When one plan fails, what then?

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    Hi everyone. I stumbled upon this site by accident today, and the articles I’ve read so far have been making me feel lighter than I have in months. I’m feeling a bit lost lately and am looking for some advice, or really just someone to talk to. I want to start bettering myself and put my life on a new track. I have a bit of a long story, so if anyone could bear with me, it would be much appreciated.

    I came out of high school a few years back with a very jaded attitude. I did everything I was supposed to do in high school, or rather, everything I was told would get me into a good college. I took the SAT’s and ACT’s multiple times, did tons of community service, played a few varsity sports, and became an active participant and leader in the Air Force JROTC program offered at my school. I come from a military family, so that was more or less a natural progression. My parents always had high expectations of me growing up. I am the oldest of 3 siblings, and expected to be a role model, as well as a helping hand to my mother when my father deployed. Over the years I developed a “caregiver” role in most of my relationships, to the point where when I finally graduated, I wasn’t weightless or happy beyond belief, I was emotionally exhausted. Being involved in JROTC, most of my close friends were also in the program. The hierarchy and unnecessary drama of the happenings of our daily activities was comparable to the OC. My “best friend” was also in this program, and she was someone that I didn’t exactly care for as a person. She was a bully, she always needed to be right. She would talk behind her friend’s backs, including mine, constantly. She was immature, and more often than not just plain annoying. But we were partners on a Color Guard team and worked very closely with each other in leadership roles, so I tried as hard as I could to maintain the peace as often as possible. And eventually, I became her best friend. Only later did I find out that she had an awful home life. She had neglecting parents with a father who repeatedly cheated on his wife. My friend also had quite the medical history: spinal problems, knee issues, and a condition that would cause her to have seizures and lose the ability to breathe that would usually arise in hot, moist environments, or periods of stress. Her parents would get angry with her for being sick, or being transported to the hospital after having what we would call “attacks.” However, they did nothing to help their daughter, nor did they show any interest in pursuing answers to the cause of her condition. So, I became her caregiver. I would take care of her during these attacks and talk her through them. When they occurred in public, I’d be the 16 year old telling the adults what to do. Our high school nurse eventually stopped calling her parents and would call me down to her office if this happened during school. I genuinely cared about her, but she was sucking the energy out of me at a very young age. At the end of our junior year of high school we were on a bus ride home from our annual National Drill Team Competition with the rest of my unit, and she experienced the worst attack she had ever had at the time. Whenever she had an attack, she would always beg not to go to a hospital through her wheezing, and not speak to you for weeks if you supported and helped carry out that action. Usually, it didn’t come to that, and I was a big reason for that. However, I had a very odd/uneasy feeling at that day which I’d never experienced before, and directed two other kids on the bus to help guide the bus driver to the nearest hospital. It took about 45 minutes to get there, in which time I kept order in a bus full of kids from ages 14-17, and watched a girl I had an incredible, unhealthy bond with, go into cardiac arrest. We arrived at the hospital as I had frantically laid her on the floor and began performing CPR. I learned minutes later that she had been recessutated and was going to be fine, but from that moment on I was haunted but what I had seen, what I had experienced, and I never felt the same.

    Around that same time, another one of my close friends was dealing with intense depression, and had already tried to commit suicide 3 times. My dad was deployed in Pakistan, and I developed an insomnia. I never went to a doctor, nor did I try to talk about my problems with anyone even though I felt like I was on the verge of exploding. It was never who I was; people came to me for advice, and I saw me going to someone else for help as me being weak and whiny, because the problems of others were much more important and significant than my own. So, I bottled everything up. And one day, I eventually evened out. I started sleeping again and feeling a bit more like myself. The one thing that had changed though was that people exhausted me. I stopped caring about people, I stopped caring about offering help. I became cold and numb, and finally cut myself off from any sort of contact with my best friend and most others. I quit JROTC and started taking art classes (something I’d always wanted to do but never had the time), and I thought I’d fill more fulfilled that way. But I seemed to have a total lack of feeling whatsoever. Graduation was fast approaching, and I figured cutting ties would be an easier, cleaner way to handle things. I would be attending Boston University in the fall, on an AFROTC scholarship. It was what I had always strived for, but I found myself being totally unenthused and even dreading it slightly. I moved away to Boston, and my freshman year was quite the adjustment. Everything was new and exciting, and just plain different. I was locked into a degree of study that I had no desire to pursue, but the Air Force was paying for it. I dealt with bouts of depression as I’m sure all new college students away from home deal with at some point, but I made quite a few fantastic friends through the ROTC program. Being in ROTC made up for the fact that I hated my classes, and I was content enough to keep going on the path I had chosen.

    It wasn’t until my sophomore year that things really started heading downhill. 3 people I was very close to passed away: one was my high school best friend I cared for, one a relative to suicide, the other my childhood mentor to natural causes. I found myself dealing with an unmanageable amount of depression about a month after everything transpired. I lost the motivation to do much of anything. I couldn’t get myself to class, or even out of bed to eat. I developed unhealthy habits and the insomnia I had experienced in high school made its way back into my life. I started taking sleeping pills and drinking alcohol just to go to sleep at night, but would just wake up nauseous and even more tired than the night before. I wandered in and out of frat parties every weekend in hopes of meeting a guy and feeling some sort of…feeling, but I only felt worse afterwards. I began experiencing anxiety attacks if I was in one place for too long or surrounded by too many people, and would need to smoke multiple cigarettes a day to feel somewhat relaxed. I felt tight and on edge constantly, but couldn’t really feel happy, sad, or angry. It was if I just had a total lack of feeling. The semester passed by in a total haze, and most of it I don’t even remember. I received incomplete grades in most of my classes, and thankfully had professors who were very understanding and willing to work with me. My relationship with my family also deteriorated during this time. We barely talked, and when we did, we were having arguments. I tried to explain that I wasn’t feeling well but I didn’t know why, and they would get angry and start yelling about how I take everything that was given to me for granted and that I was ruining my life. They said I was failing, and if I didn’t get over myself and keep going on the path I had decided I’d be a dead beat, and I shouldn’t expect them to help pick up the pieces.

    Over Christmas break I tried to find a way to fix myself before returning to school. I tried seeing a couple of different counselors, which didn’t help. I tried turning to different pastors and priests so I could obtain some sort of faith in a higher power but I only felt frustrated. I tried mending my relationship with my parents, which fortunately got better, but I personally felt now better. I spent my days trying not to worry about the amount of school work that had piled up but whenever I tried to work on some of it I would exhibit symptoms of a panic attack, as would focusing on any one thing for too long. I convinced myself that I needed a break from life in general, so I spent Christmas cutting myself away from my school life. I didn’t talk to any of my friends and just tried to forget everything. Obviously I had to go back at some point, and surprisingly, I felt a lot better when I did. That feeling didn’t last though. I gradually started to feel horrible again, and I just filled up with negativity and self loathing. On my 20th birthday I wanted to forget and not feel anything. I wanted everything to be over, so in a typical college fashion I tried to drink my sorrows away. I ended up in the hospital a few hours later, covered in vomit, with a concussion and an aching body. My hospital trip due to intoxication was grounds for disenrollment from the ROTC program. I spent the entire semester not focusing on any of my classes and working with my instructors to try and get a waiver to stay. I was informed in early May that my attempts were futile, and I was no longer allowed in AFROTC. I had lost everything. Since then I have been overcome with guilt and self hatred. My parents call me a liability and a failure, my brother is ashamed of me, and my sister feels like she should be getting a job so she can help me pay for Boston University. She’s 14. I’ve never felt so low, and I don’t know how to get out.

    One good thing that did come out of this year was a relationship. While I was attempting to handle all this I became very close with a friend in ROTC. He was a year older, we were involved in many of the same things, and he always made me laugh. He was the first person I felt able to go to for advice. Somewhere down the line he became my light at the end of the tunnel when I was dealing with all of this depression. He’d pick me up and force me to eat, and just listen to me talk, cry, and whatever else I wanted to do. He was my confidant, and he was the only person that ever made me feel a smidge better, even more alive. Around the time of me being taken to the hospital, we became even closer, and started a relationship after some initial resistance on my part. We became pretty serious pretty fast, and while it was scary, it felt good. We compliment each other so well, and being together intimately was effortless. He’s been an incredible amount of support for me, and has helped me in more than I thought possible. I trust him more than anything, but lately I feel as though my negativity has been damaging our relationship. He’s a very black and white type of guy, and usually turns to logical thinking and rationalizations to get me out of a slump. We’ve just been getting under each other’s skin lately. I’m afraid I’ve become too dependent, and that I’ve started to weigh on him. We’ve been acting differently around each other, and now I’m even reluctant to say if something’s bothering me in fear of hurting him. He cares about me; I just want to learn how to be less of a burden. I love him and I don’t want to put him through anything unnecessary.

    I hate myself; it has been a persistent thought in my head all summer. I want to get the negative thoughts to start going away, but nothing has been effective. I have a steady job to fund the remainder of my education at a state school, but even with moving forward and getting on a different but still good track I can’t bring myself to feel good about myself. I want to heal from my experiences and learn to help others overcome similar things. Any thoughts/tips? Thank you! 🙂

    Buddhist Wife

    Gosh Isabella you are so young to have been through so much.

    I’m wondering if there is a gap between what you want your life to be and what others, such as your parents and family want your life to be? It seems like plans have been laid out for you from a very young age and I wonder how deeply you are really invested in them? Do you want to go to Boston University for example? Do you want to go to University at all? Perhaps it would be worth your while to spend some time thinking about what sort of life you really want.

    I think there comes a point in all of our lives when we become a disappointment to our parents, whether we have done anything to merit or not. Sometimes they want us to have A lifestyle, when really we know that we want B lifestyle. No one can deny that getting drunk and ill is a bad choice that any parent is bound to be unhappy with, but choosing a different life path is not. There is bound to be tension when we choose our own path.

    It is always important to treat ourselves with compassion. You say you want to help others, but this will not be fully possible if you do not learn to be compassionate and forgiving to yourself. You are a human being with all the faults and frailties that come alongside that. It is only natural that you have made mistakes.

    I wish you peace.



    I am shocked at how well put together you are, all things considered! Your dedication to your friends is inspiring, the way you notice and relate to feeling shitty and looking for happiness, the courage it takes to stand up and take charge… my goodness girl, you’re one of the heroes of this world! Yes, I know you hate yourself right now, but that will go away. Don’t despair, because there is always a path to joy.

    Consider pausing on the self loathing for a minute, because you need a hug. This world is tough, as Buddha taught, we are born ignorant of almost everything and have to rely on our parents and teachers to help us find joy. Considering the circumstances of the environments you’ve come from, can’t you see how beautiful you are? You have done so much already to help others, and all the while running on fumes. Its like a blood donor who barely has enough blood to stay alive, sees someone dying, and offers their last pints to save another. You’re a fricken hero!

    Not that you’ve been going about it skillfully, because you haven’t. That is easy enough to fix, and even though it may seem like a dark and terrible road to happiness and inner peace, I’m pretty sure, from reading your story, that relief is coming very soon. You have an abundance of inner strength, and its just that you’ve never been show how to aim. I was much like that as well, except you’re waaay stronger than I am.

    One of my teachers described it like this: When we go on an airplane, the stewardesses give a little safety demonstration. They say “in the case of a loss of cabin pressure, be sure to put on your own mask first, before helping others.” This is not selfish. Its smart. If you start running around trying to help other people without getting oxygen, you’ll pass out very quickly and need help yourself! If you put on your own mask, then you’ll have the resources to help others. Your mistake was only not knowing this, and so as the heroine inside you jumped to the rescue, you ended up passed out on the floor. This is normal, usual and happens to almost everyone.

    This pattern has been following you around for far too long, sister. You need some air! To bring the metaphor back into your context, look at your friend with seizures. You had to grow up fast, and the parents and teachers and nurses that actually had the responsibility just offloaded it to you. Look at how you’ve been trying to please your parents. They, who have the task of helping you find yourself and your joy, poke holes in you, tell you how to be, criticize you… and still you’ve wished to live up to their expectations… following their plans, their directions will only lead you to be like them. Do you really want to be like them? I say drop all of it. All of it. Its time for a new strategy.

    The first thing to do, in my opinion, is grab on to the oxygen mask and start breathing. This is done through self nurturing activities. For instance, going on walks in nature, taking bubble baths with candles, laying on a beach, playing with animals, listening to soft music, and especially meditation can all help the tension inside you unwind, and open up the space. Its what you were looking for in a bottle or in sex with a frat boy… that feeling of warmth and buoyancy inside, which is the fuel for our heartsong. Each of us find different activities nurturing… so look inside and see if there is something you would like to do, alone, just because, and do it.

    Next, consider starting a metta practice. Metta is a pali word for “loving kindness” and is a feeling of warmth and freedom. What a metta practice will do is help reprogram your mind and body to be free from affliction. Consider that critical parents and backstabbing friends have placed inside your sacred garden some weeds. For instance, instead of making a mistake and saying “ah, now I know that was a mistake” the weeds produce thoughts such as “oh my god, I am a failure and can’t do anything right. I don’t deserve happiness.” Rubbish! What metta can help us do is gain a stability of mind, so we can uproot those weeds. So, as a thought arises of “I’m no good” we just yank it out by noticing that a thought like that isn’t very kind to ourselves, and all people deserve kindness. Here is the practice I use: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5M1hP4RfS-c

    Now, over time the self loathing will erode and you’ll be able to live more from the heart. Don’t buy into other people’s expectations of you, because we each have a unique path to joy. For instance, your parents might throw at you some fear, saying you’re a deadbeat kid, but that’s just their fear, their ignorant way of trying to get a mask on you without having their own oxygen. Said differently, much like you fell into icky patterns when you weren’t self nurturing and living from the heart, so have they. Where you drank yourself into a stupor, they criticize themselves into a stupor and then throw punches at you. Even if its misplaced love, or oddly expressed concern, its about them, not you.

    Finally, don’t forget to play. When we were young, we could have a teddy bear and a stick and have hours of contentment. We all miss that. It isn’t something we grow out of, it something we’re conditioned out of. All of the expectations placed on us, all of the knowledge we gain of what a “good life” means, all of the nonsense we imprison our inner child with… the wise ones find that the majority of it is hooey, bullshit. This is a beautiful and vibrant world we are in, and we only get to play for a handful of years. So dance, sing, play, laugh, be goofy and silly and have fun. No one looks back and says “I was too happy in this life”. Perhaps go and make silly faces in the mirror, I bet the kid in you is itching to express herself.

    It will take a little time, so be patient. The light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the boyfriend, its Isabella… and I can see her, your boyfriend can see her, now its just a matter of you seeing her. Namaste, sister, I wish you love and light.

    With warmth,


    Buddhist Wife,

    Thank you so much for your kind words. I have been coming to realize that I can’t help/love others without first loving myself, which is what I’m trying to work on. To answer your question, this gap that you speak of is a concept quite familiar to me. Going to Boston University actually was the one thing that I did want at the time. My parents had their own idea of schools, but said they’d support my attendance there as long as I could pay for it in its entirety (they also refused to cosign loans), hence the scholarship. As far as going the military route, that’s something I’ve been struggling with for a while. It’s very close to my heart since I grew up in the environment, and I’ve always had this inherent desire to give back to the service that gave my family and I so much over the years. I also learned while I was within JROTC and ROTC that I was very good at what I did, and I genuinely cared about leading others and succeeding.

    But, as you said, I always had the thought in my head that it wasn’t what I really wanted. I wasn’t sure what else I did want however, so I accepted that this was the closest I was going to get. This wasn’t a path that was pressured on to me by my parents out loud; they made it clear that I didn’t have to do anything I didn’t want to. That being said, I now wonder if I felt like this was the only thing that would make them proud, so I chose the direction strictly to appease them.

    You’ve got me thinking, and I thank you for that.



    I wish I could come up with a thank you response to you half as beautifully crafted as your advice. To be honest I never really stopped to think about the things I had done, or how it was affecting me. It was just how I functioned, but now I see how harmful I’ve been to myself, considering how hard it’s been for me to start being compassionate toward myself. The analogies you used make a world of sense, and the more I think about it, the more I want to slap myself on the head and go D’OH! Putting others before myself was how I operated, which is why I started becoming exhausted, cold, and bitter because I was giving out all of my oxygen.

    I will most definitely be taking your advice and start focusing on myself. I’m really interested in starting meditation, so thank you so much for sharing! And again, thank you for all of your encouragement. I am on a track towards healing and happiness, and I believe in what you said about it approaching.

    Thank you so much for helping me take a step further down this path; your words mean the world to me.

    Pat Merritt

    I am so moved to share my thoughts with you, if humbly I may. I feel like I’m looking in a mirror. Your story, as Matt said is amazing as it shows your capacity for compassion and putting that compassion into action by helping others. This is something I can relate to as a 58 year old nurse, I have spent a life time helping others. Much the same as you, put in a position of caring and helping very early on by my family. I became the one who found a way to nurture, make things right and overall put any one and every one before my own needs. Then I decided to become a nurse, a life long dream, but didn’t do it until the age of 31 with 2 children. I’ve spent over 25 years caring for people and doing anything I could do to ease suffering, including watching and helping them die. I was always reaching out to help someone and going well out of my way to do anything I could to help.
    I’ve realized a lot about myself and my own suffering recently when my daughter was diagnosed with MS. I have been devastated. So sad and fearful for her and angry that I cannot protect my child from life. A lot of other life challenges happened this year as well, I had a car accident, I fell on ice at work, my employer denied me insurance coverage, I have a workers compensation law suit against them, I have serious health issues related to the fall and 2 close friends move out of state and another passed away from lung cancer. My daughters (grown) live in NYC which is about an hour from me and with my back problems, traveling is difficult. So I felt very alone. I looked around my life and did not see anyone – family & friends, offering support, care or concern. All I heard was – well you know how “they” are. I had spent so many years and so much energy always supporting everyone else – and when I needed the same – no one was there.
    Boy was I (and still am) angry. I never did what I did for pay back – but what the hell – what happened to Karma.
    I felt very betrayed, and like you, mad at myself thinking that I created all this by not balancing my giving. I also must say that as a fellow “people pleaser” I have found that my circle of friends and family seemed to gravitate towards me “because of my ability to help and support”. So everyone around me needed me, yet they were not capable of giving me what I needed. A tough place to be!
    I’ve struggled recently, like you with blaming myself. I try to convince myself to “shut out” these people that can’t be there in the way I want or need them to. When I do that, I don’t feel like me. It is not me to turn away from people.
    I’ve come to think that those of us who are born and breed to be compassionate, helping beings – are unique creatures. Capable of being around pain and coming out the other side, the world needs us. I agree that out of balance – we will drain as you and I both have done. It is difficult for a people pleaser or care give to reinforce or even see boundaries when someone is hurting. We just jump into the water – swim to the victim – not just throw in the life line. We swim in and drag them out, sometimes almost taking ourselves with them.
    So for me, and I don’t know if you will find any wisdom in this – is about learning and more importantly accepting who I am. It is a wonderful gift to be a compassionate human being. Courageous to be able to sit with someone in the midst of their pain. That takes strength.
    My advise to you is to see yourself as the wonderful gift you are. Your compassion is boundless. Balance and caring for yourself is a must. It is true you cannot give what you don’t have and like you, when I was depleted, I was unable to help myself.
    I’ve learned that I cannot change who I am. I am proud of the fact that I have helped so many people without judgment. I don’t have to “change” myself – I just need to establish better boundaries. But the bottom line is that people like us rarely get the return compassion that we provide to others. And when we do so much for so many, we wonder why the same energy does not flow back.
    I am still working with forgiving people who weren’t there for me. I am still working on not over extending myself, and unfortunately now that I’m aging and dealing with my own health issues, the world is teaching me that by way of my own limitations now.
    My point is – it is okay to be who you are – you were born to help – that is honorable – but try giving your self the same gift you have been giving others – Self compassion, self caring and self nurturing. Once you realize how amazing you are – putting yourself first – will come somewhat easier – I pray that for the both of us. I hope that my sharing provided some insight if only in some of the similarities we have shared. I wish you much peace and healing….

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