advice

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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Can I Just Say #9: Bullshit Advice about Depression

a mothers care“You have to love yourself before you can love others.” “You can only care for someone else once you’ve learned to care for yourself.”

There’s a lot of terrible advice out there about depression. Of course someone who doesn’t love themselves can love others. Love is not something we must learn to do, or pass a test to excel at, or reach a certain point in our personal development to feel. Love is pervasive. Even those of us who struggle to find worth in ourselves feel it, all the time.

Of course someone who doesn’t care for themselves can still care for others – it may not be ideal, but it happens all the time. Those of us who struggle to eat or advocate for ourselves can still have loving, caring relationships with children, the elderly, the sick, our partners, you name it.

Talk about “all or nothing” thinking!

We’re not somehow sidelined from these parts of the human experience. In fact, they’re often the things that keep us going, that call us back, that give us the strength to seek our own wellbeing.

I’m not religious, but I think of loving and caring for others as sacred acts. The next time someone tells you that you can’t do them until you get better, prove them wrong. Love them right through their ignorance.

Photo by Diganta Talukdar 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.

Thoughts Are Not Convictions. Feelings Are Not Beliefs.

I have felt the need to answer for my thoughts. Big thoughts – about what others should do with their lives. Little thoughts – that the woman walking slowly in front of me is a moron. Thoughts that I don’t act on because I know they are unfounded.

Mean thoughts make me ashamed. Hopeful fantasies are embarrassing. So I try to unwind them, to sort them out and figure out their meaning. I have conversations, sometimes fights, in my head with the objects of my thoughts, defending them, apologizing for them, trying to explain myself.

It’s a lot of work and you know what? It sucks.

Thoughts are not convictions. I didn’t tell my friend what to do with his life because I know that if someone knows what’s best for him – it’s not me. I didn’t so much as scowl at the woman on the street. I just had a thought. If I’d let it, it would pass into the ether, surrounded by billions of thoughts, true and untrue. Valid and ridiculous. Lovely, silly, sad, and sane.

There are things you can do to improve your internal monologue, to make your mind more peaceful or kind. But you will never control every thought. And you do not have to answer for things you cannot control.

Your thoughts and feelings are valid. Note them. Try not to push them down or drink them away. They also pass. They’re not laws of physics. They’re not character traits or even stances. They’re just thoughts and feelings.

Choose the ones you like. Choose the ones you like and pursue them. Hang on to them and learn about them. Do things to help them happen again.

The rest? Take note, then listen to the “singsong wisdom in the sound of letting go.”*

 

Let Go

 

Quoted from the poem Wish by J.M. Morea in her book where the ending begins

Photo by David Goehring on Flickr

Drastic Pain Calls for Drastic Improvements

Still Life with Skull Leeks and Pitcher by Picasso

Still Life with Skull Leeks and Pitcher by Picasso

I’ve been told by multiple mental health professionals, from psychiatrists to social workers, that I should not make big decisions while in the midst of a crisis.

I mostly think that’s terrible advice, and it’s definitely inappropriate when it comes from someone who doesn’t understand the context of your crisis. When you’re suffering an abusive relationship, it’s a huge decision to leave – a huge decision that you must make and enforce before your crisis will end. That’s an easy example, of course. There are harder ones – quitting your job when you don’t have another one lined up, ending a relationship that has its ups and downs.

But there’s something deeply marginalizing about that advice. Yes, you’re hurting, and that means you’re not qualified to choose a path, so just keep crawling along for a while. Your problems are not real, so things will probably clear up on their own.

True, you’re often not thinking clearly when you’re in a crisis. But recovery is full of big decisions. Seeking treatment itself can be a life changing decision. We’re supposed to wait? For what?

I stayed in a traumatic job for more than a year after I knew I needed to leave. I stayed in a city that I desperately wanted to leave, too. I suffered without the support of my closest friends and family, who were too far away to realize how bad I’d gotten.

Maybe I didn’t have it together enough, or didn’t have the confidence to leave. I don’t think I was blindly following bad advice – but I did take it seriously, and it was liverwurst.

A chemistry professor, who was also a minister, once told me that we live more powerfully when we live by our own choice.

Trust yourself. Find a calm moment, think on it, and trust yourself.

 

Photo of painting by Sharon Mollerus on Flickr