acceptance

Looking for a Job When You’re Depressed: Circumstantial, not Existential

No Help WantedLooking for a job when you’re in the midst of a depression is really fucking hard. I think that’s step number one – acknowledge that what you’re doing is really really hard. It’d be hard for someone who’s healthy. And it’s especially hard for those of us who are not.

I’m currently in this position, having been told by my current employer that my contract won’t be renewed past January. Luckily for me, I’m not suffering from a major depressive episode, just trying to recover from one.

The thing is that I don’t have a lot of hope. Despite my fancy education and respectable resume, I don’t believe that any job could be fulfilling or rewarding or anything but awful, so the tasks of applying become almost impossible. I am FILLED with dread.

Then of course there’s the feeling of being overwhelmed. I am directionless because I find myself believing that every option is bad, so I’m unable to narrow things down. I also find it difficult, like many people looking for work, to convince myself that the next job won’t be forever. That it’s not one of the biggest decisions of my life. So it’s overwhelming both in breadth and in depth.

In a word: it sucks.

This is too complex a problem for a “Five Step Guide.” One has to do some soul searching and take each day as it comes. One has to build a schedule and stick to it. A schedule that includes off time, when you’re not thinking about the job search. A schedule that includes exercise and whatever other therapies work for you. I believe that one has to try to think ambitiously about what one is qualified for, and then do the hard work of reaching out to people. One must try not to think too far in the future or let themselves believe that they know what it holds.

The fish is deadI am trying to be honest with my support network, which is difficult because they see more potential in me than I see in myself. I often feel like their advice is ludicrous: they tell me all the cool things I can do with my fish, not understanding that the fish are dead. So I am trying to fake it until I make it.

I’m trying not to “catastrophize” things. I am trying to remember that my job does not define me, that it is not the source of my happiness. I am trying to be patient and flexible. I am trying to think of this problem as circumstantial, not existential.

Anyone out there got a job they wanna give me? 🙂

First photo by BillsoPHOTO on Flickr.

Second photo by Bhope34 on Flickr.

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Mindfulness #5: Creating a Team When You’re Depressed

Our Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class has come to an end. There were tears and hugs when we said goodbye.

Nine weeks ago we looked at each other with minds that were wary, scared, curious, self-conscious. Today we are Sangha for each other, and we will miss each other. And we will miss our teacher. Today many of us are scared to be without each other. I’m scared.

I wonder whether I’ll keep up my meditation practice, or whether it will wither on the vine. I wonder whether I’ll grow to loathe it – that thing I’m not doing for myself that I know I should do. I wonder whether I’ll keep the progress I’ve made or slide back. I wonder whether I’ll keep progressing.

I wonder whether “it’s worked,” whether I’ve avoided another major episode of depression. And I know the answer isn’t written. Doesn’t exist. I wonder whether I’ll wither again.

“Find yourself a Sangha,” our teacher told us. Find yourself a group to practice with. You need a group. You need a team.

Find yourself a Sangha.

Mindfulness #4: Six Weeks In

Grandpa 1I’m six weeks into a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course. It involves two and a half hours of training every Saturday morning, an hour of meditation every day, and a day-long silent retreat. I’m doing this to feel better, to avoid another relapse into deep depression.

The phenomenally good news is that I think it works. The bad news is that it requires constant upkeep.

I’ve become slower. I no longer rush through my days. Even on my way to work, I take time to enjoy the feeling of my feet on the pavement. (Also apparently there’s something to enjoy about feet and pavement.)

Grandpa 3I’ve become calmer. I watch bad (and good) thoughts go by, recognizing their impermanence, their fluidity. I don’t follow them as often, reacting to them as if they were true.

I worry less. I panic less. I’m closer to the source of my happiness being inside me.

Instead of dwelling on the things I’ve lost, it’s easier for me to rejoice in what is left. My grandmother died five years ago yesterday. I loved her fiercely and miss her every day. Therapy and meditation have helped me to mourn her loss a little less. Instead I rejoice in the fact that my grandfather is still with us – singing “I love you, yeah, yeah, yeah…” to my little dog Bebop.

I love you, yeah, yeah, yeah!

Grandpa 2

First photo by jencu on Flickr.

Second photo by Richard BH on Flickr.

Third photo by Alyssa L. Miller on Flickr.

Mindfullnes #3: The Beauty of a Gentle Sway

swayWhen we’re recovering, we’re frustrated by the sway. Frustrated that recovery isn’t a straight line toward Better. Frustrated that some days, some hours, some thoughts still hurt like hell.

When we’re meditating, we’re taught that our minds will wander, it’s the bringing them back to the breath that matters.

I learned a standing yoga pose the other day that put all this into stark relief. Place your feet a little less than shoulder-width apart, hands hanging at your sides.

You’ll notice as you stand there that you’re constantly, very slightly, losing your balance and regaining it. You’re swaying. Allow yourself to sway. Notice that your body knows how to right itself, simply by tensing the muscles of the feet, the legs.

Instead of thinking of recovery as a frustrating, up-and-down hike to someplace called Better, I like to think of it as a gentle swaying motion. Constantly losing and regaining my balance, in cooperation with my body and mind, I’m able to stand tall.

Photo by HomeSpot HQ on Flickr.

Eight Steps for Getting It Done When You’re Depressed

Myriad and LovelyI LOVE my dog. I adore her. But walking her – especially first thing in the morning and right before bed, is a huge pain in my ass. I’m an adult. I know the rules. I have a dog so I have to walk her several times a day.

Similarly, if you have a body you have to bathe it. If you have teeth you have to brush them. If you have a job you have to get dressed and get there, every day that they expect you. What should we do when these simple tasks are SO hard?

  1. Don’t take it as a larger sign. I do this ALL the time. “Ugh! I can’t even get it together to walk Bebop! This is going to be a bad day. This fucking disease is ruining my life and making it impossible for me to do simple things. This is hopeless.” This is an example of the dreaded “all-or-nothing” thinking. Not wanting to walk your dog is just that, a reasonable desire to stay in bed when you’re tired. It doesn’t mean you’re hopeless.
  2. Don’t beat yourself up about it. “What’s wrong with me???” It’s not your fault that you don’t want to shower. It’s the expected outcome of a dreaded disease. Remember that you’re sick, you’re not “bad at things.”
  3. Take a beat. Realize what’s going on. You’re sick and it’s making you not want to brush your teeth. That’s it. Bring awareness to your struggle. I find it helps to think the whole sentence to myself. “I’m sick and it’s making me not want to brush my teeth.”
  4. Break down the task into tiny, tiny, I mean miniscule parts. This also helps us avoid “all-or-nothing” thinking. I try not to think about how wet my hair will be after I shower and what I’ll have to do about that. I just think about the shower itself. I let what comes after be Future-Me’s concern. She’s strong. She’ll be able to handle it.
  5. Focus on (only) the first step. If I want to shower, I first have to take off my shoes. That’s something I can handle. Take off your shoes.
  6. Focus on the second. Walk into the bathroom.
  7. Continue to breathe as you do the task. Remember why you’re dreading it – it’s ‘cause you’re sick, not because there is something wrong with you as a person. Breathe through each little part of the task.To Do
  8. Be gentle. Be gentle with this person who doesn’t want to shower or brush her teeth or walk her dog. She’s struggling. She’s trying. She’s making slow but powerful progress. She deserves your love and your sweet, sweet tenderness.

And don’t forget to give yourself a little credit once you’ve done the task. I sometimes imagine the “Rocky” theme for the smallest things. Da-da-DAAA, she walked her dog! She is fucking ROCKING it today!

Second photo by Deni Williams on Flickr.