Can't function


Can't function


your avatar   Emi, 16 years old

I guess I'm that kid who has everything they want but they're still unhappy. My parents separated and I lived with just my mom until I was 7 but I don't think that affected me too much. I have two younger sisters and one good friend. Other than that I don't get very close to people. I'm financially stable, I get along well with most people and it's not my place to complain about anything, to be honest.

I've always been a perfectionist. That's something that's always, always been my defining personality trait, which is my biggest flaw. Nothing I do is good enough; I'm never happy with my achievements and it takes me a very long time to recover from failure. I'm a straight-A student, my schedule is normally filled to the brim with things I enjoy doing or need to do (volunteering activities, gym, playing the piano).

Problem is, I haven't been able to (and, even worse, something I haven't admitted yet, haven't WANTED to) do any things except study (and even that feels like I'm putting superhuman effort into it) because I'm tired all the time, even though I sleep more than I should. I'm used to being harsh with myself, but for the past months I've been absolutely horrible - the things I tell myself without being able to control it would be able to cut through stone. This is partly because I feel guilty for being unhappy and sad all the time lately - I have everything I could ask for, but I don't like this world, I don't like myself and I feel like everyone is hurting me even if they don't mean to. One guy bumped into me on the street and I almost started crying, which is absolutely ridiculous. What's even worse, one small portion of my forehead is apparently affected by psoriasis and my doctor says it's all due to stress, so I obviously hate my body for being so weak as well.

Even though I love my mom to death, I've had issues with her until recently, which she blames on my previous therapist who has helped me a lot but whom she hates with a passion for "meddling" with our relationship. My mom is and has admitted to being a very immature person and she frequently passes the role of the parent to me in our relationship. She often says things she doesn't mean and expects me not to take them personally, but I can't not do it no matter how much I try. I can't talk to her about these things anymore. She starts crying every time, we get nowhere and it just drains me.

What really bothers me about this ordeal is my incapability to do things I used to be perfectly capable of doing. I have big plans for the future but all I can do is sleep. I sleep when someone upsets me, I sleep when I can't stand hearing the voice in my head telling me horrible things, I sleep when I think about having to get through another day doing good in school and being pleasant. This morning I just wanted to cry when the alarm rang and I lied to my mom about being sick so I could stay at home and do nothing. After checking everything and finding out I'm physically healthy except for what's happening on my forehead, she attributes these things to a "phase." In a way I hope she's right but at the same time I'm so hurt by the fact that she brushes off everything I feel. I don't even know what to do with myself anymore. I try to do something productive like read a book, but my head just falls and I end up sleeping.

Honestly, my biggest nightmare is someone telling me I'm just lazy or something; that nothing is wrong, that it really is just a phase, because I couldn't bear knowing that I'm just that ridiculous. I just wish people would stop telling me to get over it, or judge me for being unhappy while having a wonderful life, because I don't want this either. I want to go back to how I was four months ago. But somehow I can't and this is driving me mad.

So, could you please tell me what is wrong with me? I just want to be functional again.


    Bob Rich, Ph.D.

Emi my dear, you are not lazy. You are experiencing a very common form of depression. With your considerable intellect, you know you have it good. You know there are wonderful things about you. But in your emotions, you "know" the opposite: That you are hateful, and never good enough; that you just want to escape from life. And sleep is your method of doing that.

If you were a child, I'd do Narrative Therapy with you (look that up). But, although you're only 16, your thought processes are adult. My favorite tool then is to teach a Buddhist way of looking at the world. So, I'll briefly do both. You can email me back, and we can expand both approaches. Here, I'll just give you a feel for them. Through reading and thought, you can apply both unaided (that's what I did when I was young. I started at 21, and it took me 2 years before it had an effect). With us working together, you'll be able to do it a lot quicker.

Narrative Therapy:

We don't know why or how, but some time ago, a monster moved into your mind. It's very good at imitating your inner voice. That voice in your head telling you horrible things is NOT your thought, but something put there by the monster. Once you can distinguish the monster's lies from your own thoughts, you can laugh at the monster (they hate that!) and ignore it.

Every time you believe the monster and act in accordance with its commands, you give it power, and it grows. Every time you identify its lies and defy them, you are starving it and making it weaker. I leave you to devise tools for doing these things, for now.

Buddhist thought:

All suffering is from attachment; from wanting. You have awful thoughts in your head, perhaps about having only gotten an A- instead of an A, or not wanting to practice the piano because you can't get that cadenza as good as Alfred Brendel, or whatever. You want to achieve 110%, and are suffering because it's only 95%. You want the terrible, self-bashing thoughts to go, and the only way you can escape them is by sleeping. Then you want the guilty thoughts about being lazy and no good to go away.

Turn this on its head. "Whatever is, is. I want to get an A. It's all right to want that. I only got an A-. It's OK to get an A- and want an A. This situation is here, so what. Now, where did the tiny bit of imperfection come from? This is a problem, and I'm good at solving problems."

Whatever is, is, and it's all right. So, feeling that things are not all right is all right. Simply accept, and then the situation is still the same, but the suffering stops. And change is the only constant. Everything changes, all the time. If everything is temporary, then whatever you don't like is temporary.

Again, do some reading. Visit my blog and have a look at my free book. My young hero Bill uses a great deal of Buddhist therapy. And I can send you a free book titled "You too can live in contentment."

A few other resources you can look at on Narrative Therapy and the seven measures that protect you from depression and other monsters.

Do write back to me.



This question was answered by Dr. Bob Rich. Dr. Rich has 30+ years of experience as a psychotherapist. Dr. Rich is also a writer and a "mudsmith". Bob is now retired from psychological practice, but still works with people as a counselor.For more information visit:

Refrain from making hasty judgments or you're less inclined to listen.
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Winston Churchill
Our perception is the filter through which we see the world, which in turn dictates our behavior.