Depression, Bad Fit, or Bad Attitude?
August 8, 2018 11:01 AM   Subscribe

I've been recovering after a breakdown that led to me taking meds for the first time for what I now know is Bipolar Depression. I'm starting to look for work again, and I'm getting the same feelings that I've been getting for a while -- nothing seems to interest me. I'm also studying for the CPA exam since I'd taken an array of accounting courses some years ago, and figured passing the exam would open more doors for me. The problem is that my heart sinks every time I have to crack open the textbook or scroll through job listings that sound as bland and dry as Wasa crackers. I understand that everyone starts somewhere, and the best jobs are earned. I can't tell whether this aversion is a result of genuine dislike for the jobs described, or whether it's a sign that I'm sliding into the murky mire of depression.

Does it even matter?

I have a pretty bad work history, mostly minimum wage jobs, even though I already have my Bachelors. It's a pretty bad situation; I don't have many options.

In sum, my question would be: Should I continue to study for the CPA exam, look for any job (0% excitement), look for a job that's decent (30% excitement), look for a job that piques my interest (50% excitement), or wait for a hell-yeah job (80% excitement)?
posted by iusedhername to Work & Money (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
As a fellow member of the bipolar club, I think you should talk to your doctor about adjusting your medication to address the depression you're still experiencing. It's normal to feel discouraged about re-entering the workforce. Asking, "Does it even matter?" and the description of how you feel whenever you go to study for the CPA exam = indicates you need more support. Sending good thoughts.
posted by Hermione Granger at 11:13 AM on August 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

Find accounting job first, with a CPA firm, even if the title they give you is something like "bookkeeper". Take CPA exam if you find you like or can at least tolerate the accounting job. There are plenty of public accounting jobs, especially in tax, that you do not need to already have passed the CPA exam to get. If you can't stomach being a tax accountant for the first year or two, you probably don't want to be a CPA. (In my experience, audit was impossible to break into without having gone straight into audit out of an accounting program. I might have stayed in accounting if I could have gotten a firm to give me so much as an interview in something other than tax.)

In order to actually be a CPA, unless the requirements have changed since I was looking at it or you're in a state that's weird, you have to have already done accounting work, which means you need to find the job without the actual certification either way. You also need a certain educational background--make sure you have enough credit hours and enough accounting credit hours before you get into all of this. And, honestly, if all you have in front of you are actual books, and you haven't bought a proper prep course, I would not waste the money on the test. The pass rate is terrible even for people with recent accounting degrees. You need a course. Don't pay for a course until you have a job.

But like... tax accounting is long hours during tax season and extension season, and no, it isn't exciting. How did you land on the CPA as a thing you should do? Have you ever had other interests?
posted by Sequence at 11:15 AM on August 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

I just want to give you a little pep talk about accounting work. It is, on paper, dry as dust. The job descriptions are not edge-of-your-seat thrillers - and unless you enjoy hideous stress breakdowns, that's a GOOD thing.

Here's what's great about that dull little skillset, though: it puts you through the door of basically every company in the world, every industry, every company culture and size and location. And there are a million ways to specialize. My job (in accounting software, in which 90% of my colleagues are accountants and maybe 60% of them are CPAs, some lapsed) means I spend all day talking to accounting personnel in big and small companies, biotech and cosmetics and construction and healthcare. The accounting department has to understand how the company runs, and honestly that's interesting.

My recommendation (as an outside observer), is to hold off on the CPA and just get a job in the accounting realm, if that's your training. Like, you don't have to spend your life in auditing or tax compliance, you can dig in at a logistics company or sporting goods manufacturer or city government doing inventory management or cost accounting or AR or AP. You can shop jobs for location, size, and culture first and responsibilities second. Your first positions may be vaguely admin-y or clerk-y, but that's not necessarily terrible (and those people generally leave work at work at a specific time every day, too). If you have a decent tech affinity, my suggestion would be to put away the CPA books and learn the shit out of Excel and data transformation and aim yourself at something more like a business analyst skillset because that's a primary aspect of business accounting now, and the number of people I cross paths with who can't figure out how to learn my products' query tools or reporting engines or how to manipulate the output are either precarious in their jobs or are entirely dependent on someone who does know how to make the magic happen.

If you find a job you like in a place with a great culture, do your job well and care about your work, you may end up being developed in-house for those higher-ranking jobs and maybe even getting education support to specialize in something.

It may be worth sitting down and seeing if you can even articulate on paper what a "hell yeah job" would look like to you, so you can consider the career trajectory/skillsets that might be required to actually get there. I do think what you're describing also sounds like anhedonia and you should talk to your prescribing doctor, but it also kind of sounds like you're limiting yourself or downtalking your options unnecessarily.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:43 AM on August 8, 2018 [14 favorites]

Feeling uninspired by the prospect of accountancy is extremely normal. That said, it's not necessarily the case that accountants have dull lives.

My neighbor is an accountant who LOVES 20th century modernism. She moved to this area on a whim, and works for a nifty design firm two blocks away, where she met her boyfriend the designer, with whom she is incredibly well-suited (they accidentally made each other the same Christmas present last year).

Someone I used to know was training as an accountant so that she could work for nonprofit organizations whose causes excite her, because nonprofit tax accounting requirements are huge.

So the 'hell yeah' factor may have to come from something other than accounting per se -- but accounting may give you the flexibility to pursue your inspiration when it hits.
posted by feral_goldfish at 11:53 AM on August 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's possible that you're both ambivalent about your next steps and that you aren't being effectively medicated. The fact that you specifically said "nothing interests me" - a red flag for depression- suggests to me that this goes above and beyond not knowing if you want to be an accountant. Call your psychiatrist and make an appointment- many bipolar people are on more than one med to cover all the bases. I don't know what medication you're on but you might look into Lamictal/lamotrigine, which is effective for both bipolar disorder and depression.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 12:36 PM on August 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

I actually have greater interest in being something like a social worker, but I thought that accounting would be a better skill to acquire. Like feralgoldfish had suggested, I was thinking that I could apply my skills to an organization that I care about.

I'm reading about bond anticipation notes right now and I want to disembowel myself.

Logically accounting is fine. It'll work. I can abstract interest from some aspect of it. But doing something like social work feels more natural to me. There's also a feeling that I should stretch myself intellectually, and accounting ostensibly may do that more than social work.
posted by iusedhername at 5:59 PM on August 8, 2018

Ooh boy. As another member of the bipolar club, and someone who works in a field that seems super boring on paper (tax) but is 100% excited about my job, I have a lot to say, some of it possibly contradictory.

First off, I was curious how recently you started medication, and looking at your last question it looks like quite recently. I'd say it's very very there's an element of depression at play here - not necessarily that you're sliding into a depressive episode, just that it might take some time for the meds to help you level out (I'm assuming you're on lamotrigine since it's generally the first line med, and as foxy_hedgehog mentioned it's effective for depression, but for me it felt like a gradual lift over several months).

If it is depression, the best - and worst - advice a therapist gave me was to do things regardless of whether or not I felt excited or happy about doing them. It was bad advice because I was undiagnosed at the time and "powering through" never really fixed the issue, but at the same time, it was good advice because hey, if I'm not excited about anything, might as well do things I'm unexcited about that have the potential to benefit future-me.

Regarding applying for jobs, my instinctive response is go for 50% excitement. You deserve at least 80% excitement, but realistically you don't know when applying for jobs what you'll actual like about them. A job that appears mildly interesting could turn out to be super duper interesting, but when I've taken jobs I couldn't see any excitement in, I hated them and didn't do my best work.

At the same time, I also want to say go for 0% excitement jobs. In other words, I don't know what the right answer is. I never would have ended up in my current awesome job if I hadn't started by taking whatever job would hire me, then unintentionally ended up in a niche field that let me transition to a small company with a great culture. However, when I took 0% excitement jobs I had no idea what I wanted to do, so maybe if I'd known I wanted to do something like being a social worker it wouldn't have been as great a choice to accept a job at a corporate law firm.

A few final points: (1) How much do you know about what being a social worker entails? How deep is your interest? If you know everything about what the day-to-day work would be and 100% want it then you might always regret it if you don't go for it, but if it's more the idea of helping people that appeals to you, there are plenty of ways to do that. (2) In contradiction to point 1, I've learned that where I work is so much more important to my happiness than the work itself. Great people, opportunities to learn, and a sense that the company actually has a valuable purpose means so much more to me than the specific role I have.
posted by ersatzhuman at 6:13 PM on August 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

May I suggest, somewhat tangentially, that you find yourself a honby that you really like? A friend of mine, who is a tax accountant, took up photography in a big way after her husband died and seems to be getting a whole lot of enjoyment out of it. Doing people's taxes is not, as I understand it, her passion—it is a way of making a comfortable living so that she can do things that she genuinely enjoys the rest of the time. There's more to your life than your job.

That said, it's good if you can like your job and kind of necessary to at least not dislike it. If accounting makes you want to go eat broken glass just for a little variety (and if you're sure it's the accounting and not the bipolar that's making you feel that way) then you should probably pursue something else. I'm a big fan of construction work—it's satisfying, it feels productive, you can largely learn it as you go. I had my company's permitting intern up on top of a school installing mounting hardware for solar panels today, and he said the day just flew by and he had a ton of fun—even though he was just screwing one thing into the other thing hundreds of times over, and in 90°F heat at that. Think about it.

But you know, looking at the wider context here and thinking of this in light of my own experiences with depression and hypomania, I would probably avoid making any big life changes right now. Give it a month or two of trying to plow forward on your current course while working with your doctor on treating your bipolar, and then reassess. A couple of months won't kill you—you can put up with just about anything for that amount of time. If you keep feeling the same way after a month or two has gone by (and if your feelings about this stay stable despite fluctuations in your overall mood) then maybe you should think seriously about a course change.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:45 PM on August 8, 2018

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