Ask Dr. Nerdlove

When Do I Give Up?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: In the last couple of months I’ve felt really tired as if I had lost all my energy and the only thing I want to do is stay under my sheets. It’s not like I want to sleep, in fact I’ve not slept well in weeks. Everytime I go to bed I remember how pathetic and sad is my life and how worthless am I.

I’m 25 and since I left college (one year) I’ve been in so many jobs interviews and all have led to nothing. I know it’s supposed to be hard but every time my hopes of landing a job have been crushed and I’m scared that I’ll never get a job and I’ll never have a life and I’m running out of time and waste my life. I don’t want to be a failure or a burden to my family.

My social life is as nonexistent as my work life. I’ve never had a girlfriend and I never kissed or held hands with a girl in my life. Back in high school almost every girl in my class told me how ugly I was and that I would die alone and so far they have been right. And just thinking that I’ll go through life without experiencing love kills me and makes me cry. I’ve approached many women in the past and always got rejected (sometimes is just a ‘hi’ and they look at me like GTFO) I must conclude I’m hideous or well below a minimum acceptable standard, since 100% of the girls I’ve met didn’t like me. I don’t try anymore because I’m scared of being laughed or ridiculed.

I know you have been through hard times and low points in your life and I guess I want a word of advice on how to keep going. I feel like I’m giving up on everything and I don’t know what to do.

A Tired Lad

DEAR A TIRED LAD: Alright, ATL, you’ve got a layered series of problems, and the overarching issue is that you’re trying to handle these in the wrong order. Cases of yours are like mathematics; you need to solve things in the correct order to get the right result; otherwise you end up with an answer that seems correct but ultimately doesn’t solve anything. Trying to find a relationship, for example, is the wrong answer. You’re not in a position where you can find one or maintain one. Not because you’re worthless or because you’re undeserving but because you won’t be able to. In your current state, you won’t believe that people can find you attractive and you’ll brush off the folks who show interest lying or a mistake. You’ll take people’s responses in the worst possible light, regardless of what they actually said or did. Those women you insist were looking at you like GTFO? I can guarantee  you that this is your brain looking at things and trying to find the worst possible interpretation.

Just as importantly though is that you won’t have the emotional resilience to bounce back from the disappointments and frustrations that we all face in dating.

So let’s talk about orders of operation.

In this case, you need to work from the inside out. So first things first, ATL: the symptoms you’re describing right at the top? That’s depression, man. Not “I’ve got the blues”, but chronic depression. The listlessness, the lack of energy that no amount of sleep seems to fix, the self-critical thoughts as you lay in bed? Those are all incredibly common symptoms of depression. That’s why the first thing you need to do is talk to a therapist and start getting that under control. And as someone who wrestles with depression himself, I’m here to tell you: that s

t ain’t easy. There’s no one-size fits all answer. Some people respond well to self-directed therapies like Mood Gym or cognitive behavioral therapy. Other people respond well to talk therapy, while still others need medication to get things under control. It can take time to find the course of action that’s right for you. It may not be any one thing; you may need more than one option working in conjunction to help pull you out of this morass and feel like you’re back in control again. And that’s fine. There’s no shame in needing help, and being willing to actually take steps to get better is a sign of strength.

And while it’s by no cure by any stretch of the imagination, exercise, yoga and meditation can certainly help give you a greater feeling of control. Being active gets your blood flowing and your heart pumping, which helps your brain produce endorphins. Yoga and meditation help you get your racing thoughts under control and teach you how to get some much-needed quiet and calm at times when it seems like your anxieties are whispering in your ear like Grima Wormtongue. It won’t solve your problems, but they can help give you just a little more strength to hold on and to push through.

Your next step is going to be dealing with fundamental lifestyle issues. Unemployment is awful in general, but for a lot of men, it hits on an existential level; we grow up with the idea that a Real Man Is A Provider and that A Real Man is self-sufficient. This is part of why we get so anxious about issues like living with our parents or being “a burden”; it’s not just the guilt of relying on others, but the fear that this marks us as Not Men. If you aren’t living on your own without help from anyone… well, are you an adult? Are you even a man? But the problem is that, while the stock market may be doing gangbusters and CEOs are pulling down record profits, the economy still blows for everyone who isn’t a multi-millionaire. Jobs are scarce and insecure – especially as industries get “disrupted” and automation continues to eliminate jobs entirely – so everyone lives with the awareness that the job they have today may not even exist tomorrow. So now many men find themselves in the position of feeling like their identity as men is literally out of their control.

This is why your next step is simply getting work. It doesn’t need to be your dream job. It doesn’t need to be the last job you’ll ever have. It just needs to be something that gives you that sense of control back, a combination guide-rail and stepping stone. It’s something to steady yourself long enough to feel like everything isn’t hopeless, that you can then use to move forward to a new and better job. So if you have to join the gig economy briefly… do it. If you need to pick up a job stocking shelves or pouring asphalt, go for it. This is just temporary, something to help you get your feet under you. Save up your cash as best you can so that you can take your next step – whether it’s finding roommates and an apartment, freelancing, developing a side-hustle or taking time to go hit the job market like it’s a piñata and you want that delicious candy inside.

As you build on these, then you’re going to be in a position to give more attention to your social life. But you won’t be looking for a girlfriend; you’re simply going to build your social life, holistically. You’re going to make finding friends and reinforcing the bonds with the friends you already have. Having a strong circle of friends – people who love you, care for you and who support you. I realize it’s not as sexy – as it were – as going out and finding Hotty McHotterson and finally getting that first kiss or losing your virginity… but it’s what you need far more right now. Most men are desperately lonely and don’t have a strong group of friends; as a result, they put all of their emotional burdens on their girlfriends and wives. This taxes their relationships under the best of circumstances, but it also isolates them. If their partner is their sole source of emotional support, socializing and emotional intimacy, then those partners become a single point of failure. If their relationship falls apart, they’re back to being isolated and alone, with nobody to rely on and nobody to turn to. And then you’d be back in the position you’re in now.

So, like I said. Order of operations, man. The more you get your life in order, the happier, the more satisfied and the more confident you’ll be. And that, in turn, will make it easier for you to find a relationship.

Getting these aspects in your life are going to form the stable foundation that you can use to build on. You won’t feel so out of control or at the mercy of the poison your depression is dripping in your ear. You’ll be in a position where you’ll be able to recognize your worth and understand that you are deserving of love. More importantly, however, is that being single or not won’t be what defines you as a person.

I get that it’s hard. I get how impossible it feels right now. But I am here to promise you: it will be ok. You’re stronger than you realize and you can keep going.

You’ll be ok.

I promise.

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