Feeling Broken

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Hi. Here’s the situation: I am an actress. I used to bartend for money on the side. 3 years ago, I hurt my back at work while bartending. But I kept working, cuz I needed the money. Then, 2 years ago, I found a trainer who changed my life. We rehabbed my back, and I was feeling great. I was in killer shape! I was ripped, and very thin. I was virtually pain free for almost a year. I felt like I had finally gotten my life together. Everything seemed to be lining up perfectly. I was super happy, was finally at the weight I wanted to be my whole life. I felt so confident. I had just produced a short film that I also starred in. It was an accomplishment I was super proud of, and that I was confident would garner a lot of attention that my career needed. Literally a week after my film was completed, I hurt my back again because of bartending.

I left work at that time, and have not been back since. It’s been eleven months. I really wasn’t sure if that was the right choice at the time, but I felt like I just had to take care of my back. I’ve been dealing with worker’s comp. since then. I have had the crappiest care for my back with worker’s comp. You almost couldn’t call it care. It’s been a nightmare of waiting, and authorizations denied, and pain. I deal with pain regularly. It’s not like I can’t walk, but I do have pain daily. I have to be very careful about how I do most things. I feel scared to do a lot of regular, every-day activities that I used to do, like washing the dishes, carrying a bag of laundry, or lifting a light bag of groceries out of the trunk. I can’t really sit at a desk and do computer work- instead, I have made myself what my boyfriend calls my “pod” on the sofa- it’s a stack of perfectly placed pillows, so I can sit at an angle and put my laptop on my knees. (it works, but it feels like a hospital bed to me). I can’t prop myself up in bed on my elbows, and I certainly can’t go out dancing with my friends like I used to. And I now have to consider my physical limitations when auditioning for jobs- I can’t go out for a role that requires any sort of struggle, or running, or dancing, or jumping, or really much of anything physical.

Since then, I’ve also discovered that I have several other health issues that I’ve had to take care of. Some really scary things that I’ve never dealt with, and that I never thought I’d be dealing with at my age. Never thought the word cancer would be uttered until I was at least 60. And the hypothyroidism I’ve had for the last 8 years is pretty off right now. Recent tests show that my numbers are all off.

My problem is this- I can’t stop thinking this one thing: That I’ve messed it all up, that I’m a failure, and that I’ve ruined everything.

Everything was perfect. And now it’s not. And I can’t stop being so darned sad about it. I keep trying to make sense out of it all. But it won’t make sense. I ruined it.

I didn’t initially think about getting disability, cuz I thought my acting jobs would pay the bills. And I never wanted to be the “sort of person” who would go on disability, whatever that means. But I had to change my thoughts about that, cuz it’s not going well. Nothing is. I can barely exercise. I weigh 12 more pounds than before. (which, in actor-land, is a lot). I eat too much, and I just feel like a failure on so many levels.

I went to therapy for a while, and it was really beneficial. But then I changed health insurance, and the therapist doesn’t take the new kind. I tried another therapist, but it wasn’t a good match.
I have a really hard time talking about this with anyone. My boyfriend has been super supportive of everything, but literally no one else knows the physical or emotional pain that I’m in. I don’t have many close friends anymore, and I keep my family at a distance- as a protective measure- I don’t want to give them any more fuel to tell me to throw in the acting towel and come back home. So I’m very alone in all of this. And it’s getting worse. I hate it when people ask me how I’m doing, or what’s new. Cuz I mostly just lie, and say that everything is fine. But it’s not. I feel broken.

I just want to know how I can move on. It’s like I can’t seem to forgive myself for ruining it. Even though, logically, I know that it wasn’t my fault that my back got hurt again, I can’t let it go.

I am able to go to auditions and still pursue acting. But I don’t feel like that same confident person anymore. And I feel like I need to feel like her in order to act. I desperately want to feel happy and proud and confident again, and feel good about myself physically. And feel on top of my game, like I used to. And not feel broken. Help? Thanks.

A. One thing I noticed about your letter is that you’re very critical of yourself. You believe that you’re a failure and have ruined your life. This is negative thinking. You also seem to be engaging in a cognitive distortion that clinicians refer to as catastrophizing. Catastrophizing is an irrational thought that leads an individual to believe that his or her situation is worse than it actually is.

Recognize the fact that you may have these cognitive distortions. They are distortions of reality.

You are right about the fact that injuring your back was not your fault. Unfortunately, you realize this logically but you continue to believe it anyway. It’s important that you no longer give this thought any credibility. You can’t allow yourself to believe in things that you know are not true. You must force yourself to believe in only reality.

I recognize that you are stressed about these issues and understandably so but it’s important to keep a healthy and realistic perspective. You’re going through a difficult time but you can get through it. You keep telling yourself you can’t but you can. Life has ups and downs. This is probably not the first time you’ve experienced a difficult life situation and it will not be your last. Realize this is a “rough patch” and not your destiny. You can get through this. The proof is that you’ve done it before.

It also seems as though you’ve constructed a rather arbitrary sense of where you believe you ought to be in life based on (I’m assuming) what you’ve accomplished in the past. You believe that if you’re not doing exactly what you believe you “should” be, then you’re not doing well. In fact, according to your logic, if you’re not where you “should” be or want to be then you’re a complete failure. You’re not being fair to yourself if this is the type of thinking you are engaged in.

When you injured your back the first time you worked with a personal trainer and fully recovered. Why not try this strategy again? Not only did the personal trainer rehabilitate your back but you were also able to lose weight and get in shape. Is it possible for you to return to the same trainer or another one who is highly recommended? It worked for you in the past. It would be wise to try it again.

I would also recommend that you resume therapy. You didn’t have a good experience in the past but you should try again. You may not always need a therapist especially when you’re feeling better. For the time being it would be wise to seek guidance from someone who can help you while you’re trying to resume your life. I wish you well.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 31 Aug 2009

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2009). Feeling Broken. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/08/31/feeling-broken/