The Difficulty in Trying to Begin a Career With Depression
I recognize how blessed I am to be two weeks away from completing all of the requirements of a graduate school program and have had a job I want in place for months now. I have worked really hard, but I also know I have been given incredible opportunities. Nevertheless, trying to begin a career as a professional in the midst of major depression is really impossibly hard.
One of the things that makes it hard is not being able to celebrate. Receiving congratulations gracefully and seeing peers also be successful creates a contrast that makes the confines of one’s own head seem especially dark. I know I have no “reason” to be depressed and yet I hate getting up on a daily basis. The bare minimum of my day is utterly exhausting and comes with no joy.
Furthermore, one of the advantages in theory of being a young person in a field is bringing new energy and excitement into the work. I remember what that used to feel like, just two years ago, freshly accepted into the program that would both trigger and worsen my depression, creating deeply-rooted shame and difficulty trusting others and situations. I was unable to sit down or eat, I was so excited. Now, with the perfect job in hand, I look towards the future with distrust and doubt that I will ever recapture that initial passion.
My exhaustion makes the exciting changes feel like more of a burden. Looking ahead is dangerous. I’m better off getting by day by day.
Another difficulty that is even more highly apparent this month (Mental Health Awareness Month) are the ways in which being a young professional limits me from being an advocate for my own mental health and the mental health of others. I would like to be transparent about my struggles with mental illness, but unfortunately, stigma is a very true reality, even in a helping field. Especially while applying for jobs and even now, I have to be careful about who knows I have an illness. The impact of this is twofold.
Firstly, I am limited in the kind of support and accommodation I can seek out. I have yet to achieve remission, so I am still struggling through finding the right medication and trying to work mental health appointments around work expectations. Much of this would be easier if mental health didn’t carry a stigma. I would feel so much less isolated if I could just tell a supervisor I’m having a bad day instead of faking enthusiasm. I’m not trying to get out of doing my job. I still want to push through and be the best I can be. But, I don’t want to feel like I’m constantly acting, making sure the secret that I am not a happy person right now doesn’t get out.
Secondly, it would be rewarding to be able to advocate for mental illness in an open way. I have a semicolon keychain and I write for The Mighty, but I feel I can’t share my work to a Facebook or participate in community events for mental health.
I also wish others could understand that despite my success, my depression is still severe. I often feel people don’t take me seriously even when I am able to talk about my mental illness. I don’t have “high-functioning” depression. I have major depression and am productive. I can’t explain why I am able to move forward other than the fact my perfectionism wouldn’t let me do otherwise. It is really damn hard and not at all reflective of the severity of my depression. (Personal note: To those of you who aren’t able to work, know I respect you and that my experience is in no way meant to invalidate you or your experiences.)
I am still in need of support and consideration because of the high costs it takes to carry on every day. Because of the way society views mental health, I don’t anticipate that I will ever be acknowledged as someone who is both a highly accomplished professional and a person struggling with a mental illness. These two things need not be mutually exclusive, but I fear discrimination of the one may prevent the other from being fully appreciated. So, for now, I will maintain my relative silence.
I am a professional. I am also a person with a hidden mental illness.
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Thinkstock photo via g-stockstudio