Do I quit this job or have a nervous breakdown?
September 22, 2012 5:08 PM   Subscribe

I'm badly depressed and anxious. And I've got the worst job of my life - I'm 42, so that's saying a lot - complete with a boss I despise and who seems to despise me. My therapist thinks I should quit. Um, hello? Realistically, what can I do? Special flower BS inside.

Bare facts: I got laid off from a professional-level library job in July of 2010 (after 10 years with the organization). I was out of work for 18 months, and eventually broke up with my live-in boyfriend and moved back home to my parents. After a few months here, I found an administrative position at a mental health clinic that is indeed the worst job I have ever had.

Before I was laid off, I was depressed (on medication and in therapy), but I was getting by. The depression deepened while I was out of work. Now, it's much, much worse and has been joined by severe symptoms of what I believe is probably anxiety, to the point that some days - maybe even most days - I am barely functional. My hands shake, I tend to babel when I talk about stressors, especially work-related or financial stressors, and I have trouble sleeping through the night. I'm also getting bad headaches almost every day, often waking up with them. I am still on medication and in therapy, although at a different clinic and less often than I would like, because of changes in my health insurance once I was laid off.

Special flower details about the job from hell: Every word I say is fodder for criticism, every step of every task I do is prone to be micromanaged. In the past three weeks I have had two incidents where my behavior was less than professional and far less than I expect from myself. My boss was out sick at the time of the most recent one, but when he returned on Thursday, he made it clear that if there is another such incident, it will be "cause for formal discipline."

Let me stress that I know my behavior was unacceptable; however, I am at a loss as to why we had to spend 30 minutes together in the same room while he told me that over and over, or what response he expected from me, given that I began the entire session by stating that I knew I had behaved very badly and I apologized for it. At a subsequent meeting on Friday, nominally about an unrelated topic and this time in front of my coworkers, with whom he had already discussed everything so that in fact the whole meeting was "directed" at me, he also made it clear that he intends to increase the amount of micromanagement, which I had previously thought was virtually impossible. In short, the man doesn't even like the way I file service notes. He also said that he and his boss are "butting heads" after his boss told me to come in late so I could stay late and thus have the main entrance/exit unlocked and the waiting room open on those days there are group therapy session that run until after the office "closes" at 5 p.m., leaving me unsure what I'm supposed to do. So I'm working an extra half-hour (at least) for free so as not to anger either of them. (He wants me to lock the door and leave people sitting there, but without an emergency exit I'm not even sure if that's legal.)

My therapist believes that any gain from my current job is being negated by its impact on my depression and its total destruction of my self-esteem. She feels that I should just quit. However, I still have bills to pay, including the one for health insurance that lets me see the therapist and buy my medication, and the cell phone that keeps me in touch with any potential employers. (Before anyone can suggest it, disability usually takes years and years to get approved and if I were somehow miraculously approved for Medicaid, the only place I could be seen is the clinic where I now work.)

I have applied for precisely one job this weekend; I live in a rural area and there simply aren't many jobs to apply for, and there are none in my actual field of experience. And I'm now convinced that anything I try to do is going to turn out as badly as this job has, that if I could just bite my damn tongue and be professional and put up with anything I'd be able to excel at this one, but since I can't, it's not even worth trying another job, as I will surely fail there as well. (My ultimate response to this inadequacy is to plan to return to school for a very practical program so that I can train for a job and feel secure that I know how to do it.)

On Tuesday, I missed a visit to the prescribing psychiatrist, and wasn't able to reschedule until mid November. On Wednesday, I had an appointment with my therapist. As I was leaving, she asked me if I could "hang on" until the November appointment. At the time I assured her I could. But on Thursday (and again on Friday, actually) there was the horrendous meeting with my boss. Now I just don't know. The prospect of my boss's micro-micro management makes me shake and cry almost as soon as I think about it. I don't know how I'm going to get myself out of bed and into the office on Monday. I gathered all the personal things I wanted from the office and brought them home yesterday, not so much because I don't plan to go back as that I just couldn't stand to think of them being there in a place I hate so much.

I am going to call the psychiatrist and ask about any cancellations that might have opened a spot for this week, but I don't really think pharmaceuticals are the full answer here.

All in all, I feel completely worthless and like a blight on the face of the Earth. I do think quitting this job would help, but I can't get by without any money. But am I headed for a complete breakdown if I don't quit, and if so how soon?

I know depression and anxiety and whatever else the psychiatrist might decide to call this play tricks on my thinking ability, so I'm asking if there is an option or opportunity here that I'm just not seeing. Please give me some practical advice.
posted by Jaie to Work & Money (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
PLEASE call the Samaritans 877-870-4673 ...and any mefites in the area please get in touch.

Someone needs to make your boss realize that mental health is no less than physical health.
posted by brujita at 5:18 PM on September 22, 2012

As a fellow 42 year old who has been un (or under, at best) employed for 2 years, I can sympathize with a lot of your situation. I don't know much about mental health issues, but I can at least say that being gainfully employed has GOT to be better for your self esteem than being out of work or on the dole.

You mentioned that "biting your tongue and just putting up with anything" is not an option. Why is that? I mean, certainly you should not be expected to put up with anything outright abusive or illegal, but is it really your case that "grin and bear it as you search for a better job" is out of the question?

Sounds like you're between a rock and a hard place, so let's see what we can do to make that place a little softer.
posted by ShutterBun at 5:27 PM on September 22, 2012

Response by poster: @ ShutterBun: Grin and bear it isn't an option simply because I don't seem to be able to do it anymore. I'd do it if I could ...
posted by Jaie at 5:41 PM on September 22, 2012

Is it possible for you to interview for jobs that are somewhat out of your current area, where there might be more possibilities? then if you got one of those jobs you would have a salary and health insurance and could perhaps get into a roommate situation that would not be too expensive, and follow through with your psychiatric treatment in that new area. (because it sounds as if you're living where you're living because you were laid off and had to move back in with your parents, but are not wedded to that geographical area)

I am also finding it a bit bizarre that you have to wait until November to see your psychiatrist. Can you at least get refills for your current prescription(s) over the phone until then? it would seem to me that if the answer is "no", that that is not an ethical way to treat psychiatric patients.

I also agree wtih the other poster that you have to put up with this awful job until you ind another job, and that is not an entirely unusual situation in the work world.
posted by DMelanogaster at 5:45 PM on September 22, 2012

From personal experience: If you are willing to take an antidepressant (the one I took back in the day was zoloft fwiw) along with elevating your mood, you will, to put it bluntly, not give a crap about the boss's negativity. I was exactly where you were, almost having a nervous breakdown, and the medication pulled me down off the ledge.

Also, I know you are in NC....are you anywhere near Fayetteville? If there's anything I can do to help, just holler.

On preview: In some places here in NC to include here locally, there is a shortage of practicing shrinks, and those waiting times are pretty typical.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:47 PM on September 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

So does your boss's boss think you're doing OK? If he's asking you to stay late and take care of stuff, it wouldn't seem like the entire organization is against you.
posted by rhizome at 5:47 PM on September 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

How did you manage your bills when you first moved back in with your parents? Is living that way again still an option? If a professional therapist who knows your situation says it's time to quit, it may well be time to quit, assuming it's true that you still have a safety net.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 5:49 PM on September 22, 2012

Have you considered the possibility of searching for a job in your field that could be done remotely? With 10 years of experience working in a library, I imagine that you could find some kind of online work doing editing or data entry. Maybe nothing amazing, but something to keep you afloat while you focus on your mental and emotional health?

Here is a list which claims to be a directory of legitimate companies that offer that kind of job. It's arranged by field and might be a good place to start.

Cast your net wide. Dont apply to just one perfect job and use the hope of getting it like a lifejacket. Apply to every job you are even remotely suited for. Apply to ones you are blatantly unsuited for but you think sound like fun anyway. Maybe make a goal to apply to at least one a day?

Any job that covers your basic living needs has got to be preferable to your current situation.
posted by sarastro at 5:52 PM on September 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

For those of you advising the poster to quit, mental health services here in NC are crappy at best particularly for those without insurance. Changes in funding and how services are managed are making things pretty problematic. I agree that quitting would be optimal but with no me when I say that insurance makes a really big difference here.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:52 PM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @DMelangaster, November is simply the next available appointment. (The doctor in my office is booked almost that far out, so it's not that unusual.) Presumably, they will continue to refill my meds.

@St Alia, I'm already taking antidepressants, so believe me, I'm willing to try. I'm just not sure if I can medicate this problem away.

@Monsieur Caution, at that time I was still eligible for unemployment.
posted by Jaie at 5:54 PM on September 22, 2012

Do I quit this job or have a nervous breakdown?

Hello. I once had a boss and work environment that sounds quite similar to the one you have now. You can read about that here in an old comment if you are interested. In that situation I also really, really needed the money.

The prospect of my boss's micro-micro management makes me shake and cry almost as soon as I think about it.

I would start to get this feeling at around 6pm on Sunday evenings as the sun would start to go down, this horrible feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach of what I was about to endure again for another whole week. I have an inkling of how you are feeling.

And I'm now convinced that anything I try to do is going to turn out as badly as this job has, that if I could just bite my damn tongue and be professional and put up with anything I'd be able to excel at this one, but since I can't, it's not even worth trying another job, as I will surely fail there as well.

Here's what happened to me after my experience:
-I had a couple blah entry level office jobs, in okay environments with people who were okay.
-Then I got a magical, mythical dream-job pretty much on a fluke, with completely awesome people;
-During that job, I had a major project where I had to report to the biggest group of assholes I have ever met (who were part of another organization). But --
-Based on that project, which was resume-building in the extreme, I now have the best job I've ever had in my life, and did not expect to have by the age I am now.

So, things happen. You're up, you're down. It is impossible to predict the future and the trajectory things will take. Some people may think that you are incompetent and suck but that's just that person's opinion and that doesn't mean anyone else will share it. It kind of reminds me of dating. You may meet someone you're not attracted to at all and they are not attracted to you either. Then you might think, "Oh no, if even this unattractive person doesn't like me, then nobody attractive ever would." But that is totally not how it works at all.

I don't know what unprofessional things you did, but if they are things you did not do in your last job when you weren't in this terrible environment, then given you were in that job 10 years I don't think it's likely to be a problem for you going forward.

This is my way of encouraging you to apply to more jobs and don't lock your own self into this situation out of fear, feeling like "the devil you know" is better than what could be out there. I don't think that's how it will be and even if you just so happen to get another bad job, then you just keep trying and keep looking. I know it is not easy.
posted by cairdeas at 5:54 PM on September 22, 2012 [21 favorites]

Let me just say it sounds like you would be comfortable with the salary of the job you have. I am sure the change in responsibilities and management has become unacceptable. If you leave, it will be without a reference. A person who comes into a job with no skills but a vast amount of experience is usually treated suspiciously, but they do seem to want to keep you, even offering this kind of micromanagement to make you see your responsibilities.

That might give you the opening to bloom your own skills into a job that you could keep, which is what they want. They are probably exasperated enough to not want to go through another round of interviews that they can almost be said to be forgiving. I suggest that you give it a shot. Six months is a good test. You can accept micromanagement I think. You should make life outside of the office extremely relaxing and comfortable. I suggest you work out the hours issue first, seriously.
posted by parmanparman at 5:56 PM on September 22, 2012

Response by poster: So much that I see I left out ... Financially, I am far from comfortable in the job I have. There is no prospect of moving out of my parents house without more income/a second job.

The main problem with a work-from-home job is that my computer virtually blew up in June and the only internet access I have is from my mother's laptop, which is actually owned by her employer. In fact, I had to quit a rather good work-at-home job I was just starting when my PC went kerpluey.

I should have added that one of my coworkers was hired after I was. She is also on the verge of quitting, even if she doesn't have another job to go to, but she is married and her husband makes enough to keep them alive and fed (although they would have to default on a mortgage for the house his ex-wife lives in). So it isn't just me that is finding this situation a bit impossible.
posted by Jaie at 6:07 PM on September 22, 2012

Sometimes the only thing you have any control over in your life is your attitude. As a 46 year old who was also unemployed for a year, then underemployed and butting SERIOUS heads with my boss, I get where you're coming from. I too felt like I couldn't go on at my current job and was so broke and demoralized I really didn't see any out anywhere.

So, I decided that I was going to fix the job I had. I stopped butting heads with the boss (yes it was hard), even when she was unreasonable. I figured out what type of response she wanted from me and made it part of my job to give it to her. I've since been hired on full time, given a raise and a much better position, and my boss things I'm the best thing to happen to the organization ever. The weird thing is, once I decided things would change - they did.

You have no control over your boss and the economy in your area. You need to keep your insurance, so you need to keep this job until you are hired at another that is better. So, my advice is to fix your current job as much as you can. Make yourself willing to be micro-managed. Ask them what they need from you and do exactly what they say. Sometimes we create problems for ourselves by trying to turn a situation into something that it can't possibly be. Make it your entire job for the next few months to truly adapt to your work environment. Accept the status quo. You might even learn to like it.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 6:10 PM on September 22, 2012 [9 favorites]

Does your state have a state-run disability program? In CA there is SDI that covers a person for up to one year of disability. It is not a whole lot of money but it might be enough to carry you thru a job search. When I worked I used it to cover my expenses while getting out of a terrible job and into a new one. I would not have been eligible for unemployment because I quit. The shrink would be the one to put you out on disability but I'm sure your therapist would have much influence on the doc's decision.
posted by cairnoflore at 6:26 PM on September 22, 2012

This charity might be able to help? It seems to operate in NC and you can apply to recieve a free computer.
posted by sarastro at 6:36 PM on September 22, 2012

Do you know if you are eligible for coverage under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)? There are rules about how long you have to have worked for the employer and only employers with a certain number of employees have to have coverage.

If you are eligible and your doctors would complete the paperwork saying you need to be off work, you could have up to 12 weeks off with your job guaranteed for you when you came back. It is unpaid leave, but you should be able to take any sick pay or vacation pay owed to you during the time you off.

Its definitely not a solution, but it might buy you a couple of weeks or a month's worth of breathing space for your to get your medication tweaked (if that's what you need) and to get yourself together with a plan for the future.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 6:37 PM on September 22, 2012

Hey there, Jaie. I also used to work admin at a mental health facility in a rural area and it was indeed the worst job I ever had because of the management issues. My advice is to give yourself a deadline to quit. If you can't find jobs in your town, it might be time to consider relocating to a more urban area even if you have to borrow the funds to get there for job hunting.

Your local library might have free access to computers if you need more time for job hunting online. Good luck.
posted by dragonplayer at 6:50 PM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're truly desperate for a different job, are there Starbucks in your area that might be hiring? I used to work there and I think it's not a bad place to work at all. Benefits at 20 hours/week, not a very stressful environment, background music, free coffee. You could probably start as a shift supervisor.

Just throwing that out there in the spirit of brainstorming. Could be an escape route that you haven't thought of, if you've been mainly focused on clerical/professional type jobs.
posted by désoeuvrée at 7:15 PM on September 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

Would you be comfortable purchasing a computer on an installment plan? Places like Sears and Dell offer laptops and desktops, will ship to you within a week or so, and let you pay off the debt over 18 months. The laptop I bought from Sears years ago was interest-free if paid off in full within that time -- I did have to sign up for, and use, the store charge card to qualify, but doing so didn't involve any additional fees. Then perhaps you can get your former work-at-home job back?
posted by Iris Gambol at 7:35 PM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

You sound totally overwhelmed. To the point that everything is a trigger for anxiety and stress, and as if any one thing could just break you. I sooo get that. You don't need to have the nervous breakdown and you don't need to quit just yet. What you need to do is relieve yourself of as many stressors as you can. What I have found works best for me is to find things you can give up responsibility for.

Give up any bills you can, set the rest up on automatic bill pay. Figure out a uniform to wear to work so you don't have to think about getting dressed. Set rituals for other things that will take away your having to make a decision. Have friends run errands for you. Treat yourself as if you have the flu and snuggle, watch movies, whatever else brings you comfort. I don't know what pertains to your actual life, but you get the idea, let your brain have a rest from the anxiety.

I sort of hesitate to suggest reading this thread, but it might be something to fantasize to: You're not the boss of me, as just reading it made me feel a bit empowered over authority figures, and if I had a job with evil bosses, I could spend the day imagining the conversations I would like to have.

Basically, what you need to do is to heal enough to get into a place where you can focus on looking for another job without being overwhelmed by it.
posted by Vaike at 7:47 PM on September 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

However, I still have bills to pay, including the one for health insurance that lets me see the therapist and buy my medication, and the cell phone that keeps me in touch with any potential employers.

The main problem with a work-from-home job is that my computer virtually blew up in June and the only internet access I have is from my mother's laptop, which is actually owned by her employer. In fact, I had to quit a rather good work-at-home job I was just starting when my PC went kerpluey.

1) Health insurance - no ideas, but try to get your medications generic and at Wal-mart or another similarly discounted pharmacy.
2) Cell phone - you should be able to get a Virgin phone for $30 which only requires a $10 top-up every few months. If you really have dire prospects you aren't going to be fielding calls all the time.
3) Computer - ask around if anyone you know is getting rid of an old computer. You should be able to get one that's a few years old for $100 or less, then install a new operating system on it and be good to go (If the work-at-home jobs are browser based, use Puppy Linux or similar, which flies even on old crappy hardware). Use LibreOffice for any office document work you need to do, if you can.

It does sound like the depression is the main issue and that's paralyzing you with circular "trapped" thoughts. I'd check into medications as suggested above.
posted by benzenedream at 8:39 PM on September 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I can really sympathise. I'm in a very similar situation - long term depression (2.5 years now), medication & therapy, trying to find alternative work because of a job that I've grown to hate due to a completely insane boss, and not succeeding.

I think your focus has to be on damage control. Survival. Beating the bastard at his stupid game.

First. It's not your fault. I bet you know that intellectually, but I also bet that you're still blaming yourself at least in part for the situation you're finding yourself in. If only I was smarter, better, was able to fix my stupid depression... If you do find yourself thinking that, just remind yourself of three things, over and over.

It's not my fault. It's just a job. It will get better.

"And I'm now convinced that anything I try to do is going to turn out as badly as this job has, that if I could just bite my damn tongue and be professional and put up with anything I'd be able to excel at this one, but since I can't, it's not even worth trying another job, as I will surely fail there as well."

This is not true. You know it's not true. I know it's trite, that you can't control what you feel - but it's not true. When you start going into that dark cycle of calling yourself names for being so damn emotional, stop and remind yourself. It's not your fault. It's just a job. It will get better. And your boss is an ass.

Try not to focus or think about on anything other the immediate future. Worrying about what hasn't happened yet - getting fired, not being able to find a better job - does no good.
Get through each day, one at a time. Each day, when you go home, is a victory. Savour that victory, and don't worry about the next. Just take each day's survival as the victory it is.

For me, my depression worsens, a lot, when I get stuck in that self-destructive loop. I basically have to force my mind out of its track, by forcing my rational mind to confront what I know is not rational. It doesn't always help, but it does quite often.

With regards meds; no, they're not the answer. They are however a reasonable crutch. Speak to your doc, you may be able to increase dosage and/or change to a stronger med to get you through this current crisis. There are certainly plenty to choose from. With any luck, you'll find one that takes the edge off. I had to go through two drug changes and three changes in strength on my current one to get to a stable place.

Look into CBT, cognitive behavioural therapy. It's statistically as effective as meds at managing depression; CBT+meds is one of the most effective combinations.
It's most effective when done face to face with a trained therapist, but you can do it online or via book. Here's one online course funded by the UK NHS that's free to use. Basically, it's about re-training the thought processes that make depression 'stick'.

Objectively, your life sucks right now. You know that. You also know it's not your fault that your boss is an asshole, and that one day, you'll have a better job. But the entire point of depression is that your own mind betrays you; tricks you; makes you feel like its a deep pit; makes you blame yourself; makes you hurt yourself. Stupid mind. CBT can help with that. Break the cycle. You'll still be depressed of course. But it helps manage it, same as the meds. Helps you recognise when you're going deeper into the black, instead of focussing on something else.

Hobbies. You need things to look forward to when you get home from work. Something fun, something cool. Damn what anyone else thinks, you need me time. Whatever it is you like doing, do that. Be it reading, painting, dancing madly to pop songs or going for a walk.
Schedule time for it when you get home from work. It's your reward for surviving another day with the mad Boss. Enjoy it, you've sure as hell earned it.

"All in all, I feel completely worthless and like a blight on the face of the Earth. I do think quitting this job would help, but I can't get by without any money."

Ah hell, you know that's not true. But I know exactly how you feel. Exactly. And it really, really sucks. And I know you can't stop how you feel.

Keep looking for another job. One WILL come, where the boss is not a psychotic micro-manager. In the mean time, your job is surviving. Surviving your boss. Do what has to be done to keep food on the table, to keep going, to keep going one more day. Get better pills to help take the edge off.

And remember.

It's not my fault. It's just a job. It will get better.

And lastly.

Stay away from bridges. Not kidding. If you find yourself getting to that point, stop. STOP. Call someone. Anyone. Samaritans. Family. It's not worth that. It's never worth that.

Your job, your real job is to stay alive, keep going. Survive. It will get better. I promise.
posted by ArkhanJG at 9:59 PM on September 22, 2012 [18 favorites]

When you go in to work on Monday, know that you've at least got a handful of us Mefites rooting for you to succeed. Let the slings and arrows pelt you for 8 hours, then come back here and we'll all comiserate over virtual beers.
posted by ShutterBun at 10:26 PM on September 22, 2012 [8 favorites]

Jaie - I might have a computer for you - I'll circle back in MeMail. I've been wondering about you and check your old blog every once in a while. I'm so sorry that things aren't looking up for you yet, but I'm awfully glad you are out of the dysfunctional relationship, at least.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 6:18 AM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

You can find a number of MeFi friends on Twitter, where you can get real-time support.
posted by at 10:29 AM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

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