The blog that made me ‘come out’ as a closet depressive

Last week there was a change in my fate: I was offered a three-day-a-week sales job locally, starting at the end of the month. It is miles away from what I had envisaged as a longer-term profession but it will help tidy me over nicely, while I wait for a more permanent and career-boosting opportunity to arise.

In my mind I am still unemployed, but in practice, I can finally sign off the JobCentre, which is almost enough reason to celebrate.

Later, at home, as I busied myself telling the good news to all and sundry on Facebook and Twitter, I saw a friend had sent me the link to a blog post by Bristol-based unemployed journalist Steven Baxter. It was one of those amazing serendipitous moments. Once I opened the link, I instantly knew it was all meant to be.

I read Steve’s blog and cried like a baby. All the anger, the frustration, the sadness and despair that had been festering inside me  for the past seven months came spewing out in one massive flood of tears and emptied me of all the heavy weight I had been carrying around on my shoulders for so long.

It occurred to me it was the first time in months I was crying at all.

Woman on the verge
Only the previous day, I had googled “nervous breakdown” and was dismayed to find out I could tick almost every single item on the symptoms checklist. I had been having inexplicable outbursts of anger, unable to cope with the simplest domestic tasks without injuring myself and screaming my head off each time, partly in pain, partly as a desperate cry for attention… Worst of all, my behaviour pattern reminded me of someone I knew well from my childhood: my own mother.

My mother was an intelligent, ambitious woman, good at languages. Before she married, she had dreamed of becoming a career woman but my father was an old-school Japanese man and would not allow her to work. She was forced into a lifetime of domestic slavery and her frustration at being stuck at home, as I am now, led her to several nervous breakdowns when I was a child. I remember them vividly: the constant screaming and hostility, the hysterical crying, objects flying about in the living-room followed by days in bed shunning the entire family, completely indifferent to the world.

It frightened me to think I could be becoming the kind of woman I had dreaded turning into all my life…

The D-word
I devoured every word on Steve’s blog with the emotional craving of a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Every question Steve had asked himself, every thought and every emotion he describes in his blog I had had too. He had translated into words sentiments that had been tormenting me for months but I had not dared express in public because I was concerned about the risks to my employability. What if a prospective employer saw my blog and found me too psychologically unbalanced and unfit for work?

Steve, however, with disarming honesty, goes on to admit on a very public platform that he is on anti-depressants, 40mg to be exact, and gives two fingers to any employers who may find out and object.

“The weeks of not having work have felt like a heavy load. Sometimes it’s felt like disappointment, and sometimes it’s felt like despair. Sometimes it has just felt OK, like nothing, like a glass of water, and that’s probably the most dangerous feeling of all: the time it feels all right to be like this is the time to worry. This isn’t all right. This isn’t good enough. This isn’t what I should be doing. I should be doing something – anything – rather than this. But mainly it has felt sad and dispiriting. I am a little broken.”

His candid words liberated me. Thanks to Steve, I am no longer afraid to share with all who care to read this that, in the past few months, I too have been receiving regular counselling (but not drugs) for what the GP diagnosed as ‘moderate to severe depression’ – a direct consequence of being jobless for so long for the second time in three years.

I am sure I am not the only person, unemployed or not, suffering from this very common condition. But I also know that, unless you have experienced it, you may not be fully aware of what depression actually means (see video at end of this post).

It means your sleep patterns are disrupted, you are constantly exhausted, your zest for life gone, as if the lights in your house were being put out one by one. Women may find their menstrual cycle has gone haywire. Maybe you constantly have digestive problems. You may have panic attacks or feel extremely uncomfortable in social situations, so you avoid meeting your friends; you may feel you are not in control, that each task on your to-do list seems so overwhelming, it can take you weeks or months to complete – if at all.

Depression incapacitates you because, in trying to cope with the extreme stress, your brain and your body slow you down to a halt.

I had promised people I’d write blog posts for them (sorry, Shirley), or do the copy for their website (sorry, Pete), that I’d write an article after I interviewed them (sorry, Glenn), I’d respond to an email query (sorry, Ben). Although I am not one to to promise and not keep my word, I have been pathetically unable to accomplish ANY of those things. I let everyone down, including myself.

You may be a high achiever but currently you feel like an underachiever; you are paranoid people are judging you, labelling you as lazy and incapable, when, in reality, you are simply too unwell to get out of bed in the morning. Some days you may be too down to write a job application letter but some people, even your immediate family, may suggest you’re not finding work because you’re not applying for enough jobs and ‘what do you do with all that free time during the day anyway?’ You know that is not true, but your self-esteem is so low, after so many job rejections and what not, you don’t bother to explain, in fact you are not even sure you are not actually a total failure…

Well, the good news is: it is perfectly okay to feel like that. If you recognise some or all of the signs above, embrace them, own them. Acceptance is the first big step towards healing.

Coming Out
I love the Japanese expression‘kokoro ga arawareru‘. It translates as ‘the soul/spirit gets cleansed’ and it perfectly describes how I felt that day. The cry I had after reading Steve’s blog cleansed my soul of all the resentment I had been harbouring for months. I felt every single ball of pain inside me explode, then dissolve, until there were no more knots left.

It felt so good to know I wasn’t alone where I was.

We feel bad about feeling bad because there is a social stigma associated with depression and all mental health issues. It is almost like a homosexual “coming out”, done with trepidation, unsure of who will accept and who will not.

Unless you are a celebrity like Stephen Fry, whom no one would dare call unfit for work despite his bipolar disorder, admitting you are so low you need medical help can make people nervous. Perhaps you are hiding too?

Bitter Pill
The UK government has just released the latest ONS unemployment figures: 2.51 million without a job, an increase of 80,000 in the three months to July 2011. Last May the think tank IPPR had already reported that 850,000 people had been unemployed for more than 12 months, the highest figure since 1997.

How many of those are feeling the same way as me, or Steven Baxter, or worse and are terrified to say “me too”, afraid to ask for help, confused about where to go for help?

With the upcoming part-time job, I feel slightly more upbeat, less anxious, and definitely less angry, but I still have some way to go until I am completely back to being my old  self.

While I mend, my sincere hope is that this blog, like Steve’s, can inspire others in a similar situation to open up and share without fear of prejudice, to form a community where people will encourage one another not to give in. It may not help you get a job, but it might serve as a little respite from the bitter pill of unemployment. Or your own 40mg.

Dr. John Hague explains the difference between having a bad day and being depressed.

Links that may be useful if you think you may be depressed

  1. Depression self-assessment test – NHS
  2. Depression self-assessment test – Psychology Today
  3. Self-help and coping tips for Depression from Helpguide.org
  4. Understanding depression – Mind
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19 Comments

Filed under Coping

19 responses to “The blog that made me ‘come out’ as a closet depressive

  1. We really should have a coffee, you know. Mattx

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  2. Reading this blog, and watching the helpful NHS videos, makes me realise that I need to actively do something about my own (mild) issues. The chain reaction continues! I think there are still too many people who interpret depression as “feeling sad” rather than as having difficulty feeling anything, “as if the lights in your house were being put out one by one.” Thank you sincerely for articulating it so well.

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  3. This is an excellent post that really highlights the emotional impact of being told ‘you are not good enough for a job here’ far too many times.

    Mental health doesn’t get talked about candidly enough – illnesses that can be fairly simple to treat are made worse by negative stigma and a lack of access to helpful treatment.

    I think one important thing to note with regards to depression is that when life is shit, it’s okay to feel like crap. It’s our heads little way of telling us that things need to change. The worst thing about your situation is that the opportunity for change wasn’t ever really in your hands.

    Your new job will help you a lot to regain your confidence, and I wish you the best of luck with it. x

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    • Thank you, Chris. I have plans to launch an investigation on the Help Me Investigate site, which will look at the co-relation between unemployment and depression, with the aim of increasing awareness, etc. Perhaps you’d fancy making a mini-documentary out of it? I’ll be in touch.

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  4. Well done for writing this, Chie, you rock. And you are very brave.

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  5. Wow… great blog, fantastic work.

    When I was married, I had a period where I went through a bout with severe depression that even resulted in a suicide attempt (that’s when you’ve gone too far without treating). The time I spent in a psych ward was extremely illuminating for me. I realized that I had problems, but there are problems and there are problems, and no matter how far down we’ve gone there’s always someone below us that we can help.

    When it was time for me to be released, they put me in the care of a great doctor, Dr. Vergara. He told me “Mr. Jordan, you are young, you are strong. I am going to put you on medication, but you will not need this for your whole life. You will not take pills for the rest of your life, but we all need a little help sometimes.” He prescribed Zoloft (I don’t recall the dosage) and I must say, I didn’t really feel a difference when I took it, but I definitely felt a difference when I DIDN’T take it. It helped me get by and get over, and in 8 weeks he weaned me off.

    Since that time I’ve learned to cope, and I stay in the light, and I don’t go to the shadows because I know what the shadows hold for me. I become the shadows, and I wouldn’t hurt anyone, but I don’t care about myself and that apathy hurts those who love me. If I appreciate and respect their love, I have to make the decision that I will not spit in their faces by hurting me and thereby hurting them. That was the thing I was most ashamed of, that I didn’t realize how important I was to the people who chose to love me and did something so stupid.

    Sorry for the blogment, you just inspired me to share my own story so you know that this is something we all struggle with, and you are not alone. Great job on the new gig!

    -ere’bodee’s favorite mega

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    • Tango, you never cease to surprise me. I have to give you a big thanks and kudos for your courage and honesty in sharing your story here… You are not the first person I know who has attempted to harm themselves, and, as you said, had they sought help sooner, they may not have gone down that extreme route. But I also know how hard it is to ask for, even accept help, when you start to slip into that dark abyss…

      There is really nothing to be ashamed of, quite on the contrary. You have already been very helpful, just by being so honest and admitting to your feelings of guilt, which many in similar situations will resonate with. It will help them stop feeling so bad about feeling bad, and that is such a huge relief.

      Thank you, Tango. Thank you.

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  6. Cathy

    I can really relate to what tangomega said here:

    “If I appreciate and respect their love, I have to make the decision that I will not spit in their faces by hurting me and thereby hurting them.”

    I have found that even if I hide the self-destructive behaviour I am drawn to at times of stress really well, the ones who know me best can still tell. But as I shut them out so tight, they feel even worse because they can’t help. Of course, the simple solution to this (says the bad me) is to refuse to see them.

    For me, it’s something I struggle with alone and in private. The only person who had some idea of the extent is a partner I recently parted ways with. This comment I am writing here is the most I have ever said outside of that, and for that, Chie, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. The next step may be seeking proper help, but I think that’s a way off.

    I am sorry to hear you’ve been suffering in silence for so long, and truly hope (and believe) this is the start of better times for you.

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    • Thank you for honouring my blog with your sincere words, Cathy, when you’ve been struggling to open up to anyone.

      I completely understand your reluctance in seeking help. We often cling to our pain/our problems/negative thoughts because we’ve identified ourselves with them for so long they’ve become part of our identity. It’s almost like, without them, we’d annihilate ourselves, we’d cease to exist. That’s why we end up getting into vicious cycles of (subconsciously) pursuing painful experiences, even though we don’t want them any more. Crazy as that may sound, that type of pain can be addictive and strangely comforting exactly because it feels so familiar. It may hurt but at least it doesn’t frighten, whereas looking in the mirror and confronting our problems does … And yet the issues that causes us pain are completely separate ‘entities’, if you like, and can be isolated and banished if we really want to.

      It takes a lot of effort to ‘enlighten’ ourselves to be able to automatically do that, I know. By ‘enlighten’, I don’t mean embrace a religion or become a monk, but understand how your mind works and interferes with how you feel and not allow it to pollute the stillness in your soul. But, yikes, that is so much easier said that done! This is where people professionally trained in mental health can help. They can guide you in breaking our ‘bad mental habits’ and form new ones that will be less damaging.

      I hope the time comes soon when you feel prepared to open that door leading to healing and self-acceptance. Whichever part of the journey you are at, please know I support you 100%.

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      • Cathy

        It may hurt but at least it doesn’t frighten – yes, exactly. Changing is so much harder than repeating patterns that you know and understand. Patterns are comforting to some extent, even when you fully comprehend that they are ultimately damaging.

        I have a lot of work to do. But reading this blog post, its courage and honesty, may have given me a much-needed kick in the backside.

        Thank you.

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  7. Chie – this was so honest and brave, not to mention timely as I’m sure many people are going through the same trials. I am touched that you were willing to put this out there to help others! What a huge heart!
    Love you ~ Mindy

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  8. Pingback: Fine probably isn’t quite the word « Everything else

  9. Good work! Thanks for such interesting writing as I were in a position to discover here. I agree with much of what is written right here and I am going to be coming back to this website again.

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  10. Paul

    My name is Paul and I’m long-term unemployed.

    My story started in 2004 when my brother, who at 19 and unable to find meaningful work, rejected from attending college because of the entrance exam, committed suicide.
    At the time I was 21, enjoying life and happily working in a callcentre while I was figuring out what to do with my future. Within 7 months I had joined the Royal Navy as a Marine Engineering Mechanic, this was equally the best and worst decision I could have made. 3 months later I had left the Navy after having a breakdown and started along the path of attending college and university. It was a dark time and I mention it because the decision to leave the Navy has led me to my current situation.
    I attended an art college and achieved a BTEC Diploma in Art and Design and then went onto university to achieve a degree in fine art. I started university in 2006 and graduated in 2010. In those four years the world that I had grown up in, the boom years of Labour, had come crashing down around me and I moved back to my hometown in Middlesbrough without any idea what to do with this degree that the media had promised would lead me to salvation.

    Not once did any teachers or career advisers warn me of the trouble I would face getting any sort of work with this qualification and I soon found myself working once again in a callcentre, only this time without the youthful enthusiasm I had 6 years earlier. I couldn’t keep doing these jobs for longer than 6 months before self-destructing and either not turning up to work or doing such a poor job that they sacked me. Eventually the pain of not having my skills recognized and my potential reached led me to depression and long-term unemployment. I thought I was useless, not fit for purpose.

    I wish I had read this article at the time and recognized my own humanity.

    I started taking anti-depressants because I didn’t want to feel anything anymore and I knew from research that this was a side effect of the drug. It had the desired effect and I zombied through the next three months. Then one day I woke up and decided I didnt need them anymore and stopped taking them (I cant stress enough how dangerous this is! so please don’t try this). I reached rock bottom and at 29 years old I cried like a baby in my mothers arms. It was the most humbling and liberating moment of my life.

    Its been 6 months from then and life is better. In this time I’ve self-taught myself how to use the Adobe creative suit and had several commissions from companies wanting new branding or illustrations. This has allowed me to regain my self-worth and confidence. To go after something I want rather than mire in self-pity. I also discovered adult apprenticeships and am in the final stages of interviews to become an apprentice nuclear engineer! I would never have imagined this just a few months ago. I may not get the job but that’s OK, because it wont be the end of my world, I still have options and I still have hope and I’m a stronger person now than almost anyone I know.

    Peace.

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    • Hello Paul. Thank you so much for sharing your story here; I was very touched. It was most courageous of you, as I know revealing to the world something so private and painful is never easy. Tt sounds like you’ve turned a corner now and have finally found the right path towards a happier, more fulfilling life. We often have to reach rock bottom, like you did, in order to bounce back up again but once you are in a better place, you will be able to appreciate it that much more for having experienced deep darkness. As you say, you are a stronger and wiser person now. Unfortunately it is only by experiencing pain and suffering that one can achieve that type of inner strength but once you do achieve it, it becomes a resource for you for life. You are now in a position not only to help yourself but also others you may encounter along the way.
      I love your attitude of “it’s ok if you don’t get the job because you still have options”. You probably could not see those options before. Paul, I sincerely wish you the very best of luck. And please do let me know how you got on with your apprenticeship etc. Either leave me another comment here or email me privately. I will be cheering for you. You go!

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      • Paul

        Thanks Chie. You’ve actually inspired me greatly and I’ve started to blog about my job search life from here on, using my message to you as a base. I don’t really know how to operate a blog so Its very basic, but it feels much better being able to write things down instead of having them rattling around in my head.
        Your doing a great job here so keep it up!
        I’ve included my wordpress address for you to look at if you would do me the honour.

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