15 Things I wish I told myself when I was unemployed and depressed
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW). Some 1 in 4 people in the UK will be affected by a mental health issue each year, with anxiety and depression being the most common problems. All this week, JOE will be publishing a series of stories, videos, and personal accounts to engage with and widen the discussion about men's mental health in the UK today.
Losing your job can be a traumatic experience.
Companies like to dress it up and spin job loss as a happy parting of the ways, but losing your job is someone telling you that for some reason you're not needed anymore, and you have to leave.
Losing your job can send your confidence and mental health into a tailspin. For a lot of people, what you do for a living can be linked to your sense of identity and self-esteem, and with no job to anchor yourself to, you end up at risk of symptoms of depression.
Studies from Gallup in America have shown those who spend more than six months without work are three times more likely to suffer from depression. That's not to say someone living with depression is a black mark that makes it harder for you to find work, but that there are things people currently not in employment have to be mindful of.
On three occasions I've been one of the 1.68 million unemployed people in the UK. I've twice been unemployed for longer than six months.
Here's some of the most helpful bits of advice I wish I could have gone back and told myself when I was unemployed. I hope some of it can be of use to people going through a low time.
(Photo via Andinda Navartierre)
You are not worthless
You are not your job. You are not defined by what you do for a pay cheque. You are not worthless because you do not have a job.
Always remember that the question “What do you do?” is just small talk. Not a way for people to figure out your value and assign your value. Not a badge you can stick on people. Not a system of ranking how important some people are compared to others.
It is just small talk.
Job or not, you matter. You always do. You always will. To people around you. To people who love you. To people who miss you if you don’t call or text for a while. You matter.
Money doesn’t rot
When you’re unemployed and have no money coming in, any time you DO get money, you to feel an urge to spend it on something. Anything. The power becomes paralysing. You think if you don’t spend money, someone will suck it away and you end up back at square one with not much to show for it.
Stop it. Money does not rot. It will not go sour if you leave it in your bank account. A grinch will not come away to take it, and if he does, it’s probably for something sensible like your council tax.
When I was unemployed I had a real problem with buying drinks. When I had money, I wanted to get rounds to show other people I was back on the up. A surprise accumulator win got wasted on a bunch of Jägerbombs as I was scared friends wouldn’t like me if I came out without pitching in.
Get out of the habit of flashing what little cash you have to prove something. If you’re the type of person who gets worried your mates will bin you off because you can’t get a round in, or can’t afford that pricey night out, TELL THEM BEFOREHAND that money is tight. If they’re you’re proper mates, they’ll probably let you off the hook. They may even pitch in to help.
(Photo via Tristian Crawlers)
Try to wake up before 10am each day
With no impetus to get up early each day, it can be easy to get into a night owl schedule with no job. You watch TV/play computer games/tug it until about 2am, and, left to your devices, wake up at around 1pm the next day.
Try to slowly work your way out of that. When I was out of work I tried making it a goal to get out of bed by 10am. Not showered, not cooking myself a wonderful breakfast. Just out of bed. While lie-ins are great, allowing your body clock to slide too far can land you working one day behind everyone. If you’re emailing CVs out at 4pm instead of 11am, everything gets knocked back, so try your best to keep something resembling a worker's schedule.
It’s okay to do fuck all every now and again
During my time unemployed I watched five seasons of Friday Night Lights (Texas forever), two seasons of Bojack Horseman (suck a dick, dumb shits), four seasons of Luther (who hasn’t got a catchphrase so this joke doesn’t work now), and three seasons of Breaking Bad (I got up to when Hank met the cartel hitmen, then got bored).
My point is: it is okay to slack off and have cheat days.
Looking for a job is important. Looking after yourself is vital.
Take days off to do nothing. Take days off to just sort through the post. Try your best to take days off from the grind of finding a job and just find a way to love yourself. Because as I learnt from watching five seasons of Ru Paul’s Drag Race in six months, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you going to love somebody else?”
(Photo via Zachary Staines)
That said, try to get out of the house a couple of times a week
A very wise man once said the two tips for creativity were to read constantly and to travel as much as possible on foot.
My advice? Do both a couple of times a week. Take a book and go out into the world until you find somewhere nice to read it. Walking about the places can be really calming way to root yourself in the world and get your senses going again. Listen to things, look the fuck around. Get lost a few times. Take a camera out and take a few photos if you fancy.
Head to the library every now and again. Remember the library? They work a bit like Netflix, but with books. Use your local one while they’re still open.
And if you have to, don’t tug it more than 3 times a day
Between the post-nut napping, the wasted toilet paper, and the general feeling of disgust you end up wasting FAR too much time watching porn all day when you have nothing to do. If you’re late for events because you spent too long “blue movie browsing”, cut it out. Three times a day. Max.
(Photo via Ian Schneider)
Write stuff down
When you’re unemployed, days tend to blur - with not much on with my days other than “see if you can wee that brown mark off your toilet”, my Wednesdays became just as interchangeable with my Fridays. It meant my short term memory went AWOL as I didn’t have strong events to anchor things to.
This is why you write things down, so you can remember stuff.
Be it on your phone, on a computer, or going old fashioned and getting a pen and paper, write stuff down to help you organise.
Pen and paper worked best for me. Working on my handwriting helped calm me when things got particularly bad, and the relationship between your hand and paper can really help organise things.
Get your friends to look at your applications
There’s an anecdote that the third thing a person uses to define you is your signature trait.
“You know Carl? Tall? Wears glasses? REALLY into Star Wars?”
Your best friends know you better than you know yourself, so when you’re looking for a job, ask them for help.
Ask them if they know if anything is going where they work.
Ask them to look over your CV for spelling mistakes. Ask them if there is something about yourself that you forgot to put down.
You’ll be STUNNED at how many talents your friends know you for that would look good on a CV. Can you dance? PUT THAT SHIT DOWN AND SHOW AN EMPLOYER YOU HAVE A PERSONALITY
(Photo via Fabian Blank)
Check your bank statements once a week
You will forget at least one direct debit that you can do without when you lose a job. Don’t discover you’ve still been paying for something on a subscription basis that you don’t use anymore.
Try your best to downscale things. It took me three months before I twigged I was still buying myself “good” coffee. I was waking up at 1pm, why did I need coffee in the first place? Apples wake you up better in the morning anyway.
And don’t get ever a payday loan
Don’t do it. Just don’t. If things are that bad, use it as leverage to ask for favours of family or friends. “I wouldn’t ask but it’s either this or a payday loan”
No one deserves to pay 900%+ APR.
(Photo via Alejandro Escamilla)
Take this time out to learn something
If you have a smartphone, then you own a computer more advanced than the ones they used to put a man on the moon. Use it. A smartphone connected to the web allows you access to the largest sum of human knowledge the world has ever seen. Take advantage of it.
Or download mobile app duolingo and try learning French, Spanish or another language
Or learn how to code. Seriously, learn to code. For free. Right here with Code Academy. We all live on the internet now. Learn how the building blocks work (It looks good on your CV too).
You don’t have to do it everyday. Sometimes it is hard, sometimes it is fiddly, and every now and again you will pack it in for a few days (or weeks, or months), but the point is you are trying something to improve yourself. And that’s one of the best things a person can do.
Try not to take setbacks personally
“We wish you all the best in your future endeavours” is one of the nastiest sentences in the English language. It’s more or less the sign-off used in rejection letters for job applications, and once you’ve read it a couple of times it can seem as a personal attack.
Try to work yourself out of it. Learning to not take any rejection or slight as a personal attack on my consciousness is one of the hardest lessons it took for me to learn when I had nothing. I would stew on off-colour jokes for days thinking how someone could embarrass me.
After one too many “we decided to go with another candidate”, I once drew up a list of the candidates they picked over me to see if they were that much better, if they deserved MY job.
The thing is, it was never MY job to begin with. It was just A job. A job going and someone got it. Sometimes it’s okay to get annoyed at setbacks, but try not to let rejection and stumbles get you too angry. Getting the hump can consume you, and there’s no point wasting time and effort stewing in sadness when you could be getting back on the bike.
(Photo via Anna Vander Stel)
Spend time with people who support you
There’s a really great moment in Doctor Who where the Eleventh Doctor is asked why he allowed his friends to see him at his lowest moment. Up until that point the Doctor was meant to be some sort of incredible, impervious, intelligent superhero, capable of taking on any task.
The Doctor says he let his friends see him at rock bottom because his friends were always there for him. “However dark it got, I’d turn around and there they’d be.”
He adds: “Remember the best, my friends have been the best of me.”
You are never alone in this. It can be hard and sometimes scary to admit to your friends that you are sad, but you can do it. All you can do is be your true self and put yourself out there. You’ll often be surprised by how many people around you will respond in kind.
Talk to someone if things get really bad
About 4 months into unemployment I cut my hand badly and had to go to hospital. While a lovely A&E nurse stitched me up he asked me if anything was wrong. I explained stuff, how I was living on my own, how I had no job, and how I just felt a bit blue. He recommended I give a helpline a call.
“Sometimes what you need is a caring ear, rather than a wagging tongue”.
Talk to someone if things get bad.
Talk to the wonderful people at the Samaritans,
Think about talking to your local GP.
Talking to a stranger can sometimes allow people to talk about things they’d normally be reluctant about sharing. You are never alone in this, so explore your options.
If you're a person who likes to read, The Help Guide has some good practical advice for people living with depression. It may also be useful to take a look at the University of Exeter’s Clinical psychology department - its Mood Disorder Clinic is good for both advice and useful resources for people trying to figure it all out.
It gets better
Seriously. It does.
It may take some weeks, it make takes some months, it make even take some years, but it will get better. All you can do when you’re down and out and blue is keep trying. Keep trying to put one foot in front of the other. Keep trying to get out of bed and keep taking shots.
It’s hard, you may sometimes stumble, and you may sometimes take a break, and that is ok too. As long as you keep trying you will get there. I promise you that.
About halfway through my stint of unemployment I stumbled on Bojack Horsemen, which has one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen on beating the blues. (Spoilers for Season 2, but this doesn’t matter because this could genuinely save a life)