Dealing with Depression at Work
Being a productive individual is hard. Add depression to that and a successful career seems impossible to achieve. Let’s see how we can tweak that.
Ah, work. Did you know we spend approximately 13 years of our life working? And mind you, not all jobs allow you to have your morning Medium scroll while sipping a nice cup of coffee. Some people’s job is to stuff your dead aunt Janice or cleaning the sewers underneath the corner bagel store.
I learned pretty early on that depression drives isolation. I seek it out involuntarily. I’ve developed a special power that allows me to quickly identify the darkest, most isolated corner in any new space I enter. My colleagues know that I went to great lengths to get my hands on the space I now have in the office and how I sometimes lurk in the dark corner created by the file cabinets behind me and the desk, while sitting on an orange beanbag.
But working in an office kinda means I have to face people eventually. In particular, since I am managing a team now. And it was hard at first. I would get home exhausted, feeling drained of any energy. I would sink in bed without eating and wake up the next morning just as tired.
I remember the first day at my first job ever. I was paralyzed with fear but kept it together somehow. It was a part-time internship at a big international company. Coincidentally, I still work there to this day, as a team leader. Looking back, I can’t remember much of what happened because I was in panic mode the whole 4 hours of work. I was so scared that I forgot to ask where the bathroom was. And obviously was too ashamed to ask a coworker for that info. Fast forward a week and I would still not know where the bathroom was, which was getting critical by this point. So, what I thought of doing was by no means to get to know my coworkers, but instead, casually follow them around until eventually, I figured out where the bathroom was. And let me tell you, following people around without them suspecting it while struggling not to sh*t your pants is quite difficult, to say the least.
But this is a valid example of how depression reconfigures your mind. You are perfectly optimized to avoid conflicts, people, happiness, help, and even yourself. You are never in control. Your sadness and fear are. So what to do in order to find balance? Anchor yourself in the present.
Find something you like doing and expand on that
This is the difficult part so I might as well put it first. Unless you find something you enjoy doing, your depression is bound to expand. Working on something you’re passionate about will most definitely help.
However, I do encourage you to take up a job, any job. It will help you create a daily routine, learn some skills and meet some people. Remember to ask where the bathroom is on the first day.
- Make a list of what you enjoy doing
- Take online courses on that subject
- Research possible jobs or activities that match your skills
- Apply for jobs even if their not a perfect match
- Go to interviews
Routines and lists can save lives
While having a life that revolves only around routines can get out of balance pretty quickly, I do have some habits that are so ingrained in my being that people have come to know me by them.
- wake up at the same hour every day
- enjoy a nice podcast or book on your commute
- find a coffee shop you like and enjoy a nice cup of coffee there for once a week
- start your office day by watering your desk plant
- check your calendar to see what to expect
- check all the emails you have and sort them according to priority
- reward yourself with a piece of candy for a completed task
- eat real food
- take a break to meditate
- listen to white noise to help you concentrate
- declutter your desk and your mind
Check the internet for more useful resources. While I don’t personally resonate with everything he says, listening to Jordan Peterson’s logical take on depression changed my own approach to it.
To stand up straight with your shoulders back is to accept the terrible responsibility of life, with eyes wide open. It means deciding to voluntarily transform the chaos of potential into the realities of habitable order. It means adopting the burden of self-conscious vulnerability, and accepting the end of the unconscious paradise of childhood, where finitude and mortality are only dimly comprehended. It means willingly undertaking the sacrifices necessary to generate a productive and meaningful reality[…].
Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos
It’s all about balance
I found out the hard way that trying to push my way through depression by ignoring it doesn’t work. My days would be completely planned out. No minute left to chance, because I felt that if I don’t have something to do, my sadness would take over. But instead of having control, this triggered some of the worse depressive episodes I’ve experienced early in my career. And mind you, most of them would unravel when I was alone, where I wouldn’t be able to get help or bring up the power to call for my friends and family.
This is important: Allow yourself to be sad when you feel sad. Listen to what your mind is telling you and take a step back to dwell on that. Don’t push back. Write it down, read it again and try to understand. Apply some logic to it. Consult with someone. Blocking emotions will only result in them coming back with a vengeance.
- find a safe place where you can spend some time listening to your own thoughts — I actually do this at my desk, but my friend prefers to go outside, take some air
- drink a cup of camomille tea
- start writing it all down, even if it’s not coherent — you can write it on your laptop or on a piece of paper, it really doesn’t matter
- take deep breaths
- look around you: you’ve made it so far on your own, you are capable and smart, you deserve to enjoy it all
Success can be anything you want it to be
As an only child, I was always the main point of focus for my parents. Come to think of it, I still am. But what they define as success or what other people think success is doesn’t really apply to everyone. What I had to acknowledge is that I cannot compare myself to other people in any way. Our experiences are different, our skills and goals are different, the way we feel and act is different.
I consider it a personal success to get up in the morning at the same time even during weekends. Trying my hand at a new dish is also in my top 10 achievements of the day. The key is to start small: small goals that can quantify your day.
- respond to all emails
- eat something healthy
- finish part of a project you are undertaking
- compile a set of tasks for your team
- delegate a task
- conduct a meeting — public speaking
- share one of your ideas with the team and then with management
- look back at what you achieved today
You’ll notice that small successes end up contributing to one notable achievement. Like getting a promotion.
The main takeaway is that you’ll have to start small. Allow yourself tiny victories each day and acknowledge that. Say it out loud if you have to: Today I finished writing this article, and I’m proud of that.
See you next week and stay safe!