Living with social dysfunction.

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Lavabug
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This discussion is meant to be along the lines of https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=703676&page=3 , although the premise is not to seek approval.

I use the label "socially dysfunctional" in a very broad sense here (in an attempt to avoid the derogatory "socially retarded" that gets thrown around, but which I think describes me perfectly), not strictly sociophobes/people with social anxiety like myself, but in general anyone that has any difficulty whatsoever making meaningful/any relationships with individuals or groups of people, big or small, for whatever reason.

For adults or otherwise independent people who feel adequately described by the above paragraph, I would like to hear how you go about your daily life, how your family, co-workers, or friends (if any) treat you about it. Are you happy with the way things are? If not, can you change something and if so, what is stopping you from doing it?

I'll spill the beans: I'm in my mid to late 20's, don't have any friends, made it through college and high school without ever going on a date, and generally have a fairly low opinion of myself. I've only held a few unskilled jobs before my university education (started when I was 22, 26 now). Guess you could say I'm a "nerd" in the social sense, but unfortunately I don't have a "nerd's" grades to show for it (hasn't stopped college mates from coming to me when they want help/an explanation, which I always give and enjoy doing it). There are a number of reasons for my lack of social experience but that's not the point of this thread, as I'm more concerned with the immediate future rather than explaining my past (which generally causes discomfort for me). I am 100% sociophobic, walking into a bar or any casual social situation with people I don't know very well is nearly impossible for me.

When I meet someone new and the conversation progresses beyond the subject at hand into personal matters, I usually end up cutting off the conversation or changing the subject. The reason is simple, I feel pretty embarrassed about my lack of life experiences and from past experiences of trying to open up, I generally don't like the type of looks or comments I get when people find out (if they pry hard enough) about my lack of social activity, lack of sentimental partners, etc. I have been berated regularly for not having a facebook account, for a mild example. Other interactions have just been downright hurtful and humiliating, and have been so many that I've ultimately given up on making friends or approaching potential sentimental partners altogether.

What can I expect out of future casual interactions that I'll inevitably run into in a "real" job, for instance? I'm heading into my 30's and I feel like the past 8 years of my life haven't amounted to anything outside of two academic degrees (1 pre-university and one bachelors), neither of which are going to make me prosper, but at least one of them has given me some (actually a lot of) satisfaction while I was doing it. I'm trying to prolong that feeling by taking my chances at the academic ladder despite knowing well I'm not being the hottest applicant in the grad school app pile (could be my low self-esteem speaking here), but I'm still throwing out over a dozen applications in the next few weeks, while improving standardized test scores and doing non-stop gap-filling of my undergrad curriculum with self-study. Don't really have any plan B here, the employment situation is terrible where I live and I've pretty much exhausted all options that don't involve spending money on a masters (which I don't have) just to be employable, so I've got everything (literally all my savings) riding on this.

I don't really know what I want to get out of this thread, just feeling lonely and lately I haven't been able to drown out the negative voices in my head with my usual escape routes: academics and the usual internet banalities/humor. Haven't seen the shrink in almost two months now (yep I'm on pills, going for almost a year now with clinical depression) and I figured writing something would be a good idea. I have been hitting the weights hard again and it does make me feel better on the outside (posture, less back pain, etc.) but not on the inside. But I'm not as much of a nervous wreck as I was just a few months ago and I feel like I'm at least doing something useful preparing my grad school apps, in lieu of my uneventful job hunt, while studying old and new stuff and trying to get better at what I want to do professionally some day, etc. I have started enjoying music again which I lost interest in for a long time, which is probably a positive thing.
 
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Answers and Replies

  • #2
phinds
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... I don't really know what I want to get out of this thread ...

That's going to make it pretty hard for anyone to help your reach your goal for this thread, since you don't have one.
 
  • #3
jackmell
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That's going to make it pretty hard for anyone to help your reach your goal for this thread, since you don't have one.

Oh we know what he wants to get out of it phinds. It's just painful to talk about and delicate too. Maybe others are less so than me and more able to help. Sorry Lava.
 
  • #4
lisab
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Lava, when you do interact with people, how do you feel afterwards?

(By interact I mean more than a minute of simple small talk.)
 
  • #5
Lavabug
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Tired, exhausted, and glad it's over with for the most part.
 
  • #6
TurtleMeister
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Tired, exhausted, and glad it's over with for the most part.

haha, I know how you feel. It's impossible for an extrovert to understand this. At least you're able to go to school. That's more than I could do. I'm in my mid fifties now and things aren't quite so bad. In fact things are mostly good. But when I was your age - it sucked.
 
  • #7
lisab
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Tired, exhausted, and glad it's over with for the most part.

haha, I know how you feel. It's impossible for an extrovert to understand this. At least you're able to go to school. That's more than I could do. I'm in my mid fifties now and things aren't quite so bad. In fact things are mostly good. But when I was your age - it sucked.

I'm an introvert too, but I think there is a spectrum of social avoidance. One one side are garden-variety introverts like me: we can get along just fine with people when we have to. But it's tiring.

On the other side of the spectrum are people with social anxiety. This can be a horrible, paralyzing affliction. People who can't function because of social anxiety need to seek professional help because life is too short to only live a (less than one) fraction of a full life.
 
  • #8
Lavabug
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TurtleMeister: What has changed between your younger years and your mid-50's? What are the things in your life right now that make it "mostly good"? I am curious.

I am getting professional help, but really mainly for the depression. I've had very few sessions with the new shrink as I can only get about 1 per month (as much as public health can do for me right now). She knows about the social anxiety but hasn't really made any explicit references to it. She did make sure I was more or less realistic in my goals as to what to expect out of therapy, I know I'm not going to walk out of there as a different person. But I would like to know how to be happier with my condition. I used to think I'd be ok with staying single forever, but as I've gotten older I've found that a little hard to swallow. I'm pretty terrified of what people think of me in my situation at my age, which I assume is only going to be perceived even more negatively the older I get, making acceptance by others extremely difficult. I can only put up the "I don't care what other people think" attitude for so long.
 
  • #9
Borg
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I'm pretty terrified of what people think of me in my situation at my age, which I assume is only going to be perceived even more negatively the older I get, making acceptance by others extremely difficult. I can only put up the "I don't care what other people think" attitude for so long.
You have choices other than terrified or indifferent. Keep in mind that we're all human and everyone has their oddities - including the people you're worrying about. Just remember that when you're worried about what others think about you.

What I've found works well is to ask about something that the other person has an interest in (obviously it's tough if you don't genuinely share their interest). For example, I had a coworker that I did not have a good working relationship with. I never felt very comfortable whenever I had to work with him. One day, I saw a picture of a dog on his desk and asked about it. It was weird - he lit up like a kid at Christmas just talking about his dogs for about 15 minutes. After that, we still weren't best buddies but it was a lot easier to work with him.

BTW, I consider myself an extroverted introvert. I'm perfectly happy spending days not interacting with the outside world but I interact with others when it's needed.
 
  • #10
Akaisora
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I have experienced something similar.

I don't have any "solid" or "deep" relationship with anyone, and most of my social interactions and relationships are on a superficial level. I also don't trust anyone and prefer to be alone most of the time. Nevertheless, I do interact with people and I can do well to achieve my goals if the said goals required interacting with people.

I personally don't care; I don't hold social interactions in high regard. With that said, I only care about achieving certain things and being social isn't one of them.
 
  • #11
Preno
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I don't really know what I want to get out of this thread, just feeling lonely and lately I haven't been able to drown out the negative voices in my head with my usual escape routes: academics and the usual internet banalities/humor. Haven't seen the shrink in almost two months now (yep I'm on pills, going for almost a year now with clinical depression) and I figured writing something would be a good idea.
I don't think it's a good idea to try to "drown out the negative voices". You can get pills to try to fix it, but the simple fact is that you are probably not going to have a very fulfilling life unless you figure out how to relate to others in a way that you find rewarding. Given good enough parenting, people generally learn that when growing up, but that doesn't mean you can't make up for this later.
 
  • #12
Evo
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I am getting professional help, but really mainly for the depression. I've had very few sessions with the new shrink as I can only get about 1 per month (as much as public health can do for me right now). She knows about the social anxiety but hasn't really made any explicit references to it. She did make sure I was more or less realistic in my goals as to what to expect out of therapy, I know I'm not going to walk out of there as a different person. But I would like to know how to be happier with my condition. I used to think I'd be ok with staying single forever, but as I've gotten older I've found that a little hard to swallow. I'm pretty terrified of what people think of me in my situation at my age, which I assume is only going to be perceived even more negatively the older I get, making acceptance by others extremely difficult. I can only put up the "I don't care what other people think" attitude for so long.
You're not being given medication for your social anxiety?

You need to see a psychiatrist that can give you "therapy" if you like that, but can also give you medication that can actually relieve your symptoms. If the doctor you are seeing isn't really helping, go to another that cares more. Therapy can't fix problems in your brain. I know so many people on here that are functioning normally now thanks to medication.

Medication is usually trial and error, you may have to try several different meds until you find the one right for you. Don't give up and think that this is something you have to battle alone, the right doctor and right medication will do wonders.
 
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  • #13
Preno
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Therapy can't fix problems in your brain.
And pills can't fix problems in your life.
 
  • #14
Evo
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And pills can't fix problems in your life.
What they described isn't caused by a problem in their life, so the proper medication is needed, they need to be under the care of a competent psychiatrist who is a medical doctor with years spent studying problems with the brain.

I'm not talking about tranquilizers and amphetamines, btw.
 
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  • #15
Preno
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What they described isn't caused by a problem in their life, so the proper medication is needed, they need to be under the care of a competent psychiatrist who is a medical doctor with years spent studying problems with the brain.
Well, he wrote that he's been taking pills for the last year. Surprisingly enough, it turns out that while, as you say, pills may relieve some symptoms, they do not help you relate to people in a satisfying way, nor do they absolve you of feelings of embarrassment and self-consciousness. That's not a "problem with the brain" except in the most literal sense of the word in which every psychological problem is a "problem with the brain".
 
  • #16
Evo
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Well, he wrote that he's been taking pills for the last year. Surprisingly enough, it turns out that while, as you say, pills may relieve some symptoms, they do not help you relate to people in a satisfying way, nor do they absolve you of feelings of embarrassment and self-consciousness. That's not a "problem with the brain" except in the most literal sense of the word in which every human problem is a "problem with the brain".
And a good psychiatrist will also offer therapy if needed to help with the meds. Sounds like he may not be on the right meds. Sometimes all it takes is the right meds and those other feelings disappear.
 
  • #17
Preno
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Sometimes all it takes is the right meds and those other feelings disappear.
I guess that's true, but you could equally well say: sometimes all it takes is the right therapy and those other feelings disappear (for good, rather than for so long as you keep taking meds).
 
  • #18
Evo
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I guess that's true, but you could equally well say: sometimes all it takes is the right therapy and those other feelings disappear (for good, rather than for so long as you keep taking meds).
If the feelings are caused by an external source, yes. If the problem is within the brain, you can force yourself to suffer through it, if it's not so bad you need hospitalization, but why torture yourself? Of course sometimes the side effects of the medications are worse than the symptoms, there is no guarantee, but you won't know unless you try, and you may have to try a numbers of meds before you find the one that works for you.

I suffer from anxiety and panic attacks and I would be in horrible shape if not for the medication I can take when an attack occurs, I only take it as needed, it has no side effects, I just feel normal, no panic. I don't feel drowsy or drugged or anything, I just feel...normal. If a person took this medication that didn't need it, they might feel drowsy.
 
  • #19
Preno
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If the feelings are caused by an external source, yes. If the problem is within the brain, you can force yourself to suffer through it, if it's not so bad you need hospitalization, but why torture yourself?
Well, every psychological problem is "within the brain", that doesn't mean that there's a pill for every psychological problem.

I appreciate that pills can greatly improve your quality of life if you suffer from panic attacks (and that perhaps you personally haven't found therapy helpful?), but I don't think a long-term pattern of not being able to make friends and feeling embarrassed about it is quite the same thing as panic attacks. One is a relational problem of exactly the kind that proper therapy can help you with (through the provision of a safe and reliable therapeutic relationship), the other need not be (dunno what triggers your panic attacks and I don't intend to pry).
 
  • #20
Evo
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Well, every psychological problem is "within the brain", that doesn't mean that there's a pill for every psychological problem.
A psychological problem will be caused by an external situation, either current or a memory. The medications I am referring to aren't for issues with external causes.

I appreciate that pills can greatly improve your quality of life if you suffer from panic attacks (and that perhaps you personally haven't found therapy helpful?), but I don't think a long-term pattern of not being able to make friends and feeling embarrassed about it is quite the same thing as panic attacks. One is a relational problem of exactly the kind that proper therapy can help you with (through the provision of a safe and reliable therapeutic relationship),
Not necessarily, it can be caused by triggers in the brain, they could have aspergers. We don't and can't know what the cause of the OP's problems are, if they are acquired from a life experience, or in the brain.

(dunno what triggers your panic attacks and I don't intend to pry).
Nothing triggers them, they're not caused by "situations". They will wake me up from a sound sleep, I'll be getting dressed, reading a book, making a sandwich, sitting on my porch listening to the peaceful breeze going through the trees.
 
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  • #21
TurtleMeister
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TurtleMeister: What has changed between your younger years and your mid-50's? What are the things in your life right now that make it "mostly good"? I am curious.

Sorry about the delay. I don't have much free time right now. I guess the biggest change in my life is my fiancee. I'm not alone any more. Other than that, I think it's just that I'm older and I've learned how to cope with my problems better. I'm still very much an introvert and I still have social issues, but I just don't let it bother me like I use to.

I can relate to a lot of the things in your post. But to be honest with you, if I could go back and do it all over again I don't know if I would be able to do things any differently. Even though I credited my fiancee with making my life mostly good, don't get the impression that getting into a relationship will necessarily cure your loneliness and solve your problems. I tried it when I was in my twenties and it was a disaster. You seem to be on the right track. You're seeking professional help, you're exercising, and you're getting an education. And I would also like to add that a healthy diet is important also. Good luck, and I hope things work out for you.
 
  • #22
TurtleMeister
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I'm an introvert too, but I think there is a spectrum of social avoidance. One one side are garden-variety introverts like me: we can get along just fine with people when we have to. But it's tiring.

On the other side of the spectrum are people with social anxiety. This can be a horrible, paralyzing affliction. People who can't function because of social anxiety need to seek professional help because life is too short to only live a (less than one) fraction of a full life.

I was speaking of extroverts in general, didn't mean to imply that you were one. :)

Back in my time I doubt that professional help would have benefited me. I had a condition that is now referred to as selective mutism, a form of severe childhood anxiety in certain social situations. The term did not even exist back then. It was completely misunderstood.
 
  • #23
Lavabug
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You're not being given medication for your social anxiety?

You need to see a psychiatrist that can give you "therapy" if you like that, but can also give you medication that can actually relieve your symptoms. If the doctor you are seeing isn't really helping, go to another that cares more. Therapy can't fix problems in your brain. I know so many people on here that are functioning normally now thanks to medication.

Medication is usually trial and error, you may have to try several different meds until you find the one right for you. Don't give up and think that this is something you have to battle alone, the right doctor and right medication will do wonders.


I'm seeing a psychologist that I was referred to by my public health service, don't really have the option of switching. I went to a private one while I was on the waitlist for the public shrink and thankfully I was assigned one, since I can't really afford to go private.

For the record I'm on a mild daily dose of fluoxetine (prozac for Americans) and I've also been given some olprazolam (xanax) to keep handy in case I feel really bad some days, but the 2-3 times I've taken it have scared me, I don't like the idea of being knocked out cold for 15 hours and spending the next day feeling drowsy with a headache...
 
  • #24
zoobyshoe
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I am 100% sociophobic, walking into a bar or any casual social situation with people I don't know very well is nearly impossible for me.
I used to have this same problem. I can recall instances in college where simply walking across a cafeteria filled me with dread. I was convinced people were staring at me and mentally ticking off a whole list of flaws I was exhibiting.

Over time this phobia eroded and is probably down to 30%, which is pretty functional. The thing that most eroded it was talking to lots and lots of people and finding out they all had some kind of phobia, complex, neurosis, personality disorder, whatever. Most people are by no means 100% confident and, regardless of how they read from the outside, are always managing some fear, some disturbing insecurity. That being the case, there's no reason to assess yourself as inferior for being self-conscious.

Some people aren't self-conscious, true, but they are certainly worried about something: their mortgage payments, the fidelity of their spouse, their health, etc. The percentage of people who are free of worry must be extremely small, if there even are any.
 
  • #25
FlexGunship
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This is possibly a very naive thing to say, but if you feel like you're bad at something then perhaps practice is the best solution.

Try Craigslist... put an ad up looking for a friend who has similar challenges and a similar social disposition. Chat by e-mail first. Then go hang out somewhere with other people around. Self-imposed "group-therapy" seems like it could be helpful here.

As far as finding someone on Craigslist, I can tell you that it's a mixed bag. I've never heard of a story (first hand) of someone meeting someone actually dangerous. Quirky, however, comes with the territory.

Try something like this:
I'm Lavabug and I have an awful time in social situations. I'm looking for a friend or acquaintance that has the same challenges. I'd just like to chat by e-mail and then hang out in person. I like The Office, Breaking Bad, Halo games, trivia contests, and talking about cars. If you're in the same boat as me, let's connect.​

Expect a few scams and a couple of jerks... but ignore the garbage. I guarantee you're not alone.

EDIT: I realize this isn't an easy thing to do. But practice makes perfect. And if you meet someone that's VERY like you, then you might even be able to trade notes or solicit feedback. Human beings are awesome, actually.
 
  • #26
Preno
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Not necessarily, it can be caused by triggers in the brain, they could have aspergers. We don't and can't know what the cause of the OP's problems are, if they are acquired from a life experience, or in the brain.
Okay, I'm not going to pursue this line of argument further, because I literally don't know what to say if you think being unable to make friends and feeling ashamed of being socially incompetent is "caused by triggers in the brain" that a pill is going to fix. I really don't think there's a pill that teaches you how to make friends or makes you feel less embarrassed about your perceived social incompetence. The OP does not sound anything like Asperger's to me. On the contrary, what he describes sounds very much like the kinds of problems people experience when they haven't had good enough parenting.
 
  • #27
Enigman
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Okay, I'm not going to pursue this line of argument further, because I literally don't know what to say if you think being unable to make friends and feeling ashamed of being socially incompetent is "caused by triggers in the brain" that a pill is going to fix. I really don't think there's a pill that teaches you how to make friends or makes you feel less embarrassed about your perceived social incompetence. The OP does not sound anything like Asperger's to me. On the contrary, what he describes sounds very much like the kinds of problems people experience when they haven't had good enough parenting.

Preno, the pills are for depression which is a medical condition not for making friends. And offering over the net diagnoses and treatments are not really going to help, IMHO.

Lavabug, I know this is hard; I myself had a few problems of the kind but nothing as severe as you. Take it just one step at a time, it will get easier. See your psychiatrist and follow the advice given. Talking really helped me, as oxymoronic it might sound. Meanwhile try to develop a hobby, something to just to vent off. That is something other than internet and academics, something like chess, novels or anything that works for you...
:smile:
 
  • #28
Preno
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Preno, the pills are for depression which is a medical condition not for making friends. And offering over the net diagnoses and treatments are not really going to help, IMHO.
Sorry if it came across that way, I didn't mean to offer any diagnosis, much less treatment, but to rather to counter Evo's emphasis on the "medical" side of things (and her offhand suggestion of Asperger's with another offhand suggestion, obviously I don't know the OP's situation nor am I qualified to judge it).

I know the pills are for depression, but this thread is about "living with social dysfunction", not about depression. Note that you are making an assumption by saying that the depression is "a medical condition". You could equally well say that a serious depression is a fairly natural reaction to prolonged social isolation, and that on the contrary, a lack of such a reaction would be an unhealthy sign. Psychological discomfort is, if appropriate, surely a sign of psychological health. (Depression is an appropriate reaction to social isolation, paralyzing anxiety is not an appropriate reaction to social situations.)

Anyway, I am now defending myself instead of helping the OP, which is the point of this thread, so I think I'll stop there.
 
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  • #29
Aero51
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You need to put yourself in uncomfortable situations and take chances. Speaking from my past, I am a closet introvert who learned to go out and have fun through a friend who took me to bars and taught me to dance when I was in my late teens.

Also, if you are lifting and you squat under 225lbs follow a solid program such as SL5x5 and not some other garbage.
 
  • #30
Evo
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Sorry if it came across that way, I didn't mean to offer any diagnosis, much less treatment, but to rather to counter Evo's emphasis on the "medical" side of things (and her offhand suggestion of Asperger's with another offhand suggestion, obviously I don't know the OP's situation nor am I qualified to judge it).
I'll repeat what I said in post #20 since you choose to ignore it and make it sound like I said something totally different. Don't try again to skew the truth. You don't want to look dishonest.
Evo said:
We don't and can't know what the cause of the OP's problems are, if they are acquired from a life experience, or in the brain.
 
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  • #31
Lavabug
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Lassoing this back on topic: I'm not sure what to say to my shrink next time around (in about 2 weeks). I've more or less managed to deaden the bad feelings by getting busy, but those moments in between when I've got nothing to do (or when I'm just resting) it starts to get really bad. I don't purposefully try to reflect on the ideas but they just happen. I don't know if I've regained much control, I haven't had total breakdowns like I was having 2 months ago, but I don't think it's normal to dread the moments in between thoughts or activities that require a lot of concentration. Ultimately a lot of my time has been going into fiddling with a new OS and trying to get some scientific code to run on it, alongside pgre review. I don't feel anywhere near as emotionally prepared to do any kind of social activity like what some have suggested, I think I need to fix that first.

As for meds: I'm dependent on fluoxetine now. I did notice some change early on. I know it feels like hell if I accidentally forget to take it (happened). I agree with the premise that there's no one pill for every problem.

I've done some reading on social anxiety before and a typical therapeutic approach is therapy with a shrink + an SSRI med like fluoxetine (actually, fluoxetine specifically). I don't know if this is what I have, but if it is I guess I'm already doing what the doc ordered (a popular self-test designed by a famous psychiatrist claims I do, fwiw). It is typical for social anxiety to develop into depression, allegedly.

And Aero: I actually do a 5x5 thing nowadays. And used to squat 315lb atg 3 years ago without doing a 5x5, but let's not turn this into a broscience thread... there's already a weightlifting thread in the general section for that.

. Even though I credited my fiancee with making my life mostly good, don't get the impression that getting into a relationship will necessarily cure your loneliness and solve your problems. I tried it when I was in my twenties and it was a disaster. You seem to be on the right track. You're seeking professional help, you're exercising, and you're getting an education. And I would also like to add that a healthy diet is important also. Good luck, and I hope things work out for you.
Thanks for sharing your private life. I definitely did not get the impression that getting a girlfriend/spouse would be the cure. I'm well aware it could potentially cause more problems. But in the absence of ever having one and seeing peers being more successful than me in academics and ultimately life in general doing all this while having relationships does make me wonder at times if that's what's missing, if that's the culprit or could explain my ultimate spiral into depression and diminishing (imo, for someone with no partner and all the "free time" in the world) performance in university, work, etc.
 
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  • #32
Lavabug
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Well I'm feeling like crap now, I did pretty poorly on my last attempt on the PGRE and things aren't looking to bright for the future. Don't know what to do with my free time now... :/
 
  • #33
Crake
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You're not being given medication for your social anxiety?
Therapy can't fix problems in your brain. .

I haven't read the whole thread yet. I'll just say that this thread interestes me as I'm an introvert as well, an awkward one people say.

I'd just like to answer what I quoted, atleast for now. There has been studies that prove that cognitive therapy is atleast as effective as medication (antidepressants). Studies show that therapy changes the brain!!

If I were OP, medication would be my last resort. I'd try CBT, REBT , etc.. I'd also start exercising (seriously, exercise helps a LOT OP, you should try it!*)


*I said "If I were OP".. I'm in fact in a similar situation, and what I told you is what I plan to do.
 
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  • #34
Crake
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Well I'm feeling like crap now, I did pretty poorly on my last attempt on the PGRE and things aren't looking to bright for the future. Don't know what to do with my free time now... :/

I just glanced at this post (haven't read the whole topic yet) but:

Do something. Even if that something is video-games. Doing nothing will only make you feel worse. Pick a book and read. Even if you don't feel like it, read a couple pages and see where it takes you.

Also, have you thought about meditation?
 
  • #35
cragar
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on my last attempt on the PGRE
Is this the physics GRE? What kind of physics do you like ?
 

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