Birdsong & Getting On: On Finding A Job When You’re Clinically Depressed.

Hi! My name’s Rebecca and I’m a manic depressive. It’s not exactly like the movies, because if it was, Sean Penn would be in bed staring at nothing all day, or Anne Hathaway would be sitting on her sofa in a fetid Cruella DeVille nightshirt she’d had since she was 10, watching her iPhone ring and ring and ring.

 However, the thing about depression is that it doesn’t preclude your need to eat. As anyone who suffers from this particular strand of illness knows, when in the grip of a depressive episode it can feel nigh on impossible to function like a regular human being, and, particularly, hold down a job. Depression makes you unreliable, inconsistent and deeply apathetic about anything that might lie beyond the reach of your bedside table. These are not attributes that employers typically look for. Now, depending on your personal circumstances and the severity of your condition, it might be that you can avoid the need to continue paid work. However, for many people, myself included, rent still needs to be paid, adult lives need to be maintained. This becomes especially problematic if for whatever reason, you become unemployed. The obvious question becomes: how do I sell myself when I can barely lift my head from the desk? Here, for what it is worth, is my advice re: this very pressing and increasingly common problem.

  1. Acceptance

    Perhaps you are the kind of person who, when on top form, is super organised and ambitious and makes fabulous to-do lists and accomplishes a great number of things in a day and go-go-go you. Well, the first and best thing you can do for yourself is acknowledge that right now, you are not this person. You are ill. If, in a brief respite, you get inspired and make a lot of plans about how tomorrow you’re going to update your CV, apply for 10 jobs a day and social network like a pro . STOP. You will almost certainly fail. And then you will feel like a failure. And then you’ll knock your recovery back either further. People who have had their knees smashed with a sledgehammer don’t run marathons. It sounds like the opposite of all the motivational advice you’ve read on the web, and it’s true: keep your expectations low and refuse to beat yourself up if you don’t even meet your most modest demands. This leads to….

  2. The Baby Steps Approach

    I am a researcher by inclination and when coming out of a particularly bad episode, I like to read any given number of books about how to INCREASE my PRODUCTIVITY, IMPROVE my WORK/LIFE BALANCE and GENERALLY GET BETTER AT EVERYTHING. If you are not careful, this can lead to the sort of dashed expectations and self-loathing described in point one. However, I did read one very good piece of advice that is genuinely helpful to people with depression: identify the one thing you’re most resistant to and make that your one goal for the day. Don’t do anything until you’ve done the job you hate. If you do nothing else, that will be achievement enough. Reward yourself lavishly for every small victory. For instance, if I can manage the strength to make a two minute phone call to troll for freelance work, it often takes me about two hours to work up the will and courage. Considering the emotional effort it takes to perform such a task, it is therefore reasonable to have a bubble bath or listen to an album or, even better….

  3. Leaving The House

    Leaving the house is one of the big barriers to job seeking. It’s a cliché but it is often the case that people in the creative industries are more susceptible to this type of illness. But whether you’re looking for design jobs in London or a retail work in Basingstoke, forcing yourself out into daylight will probably be one of the most creative jobs you will ever do. It can seem insurmountable, but especially if you are on welfare, you are required to make a physical appearance in the outside world. This may feel like torture but truly, this is what will save you. Try and get outside for at least a short walk every day. Think of a mundane task, choose a random location and go. The sunlight and air are your friends. Routine is the watchword. It may sound monumentally cheesy, but hearing the birds sing makes you feel a little more able to get on with your day. And that’s all you’ve got to do. Keep going, establish routine, do the one thing that scares you. It will be hard. There will be days, weeks even when you suck. But keep going, you’ll find a way through, back into employment and back, at last, into natural light. Really, truly, good luck.

  • Picture credit: Valeria C. Preisler

Rebecca Clay is a freelance writer for Brand Alley. She writes about jobseeking and personal growth.