Lost and terrified – endless loop – will things ever get better?

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    Hi there,

    Thanks for reading.

    I’m lost and I can’t stop the terror, nor beating myself up about it.

    I’ve had hard time over the years building my self esteem. Despite a very happy and fortunate home life, I struggled extensively with depression as a teenager. When I graduated from college, I had a breakdown and consequently suffered eating problems as a result of my emotional struggle. When I got myself through this, stepped off the destructive path, I finally developed the courage to pursue my dream. At 23, I moved to France and found my life, where I began teaching, working on my language and writing: all passions for me. I stayed there for three years, then pursued my dream to be a writer and moved to England to do my MA in Creative Writing.

    After four and a half years away, I came home and I’ve been lost ever since.

    Having no money left, I moved back to my home country and struggled through a terrible year and a half living at home again with my parents. I wasn’t able to find work (and had few contacts having been away so long) and ended up in a horrible office job, that zapped my motivation, energy and will to keep going. Despite applying for other work, I ended up in this temp job for over a year, until I at last bit the bullet and moved out – still with no stable job – but realised things had to change. Shortly afterwards, I found a new job – again in customer service however it was better than the office and I at last had my own space again.

    Putting myself under enormous pressure to make a ‘decision’ about what I was going to do about my ‘career’ (I wanted to be a novelist, however was finding it very hard to focus given the financial constraints of my situation and so decided to sort out a) a job I liked and b) one that paid more than entry level work to give me financial choice while I wrote), I enrolled myself in journalism school. It was a tough decision (between this and going teaching again), and even though I was unsure, I forced myself in to it, with the rationale that teaching would take up too much time and energy to leave me time to work on other projects.

    Half way through the year and with just a few months left to go, if I’m honest with myself, I feel like I’ve made a mistake.

    Compounded by this, is the feeling that since I came home, all I have done is ‘waste my life’ – a horrible fall from all the dreams that I once held for myself in early adulthood.

    Although I’m aware that I’m growing (and painfully so) through all the terror, the loneliness, the absolute confusion and frustration at a) not achieving what I want to be achieving and b) feeling constrained by lack of money, a clear decision and feeling like I’ve made the wrong ‘choice’; it feels like life just keeps getting worse and worse, and dreams feel further away.

    I’m ashamed of how far I seem to have fallen since my bravery in my early 20′s, and now in my Saturn Return phase, it’s hard to ever see that I’ll ever get out of this terrible rut and build myself a life and career I’m proud of.

    I feel embarrassed by my own indecision. It seems so easy looking back to say what I should (or should not) have done. I’m embarrassed at how long it took me to move out of home and get my life ‘back’ again.

    I can’t help but feel that all the indecision, stalling, combined with a bit of bad luck (although I think that you generally do make your own in life), has set me on a track that I can’t seem to get out of.

    I’m trying so hard to be positive, keep going, accept myself for all these things and moreover to focus on the present, stop reading self help books for the ‘answer’ and try to find that comfort in reality but it’s simply terrifying and days like today, it’s enough to make me feel like I’ve screwed up things forever and I”ll never find myself or my path again.

    I’m ashamed at how long I seem to have taken to reach this point of maturity. As each day unfolds and I realise and become more and more aware of my self-destructive habits (procrastination, indecision, self castigation, lack of focus), life simply seems more and more terrifying – as I realise how far I have to go and what I feel I’ve lost in terms of time to make up for it.

    I can’t help slipping into fantasy, sometimes daily, wishing to turn back time, be different or simply overwhelmed with a sense of disgust and outrage at myself: how could I have let this happen?

    I know it’s up to me to fix things and I am terrified of all the time I feel I’ve lost but it seems like nothing is getting better.

    I’m welcoming the growth – and can cope with staring myself in the face – but how to maintain hope in facing up to myself, my flaws and faults, and the terror of realising what I am?

    I feel so ashamed, alone, desperate and terrified, still.



    I’m sorry, friend, for the despair and shame that overwhelms your body. I know how dark and isolating that feels, and how it can seem like there is no warmth left, no spark to set the inner creative fire ablaze, and sitting with that emptiness is terrifying. Take heart, because there is always a path to joy.

    It is so easy to look back at the child we were and bring our current perspective to him or her. We see how many opportunities we had to be ourselves, to follow our heart, and how we squandered and lost those moments. For what? We were paralyzed with fear, and it choked our creativity… and so we fell into the same mistakes over and over. We begin to realize that the burdens we’re carrying are harming ourselves (and often others, as our fire is not added to the world in a loving, peaceful way).

    This is OK, normal and even necessary to grow. We all have a part of ourselves that we dislike and try to hide from… and the lucky ones realize that when we begin to see it, we can choose to set it down. To settle it. The painfulness of isolation becomes the motivation for our practice, and in practicing a new way, we are able to become stable and loving. The task of course is to find that new way. What are we doing wrong? What do we focus our time on? How do we find our unique inner heartsong and help it blossom? What is our path to joy?

    What I see within your words is a very common cycle between pride and shame, and a heart which is seeking authentic humility (which is the energy that emerges when we settle or transcend the cycle).

    On the shame side, or the valley of the energy cycle, there is the feeling of isolation. We feel unworthy of connection, as though we don’t deserve our dreams, that something is inherently flawed with who we are. We are stuck, alone, broken and hopeless. But something nags at us from this place. The anxiety and solitude is painful, and it pushes us toward finding validation and warmth. We want a little hope that we are good, loving people, and we start looking. This is very natural, normal part of the process, of the way our body works. Like when we put our hand on a hot stove, we feel an immediate need to jerk our hand away. When we are ashamed, we emotionally try to jerk our mind away.

    This mind-jerk pushes us into pride. Sometimes we seek outward for reasons we’re good, such as reading self help books. Sometimes we make wishes such as envisioning what a “perfect me” would look like. Sometimes we look backward in time to our past and say “As queen tinymoon, I declare princess tinymoon to be unworthy, broken and indecent.” As we do these actions, seeking proof that we’re better than that, should be better than that, should be better than this, we are only punching ourselves in the mind. Said differently, shame pushes us to find connection unskillfully, and so our creative fire in the moment creates judgment of self or others’ actions, thoughts, and feelings.

    This is a lose-lose-lose spin cycle as we bounce and bounce. Again, this is normal, natural and helpful in finding our humility. Buddha taught that humans, tinymoon and matt and Buddha and our parents and all the rest are born with a fundamental ignorance. We have some instincts such as suckling, but the aware part of our mind is something that has to be taught, has to learn. It would be one thing if there was good instruction on how to find inner peace and creativity. However each of us is different, and therefore stumble and struggle with finding our unique place in our heart, family, society, and the cosmos.

    This makes failing inevitable. We try and struggle, rise and fall, trip and stumble over and over. Each time, we learn new things. It would be nice and fun if we were just perfect and could immediately build a pair of wings and just fly on our first attempt. Some even do, but most of us try this and that until we finally find a path that inspires our heart to song. Humility arises when we realize that it could not happen any other way. We have to go through struggle in order to find out what we like and dislike. We have to find, confront and become peaceful with our fears. We have to realize, and come to accept that these past experiences are teachers, not failures. That there is something much greater than ourselves helping to direct the flow of our mind and body. Call is God, science, psychology, the dharma, ein sof, or whatever, there is a pattern that we are a part of, subject to its laws and limitations, and part of an experiment of conscious life.

    So we let go and accept our body. Pride… that just doesn’t make sense… why blame ourselves for making ignorant mistakes when ignorance is fundamental? Why feel ashamed for failing when that is the only way our conscious minds learn and explore new and difficult paths? So we let go of the whole cycle and just surrender here and now. When we open humbly to the energy, the truth, that is on the other side of the cycling cloudy ego chunks.

    And we find they are quite impermanent. The cycle is empty of anything but momentum. One side fuels the other. Shame causes craving of connection which causes over compensation and we judge ourselves or others. This is unneeded, not necessary, and can be abandoned.

    Easier said than done! It does require determination and courage, but provides so much relief that it quickly becomes a no brainer. The path that I have found away from the cycles is twofold. The first is we generate loving-kindness in our body. Instead of just being blown around by the jobs and the dreams and the mistakes, we sit and wish ourselves and others to be happy and peaceful. Consider looking on YouTube for “Ajahn Brahm Guided Metta”. Metta is a word which means loving kindness, which is the inner warmth, the inner loving peace that just wants all beings, including ourselves, to find joy.

    The second is we develop concentration so we can step out of painful mental cycles. For instance, it may seem reasonable and usual to feel ashamed of our past mistakes. We look back and see our befuddlement, and KAPOW, shame arises. This is not good or needed. When we have metta, we can look back and ask “what was there? How easy it is to love the little kitten I was, scared and alone. Come to my chest, past version of me, I will care for you and love you.” But, if we don’t have concentration, our mind tries to sort through the last automatically, without grounding the energy of the body and mind into love first. This is like trying to drive home without gas. We settle the past only after we have the warmth in the present to approach our karma skillfully, with mindfulness and patience. The best method I know of for generating concentration is sitting meditation. As we sit and breathe, counting numbers or observing the breath, we get good at letting go of the ripples in the mind without pain or pushing. We just tend to the body here and now, and give our mind space to breathe and be well. Once we’re settled and peaceful, we can look wherever we want! To the past if we feel there is some lesson that would help us here and now, or to some path in the future we’d like to take. But as we wish it, as our mind feels fit to do, not habitually, not automatically. Ajahn Jayasaro has a great counting breath meditation that is on YouTube if you wish to try it out. His instructions are simple and effective and helping a mind develop concentration.

    Please don’t give up, tinymoon. You are part of something much greater than yourself, and are not alone. There are eons worth of wisdom of love coming your way, and regret melts away as we begin to see just how critical, how important every step of our journey has been. All you have left to do is keep jumping, stepping forward with courage, and the moon passes and sun shines. Namaste, my dear and distant sibling.

    With warmth,


    Hi Tinymoon…read your post with empathy….I am at a (kind of) similar place, but at the tender age of 54. I then read Matt’s reply and felt it was excellent. I am at the point he describes where he says “Easier said than done!” However, I have realised within myself there is no real way back once you start to awaken and that awakening is not a joyous event, (for me, anyway!) but rather a “seeing” process and a “feeling” process. I am starting to see and accept many thoughts, some of the past, some of the present, which I had or have never fully felt and confronting them is challenging BUT…Matt says to talk to the little kitten…you as the unknowing child…..and how things possibly could not have been any different. That, it seems to me, is the reality of MY experience. I found relief and comfort in Matt’s reply and wish you every piece of luck, as well as the strength to go on. I now realise, more than ever before, that it is MY internal struggle and I will only be “better” when I come to some sort of peace within myself. This site is excellent, I am using a number of other methods which are helping greatly with my challenges but I am very aware that this will take time, it will not be in anyway instant. But this is now a major life goal……to know myself, to be aware, to accept myself. I may never arrive, but I hope to, at some point, start enjoying the journey. I think, once the hurdle of seeing maybe the lies we have told ourselves to protect ourselves lifts, some kind of joy in our existence will start to shine on us,

    I hope it does for you.


    hi tinymoon, i want to be able to offer you some advice and support as i feel like i understand a bit of what you’re going through. i also moved to the uk in my early 20s and tried to pursue my passion which in the end didn’t work out and I’ve struggled so much with insecurity, indecision, procrastination, every negative emotion and its been so difficult. but all i can say is what’s helped me through is to just keep surviving for now, anything to get you up in the morning (as long as it doesn’t hurt you or others) and finding even one small positive thing in your day to cling onto, and in time you will find something to live for again and many things to be positive about. I say this as ive found myself alone and lost like I never felt before (as if ive been dropped in the middle of the ocean without the ability to swim) but after a period of time of surviving I found a natural rhythm and felt so much better and even happy.

    what i like to tell myself: ‘when it feels like i dont know what to do with my life and i won’t go anywhere or achieve anything just remember small steps, anything to keep going is good and all you can do until something clicks’

    i wish you well and happiness



    There’s not much I can say that would add to Matt’s sage advice but I will offer a personal response. I have struggled my entire life with feeling like that no matter what I do I am never “enough”. I have been, slowly, been in the process of extricating myself from a similar cycle of setting my goals and hopes unrealistically high and then of course being disappointed by the results. I know for me this process of setting the bar so high, the goal so lofty, was to offset an underlying feeling of worthlessness and unworthiness. I thought that if I just worked hard enough that I would become someone that I could respect and be proud of. I felt that without some kind of concrete big accomplishment to my name that I would forever remain someone unworthy of other people’s love, of other people’s esteem. Early life circumstances I think gave me the wrong impression about who I was. My mother was always rushing here and there, never taking the time to be content with where she was – she was always trying to do more and more. I think that she was haunted and being chased by that same feeling of unworthiness as I was. I think she did not feel good about herself and wanted to try and prove to herself and maybe to other people that she was a good person because she didn’t feel much like a good person. So anyway, I think I picked up on that and that became my mode of being and my way of relating to myself. I assumed that I was not good enough and did not, until recently, start to question that assumption.

    You could continue to examine your situation from this place of unworthiness and shame and you may get somewhere but speaking from experience, I am doubtful. What might be way more helpful would to do as Matt suggested and work on cultivating metta for yourself and for others. Get yourself to where you are able to access your heart and look at your situation from that vantage of acceptance and caring and you might find that what you see is entirely different than how you saw it before. Before, where you saw embarrassment and shame, you simply see life – doing what life does. Feeling ashamed is an interpretation of events. Something happens – and somewhere you chose to feel ashamed about it and consider it evidence that something is wrong with you. But with metta the shame will dissolve – maybe not permanently but if you build up enough and consistently you will find a new abode for living. A place far more suited for living a life of worthiness and happiness. You will see things not through a lens of shame but a lens of acceptance and love for yourself. This is the truth about who you are and I hope that you will come to see things in this more workable way.

    With thoughts of peace and refuge for you,

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