How to cope with workplace depression?
November 26, 2017 5:32 PM   Subscribe

Everyday at work I feel extremely depressed at work, or more accurately at what I feel this job means about who I am and where my life is heading.

It feels so depressing to spend all week at a low-wage, low-skill job. I realize its a job, and I should be thankful I have one after such a long period of unemployment, but I find it very difficult to reconcile what I want to do and believe I can do if given the chance and what I am actually doing.

Two years ago I graduated with a diploma in software and database development. I genuinely thought that was a promising field. Evidently I was mistaken. Now I work for an auction house moving cars for minimum wage, with a whole whack of student loan debt to boot.

Admittedly the job I have is not the worst job in the world, but all I can think of when I am at work is if I will ever have a career in my field, that I could be doing so much more than moving cars around in a parking lot, and if I will forever be trapped in what feels like a dead end, going nowhere kind of job.

How can I adjust my thinking to better cope with this job I have? I can't afford to be depressed all day and unable to function (and I am already on three antidepressants). If you have a degree of some kind and are stuck working in a menial, low-wage job, how do you cope?
posted by 8LeggedFriend to Work & Money (8 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I've taken minimum wage jobs in the past as a way to give me more time to transition into a different type of career. What I focused on during those times besides the "Augh!! I can't stand this" was how to get to the place that I wanted to get.

So one suggestion that I have for you is to find your classmates via linkedin who got the job title you want. Info interview them and find out: Did they do something different? How did they find their job? Etc. Also look around and find other people with the job title and pick their brains. In other words, use your frustration with your current job to use the energy toward applying for other jobs (not just applying, taking whatever steps they identify).

In addition to that - since I've read your posts before, if I remember correctly you like to write? Why not apply for technical writing jobs? Some of them require a writing test and you mimic the sample they give you. Some of them would also prefer you have a specialty in (read the job description) - but I know that I've seen more than one with an IT background. So leverage your background/knowledge toward applying and getting a job like this.

Keep trying, keep rolling.
posted by Wolfster at 5:47 PM on November 26, 2017 [4 favorites]

Degrees aren't a guarantee of anything other than you don't get ruled out of a job automatically for not having one. (And then these days they want specific degrees in specific subject matter, so they can rule you out anyway!) Or as my friend got told in her recent Starbucks job, "Hey, let's have the girl with the master's degree clean the toilets!"

I'm in a similar situation: dead end but highly stressful job and I cannot find anything else for anything. The only way I'm leaving here is if I die or get fired (and let's not get into how good my odds are of one of those). What I do is remind myself that it could be worse. I think of my unemployed friends. I think of the consequences that come from not being employed myself. I think, "at least this way I still have a home and food and am not homeless." It can always be worse, and if you think of the advantages that you do have--and the people who don't even have that-- it helps.

Other tips: try to have a good time and don't think about work on the days you don't have to go in. Like, make it a rule not to. Hell, it's even better if you can stop the work dwelling after you get off shift. Find something distracting to do.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:12 PM on November 26, 2017

I'm currently working at a job I love, but my first year out of college was exactly where you are now. Except I didn't have the benefit of a degree in a hypothetically-employable field. The way I personally survived was working towards getting into the field I wanted to semi-maniacally even as I worked as a temp with no job security and a tiny salary. It gave me a purpose, and sometimes when my day job was quiet I could even work on learning new skills and doing tutorials on the job. (In order not to feel guilty I always made sure I was performing at or above expectations at my day job, definitely don't risk getting fired because you're doing other stuff during work hours.)
If you're looking for a job in software, are you doing everything you could be re: meetups/ open source contributions/learning marketable skills? If not, could you start now? I bet you would feel better.
Also, this sounds counter intuitive, but give yourself permission to fail. You might do everything right and still not get the job you deserve. But at least you can give it a try.
posted by loquacious crouton at 6:37 PM on November 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

Keep looking for another job, and try to enjoy whatever you can about your current job in the meantime, without thinking about it when you're not there.

Maybe your coworkers have good stories. Maybe you get to learn about all the different sorts of cars one sees at an auction house. Maybe you get to tune the radios in all of them to something you think is funny. Maybe you become really, really good at parking cars safely and efficiently. And maybe the best you can say about it is that it pays your bills for right now, and that's OK.

Lots of us have been in similar situations. Which isn't to say that you shouldn't try to find better employment, but don't beat yourself up about not having it yet. Be kind to yourself, just like you'd do for anyone else asking this question.
posted by asperity at 6:40 PM on November 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

FWIW, I've felt the same while working at high-skill, high-wage jobs. The pointlessness of what I'm doing and what that says about me and my life is a recurrent theme that my brain likes to bring up.

I've found that the feeling ebbs and flows. Finding meaning and purpose outside of work is sometimes helpful. So is having a larger goal in mind and reminding myself to not let my short-term emotions get in the way of my long-term goals. The feeling doesn't go away, but I practise managing it.
posted by clawsoon at 8:29 PM on November 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

I agree with Wolfster. Technical writers are in huge demand. Maybe look into that?

To answer your question - I was in a low-wage, menial job two years ago, right after I graduated from university (Master's degree) and moved back to my hometown. How did I cope? I didn't. I fell into a dark, dank hole, got fat, took up self-destructive behaviors for a side career, and basically decided to check out of life (not suicide, but close enough).

It was supremely difficult. Few things in my life come close to the pain and depression I experienced then. Most of the time I was obsessed with how trapped I felt, and how I wanted to be elsewhere and do something else, and yet I had no idea where to start or what I wanted to do (as opposed to what my degree allowed me to do, which was unfortunately the kind of job I didn't want to do).

If I could turn back time and give my then-self something to hold onto, it'd be: "It's going to be okay." Every day, I felt like there was a banshee wailing inside my head because I felt so desperate and desolate, but in hindsight, I think it would have helped if I learnt to "recommit" to myself. As in, to make a commitment that no matter what - no matter my job or feelings or depression - I would be on my side, and I was going to love myself, honor myself, and be proud of myself NMW. And tell myself that it was going to be okay, because I was with me.

I tend to think that my life experiences show me how strong my commitment to my Self really is, and each time the shit hits the fan, I get a chance to "recommit" to myself. Sometimes I step up, sometimes I don't. And when I don't, at some point in the future, I will have to.
posted by Spiderwoman at 6:13 AM on November 27, 2017 [4 favorites]

Another thing about many tech jobs - though you didn't hear this from me - is that you can make them as challenging and interesting as you can get away with. Is your database backed up? Is it redundant? Master-slave or master-master? Automatic failover? Are the query speeds as fast as they can be? Is indexing as efficient as it could be? You can implement all of these things in virtual machines to test things and break things and fix them again, and then - depending on how much job responsibility you can take on without asking - you can either go ahead and implement them on the live systems or make the case for them and ask to implement them. "I noticed that our queries would go 10% faster if we change this query from an outer join to an inner join. I've tested it in a virtual environment, and it's a simple change. I'm planning to implement it this Sunday at 6am, since that's a very quiet time for the site. I'll take a snapshot and I have tested rollback plan in case anything goes wrong with the update."

If they let you go ahead with it, then you've got a workplace where you're free to learn a lot and make your job really interesting. If they don't, then you've added to your skills and opened up more opportunities for new jobs. Lots of places will be happy to have someone who answers the question, "Why do you want to leave your current job?" with, "I want to take on more responsibility; I want to keep improving and expanding my skills; my current managers are actively preventing me from doing that; I want a workplace that rewards self-starters."

But first: Find out whether your current managers are, in fact, getting the way of you learning and applying new skills. They might turn out to be super-happy that you're making their systems run better and faster and you want to do more and learn more.

Keep in mind as you do this that confidence is often mistaken for competence. Use that to your advantage. Be calm and confident about the changes you're proposing, even if you aren't. Stay calm and confident even if they crash and burn. Crash and burn is an opportunity to learn even more. Stay up all night and fix what you broke. Most of the time, your managers will feed off your energy: When you project calm and confidence, even when you don't feel it, they'll let you figure things out as you go along even if you have no idea what you're doing. Managers like to know your plans in a crisis, so make a plausible plan to the best of your knowledge and go with it. "First we need to figure out X and Y, and then we'll know whether we need to do ABC or DEF." People respect that.

Anyhoo, this has turned into a bit of a ramble. But I hope it points you toward some of the skills that you need to develop in order to turn a boring, low-skill tech job into an interesting, high-skill tech job. It's not an accident that the informal motto of Silicon Valley is "do it now, ask forgiveness later." (Or, "It's better to ask forgiveness than permission.") That's how you learn things, gain responsibility, and make your work more interesting.
posted by clawsoon at 8:24 AM on November 27, 2017

but I find it very difficult to reconcile what I want to do and believe I can do if given the chance and what I am actually doing.

Yeah, this is the extra layer of self-awareness that can make life so miserable.

First, I'd say, adjust your anti depressants if you have a doctor you trust to work with. Sure, it's not a permanent solution, but it can make solutions easier.

Then I'd say pick something you want to focus on that will feel like it makes a difference in your life. It can be looking for the next job, yeah, if that's realistic for your situation right now. But it could also be getting involved in local politics or a cause you believe in, getting involved in a sport or team and building to mastery, anything else that can be a source of stimulation, feeling of trajectory, and of identity, outside of work.

That difference between what you could be doing and what you are, see if you can direct it not towards at self judgment but towards awareness of an imperfect world in a way that's hurtful to you. Yeah, that old adage, life isn't fair. It's just not. But it doesn't reflect on you.

Good luck!!
posted by Salamandrous at 5:07 AM on November 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

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