stigma

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.

Can I Just Say? #7 – The Trouble with the Closet

StigmaThe trouble with the closet is that you have to lie ALL the time. I lie about my day, I lie about why I stopped drinking, I lie about my weight, my social life, my job, my plans.

And the trouble with lying is that it hurts. It makes me feel ashamed. Because lying is something you do when you’re scared to admit something, when you’re ashamed to face it. It makes me feel alone. You know why? Because it makes me more alone. I’m more isolated because people don’t understand, because they can’t understand because I’m lying to them.

Shame and isolation – just what the doctor ordered!

Even my therapist believes that depression is something personal – something to disclose only to close friends and family. I want badly to disagree. I want to rage at the injustice, the silliness. If it were epilepsy, if it were cystic fibrosis or cancer, not only could I tell mere acquaintances, but they might sign a petition about the NIH. My family might organize a fundraiser or participate in a walk-a-thon.

Do you hear what I mean? People might support me. If my disease were different.

As it is I’m advised – by every single person – to keep it quiet.

As it is I’m left lying, using a pseudonym to share my thoughts.

As it is I’m getting tired.

The thing is, guys, that I’m not ashamed. The truth is that I’m not alone.

It’s tricky because you really do run the risk of being stigmatized, being called lazy or irresponsible, incompetent, unreliable. The thing is it’s probably not a good idea to come out as depressed in most workplaces, to most acquaintances. Eugh.

I just want to say that if you feel like it’s wrong, you’re right. And you have no reason to be ashamed. And you are not alone.

Photo by See-ming Lee on Flickr.

I say “affliction.” You say “totally normal and necessary part of the human experience.”

affliction afflactionI was recently told by a loved one that depression is not an affliction. Affliction has a negative connotation, and depression is something everyone goes through – part of the human experience.

I took a deep breath. I said that if anything deserves a negative connotation this does, but she didn’t budge.

It’s a common refrain – a gentle way to dismiss the pain depression causes, and it hurts to hear. So what’s going on here? Why are people so defensive of depression? I’ve thought of a couple options.

  1. They confuse the person with the condition. Not wanting the person to feel stigmatized, they feel a need to celebrate the disease.
  2. They are hesitant to accept that you’re hurting – or that your pain is profound – because they love you.
  3. They worry about their own mood health and want to believe that mood disorders are common and even positive in the long run.

I was relieved to notice that all of the explanations I could come up with were rooted in love and concern for self and others.

I shuffled through possible reactions and settled on “meh.” It hurts my feelings when someone disagrees with me about the nature of my condition – but only momentarily.

With this stigmatized, little understood condition, it often falls on us to be patients and educators at the same time. But what if that weren’t true? I love the idea of letting go of the need to educate, of the need to manage other people’s responses. I love the idea of just being a patient for a while.

My friend is not responsible for my recovery. I am. Does it really matter if I think she’s wrong headed on this particular issue?

I can respectfully disagree (maybe send her an article or two) and then let it go. I can stop worrying about the fact that “someone is wrong on the internet,” and focus on getting better.

 

Photo from Patrick Feller on Flickr.

I can’t tell you where I hurt, but I love it when you smile.

Holding HandsPeople don’t understand depression. Your mom doesn’t understand it. Your best friend. All the people who are suffering, the people who are trying to help or who are avoiding the pain. The doctors and researchers who have dedicated their lives to figuring it out.

We fight with each other about what it means, why it comes and goes.

Sufferers isolate, thinking that a lack of understanding equals a lack of concern from their friends, family, and doctors, a lack of compassion.

I once spent about three months caring for a relative who was terminally ill. There was so much I didn’t know. Cancer throws clots into the blood stream. Yawning is a sign of anemia. Pain in the trunk is hard for the sufferer to locate – she can’t tell you where it hurts.

I didn’t understand. But I did help. Being there. Trying. Tracking down doctors and social workers, making hot water bottles and providing grapefruit juice – so flavorful that she could taste again. Holding her hand.

I can’t tell you where I hurt. But I love it when you smile, show me a picture of your baby or your cat, think of me when you’re going out someplace. I love it when you recommend a book or a movie. When you’re there, just watching TV and hanging around with the least charming version of me.

Understanding how it feels is not a prerequisite for helping. It’s just not.

If you’re wondering how to help – you probably already have everything it takes. Tenderness, Love, and the desire to show it. To send a note. To hold her hand.

 

Photo by Brian on Flickr