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What It's Like to Be Depressed and Unemployed

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Living with depression is not easy. Living with depression and being unemployed? Even worse.

It is not an easy situation for anyone to be unemployed. In the state of unemployment, there are a lot of unknowns that run through a person’s mind. (When will money run out? When will I find another job? Do I take a job out of necessity or want?) When you add depression to the mix, and a side of anxiety, it makes life harder and at times unbearable. You question every decision you have made in your life leading up to this point and time. What’s worse, you start to mentally list all the regrets in your life, both professionally and personally. It’s not easy for an individual to take stock of their life when they are possibly at their lowest point, as most thoughts automatically lead to the negatives. Yes, there are bright spots in one’s life, both past and present. Being unemployed can also lead one to be creative and resourceful. Overall, though, it is not a fun or productive mentality to live through as there seems to be more questions in your life, and the answer become few and far between.

For as long as I can remember, I have always lived with depression. In my younger days (pre-high school), I was always sad and lonely. I didn’t know how to quantify or properly identify my feelings until later when I was in college and I started to seek counseling, and later medication, for my illness. I was grateful for those resources to lean on, but something else throughout the last 20 years served as my crutch during my depressive moods: work. Whether I loved or hated the work I was doing or the location I was at, work served as somewhat as a relief for my depression, loneliness and anxiety. It was because it was a routine for me. A set of boundaries that I had, which now I realized I craved and needed. I have a schedule, I work with people, I could do something productive and creative with my life, and I go home for the day with a paycheck. It was normal, mundane, repetitive, frustrating and gave me the sense that I have a place in the world.

For over 20 years, I had worked steadily. Due to my mentality (and mostly my anxiety since I don’t like change or chaos), I was loyal to the place I worked. I have been employed by four places in the past 20 years, with the last almost 11 years with the same company. While I dabbed in the banking field short-term, all my past professional experience has been in the restaurant business. I started off as a dishwasher and moved up the chain until I was a salaried manager. That was an accomplishment itself, me needing and being able to effectively communicate and lead team members though successful shifts. Seems like an oxymoron from the outside (the combination of anxiety and depression with being a leader), but it worked for me. I had a steady job, with a steady income, I had my routine to keep my mind occupied, and I felt I had a place in the world. Recently, that all changed, and my depression did not know how to cope with my current stage in life.

Four months ago, I was separated from my work (willingly or non-willingly is another matter). At first, I did feel a sense of relief. After over 20 years of consistent and steady work, I was unemployed. After a few days of unwinding and getting accustomed to my new situation, reality started to hit. At first, I was optimistic and hopeful that my newly found status was temporary, that I would be able to act as if I was on a temporary vacation and everything would be fine in due time. That has not been the case.

After the first month, I started to casually job hunt. I was confident, maybe even too confident, that given my background and experience, I would be able to acquire a job in my industry and be compensated. I was wrong. My depression and anxiety started to increase. I had some phone conversations with different companies, many of whom I never heard back from for a second interview. I was able to land a face-to-face interview with a few of the companies. When leaving the sit-down interview, I felt confidant about what was said and was certain I was going to get a phone call for an offer. Again, I was wrong. My depression and anxiety took a few notches up because of these developments. After three months, I still found myself unemployed. I still had the financial resources for sustainment, but the status of being unemployed weighed heavily on my mental and emotional state. I was sure I was going to get a job quickly. However, I was truly wrong.

For the next month, I looked daily on different job sites. I was determined to find a job. What more, I was determined to not limit myself and explore opportunities outside the restaurant business as well. I mean, at 41, I was fatigued by working nights, weekends and holidays all the time. I really wanted to find something Monday through Friday, a “9-5” type of job. I applied to quite a few. The offered pay was lower than what I was making, but I saw an opportunity to get out of the doldrums of the restaurant business and lead a more serene work life. What I got instead were a lot of email responses to my application with rejection. The responses I received all said the same thing, along the lines of: We appreciate your interest in the position with our company, and although you have a great background and experience, we have decided to more forward with other candidates who meet our requirements/needs.

Being rejected numerously by email, without even a phone conversation to officially apply for a job, hurts. And hurts a lot. The rejection stings in that, with my depression speaking, my life has been a waste. Twenty years of professional experience, blood, sweat and tears, working late nights, every weekend, every holiday, being a loyal and dependable employee for the company I had work for, it was all for nothing at this point in my life. At 41 years old, I feel like a failure in life.

What’s worse was the way the rejection affected my depression and anxiety at home and around people. I was never a social being to begin with. But I do find myself becoming more self-isolated and withdrawn than before. Maybe because of the shame and failure I feel of being unemployed for four months. Maybe because after all those years of work and service, I was now being told by recruiters and human resource assistants half my age that it was all for naught.

And with that, my depression takes a deeper turn. Things I used to love doing, such as reading or cooking or walking the dog, becomes a drain on my mind.

When lying in bed and thinking of all the things I want to watch, I end up staring at the TV screen, watching whatever crap comes on, with no motivation to watch something I really want to watch. My eating habits have turned to comfort food (snack food, candy, pastries, etc.) One good thing is that I have been consciously going to the gym five times a week. Probably my saving grace at this point. And I have taken to drinking green tea in the afternoons instead of second heaping of coffee. I have also consciously limited my alcohol intake to two, sometimes three, days a week. However, when I would savor and passionately my beer tastes, I find myself more disengaged than I used to. The enjoyment is just not there anymore for a lot of things that brought me joy in the past.

The biggest concern are the effects of being unemployed and depressed on my mental and physical behaviors. I fear becoming a bitter and angry person, which would only lead to more misery for myself and those around me. I also fear being complacent. Since I have not worked for four months, I physically do not strive to do the rat race again of getting up, shaving and showering, driving to work,and putting in the 8-12 hours of work that would be required of me. I am afraid of shutting down physically, and fine myself wanting to sit around the house all day and do nothing.

Thanks to my mental illnesses, I also feel the stigma of shame. Shame of not being employed. I see others around me, those I have known over the years, getting new jobs or being promoted at their current jobs. Me? I feel as if I have wasted my life and now must start over again, probably at an entry level position. Is that how a 41-year-old is supposed to feel? Worthless and empty about their professional career?

Reason and logic should tell me to keep my head up high, find routines to stay busy and even find part-time work until something permanent comes around. My depression and anxiety are being stung be rejection, stigma and emptiness. I know I have done things in my professional career I should be proud of. Yet, it all seems like a fuzzy memory, as if I am fondly remembering the good old times that really weren’t, and I have been deceiving myself after all these years. I know that at my age, I have a wealth of skills, knowledge and experience to offer potential employers. Sometimes, to find the right professional fix takes time, and I shouldn’t seek out band-aids. I just wish my depression and anxiety were more cooperative with the rest of my brain and help me through these times I am unfamiliar with handling.

Should I feel worthless? Ashamed at being unemployed and rejected for multiple positions? There has got to be something out there for everyone. To tap into my creative and passionate side, instead of my moodiness. I know I can find the right fit — we’ll see how long it takes.

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Getty image via Shendart

Originally published: April 5, 2023
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