Tag Archives: blues

Surviving unemployment lows: what I learned from an actor’s life

Jenga work

Photo by 'santibon' (Flickr)

A few days ago my husband mentioned an article he had read in the Guardian about Scottish actor Jeff Stewart. I didn’t even know who Stewart was, but the story struck a chord with me so I went to look for it myself.

It was an ‘a-ha moment’. Sometimes you come across something seemingly trivial, which can unlock the key to a deeper understanding of your present situation.

My story
My situation was that I had reached an all-time low after a string of unfortunate job rejections, despite several interviews for which feedback had been excellent.

One thing is is not getting a job for failing to meet its requirements, or for interviewing poorly. That’s easier to accept and move on. Another is to be praised for your “strong CV”, your “outstanding skills and experience”, being told what a “fantastic candidate” you are…only to be informed you haven’t got the job for reasons that have no connection with your competency for the role.

Had this happened in the first few weeks after I became unemployed, I would have put it down to bad luck. But in my seventh month looking for work it pushed me over the edge – I felt literally suicidal.

Much as I try not to rest too long on thoughts about the past that cannot be changed, it has become increasingly harder to get back on my feet after a fall. When you can see no flicker of light at the end of a tunnel, is it even worth continuing the journey? How can you want something so much, work so hard for it and still not be able to achieve it? How can the universe be so cruel, slamming all doors in your face one after another?

Stewart’s story
The lights must have gone out in the life of actor Jeff Stewart too when he was told his role as PC Reg Hollis in the long-running ITV police drama the Bill was to be axed after 24 years. Feeling  let down, he went into his dressing room and cut his wrists but  changed his mind and called for help moments before he blacked out.

That was in 2008. After a complete change of image ( he did not cut his hair for three years) to avoid being typecast as his old character, Jeff Stewart went on to get roles in four films. One of those, Under Jakob’s Ladder,  a low-budget movie made in only 21 days, and Stewart were both winners at the Manhattan Film Festival last month: the film won best period piece while Stewart earned the best actor award.

Newspapers this week have been reporting that Stewart’s award will probably shoot him to Hollywood stardom. The Bill, on the other hand, only survived for two more years after Stewart was sacked.

Jeff Stewart must be glad his life did not end when he thought it was no longer worth living. He told the Sun his suicide attempt was “sobering”.

His story reads like a fable.  He understood that  playing Reg Hollis was not the be all and end all of an actor’s career – there were many more roles for him to play in life, both artistically and literally. As a result, he got to where he needed to get.

Jenga blocks
Jeff Stewart’s success story reminded me that sometimes things you want don’t come your way because what you want is not necessarily what you need at the time. But if you persevere, sweet rewards and greater joys may be in store.

If you have ever played Jenga, you know how the blocks wobble every time a piece is taken out. How many pieces can you remove before the whole tower collapses?

You may also be aware that the blocks you can safely lose are those that will easily come out when you gently tap them with your finger. Likewise, if you treat each blow during your unemployment as a ‘loose’ wooden block you can get rid of because it is actually dispensable, you are more likely to end up winning the game. Remember: those blocks are expendable; there is no need to hang on to them. Let go.

Losing them may momentarily shake the structure but won’t destroy the building, which is supposed to grow taller. Think about this concept for a minute. By disposing of unnecessary “baggage” of past anger, hurts and resentments, whatever they may be, you can travel lighter and faster to your personal stardom.

Not that I am aiming for a career in Hollywood; I simply want to bid  farewell to life on the dole.

I thank Jeff Stewart for the inspiration.



Filed under Coping

10 practical tips for overcoming those Christmas blues

Being out of work around Christmas time can bring on a terrible feeling of despair and despondency. Christmas blues can hit anyone, even if you have job, but if you can barely afford to buy Christmas presents for your loved ones because you are unemployed, you are probably wanting it to go away as quickly as possible.

So what do you do when cards arrive in the post saying ‘Merry Christmas!’ but ‘merry’ is a sentiment you have long lost touch with?

How do I know I have the blues?
In my experience, depression manifests itself in various forms. Can you identify yourself with any of the symptoms below?

  1. Extreme patterns of sleep: this could be sleeping too much (“I want to stay hidden under the duvet”) or too little (insomnia)
  2. No focus or energy: your to do list is enormous but you find it a struggle to get even a single one crossed out.
  3. Weight fluctuation: you are either eating too much comfort food and putting on weight or you have lost your appetite
  4. Breakdown in relationships/social life: you catch yourself constantly grumpy or moody without a reason, snapping at your partner or friends; you have run-ins with people over trivial matters, after which you feel worse.
  5. Extreme apathy: you can’t be bothered to wash or get dressed, you don’t feel like cooking, nor taking any exercise; your friends call or write but you ignore them. You want the world to leave you alone and forget that you exist.

If you answered YES to one or more of the above behaviour patterns, you may find some of the tips below useful. They are personally tested methods that can help change your focus from the half-empty-cup thinking to an almost-full one. 

Shifting your thinking paradigms

1)  Indulge a little: okay, you haven’t worked in many months and you are skint. But for very little money you can actually lift your mood and re-gain the strength to face another day. Check discount shops, pound shops or charity shops for something cheap and silly that will cheer you up. Indulge in food or drink that gives you pleasure; go somewhere associated with happy memories; use that bubble bath you got for your last Christmas. Sometimes small efforts can make all the difference.

2) Give yourself a break: if you have ever done one of those online job application forms, which takes days to fill in, you know they can drain the life out of you. When you feel you’ve reached a point of saturation, put the job hunting aside for a few days and give your brain a “holiday”. Forcing an exhausted brain to work is like flogging a dead horse. Go watch a movie, read a book, visit a friend, play computer games, write a blog…whatever helps you relax. When you feel ready to carry on, you will notice you will be mentally sharper and your concentration power will be back.

3) Share with friends: it is quite common for an unemployed person to feel isolated from the rest of the working world. You feel embarrassed every time someone asks you what you do (for a living); you feel no one would understand how miserable you are and wish the world would leave you alone. Negative emotions, which remain unexpressed, can fester inside you and bring you further down. Be brave: invite a friend for a coffee and tell them how you are feeling.  You’d be surprised how many people around you are actually feeling as low as you are and could also do with some cheering up. They will be relieved you took the intiative to open up. Just being able to share your pain with someone else will immediately makes it more bearable.

4) Tidy up your space: a cluttered room is a sign of a cluttered mind. Spend half a day doing a major clear-out in the room you spend most of your day in. File, archive, throw away things you don’t really need. If you are inspired, hoover, polish, dust…do a spring cleaning as well. I can guarantee you will feel an enormous sense of achievement afterwards, your mind will be calmer and youwill be more inspired to battle on.

5) Tidy up your inbox: an inbox bulging with far more emails than you have time to read can become a source of stress. Your circumstances may be making you feel overwhelmed anyway and your emails may have got out of control while you were busy job hunting. If that is the case, it’s time for a spring cleaning in your Inbox too.

a) First, delete all junk mail and unsubscribe from any email alerts you don’t really need. You can always re-subscribe to them later.
b) Create a temporary folder called “To clear” and subdivide it into a few sub-folders naming them by subject, e.g. “friends”,”family”, “to respond”, “job alerts”, “news digests”, etc
c) File the unread emails into the sub-folders by category.You should now only have a small number of messages left in your main inbox, which are not urgent, and it already looks far more manageable.
d) Set a time everyday, say half an hour in the morning, half an hour in the evening, when you’ll do nothing else but browse these unread emails and either file them away, respond/action or delete them. Don’t be tempted to dip into them at any other time. Don’t try to read them all in one go either, as it will backfire. It may take a week or more, but you will get there. And it won’t stress you as much, as there is order in the chaos. You’re back in control.

6) Learn the benefits of walking: unless you are a naturally sporty person and can be motivated to go to the gym even on a “blue day”, your apathy about life may have made you stop caring about getting fit. Yet, exercising is not only about fitness or calory burning; your mind also benefits from the feel-good hormones that are released during physical activity. When you are down, you may not have the energy to go on the treadmill, do an aerobics class or swim. Is there anything gentler available at your local gym or advertised at your local library or news agent? A yoga class? Pilates? Taichi? If none of those appeal, walking is as good as any other exercise. If you live in the city, choose somewhere calm and green, like a park, to walk in.

  1. While walking empty your head of thoughts and focus you attention on each step you take and on each breath that goes in and out of your lungs, nothing else. Walk mindfully.
  2. If you get bored of that walking meditation try the opposite and do a vigorous affirmation about something you would like to change in your life or your self-image. If you would like to be more confident and popular, repeat in your head, “I am confident and popular, I am confident and popular” creating a rhythm with your steps. Do this for at least 5 minutes (time yourself), 20 if you can, after which either go back to meditative walking or move on to another affirmation (make them short and rhythmic for best effect).

You are achieving three things here:

  1. making energy flow better by moving your body
  2. creating positive vibrations that will be fed to your subconscious (even if you don’t believe in what you’re affirming) 
  3. bringing a sensation of profound peace to your mind by tapping into the stillness within.

7) Write an acknowledgment list every week: there is a wonderful game I play with a handful of my friends called TILT, “Things I Love On a Thursday”, but you can do it on any other day of the week. Every Thursday we jot down on an email a few things in the past week that we feel grateful about and send it to the others in the circle so we can read each other’s TILTs. It makes you take stock of the week and forces you to shift your focus from always looking for things that make you unhappy to looking for positives to be thankful for. TILT items can be as mundane as “the sun came out”, or “I managed to complete the paper’s crossword puzzle”. What matters is you are celebrating the good things that happen in your life everyday and you forget to take note of.

8) Make a list of achievements in your life: long-term unemployment can affect your self-confidence and make you feel like a failure. Suddenly, the fact that you haven’t got a job becomes so much larger in your imagination than all the things you have already achieved and forgotten about. What are the things you are proud of in your life so far? Don’t just think of awards and competitions. It could be anything, such as passing your driving test, overcoming a challenge, learning a new skill… Write them down on a piece of paper and don’t stop until you reach AT LEAST 20 items. It is harder than you think. By the time you reach 20, you may remember 5 more. Add them. Keep on adding as many as you like. Read that list everyday; close your eyes and try to remember what it felt like when you achieved what you did; just bask in that feeling for a moment with your entire body. Then put the list away and carry on with your normal life. This exercise will help create a vibration of success, which will put your subconscious in a success-achieving mode. Trust me; it works. Every time you start getting down, get the list out and do it again. Remind yourself what a successful person you are.

9) Make a list of five things you want to put behind you and five things you want to happen to you next year: one of my neighbours does this as a special New Year ceremony every year. She burns the list of the things she wants to bury for good and puts the five wishes for the future somewhere she can contemplate from time to time throughout the year to see what progress she is making. I really like the idea and am going to try it out myself. You can programme your own subconscious to make positive things happen by writing your intentions down like this. My friend wrote down a detailed description of the character of the man she wanted to meet. Months later she met her husband and is now happily married and expecting his baby. Honest.

10) Practise a random act of kindness: ironically, when we desperately hang onto something we don’t want to lose, they seem to slip away from us even faster. The anxiety we create by grasping onto things, create a negative energy that ends up attracting exactly what we feared the most. In order to attract the things we desire in life, we have to direct our thoughts to what we want, not what we don’t want.

If your dream is to find a stable job that will earn you decent money, start behaving now as if you have already achieved it. How many times have you passed the homeless man outside the supermarket but you didn’t give him anything because you thought you couldn’t afford to part with your pennies. How often have you told yourself you would help a charity, or a friend in need, “when I win the lottery”? I’m afraid I’ve done it many times. “I can’t afford, I can’t afford”…was all I could think of. For months and months I denied myself things I wanted and I denied others any type of charity because I felt I wasn’t in a position to help them. The moment I started putting others’ needs before my own, my own blues started to subside, and a new feeling of wealth and abundance began to seep in.  By giving I am opening up to receive.

Isn’t it Christmas after all?

Merry Christmas and sincere wishes for a fantastic job in the New Year!

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Filed under Coping