Dear Dr. Archer,
I had been married to my husband for ten years when I divorced him, due to his infidelity. I was 28 years old and had two daughters. When I was 31, I remarried, and had a son the following year. I went to school full time and worked full time.
I was about 35 when gas prices spiked, and we almost lost our home, we did lose most of our cattle, due to a drought and outrageous hay and corn prices. I almost lost everything I had worked for all my life. I think that's when I started going downhill.
I dropped out of school and was laid off of work. Bills piled up and my stress level was through the roof. Even though I have acquired a new job and finances are getting a little better, I cannot deal with any type of stress. Going back to school is out of the question. Just the thought of it makes me want to vomit.
I don't buy anything unless we need it, because I'm so fearful of a repeat situation from a few years ago. The job I have is a very public job, and I have no personal life. I have to go to a neighboring town to buy groceries where people won't recognize me. I don't go outside unless I have to -- I used to be outside all day long.
When I am outside and someone drives by, I hide so they cannot see me. Weird, huh? I don't answer my phone, EVER. I can't start any type of project because I feel horribly overwhelmed by the idea. Cleaning the house is tormenting to me because I feel like it's a waste of time. I like things to be orderly and hate clutter, but my house is cluttered.
I feel like everything is just hopeless! I am not suicidal at all. I don't understand why I feel this way. Please help!
Becoming a recluse after a traumatic experience happens -- this is nothing new. Often this is related to depression or sometimes PTSD. Essentially we realize how fragile our life really is and this can have a variety of effects.
I like this quote from Sir Richard Francis Burton: ‘Cease, Man, to mourn, to weep, to wail; enjoy thy shining hour of the sun; We dance along Death's icy brink, but is the dance less full of fun?’ In other words we all are tested and we all have problems, but we are only here for a short time and we’d better enjoy it while we can.
I am hoping we can put a plan into action and have you slowly work your way back into society so you can enjoy life. Start making tiny changes, and when you've accomplished each without problems, go on to the next step. Also be sure to include your husband in this by showing him this response.
Let's start by getting in the yard. DO NOT HIDE when a car drives by. It's okay if you ignore it, but stay visible. Work toward waving to the car as it drives by. Yes; acknowledge the person with a wave. You can to this! When you're able to do this, let's move on to Phase 2, while still exercising the yard visibility.
Answer the phone. You don’t have to say much. You can say, hey this is a bad time, but make yourself answer the phone. Then gradually increase the time you chat before saying this is not a good time. Communication becomes self-reinforcing and as you do this more you will actually start to tolerate it, if not like it.
Do your grocery shopping in your own town. Make yourself! Don't back out now; you've asked me what you can do and I'd like you to help yourself here. Show your son that some things are worth working for, and sometimes it takes effort, but you still try.
It will probably help if he goes with you so you have a support system. Acknowledge people with a smile, and a "hello" if you can manage. Work on this awhile.
Get rid of your clutter. You hate it anyway, so get rid of it. If you can't do it yourself, call in a housecleaning company, but get rid of it. It is causing you added stress, and that's the last thing you need, Bella. Cleaning a house is NOT a waste of time, and you know this.
Keep your family safe and healthy by keeping a hygienic house. It doesn't have to be immaculate, but keep it sanitary! Clutter makes this more difficult.
If you really want to change, Bella, which I think you do since you've written, make tiny changes, one at a time. It might take a while, but it will be well worth it. Every ounce of effort you put into this will pay you dividends later. Staying stuck and miserable, is not what you want. I get the impression you were an outgoing, sociable person years ago, and this is creating great pain for you.
I am hoping you can put a plan into action and slowly work your way back into society so you can enjoy life. Your family would be grateful to have you back, no doubt.
So, we will try to get you back to pre-drought days, but if this doesn't work, I'd like you to see a therapist/psychiatrist. You could be clinically depressed and if so, the money will be well spent. Good luck!