all or nothing

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 #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.

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.

Mindfulness #2: A Crappy Day Gets a Second Chance

A New Chance

A New Chance

The other day I woke up in a bad mood. You know the feeling. Bad dreams, groggy, a sense of loathing of the day to come. Shower? Oof. Walk the dog? Eugh. Fuck.

I was sitting on my back porch having a cigarette and feeling shitty about the fact that it looked like today was going to be a bad day. I was especially disappointed because the day before had been pretty good, and I was sad my streak was over.

Here is the moment.

Here is the moment when I felt my mindfulness training start to work.

I thought, “I feel pretty shitty right now. I feel like this is going to last the whole day. I’m mourning a day I haven’t had yet, but the day doesn’t have to go that way. My thoughts and fears about how my day will turn out are not necessarily true – they’re just thoughts and fears. I can, just as we do during meditation, start over. I can let these thoughts and fears pass. Notice them, note them, and let them pass. I can start over. I can have this moment, unburdened by the nightmares that are in the past, and unburdened by the workday that is in the future.”You Are Here

I thought about my body – a little tight from sleep, maybe, but not in pain. I thought about my dog on my lap. Adorable. I thought about the dawn that was happening around me and that didn’t seem to upset me.

I can’t explain it, but it worked. My day became very similar to the good day I’d had the day before. I was able to shower and walk my dog without dragging myself. I was able to get to work just fine, even a little proud. I was able to move through my day without the sense of loathing that was leftover from my nightmares, without the anticipatory dread about trouble that hadn’t arrived yet. – That? That is a BIG deal for a depressive.

I got a glimpse of what it’s like to give each moment a chance, to accept and let go.

And I’m really grateful for it.

Also grateful for: Bebop

Also grateful for: Bebop

First photo by Steven Christenson on Flickr.

I found the second image in a great blog called A Beautiful Revolution. You can find it here.

I took the third picture of my dog, hamming it up.