A reader asked:
I’m going through a breakup and am dealing with pretty crippling anxiety and depression despite the fact that my ex and I didn’t end on bad terms. I am a very socially awkward normally and my ADHD sometimes causes me to act impulsively.I have three questions:
- How/when/who is it appropriate for me to discuss my problems with (Like when people ask how I’m doing I normally lie but I think that may not be good for me.)
- How long should I wait before spending time with my ex, seeing him is like tearing off a band-aid and
- What is a good way for me to cope with my loneliness when my social anxiety prevents me from being able to be around most people?
A few thoughts:
First and foremost, there is no one solution to this problem. You’re going to have to slowly find ways of making your life better. You’ll probably feel better if you think of it that way.
I get the sense that you might be thinking of the problem as “How do I get over my ex, stop being so impulsive, not be depressed, not be anxious, and not be so isolated, so that everything will be ok?” That’s a really overwhelming problem, but it’s not actually the problem you have to solve. The problem you have to solve is “What things can I do to start making my life better?”
And there are a lot of things that might be worth trying, and other things worth avoiding. I’ll start with the things I think you should avoid:
Don’t rely on your ex for emotional support:
- It’s not good for either of you
- Part of what being broken up means is that you need to separate emotionally and regain your own space
- Relying on your ex for emotional support makes it damn near impossible to do this
- Especially if you don’t have much else in the way of support
- It is not your ex’s responsibility to make your life ok post-breakup
- It’s probably not a good idea to spend time with your ex until you’re past the point of the breakup feeling like an excruciating loss when you see them
Respect other people’s boundaries:
- Someone asking you how you are isn’t necessarily an invitation to share
- “How are you” is usually a fairly meaningless socially greeting.
- Sometimes people ask because they are concerned and really want to know. These are usually people you are already close to, or people you’re related to.
- If you’re not sure whether they really want to know or if it’s just social noise, you can say “It’s kind of hard right now” or something similar, and see if they ask follow up questions
- If they ask follow up questions, it’s usually ok to tell them what’s going on
- But keep in mind that it’s ok for people to decide they don’t want to be your support system
- And it’s important to respect that
- Meetup.com can bee a good way to meet new people in an unthreatening way
- It’s easier to talk to new people when you know that you share an interest and are gathering to talk about it or do something
- It’s also often ok to go and listen to other people talk
- And it’s ok to leave if you need to
Interacting with people on the internet
- A lot of people who can’t interact easily in person get a lot of social interactions from Tumblr
- This counts as social interaction. Don’t devalue it
- It also might help to seek out some other type of forum, like a message board about your interest/fandom/whatever
- Email lists can be good too, especially if they’re the kind that don’t have archives that can be googled
- Even with people you know, it might be easier to interact on chat or Facebook or some other internet based way
- If you have a faith tradition, it might help you to go to church/temple/synagogue/mosque/place of worship.
- If you have a bad experience with the place of worship you grew up with, you might be able to find one that works better for you
- Most communities have a number of places of worship. Some of them probably have nice people
- Unitarian Universalist churches work for some people who don’t feel comfortable in the organized forms of the religion they grew up with, but don’t want to reject it either
- Going to a place of worship can be a way to meet people
- It can also be a way to be around people without having to interact too much directly
- For some people, being near people without having much conversation can be a way to feel less lonely without anxiety-inducing pressure
- There also might be things you can volunteer to help with that aren’t too socially intense
- There also might be study groups that work for you, because you can talk about the topic or just listen
- Prayer can also help some people. Talking to God can help, even if you can’t talk to people.
- Organized religion is not right for everyone, but it can be really good for some people
Reading fiction or watching TV
- For some people, stories are a good way to cope with loneliness
- Reading or watching stories is sort of like vicarious social interaction
- It can also help you to learn a bit more about people and relationships
- There’s a reason why lonely isolated kids coping with growing up by reading novels is such a pervasive trope
- This isn’t helpful for everyone. Fiction can be really misleading and not everyone can understand it. But for some people, it can be good.
Therapy is helpful for some people
- Some people find it helpful to talk to a therapist
- Sometimes therapists can help people manage social anxiety and depression better
- Or figure out executive functioning strategies
- Or learn appropriate boundaries that make friendship easier
- Therapy is not a good idea for everyone.
- For some people, it isn’t helpful.
- For some people, it’s a matter of finding the right therapist
- For others, it’s actively anti-helpful and damaging.
- For some people, it’s sort of helpful but not worth the costs
- Therapy is something that can help some people to get support that helps them to figure out how to improve their life incrementally
- Only you know whether therapy is a good idea for you (and it’s ok to decide to stop going to therapy if you decide that would be better)
- In any case, therapy isn’t magic and it’s not a cure. There isn’t actually such a thing as “getting help” and that fixing your life. There’s just trying things and seeing what works.
Medication can be helpful for some people
- Anxiety, depression, and ADHD are all conditions that some people find easier to manage with medication
- For some people, medication is useful in the short term even if it’s not good in the long term
- Some people don’t benefit from being on medications regularly, but do benefit from having medication available for occasional use to control anxiety or panic attacks
- Medication is not right for everyone.
- For some people it doesn’t work
- For some people, it works, but has intolerable side effects
- For some people, it works, but it takes a lot of experimentation to find the right medications and doses
- Only you can decide if medication is right for you
- Medication is not a cure or a way to become a different kind of person. It’s a strategy for managing things that works well for some people
- If medication doesn’t work for you, that doesn’t imply that you don’t really have depression/ADHD/anxiety.
- It also doesn’t imply that your condition is mild
- Or that you’re not serious about making your life better
- All it means is that medication is not a good strategy for you