Stressed. Lost. Scared.

I’m stressed out. That is the simplest way to sum it up. I wake up and before my feet hit the floor, I’m stressed. Maybe some of it is legitimate, and maybe some of it is me over thinking. I’m an engineer and perfectionist, with anxiety, and a touch of depression. It’s the perfect recipe for overthinking.

I’m stressed about my job. I graduated college in 2010 but I was stuck in retail for three years afterwards. For another three years after that, I’ve been struggling to get into a solid engineering role – taking entry-level positions as they open up because I just can’t advance; either the economy causes budget cuts, or office politics. I feel like I’m struggling to keep up and that I should be making up for lost time. I know – for a fact – that I’m actually doing alright and that things could be a lot worse. But I’m a perfectionist, an overachiever, and a big dreamer. I want to get in to an engineering department and just wow them with something: a design or cost savings or a business plan. I went to school for a reason. I was hired for a reason. Let me do that job. Bring me on board, turn me loose, and let me get shit done.

I’m stressed about my finances. My head is above water. I’m paying my bills. I have a little bar money leftover. All my debt combined is less than $30k. Once again, it could be a lot worse. But all things considered, I have a negative net worth which means that an emergency or accident could completely wipe me out financially.

I’m stressed about my family. I won’t go into the details – the important things to know, though, are that A) I have a small family and B) the dynamics of my relationship with them are changing and not all of it for the better. Hindsight is 20/20 and I’m realizing some details about my childhood that have influenced me as an adult – some of which has not been positive. In addition to that, recent events that have upset the tightly knit bond we had.

The most recent addition though… Whilst discussing plans for my 30th birthday (stressor #4) later this month with girlfriend #2 (yes, I’m polyamorous and dating 2 people – the only aspect of my life that doesn’t stress me out), she mentioned that I should focus on what I want for a celebration of MY birthday, rather than trying to crowdsource ideas. The thing is… I don’t know what I want. I passively mention it at as stressor #5 but to rank them, it should be #1. And not just a “I don’t know what I want to do for my birthday” type issue but a general “I don’t know what to do to have fun.” It’s as if the part of my brain that recognizes feelings of fun and being social and doing fun activities just doesn’t work anymore. Things I used to enjoy now feel like a burden or don’t interest me at all. I see groups on MeetUp or events on Nearify that sound fun but I don’t commit. I can’t commit. I’m frightened of the idea of interacting with others even though I want to. I want to go out and be social and make friends but I’m frightened; scared of being judged or ostracized.

All I want is a group of guys like the fraternity in college. Get together on Sundays to watch football, eat junk food, and roast each other about fantasy teams. Find a usual watering hole for after work on Friday night and get a little rowdy. We’ll rotate hosting summer grill days; bring your own meat and beer. Everyone chip in on traveling for a 3 day weekend golf trip. I see it. I hear about it. And I want to live it. But I don’t know how to get there.

Part of having friends is doing stuff, but I don’t have stuff that I do. Even my old hobbies just don’t seem to interest me anymore. I feel like I have no sense of self. Nothing that defines me. On the rare opportunity that a coworker or stranger asks what it is I do, I don’t know what to tell them. “Just a piece of shit millennial paying bills.” I can’t put my finger on what changed or when it changed. It was so easy in college. I suppose because most people bond over whose party you went to or your major. I look forward to every weekend but I end up doing nothing, except playing homemaker because cleaning is my only means of constructive stress relief. I have passing interests but nothing that (I interpret) to be hobbies or activities worthy of developing meaningful friendships over. Combined with the anxiety, I feel completely hopeless; a loser with nothing to offer or talk about. It’s taking its toll on me and I feel utterly lost because of it.

I don’t know what to do…

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Strange Crossroads

As I venture through coping with anxiety and how to overcome it, I do what any other person does and I turn to Google. There are tons of great sites at my disposal (I personally find SucceedSocially.com to be particularly enlightening and it covers a wide range of topics, and even includes examples) and all of them offer a wealth of knowledge. A common theme, particularly when out and about, is striking up a conversation with a random stranger. Most sites emphasize that (usually) people are open and receptive to someone striking up a conversation with them. A simple, “Hi, my name is… It’s nice to meet you.” will suffice. From succeedsocially.com,

That will break the ice, and they may start talking to you after that. If not, you just traded names, and you essentially have to use another conversation starter to get it going for real. With new people you don’t always have to introduce yourself to start talking to them. You could start the conversation in another way, and after a while it will only feel natural to introduce yourselves to each other – “I’m Kara, by the way”

It’s a low pressure approach and versatile for many situations: at the bar, networking events, at a new job, etc. Reading body language and nonverbal cues is critical, but overall, the average person is receptive. From there, it can merge into small talk (an underrated concept), a comment on the place or situation, current events, etc.

However, and this is speaking strictly from personal experience, there is one area where this is not only a “doomed for failure” approach, it is even blatantly frowned upon and met with open criticism: dating apps. Tinder, Bumble, OKCupid, take your pick. As a polyamorous person, I decided to try the world of modern dating apps. Although they’re open to a wide range of demographics, they cater to millennials so I figured it would be worth a shot. And worst case scenario, even if nothing romantic or physical happens, I could potentially make a new friend and expand my social circle.

To my dismay, though, countless profiles I’ve come across contain a disclaimer along the lines of “Don’t just message me ‘hey, how’s it going?’ Actually have something to say.” I understand the mentality – I really do. It’s way too easy, when someone asks how it’s going, to just answer with “fine” or “I’m good.” It makes sense. Personally, I would be ecstatic if someone messaged me with a “Hi” out of the blue. Everyone has different experiences and I don’t fall into the group of people that knows of luxury of being approached regularly.

But for some people, myself included, sometimes a simple “hello” is the best they can muster up. Maybe it’s anxiety, nervousness, or being shy. At least your honesty spares me the trouble and 99.9% of the time, I move on and swipe left without incident. However, there is a lingering fear in the back of mind: this constant nagging of, “If all these people are this selective on dating apps, does that selectivity translate to the world of face to face interactions? Having no knowledge, background, or prior interaction with these people, if I were to see one out at a bar or somewhere public and desired initiating just friendly, casual conversation, would they rebuke my less-than-desirable greeting of ‘hey, how’s it going?'”

Just something I’ve noticed…