Note: This post mentions rape and abuse.
If you've ever been in a rut, you may understand how hard it can be to see the "light at the end of the tunnel."
And after receiving many responses, I gathered some of them just in case someone or someone you know may relate to this in some way or another.
And if you, too, have your own story to tell, feel free to do so — and connect with others — in the comments below.
1. "I was in such a rut after my divorce. I didn’t find my routines to be satisfying in the way that I had been. It sucked, and I was challenged about what to do next. What helped me a lot was to get outside. I limited alone time and any time spent with idle hands. I signed up for volunteer activities and participated in community events/fundraisers. Running (my fave) is a solo sport, and at my worst, I started to find it more lonely than helpful. I actually joined a run club to generate more companionship in my life. That was huge. I also joined a women's workout club that met at 5 a.m. for bootcamp-style workouts twice a week.
2. "I got out of [a rut] by changing my dynamic with my friends. Either I got closer to some and made a concerted effort, or I shied away from others who made me feel bad often. I also went to some meetups for board games that helped!"
3. "I've got myself out of depressive episodes twice by exercising (I'm currently working on this a third time). It's annoying because it's basically what the 'just go for a walk and feel better' brigade has been telling me to do — and those guys are the WORST. In real life, it's not quick, and it's definitely not easy, but I decided to do it and use any little scrap of energy I get. Some days, it's a 5-10 minute walk, and then I'm exhausted for the rest of the day. The point is encouraging myself to do it anyway, even though I can't do as much as normal, and I'm working, like, 100 times harder for less result.
"Gradually, over weeks, it gets easier. I'm now at the point I've been able to go to activities I'd usually enjoy, like BoxFit or yoga classes — I still hate them, but I know it won't be for long if I keep doing them anyway."
4. "I made a list of what I was unhappy or frustrated with, picked the most manageable item on it, and broke it down into baby steps. Then, I focused on doing that one baby step, just one tiny thing at a time."
5. "When I was having a particularly bad time with my mental health, I found myself unable to get out of bed for weeks. Eventually, I was able to do very small tasks — like just getting up and getting myself a drink, or brushing my teeth — even if it was the only thing I did that day. I told myself that no matter what, I can do one thing. Eventually, I built up those small things and managed to get back into a routine, back to work and back to my ‘normal life’ again. Sometimes, the smallest steps have such a huge impact, and it’s important to remember not to overdo it or rush your progress."
6. "I had to drop out of college to work full time when my dad lost our house. I was 20 with limited job experience and then became homeless. Throughout the years, I job-hopped a lot as well as house-hopped from one extended family member to another. I went to therapy on and off and was placed on different meds to battle the anxiety and depression. When I was 26, I started looking into different job fields that didn’t require a degree or offered certifications. I obtained a certificate through an employer who was willing to train me — and now, I work for a staffing agency who staffs for that field of work. I work from home making what I was before working multiple jobs.
7. "I've had a lot of health problems that took years to get treated. Because of my poor health, I couldn't go to university after graduating high school and couldn't get a full-time job because I physically couldn't handle it. It was very depressing seeing all my past school peers starting their careers or getting married and having kids, and I'm not achieving with my life except getting another surgery. I found that social media was a huge factor in my depression.
"I was comparing myself to other people, which was very unfair to myself. We all have our own journeys in life, so there's no point comparing myself to others. Once I deleted my social media, it was like I could breathe again. Jump to seven years later, and I was able to get my health back on track and go to university and start my career at my own pace."
8. "I left my job after 11 years of loyal service — with hardly any raises or recognition or thanks for working all through the panini — for a WFH job making more than twice as much. That did the trick."
9. "Time (cliché, but seriously) and taking chances (even little ones) did the trick. I spent my most of my teen and early 20 years in the hospital/rehab/therapy for my mental health struggles in the aftermath of trauma. I always assumed I'd have a second-rate life because of the past and my mistakes, and I became comfortable for far too long in my pit of despair. Very slowly, something began to click when I realized I do have some control over my life. The patterns I clung to for defense were no longer serving me any good. I went out to get a 'dead-end' job just to pay rent, but ended up meeting some amazing people who really do appreciate and accept me the way I am. This REALLY helped change my mindset. And after a year, I was able to start working my way up, making friendships, and having some semblance of a purpose. Recovering is still a work in process, but learning to accept myself was a game-changer."
10. "I was in a marriage that had long been dead, and I wasn’t thrilled with my employment. I really stuck to myself and felt quite isolated — there was lots of anxiety that kept me from making any sort of life-changing decision. I went in for a consultation for anxiety because I needed a change, and I was ready to deal with it. I got put on medication, and it was like everything clicked. I got divorced and started focusing on me and things in my life that would make me happier."
11. "My rut was a dead-end job, dead-end relationship, and a lot of resentment that came from both. I adored my job, but it had become unfulfilling and was poverty paying. My partner was making a lot more than me, even though he worked at the same place, doing basically the same job (and without the degree or degree debt I have). He was very resentful that I couldn’t just book a holiday on a whim or afford a fancy place to live. He was not willing to split things according to income, so I just couldn’t do it all. He found another girl, started up a relationship with her to make sure it was going somewhere, and dumped me at New Year's while my grandmother was dying in the hospital, so he could have a fresh start to the year with her.
12. "Last March, I was fired from a job I thought I loved and hit rock bottom. I felt like all my education had been for nothing and that I was nothing because I was not good at the thing I had studied five years to do (and spent a lot of money on). It was really hard. The market was tough, I was back at my parents', and it seemed like nothing would get better. I felt like I could keep looking for jobs in my field, feeling unhappy and depressed, or I could try to find a part-time job just to pay the bills and get me out of the house. It was a really good choice. I worked in a sports store, and it showed the value of money, how much I like not being in front of a computer all day, and a lot of other lessons. And one day, out of luck, I applied to a job in a totally different field, got it, and now, I'm switching careers and really happy with the direction of my life."
13. "I dumped my ex and re-found my libido. Divorce was the best thing I ever did for myself."
14. "My rut came from just trauma after trauma — so, I finally cut out the one person at the center of all of it. It took over a year of medication and therapy to get to that point of being able to set and maintain boundaries. I have been able to grow so much. I've started school, started my dream job, and my marriage and mental health have never been better. Sucks that the person had to be my mom, though, because I know she would be proud of me."
15. "I had two children, a full-time job, and a husband who worked away a lot. I felt like I was just passing time and not doing anything for myself, so I enrolled in a part-time course at a local university where I would go one afternoon a week over five years to get a degree. It was so hard, but once I had done that, the kids were older and more self-sufficient so I went on to do my master's. The kids are leaving school in one year, so I pushed it further and have just started my PhD. Everything I have done has been part-time, fitted around my life, but I knew I had to do something for myself before I lost myself to others."
16. "Previously, I was in an abusive relationship. It was right around when the pandemic started, and I was so poor I couldn't get out. I started doing clinical trials for money, and it gave me the freedom to find my own space. I found a lovely property with amazing landlords and was able to rebuild. Without the money from clinical trials, I wouldn't have been able to make it."
17. "Telling myself that the ways to get out of the rut were inevitable and good for me (i.e. cutting back drinking, cleaning up diet, regular exercise) and slowly and sporadically putting these things into practice, having daily talks with myself on meditative walks about habits and hang-ups, journaling, then surprisingly, quickly getting to the point where I must practice these things daily to keep feeling good. So, in short, here’s a list: 1) Fake it until you make it; create these new synapses in your brain. 2) Come up with a realistic plan. 3) Meditate on why it’s important and really internalize it. 4) Put it into practice and watch weeks go by and witness your goals become your new norm! I can’t emphasize how important truly grappling with the shit holding you back is."
18. "I was working my dream job at a zoo but couldn't afford a life I deemed worthy of living. I worked happily for three years, then I realized I would never be able to buy a home, live alone, or travel at all (domestic or international). I had to choose between car maintenance or food. Even so, I didn't know how to give up what I was born to do. I worked another three years, depressed, and finally left for a financially stable job. I was still sad for almost a year because I was SO ANGRY that my dream job, with a degree, was poverty paying. But then, I realized that other jobs were cushy, and I did a fraction of the work for four times the pay. I got to travel, see more friends and family, and fulfill other goals and dreams. I had to intentionally focus on the good, and I still get royally pissed at low wages, but it turned around."
19. "I got sober. Honestly, my drinking was never 'bad enough' to raise flags for the people around me, but the clinical definition of 'problem drinking' is actually a much smaller amount of alcohol than you’d think, especially for women. Once I quit drinking completely, I had the drive, time, and MONEY to fix the circumstances that made me so miserable in the first place. Drinking is a great way to pretend your life is okay when it isn’t, which will keep you right where you are."
20. "I chased my happiness. It wasn't like things were bad. I had a husband who loved me dearly, who was my best friend. A wonderful daughter. I didn't need to work. I met and exceeded my parents' expectations. Except...I wasn't happy. I was just content. I wanted to work, to have a career where I made a difference. I wanted to not just be comfortable and friendly with my spouse, but also to crave their company. I wanted to be proud of my life and my place in it. I wanted to be a woman who not only my younger self but also my daughter could be proud of and inspired by. I was haunted by what ifs. After trying almost everything to make things better, my spouse and I separated.
"I moved halfway across the country for a job in my field, in our home state but over 100 miles away from anyone I knew. I dealt with all the judgement and shame directed toward me for dissolving my marriage, especially with a child. And you know what? I'm the happiest I've ever been.
"I have a career in public service, in my field. I do work I'm incredibly proud of, that my daughter brags about. I am now married to an amazing man whom I never feel ambivalent about being with (still besties with my ex, but we're way better as just friends). It took a few years to get here, but I am so glad I followed my happiness. It's not worth it to try and fit yourself into a life that doesn't sit right.
"I won't lie, it was terrifying, and I wanted to give up a LOT in the beginning — it's easier to stay with the status quo. But I'm so glad I stuck it through!
"When I was younger, I was both critical and envious of people who would just upend their life and move without a plan. While I had a plan (which changed, but hey, go with the flow), I committed to the unending, and I get it now. Change makes change!
"Take the leap when the opportunity presents itself, then keep climbing up! I wish for the very best for you and hope you find your happiness, too."
21. "My career and life direction was in shambles. I got diagnosed with ADHD, got on medication, went through cognitive behavioral therapy, and started hanging out with people with the kind of qualities/lives I wanted (which did mean distancing myself from my more negative, going-nowhere friends), and read some time-management books. Once I got myself together career-wise, I turned my attention to my dead romantic life. It's still in shambles, but lots of therapy (and reading, as always!), more effort into my appearance and dating life, and subtle cosmetic work have helped me make tons of progress. It's really important to note that money made a huge difference. I had some money from my parents and job that I decided to 'invest' in myself (e.g., therapy, a bit of life coaching, clothes, etc.), and I acknowledge that it's WAY more difficult to get yourself out of a rut without time and money."
22. "Antidepressants. About nine months after my dad died unexpectedly, I didn't even know I was depressed. I was proud that I was keeping up with all of my daily activities, doing well at work, exercising, socializing, etc. Everything was just much harder than usual, and I knew I was feeling miserable, but I thought it would pass on its own. I was getting a yearly physical when my doctor convinced me that antidepressants might help me get through this hard time. Well, she was right. After being on them for about four months, I can say that no amount of positive thinking and vigorous exercise was going to get me out of the hole I was in. From my experience, depression is CLEARLY a BRAIN DISORDER. The stigma surround antidepressants just baffles me. I am back to my old self — and while I will always miss my dad, I finally feel good/normal again. Antidepressants for the win."
23. "In 2015, I moved countries for my boyfriend. I had no degree and always worked retail. I got there and barely made enough to live on. My boyfriend became abusive. When it ended, I came home with no money, no job, and no friends. I was distraught, depressed, and spiraling. I couldn't imagine ever being able to live without my parents, and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I decided to apply for a degree in information sciences and English literature at aged 27. I got a retail job and worked every hour available. I got accepted to college, paid my own way, and got my degree. Now, I have a full-time permanent job in the public sector, a home that I BOUGHT, and a very supportive and stable partner."
24. "I had a massive traumatic experience when I was 20. My on-and-off boyfriend in high school raped my sister after I left for college as payback for me leaving him. I beat myself up for the better part of 10 years, thinking I deserved every shitty thing that came my way. I had never been able to visualize a five-year plan, I have consistently been in therapy, I still take antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication, and I still have that shitty voice in the back of my head once in a while. Almost two years ago, this man I had been in love with for the better part of five years left me. This was peak COVID season, I had lost my job of six years due to a decline in the economy, I had rented an apartment to be with him that I could not afford, and he moved out while I was stuck in bed with COVID. I remember laying in bed, wondering how I was going to prevent an eviction. I had no support locally, and I was living off of unemployment.
25. "In late 2020, I took a huge leap and risk to move out and away from my toxic family. I had absolutely no clue what I was doing and had nothing to my name, but luckily, and (beyond) grateful, my boyfriend-now-fiancé let me stay with him as I learned and navigated this new world and helped me get established. It’s been two years since moving out: I have my own place, a car, three cats, and most importantly, I am finally happy and at peace. It was not easy getting here, but I would take that leap again without a second thought."
26. "A big trauma — that I didn't have the support or tools to deal with at 22 — compounded into at least eight years of damage. I had to choose to stop hurting myself and try to get better. I spent a year sober and worked the 12 steps, which was incredibly valuable. I learned to keep my side of the street clean, do only right things, and apologize when I did something wrong. Then, a year of EMDR therapy fixed my brain. I'm now thriving."
"Hey. How did EMDR fix your brain?"
"It changed my negative cognitions like 'I am in danger' and 'I am bad' into positive cognitions like 'I am safe' and 'I am really great.' It fixed my nervous system so I stopped having obsessive ruminations and now just feel very chill and safe all the time. People always comment on my great energy now, which seems incredible because I was so sad and self-destructive for so long. Truly an incredible blessing."
27. "I turned 30 and realized that my life was staying the same, while everyone’s around me changed. I have a partial disability (mild cerebral palsy), and my twin moved out of our family home, got engaged, planned a wedding, and was ready to start a new life. I, on the other hand, was depressed. I was working in a job that paid almost nothing, living at home, and wanting to get out of the city that seemed to value settling down over anything else. I wanted adventure. I saved €10k, moved to London (one of my favorite cities in the world), got my own rented flat, a great job making double what I did at home, have great friends, and I’m really happy. Not easy with a disability to do this alone — and of course, it’s almost impossible to save anything, but I did it. I got out of the rut and forged my own life. It took four years with the pandemic to fully get a new life together (I just turned 35), but I’m on the path and hoping a plus-one will join me on it soon."
28. "The last seven years, I had cancer, my fiancé cheated on me, I lost most of my friends, I lost my job, my grandma died, I spent a year managing her estate while unemployed, I was care-taking another fiancé who caught long-COVID and had severe Chronic fatigue syndrome, I lost my savings, I moved in with my parents at 33, and then worked 80-100 hour workweeks while co-building a startup over the course of two years. I moved to Venice, California from Chicago, I bought a car, I lost my job at said startup the same week I went through a breakup. Now, I'm humbled AF.
"I treat everyone with kindness and love. I prioritize spending time in the outdoors (hiking and trail running) and roadtripping to national forests all over the West Coast while I look for a new job.
"And while this isn't how I thought my life would turn out (34, unmarried, still renting, no children), I make the most of every day, learn exciting new things from books I check out from the library, make new friends, and care about the environment."
29. "My personal history is a lot. I grew up in a domestic-violence household. I joined the military at 17 to get away. I was homeless for a bit and went to Iraq. I took a year off before college — then hit it hard. I graduated in 2015 with a bachelor's of science. What gets me out of bed is me. The me that left an abusive home. The me that went to a combat zone. The me that put herself through college. The me that faced her PSTD, and still does. The me that worked in healthcare during a pandemic. The me that isn't traditional leadership. But she leads. Me. Me. That monstrous shadow has a way of pulling me out of bed and moving forward. We aren't done growing yet."
30. "Back in 2003, I went through a horribly rough breakup, the kind of breakup that required a two-and-a-half-week stay in a women’s shelter and a restraining order. Kicking that abuser to the curb and out of my life for good was for the best, but there was still a lot of emotional trauma and grief to process. I had lost a lot, and one of the hardest losses was my relationship with his two kids, who had been a part of my life for over seven years and whom I loved dearly. I fell into a deep, dark depression for three years. I was drinking way too much. My self-identity had been shattered, my hopes and dreams had been blown to smithereens, I felt like an utter failure, and nothing mattered anymore.
"One day, I realized that I had reached a point where, if I continued down the road I was on, I would become an alcoholic. Then, it hit me: Every day that I sacrificed to crying and moping and drinking too much was another part of my life that I gave up to the abusive ex. That realization triggered something inside of me at a very visceral level to rise up and say, 'No way! Not a chance! No friggin’ way am I going to let that happen!'
"Instead of continuing down the road to alcoholism, there was another path that I could take. This wasn’t me being strong; this was more like me being stubborn and ornery and struggling to salvage together something — anything — that looked like a life. So, I sat down and made a list of every little thing that had ever made me happy, no matter how small, no matter how goofy. This took awhile, but when I was done, I read over my list and noticed that very few of these things were still a part of my life. Granted, some of these things, such as playing with my little sister’s Barbies, were rightfully consigned to the long-lost shades of childhood, but other things — like hiking, camping, reading, going to church, drawing, playing piano, taking random road trips, swimming in a creek or waterfall, adventuring with my dog, chatting over coffee with a good friend, dancing, traveling, etc. — were just gone, for no good reason.
"It’s like I was looking at a long obituary of the happiness in my life, happiness that I had allowed to fall by the wayside and die off. And that — right there — was the moment that I decided to take my life back.
"It wasn’t easy. The drinking and the depression had been my closest companions for a long time, but now, I had a plan. I started with one small thing, one tiny sliver of light that I could wrap into my life and lock onto when the darkness overwhelmed. Then, when I was ready, I added another. Then another, and another, until one day, I was looking at me again. I was whole. Not perfect, but whole.
"This was a long road — a long stretch of living in a dysfunctional relationship, followed by three years of depression, and then, at least another three years of climbing out. A long road, but a worthwhile one, because of what I learned along the way.
"This is what I learned: Anyone and anything that diminishes me — my wholeness and my happiness — does not deserve a place in my life. Zip. Zero. Nada. Now, if you will excuse me, my dog, my water bottle, and I have a date with adventure. See ya!"