#330: Life blows. How can I be nice to myself again?

Ahoy there, Captain, and fellow Awkward Army.

Sad Keanu sits on Fry's dog
Artists’s depiction of how sucky things are right now.

As I am typing this, work has been massively stressful and busy for me–I work at the busiest gas station in my city and despite being part time, I consistently get 40-hour/at least 30-hour work weeks; the end of the summer semester is drawing very near, and next semester (which I only have a week break in between the two) is going to be even more hectic, with twice as many classes; because I am so busy, I very rarely see my main core of friends, who live 45 minutes away from me; I am in a very bad place mentally, dealing with lots of anxiety and general sad feels; and to top it all off, I have now split up from a boy I didn’t want to break things off with, because I’m still emotionally invested in him, even though we were on the opposite ends of “Displaying Affection and Something Resembling Caring” Spectrum and I was hoping to talk to him about it but we had a snit about him never hanging out with me that eventually accumulated into breaking up. 

I can’t relax, because if I detach myself for one second everything I’m trying so hard to keep on top of will pretty much fall apart and I feel like those are more important than my well-being. Logically I know this is bullshit but whenever I try to take a breather, I always think of something more productive I could be doing and oh boohoooooooo LW is life being too tough for you, you stupid pansy god you could be starving in a third-world country with malaria or being beaten and molested but YOU’RE NOT so shut up and quit whining because life isn’t supposed to be easy you fool, which makes me feel even more guilty and miserable and basically it turns into a vicious cycle that has been on fucking repeat for the past several months. It’s to the point where if I don’t cry/have a panic attack at least once a day, I’m contemplating suicidal thoughts and self-harm. 

My question to you, therefore, is short and sweet: Captain, how do I be nice to myself, even though life is taking a massive, foul shit on me, and the last thing I’m feeling is general niceness to anything, let alone myself? 

Before you put it in big, bolded blinking text, yes, I have started seeing a therapist (but that was only because I was referred over to my main doctor, so… yeah), but in the mean time and since I only see her once a week, are there things you would suggest/not suggest I do to keep my efforts of trying to preserve myself not be in vain? I know you are really good with this kind of stuff, and I hope you can maybe take the time out of your schedule and help me out here.


There’s Room in this Dark, Damp Hole of Mine, If Anyone Cares to Join

Oh my stars. Sweet Machine on deck, dispensing an endless supply of jedi hugs to you, Darkness. (Is it cool if I call you Darkness? It’s easier than typing out the acronym to your signoff, and it also makes you sound utterly badass—WHICH YOU ARE—more on that in a moment.)

First things first: does your therapist know that you’re having suicidal thoughts? If not, please tell her; she can help you, and she needs to know. If that seems too scary or too far away in time, please please please bookmark this page and use it if you have these thoughts again: http://suicideprevention.wikia.com/wiki/International_Suicide_Prevention_Directory

You don’t have to deal with this alone, and there are people trained to help you, people with far more expertise than any of us here in the Awkward Army.

You wrote in to ask how you can be nice to yourself in this moment, and in order to answer that I need to address the part of your letter that punched me in the gut because it was so familiar:

 Logically I know this is bullshit but whenever I try to take a breather, I always think of something more productive I could be doing and oh boohoooooooo LW is life being too tough for you, you stupid pansy god you could be starving in a third-world country with malaria or being beaten and molested but YOU’RE NOT so shut up and quit whining because life isn’t supposed to be easy you fool, which makes me feel even more guilty and miserable and basically it turns into a vicious cycle that has been on fucking repeat for the past several months.

I have been on that train, and it is a nightmare. This might turn into a Dear Sugar column by accident, but can I tell you about my life three years ago? Here’s a partial list of some shit that was going on:

  • My mom was dying of Parkinson’s after almost a decade of illness.
  • I was in the middle of a PhD program at a prestigious university, supposed to start writing my dissertation.
  • I had a chronic illness flare up badly.
  • I also fell down my goddamn stairs and fucked up my ankle so badly I am still getting physical therapy and MRIs and whatnot years later.
  • My two remaining “healthy” parents each had major surgery within a few months of each other.
  • Mr Machine was traveling 50% of the time, including internationally, for work, so I was alone a lot.
  • It was Chicago in the goddamn winter, and my eyeballs would freeze when I went outside. (Plus, I could barely walk, because of ankle and ice.)

You know what I would find myself saying to my therapist when all this was overwhelming? Things like this: “Well, yeah, my mom’s dying horribly, but at least she wasn’t murdered.” “Yes, I’m ill and depressed, but I should be grateful, because I’m not one of the 1 in 4 women who’ve been sexually assaulted.” “Yes, a PhD is hard and takes forever and is stressful, but it’s not like I’m in med school performing surgery or anything.”

And then I would cry, and she would give me a box of tissues.

Darkness, your life is fucking stressful right now. You are working full-time in a physically demanding job; you are a dedicated student; you’ve had a bad breakup; you are geographically isolated; and you’re depressed. If there is a line past which one gets to say “This is fucked up, yo” (nb: there isn’t), you have long since crossed it. The key to being nice to yourself in this situation is to start by dismantling your assumption that you are not worthy of kindness—that’s what’s making you dismiss your own troubles as meaningless.

Let’s do a thought experiment. Say one of those friends you hardly ever get to see (btw, can they make more of an effort to come see you? sometimes the person who’s far away gets shafted and others don’t realize that until it’s pointed out), Friend A, comes to your place and takes you out for coffee and dessert. Friend A is acting off, so you, being a kind person, ask her what’s wrong. Which conversation do you have?

Conversation 1:

Friend A: I’m just having a really hard time, because I broke up with my boyfriend last month and you’re so far away that I can’t have fun with you as a way to feel like myself again.

You: Well, do you have malaria? No? Fuck you, pansy.

Conversation 2:

Friend A: I’m just having a really hard time, because I broke up with my boyfriend last month and you’re so far away that I can’t have fun with you as a way to feel like myself again.

You: Oh man, that sucks and I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize you were dealing with so much right now. Do you want to talk about it?

[You talk about it.]

[Exeunt, pursued by a bear.]

You have Conversation 2, right? (Right?) So please start by extending yourself as much compassion and patience as you would a friend who had even ONE of your stressors going on. You have to start in your own head. I know that’s terrifying; I know it might trigger a panic attack—that’s a way your therapist can help you. (Maybe meds, too, if the attacks are frequent.)

When I was in my own personal hell described above, I didn’t really feel like a person most of the time. I felt like a to-do list held together by tendons, a fake person made out of paperclips and hair. Everything was on the verge of falling apart, which made me feel like I already had. But I hadn’t. Neither have you. It is not true that taking a breather and allowing yourself some rest and introspection will yank the one thread holding you together. (Or hey, fuck introspection, go to the movies or read spy novels if that sounds better. What do you want to do that’s not school or work or sadfeels?) This is because you are already surviving. You are charging forward in your life even though you have barely any emotional fuel in reserve, and that’s why you feel like you’re so close to disaster. Now it’s time to let other people help replenish your reserves and help you remember that you are a whole, functioning person, who can get through this.

Artist's depiction of Team You
Artist’s depiction of Team You intervention.
(original: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bartdubelaar/462583446)

Some suggestions:

  • Assemble Team You. Those friends who live 45 minutes away: do they know you feel lonely and sad? Are there things they could do that would help? If so, tell them. It’s not imposing upon them to say “Hey, friend, I am having a rough time and I miss you. Since we can’t get together soon, can we have a regular Skype date every Wednesday?” They are your friends; they want to do this. The sandwich means they love you.
  • Do something that physically refreshes you. For me, this often means a massage or a bubble bath (plus trashy book). For someone else, it might mean a morning run every day. Your brain is freaking out right now, basically an exposed nerve, so let your body give you some pleasure. Including sexual pleasure! Got a vibrator? Fun for all genders! I know some of this might sound exhausting in concept, but once you [step into that tub/lace up your shoes/fire up that picture of Tom Daley] it can get you out of your emotional rut, at least temporarily.
  • Explicitly give yourself permission to indulge yourself. What is a thing you really, really, really like? Maybe it’s an activity, like playing a game or knitting. Maybe it’s a type of food, the bliss you get from salted caramels. Maybe it’s something else. Whatever it might be, say to yourself right now, “Self, let’s do X this week” and then pick a real time to do it and then take that as seriously as you would a doctor’s appointment. You wouldn’t stand up a doctor (who’s trying to make you feel better) without really good reason, right? So don’t stand up yourself for this thing that’s going to make you genuinely happy, even if it’s only 10 minutes at a time.

You can be kind to yourself. It helps to let others be kind to you, too. Even if you feel so beaten down that you don’t really want to be kind to yourself, think about Future Darkness, who will be really grateful to Current Darkness for the help. At my worst moments, when I thought about just abandoning everything in my life, I’d make myself think about Future Sweet Machine and what her life might be like. So I grieved and I ached and I dragged myself forward for a long time, and then the hours started carrying me again. This month, I became Dr. Sweet Machine, and I dedicated my dissertation to my mom. And now there’s more beneath my skin than that dark, damp hole.

147 thoughts on “#330: Life blows. How can I be nice to myself again?

  1. Oh poor LW I feel for you!

    When I was in school and in my own Dark Hole, I bought myself a membership to a massage place – the kind that charges you by the month and then allows you one free hour-long massage and a discount on future massages. I did this because I needed *some reason to leave the house* and *permission to do something that had nothing to do with anything else.* Something relaxing. I’m the kind of person who goes to appointments for things she’s paid for in advance, so I used that particular “neurosis” to my advantage. It helped.

    My therapist suggested I take regular relaxing baths, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it on account of there was Always Something More Important To Do. But I wasn’t going to waste money and not get the massage.

    Take a breather at your therapist’s. That’s why they come equipped with Kleenex and garbage cans. Crying is important, and if you can’t cry at home, cry there.

  2. Cute Overload [www.cuteoverload.com] helped get me through a very difficult time in my life last year. For real. Also, the Bloggess [thebloggess.com] made me laugh my ass off, which was also extremely helpful. And yes yes yes to all the self-care tips. In DBT [dialectical behavioral therapy], they call those things ‘distract and soothe’. Sometimes you gotta get your brain out of the Suck Vortex it’s stuck in so that you can go do something that makes you feel good.

    Internet love to you, LW. Please keep us posted.

    1. I love Calming Manatees. I came across one that said “you are doing a great job” and I just sat there in my office and cried because I felt like a failure, but for some reason it made me feel way better. I printed it out and posted it – turns out everyone in the office felt the same as me!

  3. This is all really, really good advice. Especially the part about suicidal thoughts.

    Is it at all possible to drop some of the business from your schedule, LW? It may not be for reasons of finances or academic credits, and if that’s so, fair enough. But when I hit the tipping point from “managing my depression” to “DEFCON 5”, I found it a lot easier to do the work I needed to do in therapy and just generally treat myself gently when I dropped a class and gave up some responsibilities. It was hard! I was a massive overachiever and felt horrible about Letting Everyone Down! But I also needed time in my schedule to… sleep. And cry without feeling bad about other things I should be doing. Again, I acknowledge this may not be possible, but if you can talk to your advisor and work out a way to lighten the load, it may be a good idea. (And it literally was not something I would have ever considered until I had a sobbing breakdown in my advisor’s office and he suggested dropping a class.)

    Absolutely ask your friends for support. I would not have made it through that worst period without friends – most of whom lived in different time zones than me. Sometimes it is easier to talk about how terrible you’re feeling when you can just type into a chatbox without having to worry about whether your words are intelligible through the sobbing. Can they come visit you? Can you call and talk to them? Even if all they do is listen over the phone line, that can make a huge difference – just knowing someone cares.

    And remember: just because other people might have it worse doesn’t make the pain you’re feeling not real or nonexistent. It still counts. You’re still hurting. You deserve to feel better.

    Take care of yourself, LW, and I hope things get a little brighter soon.

    1. Dropping a class for me also.
      One of the best things I did for myself during college was give myself permission to have a ‘light load’ during a semester.
      Sometimes it’s not really feasible to drop a class (scheduling/required hours), but the day I realized that the world won’t crumble if I had to graduate a semester or a year later was the best day.

      1. Definitely on all of this. I had a shitty semester last semester, with lots of super-upsetting personal stuff going on. One of the best things I did was one, tell my adviser, so that he could run interference for me with any legalistic shit from the school. And two, take some incompletes and deadline changes for classes, and just straight up take a couple of weeks OFF of classes to just breathe.

        LW, that’s an option too – do you have an academic adviser whom you trust? They can be a huge ally with dealing with the school. Not all of them are, but it may be worth exploring.

        Also, LW, what helps me is realizing that treating myself nicely is in fact productive. Making myself a nice meal and then eating it? Productive. Sleeping? Productive. Sitting and letting my mind blank and knitting for half an hour or more? Productive.

        They’re productive because sure, in the knitting and meal-making, I am making a physical product, but in the rest, I’m making a non-physical, non-tangible product, and that is EXTRA SPOONS and THOUGHTS. You’re a student! Your primary goal in that is to MAKE THOUGHTS, then SHARE THEM.

        I give you all of the Jedi hugs (if wanted), and wish you all of the best. Jerkbrains are the WORST.

        1. Agreed! One of the biggest eye-opening moments in my college life was an advisor who told me it’s ok to say no, it’s ok to not do ALL the things.

    2. And remember: just because other people might have it worse doesn’t make the pain you’re feeling not real or nonexistent. It still counts. You’re still hurting. You deserve to feel better.


        1. Definitely this. When I was seeing a counselor, this is the excellent advice I got from her.

          {Exeunt, pursued by a bear]
          The best stage direction ever.

      1. Seriously, This.

        No matter what happens to you in life, somebody has it worse. It’s like eating your vegetables because children are starving in India or whatever: you still feel rotten, the starving children aren’t helped, and that kind of talk is actually irrelevant.

        Your pain belongs to you, and as such, it may hurt just as much as something you perceive to be worse pain. It’s not a contest.

        I am so sorry you are hurting and so glad you are getting therapy. It really will help and you deserve it.

        Even though we are strangers, I am very proud of you for being such a hard worker, a college student, a compassionate person, a strong person, and a person with the good sense to ask for help and advice when you need it.

        For sure, give your friends a chance to be there for you. If a friend of mine told me at a later date that she had been going through a hard time and failed to mention it to me, I would have felt like I had failed her somehow and been a bad friend.

        Please do whatever it takes to be okay.

        1. I haven’t written a single comment on this blog yet. (I only discovered it a couple of hours ago). But I really appreciate this one. I’ve always the resented the “you think YOU got problems?” line of advice. It’s my father’s default response. While there are certainly perfectionists out there, I just hope to be an adequate version of myself, to have a fair amount of happiness and fulfillment. My basis for comparing my current state is that adequate state, and I am deeply pained as long as I remain in my current state. It does me no good at all to compare myself to others who are worse off. Anyway, thanks for your added insight to the conversation.

          1. I am so glad you feel validated by my comment. I remember getting that “children are starving” rap thrown in my face as a child but didn’t understand it until I was older and then had the sense to be outraged.

            I have worked with many people in pain, and pain is SUBJECTIVE! There is no, “You think you’ve got problems.” If you have problems, if you have pain, you can empathize with others who have it, but it doesn’t reduce yours.

            I guess it’s about perspective. This LW has done us all a service by reminding us that we don’t have to feel bad and not mention it when we hurt. She was so brave to tell us all how she was feeling! Even though part of her didn’t believe she deserved comforting. We all have a hard road and it behooves us to be kind to each other.

        2. First comment on this blog (Second hour since I discovered it.) I appreciate your disavowal of the “someone has it worse” response to a friend/loved one in crisis. A family member phrases it as “you think you’ve got problems?” I may not know how to stop beating myself up, but I do believe I have a right to compare my current state with a more adequate, and still realistic, state that I imagine for myself. Comparing myself to starving children, as you said, does no one any good. Thank you.

      2. You would not believe how many people I have to tell this over the phones at work. The funny thing is how many of them are in objectively really horrible situations like about to not have anywhere to live in a cold winter that’s exacerbating a disability while caring for young children. Or the classic quote from last year: when asking someone about housing damage, I got the reply, “Oh, it’s not bad, they’ve propped up the kitchen wall now so it won’t fall down.” If your external kitchen wall needs propping up, IT’S OKAY to say things are fucked up!

    3. On the flip side of this, I would like to add that while dropping a class may be a good thing, dropping activities may not be.

      For me, as an extrovert, I strive off of being around other people and my senior year of college, when I was struggling, I stopped going to my regular groups because I had “too much to do”. In hindsight, I think I did have the time to go to them, and I would’ve been much happier to have had that excuse to see other people x times a week.

      I’m not disagreeing with you, but I’d like to point out that sometimes we use busy-ness as an excuse to do the thing we feel like we should be doing rather than the things that will actually make us happier.

      1. You’re right, this is a very important distinction to make! To continue to make this all about me, during the Bad Semester I dropped newspaper (where I was the only copyeditor and would regularly be in the newsroom till after midnight) but kept chorus (because I love singing and it let me get away from papers and critical thinking for three hours and spend time with friends). Down below the LW talks about making time for playdates with her friends and exercise, which take time but will likely make her feel better. Free time is great, but so is taking time to do stuff that makes you happy and replenishes your spirit.

  4. OK, say you’re a car. On a constant basis, you need gasoline to run. Gasoline is money. You have that on lock. But periodically, you also need to check/refill your oil levels to keep everything running smoothly, otherwise the car itself gets broken down along with the gasoline. Oil is leisure activities, things that are just for you. They are not luxuries to be cut out, they are necessary to keeping you focused and sane when you are at work or school.

    NB: I have no idea how cars work.

        1. I am a person who knows about cars, and you’re right on the money. No oil – seized engine. Bad, bad, bad. No self-care is bad – you’ll blow your internal motor up.

      1. Another car metaphor. If you were driving and your car started making a noise like an elephant pulling its foot out of a mudhole in a Burmese teak forest*, what would you do?
        Keep driving and expect it to sort itself out? Or pull over and devote some mechanic-type attention to recover the car?
        So when YOUR body/psyche starts making that same noise? Don’t just keep going. Get to the side of the road and ease off.

        *Thank you. S.J. Perlman.

        1. To clinch this metaphor, I was given bad advice when I pulled into a gas station when my car started making noise and smoking. Suffice to say I didn’t make it back home despite being told it’d be fine with just a little coolant to tide me over. What I NEEDED was to let the car REST and COOL OFF, haha… what I got was a cracked engine block.

  5. I just want to say that recognising you need to be nice to yourself is a really good first step. Well done! And e-mailing in to seek help on how to is a hard thing, and a useful thing, so be proud of yourself for that.

  6. LW, I’m on much the same boat as you. I (also) work at the busiest gas station (and until about a week ago, the most understaffed) in not just my city (because it’s the only gas station in said city), but also my market. The difference is that I’m the manager so my hours are not limited by the Laws of Those Who are Hourly. A few weeks ago, I was in the midst of an Existential Crisis. I hated my job, never saw my friends, felt like I was wasting my potential, was finally coming to terms with the fact that I might need therapy to deal with the decade of depression I’d been living with, AND was incredibly sad/anxious about the fact that one of my sisters had just announced her engagement, a brother had had a baby a few months ago and another sister had announced that she and her fiance were having another baby–and I was still single, childless, overweight and alone.

    What’s gotten me through it so far, besides the pity parties my friends allow me to indulge myself in, has been the belief that taking care of myself/being nice to myself is EQUALLY as important as work, friends, school, etc. After all, if I’m not here to reap the rewards of all this hard work, then what’s the point? And I know that you know this, but you have to start practicing it until you can make your Jerkbrain shut up enough that you can believe it.

    My advice to you is to have a conversation with your manager. It sounds like you have gotten roped into picking up all the slack at work because you are a Nice, Accommodating Employee. And while we managers like our Nice, Accommodating Employees to work as many hours as possible because they are dependable and trustworthy and supernhuman, we also understand that their entire life is not their job, even if ours IS. So unless you absolutely need the extra income that comes with working full time hours instead of part time, that’s probably the one area you can trim down your obligations so that you can actually have a bit of free time to be nice to yourself. Set some boundaries for your boss. Days you can’t work, the number of hours you can work. If Boss puts you on 40 hours this week, s/he can only put you on 20 hours the next. If your boss is reasonably understanding, they will do their best to work with this. (And if your boss is a big ol jerk instead, well, they are obligated to work within your availability and you are well within your rights to put your foot down on this. They can’t MAKE you come to work. Especially if you were hired as part time. If you’re afraid of retaliation, try to present it to your boss as how much you would LOVE to work ALL those hours, but school/therapy/family circumstances are making it impossible and you will try to pick them up again as soon as possible. Be pitiable and sympathetic.)

    Do as CA suggests. Talk to your friends, let them know, if they don’t already, your situation and how much you need them right now. Your good friends will be happy to come to you instead of you to them. Make a day of it and invite as many of them as can carpool together. Have a good bitchfest about how much your life sucks right now. Watch a really bad movie and make fun of it. Let them be nice to you and bash your boyfriend.

    And PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE tell your therapist that you are feeling suicidal.

    1. So unless you absolutely need the extra income that comes with working full time hours instead of part time, that’s probably the one area you can trim down your obligations so that you can actually have a bit of free time to be nice to yourself.

      And if you do absolutely need that extra income, and you’re working full-time hours every week, maybe have a talk with your boss about getting you the status, pay, and benefits of being officially A Full-Time Employee. That could also help ease some of your burdens a little bit (or even just make your job feel less soul-sucking and unappreciated, which might also help).

      1. Also, depending on where you are, they may be legally required to give you official full-time status if they’re having you work full-time hours (it’s over 32 hours a week in California, YMMV) for an extended period of time. I know that’s a lot to process, but just a piece of info to store away.

      2. Excellent point. Just being in casual rather than permanent work (whether full- or part-time) can be a huge contributor to insecurity and depression.

    2. Definitely definitely re the work thing. It’s kind of scary – I was actually doing this today and even knowing my boss will 99% likelihood agree to me dropping a day I left the email sitting open for about half an hour not wanting to send it. I had to tell myself that making sure I’m not doing my limit *before* it strays over the line is important because doing too much will only lead to burn out which it can take *years* to recover from. Considering the woeful state of aid for psychiatric conditions even when they’re recognised as serious ones, let alone things like over-stress which are often dismissed, you really do not want that to happen.

  7. Oh geez, this sounds like me 6-to-10 years ago. Stressful, low-paying job, personal relationships never going right, and I was constantly ill and even had a couple of abscessed teeth with no dental insurance. Good GOD that sucked.

    I also did the same thing, and told myself that all the stress and anxiety was trivial because people were suffering more somewhere else. But people are *always* suffering more somewhere else. So, if anyone thinks it’s unfair for you to complain because some stranger is starving, fuck that preachy fucker and his or her sanctimonious attitude. Suffering is not a contest.

    This is a little historical tidbit that helped me when I was going through my hell. The British went through utter hell during World War II, Their cities were getting bombed, soldiers were dying, civilians were dying, people were losing friends, family members, everything — it was just awful. During all this, Winston Churchill famously said, “When you’re going through hell, keep going.” I thought about that quote a lot. I liked that it did two things: 1) Acknowledged the HELL, 2) Acknowledged that HELL is not a permanent condition.

    This is going to sound trite maybe, but hope is the most important thing for you. Things will get better if you don’t give up. Don’t give up on enjoying your life, because you’ve still got a lot of left with boundless potential for better times. Don’t give up on your worth as a person, because not one but several people out there give a damn about you, including every commenter responding to you now.

      1. I too have that magnet! And yes, I bought it for myself when I went through my own existential implosion last year.

    1. Unfortunately, pain is not a scarcity resource- there is more than enough of it to go around, and it never, ever, ever gets used up. 😦

      As Stray Cat says, there will always be people suffering worse than you, but your life is the only one you have, so the suffering in it matters to you, regardless of others’ subjective experiences of pain. You take nothing from others by acknowledging your own hard time. What’s going on with you is 100% of what you experience, so you’re allowed to have it matter 100% to you. Take good care of yourself- you don’t have to pass a threshold of worth to be worthy of being taken care of, so treat yourself as well as you would a child under your protection or a friend reliant on you for care- you wouldn’t tell them they need to “deserve” food or sleep or some down time.

      Best of luck carving out the breathing space you need! I agree with other commenters that your work hours are probably the easiest thing to cut. (And, seriously- go you! I had such an awful time the grad school semester that I had two classes on the same night and one online class, so I had the technical free time to work 26 hours, that I asked my boss to cut another day so I was at 20 hours the same as the semesters my classes were on different evenings, when I couldn’t work those nights at all. You are the super hardcore-est to have gotten this far through a full-time work/full-time school schedule!!!!! Of COURSE you are exhausted and overwhelmed!!!!!)

    2. No jokes – this (musical) version of that quote has helped me through bad times. It gives you a fun, tuneful way to shout it at the top of your lungs

      Please excuse my lack of embed skills – my knowledge of the Dark Arts is sorely lacking

  8. LW, I have been there! *Jedi Hugs* I know that when you feel bullied about by your jerkbrain that’s the moments when you need friends the most. However, that’s also the moment I’ve been the most hamstrung in actually asking for help. I’d stare at my phone for hours and just ache for someone to call. I didn’t care if it was a telemarketer- I was a sympathy sponge and would’ve taken kindness from wherever I could find it.

    Sweet Machine’s got good advice. If you can set something up with a friend that you do weekly (people watching, junk food eating, yoga, skype or xbox co-op) having that to look forward to can make an incredible difference. They may not know that you’re suffering, or they may not know how to help, but they are your friends, and friends are their when your buddy’s down.

    Another idea is to get a pet. Hand to the divine, my pet has pulled me from the blackest episodes of clinical depression time and again. Having something curl up and cuddle with you, or even just look at you as if you’re their whole world… well it’s pulled me from the crazy-tree more times than I should probably admit to. It may sound like adding to your stressful life, but in the long run, I’ve found that pet/cuddle therapy beats the pants off of a lot.

    I’m so sorry life’s being cruel to you. It’s not right and it’s not fair. Whenever I get overloaded, I usually quote the great Crow T. Robot “Servo, the only way around it is through it.” Stick with us LW, we’re all pulling for ya!

    1. About yoga: it’s not just about stretching and breathing, which is how I used to think about it. It is about remembering to take care of yourself. I’m not actually a huge yoga person myself, but there *is* something wonderful about being in a room full of people who are actively validating the idea of nurturing your own spirit not because you, personally, are messed up, but because being kind to yourself is something it’s good for people to do. The yoga teacher will *assume* everyone in the room has stress and has come to have a little time out from that in an environment of kindness and understanding. I have a friend who says yoga pulled her back from the brink.

      I know: you don’t have a lot of free time. But there’s probably a yoga class within a half hour of your home. They’re everywhere, and they’re generally pretty cheap. Most studios also will allow you to take a class free of charge to try — no commitment, no pressure. Worth a try.

      1. Also, if you have some experience with yoga but don’t have a schedule that permits regular classes, yogaglo.com is a great resource. You pay a monthly fee and get access to streaming videos of all their classes, so if you have an internet connection you can do yoga in the middle of the night if that’s when you feel like doing it.

        After my mom died, yoga was just about the only thing I could get myself to do each day. But doing that meant I also had to get out of bed, and put some clothes on, and eventually shower, and and and… It really was about remembering to be in your own life for a while.

        1. There are also a bunch of yoga classes as free video podcasts that you can find on iTunes.

          I especially like the Yoga Journal ones taught by Jason Crandell (just put “yogajournal” in the search box). They’re all 20-30 minutes long, the teaching is excellent, and they’ve been a resource for me through some very bad times.

      2. Oh, and since you’re in school, you probably have access to classes free, maybe on a drop-in basis.

    2. That’s why I got a rabbit, honestly. You get cuddles and you have to look after them because you don’t want anything bad to happen to them – they’re so innocent and vulnerable. And I personally think rabbits are good because they have such big personalities. Mine make me laugh all the time. But if you’re thinking about getting a pet do quite a bit of research to figure out what will suit your lifestyle best, I considered quite a few different small animals. (My dad hates cats because he has no soul and I couldn’t handle a dog, esp since all our fencing is badly damaged.)

    3. I just wanted to mention that, going through a rough patch myself, my two growing kittens have been adding massive quantities of brightness to my somewhat grey days for weeks. Cats are pretty independent too, so all you need to do is put food in the bowl (which is pretty cheap) and change the litter, and you’re good to go.

      Also, they love snuggles and do cute things. Petting animals is clinically proven to make you feel better 🙂

    4. I completely agree on the pet thing. Even though later there will be pain — my beloved cat just died — it was well worth it. There were more than a few times when “I can’t kill myself, who would take care of the cat?” worked.

      I remember in college that I took a yoga class. I was severely depressed and the teacher was just the kindest lady I had ever met. Something about the class and her and the emphasis on listening to your body, it just undid me. I was crying in almost every class.

      That was okay.

  9. I’ve been in a ‘big dark scary hole’ before. When you feel shitty all the time I think it’s important to remember that you should not be feeling shitty all the time.
    It’s not ‘normal’ to feel shitty all the time, and that eventually you will feel ‘normal’ again. The light at the end of the tunnel helps me.
    After a break-up I am a fan of writing a big FEELINGS MAIL (but please for the love of all that is good in the world DO NOT SEND IT!).
    Other times I like to wallow a bit, carve out a chunk of time to ignore my responsibilities and watch a full season of Teen Titans and eat Cheetos.
    You just have to find the right path to get out of that tunnel, wither it is time, or friendship, or ice cream, or medication that gets you there the important thing it to find something that makes you feel better.

  10. Oh, LW. I feel for you. I was you. All I can say is, it does get better. Not quickly, not easily maybe, but it does. Good work getting a therapist – that was an amazing first step. I hope you feel a bit better soon.

    In terms of nice things you can do for yourself, I used to buy a tub of Ben and Jerry’s, wear my PJs, and read really bad, really gruesome crime novels. They helped me get OUT of my head and into someone else’s. The only advice I can give here is just to pick a thing you like to do, and do it. No, you’re not the worst off person in the world. You are, however, having a terrible time right now, so you have earned yourself time off from life. Give yourself an afternoon a week, maybe? Don’t worry (if at all possible) about whether you ‘should’ be doing your nice thing. I used to stress so much about eating lots of icecream being unhealthy. But I was sick, and it helped me not be so sick, so it was allowed.

    Look after yourself

  11. LW, I’ve been having a hard time being nice to myself lately too. Though the specifics of my situation are different, I also have been feeling like I am just barely holding on. Some things that have helped me are:

    1. Understand that feeling like you are bad at life does not mean you are ACTUALLY bad at life. Right now I struggle to do things like go to the store- but I do go and even though it sucks to whole time, I go and that counts.
    2. I’ll go to a fancy bath and body store and smell everything. I can’t afford to buy said things (if you can, do it!), but I leave the store feeling a little better,
    3. I get way more dressed up for everyday life than usual. I’m a casual lady, but when I’m deep in a depression, I force myself to put on make-up, jewelry, cute outfits, etc. This makes me feel like random people won’t be able to tell that my life sucks just by looking at me. It also makes me feel like I care about myself, even when my heart isn’t in it.
    4. I’ll do something called the “half smile”. When I’m at work or have to talk to someone who is not on Team Me, I force a half smile. You won’t sound like you are about to cry when you talk with the half-smile, and that is especially helpful for me at work.
    5. Your speech about malaria and everything goes through my head like ten times a day. When it does, I say (actually outloud) “That thinking hurts me and I want to not think that.” After awhile the thoughts will be less frequent.
    6. If you feel like a sad burden to your friends/family, remember that people want to feel needed. It HELPS your friends/family when you reach out to them because they will feel important and loved. Everyone wants to feel needed and like their existence matters to someone else. You are not a burden, you just need extra love.

    A lot of this stuff come from the type of therapy Abigail mentioned upthread, dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). This program has saved my life repeatedly for almost 10 years. I highly recommend looking it up (anyone have DBT book suggestions?) because it is really concrete and it has tips and skills that could help you like, right now.

    I hope the best for you LW. Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. I agree with #3. I often wear waistcoats and ties etc because it makes me feel competent and less of a failure. “LOOK I HAVE A JOB IN AN OFFICE LIKE A REAL GROWN UP.” Something to be said for method acting at times.

      1. To clarify that, not that people who don’t have jobs in offices aren’t real grown ups! It’s one of many many ways to be a grown up. For me I grew up in a large white middle class family with a fairly narrow expectation of what succeeding looks like so even though the rest of my life is not at all what fits that narrative, when I find it hard to know that that’s okay, I can at least reassure myself that I am doing something I don’t have to justify, even if it’s still very much not what I expected I’d ever be doing.

  12. Sweet Machine: Advocating masturbating to photos of Tom Daley since 2012. You just become my hero.

    1. …And you broke my English in the process. Good work, Sweet Machine!

      I also pressed send too early. This is the effect that Tom Daley has on me.

      LW, I just wanted to second the concept: be as kind to yourself as you would to others. I hope you can get Team You going and that this bit – this short, shitty passage in the long, awesome narrative of your live – passes quickly.

      1. I also pressed send too early. This is the effect that Tom Daley has on me.


        Seriously, that boy. I instantly turn into a dirty lecherous old lady when I see pics of him.

  13. Oh LW, have I been there. Even though it sucks right now, it’s important to remind yourself that things can and will get better. Even small changes like calling your friends to talk can help.

    I’m not that great at giving advice, but I hope you can find a small moment to stop and take a breather during your busy day. Take care of yourself.

  14. LW, I am sending you jedi hugs. I think everything Sweet Machine said is right on. I was recently in a space like you, with Responsibilities and Life Issues (not to mention my own history of depression) entirely overwhelming me. So I thought I’d offer a few tangible things that I’ve been doing to take care of myself (some of these overlap with Sweet Machine’s advice) – I hope at least one will be useful to you!

    *I recognized that my life was objectively really stressful at the moment. The fact that I was having difficulty coping with it all meant that I had a functioning understanding of the world, not that I was weak.

    *I schedule time when the plan is not to do work. This is particularly important for me, since I’m working on my dissertation, so there are no schedules and no deadlines other than the ones I make up. It wasn’t that I was working all the time before, but I was (like you are) always feeling guilty when I wasn’t working, which does not lead to relaxation.

    *Make really elaborate to do lists, in which I break down each responsibility in to the tiny steps that need to be taken in order to achieve it. Although the lists are long (which could make you feel overwhelmed), it really helps me to see small things that I can complete in an hour or two. Plus, I get the satisfaction of crossing lots of things off (I’ve been known to put things like “take a shower” and “eat lunch” on there to increase this buzz).

    *In a moment where I was feeling pretty good, I made a list of little things I could do that would cheer me up, since I find it difficult to think of these things when I’m in a down place. It includes: “go for a walk,” “paint my nails,” “take a bath,” “try a new recipe,” and “clean up a room/area”

    *Made itunes playlists for every possible mood: songs that are just happy! Super angsty songs for when I want to sing along and wallow in my own pain for a bit! Energetic/motivational songs for when I need to get something done! Quietly hopeful songs for those moments when I want to be cheered up but I’m feeling too fragile for anything purely happy!

    *Make an effort to stay in touch with Team Me – I’m really bad at reaching out to people (other than my family), which makes it easy for me to become lonely. Plus, many of my closest friends have recently moved out of my city. But just trading emails or having quick phone calls makes me feel connected, even if I don’t get the nerve to bring up my problems (I’m still working on accepting the sandwich).

    *Take antidepressants. You don’t mention whether you’ve considered this, but it’s a big help for me. It doesn’t fix the problems in my life, but it makes me SO much more able to cope with them.

    Anyway, LW, you are awesome. I have no doubt that you’ll make it through this tough time.

    By the way, this is my first comment here, although I’ve been a reader for months. I just want to thank the captain and the awkward army for being so awesome. The advice you’ve given to others has improved my life in really tangible ways.

  15. LW, can you work fewer hours? If you’re good at your job, your boss will recognize that it’s better to have you there less than have you quit. Can you tell your boss a specific day that you’re never available, or a maximum number of hours you can work each week?

  16. LW, a lot of what you wrote (especially the paragraph Sweet Machine quoted) sounds very familiar. Last year when I was stuck at a job I hated and was giving myself digestive problems because I was so stressed and upset all the time, I never felt like I was allowed to feel as bad as I did, that I was making a big deal out of nothing, etc. etc. I am not very good at self-care, because when I take time for myself I feel like I’m being lazy, or I should take care of something more important, or Other People don’t need to take a break so why should I?

    I’m a little better about it now, but not entirely; my partner still has to remind me fairly often that it’s ok to relax, to do something nice for myself. But even though I still struggle with depression and Scary Thoughts (and probably always will) I feel a lot better than I did during that point.
    I agree with what has been said above – what would you say to a friend in your position? Try to offer yourself the same amount of love, compassion, and support you would give to a beloved friend. This is where I fall short most often but I’m trying hard to be better at it. I think self-love is a skill you can learn, even if it’s difficult. Your friends want to help you and give you love; right now a great gift to give yourself is to tell them how they can help you and then let them do it.

  17. I don’t know if the below is helpful, after writing it out. I suspect depends on how much of a nerd you are.

    When I ever get an attack of the “You can’t have feelings!!! There are CHILDREN in AFRICA who are starving and don’t even have tumblr and who would kill for your problems!!! My GOD!!!” I think of the Total Perspective Vortex in the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy. It is the worst torture imaginable, and it works by creating a map of the whole of the creation with an infinitesimal speck and then a little sign: “you are here”. The very worst thing you can do to a being is to give them a sense of perspective.

    You experience your life, and it sounds stressful enough.

    1. Great analogy!

      Sometimes I think the opposite would be true. Yes, please put me in the Total Perspective Vortex, where that mind-blowingly important decision I need to make won’t affect the universe all that much. Where if I fail every now and again, or, you know, all the time, the earth still spins on its axis.

    2. Well, there’s perspective and then there’s hopelessness. Instead of thinking of kids doing slave labor, maybe just think of high school drama. It felt real when you were going through it, but when you look back at it, what do you realize? I think: 1. everyone’s dealing with this puberty thing, and the ones who seem to do it better are probably lying. 2. Some kids were born with more stuff, or a better family, or a faster brain, but almost no one gets everything and even they have limits to cope with, just at a higher level. Work on your own personal best. 3. balancing school and part-time job and friends is a skill. Take on too much and the balls all fall down. Okay, it happens, dust yourself off and figure out which classes, friends, or monetary goals to ditch. The world will not end because you got a B-minus in that elective, or you stopped going to birthday parties for third cousins, or you had to wait an extra year to get the newest i-pad.

      The goal of perspective is to cut yourself slack, to remember that lots of people are going through the exact same, or very similar issues. That you’ve come a long way, baby, and in a few years you’ll be so good at these crises that you’ll tack on a baby, mortgage, and caring for your parents. Or maybe some other goals.

  18. Oh LW AND Sweet Machine- this sounds so much like me.
    I graduate school last year, and got a job at a good company, but then the company reorganized and I am now in a super stressful position in a group that is short 5 people. My chronic illness I was diagnosed with 5 years ago has gone into a huge nose-dive. I moved to a city where I have few friends, and my parents retired and left the city (and the country). I see a therapist too, and she is amazing and helps, but only so much. I get into these awful cycles of getting miserable and sad and losing work ethic, and then trying to beat myself up/shame myself into getting happier/more productive, and then just feeling like everything is literally half a second away from falling to pieces on me. It is awful. And I have people telling me not to beat myself up, and to look into options like taking a leave, but what I am realizing is that quitting that cycle is HARD. So Team You is really important- because they can help you think through options you might not consider yourself, and they can push you to make decisions.

    The thing I struggle with is that there is this very pervasive idea that the MOST IMPORTANT THING is getting through school (on time, with good grades), having a job, being successful….BUT- the whole point of that is to do all those things so you can be happy. If it is not making you happy, you need to re-think it. I know how hard it is, to think of giving yourself a break. I can understand how it might make you feel like you are just weak, or whiny, or lazy. Or that it might screw up your whole life. Or that it is just NOT POSSIBLE because everything is already screwed up/in danger of falling to pieces/you’ve made a commitment. But that is why you need a Team You. They can help you walk through what is possible, what is reasonable, and what is good for YOU. I don’t want to just tell you to drop a class, because I don’t know exactly what the right solution is for you. I can tell you that I wish I had dropped a class in school, because it does not matter in the long run and makes life easier. But I can also tell you that I am currently working full time and basically waiting until I have a breakdown/physical collapse, because I just can’t seem to imagine taking a leave unless I was literally unable to work anymore. I know, logically, that it would probably be better to take a leave before I collapse, but I can’t make myself do it…yet. So, if you read this advice, and have trouble acting on it or giving yourself a break, don’t start beating yourself up for that too! Because it can happen (it happened to me!). If you get in the habit of beating yourself up, you start doing it for everything, including beating yourself up. You are trying.

    Gigantic hugs. And also – despite my desire not to tell you what to do, the back of my brain is screaming “take a break! Now”, because dropping a class/taking a semester off/taking a break, is easier to do in university than in the first few years of a new job, and if you do it earlier, you won’t be burnt out by the time you finish school.

    1. Please take some kind of break yourself! Followed by lots of small breaks. As I’m sure you know, it’s better with chronic stuff to have little bites of everything. But if you’re anything like me it is tempting to heroically work on and push yourself into a health breakdown that will be Officially OK because Now I Am So Ill Everyone Can See It. But that health breakdown could last a long time, and there are no crisp white sanatoriums for most of us.

      Also, adrenaline is addictive, and makes you think funny thoughts. Another thing is that no one will know or care if you skate over some parts of your job. You may prefer to do everything beautifully; but cutting a few corners in less important areas will make no difference to how your colleagues or superiours perceive your work. Being a nice person who gets most of the important stuff done is what people value.

      I always wanted a job I could throw myself into. After a few years of throwing myself into jobs, my health dived so much it became clear that I could either spend my life in exruciating pain and lose the ability to work completely, or dial right down on working. I shiver to think about how much suffering I put up with – it was only when I was considering throwing myself under buses because the pain was so unremittingly terrible that I started to think about maybe listening to the medical advice I had received.

      Since then I have gradually become what I consider a major slacker, and I am bitterly unhappy about that. Nevertheless, ten years later I am still in an amazing job, even though it’s mostly from the sofa, and people value my work. Are you sure that ‘losing your work ethic’ isn’t closer to ‘listening to your body’?

      Good luck, and I hope you recover many spoons.

      1. Thank you misspiggy (and everyone below). One of my comments may have broken hearandnow’s heart, but reading that you consider yourself to be a “major slacker” breaks mine. You shouldn’t have to work yourself to death just to feel good about yourself! But I also understand where it is coming from- another reason why I have difficulty thinking about taking a leave, is that I have difficulty determining if I really do need a leave, or if I am just lazy (seriously, probably the biggest road block to me taking a leave is the worry that I am just lazy and looking for an out, and don’t really “need” a leave. And the second biggest block is freaking out about what it will mean for my future, so it is hard to use “future me” to make decisions). And I worry that if I take a leave, I will just feel awful and worthless because of it.

        So I have a question for all the wonderful commenters (that is sort of a derail because it is about me, except that it sounds like letter writer could use it too): How do you actually go about taking a break before you have a breakdown? Very few people here seem to have given themselves a break BEFORE the breakdown- it seems that most people DO work until they collapse, and then realize afterwords that they should have done something earlier. So how do I get from “maybe I should take a break, but am I just lazy, and shouldn’t I work as long as physically possible, and is taking a break even going to be the right thing” to actually taking a break? Has anyone here actually done this the “good” way, and avoided the meltdown? Can you chime in and explain to how you did it?

        I get swamped in the details when I try to think of future me, so I end up just feeling a little hopeless.

        P.S. All Jedi hugs accepted and sent back to everyone here. Captain Awkward is totally awesome, but it wasn’t until I started reading the comments that I realized just how exponentially awesome this blog is.

        1. Nicole, can you take a medical leave from your job? I almost ended up doing that the year my mom did die, but I was lucky (for some horrible version of “lucky”) in that I wasn’t actually teaching or taking classes during the worst months, so I could kind of work at home when possible and just email necessary people to say “Yes, I’m still around but no, I can’t meet that deadline” or what have you. But if I had been scheduled to teach I probably would have taken a medical or family leave (whichever fit the situation best).

          1. I recently had to take medical leave (in the UK) which basically involved asking my doctor for a sick note to get me off work. If you have any holiday time, take it. If you have a decent boss, go to them and tell them what’s happening, and ask them for help. Even if you can’t get leave, AND you’re short-staffed, they may be able to agree that you have an extra half day off, or leave early or something.

          2. Ok, almost a month later, but I talked to my doctor and he is signing the Short Term disability forms. I still have to go through HR and work through the paperwork, but as long as STD caseworker/managing company isn’t a total jerk, I should have time off. Also, when I brought it up to my doctors, their responses were all unanimously “Yes! Please! Take time off! Thank God you’ve finally decided to do this”.

        2. [In retrospect, I realise that saying you broke my heart put responsibility onto you for my feelings, which was not my intention and also an unfair thing to do. I’m sorry about that.]

          How do you actually go about taking a break before you have a breakdown? … Has anyone here actually done this the “good” way, and avoided the meltdown? Can you chime in and explain to how you did it?

          Well, as you know, I didn’t avoid the big meltdown, but I’m trying to avoid future ones (and I’ve been successful in that for the past year). Following my big meltdown, I’ve become much more aware of the kinds of things that caused it in the first place. Now when I’m having a stressful period or I’m not feeling that great, I take a step back and look at why that might be. ‘Oh hey, I’m sleeping four hours a night and not going outside …’ And because I know the kinds of things that have helped with that in the past, I’ve got strategies that I know will usually improve how I feel. And if I find that those strategies are not working they way they used to, I can try other things (and/or escalate to seeking professional help).

          I’m also learning to say no to things – especially things with unreasonable deadlines! – and negotiating on the things I say yes to so that they work better for me. That’s been super-hard for me in the past, but my partner and friends are brilliant sounding boards and they roleplay stressful negotiation scenarios with me beforehand so I can better stand up for myself in the real thing. This also helped me acknowledge my own needs and not feel as though the needs of my company were more important. (For example, I felt responsible for their understaffing but (a) that wasn’t my fault, and (b) I had no control over whether or not they addressed the problem, besides raising it as an issue as often as was reasonable. I also fell into the foxhole mentality so common in this kind of situation – I was doing it for my colleagues, because holy wow, how bad would it be for them if I didn’t? Which in my case led to a codependent workaholic department.)

          Part of why I had my meltdown was because I didn’t feel as though I had ‘permission’ to not be coping with something. Leaving my job or cutting back on my work hours felt like Failure, and I was more scared of that than of [unspecified future problems I was creating for myself]. But I didn’t really need permission from anybody to take steps to make things better – even though I thought I did – and needing a change wasn’t failure.

          I now try to give myself permission to do whatever I have to do to live a full and healthy life. I know some people are able to do that naturally, without going through a meltdown, so I think it is possible. Unfortunately, mine only came through experience, but I don’t think that’s the only way.

        3. I used to work two jobs. I worked them both until I had a nervous breakdown at one of them, and then I quit that job, kept working my other one, and used contacts I’d made there to get another one. Not surprisingly, this did not exactly help me get through the breakdown and I ended up losing all my jobs and my flat and moving home.

          Even if you are lazy, SO WHAT? Even if you’re selfish, SO WHAT? You are allowed to be lazy and selfish sometimes. This is something I still struggle with myself of course but I am trying to learn it. Everyone has to put themselves first sometimes. Our society has such a fucked up view of what gives people value that’s based purely on what’s financially marketable, and if everyone gave into that we would lose so much culture. The screwed up thing is that our focus on employment and showing your commitment by working long hours is completely counterproductive. When the 40 hour work week became popular in the US employers knew it was good too – their workers needed time away from work to keep being productive. I have an article from Alternet about this.

          These days, I’m studying and working part time. Last year I had the job, it ended at Christmas and I went back to school. Then I got offered the job back for a few months until the end of October. I’m effectively doing almost as much now as I was when I had my breakdown, and the job is an incredibly emotionally draining one, not the minimum wage garden variety food service jobs I had back then. I’ve promised myself that I need to leave work at work. I won’t access my work mail at home (to prevent this I’ve explicitly not tried to see if it’s even possible), I won’t call the office or email a coworker when I think of something I can do to help a client, the most I will do is write it down and deal with it when I go back. (This obviously doesn’t apply if it’s seriously urgent – I made sure a colleague had my contact details last week when I was arranging to keep someone’s power from getting cut off so that if there were any wrinkles they could get in touch with me to sort it out. It’s a really cold winter here.)

          Some days I will come home and do nothing but play computer games for the rest of the day. Then I have to catch up all my school work on the weekend when I haven’t been all up in people’s problems all morning and I can focus better. It makes me feel slack a lot of the time, but honestly I’m going to study and write assignments better when I’m relaxed anyway. I think maybe one good thing would be to find a way to set one day a week where you don’t dread getting out of bed because you don’t have to do anything you hate. Just be able to relax and do fun things so you can recharge your batteries. Don’t overclock your engine, because you can’t order replacement parts.

        4. How do you actually go about taking a break before you have a breakdown?

          I’m half asleep, so I apologize if this is only semi-incoherent. I *just* took a medical leave of absence from work, and it was very deliberately BEFORE having a breakdown, so I wanted to share what I learned.

          First off, I’m a Type-A workaholic in a super-stressful, deadline driven corporate job. I’m also a survivor of child abuse with Complex PTSD that flared up last year when I found myself in an abusive relationship. That relationship is thankfully long over, but the fallout wiped out the foundation of emotional stability that I had built for myself in adulthood. Slowly but surely, all of my systems went into a state of Complete Overwhelm. Emotionally, I felt like I was speeding toward a metaphorical brick wall. I could either slam on the breaks, avoid the wall, and patch myself up — or I could await the inevitable, slam into the wall, and then spend many times the amount of time and effort patching myself up.

          I had both emotional and logistical hurdles to overcome to make a leave happen.

          First, I am perpetually terrified of losing my job, and I had to fight off the fear that EVEN JUST ASKING FOR a leave would put my job in jeopardy. The next hurdle was dealing with the shame and guilt of actually taking time off. Not only did I fear that my colleagues back at work would be imagining me sipping umbrella drinks on the beach for weeks on end, my brain somehow twisted things around so that sitting at home and filling out trauma workbooks and going to therapy 2-3 times per week equaled lying on the beach. It didn’t help that well-meaning people in my life repeatedly referred to my medical leave – both before and during – as a “vacation.” Finally, I had to muster up the courage to say something to my nice but reserved Boss Man.

          Thankfully, I judged Boss Man correctly, and telling him that I’m an abuse survivor struggling with PTSD didn’t a) make his head fall off from overwhelming TMI, and b) didn’t result in my being labeled “crazy” and getting the side-eye from the rest of the office. Phew. Even better, he was super supportive of my taking time off. Hooray!

          The corporate logistics were a whole other ball of messiness. Long story short, my local bosses were very understanding and willing to give me several weeks or months off (unpaid). Unfortunately, we are part of a large corporation, and Mothership wasn’t having any of it. If it weren’t for the Family and Medical Leave Act (thank you, Bill Clinton!), I would have had to jump through flaming hoops blindfolded in order to MAYBE get 30 days of leave. (Some of the stereotypes about Corporate America are painfully true. Sigh.) The FMLA process was convoluted, but my therapist filled out the paperwork stating that I was struggling with PTSD, and I got the maximum 12 weeks of unpaid time off. Hooray!

          Thankfully, 12 weeks was adequate in my case. If I had desperately needed more time off, I would have either had to build a case for having a disability (not at all easy to do with PTSD), or sacrifice my job.

          Hopefully you are in luck and don’t have to deal with Corporate/Legal Red Tape of Doom. But if you do, brace yourself for lots of frustration. An FMLA request isn’t processed until the day your leave starts. That means you don’t find out if it’s approved until AFTER your leave starts. Ridiculous, I know. And not at all conducive to healing when the reason you’re taking a leave in the first place is that you’re on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I spent that first week anxious that I might have to abandon my leave, go back to work, and await the inevitable breakdown. So. Just know that that particular road is a major PITA, but not impossible.

          One final thought. Everyone is different, so your experience may be nothing like this, but it seems worthwhile to share… I had BIG plans for everything I was going to accomplish during my leave. Seemingly realistic things, and almost all related to my healing. In the end, I maybe finished 1/3 of my list. I was panicked about that halfway through my leave, but then I realized that it was okay. I was doing what I needed to be doing, which on some days meant going for a walk, taking to a trusted friend, reading, and then calling it a day.

          I hope that you do find a way to take a leave. I am really, really, REALLY glad that I took my leave. All of my doubts, shame, and guilt lifted about halfway through my leave when I finally started feeling human again. My instinct was right, and that leave was exactly what I needed. If your mind and body are telling you that you need a break, I say listen to them. In the grand scheme of things, that break will be a relatively short span of time, but it can make all the difference for your ongoing health and happiness.

          Good luck to you!

    2. Hi Nicole, I think your advice to the LW is excellent.

      My heart broke a little bit when I read this:

      I am currently working full time and basically waiting until I have a breakdown/physical collapse, because I just can’t seem to imagine taking a leave unless I was literally unable to work anymore. I know, logically, that it would probably be better to take a leave before I collapse, but I can’t make myself do it…yet.

      This sounds a lot like my first couple of years out of college. I’m not going to lie, I benefited professionally from the massive amount of work that I did in that time … but five years in, I had a total collapse. My coping mechanisms had been degrading for a long time when a death in the family pushed me over the edge and I suddenly found that I couldn’t deal with anything (leaving the house, basic self-care). I’d been running on adrenaline for so long that my brain chemistry literally didn’t know how to function normally anymore. In order to pick up the pieces I had to walk away from the stressful job I’d based my identity around, get treatment for depression, and re-evaluate what the hell I was doing to myself … as well as what I want out of my life.

      18 months on, I’m in a much better place, and I have learned so much from the whole (deeply unpleasant) process. But there’s collateral damage from letting things get so bad and I can never fix it; at this point I just have to live with it. Sometimes I wonder if Past Me could have handled things differently. It sucked to have to hit rock bottom before dealing with these problems — that said, I only started to properly deal with them when I’d hit rock bottom and literally had no other choice, so maybe I wasn’t ready before then.

      When I feel myself backsliding into familiar, destructive patterns, I find it helpful to ask Future Me what she thinks about it. Personally, if I’m not careful I can get so involved in my work that I prioritise it over sleep, exercise and healthy eating, because whatever I’m doing at the moment is Obviously More Important. (I’m also a recovering people-pleaser, which doesn’t help.) But then I ask Slightly Future Me how she feels about how much sleep she’s been getting, or Me In 10 Years about what she wishes Present Me had done differently, and I’m in a better place to make an informed decision about current commitments and priorities. For someone like me who can easily lose sight of the bigger picture in favour of Doing This One Tiny Thing Perfectly, that’s been really helpful.

      From your comment, it sounds as though you know what you need. Obviously, you’re the boss of your own life, and you should do what works for you when you feel ready. And as you say, beating oneself up about something one isn’t ready to address can be counter-productive. However, if it helps you, I’d encourage you to think about Future You. What’s she doing? How is her life different? How is it the same? How does she feel about the period of your life that you’re living now?

      Good luck and anti-burnout Jedi hugs to you (if you want them).

    3. I’ve been to the rock bottom, and nearly there several times. I’m currently taking a break on purpose, instead of pushing myself.

      This is how I framed it: When I hit bottom, what is going to happen? e.g. no income, stop going to school, don’t take care of myself, large medical bills, angry family
      That is definitely going to happen at some point.
      What if I take a break? Then I have no income, stop going to school, angry family, but wait, I still take care of myself, and I don’t have medical bills. This is better!

      Yes, I still feel guilty about it, but I can get out of the hole faster if I don’t dig it so deep. And things are slowly getting themselves together, since I don’t have to deal with ALL OF THE THINGS every day.

      Normally I’m not a big fan of AA aphorisms, but I like this one: Bottom is when you stop digging.

      So I think I just repeated what you said, but I hope you can let yourself have a planned break before you have an unplanned one.

  19. When I was in the hole this time last year (long term relationship brought to an abrupt end, massive work stress, family drama), I came across this Audre Lorde quote on Tumblr:

    “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

    For some reason, once I conceptualised looking after myself as a Meaningful Feminist Act it was much easier for me to do it, regardless of the fact all my problems seemed hopelessly first world and stupid.

    More practically, I tried to stretch a couple of times a day, just for five minutes, as a way of showing myself I was taking care of myself and creating a bit of emotional space in my day. I also started decluttering like a fiend, which might only have made sense because my ex had moved out and I was suddenly living on my own, but that slow, steady progress towards making my space liveable felt like concrete evidence that I was moving forward, one recycling bag at a time.

    You are awesome, LW, and you deserve love and care for yourself, whatever form that takes. I am on Team You so hard over the interwebs.

  20. I’ve never had malaria, but I have had other Exotic Tropical Maladies, and let me tell you – I’d take malaria over depression and overwork any day of the week:

    1. Malaria is treatable. Yes, your body is in misery, but at least you can keep telling yourself that it will all be over in a few weeks. You know there’s an end date. Plus, everyone cuts you slack on your other responsibilities so you can focus on getting well. In your situation, there’s no end in (immediate) sight and no one is cutting you slack – in fact, they’re piling on more.

    2. Malaria gives you social cred. “Wow, Darkness got MALARIA doing research in the Amazon! They must be super badass!” Slogging through a grueling work/school schedule AND dealing with anxiety AND working through a painful breakup is way harder, but it doesn’t play into people’s love of story and adventure.

    3. Relatedly – people “get” malaria. Everybody acknowledges it’s awful. But people who’ve never had to pull 50+ hour weeks for extended periods tend not to understand that it’s not just 25% or 50% harder than a regular schedule – it’s exponentially harder. No one will make dismissive remarks about “pfft, it’s just malaria, get over it already!”

    I know you were referring to people with malaria Where There Is No Doctor, but FWIW, being a Westerner with malaria is a walk in the park compared to what you’ve got going on.

  21. Oh, wow. LW, you are me to a T. We could be peas in a pod.

    Depression is a hard thing to deal with because it’s so insidious. Not only do I get depressed, but I get anxious about everything. For me, it comes down to not having control… over my life, over my relationships, over my work, and so on. When I get down about something, my mind automatically fills in ‘But people deal with worse every day, so just suck it up.’ Add in issues about being selfish for taking time to myself or doing what *I* want to do, and it seems impossible.

    It’s not though. Therapy is good, yay! And yes, definitely tell your therapist what you’re feeling. And here’s the thing: It’s OK to be selfish. I give you permission. That was something I had to hear from a friend of mine, that I had permission to think about myself first. It’s OK to take time to yourself and destress. It’s OK to do what YOU want to do.

    One of the things I think you need to do is arrest that thought in your mind that someone has it worse. It doesn’t help you at all. It’s OK to focus on what you need, and to focus on yourself first. I won’t say the rest of the world doesn’t matter, but you can’t fix that, but you CAN fix you. You sound down on yourself and I just want to tell you that you’re a good person, that you are hard-working and responsible, and strong. Write a list of qualities about yourself that you like, and either read it or add to it every day. Doesn’t matter if it’s as minor as ‘my eyes are pretty’. You want to be nicer to yourself… you have to train your brain to be nicer to you. Tell yourself something nice every day. I hate to use the cliche–believe me on that one–but love yourself. And you are worthy of that love, believe you me. I think that was the hardest hurdle for me to get over… thinking I was worthy of love.

    Perhaps I’m reading too much personally into this, but I can really empathize here.

  22. Sweet Machine, you are awesome. I felt like a to-do list held together by tendons. This is a PERFECT description of that feeling (she says, her neck muscles aching with tasks yet to be completed).

    LW, I’ve been there. Can I just say, college is hell? (If you are indeed in college. But if not, SCHOOL is hell. Unless it’s not, which it isn’t for some people, but it sounds like it is for you.) I’m finished with it now, but I still have panicky dreams about it every once in a long while. The good news is, it ends eventually!

    In the meantime, I suggest that in addition to being as nice to yourself as you would be to a friend, you memorize these facts and tell them to yourself until you believe them:

    1. School sucks. It is hard. If being in school contributes to you feeling like shit, that makes perfect sense, because school is contributing to making your life shitty. Feeling overwhelmed does not make you a failure. I don’t know why school is as hellish as it is, but it’s the thing that’s wrong, not you.

    2. Being depressed (symptoms of which include both your thoughts of self-harm and your feeling that your problems aren’t bad enough for you to be depressed) sucks. Your life already sucks, and being depressed makes it suck MORE. This is not a failure on your part, it’s a really fucked-up thing that some of us have to deal with. If it helps to think of it as a disease, do that. If it helps to think of it as a natural reaction to your life sucking, do that. But please, blame the depression, not yourself. You are not bad, the depression is. You are not stupid for feeling like your problems aren’t big enough; your depression is stupid for making you feel that way.

    You, on the other hand, are fucking awesome for continuing to get up and muddle through every day in spite of the shittiness of your life right now. WAY TO GO, YOU. Jedi hugs.

    1. (Obviously, what I said in #1 also applies to your shitty job, your horrible break-up, and the awful situation of your friends being too far away to see easily. I went with school, though, because it can be easy to feel like school never ends, which isn’t true, and like school is supposed to be easy and if it isn’t easy for you then you suck, which isn’t true either.)

  23. LW, this part of your letter really jumped out at me:

    “I can’t relax, because if I detach myself for one second everything I’m trying so hard to keep on top of will pretty much fall apart and I feel like those are more important than my well-being. Logically I know this is bullshit but whenever I try to take a breather, I always think of something more productive I could be doing.”

    I don’t know if it will help, but here’s what I do when I feel that way. Think of a small increment of time you can “take off” – and I mean something really small, like five minutes. Something small enough that you don’t have to worry about how you’re wasting important time. Set a timer, and do something that’s supposed to be relaxing for those few minutes. Something like stretching, meditating, reading two pages of a book, listening to a song – for me it’s playing a song on the piano.

    The thing is, you have to commit to doing it even if it doesn’t feel relaxing. Even if your mind is still on other things. Decide that those five minutes are going to be a priority like eating is a priority, or brushing your teeth is a priority. The idea is just to try establishing a habit, where those five minutes are yours, and then to try and extend that time to six minutes one day, and then seven minutes, etc. And one day you might catch your jerk!brain by surprise, and the timer will go off and you’ll realize you were actually engaged in your book, or relaxed by your stretching, or whatever.

    Hugs if you want them.

    1. I second this. LW, I’d suggest just trying it for a week — a week in which you do at least 5 minutes of enforced “break” time every day — and just seeing how you feel about it. Think of it as an experiment. In my experience, those 5-10 minutes will only give me a break I deserve, but they also allow me to be more productive the rest of the time. Your brain (and your body, for that matter) doesn’t work its best when it has to be “on” all the time. Force yourself to turn “off” and recharge. It helps.

  24. I think maybe I’m lucky since my “distract and soothe” has been honed since childhood — really distracting novel (anything with a good story works for me, but if I’m really stressed, I have a handful of well-loved stories that I already know how they turn out, so even less stress!), add bath, and as an adult, either chocolate or an adult beverage. Easy to tailor for the situation, and I know it works, if only temporarily. A break can make all the difference for me. Now that I’m out of the hole that was last year, I try to do this more often so I don’t get too far under.

    Jedi hugs. You are worth your time and effort. Even when life sucks.

    1. You can also really ramp it up with chocolate ice cream in the bathtub. When I was a kid, my mom let me do that, and to this day it feels like a nigh-obscene indulgence.

  25. I want to give big Jedi hugs to everyone on this thread right now! I’ve been having a really difficult day today and struggling with feeling burned out for weeks. All of these reminders about self-care and taking time for yourself really hit home. And I can totally relate to feeling like I have no right to be stressed/sad/hurt/etc because, you know, there are starving children and people with cancer out there. It’s good to get validation that it’s okay to take care of yourself even if you aren’t the single most bad-off person on the planet. Thanks all!

    And to the LW, you’ve already gotten some good advice, so I’ll just say hang in there and be proud of yourself for recognizing that you need to be nice to yourself and seeking help in doing that.

  26. I was in an overwhelming situation somewhat like yours. I was working, in grad school, eight hours drive from my nearest friends, and then I’m coming down with a disability that was making doing anything harder than ever.

    One thing that I do that helps me offset some of the upset in a day is I will collect funny. Anything, everything that can or will elicit even the smallest chuckle, and hoping for the gem that can get a good long, unexpected laugh out of me. Put it all in a place (a separate e-mail, a scrapbook, a different facebook or tumblr account, pinterest, ANYTHING) that IS NOT the same as all of your other things. Ask all your friends, no matter how far away, to “please, for the love of my sanity” send you/post anything at all they think would make you laugh. Then check it all the time. Talk with your friends about the stuff they send that you like and bond over it. Look at old stuff you liked whenever, as just a small injection of positive emotion throughout your day. Keep adding on.

    Even if you’re so bummed out by life and problems that you can’t laugh, looking at it will usually at least give me some solace, some comfort in a small way, especially new things sent by far-away friends, because I know they’re thinking of me and wishing for my wellness and happiness. You may get able to recite Futurama episodes or somesuch after a few weeks, but who cares? it’s for your health and well being, and those are paramount priorities.

    1. Oh! This reminds me of one of my really common methods. My friends all know this about me because part of the method is that I share on Twitter. When everything is horrible, I go to google images and search for animals. Sometimes it’s “animals riding other animals” or “animals in mugs”, sometimes it’s “giant anteaters” or “chinese crested dogs”, as long as it’s animal related. And then I just go through all the pictures and, as I said, share them on Twitter, which also results in people doing the same thing and sharing their pictures with me! Many times in the middle of a Twitter-eruption over some serious business breaking news I’ll just start posting pictures of cats or stories about an endangered bird saving his egg from flooding or whatever and every single time people have been happy for just a moment to look at something adorable and mutually squee over it before going back to being angry or sad or horrified.

  27. LW here.

    Let me first say this: guys? You’re all so great and I’m sitting over here tearing up, reading all of your comments three or four times because it’s so comforting to know I am not alone here. Sweet Machine in particular (yes, it’s perfectly okay to call me Darkness, it made me giggle a bit, actually), thank you for answering my question so thoroughly and promptly, and I am so sorry for your mother’s passing and all that terrible nasty crap that happened as well.

    To clarify/answer some things you’ve all asked:

    -Yes, my therapist knows of the suicidal/self harm thoughts. In fact, this was the reason why I was referred over; the short condensed version, up until July I was on birth control (started in March) and it sabotaged my mood like woah, and I did unfortunately make a suicide attempt late July. As I mentioned in my letter my primary doctor referred me over, as standard protocol and just to make sure nothing serious was coming to a head because of the medication.

    -I do take off certain days of the week (Tuesdays and Thursdays), but I go to school on those days. It is possible for me to ask for another day off, mainly because I do contribute a lot to the store’s well being, but I am very hesitant to do this because a) we’re ridiculously understaffed for as busy as we are and b) I pay for pretty much all of my expenses, which includes school… and having quit a second job this past May, I’m trying very hard to save as much as possible for school, car payments, what have you. It has nothing to do with my boss being a jerk–in fact, he’s been very gracious with my schedule, ever since I started school.

    -Speaking of school, I am a college student and currently I’m attending a community college. As for dropping some of the classes I plan to take, I would prefer not to, but if it comes down to it then I’ve got to do it and eat the money.

    Right now I’m just feeling so exhausted from work and school, and really fucking raw over the breakup that I am essentially what Sweet Machine described herself as, once upon a time: a to-do list held together by tendons, and a fake person made out of paperclips and hair. One commenter mentioned above that they’re really bad at reaching out to people, and this happens to apply to me as well, so I’m definitely going to make an effort to talk to my people and see if I can set up a funsy playdate or something. I’ve also been meaning to take up some form of consistent exercise so this is a good time to do it as ever. In fact all of your suggestions are amazing and wonderful and I am going to try to do as many of them as possible.

    Also, I am really sorry this pretty much turned into The Great Text Wall of China, but FEELS, I HAS A LOT OF THEM RIGHT NOW.

    1. In terms of exercise, one of the best things for me during my high stress time was that I lived a good 20 minute walk from campus, so I had at least 40 minutes per day of just walking and thinking. I know time is a precious resource, but consider building into your day a way that you “have to” take a longish walk.

    2. Hey beautiful/awesome/badass/whatever adjective makes you feel best because you fit them ALL:

      I’ve been there too — the school, the distant friends, the suicidal inclinations that just won’t go away. There are a lot of people here describing their crashes, and you sound like you’re getting pretty close to that point: please, please don’t feel guilty about asking for more from your job. Do what you can to balance the moneys (dropping a class would be amazing, too — you really, really need the break), but as far as guilt, don’t. You’re at a health place where you NEED to decelerate. It doesn’t matter if your job-people are Awesome McAwesomePants and they’ll fall apart without you: you have hit a critical point where YOU are more urgent in the triage of things-that-need-you.

      The Awkward Army has given you some great advice and some great metaphors — take some time, if you can, to re-read every comment and beat back those “my problems aren’t big enough” and “it’s wasteful to spend time on me” thoughts. Your feelings are lying to you: you are much more valuable and awesome and worthwhile than they say.

    3. Hugzez. I’m going to gloss over the bit where I say I’ve been there and give you a laundry list of what went on for me…because I want to say I admire the sense I get in your writing of self-awareness. That will really help you. So will remembering that this isn’t Your Last Chance Ever to Get Shit Right. I’m turning 31 tomorrow, and when I was 19 or so, the whole world was telling me that this was my Last Chance Ever, that my degree was pivotal to my VERY SURVIVAL for ever and ever amen, and so on and so forth.

      It’s all bunk. Your life is like a looooooonnnnnnnngggggg sausage of perfectly malleable clay, that’s all laid out on a conveyor belt that’s taking it through the kiln. Right *NOW* is just outside the door of the kiln marked “In” – yesterday is being fired, and last week is coming out the “Out” door. But in front of you? Miles and miles, years and years, of soft, malleable, beautiful clay. You get to shape that exactly how you want it, every day, anew, for as long as the clay supply lasts.

      And exercise. Yus. Particularly a social exercise-thing that gets you completely out of your head. As much as I despise team sport myself, a team sport might be just the ticket for you 🙂 Good luck, and more hugzez.

    4. I have much sympathy for this (I had a stint where I was working full time, going to community college part time, doing 15-20 hours a week of unpaid volunteer management at a regional level, and in an LDR) and many jedi hugs for you.

      Like others here, I urge you to take some time for yourself and do some self-care. Set aside $5 for you to spend utterly frivolously every week/biweek/monthly. Take hot bubbly baths. Practice your fake accents at work. Make a standing date with a statue in the park to hang out and eat popcorn. Anything that helps bring you good feeling and cheer.

      One thing in your followup (and in the original letter) did strike me ….

      but I am very hesitant to do this because a) we’re ridiculously understaffed for as busy as we are

      I entirely understand the other reason for not wanting to drop back to fewer hours (aka, baby needs munnie), but this one? If I may say so, unless you are the manager, this is NOT a responsibility/guilt you should take onto yourself. It is NOT your job to worry about the staffing level – it’s the manager’s.

      From what I can tell, this is not a job where you are likely to go up the promotion ladder and your dedication to working more hours will be rewarded – it is a job that lets you pay your rent and eat. Don’t give too many of your precious spoons to something that will not give you any back.

      1. Yes. I hypocritically agree. Because a huge part of why I am so hesitant to try to take time off is that my department is horribly understaffed at the moment, and while understaffed=more work for me=more stress=MORE BADNESS, it also means that I feel a bit like leaving=being an ass and dumping all my crap on co-workers. But, it has been pointed out to me (and driven home by your and mintylime’s comments) that this is not my problem. Also, it is A problem in general.As in, if the group is understaffed but trying to hire, well then- they are already looking for more people. So don’t worry too much about being there less. But if they are not looking for more people, then that means they are fine with overworking their current employees, which is BAD, and means leaving is probably a good idea.

        1. Yes, this one is important: if they are looking for new people? Nothing to do here. If they are not looking for new people? They are actively making your life and that of your co-workers miserable and you sure as hell don’t owe them anything.

          You may look up your job description: is there written “Responsible for department being understaffed”? No? Good to know. You are not paid for this, so you aren’t responsible.

      2. Yes to this! There are SO MANY people right now looking for work, who would be super happy and grateful to take on some of your extra hours. Since you aren’t getting any benefits, there’s really no cost to your boss to hire one of them besides the minor hassle of putting out a job ad and whatever training is required. Soul-crushing overwork on your end vs. minor hassle on your boss’s end: no-brainer.

        1. It’s utterly criminal that unemployment is so high in the Western world when so many people are suffering from overwork. You don’t need one person to do 80 hours a week. It would be far more productive to have two working 40 each and collaborating. (You also get the bonus that different people have different ideas and can often come up with better solutions to problems than one person alone.)

      3. YES! I so agree. This isn’t your problem, Darkness, so for heaven’s sake give yourself that extra day. I know saving is important and a great thing to do, but right now I think maybe not feeling horrendous the whole time may be more important.

    5. As another person bad at reaching out when I most need help, make yourself do it! You need Team You helping, don’t listen to the jerkbrain, everyone needs help sometimes. (I know you know this, but I know for me it helps the more people who confirm it to fight off the jerkbrain thoughts!)

      I had a time a few years ago where I was so overwhelmed and felt like you described, that everything would fall apart if I let go of anything, but I just couldn’t figure out that I should ask for help. That doesn’t quite describe it, but its the closest I can get to the feeling of I should be able to do all of this and asking for help wasn’t even on my radar, all the sleep deprivation at the time was not helping my brain either (newborn who hated to sleep was mostly my deal). But yeah, it took my Mom coming over to help for a weekend and then when she was about to leave I finally broke down because I didn’t know how I was going to make it without her help. She promised to come back next weekend and after the dam broke I was finally able to start voicing my needs to my husband more and things started to slowly get better. I dunno if that helps with what you are going through, but I thought I would share as I never thought I would be one of those people who couldn’t/didn’t ask for help when I *really* needed it, but I was!

    6. LW, when I was going through hell, the teensiest first step I took was to set a once daily alarm labeled “take 5 deep breaths” for the mid-afternoon. I thought, how f’d up am I that I need a reminder to breathe? But you know what, the alarm would go off. I’d close my eyes and slowly take five deep breaths and marvel at the resulting drop in tension and adjustment to my posture.

      And this is maybe on the goofy side, but if you’re behind on the counter all day, would you enjoy having dance breaks, just sort of dancing in place? Exercise doesn’t always have to be formal “go for a run.” Sometimes it can be tiny moments of movement.

  28. My heart goes out to LW and all the commenters who have slogged through Depression Land. I spend my share of time there. On top of all the good advice given here on self-care, support, and finding sources of happiness-making/distraction, I want to reiterate that there is no objective standard of misfortune that justifies depression–if you feel shitty, you feel shitty. That alone is plenty of reason to seek help and lavish love on yourself.

  29. The last line of this made me burst into tears.

    I’m not sure how relevant this is, but I just finished my first year of grad school, and one of the things I had trouble admitting is that all of the panic, emotional anxiety, and stress was real. It’s a pretty common thing, I think, to joke about how high school, college or even grad school, are separate from the ‘real world’. I’d think to myself “but it’s just school…it’s not REAL,” “My advisor is so supportive, and I love my field, so all of this panic isn’t REAL” (or also, “it’s just me, all my fault”). “It’s not like I have a REAL JOB in the REAL WORLD dealing with REAL PROBLEMS like friends x,y, and z.” Realizing that school is actually part of the real world is making it easier for me to accept my own emotions and to deal with them. It’s also helping me make more aware, kind, and careful decisions regarding how I spend my time.

    Best of luck to you, LW.

    1. Oh-god-oh-god! You have just caused a lightbulb moment! When I was doing my PhD, my evil ex kept telling me, “Oh, you find this hard, well, how do you expect to cope in the READ WORLD?” I did find grad school excruciatingly hard, and this brought me to think that if I were out in the REAL WORLD, I would fail instantly, and wouldn’t be able to hold down a job at all. This, unfortunately, led to me staying with the ex of evil for far too long, because I didn’t believe I’d be able to support myself. Because, real world.

      But! Turns out that grad school was in the REAL WORLD, and also legitimately hard, and my ex was wrong all along. Gosh, who knew?

      1. Grad school is real! People who try to tell you otherwise are wrongity wrong. Also, I had a legit career before coming back to grad school, and grad school is WAY WAY HARDER.

  30. Oh Tom Daley, why are your tiny, tiny pants always ALMOST falling off, only barely held on by the bulge??

    There was a time when I diagnosed Sweet Machine with what we came to call flopsy. LW, you may have it, too. The symptoms were something that I don’t remember, like mysterious bad feelings and headaches and stuff, but trust me, you may have it. The cure was… 1) something self-carey like bubble baths, I don’t remember that, either, but I DO remember 2) CUTE ANIMAL THINGS and especially videos. This is a mandatory and daily part of flopsy treatment. Zooborns and my own animals are my usual source when treating flopsy in my friends. I will pass this along to you in case it helps with the flopsy.

  31. LW, I could have written practically this exact same letter a couple months ago. This year has been Truly Awful. Heck, this last year-and-a-half. Let’s see, the same week I defended my PhD this spring, I broke up with a beloved partner of 2.5 years (everything had been great until then), broke up with my best friend of 5 years (who had been progressively flaking out over the prior year or two, then went AWOL during defense + traumatic breakup), had my next-closest friend pull a disappearing act, get a 10th and final job rejection (and, in the process, lose – at least temporarily – what I had considered to be my professional community), and became unemployed (and broke). All this in just one week! In the months before that I had worked nonstop writing said PhD and job applications, my dad had died suddenly, and had a huge, month-long fight with my PhD advisor after he’d tried to take away my funding.

    I fell into a Deep, Deep depression for months. Life Royally Sucked, and I felt hopeless and, at times, suicidal. I was crying every day (I rarely cry). My Team Me was virtually non-existent. I’ve always tended to have a small group of close friends and a wider network of social friends / friendly acquaintances. But I’d been working so much the previous year that I’d had little time to socialize, and most of that was spent with the partner and/or the best friend – also, the wider network I did have all left town after the semester was over. I knew I was exhausted and needed a break, and really wanted/needed to get away, but I was broke, and needed to continue working nonstop to rewrite chapters and apply for more jobs (which only produced more rejections..). I knew I should see a therapist, but I was broke, and sliding-scale therapy options are rare to nonexistent where I was living.

    What finally worked for me was admitting that, yes, I really did need to take a break and step away from my work for a while, even if I thought I couldn’t afford it, and needed to get the heck out of the town where I was living. Thankfully I was able to get back to my hometown and lay low with my sister while resting and recuperating. For me that meant a lot of time spent out in the woods and the mountains, reconnecting with the world around me. It took a while, but I was finally able to recoup enough energy to start working again (and more productively than before). Finally, really just in the last couple weeks, I’ve started feeling good again, maybe even happy.

    Sweet Machine’s advice here is excellent (and, btw, CONGRATS Sweet Machine!! ::PhD fistbump::). Take care of yourself, go easy on yourself, and indulge yourself. Get outside. Do something active. Eat good food. Watch a good movie. Read a good book. Take time off, even if you think you can’t afford to, find a way. Most of all, know you’re not alone, and know that this, too, will pass and life will get better again. Take care and all the best to you.

    1. For what it’s worth, this complete stranger is very happy that you’re getting better.

  32. I have problems justifying the time for a walk/workout/bubble bath so whenever I start getting utterly exhausted and burnt out I look around at wherever I am and ask myself “Is there anything I can do in the next 5 minutes that will make a visual improvement?” Usually this means just picking something up and putting it away, but because I am a very visual person it really helps. I can look at that now-clean spot and say “I did that. I am in control of that area of space and I have made it better.” That makes me feel more confident, stronger, like despite all the horribleness I still have the power to make things better. And then I usually end up cleaning another spot and another until there is an area of clean. This is how my dishes get done some weeks, start with the pots, then it just cascades and at the end I have a clean sink, clean dishes, and an “I am awesome and capable and adult and I can handle anything that comes at me” feeling.

    LW, find out what gives you that “I am awesomesauce and can handle everything” feeling and then let yourself do whatever that is. Give yourself permission to do it (that’s the hardest bit) and then go do it, even if it is only for 5 minutes. Maybe it’s finally tackling the nasty coffee pot in the back room with the black gunk on the lid. Maybe it’s changing the music inside the gas station so that every third song is bouncy Swedish electropop. Maybe it’s going for a walk during your breaks. Maybe it’s getting a pair of super sparkly everyday-wear shoes or a poster of your favorite painting to put above your study area. Whatever it is it should be something that gives you a little thrill, a little feeling of happiness every time you see or do it. Those moments of positivity can cancel out hours of negativity and give you small bright lights to help illuminate the tunnel until the end of it appears.

    1. I second this suggestion! Sometimes, cleaning the house gets you moving, which helps you feel better, and it’s something that got done, which means giving yourself a gold star (seriously. Get yourself a package of gold stars at Staples. That shit works.) Also, play some happy music while you do it! Disney is great, because you get to be a princess, but also German/Swedish rap music (don’t knock it till you’ve tried it, this stuff is insane and awesome): Peter Fox, Seeed, Movits. Anything that fills you with happy (or utter ridiculousness).

  33. Hey LW, big jedi hugs to you. I am sorry that you are having a horrible stressful time and that your brain ins being chewed by the anxiety squirrel.
    What has helped me in the past – and still does – was to start enfocing “frivolity time:” anything from a few hours to a whole day where I made myself do things completely unrelated to work/lie goals, but that would be indulgent/make me happy.

    At first it was absolutely horrible, and I would stress out and panic and hate myself for taking any time out of my life that I could be otherwise giving to being productive. Eventually though, I grew to recognise the label on that time and to enjoy it for what it was; I would dash down to a museum, go to the best cupcake place in town, or just lie down with insence burning and a film on. Then, the first thing I would do when the time finished would be to make a practical, manageable to do list for the next few days, so that I could look calmly at it, rather than overloading.

    I agree with the captain about reaching out to friends and Team You, who are the best people in the world to have on your side, whoever they may be. I know how hard it is to see friends on a tight schedule, but them coming to you is a great idea, and it is infinitely better to have a little time together being wonderful than no time because you couldn’t spend “long enough.”

    Lots of love and support,

    [Exeunt, pursued by a bear]

  34. Hmm, I left a comment on this earlier today, but WordPress gave me crap about logging in and I’m not sure if it went through, or perhaps hit a spam filter or something? I’ll rewrite it if needs be, but…

    In the meantime, wow. Reading the replies to this thread fills my heart to overflowing, in good and bad ways. Bad, because it tears me up inside to know how many people are hurting, just like LW, just like me. And good, to know that in spite of all that pain, we are wonderful people who get through it, and who are ready, willing and able to share our love and help each other. That in spite of all the pain, we don’t become mean, ugly, uncaring people; instead, we are able to use the pain to help us understand and relate to others, and as an incentive to help them. (I know I do, cuz if I imagine anyone feeling as bad as I do in the Darkest Hours, I KNOW I would do just about anything to help them NOT feel that way.)

    1. I keep deleting your comment, even though it is well-meant and very kind. “You should or shouldn’t eat ______” talk is not allowed here and is a derail, and I don’t want to have to moderate the subsequent discussion.

      1. I’m so sorry about that!! It definitely wasn’t my intent, but I totally understand that there are things that are and aren’t taboo in any location, and as it is your blog, it’s entirely your choice what you are comfortable dealing with. (Especially as I know that you moderate the comments, something I really appreciate.) I had read over the site policies but I must have overlooked the one about diet somehow. XD I do apologise. And I apologise for posting the comment more than once and forcing you to keep on deleting it. WordPress gave me some weird login messup when I originally posted it, and then it didn’t even show up, not even as “awaiting moderation”, so I initially thought the ether had eaten it.

  35. One thing that is helping me lately is making some Ground Rules. You may already be taking care of yourself better than me, but I have not been good about consistency. So I made some Rules.
    1. Breakfast will be eaten.
    2. Pills will be taken.
    3. Going to bed will be happening at or before 10 pm.

    That’s as far as I’ve managed to build up yet. I keep thinking I can skip or mess with these rules and still perform — “oh, I’ll eat something at work” or “oh, I can stay up late and just deal with it tomorrow” — but I can’t. You know what works for you, whatever makes you better able to deal with life, and maybe just recognizing that it is important and that other things have to make way for what you need?

    1. “Oh, I don’t have to take my pills if I don’t think about being sick.”

      Speaking of which, going to go take my pills.

      1. I put my day’s pills in a shiny pretty purple pill box. Because that way instead of going ‘ugh, medicine bottles blah blah blah’ my brain goes ‘Shiny! Purple!’ and while it’s distracted I take the pills.

        Never underestimate the power of small joys.

        1. This. I bought one of those pill boxes with a place for each day. And I found, I would literally have this pill box sitting next to the medicine bottles, but for some reason I take them every day when they’re in the box, and I didn’t before. I thought it was going to be stupid and unnecessary but it worked for me.

        2. I decorated my asthma inhaler/meter pouch by writing INHALER in pretty pink glitter and then added a big glittery pink heart next to it. It seems silly that something like that could make a difference, but it’s worked–every time I take it in or out of my purse, I’m reminded that this is an awesome loving caring thing I am doing for myself instead of thinking how much asthma sucks. Of course I do still think asthma sucks, on account of how it does actually suck. But two less reminders of that a day is way more helpful than two more, I think.

        3. Oh! Your statement “never underestimate the power of small joys” reminded me of two of mine, which I’ll mention here in case anyone else might be inspired by them: I really like bright colors, and stripy things–so I have some stripy underwear and some bright-colored underwear, and some stripy socks and some REALLY BRIGHT NEON-COLORED SOCKS* in three colors. On the days I wear any of these, I get a moment of pleasure when I choose them, when I put them on, and any time later in the day that I think of them. Self-care can happen in tiny ways.

          * I bought the neon-colored socks specifically for wearing through airport security lines. When I take off my shoes and see my bright orange (or green or pink) feet, my mood lifts a little, and I hope the socks amuse some of the other people nearby.

          1. Bright shiny socks are awesome! Most of mine are stripy or spotty. Looking at the rest of my clothes you would not expect this because I like blacks, dark blues, greys and greens and don’t generally do crazy patterns.


          2. My family calls this “Calvin’s Rocket-Ship Underpants.” Calvin [of “and Hobbes”] was disappointed that nobody asked him about his lucky rocket-ship underpants, but that’s not the point of the underpants!

            *I* know that I am wearing my awesome sky-blue-polka-dot underpants with the lace around the waist, and even if nobody else knows, *I* can smile a secret smile halfway through the day because I have SECRETLY AWESOME UNDERPANTS.

            It really does help a little, even on the very worst days when I am convinced that everyone is completely fed up with me and my depression, and they are right to be fed up with me…. but my underpants are bright blue with lace, and tomorrow may be better, and perhaps tomorrow there will be sparkles.

  36. I’m going to second all of the advice you’ve gotten here, and add a few more things:

    1) A good stuff journal. Write down, everyday, at least three good things that you saw/did/had that day. It could be very small and insignificant–but something you like/enjoyed.

    2) Take care of yourself. Eat regularly. Sleep.

    3) Ask for help–your friends care about you and want to help. I can only speak for me, but 45 minutes isn’t that far for me to drive and I’ll do it in a heartbeat if someone needs me.

    4) I second the suggestions that maybe you drop a class and a few hours at your job.

    5) I am very familiar with the “Think of people with REAAAAL problems” scolding (unfortunately, I’ve heard that shaming bullshit from people in my life, which means they soon aren’t a big part of my life anymore). It’s not helpful. Your problems are real and your feelings are valid. Repeat that to yourself.

    1. The ‘3 Good Things’ is a pretty powerful help. And they can be /tiny/ things, like you had a really nice moment that morning with your piece of toast and the sunlight through the kitchen window.

      1. The Three Good Things exercise is useful in another way, too: The spouse began doing it on the recommendation of his therapist, and nine months or so later, when his feeling that he needed to change careers began to be stronger and more insistent, he went back to that journal and found the clues to his new career direction there. (“Hm. The pattern here is the kid, the cat, a new book, and things related to teaching.”)

  37. I have a tendency to tackle Problems with the question “What can I do about this right now?” and I think it’s a fairly practical attitude. I’ve taken it along with me into my periodical bouts of depression and anxiety, and while it’s different, it might be applicable.

    What are some things you can change that will make your life easier? What are some places where you can cut corners, make less work and less stress for yourself? Can you reevaluate the importance of having such-and-such a specific timeline for important things in your life?

    Examples from my life:

    Paper plates and convenience food. I recently got into a slump and cooking and doing dishes were not getting done. Above items purchased allowed me to get a little slack for catching up on cleaning and taking better care of myself (i.e. eating enough food)

    Classes vs. anxiety. For me, I decided to cut classes out of my life altogether, because I seem to have insurmountable issues with them. For you, consider your schedule. Does it absolutely have to be so full? Is there any way you could take one of your classes in the next semester? Would that make things easier? What else can you change about your load of obligations? Spacing big things out so they are manageable is NOT cheating, it’s NOT slacking and it’s certainly NOT a sign of inability or laziness. It’s realism, it’s taking your abilities into account and making things possible in your life.

    As for Jerkbrain, I have found that a good thing to do when I get overwhelmed telling myself off is find something to do that’s simple, not too emotionally or intellectually demanding, not really important that you get it done, but engaging enough that you have to pay attention and productive enough that you don’t feel useless. I like to watch Battlestar Galactica and work on embroidery or knitting or something. That fills up my brain and hands quite nicely, and I have something to show for it, but it’s not IMPORTANT so it doesn’t stress me out.

  38. I could have written your letter with altered specific circumstances. I don’t have any good tips to add, but I’m really glad you wrote in because I needed to read the help. I’m trying to do all the healthy things and feeling bad at that too and the financial hits just keep coming and and and…

  39. LW, do you read Hyperbole and a Half? Browsing through the archives at random is one of my “soothe and distract” activities, but her most recent post, Adventures in Depression, has a spot-on depiction of the “other people have it way worse” Jerkbrain that really resonated with me. And because Allie draws her Jerkbrain as herself, I now picture my own Jerkbrain as a cartoonish figure sheathed in hot pink, with a yellow shark-fin-looking-projection coming out of the back of her head. Literally. As in, when it starts up, I visualize all the feelings as words in a speech bubble coming from this ridiculous drawing, and it gives me some distance.

    (And if that doesn’t help, try her post about the Alot. The Alot makes everything feel a little less awful.)

    My other soothe-and-distract is Eddie Izzard. I use Dress to Kill like an antidepressant. (There was actually a while there where we budgeted $20/month for used Eddie Izzard DVDs, on the principle that it was cheaper than adding a new prescription.) Maybe Eddie leaves you cold but Wanda Sykes cracks you up. Maybe you hate stand-up comedy but Fawlty Towers makes you grin. I like stand-up because when I’m feeling like taking more than 10 minutes downtime would be an unconscionable sin, that’s still enough time to watch one particular bit. (If you’re a Wanda Sykes fan, try searching YouTube for “racist dolphin”, “respecting the President”, or “detachable pussy”. All short, all brilliant.)

    1. Nowai!!! I was just about to suggest that post. Allie’s dog posts combine a very healing mix of animal cute, hilarity and pathos as well, IMO

    2. I have made it through a lot of rough moments watching Eddie, particularly the documentary about his run around the UK for Sport Relief: 43 marathons in 51 days, after only 5 weeks of training. (And then I watch “Live From Wembley” and covet the coat like WHOA.)

  40. I’m currently going through a period of overwhelming stress like the LW and some commenters here, so I just wanted to say, jedi hugs all around.

    I’m working many many hours, and like the LW, can’t afford to take off and work less right now because of reasons, and so one thing I wanted to suggest (this echoes something I read earlier in the comments) is that 5-10 minute break. But I also have the jerkbrain listing all the More Productive Things I Could Do With That Time, so I actually set the stopwatch on my phone. So when my jerkbrain rises, I can tell it, Shut up, I have 3 more minutes of Not Worrying About That, or somesuch. It allows me to more fully relax, because I will have a reminder when I have to get back to everything so I don’t also worry about getting distracted and not accomplishing something. And I’ll nth the comment that when I take breaks and time off to rest and sleep and refresh, I’m actually more productive with my time when I’m working, rather than when I’m trying to work all the time.

    One final suggestion I’d make is that I’ve also used social media to ask for help through the day occasionally. Not by publicly whining or anything like that, but sometimes I’ll say, “What would happen if I invited all my friends to post pictures of kittens on my facebook page today?” And then the kitten posting army ensues, giving me things to small, easy things to smile about periodically throughout my day. It’s not something I do often, only once in a while when it’s a really bad day.

  41. Big. Jedi. Hugs. To you, LW. And Interwebs forever for recognizing the need for a little TLC. Thank you so much for your courage in speaking up about what is going on!

    I think it was in “What About Bob” that Richard Dreyfuss tells Bill Murray… “Baby Steps!” When the brain cooties are running amok like Gremlins in a hardware store, finding the motivation to do or to enjoy anything can seem like “ZOMG! That’s one more thing I *must* do”.

    Be willing to start small. And I really mean, miniscule. What tiny, itty-bitty thing makes you smile or gives you pleasure? Even the teeniest-tiniest bit? There are some awesome suggestions here in the replies for some things to try and you know what? Some of these things can be done in a minute or less. A minute out of the day. Be willing to make that choice and seize that minute and do it every day.

    When you are ready and willing, try expanding that to two minutes… Then five… Then ten. Or whatever time block you are willing to give it.

    Yes, it may be hard in the beginning, LW. But, I think someone either up thread (or in another) mentioned that when a body has been running full out on adrenaline for an extended period of time, it’s hard to stop and it’s hard to restart.

    But the road back to balance all goes back to being willing and making a choice. And LW, you are already there, demonstrated by the fact you’ve written a letter reaching out and asking for help. Give yourself a huge hug for this!

    As for this “baby steps” thing, how do I know this? I am *just* on the other side of my own brain cooties, hardware-destroyed-by-gremlins meltdown and explosion of epic proportions at the end of last year. Had a thread-bare Team Me, I was working 60+ hour weeks to try to keep an over-budget, understaffed project afloat. My emotionally abusive partner of seven years started an emotional affair and then moved her and her family into our house. My finances were a complete mess. I had no creative outlets, nor hobbies, nor activities, no nothing that would take me out of my house (or myself) or away from the burden of household and partner responsibilities. And when I left to go to the hospital because I had finally HAD ENOUGH OF THIS CRAP, my partner kicked me out and essentially left me homeless for a couple of months there, using the threat of revoking my health insurance and phone services to “keep me in line”.

    But I mention this because I found a road map through Hell. Suffering is so not a contest (an one that I, personally, don’t want to win!) And If I can find something, anything, to get me through those Dark Nights of the Soul, you are perfectly able, capable (and I hope willing) to find those things, which give you meaning and delight, too.

    LW, you can do this. Start small. Start at the subatomic and quantum levels if you need to. All it takes is willingness and a choice. 🙂

    GO YOU!

  42. As for ‘others have it worse’: so what? Will it help them that you don’t have free time? Will it help them that you are beating yourself up? Will it help them that you feel bad? No, it won’t. And you make people you don’t even know responsible for how you treat yourself. That doesn’t work on so many levels.
    Let them be responsible for their life and yourself responsible for your life. It’s condescending to treat people a certain way because you made your mind up about how bad they ought to feel because you think they have it bad.
    So good news: you can be a good person that is not being condescending towards anyone by taking care of yourself. By acknowledging that other people’s misery is none of your business right now. If you want to help them one day: fine! But first you have to help yourself because right now? All your energy should be dedicated to you or else there won’t be any left at all. Number one priority is being there for yourself. You deserve it.

    1. And seriously — what kind of person would you be if the knowledge that other people have it even worse cheered you up? “My life is feeling toiletesque right now, but woohoo! I heard there was a natural disaster in Asia the other day, I think I’ll go surf the internet for pictures of people suffering!”

      1. Yeah. When people tell you that others have it worse when you talk about your own suffering, they are derailing because they don’t want to deal with your stuff. But maybe you should smile at them and say with a relieved sigh “Thanks, I feel better know.” Their faces should be enough to cheer you up.

        1. “Don’t be such a whiner… there are lots of people who have it way worse than you. Think of the starving people in India!”

          “Thanks for reminding me — isn’t that great? I just have to try to keep that in mind — nothing picks up my spirits quite like the thought of malnourished children!”

  43. Everything the captain said, and the rest of the commentors too.

    Here are some things I like to think about that make me feel a little better when I am in a situation like yours.

    Remember, everything is always changing. Like the Yin Yang symbol (I do Tai Chi sorry) there is a little dot of white in the black to represent that there is always motion, dark changes to light and back to dark again, nothing is permanent. Things will shift back out of darkness.

    “Accept that momentary discomfort is the currency you must pay in order to move forward to untold levels of awesomeness.” -Jen Dziura

    “Everything is in motion. Therefore, if one perseveres, there is a prospect of great success in spite of the existing danger.” – the I Ching

    No idea if you would even have time, but Tai Chi helped me a lot when I was doing full time work/school. It gives you something to occupy your mind with while also giving you a relaxing exercise. It is sometimes known as the Art of Letting Go. It really helps if you can find a good teacher that will explain the philosophy but it taught me to evaluate my emotions when I’m overwhelmed. Accept everything you are given, keep what you can use, let go of the rest. Yoga is great too, and even better if you can try to keep these things in mind and see it not just as a physical exercise.

    You are stressed, that is OK. Like so many said above, pain is relative.

    Evaluate: You Feel Bad that your situation isn’t as bad as other people have it – this means you have compassion, and you should feel good about that. You can use compassion!

    You are really busy and tired – but you are still going and you are doing great things! You have goals that you are actually working towards! You have determination and motivation! You should feel good about this. You can use determination and motivation!

    You realize you should be nicer to yourself – this means you are self aware. That is really good. Feel good about this too. There is a saying in Tai Chi, “Know yourself and know others, and in 100 battles, you will win 100 times.” This starts with self awareness. You can use this. It will teach you to adapt to all situations. And you are already doing that. You are already doing a really good job.

    You feel stressed, anxious, overwhelmed – These feelings CAN be useful. Sometimes it’s your body telling you that Something Important Is Wrong. Sometimes it means danger. Sometimes it just means that you need a nap or a mental break. If you have evaluated your situation, and there’s nothing that needs changing except your mental outlook (which seems to be what your letter is saying), then you thank your body for the warning, and let go of these feelings, they are unnecessary. They can come back when they will be helpful instead.

    After this evaluation, we would do a meditation exercise called Fisherman Casts His Net. Basically, you pretend to throw a net into the ocean (this should be however you imagine this motion would look like – do not look it up on youtube, I was gonna link you but they are all really bad examples), you pull the net back, accept anything that comes with it (these are all your experiences and emotions), you think as you’re pulling back, about separating the positive attributes mentioned above while you are inhaling deeply. Then, cast your net again, exhaling completely and imagine throwing back anything you don’t need. The stress, the worry, the anxiety…it all gets thrown back into the ocean and floats away. You don’t need it.

    This is my mantra when things get rough: Accept all that is given, keep what is needed, throw back the rest. Nothing is wasted.

    I hope you find some relaxation somewhere.

    1. Just wanted to add this is something I’ve put a lot of time and effort into learning how to do and that I know this is all easier said than done. But it is a mental image that helps me and I wanted to pass it on just in case.

  44. LW, I am so, so sorry that life blows right now. All the comments here have been full of great advice, but I just wanted to mention that as someone going through a Rough Patch(TM), your letter was so helpful to me because I’ve remembered that I’m not alone.

    Thank you.

  45. Let me put it this way. If you have a fever of 103 and you’ve thrown up twice in the last hour, you’re sick. And if someone else has a fever of 106 and has thrown up five times, that doesn’t mean you’re fine and should suck it up and soldier on.

    You have a heavy work schedule, a heavy college schedule, an unhappy breakup and you’re isolated. It’s not wimpy to be hurting. Just like it’s not wimpy to go to bed when you have a fever of 103.

    Please take care of yourself.

  46. you and I share a very common condition LW. it is called Jerkbrainitis. I have struggled with Jerkbrain for years, and in very similar situations to yourself, and some entirely different. The process of therapy for me was unlearning Jerkbrain, which can take years of practice. Yes you may not be dying, you may not have it as bad as some, but pain is not a contest. It is an experience, horrible and overwhelming but ultimately, in all its forms. VALID. Our brains will go to great lengths to convince us that we are being wimpy, horrible stupidly bad human beings, and when we listen to them, which we often do, our pain is intensified. Definitely agree with the previous commenter, it’s not wimpy to go to bed when you have a fever, it’s just some of us don’t recognize the fever untill we’re flat on our backs sweating buckets. What helped me, was the understanding was what I was going through at the time was unique to me, and not comparable to others. Yes X might be dying, and that’s awful, but i’m going through this right now and having a shit time too and even though i’m not dying, it’s still awful. This helped me heal a great deal of what was going on. I don’t have much to say other than that and a bucketload of jedi hugs being sent your way.

  47. A lot of what people have suggested has been great…. But a lot of it has been “here are things to add to your life somehow” and that can be super hard.

    When depression starts mucking with my life, I figure out what I can put off. For instance, for me, a clean house is not important. I struggle with cleaning at the best of times. When I am depressed, cleaning doesn’t happen. I can feel guilty or I can realize hey, that is not important right now. You are not at your best and your capacity for doing things — your spoon count — is low. You cannot do as much as before. This is okay! You just do what you can and let it go.

    For instance, you could take a term off school. I don’t know if that is the right thing, but it is a thing. Then you work full time at the job and make money and look at bunny pictures the rest of each day. Or maybe you save and move to the town with your friends and transfer credits to that community college.

    The other really helpful thing I do is identify a day in the future where things will pretty certainly be better. Or if not better, at least different. Then I say, well, I can handle this pile of shit for four months! And my house will not fall apart in four months.

    Sometimes I can only imagine surviving another month of this.

    Sometimes a day.

    But even if I have to sleep for eighteen hours, I can usually make it to another day.

    You are so strong! You have no idea how amazingly strong and capable you are!

    (oh, th gold star thing is great too. Literal stars. I gots them.)

  48. I am the type of person who gets so ridiculously overwhelmed by Life (TM) that I end up panicking and doing nothing. I think taking tiny bites at the bigger problem is the only way to really solve it. And if you are having a hard time identifying the things that will make you happy, maybe it would help to point out the things that are bad and work on cutting them out, kind of like trimming the fat, you know? This is something I’ve sort of figured out recently, and though it’s not a flawless system, it has helped me move on from the things that were keeping me stuck in one place for years and years. I’m not saying you need to up and quit your job or something, but maybe if work is a big problem, take some time to perhaps find a job that won’t stress you out so much. Miss Marilyn Monroe has a quote I really like and it goes something like, “Sometimes things have to fall apart to make way for something better.”

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