I started reading your column a couple years ago and it helped me through some issues in my first real relationship, but things have changed beyond what I can process solo. Asking for help is something I have trouble with, but I’m at my wit’s end. Maybe I’m missing something, maybe I just need a jolt to get me moving again, but I could really use a second opinion.
The backstory: a year and a half ago, my life was on track—my courses were going well, I had three straight appearances on the Dean’s list, and (after managing some minor depression while simultaneously working two jobs and taking three upper level summer courses) I found myself in the first serious (actually, first, period) relationship of my life. I was busy, but happy. I had enough credits to graduate, but needed another year to do my student teaching.
A little over a year ago, my life started to unravel. During my student teaching, I worked harder, and more, than I ever had before in my life. Paperwork, planning, creating materials, teaching, grading — they consumed me. I had had to leave my other jobs to make time, and I was living off my savings (paying for rent, utilities, groceries) while working 80+ hours a week for no pay. My marginal social life vanished, my sleep schedule became increasingly disturbed, and my panic attacks, which I had conquered six years earlier, returned in force. Somehow, I kept my long distance relationship intact.
Eventually, it became too much. Sleeping maybe four hours a night, on an even tighter budget because of dental work on a broken tooth, and with my panic attacks coming four or more times a day, I withdrew from the program. I was convinced that if I didn’t quit, the job was going to do permanent damage to my health.
As a result, my GPA was heavily dented (diminishing my chances at grad school), and I was left with an almost unusable degree in history. Cue six months of job searching, of trying desperately to convince employers that I was worth their time, that a history degree was incredibly versatile, that I was readily adaptable to any number of fields. Rejection after rejection piled up. I became depressed, but kept trying. My family applied pressure, disappointed that I hadn’t been strong enough to follow through and become a teacher.
Then, my girlfriend broke up with me, effectively saying that the whole time she’d felt she was working down a “relationship checklist.” She’d basically never really felt all that much for me. She stayed with me because of her own insecurity. We’d been together a year.
Two days later, I had to put my dog to sleep. My best friend was dying of cancer, and I couldn’t watch him suffer anymore. This, combined with the breakup, with the shame of failure, the sense of years wasted—this broke me.
Today, I’m 24 years old. I work in a presumably dead-end job in a grocery store, bachelor’s degree seemingly irrelevant, and live in a tiny studio apartment crammed next to the workshops on the family farm, because it’s the only place I can afford. At work, I am surrounded by people, but there, as in every part of my life, I am alone. Isolated, insignificant, all the potential I used to feel drowned in the bath. My breakup left me with staggering trust issues, a paranoid fear of ever being vulnerable again, and a jealous not-quite-hate of everyone who has real, genuine love in their lives. My depression has seemingly sunk into my bones.
I’ve tried online dating, but conversations peter out, everyone ghosting on me within a message or two, no matter how polite, interested, etc. I am. The last two times I tried to ask someone out in person, a panic attack hit, stopping me from getting the words out. My work schedule doesn’t align with any of my few remaining friends, preventing me from seeing them much more than once every couple of months, and that number is about to get smaller, as my best friend is about to leave to take a lucrative job on the other side of the country. I doubt I’ll get to see her again.
My psychiatrist is changing my meds, so that will help with the depression, but it won’t change any of the underlying issues. I’m trying to be proactive, trying to be more social, but the social anxiety is just getting stronger, and even though I’m happy for my friend, glad she has this amazing opportunity, I can’t shake a sense of betrayal at her leaving. Our relationship has always been completely platonic, totally safe, and she was the one person I had left I could always be totally honest with, and know that she would be the same- honest, that is.
My work leaves little time for my art, which is the one thing that still brings me any lasting happiness. One day working at my craft is generally enough to keep me going for a day or so, but those free days are few and far between. And much as I wish I didn’t, I still want to connect to people, even just one person. Maybe especially one person. It’s so much easier to be myself, to be comfortable with myself, if I know that someone other than me likes me. Even just one other person.
But looking at my life right now, I can’t see why anyone else would want to be part of it.
Anyway, there are a bunch of issues all tangled up in those last few paragraphs, and I would really, really appreciate it if you could offer advice on even one of them.
Please, thank you, and please,
Barely Holding On