This job will save your life.
September 6, 2010 12:03 PM   Subscribe

How can I do well at my new, somewhat public, job?

The good news is that I recently received a job offer last week, on the way to another job interview. This job gives me a reason to stay where I currently live. I want to be happy about it.

Since early this year, I’ve been hovering right between the precipice of not having a home, and hung on with my wit, stubbornness, and sheer determination to not give up. Yes, I asked people for help. Friends offered to loan me money, and I reached out to family. This took a lot from me. I forced myself to exercise. I forced myself outside and into the world, to events. I found small ways to make money. I signed up for public assistance. Joblessness was not the only hardship I experienced.

It is as though the time spent unemployed and the experiences I’ve had created a situation where I am now utterly spent and have nothing left to give for when something like a job actually materialized. Financially depleted, this job comes at the last moment for me. It feels like someone placing a piece of candy into my hand after I've already gone into a diabetic coma.

The motivation to force myself to exercise is gone. I spend days inside. ("What is wrong with me?" seems too judgmental, but not leaving home for days is typically not how I act.) I have the wherewithal to go to job interviews, to buy food, to pay my bills on time. Then, I retreat back to my home. Last month, I became increasingly worried about myself - it was not like me to isolate myself to this degree - so I finally contacted therapists and chose one with whom to work. The therapy is expensive, this person and I discussed my situation, and they were willing to offer a reduced fee to see me.

I will see the therapist again early this week, although for various reasons I don't think it's the best fit. Since I do not like therapy, I worry I am too quickly dismissing this person, knowing it takes time to build a good therapeutic relationship, so I'm told. But, right now, I cannot afford someone else. I know I need the support, and friends are just not there.

But this depression is aching now, and I tried very hard to keep it away, and keep myself moving. I began eating turkey, little gimmicks like “tryptophan helps with mood", ate canned salmon. I have called and spoken with several therapists and a few psychologists, but ended the conversation when I realize what sliding scale means for them. Referrals from cheaper places where people are training felt uncomfortable to me. The bootstrap "just do it" admonitions no longer work for me. I've been telling myself that for a while now. I've done breathing exercises, but find myself either numb or crying in pain and overwhelm. Loud noises startle me. Car horns, fire truck sirens passing, people yelling, all startle me and leave me feeling angry, irritated, and emotionally burned out. My experiences have been damaging to me. I know the job will not alleviate the underlying emotional distress I'm experiencing, but I know the job will help create the conditions where I can start getting the support and help I need. I know something is wrong, and needs attention.

I just feel like nothing will stick. I feel like I’ve worked, fought, and stayed through this process, and now that something finally happened, I feel like I am no longer here.

I'm afraid of being too depressed to really appreciate this job, and don't even feel capable of being happy about it. I know it's an opportunity, and I know it will help me - the routine, the schedule, the meeting new people. If I allowed myself, I might even be excited. Deep down, I want my fight back. I want to start caring again.

My questions:
1) How do I do well at a new job when I’m feeling this depressed? The idea feels like having to go from zero to 60, when I can barely muster combustion, if I were an engine. Which I'm not.
2) How do I build and reach out for social support when the idea exhausts me?

Throwaway email address:

Thanks, AskMeFi.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
"Do well at new job" and "build social support" are big, nebulous, overwhelming prospects.

I'm a little worn out just thinking about it and I'm not you...

I would encourage you to just make yourself one tiny little goal at a time. Instead of "do well at job," find some small piece of that you can manage. Like, for example, set yourself a plan to "have a great morning at work" or "really contribute at the 10 o'clock meeting"....and let that be the goal. Give yourself props when you do it, and let yourself off the hook if you need to go hole up afterwards by yourself and be exhausted.

You sound like you are in a lot of pain -- be gentle with yourself. Unemployment is a wringer for anyone, so acknowledge to yourself that you've achieved something just by making it through that. Even if the most ambitious thing you did on some of those days was to make a cheese sandwich. Most of us have been there, I suspect.

It's OK to just "get through" these first few weeks of work and not be swinging from the chandeliers with joy.

Good luck with the therapy - it can really help.
posted by pantarei70 at 12:33 PM on September 6, 2010

Congratulations on your new job! A couple thoughts:

1. This is not at all a judgment, but your post made me feel tense and tired and jagged. You use words like "fight" and "force" a lot. You've been through a tough experience. Allow yourself to feel a burnt out and allow yourself to relax. If you don't want to go to the gym, don't force yourself to. What do you feel like doing? Do it. Don't force yourself to do things of things you "should" do after work. Treat yourself gently. Take baby steps on activities, including socializing.

2. You don't say whether these feelings are completely a result of this experience. If they are not and you are particularly concerned about job performance, have you considered medication? I'm sure I'll get a verbal beatdown for this, given how popular therapy is on here, but sometimes med are just faster, just as effective, and cheaper. Admittedly, this is coming from someone who hates therapy herself. You sound like you are in some serious pain. BUT, if these feelings are just a result of this experience only and your pain is not as severe as it sounds (numbness, crying in pain, etc.), I'd stay away from meds and just give yourself permission and time to process this experience and recover.

Again, congratulations.
posted by unannihilated at 12:34 PM on September 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Bear in mind that you can fake it. You don't have to be cheerful to appear to be cheerful. There are various social expectations at work which you can meet because that is the role that you are playing. But eventually you will actually become more cheerful.
posted by grizzled at 12:37 PM on September 6, 2010

While you are considering your other options, try to get as much sunshine as you can. Also fish oil tablets may help. I know the exercise seems like the very last thing you want to do, but even a thirty minute walk will help to elevate your mood.

This doesn't read as much to me as depression as it does that your body's ability to handle stress has been depleted. It is OKAY that you are withdrawing right now as that is your psyche's way of restoring itself. It will be temporary. Meanwhile continue to eat as well as you can-b vitamin complex especially, and do try the sunshine, etc. REST. Soak in a tub. Watch entertaining trash on tv.

You are gonna be fine.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:40 PM on September 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

First, congratulations on your job! I know it seems overwhelming right now, but it sounds like your depression is situational. One thing you can do right now is start exercising again. I know that it seems sort of counter-intuitive, but it will help you gear up for working. Getting your muscles moving will help so much. Don't go from zero to 60, go from zero to 15 and work your way up. Even if you only have a few days before you start, forcing yourself to start getting up when you'll need to get up, taking a shower and getting some exercise will soften the blow.

I know you feel like you've exhausted your friend's reservoir's but I can promise that you haven't. If they're good enough friends that they're offering you loans (even if that was some time ago), they're good enough friends to help you get ready for work. I know that this sounds terrible, but I've been there. You just have to do it. Even though it's exhausting. You just have to call someone and see if they want to have a coffee date. You just have to pick up the phone and dial or text. You can do this.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:42 PM on September 6, 2010

I would try not to worry too much, for two reasons. First, the first couple weeks of a new job are overwhelming and confusing to everyone. They will not expect you to do much more than take notes, shake hands with people, and put the file folders in your desk. You will have some time to recover before you have to function at a higher capacity.

Second, because they hired you. They met you when the situation was even worse, and they were impressed. I think it's natural that all this is hitting you now that you can finally relax, but you made it through this horrible situation, and you can use those same coping skills to make it through 9 am to 5 pm, even if you then have to go home and recoup all evening as your body allows the stress to finally catch up to you. And you will soon start to feel better as this horrible experience moves further into the past.

Finally, here's a quirky suggestion: Spend some time in nature. Research shows that time in nature helps people recover from extremely stressful events. That study found that even having a tree outside someone's housing project helped them more proactively cope with poverty, so it applies to the kind of money-oriented stress that you just endured. There are many other studies that found similar results. Another study found that people who go backpacking improve at proofreading while people who vacationed in urban settings or who stayed home basically did not improve, and people who walked through a park did better than people who walked along a city street.* So, could you spend some time out on a hike or even in a neighborhood park or under a tree? You have had to force yourself to focus-focus-focus for so long, but being in front of something where the mind naturally focuses without even trying (think about how fascinating a waterfall or campfire is) allows the "focus muscle" in your brain to completely rest. I know this sounds hokey, but several research teams have independently found that nature and green space help people more quickly recover from horrible, stressful situations and regain their ability to focus.

I am so sorry you experienced this extremely stressful and discouraging time. The good news is that you survived it. I wish you the very best of luck in your new job. You can do it.

* Hartig, T., Mang, M. & Evans, G. W. (1991). Restorative effects of natural environment experiences. Environment and Behaviour. Vol 23, pp 3-26.
posted by slidell at 1:40 PM on September 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd like to pitch in here and say "Yay! for you - you got a new job!!".
That is NOT something that is easy to do - and you overcame a lot of hardship and personal sacrifice to get there.

Your new employers saw something (probably many things) in you that set you apart from and *above* all the other competitors for the job. Remember this when you start.
They also probably don't expect you to walk in and know everything about how to do your new job. All jobs take training and time to 'break in'. Good employers know this (heck, even not-so-good employers know this). and will allow you time to get your feet under you.

So, as others have said above - set small goals, maybe one or two for each day; and you'll see - you can do this! Once you have some small successes under your belt, and get to know your co-workers and the culture, you'll probably begin to feel as though you 'fit in', and you can ask for help when you need it from others at work. Don't be afraid to ask - the smartest workers know what they don't know and aren't afraid to ask! We all watch out for the ones who never ask any questions...

As stoneweaver said, make some time for exercise - you'll feel better after, and it will really help you manage the (mostly good) stress of the New Job.

Again - many heartfelt congratulations!
posted by dbmcd at 1:40 PM on September 6, 2010


Sunshine. Exercise. Sleep.

And yes, "fake it 'til you make it". Just don't let your burned-outness SHOW, and pretty soon (I'd wager) you'll be feeling a whole lot better.
posted by kestrel251 at 1:57 PM on September 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Congratulations on your new job! Feel free to give yourself a "transition period" while you get used to working again. Working full-time after a break from structured employment is hard. Even though you're making money again, it's going to take some time to pay off debts you incurred while you weren't working, time to get back into the swing of a regular paycheck, time to get used to paying bills regularly and on time without having to stress about it.

It's OK for the first couple weeks or months to come home from work feeling drained and watch TV or sit on the couch and read. Eventually you'll get the hang of working again and remember that you can make energy to do other things. Eventually the money stress will fade and it will be a huge weight off your shoulders and you'll find the motivation to be social or to exercise again.

If you slipped into a diabetic coma and someone gave you a piece of candy you wouldn't immediately jump up and run a marathon. You'd need some time to recover and rehabilitate. Don't forget that, and give yourself permission to relax a bit. You've been fighting a battle for months and you've finally got a little breathing room to stop fighting.
posted by bendy at 2:47 PM on September 6, 2010

Sounds like you've been through the emotional wringer. Also sounds like the worst has passed and you're going to be OK... really.

Day by day is the way to go here, no need to worry about kicking ass and setting the office on fire on Day 1; just be your able, competent self, be polite and pleasant to those around you, and let yourself breathe a sigh of relief that the worst has passed. Take a break from thinking about the big picture and you'll get your mojo back before you even realize it.
posted by braemar at 6:19 PM on September 6, 2010

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