it can get all the crying done it wants when we get home. It mostly works. Mostly.

  7. This is hugely relevant to my life right now, thank you.

    LW, this big long post of suggestions may seem overwhelming. It kinda does to me! If that’s the case, maybe try implementing just one of these suggestions per day/week (depending on your abilities and how urgent your time frame is) instead of trying to make everything better all at once. Adding just one new, good habit can often make you feel a little bit accomplished, which makes it easier to add more good habits.

    And if you do end up getting fired despite your best efforts, please try not to see it as a reflection of your worth as a human being. (Easier said than done, I know!) If you have to find a new job, you can approach it as a completely fresh start, a blank slate. If you are able to keep your current job, having a “fresh start” mindset may help there too – I don’t know about you, but when I’m in a situation where I’ve fucked up before, I often have trouble preventing myself from fucking up even further, because I’m constantly thinking about my past problems in that situation and I’m so worried about repeating them that I can’t focus on the task at hand.

  8. LW, I have been in this place before. I had a really bad time where even being at work was a struggle, let alone doing any of the things I was actually paid to do.

    Thankfully I worked as a project officer in a health setting, and my manager was a former nurse, so my workplace were super supportive of my depression. Having the conversations with my boss was hard but we were able to agree on a small list of priority tasks for that week. The list was manageable and it gave me a sense of achievement to cross the things off when there was very, very little to feel good about.

    I ended up resigning and going back to my home state becuase it all got a bit much, but having a supportive workplace was so important in helping me hang in there. I still write them postcards :)

    Also, I don’t know abut the US, but in Australia, people cant just sack you for being unwell, unless they have made reasonable steps to help you manage your workload while you get better.

    Anyway fantastic advice as usual Captain. I am going to try and implement your suggestions myself – I think they are good for everyone!

    • TR said:

      In the US, you can be sacked for being sick (as long as it’s not a recognized disability you informed your workplace about AND it’s reasonable for them to make accomadations AND they’re over, I think, 50 employees.) At-will employment – you can be sacked at any time for any reason, so long as they’re not discriminating against a protected class.

      • meh said:

        That’s a bit exaggerated view of the ADA. Or the ADAAA, as it now is. Sometimes you can be sacked for being sick, but there are more protections than you are making out.

  9. zixi said:

    As someone finally actively working on dealing with the jerkbrain she’s tried to ignore for years, while trying to finish a dissertation, I found this post incredibly useful. LW, I wish you the best of luck. Captain, thanks for all the words.

    The best thing I’ve found for the harder days is to make a list, dividing tasks as small as possible, and finding just one thing to cross off to get going – the ability to look at it and say, “look, at least I did *something*” can sometimes make the jerkbrain quieter.

  10. Brigadier Overshare said:

    “You can feel horrible and still do the things you need to do.”

    Yeah. I needed to hear this today.

  11. Pack Rat said:

    Let me second making lists. Not only are they satisfying and not only are they documentation of Real Work I Have Done, they are a really great way of organizing yourself and getting through the day when you are sad.

    Right now I am a senior in college and I am just beginning to claw my way out of my annual six-ish months of hideous, dragging anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, I am also writing two senior theses and taking two senior seminars besides, which was a stupid decision I made during a time when I thought I’d feel better than I do. Such is life! Now that I made my bed, I have to lie in it, and I’m finding the best way to do this is to make lists and put them where I can’t help but see them. I do it for everything––I have a list on my wall which literally says “SLEEP, EAT, MAKE YOUR BED, SHOWER & BRUSH YOUR TEETH, DO YOUR WORK, MEDITATE, EXERCISE” with details about each of these tasks. I don’t always do every single one of these things but having them on the wall makes it way less easy for me to avoid them.

    In the spirit of making lists, three more things:

    1) I have found depression easier to deal with if I streamline the stuff I do. I know I will only have the energy to leave my home once, so on the way home from class or work I make sure to drop by the store or the post office or the library or wherever. I stop as many places as possible in as efficient an order as possible because I know I probably won’t head outside again. Sometimes I think of feeling sad like having a cold; my nose is stuffy and I have a headache, so it makes sense that I don’t want to be outside, but there’s still stuff that needs to get done, so I will do it before I get too tired and my headache gets worse.

    2) That stuff you tell yourself to do later? You’re not gonna do it later. JUST DO IT NOW. I have been playing the game of “how anxious/depressed do I have to get before I do stuff” for years now and it’s the worst game of all time. Even when it’s the hardest thing in the world, please, JUST DO IT. Of course I’m procrastinating writing one of my theses as we speak, so obviously I haven’t mastered this step yet. But at least the Word document is open and I’m going to go back to it after I finish this comment––so JUST DO IT NOW.

    3) Treat yourself with love, yo! My mom, who I love but who often says kind of mean things to me when she’s trying to give me advice, told me that treating myself kindly was self-indulgent and that I was letting myself off the hook way too easily. I really took this to heart and beat myself up all the time about everything, even though I knew it wasn’t what quite she meant. Don’t do that! It will only make you feel worse! Congratulate yourself on things even if they’re not things that you think “should” be congratulated (like, TODAY I BRUSHED MY TEETH TWICE. Some people don’t need to be congratulated on basic hygiene; I do). I tend to picture My Future Self telling me that I can do it, that I survive this, too, that I’ve been worse but that doesn’t mean I won’t feel better, and that I’m a good person at the end of the day.

    OKAY WOW THAT IS REALLY LONG. Apologies for length and my addiction to caps lock. Anyway, LW, I hope you find your independence. I send you non-creepy, nonjudgmental love from afar.

    • Rat Pack you are amazing and also pretty much me.

      “like, TODAY I BRUSHED MY TEETH TWICE. Some people don’t need to be congratulated on basic hygiene; I do.”

      is pretty much how my depression/anxiety works. I have strategies too, but I’m going to add some of yours because they sound new and awesome.

      • UnsuckableButtercup said:

        OMG, there are TWO WHOLE OTHER PEOPLE for whom toothbrushing twice daily gets to be a problem? I sound sarcastic, but I’m crying with relief.

        Silly-but-it-works, on not crying (also works for giggle fits): make a circle with your thumb and forefinger, like you’re making the “OK” sign, and try to get them as close as possible without touching. Your brain “forgets” to cry. Someone else may have mentioned this, but I only skimmed the comments so far.

        You may need to lampshade it: “Wow, for some reason, I felt really emotional there. For some reason, this always happens after I get a flu shot. Does that happen to you?”), because they’ll probably be able to tell it was a close call. But I’ve found for some reason, getting close to waterworks, resisting it, and being honest about it probably having a physical root (and it almost always does— depression paints me beige, but depression + low blood sugar or depression+ oncoming rhinovirus? THERE IS STUFF IN MY EYES AND IT NEEDS TO COME OUT NOW) has actually gotten me a sort of respect, in the long run. Not so much with the actual crying and damage control.

        Weird but true about spiffing up your work self: have a mirror or a webcam so you can see yourself at all times. There are actual studies about how this helps you act like you’re being evaluated— it’s why places with security monitors place one so you can see yourself— shoplifting goes way down. Plus, it’s easier to see how you can “fake it ’til you make it.”

        Um, excuse me while I get my desk mirror, which did not make it to the new desk.

        Also, on the quarters front: I was advised years ago to keep a roll of quarters in my purse to wrap my hand around in case I needed to punch someone. I’ve never needed it for that, but having a “weapon” that can, in a pinch, be used to do laundry is FANTASTIC for backup laundry.

        This advice/ these comments are SO HELPFUL in my current situation (job seeker, but my depression behavior finally wore down my friends’ and family’s ability to tolerate me, and I’m s-l-o-w-l-y trying to undig myself from that well), BTW. Thank you, Captain Awkward, both for your advice and gathering the community of wise people to crowdsource fighting that evil overlord Depression Brain.

        • bluecandles said:

          “OMG, there are TWO WHOLE OTHER PEOPLE for whom toothbrushing twice daily gets to be a problem? I sound sarcastic, but I’m crying with relief.”

          During a particularly depressed & unemployed phase in my life a few years back, I had such trouble with this, my teeth went from perfect to needing a filling. I think only that got me brushing
          twice a day, again.

          Good luck in your search for a job. Depression and job seeking can be a tough combination to deal with.

          • #450 said:

            I lost a bunch of weight because I forgot to feed myself, and ate spoiled food that made me puke because I didn’t care enough to find an alternative/go downstairs to refridgerate said food the night before!

            DEPRESSION REALLY SUCKS. It makes the simplest things impossible. Accept that; let it be true. Say “self, this is depression. I feel like this because I am ill. This is okay. I am not a failure/loser/etc.”

            Realizing that made recovering easier!

        • I generally manage to brush teeth once a day. I chew gum a fair amount though, and drink lots of water because my meds have a dry mouth side effect. My dentist told me that if it wasn’t for those my teeth would probably be a lot better :-/ and of course no health insurance, public or private, considers “increased wear and tear as a side effect of a side effect of medication” to be worth covering. Pretty sure I can’t even count it as disability-related costs when applying for financial aid, though I might try.

          • notemily said:

            I have the same problem :( I chew Biotene gum, but I still think my teeth are getting worse. I never had a cavity in my life before I went on meds.

    • unagi said:

      Let me chime in for lists as well. They help while away the time while you’re busy not actually doing work you should be doing, and make you look busy not doing it too :-). But seriously, they can make you feel more in control, or at least less out of control. They can keep you from forgetting super important stuff you’re trying to avoid. Most importantly they can help you break down big ugly tasks into small manageable steps that you can actually consider taking. And then don’t neglect the immense satisfaction of being able to peruse the checked off items and talk to yourself about how you are getting some stuff done.

      I’ve had times when I imposed on myself doing one thing a day, and sometimes that came down to one day find the checkbook, the next write the check, the next get an envelope, etc etc. Maybe it took me a week to actually “pay the gas bill”, but that was a lot better than not getting it done at all. If it takes you all day to massage the master list in order to determine what is the one important thing you must do today, however tiny it may turn out to be, so be it. Keeping yourself moving is the point, and no matter what the pace movement is a good thing when you’re feeling down.

      I totally agree with CA that most of the time looking OK at work is much more important than actually doing any work. Even if you’re feeling fine actually. If you want to think about how unfair that is while you’re doing your small bit to fool them, that’s helpful too, that’s turning anger outward instead of beating yourself. And keeping the surface more together does have some weird feedback effect in making you feel better for real, if only because others react better to you. And because doing anything at all for yourself does really make you better, no matter how little it may seem objectively.

      To get back to lists, their very existence will make it clear to your coworkers that you’re very organized, totally on top of things, thereby helping your image directly. Also make sure you use lots of rewards – got up in the morning? extra maple syrup in your oatmeal! got to work on time? a good cup of coffee! whatever seems difficult, make sure you have a clear incentive to get it done, and a pavlovian reward coming like clockwork for every achievement.

      It’s bad, LW, depression is never any fun. But you can get out of it, even if you do nothing at all, chances are good that you’ll just find yourself better some day, it just works that way. Hang in there meanwhile, and concentrate on CA’s good advice, and all our jedi hugs..

  12. Those emails to bosses you send to document all the awesome work you’ve been doing? I highly recommend hitting ‘send’ on them a little before your work day starts, or a little while after if ends. Giving the appearance you’re working early, or late, emphasizes the whole ‘I’m doing the hell out of my job’ thing you want to project. It helped me avoid getting fired from a bad-fit job long enough to get admitted to grad school and leave on my own terms.

    LW: Maybe make sure your co-workers, especially whomever might be complaining, also know that you had a Rough Time but are now Back In the Saddle–they might be wrapped up in their own stuff and not have noticed the change. Or if they dislike you for some silly reason, you want to neutralize that. Make sure everyone sees your hard work, offer to help others out here and there, etc. Either their opinion of you as a worker will improve, or at least they’ll feel like they can’t complain.

    • TR said:

      I will say if you’re working at a coffee shop and being paid by the hour – it may not be the best idea to “show up early, leave late” or give the appearance of working outside your shift. Because they have to pay you for every minute worked and they may not want to pay you any hours over what you’ve been assigned. And even if you feel you should work extra without pay – don’t! The company can get into big trouble if you do work without being paid.
      (Now, showing up a few minutes early for your shift so you can always clock in on time, that’s cool! And if it’s totally okay to stay late on the clock when the occasion calls for it, than do that if there’s an opportunity/you feel able to.)

      • #450 said:

        Haha, you say this, and I shake my head thinking “if you only knew how many times I WAS TOLD to stay late and never be paid”. We (AKA everyone working on staff) had to petition these bosses to actually give us our pay stubs, and I only get one 30 minute break per 8 hour shift. That last one is normal where I’m from, even though workers are legally entitled to a 30 minute break and two 15s. I think the 30 has to be paid, too, but I’ve never worked somewhere that does this!

        Bottom line? When looking for work, small businesses seem really cute… BUT AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE.

        Honestly I just want to get out of this meeting tomorrow with the promise of a not terrible reference and enough hours to live off of until I can get another job. I will be quitting soon.

        …talking with my partner and ma put some shit into perspective, haha.

        • TR said:

          Ug. (By the way, legally entitled to breaks is a state-by-state thing, I think, so some states don’t have that at all.)
          Maybe look into reporting them after you leave? I wish there was a super-simple, non-expensive, non-energy draining way to combat this kind of behavior.
          Your time has value and you should be paid for it!

        • FlyBy said:

          Aack! Okay, this job, not so much of a loss! Get thee to a place where employees are treated professionally and with respect, and you will suddenly be a much better worker. They really are tied together.

        • Bee said:

          Woo! Good for you. :)

        • Ali said:

          That is a really reasonable goal! Good luck.

        • Cadi said:

          “Honestly I just want to get out of this meeting tomorrow with the promise of a not terrible reference and enough hours to live off of until I can get another job. I will be quitting soon.” – I lucked out with this from my previous place of work. Was really depressed working there and didn’t hide it but hadn’t done anything they could actually fire me for (I’m in the UK for reference), so they let me go with a written reference and two months’ pay. It was the best thing that could have happened to me to be honest, even if I was out of work for over a year after.

          I really hope the best for you LW, good luck!

        • “We (AKA everyone working on staff) had to petition these bosses to actually give us our pay stubs…”

          You know what, LW? That’s an amazing thing to have done.

          Sometimes it really helps me, when I need to remember that I am in fact a competent adult who can pull my own weight, to recall something really badass that I’ve done.

          And petitioning law-breaking employers to actually get something that you need, is a badass thing to have done.

        • Small family owned businesses are THE WORST to work for!!!! Completely shitty shift assignments, constantly changing the way tips are distributed and only telling half of us, managers not giving a shit that one employee was doing all of the work while the other sat around as long as it got done, constant grease burns, ‘forgetting’ to put promised raises on paycheques, and the workers from last summer STILL haven’t gotten their tips that the managers were ‘holding while they figured out an equitable distribution thingamawhatsit.’ Me? Bitter? Nooooooo

          • Holy crap, it’s so true. I worked at a family-owned restaurant and nearly got fired for telling a customer she couldn’t hit me! The lady literally hit me because I didn’t give her all her extras for free. I was told to go home early, lost my hourly wages AND several tables worth of tips. At the large corporate coffee chain where I worked at the same time, I would have been told to file an incident report and then depending on who the manager was, I would have been allowed to go home early or sit in the back and collect myself and then finish my shift. The lady would have been banned or at least warned off by the manager. I know this because I had several good managers who did stuff like that. Large companies are sometimes better because they can afford to say no to shitty customers.

          • piny1 said:

            I hate to say it, but…this resonates with me. The historical landmark family-owned bookstore in my hometown, the one everyone loved, site of my childhood, was a cruddy employer. They paid a dollar or two less than Big Box Books, which offered health benefits to part-timers but was not all that lucrative itself.

            Some years ago, they started to run out of money and they knew they were going to have to shut their doors. They didn’t tell any of the employees, even when the employees started to notice that merchandise was not being replaced, etc., etc.: “No, no, everything’s fine! Nothing to worry about! We’re certainly not going belly-up or anything!”

            The day they closed, they told the employees at the normal morning meeting, which started an hour before the store didn’t open.

            Then the community rallied and saved the store! But nobody mentioned giving raises to any of the employees. And now the store is dying again, and everyone in town is like, “Have you heard?! It’s so tragic! I remember when I saw Barbara Ehrenreich speak there!” and I’m like, *yawn*

            National companies can be terrible too, but they do often have better rates–I think this is partly because of resources, but also because they have to operate in every state, and so often have standardized practices. Big Box Stores and Starborg are like this.

          • Mary said:

            I was the opposite – waitressing for two small family-owned restaurants was brilliant, and waitressing for a huge chain was awful. Crap employers are crap employers whatever size they are!

        • Bottom line? When looking for work, small businesses seem really cute… BUT AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE.

          Oh yikes. Ditto to the sentiment that a place like this is not likely to improve your mental health. Glad to hear you have an exit plan.

          I’ve only ever worked for small businesses; one was awful, the other two were great. BUT: they were not customer service jobs, and I was salaried.

    • #450 said:

      Mmmm, I know some of them are certainly wrapped up in their stuff (I hear about it…a lot), but I’m hesitant to expose myself like that. I know being depressed is A Reason to be a lack lustre employee, but in my experience, no one really cares…especially co workers.

      I dunno; maybe I’m just being too guarded, but I’d rather leave co-workers out, ESPECIALLY if they dislike me. I don’t want to have people treat me like I’m fragile or crazy, you know?

  13. notemily said:

    Oh god, the quarters thing! I’ve had quarter-machine laundry for years now, but this year was the year I got a full-time job, and so I’m usually at work during banking hours. I’ve been struggling every single Saturday with getting up in time to go to the bank before it closes, and usually I completely fail because I’m so tired from working the whole week that all I want to do is lie around in my pajamas and internet. So for the past few months I’ve been beating myself up about “why can’t you even get out of bed and go to the bank, it’s so SIMPLE, ANYONE can do this, why are you so lazy?” and then I feel like a FAILURE AT LIFE because I have no quarters so I can’t do laundry so I don’t have clean clothes for work. And of course it makes every morning stressful because I have to try and put together an acceptable work outfit with my remaining clothes.

    And of course it’s an endless cycle because if I can’t do simple tasks then I feel like shit and if I feel like shit it’s harder for me to do simple tasks. And then I get so overwhelmed by my perceived inability to do simple tasks that I feel like I can’t possibly do bigger, more complex things. But that’s my jerkbrain lying to me. I have to remind myself that depression lies, because simple tasks are still simple, even if they SEEM huge and insurmountable. It’s an illusion.

    The point is I finally got to the bank before they closed today. YAY ME!

    • staranise said:

      The other day I saw a rolled coin ATM in an airport. BEST IDEA EVER.

      • notemily said:


        BEST. IDEA. EVER.

      • human said:

        That is a great idea but why the f was it in an airport? Who needs quarters in an airport? It needs to be in gas stations everywhere.

        • staranise said:

          I do not know! However, this is Canada, where we have $1 and $2 coins. Coin rolls are even more useful here, since the larger rolls are $25 or $50 worth.

          </tangent>

    • Beth said:

      Oh goodness I feel you so much on this. My apartment uses debit-style laundry cards but I never remember to carry cash to charge it up and then I end up washing underwear in my sink. And then I get mad at myself because all I have to do is remember to get cash back at the drug store and I can’t even do that.

      • notemily said:

        I feel like there are so many technological advances that help people who have trouble getting shit done–we can pay our bills online, we can do our taxes online, we can schedule appointments for some things online–but we haven’t quite reached the point where it is as easy to pay for laundry as it is to do those things. We need to live in THE FUTURE.

      • Meredith said:

        My apt. complex also does debit-style cards, but the machines used to load them only take bills and then only $5s, $10s, and $20s (not $1s, the most common bit of U.S. currency). I pretty much never have cash on me, either, but what’s even worse is when I’m desperate to wash a load of clothes and I actually have $3 to cover the cost, but it’s in ones so I can’t use it. So frustrating!

    • Boosette said:

      Some grocery (Safeway charges 25c) and big box (Target will give you $3 quarters at a time) store customer service desks, and currency exchanges (some open all night!) will trade you paper cash for quarters, and if you get cash back and are super nice to your cashier they will frequently oblige “could I have that as a roll of quarters, please *genuine smile of thanks*”

      True story: even knowing all of the above, I still scrabbled for enough quarters to do a load of laundry every time i had to do laundry, and frequently took smaller change to the 7-Eleven next to my house, bought a cookie, and said, “also could I trade these [dimes and nickels] for quarters?”.

      My current solution is going to my BFF’s house on the weekends/crashing at her digs Wednesday nights and getting laundry done. It’s a symbiotic relationship: when her dryer finally kicks the bucket I will go in halfsies on the repair, and she chucks her clothes in with mine to make a full load, AND we get to spend time together and watch our shows.

    • lizzieladie said:

      At my last apartment, I solved the quarter issue by getting cashback every time I went to the grocery store, and getting as much as possible in quarters. The store that was closest to my house capped me at two dollars, but if you make a habit of doing that even if you’re just dropping in because you ran out of milk, you can build up an emergency supply for when you can’t get all the way to a bank. This was in a college town though, so businesses were used to dealing with bands of roving college students seeking quarters and had policies determined in advance. It couldn’t hurt to ask though!

    • When I lived in the western US, I banked with Wells Fargo. (Not on purpose. They ate my nice little bank.) When I moved to the eastern US, I specifically looked for what I described as “something that is as far as possible from Wells Fargo while still being legally classified as a bank”. I am even more thankful than I thought I’d be that I found one where all the branches have Saturday hours well into the afternoon, and the one nearest me is even open Sunday lunch.

      I begin to think they can work actual miracles. They upgraded their computer systems over a holiday weekend last year, and DIDN’T BREAK ANYTHING. I used to work IT in college — I boggled.

    • I’m in the Midwest USA and almost every grocery store and drug store will sell quarters (assuming they have enough). You might have to go to customer service instead of a cashier. But it’s a service they provide and most people don’t think to ask. Hopefully you can find a place that’ll sell you quarters and is open at a time convenient to you!

  14. ldubs said:

    This is do helpful. I just left a job where I let myself slide into some not wonderful work habits. I also had a small but influential group of company coworkers who had some valid complaints, but a lot of them were not so valid and it got to a point where it got spirally and bad. I specifically remember thinking “why do I have to be held to a higher standard than everyone else? They’re all late all the time, why can’t I be late??”. And the answer was that while the new complaints were unfair, I HAD been a bad employee for a while because of brain reasons.

    Anyway. I got a much better job and its getting a little stressful and I can feel myself sliding back into old habits and, while I really don’t want to do that, this at least gives me some direction on how to deal with job things while I try and take care of brain things separately. One exception though, my director recently said that she doesn’t trust people who don’t have messy desks, so I’m going to make sure I always have at least a couple disheveled paper piles lying around.

  15. Felicia said:

    That was an awesome post! I just loved it. You couldn’t have found a better image. That scene in the Neverending Story conveys your message just right!
    Felicia

  16. FlyBy said:

    Ouch, what a painful spot to be in. I started writing out a description of my current mental-illness-involved job issues, and then quickly realized that it was a small novel, so we’ll skip that. TL;DR: Lack of experience + lack of confidence + a boss who likes to dissect mistakes repeatedly and in great detail + childhood triggers = downward spiral.

    The Captain’s advice is great, especially the part about appearances mattering more than actual work. Here’s a couple of other things I’ve found useful:

    – When I’m really panicked, and realize that I’m panicking (which is the hard part!) I try to find the first, very smallest step on the task at hand. Often this is opening up the correct tool on my computer and logging in. In a coffee house I imagine this might be picking up the correct cup. Once I’ve made it that far, the second very very small step is usually apparent, and once I’m moving it’s suddenly much easier.

    – I started applying for other jobs. Now that I have a plan to leave, I’m far less stressed about my current job. It’s great to know that this is not the only job in the world. Ironically, this means I’m performing better, enough so that my boss has commented on it.

    When you do meet with your bosses, go armed with a list (mental or even physical) of measurable improvements that you’ve made in the last month. If they’re not aware of the changes you’ve made, it may help your case. If you get shown the door anyway, you will still have evidence for yourself that you can grow and improve on the job. It’s a bit like relationships – the first one or two are usually messy trial runs, during which you learn a hell of a lot. The next one directly benefits from the stuff you learned during the one before. This job is your junior high crush. The next one you’ll walk into a more experienced and stronger person.

    *Jedi Hugs* You’ve got a great support system and you’ve already shown that you’re resilient. Whatever happens, you’ll make it.

  17. Your advice to the LW was awesome, and also really, really relevant for me. I’m an anxious, depressed person starting a temporary admin job in a few weeks, and this was pretty much the most helpful thing ever. I’m going to print it out and stick it to my wall.

    Also, these scripts?

    “Self, you can feel fucking horrible and still do the thing you need to do.”

    Or, “Yup, it is hard to do this today. But hard is not impossible.”

    and particularly

    ”You’re right, I am pretty horrible. Guess I better be horrible and put on some shoes and go to work.”

    DEAD ON. I’ve only just realised I have a Jerkbrain, and hadn’t thought of engaging with it in this sort of way, but a small lightbulb went on when I read this section. I’m pretty sure this is going to be an integral tool in my getting better. My strategies so far have been “I’m fine! I’m totally fine! Therefore I can do things!” …and then, when I can’t pretend anymore, “Okay, I feel like absolute crap. Uh. There’s lots of stuff to do. Uh. I have no idea how I carry on being a person while acknowledging how crap I feel.”

    And actually I’m pretty sure your way is a damn good way. “I feel crap, and it’s gonna be hard, but I’m going to do as much as I can anyway.”

    I think this might be one of those really important posts that sticks with you. LW, and Captain, thank you so much.

  18. Daisy said:

    I feel really embarrassed to ask this, which is probably a hint that I beat myself up about it in ways that are not helpful. But does anyone have any tips about being on time?
    I am pretty much recovered, from a long term depression. But its remnants are by far the worst in the mornings, and I just don’t seem to be able to motivate myself to get to work on time. The most shameful part of this is that I have an enviably late starting hour written in to my contract (later than my colleagues) but I STILL can’t get there even by 10am sometimes. It’s like I wake up and I just DO NOT CARE. It’s awful. I can’t seem to flip myself into “giving a shit” mode no matter what time I set the alarm for.

    I’m lucky in that my work is valued to the extent that this isn’t seen as a hugely important issue.

    On the other hand, I’m sort of unlucky in that work in a very low level position (my immediate boss had to beg to hire me and there wasn’t the budget to hire me in a position that correlates with the actual work I do.) I rationalise the lateness sometimes because I know I’m contributing way above my pay grade and all the other people around me are getting paid a lot more, often for lower quality work. I don’t want to move on from the job just yet despite the low pay because it seems like interesting stuff is about to happen in my department, and also job hunting terrifies me.

    So at the moment I’m in a situation where the chronic lateness is workable. But it still sucks and I still hate it, and if I move on to a better position, either in this organisation or another, it won’t be sustainable any more. Guess what, I am actually writing this while late for something (not work.)

    Just resolving to be on time doesn’t seem to help me actually do it. But I don’t know what would. Anyone got any answers other than STOP BEING SO FUCKING LAZY AND IRRESPONSIBLE AND INCONSIDERATE AND RUDE which is what I seem to come back to every time I think about this?

    • notemily said:

      Being on time for things is something that I struggle with CONSTANTLY. My depression tends to manifest itself in paralysis and inertia, so dragging my ass out of bed is something I tend to put off as long as possible, especially when I’m feeling shitty. I’ll sit there and be like “I should be getting up right now. I should really be taking a shower right now. I’m going to be late if I don’t get up RIGHT NOW.” And yet I can. not. move. It feels like my limbs are made of lead.

      So… I feel you. I don’t really have solutions (meditation helps, but then there’s the problem of getting myself to meditate). But you are NOT the only chronically late person out there. And it doesn’t make you a bad person. *Jedi hugs*

      • Daisy said:

        Thank you! This meant a lot. If I hadn’t been in a public place when I read it I would have had a little cry. It’s so helpful to hear from someone else that I’m not actually a horrible ungrateful person!
        I have been there with the lead limbs. I still every now and then have to spend a day in bed because of that, but thankfully it’s got a lot less frequent over time. And only once in the last year was it a workday– I was TERRIFIED that the depression was coming back in a big way but it seems to have been a kind of healing crisis instead; I’ve been much better at coping with stress since then.
        Jedi hugs to you too!

    • Oh god, I’ve been there.

      I think part of the reason you’re not getting in early is because, well, you don’t need to. If someone threatened to fire you, I bet you dollars to doughnuts you’d feel less inertia (and, if you’re anything like me, TRUCKLOADS more anxiety).

      My “getting going in the morning” secret is, basically, carve out a routine. One that’s so samey and reflexive that eventually you autopilot your way through your whole morning. Incorporating something that makes you feel better/more energetic/less depressed will help; for me this is a chi kung/yoga-style warmup that takes me about 25 minutes, for you it might be a few minutes of skipping or a cool rush at the end of your shower or a cup of coffee and the newspaper.

      It doesn’t always work, but it works when it has to – when I have appointments and so on. And I was doing what you’re currently doing 6 months ago, so I know it has helped.

      • Daisy said:

        :D I wasn’t holding out a lot of hope that someone actually really would have a practical suggestion that sounded helpful to me… I felt like i’d tried a lot of different things.?But yay!

        This rings really true. It made me realise that part of the problem is that I do have a routine. A bad one! I know exactly when to sprint for the last train that will get me in around ten. Sometimes I miss that train which sucks and makes me late. And even if I make myself get up earlier I somehow fill in the time with breakfast, shaving, better makeup and other non essential activities, even Internet surfing, so I end up sprinting at the same time.
        Consciously designing a new routine with a fixed schedule of activities between waking up and leaving the house sounds like a viable plan. And if I end up sprinting at the last minute for an earlier train, which seems likely, at least I have leeway to miss it.
        There’s other stuff to sort out around my motivations and feelings about work, I think, but this feels like it will definitely help. Thank you!

        (note to mods: I corrected a confusing typo while this was stuck in mod, post this one please?)

        • I am so thrilled to be helpful. I’ve been there on the “unhelpful routine” bandwagon, it does suck, but it is possible to get out of it.

          Best of luck :)

        • maralenenok said:

          Regarding breaking a bad routine, I do something to trick myself into being ready in the morning. I tend to waste time lolling around until the last possible moment, so what I do is tell myself that I’m going to get all the essentials (clothes, makeup, feeding the cat, breakfast) done first so that I have the maximum amount of time possible to faff around online (or insert favorite activity of your choice here) before I need to leave. Then when it’s time to go, I don’t have any last-minute things to do.

          Of course, you do need to force yourself to get off the couch when it’s time to walk out the door, but perhaps you could do something like placing a really annoying alarm clock by the door so you HAVE to get up to turn it off?..

    • sunshine and lollipops said:

      What’s near you work place? Bookshop, pretty park etc? Maybe you could get up so you can go to those places and promise yourself that you will go to work when you feel ready to get to work. I had anxiety problems related to going to lectures last year. I went into to town and looked round the shops before going back to uni. It felt much more relaxed and, for lack of better word, nonchalant than hurrying up the hill for a lecture when it is much too easy to say sod it and go back home.

      Also, carpolling? Going jogging with another person first thing?

      I don’t know if this will be helpful, but reframing tasks helps me.

      • Cadi said:

        “Also, carpolling? Going jogging with another person first thing?” –
        having someone else affect by my timekeeping definitely helps me not be late for things, and it seems to work for my bf when he’s got to come pick me up or take me to work with him too.

      • Daisy said:

        I’m definitely late for anxiety reasons too… It’s like I make it to a place when my anxiety about lateness outweighs the anxiety of the thing I’m going to!!
        I think your point about reframing is really important. Thanks for using that concept, it’s helped me to understand something.

        Your method of promising myself quality time in a nice place before work didn’t work for me, but maybe it could if I described it right to myself… I got excited about the idea of designing a new morning routine, above, because it suddenly didn’t seem a question of “how to drag my ass into work in the mornings even when I don ‘t care” but “how to reprogram my brain so it automatically cues me to get to work on time” which is a project that makes me feel optimistic and engaged instead of angry with myself. I’m going to be using a “reprogramming” frame a lot in future when I want to change my habits, it somehow completely alters my feelings about any less than awesome behaviours I have.

        • Ali said:

          If you can afford it, I really highly reccomend grabbing a coffee before work at an actual cafe of your choice instead of at home. It’s certainly more expensive, but the benefits are worth the cost for me when I’m on shifts that allow it. You have to carve out this extra time–plus bonus extra because there might be a line or whatever–to go interact with other people in a mildly positive way, which works well with your goal of resetting your schedule and routine. You get caffiene and a nice tasting drink to officially begin your work day, and everything tastes better if someone else makes it for you. After a few days to weeks at the same place, you’ll also have a potentially friendly acquaintence thing with the barista(s). It’s really lovely to walk into a place even when you don’t feel amazing and have people greet you with enthusiasm.

      • notemily said:

        I do that sometimes with the coffee shop near my job. If I can get going early, I tell myself, then I will have enough time to get a chai before work. It doesn’t always work, but sometimes the thought of delicious caffeine is enough to motivate me to leave the house!

    • datdamwuf said:

      My tip, I only get to read advice columns, including Captain Awkward, BEFORE I start work in the morning, which is also 10:00am for me (I telecommute so I have to do this kinda thing to stay on the work track). I’m posting now because it’s Sunday! If our brave Captain posts later in the day I may take a break, OK I almost always take a break and read the column.

      The tip is, give yourself something you enjoy doing in the morning – build in the time to do it before work. It’s easier to get up if the first thing you are going to do is NOT work. My BF plays LOTR MMO every morning before work for an hour, pick your happy thing.

    • kristinmh said:

      I don’t have a problem with lateness myself, but my partner does, and just from observing him I can say: make it as easy for yourself as you can to be on time. Often Mr MH is late because he doesn’t start leaving until it’s time to leave, then spends fifteen…or twenty…or thirty minutes collecting all the things he needs to take with him, and sending that last email he forgot to send earlier, and pumping up the tires on the bike, and so on. When he organizes his stuff in advance and gives himself a 10-minute headstart he’s much more punctual.

      Things that do not help: me being his timekeeper, because that just taps into some unpleasant “MoooOOOom I don’t WANT to go to school” subroutines and I don’t want to be part of that shit.

      Of course, like the Captain noted above, organizing is WORK, so if you’re already depressed and overwhelmed you might just end up giving yourself another stick to beat yourself with.

      (BTW his entire family is like that…they’ll be like “OK, after lunch we’re going to go on a canoe trip around the island!” (His parents live on an island in the St Lawrence. It’s kind of amazing.) Then his dad disappears into the bathroom for half an hour and his mom settles into the hammock and I’m standing around in a lifejacket and sunscreen for an hour and a half before anything happens. Baffling.)

      • notemily said:

        Haha, my parents give me a hard time for being late to family gatherings, but when I do get there on time, they’re never ready!

    • This is so me as well. Everything that you say about yourself is SO, so familiar.

      I haven’t fully fixed this, but it HAS gotten better recently, and here is (I think) why:

      1. Until now I’ve been a student, and what I was late to was mostly classes and other things where I’d function as a student. So by being late I was hurting myself – but nobody else. Now, though, I’m working as sort of a teacher, which means that I’ve got a group of students waiting for me every morning, and I know that if I’m late it’ll hurt *them*. Knowing that others are depending on me does a lot to make me do what I need to do. (I guess this isn’t that applicable to your situation since you don’t want to change jobs – but just saying that if you do, that itself could give your punctuality a big boost.)

      2. I have more time to sleep. I still suck at going to bed on time, but just the fact that I’m sleeping at least 6h a night (more when I convince myself to Go the Fuck to Sleep) instead of 4h really helps me be less miserable and dead-weight-y in the morning. Maybe you’re getting enough sleep already, but if not, getting so much sleep that you’re not tired when you wake up could help!

      3. I started showering at night. This makes me dread getting up much less because I don’t have as much to do when I get up – and because instead of showering and THEN eating breakfast, I can start directly with breakfast, which is something I like! “Self, would you rather be lying in bed and needing to pee or drinking tea with yogurt and berries and chocolate? I thought so.” Maybe if there’s any work you can cut out of your morning routine by putting it in the evening, that could help.

      Bonus: when I absolutely have to get up on time in the morning (e.g. to catch a plane), I sleep on the floor (and, if I’m really scared of not waking up, with a bit of light on). That way I wake up more easily and it’s much less tempting to stay “in bed” because it’s not nearly as comfy! (I’m guessing the reason this works for me in the first place, though, is that I tend to be at least a little sleep-deprived so I can fall asleep in any circumstances…)

      Oh, and something I’ve been meaning to do but haven’t done yet is to make my room less dusty. I get slight allergies to dust, which makes my eyes all dry and sticky when I wake up, which makes me not want to open them! So when my room is clean I feel a lot readier for the world. But I’ve been really lazy about cleaning, so this is still To Do…

    • thesurfmonkey said:

      My tip falls under the same category as athoughtfulninja’s of creating a routine. But specifically my tip is to create a nighttime routine in which you lay out your clothes for the next day, pack your lunch, pack your work bag with any work things you need, have your keys next to the door, set out a place setting for breakfast. Basically a routine where at night when you’re more in control you do as much of the heavy lifting for your morning self as possible. Smooth the path for your morning self.

    • Jenna said:

      Alright, my qualification to answer this is that I am a normally punctual person.

      My reservation in answering this is that because I HATE being late, and therefore I have motivation that just may not be there for others.

      What I do:
      Lay out my clothes the night before(often, not always. It does help, though).
      Have the alarm clock(or alarm on the phone) OUT OF REACH FROM BED. This is the trick I started with in grade school. I had it far enough away that I had to walk the length of my bed. I was much more awake by then.
      Make the bed. Pull the covers up and straighten them at least. This makes it less likely that I will fall back in.
      I have a back up alarm. I, as a usually punctual person, have a back up alarm that goes off a half hour after my usual alarm. Tis is what my phone alarm gets used for.
      I have a morning routine. I can do it mostly asleep, but, it gets me showered, teeth brushed, dressed to shoes, and out to the kitchen for breakfast.
      I know what time I have to be out the door to get to work on time, and that time is the time I GET OUT THE DOOR. Not gathering stuff, not petting the cat one last time. It is the time to be locking the door from the outside.
      I also used to set the kitchen clock five minutes fast….the one I am checking during breakfast.

      I hope this helps someone.

      • Laura said:

        Agreed! Especially on the Get Out the Door time. I had a friend who has become much more punctual because he adopted this practice.

        For me, I frame it as the Drop Time, because I know I have to drop everything and walk out the door at that moment. So if I was running late and brewing my coffee, but it isn’t finished yet, I will switch off/unplug the maker and walk out the door anyway.

        Drop Time does require getting dressed first thing and then doing non-essential tasks. If you’re new at this, consider setting a second alarm (i.e. wake up alarm + drop time alarm 45 minutes later [but set the second alarm only after you’ve woken up/gotten dressed so you aren’t tempted to use it like a snooze button]).

      • miss_chevious said:

        Like you, Jenna, I am a normally punctual person, and I think the key thing is knowing when I have to GET OUT THE DOOR for everything. If the movie is at 7 when do I have to leave? If work starts at 9 when do I have to leave. I love Laura’s idea of Drop Time–I think I’m going to start calling it that.

    • lostinausten said:

      Long-time lurker here. But I’ve always had a big problem with this, so wanted to share what helps me.

      – The theory, as athoughtfulninja said, is making getting up on time something I do on autopilot. This requires minimum will-power, and no guilt-tripping yourself at 7AM (miserable and ineffective!). This blog post is useful: http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2006/04/how-to-get-up-right-away-when-your-alarm-goes-off/

      – In practice, it’s hard to get on the autopilot horse and easy to fall off. I found treating it as a Big Serious Problem, rather than something I was being pathetic about, gave me the motivation I needed. Even co-opting the mantras associated with kicking serious addictions is really helpful: ‘one morning of ignoring my alarm is one too many,’ etc.

      – To kick-start a process where you get up on an alarm every day, the Steve Pavlina post suggests you act out a ‘getting up’ routine at other times. I didn’t do this. I persuaded a concerned relative to pay me $200 at the end of 2013 if I got up on time every working day (with 10 off-days allowed). Which is working so far, perhaps because I’m dead stingy.

      I have a measure of autopilot now for actually getting up, but I still find it very easy to fall back asleep on the sofa. Urgh.

      • Jenna said:

        I don’t permit myself the sofa in the mornings before work. On weekends? Sure. After work? Sure. Before work? No. I can web surf a bit if I am ahead of schedule, but only in the kitchen facing the clock.

        • lostinausten said:

          Yeah, good point. My sofa faces a window and the table a wall, but perhaps it’s time for some reorganisation…

      • I find that treating any of my issues – especially the ones that mentally healthy people would consider trivial – as Large Issues Worthy Of Time And Attention is very helpful. So what if it’s not hard for other people/I’m just being pathetic/whatever? That doesn’t mean it’s an easy thing for me to fix, and it doesn’t mean that I’m not *allowed* to put forth lots of effort fixing it.

        Learning how to be depressed and keep the house acceptably clean/me and girlfriend fed was hard as shit and took me a long time, but I would never have got it done if I’d sat around the whole time thinking “Self, you are being stupid and lazy and should just get your arse in gear”. In fact, I did this for a long time. The improvements only started happening when I changed my attitude to “as a depressed/anxious person, I find this really hard, so I’m going to have to tackle this issue with lots of smart strategies and kindness to myself.”

        It’s okay if you have to spend time and effort learning to be a functional human being. Being a functional human being with a job who pays bills on time and has a reasonably clean house and some clean laundry and food in the fridge is surprisingly hard, even for the people who look like they find it easy.

    • thepaintedlady said:

      Oh man, can I relate to this. I am chronically late in most of my life, but I have managed this year to be early to work every day except one. I don’t know if some of this applies to you, but here’s what helped me:

      – I’m a teacher, and I have my own very nice classroom with my own very nice coffee maker and a microwave just down the hall. A lot of why I used to be late had to do with needing time to myself and dreading some of the invasiveness my school day can sometimes wreak on my psyche. So this school year I set up my classroom in such a way that it is nice to be there, and I can feel alone there. No one can see my desk from the door, and I don’t unlock my door until school starts, so if I don’t feel up to people, I don’t answer when someone knocks. I get alone time, but I don’t have the added anxiety of alone time = late to work – I’m already there! There are mornings I feel very productive and get lots of work done and email answered and parent phone calls and such, and there are some mornings I say, fuck work, and I watch an episode of The Mindy Project or 30 Rock (sob) while I drink my coffee and pretend I’m not in my room. So if you have your own space, make a deal with yourself: if I get here on time, I can do x thing that makes me happy. If you don’t, find something nearby that you can say, if I make it here by x time, I can go here and it will be awesome. Going into work so you can answer more questions and feed more of your soul to the institutional machine = not awesome. So make it about treating yourself.

      – Move closer, if you can and it’s an issue. For two years I drove an hour each way to get to school because I teach in a shitty little town and was living in a big wonderful city. As much as I hated leaving it, my life is so much easier now that my commute is under 10 minutes. And the shitty little town is not as shitty as it seemed.

      – Do something to make the route to work enjoyable. I bike if it’s a nice day. A friend of mine and I stop at a breakfast place on the way on Fridays and watch the sun rise over the ocean. If it’s raining, we go to another spot where another friend works and get coffee. If I know I will enjoy the commute ONLY IF I get up early enough, it’s so much easier to get up.

    • Kim said:

      I always had this problem. The snooze button was my best friend. Recently I made some life changes though, and I barely have trouble anymore. Obviously it doesn’t help if you can’t make changes like these, but it does show that sometimes it’s NOT you, it’s just the situation you’re in doesn’t suit you. (Sometimes I do wonder if the people it doesn’t seem to bother don’t actually mind, or are just better at soldiering on.)

      I used to live in a big city where I commuted into the CBD relying on public transport and my commute was at minimum 2 hours, but could be way more if they were being difficult. I started at 10am too, which seemed good, but it meant I never got home before it was dark other than the height of summer. Because I had so little time to myself because of my commute, I would neglect things like laundry and sleep so I could get as much leisure as I wanted. Which meant I always wanted to stay in bed a bit longer, and I often had a what to wear crisis of a morning. Often that would result in me not going to work at all, but usually it just meant I’d miss the bus.

      Now I start earlier, but I work a shorter day so I finish at 4:30. I have a 20 minute drive to work (so I control when I get there). I get to see the sun because of the early finish and I sit near a window, so no SAD this year. I never feel cheated of my leisure time so I go to bed when I should and can get out of bed with a minimum of fuss when I need to. The only thing I do in the morning though is shower and get dressed. I listen to a book or a podcast in the car so I am chilled out.

      The people I work with now probably have no idea how terrible I am at getting to work on time!

    • Redgirl said:

      A couple of ideas on being on time, from a reformed non-punctual:

      As someone else suggested, do something pleasant for yourself when you first wake up, to encourage you to get up and going. Maybe read a chapter of a novel you’re loving. Or savor a great cup of tea. Something that motivates you.

      The other thing is to do as much as possible the night before, so that getting ready in the morning is super fast and easy. If you are the kind of person who likes showering at night rather than in the morning, do that (I just don’t feel right unless I shower in the morning, so it doesn’t work for me). Measure coffee and water into the coffee maker if you drink it. Pre-make your lunch if you bring one. Choose an outfit and lay it out. If you bring a bag or briefcase, make sure it’s packed and ready to go. Put your keys/wallet/bus pass/etc. in one easy-to-find place. The goal is to be able to get going with minimal effort.

      You could try a reward system. If you get to work on time in the morning, then in the evening you get to have a piece of really good chocolate, or use the expensive bubble bath, or buy a new song on iTunes. Whatever motivates you and fits your budget/lifestyle.

      • I have to laugh — for me, reading a chapter of a novel I’m enjoying is the worst thing to do if the goal is productivity. I’m all too tempted to read the next, and the next, until the book is all gone. I actually have to hide reading material from myself in the morning.

        But whatever works for you!

        • unagi said:

          I know someone who wants on her gravestone “just one more page..” :-). I too alphakitty do best if I only read short, boring, practical things in the morning.. But promising myself a good long read at night is an effective reward.

    • unagi said:

      Don’t be embarrassed Daisy, sometimes it’s really, really hard to get yourself there. Just some quick ideas to help with the basic mechanics. Can you get up 15mn earlier? 5mn? Can you do stuff like pick out what you’re going to wear the night before? Go to bed with a nourishing lunch already in the fridge? It may make the difference to keep your mornings as free from decisions as possible – clock, get up, breakfast, shower, out, no need to engage any neurons at all. I also keep all my clocks/watches right on time, except the kitchen one which is 10mn early and sometimes fools me :-).

    • mintylime said:

      One of the most important things for me in getting up in the morning was ditching the beep-beep-beep alarm and using my lovely smartphone to play me music in the morning. I will snooze that beep-beep-beep crap until the cows come home, but music that I like with words that have meaning gets my brain moving.

      The other thing I do (but usually only when really needed, like “getting 3 hours of sleep and then going to the airport”) is a mild form of self-hypnosis-like thing the night before. As I’m lying in bed, trying to wind down (usually from packing mode and what am I forgetting” brain), I’ll calmly repeat to myself mentally an assortment of phrases like:

      – “I will sleep deeply”
      – “I will wake up in the morning and be fully rested”
      – “I will wake up in the morning and get out of bed”
      – “I will sleep restfully”
      – “I will wake up in the morning and have energy all day”
      – etc.

      It helps drown out all the other mental chatter and the slow rhythm of words calms me down. It does also seem to help with my alertness, rest-levels, and getting the eff out of bed in the morning. It doesn’t usually last *all* day, but it does long enough to get me out of bed and moving.

    • I have the exact same issue, so I SO feel you! One thing that helps me is not just to have a morning routine, but to visualize it the night before. As I lie in bed, I visualize hearing my alarm, immediately getting out of bed feeling fresh and alert, then making my bed, getting dressed, etc. Mind you, my mornings don’t usually turn out like my idealized vision- I’m still bleary and wander around in a confused fog when I first get up, and leave out half of my routine, but I definitely notice a difference between nights I visualize and nights I don’t. (The problem is remembering to do it!)

      Other things that help: putting my alarm on the other side of the room and then telling myself ‘it’s okay if you’re tired, but you still need to stay awake! ‘ and having a calendar on my desk where I give myself la gold star sticker for being. n time. If I make it a month I’m going to buy myself a shiny new harddrive.

      Another thing- I think this goes for any habit- is not to beat yourself up for setbacks. What seems to happen to me is that I’ll do really well for a week and think “this is it! I’m cured! I’ll never be late again! ” and then the next day I sleep in and am late and feel hopeless again.Or I’ll try to set up a really ambitious routine and get disappointed when I can’t do all of it on the first try. It’s really tempting at that point to fall back into old habits, so be sure to not give up- just try again the next day. On my calendar I have a quote – a translation of a haiku by Kobayashi Issa:O snail/ Climb mount Fuji/ But slowly, slowly!And accompanying picture of a snail. If you don’t like snails, maybe find another mantra that you can turn to when you feel like giving up- it feels a little silly, but it’s been helping me so far. Good luck!

    • Daisy said:

      Oh my god, I’m so glad I posted this comment. Thank you so much to everyone who replied. I’m writing this from the train: I am due to get in to work at 9.30!
      It’s only one day but then every other day this year when I’ve planned to be in work at 9.30 it didn’t happen, even when I had quite compelling reasons to be early.

      It was a huge effort but telling myself I was just setting up a new routine and it won’t ALWAYS be this much of an effort was key.

      I’ll keep on re reading this subthread over and over, there are so many great tips. Well, in the whole thread, actually. This is an amazing place.

      I also want to.add one tip of my own. There’s a free iPhone app called Sleeptime which wakes you up at a less-groggy part of your sleep cycle if you put the phone on the bed while you sleep. It actually works, though reduced grogginess wasn’t enough by itself for me! The other thing it does is keep records of your sleep. I was not getting enough sleep and didn’t even realise till I was confronted with the times that had been recorded over a week; the friend who told me about it had the same experience.

      • Pterinochilus murinus said:

        GOOD JOB.

        And count me in as another person who’s glad you posted that question.

      • I’m using a similar non-free app that’s called SleepCycle. It’s got the features you mention, plus you can make a note of things e.g. “stressful day”, “workout”, “did relaxation exercise” etc, and then you get a correlation of your sleep quality with those notes. And, like you, I found that it makes a huge difference if I just turn off the light a little bit earlier. (Not that that makes it easier to actually let go of the book and turn the light off; currently I’ve actually set an alarm to remind me to stop reading…)

    • Isabel K. said:

      I also have a job with an enviably late start time, so I usually lie to myself about when my job *actually* starts. Which sounds really ridiculous, I know, but resetting my routine so that “on time” is actually early means that even when I’m running late-for-me, I can still get there on time. Bribing yourself (if I get there early I can buy myself a fancy coffee/sit in the comfy chair in the lobby and read until my shift starts/go up on the roof for a cigarette/whatever) might also help. OTOH, I am chronically early for almost everything, because I’m so worried that I will be late and the world will end/I’ll get fired/everyone will hate me that it’s less stressful for me to do the whole lie-to-and-bribe-myself thing than to figure out how long it will *actually* take me to get ready for stuff.

      Also, seconding the above suggestion to do as much as possible the night before – lay out your clothes, pack your lunch and work bag, fill up the gas tank (if you drive) on your way home, and so forth.

      • lizzieladie said:

        This is basically the only thing that works for me. I actually get to work mad early and then eat breakfast at or near work so that when I end up running late, the inevitable extra five or ten minutes cuts into the forty-five minutes of me time before my shifts starts and not my actual shift. If op doesn’t have an office to hide in, then maybe they can find a park or cafe near work to hangout at before going in.

      • datdamwuf said:

        Reminds of what i used to do when I had to get up ungodly hours. I would set my alarm clock 15 – 20 minutes fast. My ex used to rag me, saying that since I knew it was 20 minutes fast it didn’t do anything to get me up early. I finally realized the reason it worked; I would have to calculate what time it really was when I snoozed the alarm, this got my brain working enough to haul me out of bed on time. So then I set it to an odd number like 17 minutes fast so it was harder to calculate :)

    • apricity said:

      The advice about getting ready to go some time in advance of the time you need to leave is bang on. I am much better at leaving to things on time if I interrupt what I’m doing half an hour before I need to leave and doing all the things like putting my shoes on, gathering up the things I need to take with me, etc.
      In the morning, get up earlier so you don’t have to race through your morning routine. When I do this I feel like I’m on time and can just keep going with it, whereas if I cut my timing too fine I already feel like I’m late and it’s easy to give up and go with the being-lateness.

      I also find that I do better thinking about chaning my routine so that I am aiming to be on time to things, or aiming to be slightly early to things, rather than aiming to stop being late. Does that make sense? It’s easier for me to have a postive goal rather than a negatively framed one.

      For work specifically, I find that being early means I spent less time at the end of the day, when I am hungry and tired, at work and hating my life. So that’s a strong motivation for me. I’m not being early for other people, I am being early for myself.

      Good luck!

    • DFTBAwkward said:

      I used to be late all the time, but this year I’ve made some changes and I’m doing much, much better. I won’t go into everything because a lot of it has been covered, but I TOTALLY endorse getting your clothes laid out, breakfast/lunch/bag/keys ready, etc. before you go to bed at night. Let your before-bed self be nice to your in-the-morning self!

      The biggest help for me was making it a priority to get enough sleep. It is SO MUCH easier to get up in the morning, to not want to stay lying in bed, if I’ve just gotten enough sleep so I’m not tired. It’s always my goal to go to bed 8 hours before I need to get up. Days when I do this are SO MUCH better than days when I don’t. Our society values productivity at all times and treats sleep like it’s not important or sleeping makes you lazy–fight those messages! You need rest and you’ll do better when you get the right amount of sleep.

      Also I HATE rushing in the morning–that feeling is awful and I feel like it makes my whole day harried. It’s just getting off to a bad start. I used to get up an hour and a half before I have to leave for school. For some people, that’s plenty of time. For me, it often made me feel rushed and I’d end up being late. I bumped it back another hour and now I get up two hours before I need to leave for school. This gives me PLENTY of time to wake up and get ready. I start every morning with a bath and read a few pages of a book. It gives my brain time to wake up in a comfortable way and gets me started for the morning. So my other advice is to be realistic about the time you need and adjust the time you need if necessary. Getting up just 30 minutes earlier made a HUGE difference for me. Give yourself more time than you think you need so that there is never time pressure. I do this now too when going out for social engagements or things where it’s less crucial to be on time than school. I always give myself more time than I think I need and it’s working well. It requires a shift in thinking, but it’s a beneficial shift.

      Lastly I want to make an additional tip to what people have previously in this thread called “drop time.” For me, I have a target time and a drop time. I know if I leave for school thirty minutes before my class starts I’ll get there in plenty of time to set up and get comfortable. If I run into unexpected circumstances like not being able to find a parking spot, I’ll have time to compensate for that. It gives me a comfortable buffer. So it’s always my goal to be out the door 30 minutes before class. But I ABSOLUTELY have to be gone 15 minutes before class starts or I will be late. Most of the time I make it out the door by my target time, but on days when I don’t it’s nice to have the 15 minute buffer where I know I need to leave really soon. It gives me time to prepare for leaving instead of an instant I HAVE TO LEAVE NOW that can sneak up on me.

      Good luck!

  19. Ok, so when I saw this post title appear on the sidebar last night I thought “Ouch. That one looks like it is going to hurt if you read it. You probably need to read it.” I was right on both counts. I’ve been in the process of faking it for a little while, but I could be doing better.

    So, does anybody have any suggestions as to scripts for responding to that voice in your head that screams “Why are you faking it?? They can tell, you know! It’s completely obvious that you’re only doing this stuff so you don’t get fired; you should only be doing it if it’s real and it’s not!”

    Because that voice is REALLY not helpful and also REALLY hard to ignore!

    • Blue said:

      I used to operate under the motto ‘Fake it ’til you make it,’ in high school, and I was really good at it. As of late, all of my ridiculous brain problems were getting to be too much, and I was starting to overwhelm everyone around me. It took bottoming out before I really got my shit together and did something about it.

      Leading up to that point, I couldn’t even bring myself to fake it anymore, and almost all of my coworkers knew what had triggered me to be so sad. I think what helped me most was telling myself that I don’t have to fake it like everything is okay all the time. Like, if something is bringing you down, or you walk into work and it’s a shitty day, I don’t think there is harm in letting those you work with know. You don’t have to tell them details, but it prepares them in case you seem a bit like a mess, and it takes the strain off you to have to worry about whether or not your disguise is good enough. Even something as simple as, ‘Yeah, sorry, but I’m having a kind of rough day/week/time,’ when asked how you are is plenty good enough. And if they pry, be like, ‘I just have a lot of stuff on my plate and it’s hard not to stress out about it.’ You know, those general answers that say everything but also nothing at all? Just make sure you focus on work and do as much as you can, and really, it shouldn’t matter how you feel to anyone else.

      I know this is easier said than done, by the way. And I know there are still certain appearances one has to give off even if they feel like crap. (I struggle with impulse control a lot, so for me, trying to focus on recovering and therapy and such is really hard, when all I want to do is message my currently-estranged boyfriend to talk to him about fixing things. Except I know that he wants to see that I’m serious about getting my shit together, so waiting is key, even though I don’t want to wait any longer.) Anyway, I think that as far as faking it, so long as you have an outlet so that you’re not just holding all your shit together is the most helpful.

    • Cadi said:

      I think most folks do just enough not to get fired or work to their job description – there often is very little motivation to do otherwise (I’m thinking like Peter’s first chat with The Bobs in Office Space here :) ), so you’re probably not the only one in your workplace doing just that.

    • Blue said:

      Sometimes I think it helps to accept that you’re not in the best of spirits and share with your immediate coworkers. Not that I’m saying to be a stick in the mud all day, but at least letting them know that you’re not having a good time could alleviate some of the stress of having to worry about whether or not you’re passing it off well enough. Then it’s not so much about faking it, but more about just getting the work done. Because at the end of the day, even if your life is on fire and you’re rightly grumpy about it, if you can come into work and get out those TPS reports, then no one is really going to say a thing.

    • Perhaps you could point out to Jerkbrain that doing stuff you’d rather not be doing, in order to get paid for it, is not the hallmark of a phony, it’s the whole basis of our economy? That that’s what makes it a job, not a vacation, and is why you get paid for doing it?

      • mintylime said:

        Which is one reason all that “you should be doing what you luuuuuuuuuv” stuff can be kinda toxic.

        Some jobs *have* to be done, even if nobody actually enjoys doing them. Hopefully, there can be good coworkers or good customers to interact with, but sometimes the actual work itself just is no fun and it still has to get done.

        • miss_chevious said:

          PREACH. I have my own personal mantra with regard to that “do what you lurve!” meme: Doing what you love can break your heart.

          I left a career I loved to pursue a career that I like okay but am really doing for the money, and it was the best decision I ever made. Because now I can do what I love just for the enjoyment of it, just because I love it, and work is just work, not my whole entire life.

    • Even if you’re faking your energy levels and optimism, you’re not faking the work that you’re doing. If you take the advice in this post, you really ARE cleaning your desk, you really ARE being on time, you really ARE keeping excellent communication channels with your bosses & being responsible in telling them when you can do what, you really ARE doing your job. It feels like faking because you feel like you can’t possibly do it and the best you can do is pretend – but if you go through a workday “faking” your competence by doing these things, at the end of the day you can turn around and say “wow, I really did all those things! I guess I can be competent.”

      • Jenna said:

        *nod nod*
        You are what you do. You are DOING things. You are getting things done. This is not faking.
        Now, you don’t and shouldn’t have to lie to people about what’s going on, where your head is at, and what you need. Don’t lie. Also, hiding what you need can be hugely bad policy too.
        But, do realize that what “faking it til you make it” usually means, is getting stuff done and being reasonable to the people around you even when you feel like you can’t possibly do it.
        “making it” isn’t feeling like you can do it, so much as looking back at your list of things done, and saying, “I did all this stuff!”

      • Yeah if you’re not secretly outsourcing your job to a guy in China so you can play solitaire all day, you’re good.

        • One of the things that propelled me into seeking professional help WAS actually some days where I just sat at my computer and did nothing all day….

          “It feels like faking because you feel like you can’t possibly do it and the best you can do is pretend” – yes!! This is what my brain tells me! It has also been arguing with all of you since last night, or maybe yesterday morning, especially Cadi.

          “That’s not true!” Jerkbrain keeps saying, “You’re the only one who doesn’t like working! Everybody else at work is really dedicated and motivated and works really hard because they love it! It’s not just because it’s their job and they have to do it!”

          At least, it did until another part of my brain said “Waaaaaaait a minute. You don’t KNOW that. What… what if they’re right? Maybe other people DO just go in and do their job because it’s their job. They’re… they’re probably right.” (The part of my brain that argues with Jerkbrain usually sounds a lot like Lord Percy from Blackadder’s second season.)

          I do feel like I need to do better at cleaning my desk, at communicating, at being on time (my goal is to be in by 8:30; it’s usually 8:45-8:15 and then I leave at 1:15 or 1:30 instead of 1). But I should probably start taking note of what I *have* gotten done so far instead of just assuming it’s a failure because I could still be doing better?

          I’m really glad this post came up when it did. (Well, I wish I’d waited until the next day to read it instead of staying up until 1:30 in the morning on a work night, but you know what I mean.) My next therapist appointment is Wednesday morning and I’m making lists as I go through the posts of things I want to talk over. Thanks for your thoughts, everyone. :)

          • You can tell your jerkbrain that I used to hate going to work so much that I would pour myself a midori-and-lemonade and knock it back before I left the house.

            Yeah. I had a breakdown on the job and quit very shortly after starting that. Luckily I’m now at a job I L-O-V-E LOVE, though I’m only there until the end of the month so I can focus on studying. Both them and I are pretty sad about that! But I imagine I’ll go back to help out during busy periods. I might even try for a long term job there when I have my degree, whether that branch or a different one. But the thing about that job is, literally the only reason I have it is a sequence of events starting with a natural disaster. Otherwise I would never have even realised what it is I want to do with my life and probably would have stayed on the sickness benefit or trying to work in food service/related jobs. Finding a job you really enjoy that much is damn hard and a lot of people never do it – hell, I still have times when I don’t want to go anywhere near the office and totally phone it in all day. (Writing up processes and “things we’ve learned” is amazing for slacking off, I can just stare at the screen and edit the text occasionally. Erm…)

          • But I should probably start taking note of what I *have* gotten done so far instead of just assuming it’s a failure because I could still be doing better?

            I’ve started intentionally doing this and it is awesome. At the end of the day, just before sleeping, I’ll make a note of what I did that day – both what I accomplished and any worthwhile experiences I had. It usually turns out that even on days that felt pretty worthless I did or experienced something of worth. :)

          • Xenophile said:

            There’s a site called I Done This that can email you every evening and ask, “What did you get done today?” Then it puts together a calendar with all the things you’ve accomplished so you can see how awesome you are. When I’m depressed I try to include little things like, “Brushed teeth,” “fed cats” and “left the apartment today.”

          • Xenophile – oh my god I need to use that. As I mentioned, I do something similar, but having it in a calendar sounds extra amazing!

    • Just so you know, you can absolutely love your job and your company and your coworkers and STILL struggle with getting to work on time and getting stuff done instead of reading 200+ comments on Captain Awkward all afternoon.

      It may not help you right now, but it kind of helps me to remember that work is work, you know? And it’s hard. And challenging. And that’s why I like this job, and it’s also why I want to dork around these comments, and sometimes I am totally faking it.

      I assume everyone else is actually hard working and dedicated, but that’s because I have imposter syndrome. Ultimately I can’t do anything about everyone else. I can only do things about myself, and make deals like “okay go do ten minutes of work before reading ten more comments” and so on.

      • It’s actually really helpful to hear that. I DO like my job and my company and my coworkers. I work for a small chemical company; we’re at the point where we’re still small enough that we’re very versatile and everyone is important (hence why it was a BIG problem that I was underperforming…), but successful enough that we’re financially stable and are in no danger of folding (like you’d have with a START-UP start-up). And right now I’m working part-time, which is basically my dream scenario – part-time science, part-time me!

        I have never, ever, ever liked “work”, whether schoolwork or paid work, even if it’s something I enjoy doing. Pretty much as soon as I *have* to do something, I would rather do just about anything else. And my therapist says that actually probably has more to do with the attitudes I’ve internalized about work rather than the depression, which I thought was interesting and I think I may pester her more about at tomorrow’s session. But really, outside affirmation that I’m NOT just lazy and horrible because I can’t stay 100% focused on my job all the time.

        I still worry a lot, because Disheveled and Fired Worker that the Captain describes in the post IS where I was a few months ago (though not fired, yet). And every now and then – lots of nows and thens – I’m terrified that I’m not far enough away from that person and I’m going to end up fired anyway.

  20. Blue said:

    I totally empathize with you, LW! But things will get better, even if they seem like they won’t right now. Even just that little thought, hard as it is, can help you go on a little bit further.

    To explain further, my boyfriend and I had a terrible drunken argument where I had a meltdown and he stormed off into the night crying that he couldn’t handle it anymore. Of course, the next day, I was just convinced that he was sensitive about the actual subject we had argued about and kept trying to poke him into talking through things with me. Much like you, LW, I struggle to keep my shit together on a daily basis, and especially because times were shitty, I was working extra hard to do so because I didn’t want to upset my boyfriend further. But when he finally did reply to my text after like ten days of radio silence, all he had to say was, ‘I have nothing to say to you.’ And it triggered me into another crazy meltdown where I was scared I was going to hurt myself because I was home alone.

    So then I did the best thing I have ever done for myself: I called my therapist, and she called me an ambulance to take me to the ER so I would be safe. And then I checked my ass into the psych ward to get to the bottom of all these shitty feels that were starting to run my whole existence and put a giant strain on my relationship with the love of my life.

    The hospital stay was really good for a few reasons. First off, I finally got medical explanation as to why my reactions were out of my control, a thing that has been with me all my life but was getting worse as of late. Knowing that is half the battle, as now I understand what steps I have to take to put myself in a good place and why. Also, finally on some medication to help keep me baseline, which I was against for a long time (bad experience in high school)… But I’m amazed at the difference it makes. Does it keep bad feels away? No… but it sure makes it that much easier for me to recognize when my brain is starting to get carried away.

    So now, my boyfriend and I are currently on a break of some kind, which happened once before, and I now realize was probably for the same reason, where he couldn’t quite handle my emotions. This time was almost the end forever, and I almost had no clue, until I decided to actually take care of myself. Realizing that my problems were much more deep-rooted than he thought was apparently a huge pill for my boyfriend to swallow (I am told by a friend), and so we are both off dealing with our own shit and not talking for the time being. And let me tell you: it is awful, and all I want to do is text him and tell him I’m getting better, it’s fine, let’s go on a date. But I have to pull myself back and think, ‘No, no, I’m taking care of me right now. He still cares; he can hang on an extra week.’ Which is SO HARD, because I’m not back to work yet and all I really do is sit online and read self-help blogs and worry that he’s just telling himself that I’m terrible…. I guess what I’m trying to say is that all these little things might not seem like they help in the moment, and the moment may suck a fat one, but these things will eventually pile up into Good Things. In my case, giving everything some time, really making a point to get myself into a good place, will help not only with restoring my relationship with my boyfriend, but my life in general. What little things might help aim you where you want to be, LW?

    I suppose what I’m also really trying to say is that maybe it wouldn’t hurt to think if the sad feels you’re handling are things that are a bit beyond your control, that maybe seeking professional help from a psychiatrist wouldn’t hurt you? The right medication might at least help you feel baseline again, and with some therapy, you can perhaps work your way to feeling the way you used to. And I say this as someone who used to be very anti-medication. Especially if the trouble you’re experience is tension with your significant other, it might help to get yourself in a clearheaded place so that even if your SO is being a dick, you are at least in a place to handle the situation more rationally instead of just being upset that things aren’t always dealt with in a way that you would prefer, if that makes sense. Then things might not light on fire and create sad feels that affect the rest of your life. It might also help you manage your workday a bit better too.

    Anyway, good luck. I’m sure you’ll figure it out!

    • clodia said:

      [HUGS] Because you deserve them. You are not terrible. You are pretty awesome, and are taking care of yourself and that’s really really good. Just in case no one has told you any of these things today today.

  21. sorcharei said:

    One thing that, helped me when I started to dig out of the hole my depression caused was triggered by what I thought at the time was a very bad news diagnosis. My GP and my regular psychiatrist had referred me to a neuropsychologist, and he eventually delivered himself of the opinion that my depression is drug-resistant, and that as a result, even good, on-going therapy and behavioral changes and a consistently monitored (and tweaked) chemical soup is not going to cure it completely.

    I was devastated, and part of me wanted to crawl back into that hole and just stay there until I finally died of boredom and self-loathing. That’s when he said a phrase that really stuck with me: “a new normal”.

    And right then and there I let go of the dream that if I could find the right collection of drugs, therapies, and magic, things could go back to what they were like before the hormonal changes of peri-menopause unleashed this horrible disease in my brain. Letting go of that dream meant I had to face up to dealing with the situation I had, not the one I wished I had.

    It doesn’t mean things will never change (for the better or the worse), but it does mean that I don’t waste time trying to figure out how to get back to normal. I just focus on “what do I need to do, right now?” This means that the conversations I have in my head stopped being about how stupid/lazy/weak-willed I am and started being practical: what do I have to do in this moment to get along?

    For me, it’s been really freeing not to waste time on thoughts like, “it never used to hard to force myself to shower, and when this is over, it won’t be hard anymore, so this is unfair, and I’ll just wait it out until it’s not hard anymore”. Instead, my mental monologue says “sucks that showering is now a hard thing to do, but it is, and I have to do it anyway, so let’s see, the first thing I have to do is put the rubber mat in the bottom of the bathtub, then tuck the shower curtain inside the tub, and then . . . ”

    It also, and this is where my lengthy comment is relevant to this discussion, let me finally process the way my last job ended (not fired, but near as well might have been). It was awful and I used it to beat myself up for a couple years, but “I spent twenty years being a superstar at work, and the new normal is that work is hard for me to manage, so I have to learn to cut it down into small pieces and stay on top of those”. And this in turn let me organize those pieces into:

    1) things I need to do today to make sure that the work gets done

    2) things I need to do today to make sure that the people around me know that the work is getting done

    3) things I need to do today so that no one who encounters me will think that work can’t possibly be getting done (see: showering every single day, no matter how hard it is to make myself do that)

    4) things I need to do today to make work possible tomorrow (take meds, do CBT exercises, wash clothes, whatever)

    For me, the new normal means that a person who never had to think about any of this before now has to think about everything, or nothing gets done. But cutting it up in small pieces, and making sure that I communicate clearly to the people around me about what’s getting done has worked for me. It’s tedious, annoying, and unfair. And it’s the new normal.

    • Jenna said:

      Sometimes life recalibrates and you end up with a new unexpected baseline. Unfortunately, we usually notice most when it’s in a negative direction.
      Mine was a few years ago when my husband was diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma. The next year and a half was pretty much centered around his treatment. there was also making sure I could make a living after he was gone…because stage 4 melanoma? Yikes.
      My mantra to determine if something was important enough to worry about was “will it cause the house to fall down?”
      Gardening? Not important.
      Keeping my present job? Very important.
      Medical appointment? Important.
      Washing windows? Not at all important.
      Bees in the wall of the house(real bees, actually rather calm, and not the evil sort.)? Well, has anyone complained or noticed? No, calm bees in an out of the way spot. Ok, not causing the house to fall down, and therefore Not Important.

      I called a beekeeper about 6 months after my husband passed and she spent 5 hours dismantling the inside plaster wall and vacuuming up bees. I had bees in that wall from the floor to the ceiling, and then I did not. I had to have the wall repaired, but, it eventually got done. Ignoring it for a year may have made the project bigger, but, the house did not fall down.

      When I am in a rough patch, I concentrate on the stuff that NEEDS to get done to keep my job, a roof over my head, transportation, and food. I give myself permission to relax about anything that isn’t related to keeping my house standing. I keep myself presentable. I stay on time. I show up ready to work. I keep the FMLA paperwork current and in order.

      • Sympathies, Jenna. This is really good advice.

      • ahn said:

        my sympathies to you. best wishes and all of the jedi hugs as you continue to recalibrate.

  22. Depression isn’t my issue, but if I may attest: taking time to organize your work, space, put obligations into a planner, and make some lists, can feel like wasting time compared to just getting the work done…but it is not. Organizing your work goes a stunningly long way towards actually having it done. And having a comprehensive planner and using it can also go a long way towards making you both look and feel organized.

  23. cleverhound said:

    I notice you say you got your job by some stroke of luck. Maybe if you take a different approach to that, like there is some quality that you have that they saw. Even if it is “a warm body to stand here and do a thing” well, great. They hired you for A Reason. (I just got a part time job after a long stint of unemployment, and I keep reminding myself that they hired me for a reason, and they think I can do the job. It helps the self-esteem a bit.)

    General tips on the Jerkbrain:
    These took a certain amount of therapy for me to be able to realize, so YMMV, etc.
    I have a game I play with the jerk brain. I call it the Other Options game, or the Really? game.

    “You are the lowest of the low, the worst person on the planet, you are such a failure.”
    Really? Is this really true? I’m pretty sure I saw the news and there are some really awful people out there, and I did not do those things today, so I am not one of those. Not the worst.

    “You are so lazy and can’t do anything ever.”
    Brain, I am having a bad day/week/month/spell. Sometimes it is hard to get shit done. Back the fuck off. Let’s start with getting out of bed/taking a shower/leaving the house.

    “You had trouble opening that door. Everyone thinks you are stupid and omg you can’t even open a door what a failure!”
    Or…that door was really sticky. Maybe they should get that fixed.

    “That lady was making a face at me, she must think I’m terrible and I can’t ever talk again and I must hide from all people.”
    Maybe she made a weird face because she had to sneeze, or had something in her eye, or just remembered she forgot to take out the garbage and it stinks and now she has to deal with stinky garbage, or maybe she is just a rude asshole.

    “I’m nervous about this yoga class because I’m going to be really bad at it and everyone is going to notice and I’m terrible.”
    Naturally, having never done something before, I should be perfect at it. What, no? OK. It is ok to be bad at things, particularly something I have never done before. Other people are more concerned about what they are doing than what I am doing. And if they think bad things about me because I can’t do a move, then they are real assholes. And not being able to do a yoga move does not make me a failure at life.

    Also, I imagined of someone else were saying that to me, or if someone were saying it to my best friend, and I was horrified. Then I realized I should be nicer to myself, and I try to watch these things when they come up.

    • ““I’m nervous about this yoga class because I’m going to be really bad at it and everyone is going to notice and I’m terrible.”
      Naturally, having never done something before, I should be perfect at it.”
      –THIIIIIIIIS is how I have been my entire life. And you’re right, if someone said that to my best friend, I would be horrified. If somebody said it to me, honestly I would bristle and growl (and probably agree with them deep down).

      I used to say “I hate math because it’s hard.” Eventually I figured out what I actually meant to express and switched to “I hate math because it takes me longer than five minutes to become good at the concepts.”

      I’ve spent a lot of time working on accepting the fact that one is not automatically good at everything one tries. Even when that one is me. Still have a ways to go, but I’m a lot better than I used to be!

  24. datdamwuf said:

    CA, your recommendation to send follow up email to bosses on assignments is right on, I learned this years ago with a boss that truly was sabotaging me, it worked like a charm. She couldn’t say I forgot or didn’t understand any longer. I use it to this day because even though most people are well meaning, it is still useful. As a gov contractor I also do this with customers & coworkers. When I have a verbal with someone and we have action items I tell them I’ll send an email confirming our decisions and I do that. I’ve found everyone likes this a lot – we all mis-communicate – we all sometimes mean to say something we didn’t actually say – or just plain forget to say.

    For times when there is no way to do an email confirmation – I always end the verbal with something like “OK, let me tell you what I think I’m doing so I know we are both on the same page”. This nearly always causes the other person to recall one more thing or correct something I got “wrong”, and it’s easy to do.

    • Jenna said:

      Clear communication is always useful. I love email clarifications and confirmations. I try to always keep it clear, short, and to the point.

      My boss mentioned my clear communication style as a positive trait in my last work review. It gets noticed!

  25. Elle said:

    This is going to sound like a dumb question and I would submit it formally except that I don’t have a problem to tie it to. People who have a Jerkbrain – is it talking to you? Is it you? Do you experience it in real time? Can you hear i? Or is it just a feeling? I guess I realized that we talk about it a lot but I’ve never really known what it’s like in that moment? Please feel free to ignore if this is derailing or unhelpful. I’m just never sure for myself if something *is* jerkbrain/depression or not.

    • Elle said:

      Just to underline that question: I’m never sure if I am experiencing it or not. Not trying to cast down on how other people experience it

    • JenniferP said:

      I don’t experience it as The Voices(tm), but it will come as a wave of bad feelings, circular logic, and bad thoughts about myself when I’m trying to accomplish something. I will feel like I can’t do something, and all of the reasons will end up “Because you suck.” So I have to climb out of the bad logic hole.

    • For me (and, I gather, for many people), Jerkbrain is just …me, but with bad logic and unwarranted negativity. As I see it, the construct of “Jerkbrain” is a way to separate these thoughts from myself – “it’s not real logic, it’s just my brain being a jerk to me and I can argue with it.” But it feels very much like I’m the one being the jerk.

    • Jenna said:

      My jerkbrain is just me telling myself negative things that get in my way and do not help me actually do things. It’s all the stuff I have worked hard to filter out because those particular thoughts running around in my head will grind me to a halt if I don’t filter them out or counter them in some way. Calling it “jerkbrain” is a way to not get yourself down for thinking it(which can derail also) and set it aside somewhere outside where it gets in e way a bit less.

    • notemily said:

      I’ve always thought of my jerkbrain as cognitive distortions. These things are not true, they’re just my brain playing tricks on me. They may SEEM true while I’m thinking them, and I may believe them wholeheartedly, but that doesn’t make them true. My jerkbrain wants me to feel bad and will perform all kinds of mental gymnastics to keep me feeling bad. But if I can remember that it’s lying, that usually helps.

    • Commenter said:

      For me it’s a name I give when I realize that I’m thinking things that A) probably aren’t true and B) REALLY aren’t helpful. So if I suddenly think that I’m the worst friend in the world, or I’m unable to get anything done, or I’ll never succeed at XYZ because I SUCK.
      Those things probably aren’t true. And they’re probably not helping.

      So what helps is saying “That’s not true, there’s a part of your brain that’s acting like a jerk at the moment. You’d never let someone treat your friends that way, don’t let your own brain treat you that way.”

      Another comment a while ago linked to a site where someone talked to their Little Monsters (sorry, I can’t find the comment or the site…), which I kind of loved. I like the idea of sitting down with your thoughts, and imagining the negative thoughts as a small furry monster that WANTS TO PROTECT YOU, but doesn’t understand that it’s not making you happier. If the bad thoughts seem particularly scary, feel free to imagine that the small fuzzy monster is actually hiding behind a curtain and speaking through a Big Scary Robot, Wizard-of-Oz style.
      Fuzzy monsters can be listened to, asked to explain their reasoning, (You shouldn’t go to this party! It could be scary! New people are scary! What if they’re boring! That will be awkward! And that would be TERRIBLE.) and then they either get talked around to a useful point of view, (I’d quite like to meet some new people, if they’re boring I promise we’ll leave. Will you help me do that?) or else they get sent to their monster room to be quiet while I go do my thing.

      This allows me to deal with these thoughts without accepting them as The Truth, and at the same time it lets me off the hook for thinking them. It means that I don’t have to spiral into having bad thoughts, then feeling guilty for having bad thoughts, then having bad thoughts about not having dealt properly with the bad thoughts etc. etc. etc.

      • panda flannel said:

        I think you’re talking about Monster Talk, which is AMAZING.

        Sometimes I need to just filter out my jerk brain in order to get things done, but I’ve found that doing this kind of communication process with my monsters when it’s appropriate – when I feel comfortable, on my own time – has been what’s really allowed me to break some huge long-held assumptions down. Having the big conversations when I feel safe also makes it easier for me to do those quick checks (“is this true or is this totally distorted?”) when it’s not appropriate to do a big check in, like at work.

      • hereandnow said:

        Another comment a while ago linked to a site where someone talked to their Little Monsters (sorry, I can’t find the comment or the site…)

        *delurks* Might you be thinking of The Fluent Self? *relurks*

      • I think you mean http://monstertalk.co.uk . It’s helped me change things around in my way of thinking about the jerkbrain/lying put-me-down-monster that keeps telling me I’m useless and no good.

    • Elle said:

      That’s helpful. Thank you.

    • Not sure how much it will add to what’s already been said, but Hyperbole and a Half has a great graphical depiction of the jerkbrain.

    • Brigadier Overshare said:

      I think of it as my Imp (all apologies to Tyrion Lannister). The Imp is the part of me that will use all my best instincts to keep me from doing what’s best at the moment. So my instinct to clean the house gets used by the Imp as “You can’t start revising that chapter, you have a filthy house!” or my work instincts are turned into weapons of “You can’t possibly work on cleaning when you’ve got such a long list of grading to do!”

      Even the loving instincts get misused by my Imp: “When was the last time you did something nice for Beloved? How can you put anything (grading/cleaning/revising/self-care) ahead of that?” Or love for myself: “Only slackers take breaks when they feel bad. Oh, are you feeling bad? IT IS BECAUSE YOU ARE SLACKING”

      The net result isn’t that I clean or grade or love or nurture or whatever the Imp is saying is a higher priority: the result is paralysis, when I can’t start anything because I must start everything. Thus, the Imp gets to crow about how I never do anything…

      The only way to short-circuit it, so far, is to just jump into doing something anything anything and accomplish that. Wish me luck…

      • datdamwuf said:

        I’ve always talked to myself, sometimes out loud, I only learned jerkbrain from CA. When I was younger and someone would say something about it sounding odd, I’d tell them it was all cool so long as I don’t argue with myself and lose the argument. Of course when I’m depressed I do lose the argument sometimes, even then I spin it, like “fine I’m lazy, so what, lazy people have invented all the cool stuff in the world, now shuddup”.

      • Aaaaaagh! Feeling guilty when I’m writing because the house is messy and feeling guilty when I’m housecleaning because the book STILL needs further revising — are you a sock puppet created by my subconscious mind while the rest of me was sleeping??

        Oh, wait. You can’t be. I don’t have to grade papers, too.

      • JenniferP said:

        Your Imp and my Jerkbrain have clearly met.

        • God forbid they start tag-teaming.

    • Mostly Lurking said:

      I used to think of this as ‘depression talking’ and have been adapting the term ‘brainweasels’ with great glee. What depression does is amplify all the bad stuff with rotten cherries on top.

      So instead of ‘I am currently out of work, have had close misses and am getting lots of feedback from people who’d like to hire me but can’t right now’, depression turns this into ‘I suck for not having a job – everybody has jobs but me. You’ve walked out of [job from hell] therefore you will never ever get another job in your life.’ Etc etc. Every small problem is magnified (usually with a dose of ‘you’ve wasted your chance, it’s only going to get worse from now on’) and there’s a good portion of guilt heaped upon me in the process.

      The form it takes is thoughts, just like any other – but if I look at the sheer negativity and hyperbole, I can usually identify where those thoughts are coming from. (It really really does not help that I’ve had bad things happen to me. I can’t just say ‘it’ll be alright’ because I *know* that magical thinking isn’t working – sometimes it will *not* be alright.

    • I have learned in meditation to notice that my mind has all kinds of thoughts floating around all the time. In my experience, then, what I am “thinking” is the thought I am giving attention to.

      Sometimes I do have more than one thought going on at once, and it might be in the form of a conversation. Usually all the voices will by my mental voice but sometimes it’ll be in someone else’s voice, like my mother, husband, or therapist. I try to elicit some of those specific thoughts in another’s voice for comfort, sometimes.

      Another thing I notice is that sometimes my emotions spin up into a negative storm of anxiety and yuk. These feelings are Big and Terrible. But they don’t like to stay just as emotions — they like to have thoughts, too. So they’ll jump in and grab some thought space, and fill that thought up with their Big Terrible Emotional Badness.

      That’s what I think of as the Jerkbrain. That’s when I think in black and white terms, when I catastrophize, when I think I suck, when my imposter syndrome takes off, etc. The more I pay attention to these emotionally laden thoughts, the more powerful they become. They gather more emotion, pick up more thoughts (remember that mistake you made twenty years ago?), and spin up just a tornado of awfulness.

      Some helpful skills around this model of jerkbrainliness involve challenging the content of the thoughts, like having an automatic rebuttal in place so that whenever you think the words “damn, I suck” you automatically think “wow I am fucking awesome” or whatever.

      I try to notice which thoughts are big and emotionally laden. Then I can see, “Aha. I am feeling anxious, and that anxiety is driving those thoughts. But I don’t think the anxiety is about that, it feels like I’m anxious because I have PMS and I haven’t eaten today.” Then I can decouple the thought and the feeling and deal with them separately and with compassion.

    • You know that internal filter you had installed when you were a kid? The one that jumps in when you think “that is the ugliest hat I have ever seen” and says “but you really shouldn’t tell your aunt that, it would be pointless and hurtful”? It self-censors and helps you divide your internal monologue into ‘things others might think are interesting and appropriate to hear from me’ and ‘things that should stay locked in my head, in an emergency spilling onto filtered entries on LiveJournal’. It’s the thing that makes you semi-automatically polite to other people, because you feel kind of bad when you realize you’ve just been rude.

      The Jerkbrain is what happens when this mutates into a giant angry radioactive kaijuu-movie Godzilla monster. Instead of being a helpful gatekeeper that catches stuff on its way out of your mouth and redirects it to the appropriate place, it reaches out and snatches everything that’s going around in your head and redirects it into the bin that says FUCKING HELL, HOW DO YOU MANAGE TO BREATHE WITHOUT MUNGING IT UP? It also wrenches the “don’t annoy people” dial around to 11, which means every time you feel like you’ve screwed something up, which is basically always, you also immediately wince and think, “Oh, god, I’m inconveniencing everyone I come into contact with. MY EXISTENCE MAKES EVERYONE ELSE’S LIFE HARDER.” Depressed people are phenomenal actors — because they don’t want anyone else to have to expend the extra effort to take care of them, so they mask like hell — right up until the moment they aren’t, and they collapse completely.

      Doing anything at all becomes exponentially more work when all the things you need have been misfiled in a giant bin full of shit, as well. Humans use a lot of things like emotional or environmental cues to help them remember bits and pieces of information, and when absolutely everything is associated with the cue, “I suck,” it makes it very difficult to fish any one appointment or deadline out of the welter of other stuff that made you feel the same way. Which of course makes the problem worse, because then you actually are dropping the proverbial ball from time to time. It snowballs until you get people like the Captain’s unfortunate employee, who simply cannot cope with anything because they have no internal organization left to handle it. She shouldn’t have been having to work, because she shouldn’t have been working, but unfortunately our culture encourages us to invest a lot of our self-conception into the job we do and gives us no alternatives for times when we’re not in a state where we can mesh well with other people, and having to give that up just feeds the Jerkbrain.

      In essence, the Jerkbrain is a collapse of your ability to correctly juggle and file inputs and outputs, usually due to an emotional stressor. Therapies like CBT can help you sort out the organizational system, which is why they often help restore outward functioning to people who suffer from depression. Whether they help some people sort out the emotional stressors, I don’t know; it never did me, but my experience has been out of spec in a lot of ways, so I wouldn’t like to generalize too far.

      • misspiggy said:

        This is a brilliant comment and explains a lot for me. I had the same problem with CBT, but am finding that talking to Ms Monstertalk is really helping in a way that CBT just didn’t.

        • I also take issue with the way a lot of therapists frame ‘depression’ as this sort of eternal force of darkness that I will be forever locked in a brute-force struggle with. The entire paradigm demands that I use all my energy to fight something whose main tactic is to sap or misdirect all my energy. I cannot conceive of a better or more certain way to set someone up for failure that does not involve an unwise bar bet and a bottle of Ol’ Janx Spirit.

          I personally get much better results from outwitting myself — I’m the sort of person whose intellect still works even when everything else is gummed up.

  26. Mostly Lurking said:

    There’s a lot of stuff here. I can think of workplaces where the strategies mentioned would not have worked for various reasons, but they still provide lots of inspiration, and hopefully some of them will be adaptable.

    I’ll pick up one thing that resonated with me:
    Organized people are good at taking a little time each day to put their lives in order.

    Who knows what organised people are like – I wouldn’t.

    (You’re probably right, for a number of reasons. However…)

    Quite often, organised people start from different starting points – by which I don’t just mean mental state and energy, but _everything_. Let’s take dishes.

    Everybody must do their dishes, right?
    Well, no. Some people have dishwashers. Some people have staff. Some people eat out much of the time, and thus do not create much in the way of dishes.
    Neither my housemate nor I are naturally tidy, but we’re both comitted to keeping our living space clean, organised, and comfortable. So for us, dishwashing works something like this:

    [eat dinner, talk, one of us sighs ‘shall we do the dishes?’ the other sighs in return, we do the dishes and keep talking].
    Right now, I’m alone in the house, and yesterday, doing dishes was a major effort. (I did them.) Today, I thought about *why* it was so difficult, and was rather surprised by this.

    – it’s a bigger job. Not only do I have to do both sides of the dish mountain, handling every item twice, but other than a breakfast and a dinner plate, the amount of dishes remains the same: a one-person-dishload is at least 80% of a two-person-dishload. Yesterday I washed some extra items, so I *was* doing more for one person than two of us would do together.
    – I have 100% responsibility for making sure the dishes are done, and no cheerleader to encourage me. Mentally, that makes it much harder: I need to be on my game every single day; slacking one day would mean that I’d have twice the work (and need twice the motivation) the next.
    – instead of doing something I enjoy (having a conversation) doing the dishes on my own means leaving things I enjoy (books, music, computer) in order to do it. In this house, the kitchen is heated; in my two previous houses it was not, and there’s nothing like standing in a freezing kitchen to put you off doing dishes.

    Other factors include hot water availability, people you want to avoid, distance to the kitchen, noise, lighting, ergonomic factors, actual pots/crockery & state thereof…

    Long story short: what might be a quick and painless job for one person can be much more problematic and challenging for another; and if you had put the organised person into my unheated kitchen with the problematic hot water supply they, too, might have struggled doing the dishes on time every day, and likewise, drop me into a situation set up in my favour, and I’m not having a problem doing them. Something to think about, maybe.

    • Jenna said:

      I am more organized than I used to be, but, part of it is learning to be.

      There’s a link on the sidebar, but, I’ll put it here as well:

      http://unfuckyourhabitat.tumblr.com/

      This and other sites(flylady and Adulting among others) have given me the starting points.

      Here are the things that I have learned, one step at a time, that make me look organized.
      I learned and incorporated these things ONE at a time. I made ONE a habit, and then added another. These are not in any particular order, and someone else might find some other order more congenial.

      In grade school I learned that having the alarm across the room and out of reach helps a ton in getting up.

      I just recently learned that making the bed as I get out of it makes it less likely that I will fall back into it, AND (bonus! ) the room looks neater!

      I keep my sink empty. The dish drainer may have clean dishes in it, and admit to having and using a dishwasher, but, the SINK, it is EMPTY. I also wipe the sink down daily, and grab a fresh dish towel.

      Laundry is done often so it isn’t quite the huge pile. I will admit to living in a house with a washing machine; It does make this part easier.

      A swiffer type sweeper with a damp microfiber cloth attached run across the floor daily(not even scrubbing, just lean a little, and do it fast) will make the floor look great, if you do it for just 5 minutes a day. I do (in order) kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room. It takes me 7to10 minutes.

      I set my work clothes out the night before, along with the other stuff I need to take with me.

      I use the heck out of my calendars. I write notes having to do with what, where, who, etc. on the events when I get the information. If I have a repeating event, I write them all in, and don’t trust that I will remember. I have a Google calendar that I share with certain people because we are coordinating. In school, I just used a notebook type calendar that had the entire school year on it.

      My phone is my life. I use it for calendars, email, photos, and shopping lists.

      I put trash in the trash bins. Immediately.

      If I use a tool, I put it away where it belongs when I am done.

      There is a book out there called, “Throw out 50 things” and it really REALLY helped me get rid of clutter in my house(inherited from parents and not properly moved out of since the 60’s).

      I’m still adding stuff to my habits, but these listed things make my life so much easier. I check the unfu@& your habitat site OFTEN for inspiration. Organization is indeed easier with staff and appliances, but some of these are just things that can become habits. Once they are habits they are easier.

      • mintylime said:

        I sometimes call this “Avoid Step Zero”. A Step Zero is “move a thing or do a thing so that I can *start* to do the thing I’m actually trying to do”.

        I once lived with a guy who hated doing dishes (not that I *like* doing them myself, mind you) … but he’d put his dirty dishes in the sink and then, because he had some effed up idea about “have to let them soak”, he’d fill the sink with water (sometimes even soapy water!). Then he would let it sit like that. For a week.

        So, doing the dishes became a giant hassle, because Step Zero of “doing the dishes” was dealing with this gross pile of dishes in this filthy water.

        I now have a pretty firm rule about nobody puts dirty dishes in the sink unless the sink is also full of hot soapy water and you are actively about to wash the dishes. I don’t care if the sink’s scrubbed or any crap like that, just empty and ready to do a load (or fill the tea kettle or whatever).

        • H.Regalis said:

          Hey, I soak my dishes! But for like 20-60 minutes. It makes the food come off easier. A week is nasty though.

      • Mercy said:

        As I often do, I’m going to add a caveat that if yelling + similar triggers you (generic you), I suggest you avoid the UFYH site. I can’t even look at it without my blood pressure raising and feeling avoidant and teary.

      • peewhy said:

        I cleared out things I have been keeping for YEARS without using with the help of the UFYH app and Tumblr, and the sense of relief has been incredible. The 20/10s and 45/15s have been really helpful for me to get my room cleaned up, and in feeling less crappy about my life.

        • Mostly Lurking said:

          Hurray for decluttering!

          (I have the UFYH app, but due to complicated status have not used it yet. Am sorting out plenty of stuff, though.)

          Dear Captain: next time you feel like an open thread, can we have one on decluttering/unfucking your habitat/creating good habits?

          • JenniferP said:

            Sounds like a plan.

          • Daisy said:

            Whee! I was going to ask for this! My ambition is to master time AND space.

  27. Very good specific advice from the Captain about how to keep workplace supervisors/mentors happy. As someone who has supervised/mentored scientists in my lab for a pretty long time, I have come to the realization that the things that actually make me want to fire someone all have in common that they appear to reflect a lack of engagement and a lack of giving a shitte.

  28. I need this six months ago. Before I was fired :'(
    What are the stages of grief? I’m up to anger.

    • Mostly Lurking said:

      <jedi hugs>
      I’m sorry you’ve been fired and hope that you’ll find/have found a better job. And it’s not as if this advice is wasted – the key point is to a) try to be a good employee and b) keep lines of communication open. (Also, a dose of c): blow your own trumpet and prove that you’re a valuable employee.)

    • Cocoa said:

      I also offer jedi hugs, and empathy, because I am thinking the same thing right now. I am not actually completely sure why I was laid off (which doesn’t help the anger), but I can now see a lot of the bad behaviors I was doing which probably contributed to it.

  29. I know that I’m coming to this a bit late, but I had to chime in with this – I love the jerkface lies. I get the little snide voice in my head on a constant basis that makes it so hard to knuckle down and get things done, and self motivation is such a big part of university. I’m going to start allowing the jerkface to be a jerkface, and get on with the evil essays anyway.

  30. I really enjoyed this. Very helpful!!
    Reblogged this on Panic Sucks and commented:
    How many of us could benefit!

  31. Laura said:

    Oh and here’s a piece of advice that I don’t think anyone else has shared: when the going gets tough, volunteer. It seems counter intuitive, but it’s always been very helpful to me (socially anxious + prone to depressive slumps) to have a very small commitment during my week (or every other week) to look forward to. Here’s why it works:

    1) Helping other people is the easiest way to prove jerkbrain wrong. When it gets really bad and I’m thinking things like “You’re such a faker. Everyone thinks you’re nice, but you’re really evil.” It’s very easy to counter with “I bet that foodbank employee doesn’t give a damn if it’s an evil person putting those cans in that bin. It needs to get done, an evil person can do it.” And then when I feel better, I can be proud of helping out.

    2) People express a lot of gratitude to volunteers, which they don’t do as much for the nameless baristas and cashiers and other employed folks: being a cashier gave me my first batch of honest to god panic attacks, so I get how emotionally exhausting the service industry can be.

    3) The organization I volunteer with posts all their job ads through the volunteer listserv, so we get a crack at new positions first. This helps when I’m worried about stuff at work. Reading these job postings is like having my panic attack prescription filled: I don’t really take it that often, but it’s a huge relief knowing it’s there if I need it.

    4) Having an uncomplicated good thing takes a lot of pressure off all my other situations, including my relationship.

    I don’t know if this would work for you. You certainly know yourself better than I do.

    • Kim said:

      I have been trying to volunteer, partly because I have been depressed and needed to feel like I was doing something meaningful. I’ve been trying for months now and I still haven’t started. I have tried several different places that advertised they wanted volunteers, but then they act like they don’t want volunteers at all. Only one place actually responded to me, and I will eventually be doing something a month from now.

      If you are having issues with feeling unwanted, this really wouldn’t help. Maybe I was really unlucky and these places aren’t representative, but you may want to enlist help for the getting organised to volunteer part. And volunteering orgs, if there are any reading this, please make it easier to help you.

      • Laura said:

        Good point! It’s true that volunteer opportunities will depend a lot on location (I live in a pretty big city, so there’s lots of organizations that need warm bodies and are large enough to have volunteer coordinators and resources for training and are well-managed enough to be efficient).

        Sorry you bumped into such disorganization, Kim. I hope you have a smooth experience from here on out. :)

      • Daisy said:

        I suspect based on my previous experiences with nonprofits, the groups that need volunteers most are often the ones where no one really has time to manage volunteers! So I know your jerkbrain probably tries to make it seem like it’s about you, but it most definitely isn’t.

        One thing I can suggest is that if you can make any kind of long term commitment (a few months or more) say so. That makes a big difference. Volunteers who aren’t reliable or move on after a couple of weeks is the major issue with working with volunteers.

        If you can’t go long term, I suggest thinking in terms of looking for charity events to volunteer at rather than looking for organisations.
        I haven’t tried this myself but microvolunteering online is buzzy right now… Helpfromhome.org might be a useful resource if you just want to do a good deed for the day?

        Also I’m told animal shelters ALWAYS need people. Sadly there are no public transport accessible shelters near me; if there were i’d be all over that.

        • Laura said:

          Great points. Shelters, though, are one of the examples of places that can be really hard to volunteer at initially (and then after the first hurdles, really rewarding) because a lot of rescue shelters focus on animals with behavior problems, since those are the ones most likely to go on euthanasia lists, which means they have to be really careful about training people for liability reasons, etc. On the plus side, it means there’s often a very specific orientation process, but it can sometimes be pretty long and involved.

          Microvolunteering or drop-in volunteering is a really nice way to skirt some of the headachy/anxiety-producing parts of volunteering because they aren’t expecting people to make a specific time commitment above say the hour you set aside to show up. Giving blood is another thing you can do with zero prep (and you save ~2 lives every time) so that can be a good way to start without hassle.

          Other low-hassle/less heavy in paperwork/training/screening activities include soup kitchens and food pantries (some have more hoops to jump through because they have non-profit status things and employment regulation stuff to worry about, but others are laid back) because often the tasks are as simple as ‘wash those dishes’ or ‘hand a wrapped sandwich to every person in this line’ which don’t require a lot of supervision. Anyway, I’ve found http://www.volunteermatch.org/ to be a good resource for finding opportunities. Usually an organizations website is a good hint at how well they handle volunteers (like do they have a link to click that has all the info you need and a contact number? Yes? Awesome!) because some places really are abysmal, although as Daisy pointed out, it often comes down to lack of resources.

          • Laura said:

            I should add: giving blood requires zero prep besides a big breakfast. I did end up fainting once because I’d only had coffee + a fig newton and that’s not enough.

            Also, some places have some bullshit screening questions that are homophobic, so consider whether that would be triggering. I donate after I’ve had my annual and semi-annual check up, so I know that I’m STD free, which means I don’t mind telling them to shove it when they ask if I’ve ever had sex with a guy who sleeps with other guys. It is really frustrating though to deal with that kind of bigotry though, so it’s a legitimate reason in my book to not bother donating. On the other hand, folks need transfusions, so I usually just go in and say what needs to be said.

  32. Christen said:

    This is basically the exact advice I needed in late 2008, when my own life fell apart and I was struggling to keep my head above water at my job. Looking back, I think the job would have been a weird fit even if I had come into it in the best of circumstances (communication was long on corporate buzzspeak and short on specific expectations or goals, plus my position had just been created and nobody seemed to know why the department had expanded). But now I know I can keep a job and keep my life together when I hit rough patches in the future (which I probably will).

  33. Having to Do Stuff While Depressed can seem overwhelming, especially if you’re fighting your way back from total/ significant shutdown. Therapist the Fifth gave me a really nice mantra that I repeat religiously whenever I feel that depressive inertia kicking in:

    Feelings Are Not Facts.

    The idea that I could feel to my bones like I was utterly incompetent and good things didn’t happen to People Like Me, and yet this could be NOT-TRUE as a fact about me or my life [and that, given time, this feeling would GO AWAY or even reverse itself] was shockingly new to me. Feel like the world is ending and everything in your life sucks? It’s gonna be ok, because Feelings Are Not Facts.

    It’s weird though, people say Trust Your Gut like it’s a universal good thing but my gut is sometimes grumpy /not useful /downright MEAN. I’m learning to separate Grumpy-Gut from Jungle-Gut [my inner Gavin de Becker-style tiger-trigger. Roar. Claws.] and Sparkle-Gut [the “YAY but OH but YAY but OMG but I LOVE MY LIFE but WHAT IS MY LIFE”-rollercoaster] because one of these things is not like the other.

    Sparkle-Gut loves me and wants me to live out all massive and be a magical soprano kumquat creature. Jungle-Gut loves me and wants me to live wild and free swinging through trees in stripey glory and helps me spot cages from afar. And even Grumpy-Gut loves me in its way but it wants me to live small and be like peas hiding under a rock or something and, as everybody knows, peas don’t sparkle. I strenuously attempt to obey the first two wherever possible, but I get to choose if or when I listen to Grumpy-Gut, because FEELINGS ARE NOT FACTS.

    I don’t succeed in ignoring it all of the time by any means, but it helps sometimes to jog my brain into realising I CAN, in fact, make myself a sandwich/ go buy milk/ reply to that text despite feeling like I am encased in carbonite. I don’t feel ready for that performance in two months but I can at least start on my costume today. I don’t know where I want to be in twenty years, but I can make a plan for this year. I get to start at the beginning without being ready for the end. Because Feelings Are Not Facts.

    I’ve had to accept that my internal reactions are occasionally way out of proportion to the size/ difficulty of the proposed task, and figure out work-arounds so I can get the stuff I need to do done. It’s hard but it’s necessary. Cos the part of us that gets scared/ nervous/ anxious? That is the part that cares. The part that SPARKLES. That part is our friend.

    The part of us that tells us to quit without trying, to just do it tomorrow, just do without it at all, just don’t do anything ever…? That part is MEAN and GRUMPY and possibly a BEAR and will poo on you if it can.

    And this is not at all what I set out to write about, but there you go.

    • notemily said:

      I love this comment. I love Feelings Are Not Facts. And I think meditation helps a lot with this. I took a mindfulness class, and after I had been meditating for a few weeks, I started to notice that my feelings didn’t feel so much like facts. It’s a difficult thing to describe, but I was more able to see my thoughts and feelings as just thoughts and feelings, things that were going through my body and mind at that moment, rather than the Absolute Truth.

      And I love what you say about Trust Your Gut not always being good advice. I have an anxiety-gut, which warns me to RUN and HIDE whenever one of my anxiety triggers is around, but that’s not always the best thing to do. I like your concepts of the Jungle Gut and Sparkle Gut.

      • Thalia said:

        One definition of “anxiety” is that your mind is responding to your body. So if you have turmoil in the gut and accelerated heartbeat, your mind responds with racing and counterproductive thoughts.

        Also, “Worrying is using your imagination to make yourself unhappy.

    • Mostly Lurking said:

      I don’t know where I want to be in twenty years, but I can make a plan for this year. I get to start at the beginning without being ready for the end.

      That was very much something I needed to hear right now. Thank you.

    • This is so great, thanks.

  34. Aunt Vixen said:

    I’m lucky to work with a very supportive team in a very supportive workplace, so when I was going through Stuff there was no resentment or gaslighting or mind games of any other kind. (Or if people did resent my ball-dropping, it didn’t get back to me.)

    But part of what makes the place okay is that we’ve got (middle) managers who are supportive enough that a Vixen whose father is dying can say “Um, heads up, I’m going to need to be out a lot more than any of us would like for a while, and odds are I’ll be pretty distractable while I’m here, so if you can give me discrete, non-complex tasks in writing, that will go way better for everyone than if you give me amorphous, complicated tasks in the hallway.” And it was so. (There may also have been an e-mailed apology to the other three attendees in a meeting during which I had lost my shit so comprehensively that all they could do was close the door and go on with the meeting pretending I wasn’t sobbing in the corner.)

    Point being: up-front acknowledgment of temporary weaknesses is an important thing. Ideally, we’d all be able to say I’m dealing with some life stuff but I promise it won’t affect my work. In the real world, it’s important to be able to say I’m dealing with some life stuff and I’ll do my best not to let it affect my work, and I hope we can work together to make that possible.

  35. Annafel said:

    “Self, you can feel fucking horrible and still do the thing you need to do.”

    Or, “Yup, it is hard to do this today. But hard is not impossible.”

    These were very, very good things for me to hear, and I have posted them where I will see them frequently. Thank you, Captain! For some reason, it is way easier for me to take good advice from you than from well-meaning friends and family members.

    I also want to add that I went through a period of severe depression wherein I was absolutely not capable of following this kind of excellent advice. Like, be a bit early (or even on time) for work. And I went to my doctor and started treatment and therapy, and now that I am back to mild depression, all of this stuff is VERY relevant to my situation. But my therapist was very clear about not beating myself up for things I wasn’t able to do.

    Any advice from the Army on recognising the difference between “I literally cannot do this right now and therefore should not feel guilty about it,” and “This is really hard but I actually can force myself to do it”?

    Thanks =)

    • twomoogles said:

      I’d like to know that, too…because they can feel exactly the same early on. My issues aren’t work related–when I get stressed out, burned out, overwhelmed and winter-depressed I kind of autopilot to work and by the time I get there can make myself do adequately. But housework (and schoolwork when I was still in school)? That is A Problem. I can’t count the number of times I’m sitting there thinking that if there were a prize of a million dollars to do the dishes I would still not be able to do them. And sometimes I get up and do them. And sometimes I really can’t make myself even try and will end up having a near meltdown over the whole thing.

      I think this might be the disconnect for some of the well-intentioned people who seem to think everyone can always just…will themselves out of depression or anxiety. They think, well, I know all these feelings being described but managed to do X and Y so everyone could do it if they tried….

      I find for me to be able to start a task when I am feeling I can’t, I need to get myself into almost a blank-minded state. If I start thinking about it, then I more easily stuck in a bad mental loop.

    • I used to only be able to figure it out ex post facto. If I tried to force myself to do something that was really hard, it was awful but I got it done. If I tried to force myself to do something I couldn’t do, I ended up curled up under the duvet sobbing. It’s a very accurate way of differentiating, admittedly, but as practical advice it leaves a lot to be desired.

      I’ve since learned to recognize the feeling that I’ve hit a wall, and whatever it is I’m trying to force myself to do simply isn’t going to get done. Difficult to describe, but the feeling of “oh god this is horrible and pointy and I’m going to have a panic attack and I don’t want to do it but if I force it I can manage” is much different and much more keyed-up and jangly than just knowing “this isn’t going to happen”. It’s not a statement of rebellion or anything, it’s just my brain informing me that this thing I think I ought to be doing is just not going to occur, at least not today.

      I don’t know if I’d recommend it as a coping technique to anyone else, but I’ve found that it’s much easier to tell people, “Look, I’m having stress issues, I’m sorry but this is actually going to get done Friday rather than today,” and dealing with rescheduling is much easier than trying to force or bluff or scramble in an attempt to live up to other peoples’ expectations.

      • Mostly Lurking said:

        I’ve come to accept that I will wibble over anything stressful and anxiety-inducing; and that I will not tackle it today, ever.

        So now I am planning this. I get a stressful e-mail that needs to be tackled (like I did just now), I say ‘I will deal with it tomorrow’. And then I am dong as many of tomorrow’s tasks today, so I can have the time and mental space *to* deal with it without a pile of other things upon me.

        By declaring a day of procrastination part of my process I need only the one, and I cut down on the guilt and beating myself up for not doing things and letting everything else pile up etc etc that used to add many many _more_ days of avoidance to the pile. By tackling other things instead, I am staying on schedule, so in the end, tackling things not-immediately doesn’t matter as much.

        • JenniferP said:

          This is a really smart workaround.

    • something which has worked for me is a mixture of trying and trusting myself.

      I am actually currently getting over a bad cold so that fits as a nice comparision. I feel like I can’t do anything right now, but the dishes need doing so I am going to do the first step of the dishes which is collecting the glasses around the house, if I feel dizzy then this cold is really kicking my arse and lying down is what I need to do. I use the same pattern for depression.

      I trust myself to judge if I can do something once I start it, or start a small version of it. That first challange means jerk brain doesn’t get it all his own way, and if I only get the small version done, that is one less thing to be done later, the glasses did need to be collected and taken to the sink.

  36. Commander Banana said:

    Just wanted to say that this really jumped out at me:

    Long, long ago I had a partner who used to choose 11:30 pm on a work/school night as the time to have serious “Maybe we will break up” talks or “We should have this fight we’ve been stewing over for a while…right now!” His justification was “We should never go to bed angry.”

    A former boyfriend of mine used to do the same thing – he would pick fights with me very late at night, especially on days when I had to work the next morning, or would make a point to call right when I was trying to leave for work or class, and then get angry if I didn’t have time to talk.

    I’m not making an assumption about the LW’s relationship, but I do want to say that this, to me, is a huge red flag and a warning that the person is emotionally abusive. That relationship was messed up in a lot of ways, but I can definitely say that that is not acceptable or okay behavior.

  37. LK said:

    A lot of people could benefit from this, depressed or not. I can’t tell you how many times a boss has complained because I have things on my desk. I’m ADD and I have trouble organizing the way other people do. But I had to learn how because one too many times I almost lost a job due to a “disorganized” desk. It wasn’t disorganized, I knew where everything was. But it appeared messy to others.

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