Reader question #110: How do I claw my way out of this depressing living situation?

Change jar marked with "Paradise Falls" from the Pixar movie "Up."
Make something about your dream concrete and visible.

Dear Cap’n Awkward,

I’m stuck in a depressing living situation and I don’t see a way out. I spent much of 2010 living on my own, doing a halfway-decent job of getting by, occasionally needing my mom to help me with rent like many a financially irresponsible 22-year-old. The thing is, I’ve been pretty badly depressed pretty much all my life, but when 2010 started I was doing a really good job of keeping that under control. I was no longer a socially inept dweeb who was convinced he would die a virgin – I had recently learned how to be self-confident and interesting and get dates. I was in a long-term relationship with a very smart woman, which was awesome for me given my former social ineptitude. I had a job – the soulless corporate kind where you can tell your bosses view you as a disposable resource, but still. Income.

But about halfway through 2010, all that fell apart. My relationship with my girlfriend ended up being incredibly emotionally taxing (both our faults), which caused my depression to flare up in a big way despite the antidepressants I was on, which in turn caused me to lose my job and thus my apartment. Shortly afterward, I broke up with my girlfriend, which took that particular emotional burden off my shoulders. But I was desperately trying to get by and avoid moving back home with my parents – not only because of the whole “living with your parents” shame (which you’ve rightly denounced on your blog in the past), but because my parents are conservative suburbanites and I personally find that atmosphere incredibly stifling. For a while I tried fixing computers on a freelance basis. I was living in a motel room for a few months, an increasingly unsustainable situation that finally fell apart after a string of customers and (ex-)friends screwed me over, as some people are wont to do.

So I ended up back in my parents’ house, which is where I am now. I’m as depressed as I’ve ever been, as you can imagine, and that depression leaves me with incredibly little energy. In fact even after seven months, I’m still stuck in some kind of depressive mire where I’m constantly replaying all the times I was screwed over last year in my head, which has the lovely effect of keeping me depressed and lethargic. Plus, I’ve been unemployed for a year now (not counting the freelance computer fixing, which doesn’t necessarily contribute much to a resume), my work experience is spotty, I have a job I don’t feel comfortable referencing because I got fired from it and was only there a relatively short time (less than a year) anyway, and as you’re aware the economy isn’t exactly handing jobs out like candy these days. The only thing I have going for me job-wise is a bachelor’s degree (namely, English).

I’m incredibly isolated and lonely in this suburban hellhole, and while I love my parents I have absolutely nothing in common with them. I know from firsthand experience that there are places and environments where I could be happy, and that this house isn’t one of them. In fact I just feel even more depressed because right after I finally learned how to like myself, and met some people I have a lot of things in common with, and found out that some people do in fact find me sexually attractive, it all fell right out from under me. And now I feel worthless and unable to take care of myself and alone and I can’t come up with any sort of specific, realistic plan for getting myself somewhere else.

I mean, I would love to move to some really cool urban neighborhood in New York or Seattle or wherever the hell. Like I said, I’ve spent time in such places and I know from experience that I’m happier there. I just want a place where I can talk freely without censoring myself and I can wear blouses and skirts and I can have sex with people and I’m not constantly being smothered with reminders of the “potential” that I’m wasting and the “ambition” I’m supposed to have… But anyway. Is it in any way plausible to relocate myself to such a place? Because I just don’t see a way given that I have no money and there’s no telling how long it would take me to find a job. I am doing some freelance writing here and there, and that’s working out okay, but as long as I’m stuck here I feel I’ll be too depressed to really do enough work. Or is that just me rationalizing laziness? I don’t know. I’d be grateful for any advice. Love your blog, by the way.

-Trapped in the Burbs

Dear Trapped:

I am not a mental health professional of any kind, so nothing I say here is a substitute for dealing with your depression as the serious health issue that it is.  Your brain chemistry is being a jerk.  You are grieving for an old relationship and an old job and an old way of life – that first taste of independence cut short. I can’t fix your brain or speed up your healing process, but I can suggest some strategies that might help you come unstuck.  Use what’s useful to you, caveat emptor, et cetera et cetera.

 1.  Be nice to your parents.  As weird as it is for you to be home, it’s also weird and awkward for them to have an adult child back in the nest.  Be extra considerate about chores.  Volunteer for things before you are asked.  Cook dinner.  Wash up.  When they give you “helpful” (annoying) advice, say “Thanks, mom, I’ll think about it.”  Even if it’s wrong, you’ll think about it, right?  Don’t pick fights, sulk, or punish them for your circumstances. Thank them for being a port in a storm for you. Take a lot of long walks away from home to give them space and privacy from you.  Make effort to seek out their company and do stuff with them – board games, cards, renting movies, taking a walk after dinner.  Ask them about their days. Treat them like adult humans who you like and not necessary evils.

I’m sure you are already doing most of this, but make an active effort to be kind and extra helpful to them.  It will pay off for everyone.

2.  Make something about your goal concrete and visible.  Buy a calendar.  The cuter and sillier, the better.  This is no time to be cool. Find a day 1 year from now and say “On this day I will live in (City).”  Cross off the days.  Make a savings account and a jar for loose change.  Put every spare penny in the jar.

There is power in committing to something.  Sure, you don’t have money now and you don’t know that you’ll have a job.  You have a lot of unknowns and scary uncontrollable factors. But by choosing a goal and saying it out loud and taking even a tiny step toward making it real has power. It will align your decision-making in good and interesting ways.  It will give you a new story to tell about your life.

 3.  Tell a new story about your life.

Old story: “I was super-sad and then I moved back in with my parents and I don’t know when I’ll ever get out, I hate it here.

New story:  “I lost my job, and I’ve moved back in with my parents for a while while I save up for my move to (City).

4.  Buy some sticky gold stars and a notebook.  Every morning, when you get out of bed, make a list of the stuff you need to do that day.  Make it ridiculously obvious and detailed.  Getting dressed is a list item.  Putting on shoes is a list item.  Eating breakfast.  Making your list gets a list item.  Don’t be ambitious, be really basic and list all the things you need to do each day to take care of yourself.

As you do each thing, cross it off your list and give yourself a star.  Every thing on the list is something you’re doing to take care of yourself.  If you don’t get to something on the list, don’t worry!  Look at all the stuff you did!  If it’s really necessary, carry it over to tomorrow’s list. If it’s not, delete it and don’t worry about it.

I wish I didn’t know this as well as I do, but depression in smart people often manifests as perfectionism and grandiose ideas about what we *should* be doing/should have done by now, and we cycle through those thoughts about how we’re not being all that we can be in a way that paralyzes us about doing the small daily stuff that would actually make our lives a little easier. We overthink everything to the point that small healthy habits and routines become impossible, because if something is easy we must be doing it wrong.

So I use the list as a silly way to short-circuit that shame spiral.  Do I have to figure out how to get a film into a major festival, polish and sell a screenplay, get out of debt, find a tenure-track teaching job, and find a way to make a positive contribution to my city?  YES, YES I DO.  But I can’t let anxiety about doing that (or shame for not having done that yet) stop me from eating breakfast, scooping the cat box, and making the bed.

5.  Volunteer.

You need a job. There are no jobs.

You need to build your skills and put something on your resume for the time you spent during this year of living at home and show employers that you are motivated.  “Freelance computer repair” will cover some of it, but why not volunteer somewhere?

You need something to get you out of the house regularly and give you purpose.

You need to get back in the habit of showing up somewhere and being a professional.

You need something that connects you to other people.

Some suggestions:

  • It’s about to be an election year.  Election volunteers can quickly turn into campaign workers.  Somewhere in your state, no matter how red, there is a lefty organization that needs your energy and your skills (and may be your key to meeting other alternative people who want to go dancing with you).
  • Register voters.  Help voters apply for IDs and navigate all the new restrictions on voting.
  • You’re a writer.  Find local charities and nonprofits. Volunteer to write newsletters, letters to the editor, web copy. Start building a clip file of samples.
  • Even if you’re not religious, don’t discount churches as a place to find volunteer opportunities.  Help out at the food bank.  Coach a kids’ sports team or drama club or music group. If people try to push the Jesus on you, say “Thank you so much, I’m not sure I believe, but I’m grateful for the chance to help out.”

You’re going to bite your tongue a lot. You’re going to deal with a lot of people who aren’t like you and who don’t necessarily get you.  Those are useful skills, and better than being alone and sad.  You’ll also start creating a network where you are who can look out for you and help you locate computer repair clients and/or other work.

5.  Educate yourself.  Take a class, use to learn a skill, suck all the knowledge out of your public library, read great novels, pick up a programming language.  Start scanning the want ads in your new city.  What kind of jobs are you drawn to?  What skills would you need to be competitive for those jobs?  What could you do now to get yourself ready?  Do you have friends in that city that you could visit for a few days to get a feel for the place?

6.  Revise your new story.

Old story:  Heartbreak, failure, sadness.

New story:   “I lost my job, and I’ve moved back in with my parents for a while while I save up for my move to (City).”

New New Story:  “I lost my job, so I moved back with my parents for a while to save up money.  I run my own freelance computer repair business and am learning x and y so that when I move to (City) I can get a job as a (job).  In my downtime I’m working on (political campaign/at the food bank).”

That’s not a bad story to take with you to your new city.

Worst case scenario:   Say you get to the end of the year, and you don’t have quite enough money to make the move yet.  You’ll be in a lot better position to ask your parents to stake you if you have a year of showing them that you can work consistently toward what you want.  And if they can’t or won’t stake you, you’ll have a lot more confidence in your own hustle after spending a year meeting people, volunteering, and learning like crazy.  Getting to Ithaca is not always about getting to Ithaca.

And if you’re a typical depressed person (and believe me, I KNOW), you read this and thought of all the reasons that it won’t work or that you can’t, because that’s how depressed minds work.  They only come up with obstacles and circular reasoning about how you wish you could do x but you can’t do x until you do y and you can’t do y until you do z and the serpent eats its tail and then it eats your life.  It’s okay. Maybe you can’t.  Or maybe you can’t right now. Or maybe you can’t do all of it.   Give yourself time to think about it, and then think of one tiny baby step you can take toward the future.  That will lead to another and another, and eventually you will pull yourself out of there.

You have been a person who can find work, find love, find a place to live, and survive and thrive on your own.  Depression may always be with you, in some form, but if you’ve done it once you can do it again.  The same qualities that made you what you were when you were happy and successful are still in you now.



45 thoughts on “Reader question #110: How do I claw my way out of this depressing living situation?

  1. As someone who is working through a lot of these same issues, I can tell you that if you take enough baby steps, give yourself enough time, and be kind to yourself (which is a lot to ask of a depressed person), you will be willing to take a leap (like moving to another city) eventually. Making a daily list is a great way to start doing this. Like Captain Awkward says, don’t beat yourself up over what you didn’t accomplish, focus on what you did do. And finding a reason to get out of the house on a regular basis is key! It’s so so hard at first. My depression combined with general anxiety and there were times that I didn’t leave the house for days. Having a purpose (no matter what that is) is so important on the days when getting dressed, eating, and walking out the door seems equivalent to climbing Mount Everest. Also, know that you’re not alone!

    1. This is my favorite poem right now:

      Postcard from the Party

      You have to be invited, and there’s nothing
      you can do to be asked. Headlines and bloodlines
      don’t help. It’s a long way from home but I’m
      here, the view much better than I’m used to.
      How did this happen? Dumb but good luck,
      right place and time, the planets aligned.
      No contract, no deadline, no risk. And what
      did I do to deserve this? Slept with all
      the wrong people, gambled too much on friends
      of friends with light bulbs over their heads.
      Wrote every day no matter what.

      Wyn Cooper
      Postcards from the Interior
      BOA Editions, Ltd.

      This, Ithaca, and Dorianne Laux’s Antilamentation, Derek Walcott’s Love After Love are getting me through this weird professional and personal time right now.

      1. Thank you for that–I didn’t know that poem. “Love After Love” is, like Galway Kinnell’s “Wait,” one of my go-to poems for dark times. Did you know I studied under Dorianne Laux? She is a wonderful person as well as a wonderful poet.

        /threadjacking all over yr blog

        1. I AM THE JEALOUS. And I’m not even a poet. I have a lot of Laux’s and Kim Addonizio’s work, they are just fantastic.

          1. “Antilamentation” is… just exactly what I needed to hear at this point in my life.

  2. Oh, LW! I was you! I had to move back in with my parents in 2008 for what I thought was a short stay after my funding fell through for my PhD, and instead of getting into another program I ended up working a part-time job in a field I hated and got pretty damn depressed.

    There’s no magic bullet; I did end up spending about two years in therapy because the local branch of the state university had counseling available on a sliding scale, which was great when I was out of work for six months. (It’s hard to find work with a degree in classics! I don’t recommend it!) I was also lucky in that I get along with my parents. But on those lines, the Captain’s number 1 point is really important. When I felt a little less mired in the pits of despair, I did stuff to get me out of the funk. I joined a community chorus. I got back into writing, and some of it was truly atrocious poetry and some of it was better. I did my best to stay in touch with friends, although I was helped in that by a couple of friends who are very tenacious about calling. I made trips to visit my friends in Boston (the nearest big city) when I could afford to. And I kept applying to jobs. I think the Captain is right in that working on things you can do, volunteering and getting involved, is super important. Check out your library for opportunities, your local community center – maybe they want people to practice conversational English with people who are learning the language, maybe they want wranglers at book sales, all kinds of things. Keep applying to jobs – sometimes all it takes is dumb luck. (And I’m pretty sure that’s why I just got hired for a job in Boston! I start on the 3d! If I can do it, so can you!)

    And I know this sounds cheesy as hell, but: don’t give up. That requires an amount of belief in yourself that is really hard to muster when you’re depressed, I know, and if you have friends who can help pull you through when you’re feeling like you will never get out that will help. If you don’t, I will tell you: you can get through this and you can live the life you want to live.


  3. One of the best tips I’ve ever gotten for dealing with depression/anxiety: Say “yes.” Whenever you’re presented with an opportunity, your depression finds ways to say “No, I couldn’t [volunteer/ hang out with people/ go jogging.] What if [people don’t like me/ I don’t enjoy it/ I mess up].” Whenever you catch yourself in that, you have to say “Yes, I can do that thing.” End of story. Maybe it won’t go perfectly, oh well. You said yes, and you did something you otherwise wouldn’t have. Sometimes just doing things can make you feel better.

    It is a damn hard cycle to break out of, but the Captain’s advice here is solid. If you’re doing stuff, even if it’s volunteer work instead of a paid job, you have opportunities to get out of that depressing situation and state of mind.

    Good luck, LW.

    1. I agree with this so hard I need pom-poms and stadium lights. “Yes” is a word that can get you into some lame and awkward situations that make great stories later. It can also lead to fabulous adventures.

  4. I’m going to second the note on finding a reason to get out of the house regularly. I might add, if you can’t find a reason, consider getting out of the house anyway. The Captain suggested going out for long walks. Great idea! After coming back from severe depression (scary sudden depression slumps, hospitalization etc) I can’t recommend this enough. I know everyone handles stuff differently, but this worked wonders for me. Getting out of the house and eventually spending time with people that I didn’t live with (anyone but my parents) was a huge factor in recovering and getting myself unstuck. Best of luck!

  5. depression in smart people often manifests as perfectionism and grandiose ideas about what we *should* be doing/should have done by now

    I have NO IDEA what this is like. >.>

    To the LW: I would add to not forget to go easy on yourself. You have an illness which makes it harder for you to do things that are easy for other people. Respect the illness for what it is (an illness) and don’t blame yourself for how it manifests (i.e. you are not lazy or stupid or lacking ambition or whatever your brain is telling you, you are a person with an illness).

    And don’t forget that there’s lots of us out here, and you’re not alone.

  6. Because I do well when I understand the method behind the madness, this piece of advice given to me by a therapist has been imminently helpful. When the depression is on full-force, I get stuck in the negative thinking patterns, the kind of “perfectionist, no, a failure” stuff that CA details in the original post. Therapist said that the brain tries to make meaning of the jerky shit that the brain does to you during a depressive period, so we generally have one negative narrative that we go to when we’re depressed to explain why we feel like shit. One of my “favorites” is the “my body is a failure” narrative in all its myriad forms. Another is the “I’m a loser” narrative, along with the cataloging of all the strike outs and missed opportunities I’ve experienced since I was a teenager. Knowing that these narratives can be modified, or that they are formed by an unreliable narrator (my depressed self), can sometimes help me talk myself out of my darker moments before they get even darker.

    With love.

    1. This is super-helpful and I can relate to it a lot. We do that kind of bad mental accounting whenever there is a victim, even (especially) when that victim is ourselves. It can start innocently enough as “Ok, self, if we can just analyze how we got here maybe we can do better next time” but in creating a narrative where our current pain makes sense we leave out all the good stuff.

      That all-or-nothing thinking is so powerful and addictive and disruptive. About half the time my happy morning self-care to-do list turns into a list of “Things I Am Currently Failing At” and I have to make myself start over and sort of sarcastically agree with the mean voices, like, yes, yes I am terrible and bad and have wasted all these amazing talents and opportunities and will probably die alone and cats will eat my face but maybe I should still eat breakfast and take a shower just in case complete crushing failure does not strike today.

      1. Totally. And it’s just as easy as picking a file out of a filing cabinet. This one! I feel like shit, because I’m a loser and nobody cares about me because I’m a loser and nobody cares about me. I am fat and no one loves me because I am fat and no one loves me. Et cetera. It doesn’t even have to make sense. I’m not sure why these are the narratives my brain picked, and it doesn’t matter. This is the narrative.

        So once I identified what my narratives are, I can recognize them and go, oh yeah, I’m doing this self-sabotage thing again. Crap. It’s time for me to get out my depression toolbox (therapist, medication, sunlight, exercise, making to-do lists, avoiding upsetting stuff, etc.) and start cracking at it. And now I can pinpoint why and how my depression is triggered by this or that, because it’s sidling right up to that nasty narrative and masquerading as “evidence” that the narrative is true (but the narrative isn’t reliable, it’s just a story). FUCK WHERE IS MY TOOLBOX?

        So, it’s different thinking than that kind that has me falling down the rabbit hole. YMMV.

      2. I laughed so hard at your last paragraph, and then copy-pasted it. I’m also in the “you’re wasting your life and will never amount to anything!” narrative when my depression kicks in (like, for the entirety of winter. In North Dakota.), and this is what I need to remember.

      3. Ugh, thank you so much for that last paragraph. It made me laugh hard, in that painful catharsis sort of way.

    1. oh, lynda is amazing. the professional courses in adobe creative suites are particularly awesome.

  7. The Captain is amazing once again. I just wanted to chip in a couple of things.

    1) Learn to forgive yourself. Think of this time as a period of compassion for yourself. Tell yourself that you will work on your todo list because it’s an act of self-love, not a penalty. Showering, eating well, getting dressed can be things you do out of love for yourself. In times of deep depression, I had to consciously remind myself that I was working hard because I needed some love and I needed to give that to myself. I had to forgive me for making mistakes, and I had to be patient with myself while I changed my life, and I had to do it all from a place of self-respect. It’s much easier to be kind to yourself when you’re doing it out of love.

    2) Please, please volunteer. The captain is so right about this. Participate in a community as a reminder that the world needs you. There is lots of work to be done, and you can do it. While hiding at home, enjoying reruns of Battlestar Galactica on Netflix is grand (oh, you don’t do that? Right, that was me…) participating in something bigger than you is good for the community, but it’s also good for you. We depressives need to stay connected to the outside world because inside our heads is a dark, unpleasant place. There are beautiful, awful, amazing things out there, and we need to see them.

    So in short, give yourself a lot of love, participate, forgive, and find some calm in the eye of the storm. Oh, and last little thought – find something physical to do. Run, help people move, mow lawns, learn martial arts, whatever. We need the endorphins from physical activity to stimulate the mind and clear our heads.

  8. You know what I once found helpful? Just making a realistic assessment of what I managed to do last week, and trying to do better this week. So if last week I laid in bed and starved myself and felt horrible all 7 days, then it was a major victory if I showered, got out of the house, and had something to eat on just one day the week afterward. I tried my best to be VERY gentle to myself and even count things like going out for coffee with a friend as progress – even if my mind was telling me the whole time that what I should “really” be doing is to work on job applications, or clean my apartment, or etc. When your energy level is that low, just doing A THING is hard fucking work. So feel free to be proud of whatever it is you get up to. Progress may be slow but you are clawing away the fog bit by bit, every time you interact with others.

    I totally agree with the others that you should try and work up to something like volunteering or a job that has a physical component. If you can find a way to work, say, one shift a week to which you must show up, that can be a good reintroduction to regular work that won’t be overwhelming.

  9. The non-perfectionism is key. And being nice to yourself.

    I have a set of index cards that say nice things about myself, and I look at them every day. And that is at least 1 minute of the day that I think nice things about myself.

    If you have a private place, you can put them up on your walls.

    Some of mine I made when I thought bad things-like that nobody wants to be around me, then I wrote on a card “I am pleasant to be around”. And after a while it helps.

    What everybody else said about volunteering and things, but every day, take care of yourself as much as *you* can. Get dressed, even if you have nowhere to go. Take a shower, even if you’re pretty much still clean. Eat breakfast. Take your medicine. Get outside. Interact with other people- even if it’s just at a store, or your parents. And not doing any of these things isn’t a failure. Doing any one is a gold star and a success. Taking care of yourself is the base that lets you do everything else.

    Another thing that might not be relevant for you, is having a pet. Even if I don’t want to get out of bed for myself, the dog needs to be fed and walked. So if your parents have a pet maybe you can take care of it.

    And to agree with your goal of moving elsewhere, baby steps all the way. Don’t think too much about how long it will take, or whether something is working or not. Just think to yourself, I did my baby step to get there today.

    Every single thing you do can be helpful. “I looked up jobs in Seattle” is a step. “I did one online lesson” is a step. “I talked to one new person” is a step. “I didn’t do anything at all today” can be reframed as “I took a break so as not to push myself too hard.” Positive thoughts feed on themselves as do negative ones, so the more you can say positive things, even if you don’t really believe them at the moment, the easier it will be.

    Sorry for the long reply. I feel very strongly about this subject as I just found myself coming out of a moderate depression for the first time in years.

    I also recommend I found out about here at Captain Awkward’s blog. It’s about cleaning house on the surface, but the structure, tasks I was able to succeed at, and constant encouragement about how doing things imperfectly was still a “blessing” was very helpful in starting to feel better.

    I hope you can start taking steps that will help.

    1. Thanks for mentioning and its Living in CHAOS (Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome) section – I’m in a different-in-many but similiar-in-some ways depressing living-situation and I can see that the way her site is structured may well help kickstart me in useful ways.

  10. Lots of good advice, here!

    My suggestions (as someone who had to stay with her parents between jobs once):

    First, if you find you have nothing in common with your parents, do what I do when I see relatives with whom I’ve got little in common–ask them a lot of questions. Not random questions, but questions about, say, a hobby they have, or a place they enjoy visiting a lot, or an activity they like. This will not only get them talking and make you feel friendlier towards each other, but it will get you out of your own head a bit.

    Yes, cook dinner every so often, pick up after yourself, etc. If you’re doing laundry, ask them if there’s anything they’d like you to throw in with yours (“I’m doing a dark wash, is there anything you’d like me to toss in with it?”). While you’re at it, pick a chore that is very doable and quick, and do it every day. Something like–sweeping the kitchen floor in the morning, or swishing and swiping the bathroom. Your folks will appreciate it and you will be in a routine, which is important when the gray cloud demon makes itself at home on your back (if you haven’t already guessed, I’ve got experience with this).

    Go outside. As others said, do it for walks if you need to (exercise is good, as is being outside). If your parents don’t hire landscapers, do something like rake the leaves or pull weeds if they have a flower garden (something about being in the sun can help alleviate some of the symptoms of depression sometimes). If they have a dog, walk the dog (even an extra time).

    Ditto on the volunteering (if you’re an atheist or not particularly religious, a Unitarian Universalist congregation may be the most comfortable place for you to check church-wise; it may also be a nice place for you to go on Sunday mornings if you need to get out of the house and need to a community of at least similar-minded people. HOWEVER, church–even pinko liberal hippie your atheism is A-OK church–isn’t for everyone, so no harm no foul if you prefer not to go down that route).

    If freelancing isn’t your thing, then seriously consider a part-time job to bring in some money. Even if it’s just on the weekends.

    And ditto on learning new things–it’s not just your library or community center that is a good source for that. You can go online to various universities that offer Open Course Ware and take their classes at your own pace and for no grade–in other words, just for fun. (Though get out of the house more–I’d check out meatspace options first, since your big priorities are to 1) get out of the house, 2) meet people and socialize, 3) get out of your own head and 4) learn stuff.)

  11. Depression is an energy suck that feeds itself. I have seen so much here so perfectly stated I just wanted to applaud and hug everyone here for their wisdom and resilience. And you, LW, for taking the step to write in. That wasn’t easy, and I hope the effort has paid off for you. Well done! That slippery slope can be climbed – many of us here have climbed it.
    Best wishes…

  12. 1. Be as kind to yourself as you would to your very best friend in the whole universe.

    2. Find something you love and are good at and do it. (And you’ll be surprised: since you’re good at it you think it’s easy for everyone, but it’s not — people will be in awe of you.)

    3. Everything everyone else said.

  13. I was here, too. After I graduated from undergrad, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, which seemed like a much better idea before I was in law school, close to failing out. So I quit law school. I had no idea what I wanted to do. Luckily, I was employed, though (3 part-time jobs), so I could stay in my apartment. It took me almost a year to figure out what the next step of my life should be. I decided to go back to school for a PhD. I had to wait a year to apply for programs. And I got rejected by all of them. So I waiting another year, all the while, working at a job I hated, with a roommate I couldn’t stand, trying to build up my resume, so I could get the hell out. And then, the cosmos aligned, and I was finally accepted into a program, which I just started last month.

    There were plenty of dark times over those four years; I think of them as being in limbo. I battled a lot of self-loathing because I dropped out of law school, when everyone expected me to be a great lawyer, and then I was working in a job I hated and had no training for, and then I kept getting rejected (along with a bunch of personal shit). But, as CA said, I took it one day at a time for a while, and then I started setting goals for myself. And I dug myself out. And you will, too, LW! You will, too.

  14. My brother is currently living at home with our folks, and has been for the past year or so. He was already depressed, but then he had an emergency trip to the hospital and could’t pay the bills, then was fired from his job…He ended up with Mom and Dad because he was broke and unemployed and had almost no place else to go. His other option was living with my sister and her husband.

    Anyway, fast forward to now. He’s working a job that, if he doesn’t enjoy the actual work, he highly respects the people he is working for, which has always been important to him. He’s still living with the folks, but he is saving money and planning to move into his own place in six months. His depression seems to be under control for the moment.

    And as another poster who’s dealt with depression–find one thing that you can do where you are now that feeds your soul, something that you can *do* that lets you just not get stuck in your own thoughts, something that you can take sanctuary in. For me, it’s singing with a local choir. It might be a knitting group, or learning how to square dance, or volunteering someplace, or running a mile–just something that will let you switch your own thoughts off for awhile, while you concentrate on something else. Even if all the feelings of failure, of worthlessness, etc. come crashing back in as soon as you’re done, it’s worth it for the time when it’s gone.

  15. working on a script, reflecting a lot (as you do during writing) on life at 34… your letter made me smile, TitB

    at 23 i was in depressed parentville… i’m sure it was as you describe, but i’ve forgotten all…

    so young i was, beautiful and strong like a mountain

    no advice or even encouragement, alas… only want to tell you i appreciate you reminding me

    of one moment in my wonderful journey

    painful and jagged but gorgeous too

    life is perseverance

    one day you will look back and know you are not as you describe at all

    you are better, more desirable (to lovers and employers alike), stronger and more capable

    i took ten years to see it

    ten difficult years but it was not too many

    just right

  16. I just wanted to say–and I hope I don’t step on your toes here, LW, because I can tell from your letter how dark your days seem, and I would never trivialize that–how uplifted reading these responses have made me feel. I am 26, and I recently moved in with my parents after I finished graduate school. I was able to get two jobs in my field right out of school, and I count myself so lucky for that, but both are part-time and neither offers benefits. That, combined with the student loans I managed to rack up, means I am living with the folks rent-free, letting them buy me health insurance until I have a certain amount in my savings account, and just generally feeling like a big old moocher whose friends are off living independent lives, renting three-bedroom houses with significant others, and traveling to fun places on their vacation time. There are days, sometimes many days, where I feel much like I imagine you do, like I’m caught and can’t get out, and all I want is a job and an apartment and a grocery bill. But sometimes, when I’m feeling better, I can change my story; then, instead of an adult who can’t make a living, I am a hard-working twenty-something patching together my income to pay off my debts. Instead of a perpetual dependent, I am an adult who helps to manage her parent’s household. I try to do as many “adult things” as I can, even if I am doing it for them. I do a lot of stuff around the house (I have taken over all of the pet care, and most of the kitchen cleaning, and while I am no great cook there’s usually some part of family dinners I can prepare). I go with my father to his doctor’s appointments, and once a week we go out to lunch. I go grocery shopping, even though they won’t let me pay. I balance my own budget. I pay my loans every month. All of this helps.

    I hope some of this will help you, LW, because reading the comments inspired by your situation has really helped me.

  17. I just wanted to add – because it helps me to remember this – that ours isn’t called the boomerang generation for nothing; adult children all over the place are moving back in with our parents, for various reasons, and it does not mean that we have failed at adulthood, or being grown-ups. (Multigenerational houses used to be way, way more common, and still are in many places around the world, so personally I am not entirely convinced there is something inherently shameful about living with your parents, period.) There is no shame in relying upon a community when you need support.

    I will also second the suggestion of finding a local Unitarian Universalist congregation, if you like the idea of a sorta-church; at the very least you’ll find like-minded thinkers, maybe a fellowship group, and there’s a good chance you can connect through them to volunteer opportunities or for A Cause.

    Also, everything everyone else said – I can’t tell you all how much I appreciate your contributions, because I have learned so much, and I am actually feeling good about living here for once. 🙂

  18. Hello,

    I saw this and I thought… she should go teach English in foreign country. Maybe you don’t want to do that but if you do you should look into it. There are lots of opportunities in Seoul and, less so, in Tokyo. There you can live on your own, have lots of sex, and experience a new culture. Plus, if you learn the language, you’ll have added a new marketable skill to your resume.

    Good luck!

    1. I don’t know about South Korea, but if you are (a) prone to depression and (b) a quirky nonconformist type who doesn’t like to self-censor, I would strongly, strongly caution against living in Japan. It is a very conformist culture with little tolerance for people deviating from the norms — which you already are by being a foreigner, and God help you if you’re unusual in any other way. Standards and expectations may be really really high, not just for work but for things like how fast and how well you adjust (which is not going to help if you are already constantly telling yourself that you suck). The way social interaction works is quite different, which can make it difficult to make friends. The medical system is hard to navigate and doesn’t like to give out medications at all, especially not for psychiatric stuff. Therapy in English is pretty impossible to come by, and people in general do not tend to be understanding of mental health issues.

      I’m not saying “it’s a terrible country and no one should ever live there!” I know many people who have taught English there who have had wonderful experiences. But you have to be a certain kind of person to appreciate it. Of course, I can’t say this for certain about a stranger, but my suspicion is that the LW is not that kind of person (as I wasn’t, and as a number of friends with similar issues and desires weren’t).

      1. Thailand, maybe? Actually, though, I would recommend not moving to a foreign land until you feel you have depression under control. Amazingly, culture shock and feeling isolated and friendless are not magic bullet cures for depression.

  19. Great advice as always CA and great advice from commenters too.

    I just wanted to emphasise a point and add one, firstly, volunteer.

    And secondly, when suffering from a particularly terrible bout of depression it is very easy to look at the surroundings and lay almost sole blame on them. Depression is hugely impacted by your situation and surrounding environment and I don’t want to rain on the plan parade, everything listed is great advice for the future and current coping techniques. However, I have been suffering for depression on and off from a very young age, anyway a few years ago I was having a particularly dark time, I was in a situation I hated and knew what it was I wanted to do and felt totally stuck and was biding my time until I could fulfil my desires.

    Finally now, with patience, good luck and bad and a tonne of perseverance, I am pretty much where I want to be. I have everything now that i wanted then, but to depressive brain this still isn’t enough. I still sometimes feel completely unfulfilled, depressed and very afraid, and the first thing I look to is my surroundings, what is wrong with them and what is wrong with me in them. I am making plans again, but realistically I know their fulfilment will be far off, which also makes me feel stuck.

    Anyway, the point i’m trying to make is that the plan you have for living in a city is a great one, and an achievable one, but as always in life there will be plenty of things that come up once you reach that goal point that can spiral you back down again. Nothing is permanent and I feel that it is often just as important in these downward spirals not just to work on improving your external situation, but also work on establishing tried and tested coping mechanisms that first get you out of your own head and over-thinking and secondly help you to recognise and short circuit the well established negative thinking patterns every depressive person has, before they get out of your control completely.

    I don’t know what meds you’re on or the type of therapy you are having, for myself however I found that cognitive behavioural therapy was invaluable to me. Also, I don’t know the types of psychiatric services you have available in your area – and different things work for different people – but if CBT is available and you haven’t tried it, maybe speak to your doctor about the possibilities of it being effective for you. It’s just about recognising your thought patterns and equipping yourself with techniques that can help you when you’re thrown life curveballs in the future.

    Best of luck!

    also NaS’s suggestion is also a great idea, there are many english teaching opportunities out there, whether they are volunteering with travel, room and board included or on a payed basis.

    1. This is a really excellent and important point. If you struggle with depression, it is not going to be beaten back completely or magically fix itself when you move/get that job/find that partner/win that award/lose that weight/etc. There will still be bad days and bad weeks. (And thank you for reminding me to call my doctor and get a prescription to bring with me for my antidepressants!)

  20. FWIW to the LW
    have you considered getting a secretarial job? Being good with computers is an asset for work like that, having a degree is useful, and the job pays a (relatively) decent wage if your goal is to save up money.

  21. LW, if you don’t have health insurance, there are therapists who offer services on a sliding scale. Mine is at a community clinic, doing her needed hours to get certified, and I love her so much. Also, group therapy sounds kinda terrifying at first (OMG, having to talk in front of other people about how stupid and screwed up I am, no way), but it’s not like that really. I did an outpatient program earlier this year, with five hours of groups five days a week, and got as much from the other people as from the program itself, if not more. Knowing that you’re not a special screwed up snowflake is pretty calming. I almost ran across the circle to hug a guy whose inner monologue was as self-hating as my own, because I’d never before heard anyone admit it. The people in my group were smart, creative, talented, funny, kind, and were struggling with the same problems I was.

    And when you’re looking for somewhere to volunteer with, think about causes you’re passionate about. I was posting to FB about how wrong it was that states were cutting funding for an organization, and a friend mentioned she volunteered with them and invited me along. I’m now doing something nearly every week with them, and enjoy it so much I’m hoping to find a job in the field. Check VolunteerMatch for opportunities in your area.

    Also, check with your school’s alumni organization to find out if they offer career services. Even if you’re not anywhere near campus, they may still have services you can use like jobsites, resume advice, and such. I graduated over a decade ago, and live half a country away from my school, and used their services this year for career testing and resume advice.

  22. “… depression in smart people often manifests as perfectionism and grandiose ideas about what we *should* be doing/should have done by now, and we cycle through those thoughts about how we’re not being all that we can be in a way that paralyzes us about doing the small daily stuff that would actually make our lives a little easier.”

    Ouch. This quote hit me like a lightning bolt when I read it. That is EXACTLY how I think, sometimes.

  23. Thank you everyone for your comments. They’ve been very helpful to me. And thank you, LW, for having the courage to write in to seek advice and support.

Comments are closed.