I am writing to you for help. Almost every day, I am overcome with feeling of doom. A dull, gray doom in my belly. And with good reason– I’m 24 years old and I just can’t get the hang of life.
I’ve had severe social anxiety since I was a little girl– this feeling of intense aversion to social interaction has been with me literally since pre-school. I’ve been treated with medications of all sorts for 8 years now. I’ve had 2 regular CBT therapist with whom I had regular meetings, but that ended when I lost my health insurance. Additionally, I have been hospitalized for depressive episodes, and gone to in-patient clinics, as well as a 4-month long “dialectical behavior therapy” program.
But every time I think I might be getting better, it all comes crashing down. I’ve enrolled in and dropped out of 4 different colleges. I couldn’t find a way to fit in or summon the energy to go to class, and I could not life my mood enough to succeed.
Now I have a job that I generally enjoy, at a small business run out of my boss’s home. There could not be a less stressful job, I make awesome money, and I love my boss… but I keep not showing up to work for weeks at a time. This happened once last December (2 weeks absence), then again in March (1.5 weeks absence), and now last week I could not go in either. God knows how I still have the job– I think my boss bad for me, I know she cares about me, plus, as I said, it’s a really small place with no real attendance policy.
But I feel so guilty I’m sick about it. I know this is unacceptable, but I just feel.. doom.
But this time I think it’s the last straw with work. I just could not go to work. I don’t understand it– when I skip work, all I do is wallow and watch game shows, but at the time it feels like that small amount of solitude and peace is worth the trouble of yet another unexplained absence.
I could not blame her for firing me, if she does, but I’m terrified of confrontation. How can I just show up on Monday knowing there’s another “talk” waiting for me? I cry at the slightest negative remark about my behavior, even if I’m guilty of it. I am so timid it’s embarrassing.
I have a boyfriend and we live together and I love him, so that’s good. I have a supportive family. But I just feel like it’s really time for me to come into my own– I’m already 24! Yet I remain paralyzed and ashamed, anxious and unhappy. I can’t give up and quit my job, but I might have to, but I’ll never be able to get another job, especially in the public sphere, even though I have in the past… I’m so embarrassed because I was a top student in high school, I was supposed to have a bright future. But for some reason, I totally crumbled.
I know you will say that I should get back into therapy but what about in the short term? I am on antidepressants, my psychiatrist really listens to me, but they just don’t help– I can’t stop this lethargic, shameful, self-centered lifestyle. Please don’t think ill of me or that I am being whiny and that I need to grow up– I know I do. I just can’t quell this behavior; I’m not even sure I know what’s going on.
Please help me. Your words would mean so much. Thanks for reading.
A. I would characterize the way you describe yourself and your situation as harsh and hypercritical. It is unlikely that you would think this harshly of a friend or a family member in a similar predicament. You most likely would have more sympathy for others than you have for yourself. I have sympathy for the fact that you are truly suffering; I would suggest adopting this personal attitude towards yourself.
It is important to understand that having a mental health disorder is not your fault. It does not make you “self-centered” or “whiny.” You also should not feel “shameful.” Just like people do not choose to have cancer, people do not choose to have a mental illness. You are clearly not choosing your way of life. You are desperately trying to improve your life but are having difficulty. If you could help yourself out of this distressful situation, you would.
It also seems as though you are comparing yourself to other individuals your age and concluding that you are in essence a failure, “a 24-year-old deadbeat” to use your words. This is an unfair comparison. As you mentioned, you have been struggling with a mental health disorder since you were a child. You are comparing yourself to people who likely do not have depression or anxiety. Everyone’s situation is unique to their specific life circumstances. No two people have the same set of life circumstances, therefore a comparison of this nature will always be inaccurate.
You are having difficulty identifying the problem and knowing how to treat it. You correctly speculated that I would suggest returning to therapy. You have tried counseling on several occasions without success but that doesn’t mean you should give up trying. Finding the right therapist could make a major, positive difference in your life. The alternative is to do nothing and to continue suffering. Those would not be wise choices. Knowing you have a mental illness and deciding not to treat it is akin to learning of a cancer diagnosis and refusing chemotherapy.
What can you do in the short term? Ask for referrals and recommendations from friends and family. Ask your psychiatrist to recommend highly qualified therapists that have a track record of successfully treating depression and anxiety disorders. Another idea is to call at least 5 to 10 therapists and speak to them about your problem. Ask them specifically how they would help you and in addition ask if they have treated others in similar situations and to describe the outcomes of those cases. Make an appointment with the therapist who you feel the most comfortable with over the phone.
You should also surround yourself with supportive individuals. Fortunately you have supportive friends and family. Do not hesitate to utilize their support during this difficult time. Spend as much time with them as possible.
As for your job, you may want to speak to your boss about this situation. It seems as if she is an understanding individual. She may sympathize with your situation and suggest a short leave of absence. Your honesty with her may help to save your job. A leave of absence would afford you time to focus on your treatment. You may also be eligible for family medical leave. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that allows employees to take a leave of absence for up to 12 weeks (usually unpaid) to care for an ill loved one or to “take care of one’s own serious health condition.” You could read more details about FMLA here.
I hope this answer is helpful. Please consider writing back and letting me know how you are doing. I hope to hear back from you in the future. I wish you well.
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 8 Jul 2010
Randle, K. (2010). Feeling Like a 24-year-old Deadbeat. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 7, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/07/08/feeling-like-a-24-year-old-deadbeat/