Unemployment is leading to a lack of enjoyment in social activities.
January 27, 2014 1:10 PM   Subscribe

I have been unemployed for close to a year. Lately, I have been withdrawing for social activities due to anxiety and a lack of self-esteem. I honestly feel like a different person than I was even a year ago (in a bad way), and it shows when I interact socially; I usually don’t even have very much fun due to the social anxiety and feeling that I'm being judged. Should I even do things with friends when I am not in the right frame of mind to have a good time?

First, a little (okay, maybe a lot of) backstory:

I have been unemployed for almost a year now, after losing a job that I had been working at for years after college. I am staying at my parents’ house. I am pushing 30, and have no idea what to do job-wise from this point on, which is the main reason for my paralysis.

This has taken its toll on my self-esteem, which has never been super-high to begin with. I’ve always had anxiety since I was a little kid; I probably got it from my father, who tended to medicate with alcohol. I have a hard time committing myself to things, possibly due to my anxiety and a fear of failure. Who knows. Anyway, I’m pretty sure I lost my job due to this anxiety.

Since losing my job and coming home, my anxiety has become debilitating and has spiraled into depression. I want a job and I want a girlfriend, yet I can’t muster up the motivation to do anything of importance - I just sit at home and **** around. I am sexually frustrated, and masturbate often to take my mind off of my situation. I have been replaying memories of past mistakes, squandered opportunities and lost loves in the back of my head. I’m not suicidal or anything, but feel that I cannot change myself and am doomed to repeat my past mistakes. I know that attitude is everything and mine is currently set to "very shitty", but I don't know how to change it.

Besides my family, there is little for me where I am living - I certainly don’t want to work around here, as I despise the cold, sunless climate in the winters and can’t really identify with the culture (I was working out-of-country before, and although the job didn’t work out I feel like I really found my place niche-wise. I would like to go back eventually)

I had a talk with my GP yesterday, and he placed me on Wellbutrin. He said that it might help with my motivation, depression and apathy. (He first recommended Lexapro, but I was on it in college for anxiety and although it worked well for that, the sexual side effects were unbearable so I went off it some years back).

I made an appointment for talk therapy, but am on a months-long waiting list.

I am withdrawing from the outer world because of the crushing blow that unemployment has caused to my self-esteem. I have become someone that I don’t recognize. I used to be happy for other peoples’ successes, now all I feel is resentment. I can get really down on myself when I use Facebook and I see many of my acquaintances’ and even friends’ successes, so I try not to look very much. I’ve had some success up to this point before my losing my job, and could probably straighten myself out if I was able to muster up the motivation to pursue something, but this ceaseless negative mind chatter keeps me closed up in a shell.

Lately, I always feel like I am being judged, which I am sure is due to my depression and lack of self-esteem. The question “What have you been up to?” scares the hell out of me, since I haven’t been up to much of anything. When I run into people that I haven’t seen for a while, I experience social anxiety and am akin to a deer in the headlights. I usually lie about what I am doing, since I am ashamed to say that I am unemployed and my parents are helping me out. Lying makes me feel worse. In any case, it usually turns into an awkward conversation in which I am dying to get away before they ask a question that I cannot answer well (I believe that this desire to flee registers on my face).

I even avoid meeting friends that I haven’t seen for a while because I am scared to death of this type of question. When I do hang out with friends, I have a hard time being myself and don’t even have much fun due to my current state. I get asked why I’m so quiet (Back when I used to feel good about myself, I could be pretty funny). I am constantly thinking in the back of my head that I am wasting my time and should be at home figuring out a future career path so I can make something of myself and get out of this town - even though I don’t do so when I am home, since I have no fracking idea what I would like to do.

Now, to the question:

What it boils down to is that I derive little pleasure from social interaction due to my unemployment and subsequent depression/lack of self-esteem. Should I even make
the effort to catch up with old friends, go to social events, etc. when I don’t want to be there? I really don’t want people that I haven’t seen for a while to meet me while I’m in this negative place. Or should I really try to focus on finding a career first so that I can regain the self-confidence that enables me to enjoy being around people in the first place? Any other advice is appreciated as well. I really don't have too many people to talk with about this at the moment.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Get treatment for depression.

Go see your friends; in my experience, avoiding people only ends up feeding the anxiety, and making me feel more socially incompetent. When they ask what you've been up to, say "Trying to get a good enough job to get out of my parents' house!"

Focus less on "career" and more on "job" right now. Are you signed up at any temp agencies? Are you tapping friends/friends of friends/friends of your parents about job leads? Yes, the economy still blows in a lot of places for a lot of people - *you* are not worthless or anything like that because you can't get a job. You're stuck with a lot of other people in a bad place, but it's not because you're bad. Getting a job even if it's not a "career" will give you some structure, some money, and will help with the depression (again, in my experience). Good luck.
posted by rtha at 1:17 PM on January 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

I am withdrawing from the outer world because of the crushing blow that unemployment has caused to my self-esteem.

Please realize that, in these economic times, so many people are out of work or underemployed that most people aren't going to judge you one whit for being unemployed. It's a fact of life these days that jobs are hard to come by and can disappear at any moment.

Also, I find that when I'm depressed, if I go out and allow myself to act "as if" I'm having a good time, it often rubs off on me for a short period. It's certainly not a cure for depression, but being around people who care for you and know you can help situationally, for me at least.
posted by xingcat at 1:18 PM on January 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

Should I even make the effort to catch up with old friends, go to social events, etc. when I don’t want to be there?
Yes. In general, if you are asking yourself "should I make the effort to do x?" the answer is yes.

Or should I really try to focus on finding a career first so that I can regain the self-confidence that enables me to enjoy being around people in the first place?
You should focus on finding a job. You need to get out of the house and be doing something, even if it's not part of your career plan. Ideally this should be paid, but volunteering works too.

Any other advice is appreciated as well. I really don't have too many people to talk with about this at the moment.
Getting treatment for depression is an excellent first step. Fight the urge to withdraw; your issue has to do with disengagement from society, withdrawal is not a constructive response.

You need to provide us with more concrete details of your situation so we can give you practical advice on how to find a job and get on your feet. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with you; you are in this present state because of your situation. To tell you how to change your situation we need details such as: previous job, education, career aspirations, location.
posted by sid at 1:20 PM on January 27, 2014

First things first, you're not alone. I spent from fall 2012-spring 2013 unemployed, and then was pretty seriously underemployed and inconsistently employed from spring 2013-fall 2013. This made it very difficult for me to socialize normally, and in a lot of ways changed my personality in ways that I think are permanent.

I didn't feel entirely like myself until I finally found a full time job in my field, and even now, several months after going back to work in a normal capacity, I find that I'm just not as socially confident as I was two years ago.

I know this is, in a lot of ways, a bandaid, and I think that Wellbutrin and talk therapy and working on yourself are the real long term answers. However, seriously, you need to start trying to find a job. Even if you don't want to stay where you are long term. For one thing, it's really difficult to start from nothing. Having multiple years of unemployment on your resume because you just didn't want to work in this particular town is not going to look great. Having a shitty stopgap job that might not be what you want long term is at least better than nothing.

Also, even a shitty job will give you a place to go every day, and people to talk to, and a little money. You will start to feel like a human again. You will start to feel like you belong somewhere. These are all valuable things that are in a lot of ways more important than "is this my dream job".

I know it's hard to apply for jobs when you feel paralyzed with depression, and it's hard to get a job when you're depressed and anxious and feel weird in job interview type situations. But just doing this thing will give you something. And you will eventually find a job, even if the interviews are torturous. And then when you get the job, you will at least have the validation that you're a functional human being. Which really helps with that weird feeling of being constantly judged. Which, by the way, is totally a thing. Even now I find myself defaulting to that, when I know that I'M FINE and nobody even knows how insecure I feel most of the time.

Don't worry about "Finding A Career". Get a job. Now, when you see your friends, you will be able to stop lying about being unemployed. At the very least.

In the meantime, though, I want to tell you to keep seeing friends and going to things. Your friends probably aren't judging you as harshly as you think they are, and it's good for you to get out and see people even if it's hard.
posted by Sara C. at 1:28 PM on January 27, 2014 [6 favorites]

Great! You're on Wellbutrin, that will help A LOT!

Now, how about getting out and volunteering? Leaving the house every day and having some place to go, to help others who may need it can do wonders for your self esteem.

Work in a charity shop, do filing at a non-profit, serve soup to the homeless. Get out of yourself and help someone with even less than you have.

What you'll find is that the activity will breed activity. Plus, it gives you something to talk about with your friends.

Sign up for temp work. The job is open, maybe they'll hire you.

Doing any kind of job, even one that pays what unemployment pays, will be better than sitting at home fretting.

I got let go from my INDUSTRY after a 25 year career. I didn't take it personally, it was 2008, nearly everyone lost his or her job. I found a shitty stop-gap job, learned a new skill and now I have a nice job, for decent money.

It's not a perfect situation, but it suits me perfectly.

Do YOU judge your friends by what they do? No, of course not. Assume that your friends are as kind to you.

Stop worrying about what other people think about you. Say to yourself, "Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke." Seriously, the thing that helped me the most with my anxiety (after Celexa) was living to please and impress myself.

Don't think too much about a "career" just find a job.

You're going to be okay, but you've got to get out and work at something every day.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:41 PM on January 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do meet your friends even though you feel like you don't want to. I've been down and go down that line of thought a lot and I rarely walk away thinking "I should have stayed home alone and stayed lonely". Feeling like "I don't want the world to see me like this" is a vanity thing (at least it's been for me). Just be honest about where you're at with your friends. I'm not an expert at it but I've seen it work well for others.

I think you should work hard to find a career at the same thing. That way when you're hanging with people, you can say "I've been looking for a new career" and mean it. But really, your friends would have to be pretty shallow to judge you for what you do and not who you are.

As for self esteem -- have you tried volunteering? VolunteerMatch.com is a freakin great site for that. Volunteering helps give people a sense of perspective and feeling of accomplishment that you did something for someone else. People who work volunteer jobs rarely look depressed. I'd just try to find a volunteer position where there's actually something to do cause some places can get over crowded.
posted by defmute at 1:46 PM on January 27, 2014

My philosophy is this: you can shut down if you want, but...are you actually any better off in the end for it? My social anxiety is constantly telling me to say no and to bail and doom and boo. And yet, if I crowbar myself out of the house and go do shit I inevitably 1) end up kinda enjoying it, 2) not sorry I went, 3) feeling less anxious all around/next time, 4) having better general ideas because being depressed and isolated is not productive in any way. (Also, most people get jobs through people they know. If you never go out, you're missing opportunities.)

Practice this: smile and say "this unemployment thing sucks so hard, but my parents are helping me out right now and I'm really grateful." Nobody's going to make you show your misery card to prove you're properly suffering for being unemployed. It's not a moral failure to be out of work. And nobody wants to watch you self-flagellate, but the solution to that is to stop hitting yourself, not to stop being seen.

Friends are friends regardless of your employment status. They're not only for when you have every other thing in your life going perfectly.

Get out. It takes between 5 minutes and an hour a day to job hunt in the internet age, that is no excuse. You're not going to get into heaven any faster for staring at the carpet chanting, "what am I doing to do with my life?" all day. Go do what you can with your life so you have some sort of identity for the other 2/3 you don't use for work.

And implement a hobby. If you need a free one, work on a screenplay. Once you tell someone you're writing a screenplay to challenge your mind, nobody's going to care about your boring old unemployment. You'll spend the rest of the conversation talking about movies and creativity and cool stuff.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:06 PM on January 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

This is seriously hard for me to read because it is so me. A year unemployed? Check. Depressed? Check. Low self-esteem? Check. It was one of the worst times of my life. I'd like to say now that I've been employed 1.5 years I've completely moved past that experience. It still haunts me, though I've made a lot of strides.

I know what it is like to have all your friends be successful when you're barely hanging on. Some of the judgment is internal but I know it was external too. What is so wrong with me that no one sees worth in me?

Honestly nothing helped like finally finding a job did. Even though I am underemployed, I do enjoy my job but even when I don't having that structure to my day, being able to say I was employed changed my outlook and made me so much more positive.

I have no advice on the friends, as I don't have any really.
posted by Aranquis at 2:17 PM on January 27, 2014 [8 favorites]

When I was in your place, friends wanted to help any way that they could. I felt like I would wear out that welcome, but I didn't. Now I'm in a good place, and if I can help my friends, I will. Let friends do what they can, you'll be in a position to pay it forward some day. In tough times, people have each other, helping each other.

I also found that something that helped a lot was a time-intensive plan-B. There wasn't much work around to look for, so I had time, and time is opportunity. I started working toward building my own things that I could sell, with an eye to that work either gradually building my own business if I couldn't find work, or establishing some groundwork towards that end for later in life if I did find work and had to drop it.

Because I was working at stuff I wanted to do (projects I had dreamed up for myself) it was easier to focus on it and overcome the negativity, and the hours melted away, and I was more productive again and felt like I was achieving things again.

Don't stop looking for work, but take stock of what is available to you (and there is a lot more available to you than what you actually have, because of friends), and what you can do, or what you can learn how to do.

Just knowing that you're still moving forward will help.
posted by anonymisc at 2:23 PM on January 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ah, I was unemployed for a long time and living with family (in-laws) and it was awful, I totally understand! A couple things that helped me:

- Treating job searching like a job, meaning that I did it roughly M-F 9-5 and left my evenings and weekends free. Of course if I had a reallycoolthing on say, Wednesday at 3 I wouldn't beat myself up, and I would spend a Sunday getting ready for a Monday interview. But keeping these hours helped alleviate a lot of the guilt that I felt any time I tried to relax.

- Find some meaningful volunteer work. I did a project with the Taproot Foundation, which was related to my career, so it gave me something to talk about during interviews and also when friends/families asked what I was up to.
posted by radioamy at 2:49 PM on January 27, 2014

Since you're already totally on board with treatment for depression:

When I've been unemployed, I've relied heavily on what I can do for free that'll cheer me up and give me something to do. Daily trips to the public library were really helpful for giving me someplace to go that didn't cost anything, and people to smile at and say a few words to if I felt the need. I believe that being able to pick whatever strikes your fancy off the shelf to take home with you is useful for building willpower that you can use to deny yourself all the things you'd like to have that cost money. Plus all the job/career resources available are really useful. Who says you need to do all that "figuring out a future career path" stuff at home, anyway?

I try to be extra careful to invite my unemployed and underemployed friends to do things, since I know how awful isolation gets. I think it's likely that your friends are doing the same. "I'm looking for work" and "I'm trying to figure out what to do next after losing my job" are totally OK, valid answers if someone asks what-do-you-do questions.

Nthing the people above who've suggested you apply to any local temp agencies. I suggest checking Ask for previous questions about temping. Temping ain't easy, but it's better than unemployment, and since you're unemployed, you're available for literally anything they might have come available, including gigs that might not even last a full day. It's not going to pay a lot, but every little bit helps. Getting out and doing something is better than staying home.

All these things are things you can do while you're looking into ways you can leave your current location and go back to the country you'd been working in, or find another place that's equally to your liking. You will find an easier time of it with a smaller resume gap and some savings, though, so do what you can to find work where you are. Good luck. You're not alone in this even if it feels like it a lot of the time -- many of us have been there.
posted by asperity at 2:51 PM on January 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Many people in this economy have struggled this way. It's extremely common. So know that you're not alone.

Judgement of you will be softened by that fact. However, it's also probable that those who are currently working underestimate the difficulty of finding work in this climate and, unless they've faced unemployment themselves, may not understand the number isolation, lack of structure, and lack of feedback in the jobsearch process do on your self-esteem. They may judge you negatively inasmuch as they perceive you to be inactive. But if people see that you are making an effort, they won't be anywhere near as harsh.

Working any kind of job would get you past that judgement, in addition to providing the many other benefits people have talked about above. Frame it as a temporary thing, and if you can, set up your life so you minimize blocks to active inquiry regarding career as possible. (Save as much time for yourself outside of work as you can, so you can recover from the grind. Shortest commute possible. Make your living environment as homey as you can. Get enough sleep, food and exercise to keep you in good physical and mental shape, so you have enough energy to use your non-job time effectively.)

When you see your friends now, stay upbeat. Don't talk about your search (unless you're having a heart to heart with someone you're sure is rooting for you, or unless you're framing it in a positive way or reaching out to network -- for that, develop an 'elevator pitch'). In a social situation, if you can, use humour to deflect questions, or divert them and talk about something fun and non-work related you've recently done. Or tell the truth in a quick, breezy way -- avoid getting into detail, like "I submitted 12 applications this week and am waiting to hear"; sadly, this kind of stuff spooks people out -- and then ask the asker about themselves. E.g., "Yup, still looking, you know how it is. Anyway, what are you up to?")

People will want to give you advice, whether it's good or not. People do this at any opportunity, about any subject. Let them. Whatever they say, reply with "thank you, I'll give it a try!" Maybe it'll be useful stuff, maybe not -- either way, it will keep the interaction smooth, and they'll be glad they 'helped' you, and they won't judge you as being 'unwilling to hear advice' or 'lazy' or 'incompetent' then, because you've listened to them and been positive about it. And they may have something interesting to say. Try not to feel patronized about it, because as I've said, people like to give advice any chance they get, about doctors, cars, workouts... look where we've met, for instance.

Go out and talk to people. It won't always feel great, but it'll keep you in touch with the world, and that's important.
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:05 PM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

You WILL get the "so what are you up to?" question, so you might as well have a script for what you are going to say in response to it. I really like Lyn Never's: "this unemployment thing sucks so hard, but my parents are helping me out right now and I'm really grateful."

NO ONE will judge you for being unemployed in this economy. You're the exact same person you were when you had a job.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:19 PM on January 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure what your exact situation is or what sort of job you're looking for, but when I have been in that situation (and I've seen the cycle happen multiple times in my own life), getting even a silly low-paying job has helped me a lot. Much more than therapy did. The combination of having some income and having a place to go and other things to focus on every day instead of sitting at home ruminating can be a tremendous help. I'm someone prone to dysthymia. When I don't have a job I get depressed, but it is largely situational - while I may not be a perky person even at my peak, the depression from being unemployed is not necessarily chemical and cannot necessarily be helped in a big way by drugs or therapy as well as it can be helped by being busy and having a purposeful task to do.

Try for something like working in a coffee shop or retail. Those might not be the most awesome jobs, but they will help you stop the depression-rumination cycle, and if you can find something where you are around coworkers, that's some camaraderie and some socializing for you, which can also help.
posted by needs more cowbell at 5:44 PM on January 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ok, I feel I should qualify my response. I am NOT saying that everyone is horrible and judgemental. MOST people are not -- most people get it. But sometimes, people don't, and it's good to protect yourself, and have little strategies in hand in case you feel you need them.

I went through a stretch of unemployment, and in retrospect, I would say that the ratio of supportive (or indifferent, which was fine too) to judgemental was something like 9:1 (supportive:judgemental). At the time, I thought the 10% was more like 50%. (It's not.) Sometimes, I found that 10/50% hard to take. (These are the people who act like 2008 never happened.) I also thought people were not judgemental at all at the beginning of my unemployment, more so at the end of a long stretch of zero employment, and then much, much less again, when I got a job I didn't necessarily love.

The things I mentioned - humour, being honest but brief, diversion, being selective about who you share the nitty-gritty with, so you feel safe -- are things that helped me cope with the real 10% and the imagined 40%. I agree that a quick story is good.

Whatever it takes to get out and be among people again, is good, imo. Because it helps to be around people, so you can remember that you belong with them, that you're not different, you're a people too.

Once you've handled the big questions (this can be reduced to a 1-2-minute transaction, was the point I was trying to make above), you can get to talking about the food at the party you're at, local politics, music, what have you, and it's easier to get back into the swing of things.

When it stings to hear about someone going on a holiday or getting a promotion, remember that life is long and unpredictable, and you don't know what people deal with privately. These same people may have already experienced a challenge you don't know about, or they might have to deal with something just as hard in 15 years.

Others' advice about getting involved with projects of interest, in addition to getting a job-for-now, will help with those 1-2 minutes tremendously.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:04 PM on January 27, 2014

Consider getting a pen pal: From what I've heard, prison is so boring that prisoners love mail and will write basically anyone.
posted by aniola at 6:52 PM on May 24, 2014

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