Any tips for dealing with depression while unemployed?
April 11, 2012 7:39 AM   Subscribe

What can I do to improve and make the most out of my involuntary unemployment? I lost my job nearly six months ago, and though I started out optimistic and productive, depression and feelings of uselessness are starting to get the best of me.

First of all, I should say that I know situational depression caused by unemployment can be temporarily alleviated by getting a little bit of perspective - I know I am lucky for getting enough unemployment insurance to pay most of my rent and bills, and I am grateful for the things I have - my health, a loving husband, a roof over my head, enough to eat. I also know that I am very much not alone in this economy.

However, I would appreciate any advice from anyone that's been through unemployment on how to deal with the constant feelings of rejection and failure that come with the daily grind of job searching, carefully crafting applications, and then getting no response. I'm a 31-year-old woman who entered the professional world when companies were flush and there was a lot of opportunity. I went to a pretty good school and I have a sort-of useful degree, and while I have a solid track record of great jobs, my resume also reflects a decent amount of 20-something job-hopping and "figuring it out," which definitely doesn't help me now in a job search.

Now I'm on a career path that I enjoy (sales/business development in tech), and I was in a stable, director-title job for several years at my last company, but they closed due to the economy last fall. Now I feel like the competition is ridiculously high, and I'm up against younger applicants with better educations, technical degrees and MBAs (though I am a nerd who works in tech, I have a humanities degree that I have to justify, and often get passed over because of it.) I had a couple meetings early on where I got great feedback, but no offers. Now no one has called in months.

I try to keep myself busy in the meantime around the house - I've been learning a foreign language and am starting to learn how to code, something I've been wanting to do. However, emotionally it's gotten harder and harder - I find myself crying almost daily and not wanting to get out of bed in the morning. I've been through bouts of depression before, and I know the best way for me personally to cope is to stick to a routine, eat well, and exercise daily. I've been doing that for the most part and it does help. (I've been on meds and hate them - never again.) Some days I slip, stay in bed until noon, and then beat myself up for being a loser. I do feel, overall, that I'm wasting a huge chunk of free time that I may never have again being depressed.

So anyway, any tips for coping during times of unemployment and for making the most of all this time? I have a supportive spouse, but I don't have a lot of friends that are also unemployed that I can hang out with, and I don't really have any money to spend on pursuits (I've been selling stuff on eBay and doing some odd freelance jobs online to make ends meet.)

Any advice greatly appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (11 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Get out of the house. Do your daily "looking for work" routine for a few hours, then leave. Set a specific time you need to be out of the house and always leave then. Don't come back until your husband comes home. Find a volunteer group, perhaps related to your skillset.
posted by beerbajay at 7:46 AM on April 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Seconding volunteering. You sound like you've got the sort of skill set that any voluntary group would love to have - business development is a vital part of any organisation and fundraising is sales by another name.

Is there anything you particularly care about? Is there a local group? If not are there any skills you want to practice / maintain / perfect? What sort of roles would you be good at? If you're in the UK a good place to start looking for opportunities is Do-It, or your local volunteer centre. I'm sure there are local equivalents.

Volunteering can give you a "work-like" experience (meeting people, doing useful things, being part of a team, having a structure), and a sense of purpose that are really useful for maintaining mental health during unemployment. As a side benefit they help the community you're part of.
posted by Gilgongo at 7:53 AM on April 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Couple of things:

1) Being unemployed is a skill, like any other. We live in a career-driven society that teaches personal value is derived from achievement and income. When you are not in a career, it very easy to feel as if you do not have value or purpose. Those things are not true. Whilst it may sound silly, try to stop watching television. Television bombards you with messages about who you should be or things you should buy. You must erect barriers in your mind to marketing messages that will make you feel bad at wanting the things you cannot afford.

2) I do feel, overall, that I'm wasting a huge chunk of free time that I may never have again

This is a funny one isn't it. You could be learning a language, or learning how to paint. But the guilt… the guilt comes from thinking that anything you do that is not toward a job is just indulgent. Bad Anonymous. You don't have a job and you have fun!

Again, that's part of the skill of unemployment. You have to treat unemployment like a job. The first thing to accept is that you have very little control over when you get hired. Sure, you can resort to eccentric means, however, more likely, it's going to take sustained effort and time. The economy is terrible, companies don't want to hire people that don't have jobs (regardless of all that cash sitting on corporate balance sheets). You'll drive yourself mad -- as you are -- trying to become the process of looking for employment.

Thus treat it like a job. Wake up early with your husband, have coffee, chat. He goes to work. You do your thing. Spend 4 hours on the job boards and on the computer. Your job is looking for a job. Have lunch at home (to save money), and then you have your free time.

I would suggest taking a walk, running, or using this time to enjoy yourself. This is time you will not have again… hopefully. And you can enjoy it if you get in the job search as a job mindset. You have a part-time job. It's finding a job. Every day at lunch, feel good about yourself for all the good work you did that morning to find a job. Then you have your hobby.

3) The friend thing is tough. Volunteering is a great way to have social activity without spending money. I highly recommend it as well.

4) Stop feeling guilty and stop making excuses. Lots of people are going through hard times right now. If this continues, there will be people marching in the streets and burning shit down (look at Greece). This is not your fault. So stop feeling guilty. If people with jobs make you feel guilty, tell them they are lucky and to be humble. It's happening to a lot of people.

And don't worry about your competition in the market. It won't help. Only focus on your customer -- getting your app through. You cannot do any better than your best. So do that and be happy with it.
posted by nickrussell at 7:57 AM on April 11, 2012 [17 favorites]

Would you want to work in another field/locale? Seasonal employment in a national park? Peace Corps application time? Americorps? The economy stinks, I'm in a job that I didn't necessarily expect to find myself in with no real outs to rely on, c'est la vie. Memail me if you want a few pointers for the seasonal employment thing, I've recommended it before though it may not fit your situation.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:33 AM on April 11, 2012

Stick to your routine, like you said, but also add in adding skills to your repertoire. What's something you've always wanted to learn that might be useful in an employment sense? Maybe another language, maybe brushing up on whatever your skills are, maybe adding something more technical, etc. When I'm unemployed, my routine is roughly wake up and apply for jobs, do any freelance work that'll make me money, send out pitches for more freelance work, then I take an hour or two to work on a new skill. That way, you're learning something, which will feel good, and you have a set routine even if you're not working.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:38 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Stop reading the news on how high unemployment is etc. etc. It is not about Stats. Throw that out and also throw out notions on the competition. They all look great on paper but mostly they are not that great. Just focus on yourself, what YOU can offer. Fine tune your skills.
Do you really know your field well? No, I mean seriously. Are you so deep into your field that you can be called an expert? Are you so passionate about it that you could actually write your own book on it? My point is that turn your "work" into a vocation.

Learn new things everyday, focus, read up on companies see their trends etc. Get aggressive and push yourself. Also dont take No for an answer. That mindset will get you the job

I wouldnt recommend the distraction of learning another language etc, for me it just wastes my time when I am laser focused on what I want. (may work for you though).
posted by pakora1 at 9:19 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, honey. I want to give you a big hug after reading this because your question hits so close to home. A couple of years ago, my husband and I were both laid off within six months of each other, and I sobbed in the shower every single day for months. And I know what you mean about the friends thing. Of all the millions of people that were also unemployed at the same time as me, not one of them happened to be my friends or family. Which was great! But it meant I felt so alone all the time. Could you try to seek out some new friends or at least acquaintances to get you out there and talking to people? Second shift workers? Stay-at-homers? A networking group for other unemployed folks?

I really like what nickrussell said about unemployment being a skill, and one that takes time to develop. Please listen to his advice about how to structure each day, with four hours for work and four hours for fun or personal development. I wrote a similar answer about how to do so here, and it wasn't long before I started feeling strong and productive during my work time, and actually enjoying myself in spite of my circumstances during my fun time.

Can I also refer you to point 5 in this answer here? Are you flexing every professional muscle you have beyond just applying for jobs? This was probably THE biggest thing I could have done to bolster optimism during my job search and it really lessened the crushing sense of despair and failure when I got another rejection notice. Instead of crawling into bed and weeping, I was able to think, "Well, that job didn't work out but today I met this colleague, or discovered that company or taught myself how to do X, and who knows where those things could lead!" It helped so much to feel that I always had lots of new prospects coming down the pipeline even when I wasn't getting any calls.

This part in particular jumps out at me:

I try to keep myself busy in the meantime around the house

Get out of the house. Out out out. Now. It hardly even matters where you go or what you do, stroll the aisles of your local hardware store for all I care, just as long as you're not sitting at home. I too wanted to stay home all the time to save money, but being at home, even if I was working on a project, usually meant that I just ended up ruminating endlessly on how much our lives sucked at the moment and it made me feel so much worse.

And finally, involuntary unemployment is not fun and it's never going to be fun, and it's okay to feel depressed a lot of the time, I think. But try to remember that there can be good days in spite of all the bad days, tough times AND bright spots, just as there no doubt were when you were still working. One of my fondest memories from unemployment is the day my husband and I woke up early and went to the Vietnamese bakery and spent a couple bucks on two croissants and then we went to the tennis court in a nearby park and played for hours. We had the place entirely to ourselves and it was perfectly silent and peaceful with everyone else at work, and we had so much fun. We'll probably never be able to do that again, I'm sure.

Hang in there. I'm wishing you all the best.
posted by anderjen at 9:36 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing the volunteering suggestion. Not only does it get you out of the house, it's also a great way to network. And if you manage to volunteer somewhere even passingly relevant to your desired career path, you can put that experience on your resume. Anecdata: I was laid off from the only post-college "professional" job I'd ever had in 2009 due to a plant shut-down, and actually ended up getting my next/present job through transitioning from volunteer to part-time to full-time.
posted by aecorwin at 9:59 AM on April 11, 2012

Definitely, work up a schedule and include getting out of the house in this schedule.

There will be times when you do not adhere to your schedule, but do your best. Set an alarm for you to get up and go to bed at a reasonable time. Allocate out time to job seeking, exercise, study (your foreign language and coding that you mentioned), volunteer work (if you can find it), meals (I find that eating at set times helps me get my head on straight), hobbies (you won’t be unemployed forever, and you should have some enjoyment from the time off), etc. Also, don’t beat yourself up if you slip up on your schedule.

When I was unemployed, I also became depressed and wasted a lot of time worrying about my job situation. If I were to do it again (heck, it might happen to me again), I would have more rigorously stuck to my schedule, better enjoyed my free time, and not worried about what others might be thinking about me. Being unemployed can happen to anyone. If you feel that people are viewing you in a negative light because of your situation, that’s their problem, not yours. I agree with “nickrussell” post vis-à-vis people with jobs who make you feel guilty: they need to learn some humility. Shit happens and some people find themselves unemployed or underemployed. I don’t see in your OP that you have children, but I for one would have played a lot more with my kids during my scheduled free time and I would have done it without feeling guilty about being at the park at 2:00 pm on a Tuesday.

Good luck
posted by WestChester22 at 11:09 AM on April 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Reach out to your former colleagues and classmates. Go out for lunch or coffee at least once or twice a week. Contact as many as you can think of. It doesn't matter how long it's been since you last saw them - sometimes people that haven't seen you in 10 years will email you back straight away to set up a time.

Go in with no agenda but to catch up. I promise that lunch dates will improve your week, if not improve your prospects.
posted by crazycanuck at 12:46 PM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are there odd jobs you'd be interested in doing? I'm not sure if you've looked outside your field for things like part-time gigs, although depending on your area those may also be hard to find.

I have some friends who've gotten a lot of good (financial and emotional) out of finding a local school and getting into tutoring, either volunteer or paid. There are a lot of people out there who don't understand math and science, and want to do well so pay for someone for patience and guidance.
posted by bookdragoness at 12:21 PM on April 12, 2012

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