Getting to Work When Depressed

man walking routine with suitcase

Simply getting to work when you’re depressed can feel like an impossible task. Dealing with people in the workplace and doing the most basic parts of the job seem to take more energy than you have. The routine becomes hard labor, and the stress and depression feed off each other.

Over the past year, several readers have added their stories of frustration, even desperation about trying to survive in their jobs when depressed. They’ve offered their hard-won insights, and I’d like to highlight some of their experience in coping with a difficult worklife.

Some have found ways of keeping a balance. Others have not. Some have had to change the type of work they do. Others have withdrawn from regular jobs altogether. In every case, they have had to face the reality that depression becomes the central problem of work as well as personal lives and relationships.

A Cycle of Frustration

One reader found that work and depression were inextricably linked in a pattern she hasn’t been able to break. She would start a new job with a lot of energy and do excellent work. Her bosses loved her for being great at what she did and always surprising them with her commitment. But after a while depression would set in. The job would come to feel hateful. She’d fight with people and wind up quitting or getting fired. She had been caught in this cycle for years.

Whether it’s the specific kind of work that stirs up depression or depression that sours the work experience is hard to tell. Depression tends to make the mind blur all difficulties together, and everything about a particular job can feel wrong or impossible to do.

Sometimes depression is a sign that you are doing work that goes against the grain of your personality in some way. Or you might be able to do this type of work well but don’t like doing it anymore. Whatever the reason, the stress and tension become unbearable, and all of us who have been in this situation hit a crisis point.

Performance suffers, more problems with colleagues and supervisors develop, home life becomes more tense, and we can barely get through a day. There were many mornings in that period of my life when I wanted to drive to a hospital instead of the office.

The crisis usually demands a new adaptation to work that can be one of the most difficult challenges in your life.

Cutting Back Isn’t Avoidance

When I first learned about mindful acceptance of difficult feelings, I thought that I would be able to handle a high level of stress in work. Anything would be better than the old strategy of avoiding every situation that intensified depression.

In fact, I was able to recuperate only by separating from a normal work life through partial retirement. Without the ability to work on my own, I’m quite sure I’d be groaning once more with stress and anxiety and the multiple plagues of depression.

The experience made me realize that every step back from stress isn’t avoidance and that achieving mindful acceptance shouldn’t become another measuring stick for self-worth.

I like Tom Wootton’s description of gradually expanding your comfort zone. The first step is to manage and stabilize your symptoms. That often requires separating yourself from the full onrush of living by restricting the types of activities you engage in. Once you have the worst problems under control, then you can gradually learn to expand the range of experience again as you become better able to handle things.

There is no timeline or pace that fits everyone. Nor is there any point in passing judgment (a depressive habit of mind) or expecting fast results when it has taken years to get to the state of depression you’re in.

Here’s how two people did it.

A Break from the Working Life

Following several hospitalizations, Donna left a high pressure position and tried many different jobs. Eventually, she realized that all steady work was impossible and made the huge decision to stop working altogether. She needed to find out if she could heal without the demands of a regular job. A combination of disability payments from Social Security and a former employer gave her enough to live on.

Then she went well beyond work to eliminate for a time all the other sources of stress in her life: social gatherings, family get-togethers and community activities.

After that, healing became possible. She never had to be admitted to the hospital again. Her worst long-term problems with psychosis began to fade. She had time to reflect on her life and rediscover activities, like writing, that she had long neglected.

She has now returned to a life that includes socializing, hobbies, volunteer work and caregiving. Medication helps keep her stable. She has a new sense of purpose and can expand her activities at her own pace, but she’s also had to deal with many up’s and down’s with her illness.

Deal with Depression First

An anonymous commenter described the torturous experience of staying with a demanding teaching job even as depression was making it harder and harder to function. Like most of us, she didn’t want to stop work because it would seem like defeat or weakness or a disappointment to family. Whatever the reason, success at a killing job becomes the test of one’s self-worth.

In her case, the predictable happened. A combination of inner troubles with depression and conditions at work that she had no control over pushed her over the edge. She broke down at her school and had to be taken to the emergency room. The school administration let her go not long after.

Fortunately, her response was to focus on healing, and her advice now is clear on this point. Take care of depression first. Start by talking to your doctor and getting a referral to a psychiatrist who is best able to deal with the medical aspects of the illness.

She’s been fortunate enough to have the support of all members of her family. Her husband always gave her a lot of support, but for a long time she had been afraid to talk about her condition to anyone else. When she did, they came through for her.

Perhaps most important, she came to realize that it was a losing battle to measure her self-worth by her employment status. That’s a hard one to come to since our culture drills it into us from an early age that we only become someone through success in work. It can take a crisis with depression to get you back in touch with the most basic parts of being human, but that’s a powerful lesson she has learned.

Neither of these two stories end with miracle cure but rather with a realistic sense of depression’s ongoing impact and considerable progress in healing and restoring a sense of purpose in life.

Taking Time to Heal

Both of these readers found, as I did and as Tony Giordano described in his story of recovery, that stepping back from an intense worklife, whether by choice or not, was essential in order to begin the healing process.

Although stopping work eliminates one of the biggest sources of stress, that step alone wouldn’t accomplish much without an all-out effort to get better in which you play the leading role.

There are many practical and financial limitations to this approach. Disability programs aren’t available to everyone, and financial obligations may make it impossible to reduce the pay level. There is no easy answer, and many have to learn to cope as well as possible with a current job situation.

That can be done, especially with the help of medication and therapy, but most people come to the realization that something has to change. The mix of work and depression can ultimately bring about a crisis when choices that once seemed impossible now have to be made. It can takes years to get to the point of crisis, and it usually takes years to get out of it.

As these recovery stories emphasize, dealing with depression as a serious condition, sooner or later needs to become the top priority. What has been your experience with work and depression?

40 Responses to “Getting to Work When Depressed”

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  1. James says:

    I just started an internship 3 months back and tomorrow’s the last day. Since the second week, I’ve been depressed and I’m not able to focus right now. Had a lot riding on this internship as my father is set to retire next year and I’m going to be the breadwinner of the house. I’ve worked before and this internship is a part of my graduate degree. I heard one of the guys talk something bad about me during the second week and this has made me very uncomfortable since then. I’ve never been like this. On my previous jobs, I’ve been a very good performer. But here, expectations have got me into depression along with the fact that I’ve been suffering from epilepsy for the past 12 years and have a brain tumour. But it has never interfered with my life. It’s like I can feel my overall health deteriorating because whenever I start exercising, I get a pilonidalsinus infection. And all this has got me overwhelmed. Above that, I’ve not been able to manage my time to do what I want. I don’t have anyone to share it with and my family thinks I am doing good and I act as an emotional support pillar for my family whenever I can. I think my dad has also dealt with depression for larger part of his life but he never shares. As someone shared here, I’ve also been told that you are not good enough and you won’t be able to achieve anything in life, on multiple occasions by my father when I was growing up.
    I don’t know what’s bothering me continuously as I’ve got a sinking feeling all the time. Whenever my parents or my sister asks me, how’s the internship going, I’ve only one thing to say, you know it’s good.
    Also compared to other jobs and this internship, I was able to work there properly because I had a really good support system in work friends. There was no overwhelming feeling as I always had one or two people there to talk to about everything.
    But the thing is, I ended the first job soon after my work friend left his job. Wasn’t feeling good going daily there.
    Probably should have made multiple friends like that who understand your thought process and can advice you properly.
    To end, just think, all those with depression, what makes you feel good….

    • Rory says:

      Wow it’s crazy how similar our stories are. I started an internship a couple months ago, I cannot focus on my work and am severely depressed. My mind is blank a lot of the time and I need to make it look like I’m working. I’m lucky to not be financially responsible for anyone however. I also developed a pilonidal sinus recently and the pain is so bad. I don’t have any time to do anything I’d like to and don’t see any way out except suicide. I’m just writing to say I empathise and hope your situation improves.

  2. choccie says:

    I’ve been depressed since I was 11 and I guess over the years, I’ve managed to get by, somehow.. Ironically I also have a degree in Psychology. It’s been around 9 years since I’ve had a meltdown and recently, after getting dumped by my fiance, it just drove me over the edge.

    I attempted suicide. Where I’m from, it’s illegal. I was warded in a mental health institution and I was discharged against medical advice as I just couldn’t take it in there anymore. They had no more space in the mood disorders unit so they placed me in a general ward where almost everyone was schizophrenic, there were some violent ones too. Being surrounded by them when you’re depressed doesn’t do any good and I just got more moody and angry.

    Now I’ve just started on meds but I was told they won’t ‘kick in’ until 2 weeks later. I haven’t had therapy yet either because there are just no slots. I agonize over going to work and I’m so tempted to call in sick which I want to stop doing because I just don’t want to lose my job.

    At 27, most of my peers are solidifying their careers, they’re stable, some are settling down, and even though my life isn’t bad… It seems like nobody around me understands how low and how torturous it is to just get out of bed when you haven’t had any sleep or had way too much.

    I’m trying hard to be more optimistic in this horrible world, I know I don’t want kids because – look around… the world is not a happy place. I wish I could appreciate life like others but I don’t. I just want to feel happy and at peace, contented. But all the happiness around me just feels temporary… I feel very detached from chirpy uppy emotions.

    I want to be happy though.. Genuinely.

  3. Bessie says:

    Hope this isn’t taken the wrong way, but I have to say I’m impressed some of the commenters have been able to work so many different jobs after bad work experiences. This gives me hope, as I would rather job hop than get stuck in a horrible situation feeling there are few other options.

    I thought I had finally found my career path when getting on with the public sector. It started off great; I loved the work, most of the people I worked with, and the generous benefits. Then one day, I found myself being targeted by a jealous colleague. I was given the cold shoulder, my work was sabotaged and my reputation dirtied by this co-worker to the higher ups. The environment became toxic and I wanted out.

    I interviewed for a promotion at another department and got the job, despite a warning from a colleague about the toxicity of the department I was moving to. I figured, how could I be worse off? Well, he was right and I didn’t pass my 6-month probation and was sent back to my old job. That didn’t bode well for the bullies at the agency I left as they thought they had rid themselves of me. It was the hardest thing going back there, but I had no choice. I needed a job to survive.

    The bullying was amped up to the point where falsifications were made about my performance, I was demoted and stuck in a work area the size of a closet, I was ridiculed and nobody wanted to be seen talking to me. I hung in there because I needed a job. Of course my mental and physical health suffered. After a few years of this, I received a small inheritance and decided I wanted to make a new life for myself. So I left and moved to another city to start over.

    Used part of my inheritance to fund a post-grad program and was all excited about starting a new career when I finished. However, I couldn’t find work in that field no matter how many interviews I went on. I believe my age was held against me as my competitors were all a lot younger.

    I gave up for a few years and lived on savings. The day came when savings ran out and I was destitute. A friendly woman I met through meetup offered me an opportunity to work as her assistant. The pay was low and I was an independent contractor so I had to pay my own taxes on top of that. Plus my gut told me to watch out for this woman. I was desperate so worked for her anyway.

    It didn’t take long for the bullying to start. Nothing I did was good enough, nothing I said, heck even my outfits, makeup and hair would be critiqued daily by this woman. Turns out she had gone through several assistants and I lasted the longest. I threw in the towel after 8 months with no job lined up.

    With my savings nearly depleted and within a few weeks of having to live in my car, I found work four months later in a tax office. Again, the pay was low and I thought it strange the interviewer hired me on the spot and did not want an application. I’m desperate so I ignore the red flags.

    This was the worst place by far. The business owner I reported to offered no training and yelled at me whenever I asked questions. Nobody else was around to ask so I had to train myself and of course mistakes were made. He was furious about that and not only insulted me for being incompetent but made sexist remarks too. He and the other guy there would openly ridicule and talk down to me. Well, turns out the owner was doing illegal things, including selling drugs. I lasted a month. I had so much anxiety from that job, I lost ten pounds.

    Within a week of leaving, I was offered a job where I am now. The HR manager interviewed me and said I was the only person with experience who applied for the job. Probably because of the low pay. I got the job by default, not because I was their first choice. I was their only choice. I didn’t even interview with the manager I’d be reporting to, which I thought was strange.

    As I quickly learned, perhaps it’s because my manager is half my age, as are most of the employees I work with. Am I a good fit for this company? Hell, no. But it is a job and I’m desperate.

  4. Em says:

    It makes me angry whenever anyone suggests quitting my job. Yes, I get that that will help A LOT. However, it’s not feasible. I am not eligible for social security or disability benefits. I am the breadwinner while my husband goes to school full time. I can’t just quit my job. We’re holding off having children because I can’t stop working, much less quitting because of my depression. I have no viable solution and the naïveté of “quitting your job!” and “stay at home and take care of yourself!” angers me mainly because I am jealous for not having that outlet.

  5. Steven says:

    This is definitely a Eureka moment for me, I have been pretty much lost and confused amidst my feelings and outlook towards work and life in general for as long as I can remember. I am currently 12 months unemployed after I quit job number 30? On each occasion with any new job that I have landed I soon begin to feel unable to endure the feeling of absolute hopelessness and despair. My savings have all but run out and I will soon have no money to exist on, yet many months ago I failed to act to secure any kind of employment to head this situation off, even though I knew that it was essential I just can’t bring myself to start looking for work, my head feels numb and I have constant recurring thoughts about how to make this rollercoaster stop by just switching my lights off. Every day I experience feelings that can only be described as ‘melancholic’. I have pushed most of my friends away, of the remaining couple of friends that I do have I know that they are looking at me and wondering why I haven’t sorted my life out and don’t have the same things that they have been able to attract for themselves, such as a loving relationship, a stable job with a good income, own property, frequent holidays, etc. I feel massively left behind as a 40yo guy. I used to have a nice apartment in a smart part of London, now I am living in Essex with my father rent free, isolated and stuck in a cultural vacuum (Essex), driving around in my expensive lease car to different coffee shops for several hours refuge each day (Im that guy in the corner with the Macbook making his coffee last for hours). In sum, I don’t know what to do, I want change, but I feel so much despair and I am so lost. I have made the first step towards getting the help that I need by making an appointment with my GP, I know that I can regain my old self (somehow), that confident and upright man that only 12 months ago had a meeting at the Bank of England, so why am I here? How did it get this bad? … this has been very cathartic, thank you for allowing me to contribute.

    • Debra says:

      Hi Steven
      I have just finished reading your story and am suffering much the same. Am in and out of work and now hanging onto my job the the skin of my teeth. Am not receiving any support, even though I am under my doctor. There does not seem to be much help out there for people like me that are very depressed and anxious, I feel like no one takes my condition seriously.

      I`m not very good with words, but if I lived closer and saw you in that coffee shop I would come and talk to you. I think loneliness is very difficult and makes my condition worse.

      Take care
      D x

    • AJ says:

      I know this post is over a year old but I just wanted to say, I’m currently sitting in the corner of a coffee shop, reading your comment.

      I understand you on so many levels, it’s scary to think that this feeling will never go away and it’s something that I will have to deal with for the rest of my life, but I can’t help but hope that one day I’ll wake up and I won’t have these feelings anymore. I’m always asking myself ‘why me?’ and in the state of resentment, comparing myself with others, feeling like I’m inadequate.

      I quit my job around 4 months ago to go to travelling: I lasted 2 months abroad, I thought I could run away from my life here in the UK and explore SE Asia, I told people I’ll go travelling without having any expectations, but secretly I went looking to find something that I felt was missing in my life, I thought being in a completely new environment where I was free to be whoever I wanted to be would allow me to experiment being someone different to the person I normally portray myself being in my working life and at home. I think of myself being a timid, quiet – people pleaser.

      I’ve never really felt comfortable being myself for as long as I can remember, whilst travelling the feeling never left me; I may come across as a nice guy who is somewhat sociable, however, I always felt like people could see right through me, however I may be acting and see through the protective facade that I have and see the unknowledgeable, pathetic little boy that doesn’t deserve any respect underneath. That’s the harsh reality of how i think about myself, however untrue it might be i can’t stop but think of myself in those terms.

      So back in the UK, I’m looking for a new job, I’m lucky in the sense that I have many opportunities in my line of work and my agent is constantly calling to update me on new employers that are interested in interviewing, I’ve even been offered two new positions that are paying more than my previous role. I guess only in the past month I’ve admitted to myself and family that I’m depressed and thay I see the world through a different lens then a normal mentally healthy person. I dread going back into work, where I would have to re-integrate myself into a new social environment and have to act as I’m happy with my life and make excuses to decline invitations to social events because I don’t want to expose myself any further to my colleagues so they don’t see how boring I am to be with, because I have nothing interesting to say.

      I know eventually I will have to get back into work, it will keep my mind occupied, having time off from work, my depression has been my main focus, and i probably Google and watch videos about depression every day because it’s all i think about, so I ask Google different questions in the hope I learn how to get out of the cycle I’m in. I guess it’s what led me to this article. Thinking about things so much feels like I’m working things out in my head, working out why i feel the way i feel, but I’ve been doing this for +10years, and i still haven’t worked out why I feel the way I do and how I can change it. I just hope that one day I can overcome this illness and be truly happy. I have prospects for the future and I could be in a much worse situation, but everyone has different stories, backgrounds and coping thresholds, I guess mine is particularity low.

      Thanks for posting your comment. I know I haven’t providing any answers to your particular questions, however similar or different we are, it’s just nice to know that there are other people that sit in the corner of coffee shops making their coffee last for hours.
      I wish you all the best in your struggles, hope you are in a better place now.

    • Jodi says:

      First let me say that I thank you for sharing. I hope you are doing well today. I too am depressed and feel the lowest I have ever felt. I hate my life although I have a good job and a husband and loving family. I am just not happy and want so much more from life. I want to quit my job as I don’t have the strength to pull myself up and out. I am not happy in my marriage and wish I could leave him but don’t have the strength. My children are grown and gone but I stay in touch almost daily. They don’t know what I feel. I wish I could run away but feel I can’t. I pray this depression lifts.

  6. Mike NJ says:

    All these stories seem too familiar. Each if your stories is part of me.
    I am a make with a degree in finances, everything seemed Ok growing up although I felt inside that something is missing and as far as I remember I use to hide and cry just for feeling different but never knew where that feeling came from.
    My dad was an alcoholic and treated everyone badly, it was never physical but the mental abuse was tremendous. But for some reason it felt almost normal because I did not know how other people lived. I lived in fear, I use to pray as far as I could think maybe at the age of 5 I was praying every evening that my dad does not come home or even get a news that he died only because I was terrified of him when he was drunk, I never knew what to expect because usually he wakes everyone up by screaming and breaking things and i remember one night he pulled a knife on my mother because she told him to keep quiet and not wake all the kids up because they have school tomorrow.
    I was more afraid for her safety than mine ..
    My mother had no choice, no where to go and she was a house wife.
    Make the long story short, growing up I was told by my dad over and over that I was worthless, only because he knew that I did not like him, he even encourage my siblings to tell me that I was worthless ..
    Went to college in Paris, graduated but the fear and anxiety was killing me slowly and I knew how to hide it, to my friends I was the cool guy, always smiling when in fact I was crying inside m, those are tools that I learned in order to cope with life and school.
    When I graduated I wanted to get as far as possible from where my dad was, So I decided to go and find a job in the US because I spoke English well and also because I had visited Virginia when I was in college.
    I made the decision not to look for a job in France but instead take a chance and go to the US.
    Having $800 to my name took the plane and went to NYC and all I had is a phone number to a friend I knew in France ..
    I made it and after a long struggle with my anxiety and depression at lest I felt safe in the US, I helped my mother and encouraged her to leave him but it was too late, she found out he was dying of cancer and he passed the following year.
    I remember at his funeral I could but cry, I was sad from the whole scene but u could not cry she I am the type to cry at the movies, it was very unusual even to me.
    After two years of struggle in the US I landed my first stable Job which has nothing to do with my education, the job was to work with the crime prevention unit.
    I liked the job at the begging, the training went well abs I was well liked, I think because if my accent l.
    The anxiety and depression was killing me slowly and I knew how to hide it and even act happy at times when I am falling into pieces inside.
    Because I grew up in a fearful lags unstable home, I was happy that u finally have some stability in my life but I also knew that this is not the job for me, it has nothing to do with my education and the pay was not great at all, but the fear of starting in a new job or even looking for a new one terrified me.
    I knew I could do much better given my education but I feel disabled to look for an other job or even changing the environment I work in.
    I cried every day on my way to work and cried when I got home.
    I lost the taste of doing things or enjoying anything, I feel trapped, I want to do sometime I am happy with but I am mentally unable to take to first step, just the thought of it drives me to considering suicide.
    It has been 16 years that I am in this situation.
    Several failed relationships due to my depression and lack of excitement about the future and even life drove people away from me .
    I tried every depression medication possible and but u’v seems to work, I feel numb but dying slowly inside, I feel like I am screaming but no one can hear me.
    Doctors just give a script and if it did not work try a different one, I think I tried all the depression medication possible.
    I am still at the same job I took as a gig 16 years ago but lately I started to convince myself that the in my way out was suicide, the only problem with that is the fact that I know how much pain thus will cause my family,
    Recently I went to my shrink and told him that I actually bought a rope and I am planning on hanging myself, he put me on work leave for two months as he knows that it is the job that is causing me all thus depression and anxiety for the last sixteen years but I am trapped,
    For some reason my mind convinced me that dealing with this issue is much less worst than starting in a new job with the new people, the taught of it alone is disabilitating.
    I am fourth years old now and feel helpless.
    Any ideas please help me.

    • toby says:

      I know this post is a few months old, but I felt compelled to write. It pains me to read this, partly because I empathize and also because of concern for you. Has anything changed? How was your leave? I know it’s awkward replying to a stranger, but I would really like to know how you are doing now.

    • Ghassen says:

      Hey Mike

      Thanks for sharing your experience with! I have been going through the same thing for the last 4 years. I no longer have any interest in my current job (despite a recent promotion) and really want to move on and start over again.

      I am looking for something that I’d love doing but just can’t seem to find it, sometimes I am not even sure what I like doing and what kind of job I want to apply for!! the more I stay in my current job, the more it consumes me and makes it even harder for me to quit. Stress and anxiety made way to depression then you reach the point when you prefer being sick than going to work.

      I have to recognize that all my colleagues like and respect me and that my boss is very supportive but I can’t help feeling hopeless and worthless despite all the positive feedbacks that I receive. Having been bullied for years when I was a child, I made a commitment to get over it and move on with my life which I did but recently I think that my old demons starting chasing me again and doing a job that has nothing to do with your personality isn’t really helpful.

      I am trying to find a new job but something seems to hold me back, maybe it’s the fear of the unknown or the fear of losing your experience …? Anyway you remain stuck in all this negativity which seriously affects your professional as well as your personal life.

      Depression is taking over and I don’t know what to do! My worst nightmare for the moment is my current job, I feel like if I just take an extended period off or just quit I’d be able to take the time and think about what I really wanna do in life. If only I could afford quitting …

      I just wanted you to know that you were not alone and more people feel exactly the same way than you can ever imagine! People just have different ways of hiding their misery or coping with it but at the end it’s the more or less the same situation.

      Finally please bear in mind that no matter how difficult the situation can be, suicide has never been the solution to any problem! Not only because of all the pain it will cause your family but because life is too precious to be taken away in a single moment of hopelessness! You never know what the future hides for you so just try to be hopeful.

      Best

  7. vanessa says:

    ok, this is what were all going to do…. meet me at a park around noon, bring a lunch or lets all get mocha’s. know that I’m there for you and your there for me. I’m going to take a deep breath…. maybe cry alittle. and keep telling my self tomorrow will be better. If I didn’t mention it before… you matter!!! you matter to me. you matter to your kids, your mother, your brother or sister. and for everyone else out there that doesn’t understand our pain, well, it’s not their’s to understand, it’s yours and mine. you and I are kindred spirits, were given this burden to help someone else with their’s. thank you for being there for me, even though it’s on this web site. for this very moment I’m not alone in this. I can’t wait to meet you for coffee tomorrow at the park. V

  8. John J. says:

    I spent 30 years on a regular cycle of starting over every 3-4 months. Work for an average of 3 months and either quit or be fired. When a person is so severely depressed they are on the verge of losing touch with reality (unfortunately some progress to “psychotic features”) and wake up with plans of suicide and go to sleep with the question of how not if , a job is impossible to deal with. To try to explain severe depression to someone who has never experienced it is like a dying cancer patient trying to explain how they feel. Many people can’t seem to understand most people who commit suicide because of depression do so for relief of the constant torture not because they want to die. Most who escape death from suicide get temporary relief of the worst symptoms. I f they were severely burned and had absolutely no relief for the pain wouldn’t they eventually see it as a fate worse than death ? I do not discuss my battles with depression with friends or relatives who have never experienced it because it empowers them to assumptions based on their genetic makeup. “On, I feel really bad in the morning sometimes and I am overwhelmed with responsibility but I still get up and go to work in the morning” That statement alone proves they don’t have a clue of the different causes of depression and to the depths of hell it can take them. I don’t blame them because they were not cursed with it but I would be really interested in their “advice” once they were cursed with it. If anyone is dealing with severe depression and they struggle to maintain a full time job, I have some bad news for you. It gets worse. It will be obvious to you and everyone around when you experience the rock bottom torture of severe depression. I hope you never do.

    • vanessa says:

      after reading this I felt you were speaking for me. I have no one to talk to also, I go thru jobs like eating M & M’s. I don’t want to be this way, I tell my self everyday , to day will be different. some times it is, then I go down into that dark hole and it all starts over again. I’ve begged god to help me, I don’t think he can hear me.

      • CJ says:

        Hi Vanessa,

        I’ve read your posts and I understand how you feel. I’ve tried many times to beg God and he didn’t hear me…and I’ve talked to a lot of different people about this, including clergy, who claim that “God doesn’t always hear us” or “the answer isn’t always what we want to hear.” That really aggravates me. John J’s post is pretty accurate in painting a portrait of someone who suffers from depression like you and I do…and John and many others.

        I’m currently in a cycle of major depression and anxiety over the loss of my son Cameron. He was two when he drowned – I wasn’t there and the last time I saw him was EXACTLY one month before he passed away. We spent Memorial Day weekend together and he died June 26 (his birthday is July 5th) so every year from Memorial Day through July, it is a living hell to function, let alone work. After the worst performance eval yesterday, I struggle with whether I should tell my supervisor. I don’t think she’d care. I don’t even want to get out of bed in the morning, and she wants to know why I’ve made “34 mistakes since October”…unbelievable. People have no clue how hard it is just to make it.

        I guess I just want you to know that you are NOT ALONE when begging God for something. I begged him for my ex to come back and bring my son home…instead he took him from me and called him home to Heaven – however, and this is the last i’ll say about it. I turned my life over to him because I had truly hit rock bottom – and 9 years after losing my son, I got re-married last year and my wife and I were blessed with twins. I never lost faith. Did I get angry, yes. Did I blame God…yes. Did I even question my faith…of course. But I stayed with him and he took care of me…and if you stay with him and develop a relationship with him, he will be there for you too. I t may not feel like it – you may feel alone – you may continue to suffer – but when things get really bad…Google “Footprints” and read it. It has helped me through the years – I’m about to read it again and maybe hang it on my desk to get me through this year – and I hope it will help you too.

        Good luck to every single person who struggles with depression. My thoughts are with you and know that I hope you find peace.

    • anonymous says:

      I’ve now been unable to work other than odd jobs now for six years; it may as well be forever. I have suffered three terminations in a row now; the last one was so disturbing to me that it actually helped me into a greater level of depression. My supervisor told me no one liked me at work and that I wasn’t the kind of guy anyone would ever want to have a cup of coffee with. This was someone that I admired, probably because he had a $140,000 a year salary and that everyone in the community respects him and he’s well regarded. But I had watched him for some time, and he had made derogatory comments about me, even before he hired me, like i needed to spend more time whitening my teeth, etc. My career path doesn’t allow people to continue in it who have employment gaps or who have been terminated even once, let alone three times in a row. I’ve exhausted my small retirement account paying the bills and my odd jobs don’t pay enough to take care of myself. I don’t know what is more scarry, not ever working again or getting a job and then being fired for the fourth time. I’ve tried counseling and every anti depressant available. I’m in a graduate program and if my grades drop any further below a b- I’ll be kicked out. .The only reason I am in school was to get access to student loans. My student loan debt would make the average person cry. I will probably never get out from under it. When I read about others struggling like I am, there seems to be a different response especially if the individual is young. In my case, what do you say to a fifty year old who has ruined his life? What do you say to someone who has spent fifty years chasing his dreams and has failed. I’ve been estranged from my family because of the shame i feel about my situation. I havent’ spoken to anyone in about six years. I have no professional network for the same reason. The other interesting thing that has happened is that my town is so small, that people seem to rush to judgement immediately as if i’m somehow “controversial” now in a way that i wasn’t before. I’m guilty of something, I must be damaged if i haven’t convinced the important people in town that I can contribute.

  9. Stuart says:

    I’ve recently started a blog, the information you provide on this website has helped me tremendously. Thank you for all of your time & work.

  10. Jan says:

    Reading this article and the comments has helped me realise that I’m not alone, and my recent employment-related troubles are sadly not unique to me.
    Looking back, I’ve always felt ‘lonely’ inside, even when surrounded by others. I can even remember lunchtimes at primary school, aged about 5 I guess, standing against the wall in the dining room, waiting for a teacher to find me a place at a table, as I had no friends to sit with. Sounds quite pathetic, but that was 45 years ago, and I still remember it well !
    Anyway, my employment problems started just over 3 years ago, when my role was outsourced to another company. This meant I was suddenly working for a different employer, through no choice of my own, with different terms and conditions (e.g. no more flexi-time). Also, half my colleagues were outsourced alongside me, and the other half were kept by the original company, but we still worked side by side as before.
    I found this very hard to cope with, and it was the final straw, as I’d been suffering from work-related anxiety for a while prior to this. There had been many times when I thought about driving my car into a wall on the way to work, just to have a reason not to arrive there and face the anxiety again. I’d also sometimes scream out loud in the car, “I just can’t DO this any more !!!”. So, I went off on long-term sick, then ended up resigning after 4 months as I couldn’t face the phased return that my employers were proposing. My lovely doctor gave the usual advice of “don’t make any important decisions whilst you’re not well”, but I couldn’t help myself. Quitting my job seemed to be the way out.
    Amazingly, soon afterwards I managed to get a short contract role at my old university, and lasted just two days there. My new colleagues were all really welcoming, and it was great to be back at the place I studied for my degree, but I couldn’t cope with the sadness and anxiety I felt, and I knew I had to quit when I found myself in tears in the street whilst walking up there from the train station on the second day.
    My next role was about 2 months after this, at a local small business, so at least I didn’t have the stress of commuting to work for once. On my first day, I told the boss that I didn’t think the role was for me. He ended up persuading me to stay, and “give things a chance”. I limped on for a few months, helped slightly by the fact that I’d just met a new boyfriend at this stage, and so was getting some support. However, after 7 months and two screaming fits between me and the boss (which is SO not like me, but I felt so ANGRY), I was “made redundant”. I think I was actually sacked, as they still needed someone to do my role, but the boss probably didn’t want to call it that ! I was actually relieved when this happened, as it took the decision to leave out of my hands.
    Next role was working for a charity, which I was thrilled about. For my first two weeks I had to work from the main office in London to be trained up, then I would be based back home in Yorkshire. I managed the first week ok, although I remember sitting down at my “hot-desk” in London on the first day and thinking, “What HAVE I done ?”. I couldn’t really believe I’d have to cope with all the stress of working….again.
    I returned home for the weekend. Then, on the eve of returning to London for the second training week, I had a melt-down, couldn’t face the thought of getting on the train, then spending another week in an office full of strangers, then alone in my hotel room in the evenings, so I called in sick. Imagine that – calling in sick on day 6 of a new job. Not good.
    Somehow I survived six months in this job. The culture of the place was brilliant, and there were some really inspirational people working there. I just couldn’t cope, couldn’t relax around my colleagues, couldn’t join them for coffee or lunches out. Don’t know why, I just wanted to hide away all the time and not have to talk to them, despite them being lovely friendly people. There were a number of occasions when I’d be sitting at my desk, my mind racing, and I wanted someone to talk to, just to say how I felt, and hope that by just talking that it’d make things better. But I used to mentally go around the office and try to think of who I could confide in, but always drew a blank. Once again, I just felt so lonely, and that nobody would understand.
    The end of this job came when a manager was discussing an office desk move with me. She showed me where I’d be moving to, and I ended up again having a meltdown (crying), as I felt too exposed in the new desk location – the desk was in the middle of the floor and I felt that everyone would be looking at me. She took me into a meeting room, and was really lovely with me. We concluded that the job was, in her words, “driving me potty”, and I resigned shortly afterwards.
    So, on to my last job, which I started 8 months later. When the agency called me to offer me the job, I got a sinking feeling in my stomach, rather than joy at getting a job. I put off the start date by two weeks but eventually, with a heavy heart, I felt I had to go there.
    This latest job was an awful experience, from which I’m still recovering now. I still feel slightly traumatised, and know that it damaged my already low self-esteem and confidence. I felt that I was never really accepted by the team from day 1, despite trying my best to be pleasant to everyone, and fit in. It was a very strict company, with lots of rules and procedures to follow, which all added to my anxiety. I used to sit at my desk with my heart pounding, wishing I dared get up to walk to the toilets, but felt too self-conscious to walk through the office to get out. I used to tick off every 15 minutes of the day on a notepad, counting down until the moment I could feel the relief of going home. I made sure that I didn’t leave any personal items in my desk drawer, just in case I left halfway through the day and didn’t come back. Which, you’ve guessed it, I eventually did, after 7 months.
    Which brings me to now, and seemingly full-circle. It’s now 5 months since I left the last job, and I’ve had a call from an agency about a contract role at….the place where all my troubles started nearly 4 years ago. I wonder about my sanity that I’m even considering it. When I got the call yesterday, I was really excited about the role. Today the recruiting manager tried to call me and I let the call go to voicemail. Deep down I know that this is not a job I should take (if I’m lucky enough to be offered it).
    And so it goes on. I keep accepting jobs, with the hope that THIS one will be different. The only thing is, I’m the one that keeps making things fail. I’m despairing as to what to do.
    So, to anyone experiencing something similar to me, I can totally empathise. It helps me to know there are people that understand what I’m going through, just as I understand what they’re going through.

    • Lavender says:

      I can relate to you 100%! Especially the bit ” I keep accepting jobs, with the hope that THIS one will be different. ” I thought my mind was being read. My anxiety has got me accept the job that I have no interest in whatsoever and work there for almost 2 years. My boss won’t let me quit either. Every day I fight the urge not to show up and I even broke down and cried during a work meeting at one point. I made an appointment with a doctor to prescribe depression and anxiety meds. I don’t know if you are on meds and theraphy but I think it’s better than not doing anything about it. I hope things are better for you now.

    • Fabs says:

      Your post really resonates with me. I’m 34 now, working part-time in a job that I barely can stand but I cut the hours down so that I can just survive with the little money but have to work there as little as possible. But I’m desperately looking for a change!

      Reading your story made me feel a little less lonely. I think I can’t help you but I can share my story so you will hopefully feel a little less lonely, too. I’m from Germany btw.

      I’ve been battling feelings of depression and sadness since my childhood I guess. It really got worse in my teens but I kept up my brave face, and was able to finsih High-school with decent grades. I was (and probably still am) in a phase where I didn’t really accept that I had problems.

      So on to university I went. I struggled, changed university twice but was finally able to get a degree with again, good grades. During my time at uni I did various internships, all of which I hated and just got through by knowing that they would only last 3-6months. I did an internship in Australia. The people and the city were amazing but I really hated the job. And I suffered through some serious bouts of depression there. But in my mind I wanted to be travelling and being this successful ‘international’ person. Which at home everybody thought I was. But inside everything felt fake.
      When my internship was over my boss came up to me and offered me to come back to finish my studies in Australia and hinted at a possible job opportunity at the company afterwards. He really liked my work. I was proud and happy although a voice inside told me NOT to do it.
      But guess what, I did come back. This was the chance that I thought I wanted all my life and to the outside it looked perfect.

      That’s when I started failing as I couldn’t keep my brave face to the outside. When I returned I could barely get out of bed. I was working on my thesis in the company, didn’t make any progress and was feeling worse and worse. So after a couple of month I quit and fled back home.

      After a while at home I got more stable and was able to finish my thesis, totally unrelated to the australian company and my degree.

      So here I was, freshly graduated with good grades. The future looked bright and people thought I’d be very successful as I was always among the best in class. I soon found a job in Frankfurt, Germany with a large consultant firm. Frankfurt is the banking capital of Germany with a lot of big corporations.

      I lasted two months! I couldn’t stand it. Although the people were nice and everything. Going to my desk in this dead industrial complex every morning would have gotten me killed not soon after. I remember thinking that one day I will end up under and not inside the train I was going to work with every morning.

      Here I was, realizing I had some serious truoubles. Around me people were staring their careers, seemingly happy and successful. I lost contact to most of my friends from back then as I was and still am too ashamed of my failure.

      That was 4 years ago. I did several other jobs in the meantime, never lasting very long. I was able to hold my current job as an environmental educator for 3 years but only because I work part-time. And every time I have to go to work again I want to throw up. I’m rather good at my job and my colleagues and bosses keep telling me that, but I’m giving speeches in front of up to 300 students. Some people say face your fears but when you feel depressed and anxious, going on stage in front of 300 people (who usually tend to be very critical) is rather taxing. And it didn’t get much easier over the years.

      So currently i am looking for work that I can do, that will keep me sane and pay the bills. I have waved my career-plans good bye and I will probably never make lots of money.

      My plans for now are to really understand my depression better and find ways to work with it. I found a lot of things that help but overall I have no clue what job I could do that I would be able to get out of bed for every morning. I’m thinking that fullfillment for me can only be found in self-employment. But with my anxieties it is difficult to get started…

      This is my story in short. You’re not alone with your thoughts and feelings.

    • Mark says:

      I can really identify with your experience of feeling uncomfortable in the workplace, especially having to sit at a desk in the centre of the office. The place I was seated at was also directly in front of the doorway and small corridor into the office, which meant that I was the first person visitors saw upon entering, and I felt constantly like I was being watched by other members of staff. If I was a naturally gregarious person this wouldnt have been so bad, but I am extremely self-conscious and when I am deeply depressed I just want to hide from the rest of humanity. Just being seated in this particular place made me feel really anxious, and combined with the stress of the work involved I was soon off work with anxiety and depression and the thought of going back had me in a blind panic. Against the advice of my doctor I handed in my notice, and now I am having difficulty finding alternative employment. Another reason for not feeling able to return was the attitude of my work colleagues, as several long term members of staff often talked disparingly about former colleagues that had left because they were unable to handle the stress of the role. These were the most outgoing members of staff that had carved nice little niches for themselves, avoiding the worst excesses of the department and appeared to enjoy watching others struggle, often blaming staff for being inadequate rather than accepting that the expectations being placed upon them were unreasonable. Ironically, working for the NHS made me severely mentally unwell. Anyway, thank you for the post, I realise now that i am not inadequate, it is just that the modern workplace only caters for a very narrow type of employee.

  11. Marsha says:

    I finally feel like I am not alone. I had to quit my job because of my depression and anxiety. I had a commute that was in my anxiety eyes, horrific. I now am in a situation with no job, a son to raise and bills piling up.

  12. KIM says:

    Sounds good in theory, but impractical and impossible for many, especially if they’re the only ones paying the bills and they want to keep their kids out of the shelter system. Social security disability is nowhere near enough $ to live on in NY. So, what do you do then? Suffer till you have a breakdown and can no longer do it? I don’t know the answer. I have to move out of my apt by Aug., I have no job, as of yet, and I have a 9 year old son to support. Suggestions? I have no family that I can live with until I can get “well enough” to work. And the only job I can make nearly enough money to live on, I can’t stand doing! So what do I do? The anxiety of it all is beginning to overwhelm me and when that happens I tend to just shut down. I cannot imagine not having my son live with me. To me, that is just not an option. Help! Please, someone, help! Tell me what I need to do, because I don’t know the answer.

    • Cindy says:

      Exactly my thoughts – good in theory, but impractical or impossible. I wish I had an answer for you & I hope the best for you.

  13. Ellie says:

    So happy to have found this article. It describes my situation perfectly. For the past 2 years I have been on a downward destructive cycle. I start a new job/contract and it is fine for the first month or so and then I start having anxiety, migraines and just general dread for the job.

    It is like I keep tricking myself into continuing with a career I absolutely hate. I tried starting a business teaching what I do to others but I just hate the topic so much. I don’t want to do it or read about it or even hear about it.

    I tried going back to work in an office one more time and didn’t last 3 weeks.

    Finally I am giving in to the thought that I am done with this career. I won’t go back to it.

    I’ve got a few ideas of other things to do instead so I am exploring them. I’ve never really given myself permission to do that. I was always the champion for someone else s goals and dreams and not too much mine.

  14. Leon H says:

    So sorry this is a situation so many have to face, but it is helpful knowing I’m not alone.

    Not knowing where to turn is one of the dilemnas with work depression. Ironically, I work at a hospital, and they actually promote that HR has a “work/life balance” program. Of course, mine is not a “balance” issue, but more of a “help – I’m drowning in a sea of more and more impossibly confusing and difficult work for which I am totally unsuited” issue.

    Going to boss would back-fire, as he is in similar situation and also at ropes end. Going to next boss up will back fire as he is new.. brought in to ‘clean house’… and not a warm people person.

    So… I guess I have to continue as I can till either I, or something, breaks. And I, or something, will.

  15. gold account says:

    i’ve seen people who dedicate their lives to work. Some do it properly others just burn themselves out. When you drag your feet to work everyday, it’s time to evaluate your life in the job. If it puts much stress on you, then you need to step back and just consider your optioins. Of course quitting your job is the last step. As you suggested talking to your boss or the HR deparment is a good step.

  16. MM says:

    This is a fantastic post, since work has been my primary driver of depression and despair (in my family, my worth always equaled what I did that pleased parents and grandparents, and for many years I didn’t have the self-esteem and self-love to see any value in myself other than as a “very prestigious lawyer [who loathed her family and was planning suicide more frequently].” I’m changing work now – hope for better next time – but most importantly have severed my self-esteem and identity from mindlessly grinding myself down to try to impress someone else. All those years when I really did believe that killing myself for a job that someone else valued was the way to prove that I had value and worth, since the job had to be more important than I was…wish I had that time back for the future. At least I get some kind of future (the knowledge that I’m leaving lifted the life-ending despair, apparently permanently).

    • John Folk-Williams says:

      Hi, MM –

      It’s wonderful to hear that you could make that basic change. I think the only way you can feel really good about what you do is to have it come out of what’s important to you rather than anyone else. Best of luck to you for this new future. Can’t change the past, though – I’ve had to let all that go as well beyond my control.

      John

  17. Judy says:

    These stories certainly bring back memories for me. I worked at one company for 35 years and, while the early years were quite enjoyable, once depression got its grip on me, I could barely tolerate anything happening at work that seemed unjust, political or just plain stupid. I took a 6-week leave at one of my worst points because I had plenty of sick time accumulated and thought the break would help. It did, but it wasn’t enough and I felt that my bosses never looked at me quite as favorably after that. My last 12 years there were hell because of the environment I worked in; I was given the blame for problems that weren’t my fault, banned from department meetings, threatened with “punishment” for honest mistakes – I stayed there only because I had way too much time invested there to leave the company and I wasn’t able to transfer anywhere else because of my specialized skills. Once I decided to retire, I was floating on air and felt almost impervious to any of the nonsense that went on around me. My depression is much more manageable now that I’m not working and I keep busy enough with my involvement in things that interest me. I totally sympathize with anyone who is caught in a job where you feel you have no choices and are too depressed to strategize your way out of it.

  18. Donna-1 says:

    I am the Donna mentioned and I must say that I still have to intentionally separate myself from all stress from time to time. It seems like I lack some sort of internal regulator that can let me know when all hell is about to break loose. Meaning major depression, psychosis, mania, dissociation, paranoia. I used to believe they just struck “out of the blue.” But in the last couple of years it’s become quite obvious that I involve myself with various activities because I feel good, I want to help people, I want to make some extra money, whatever. And I over-commit. Too many days per week with Mother. Too many parties during the holiday season. One too many church services. Notice to self: it can be very subtle. Everything seems to be coming along quite nicely and WHAM! I wake up and have to shut out the entire world, sometimes for days, in order to recover to the point where I can start getting out again. It’s the weirdest thing, and doesn’t make sense to me. But that’s the way it is.

    • AB says:

      This is exactly me! I have been struggling with depression and anxiety for a little over 2 years now. Things have gotten better and I have learned some ways to cope with the anxiety, but I continue to over-commit when I feel good and then, just as you said, WHAM! One day I lose it and shut out the world. Afterward, I feel like I should have seen it coming. Not sure what to do about it. Feeling a little hopeless.

    • Jess says:

      Thank you for this post. I am currently in the “go numb and shut out the world” phase. It’s such a hard cycle to deal with. Makes me feel better to know there are ppl who understand. It’s such a lonely illness depression. I constantly feel like running away. I feel like I am stuck in a continuous loop and I just want to jump off! Not in the sense of suicide – too much guilt for that option – but just make a massive change. Move countries. Do something. But all that is so daunting and overwhelming that I just stay here in bed…and sleep. My dream world is becoming more familiar than the “real world”. I still think there’s more wrong with society than there Is with me. I just don’t have the tolerance for this mundane slave driven society that tells us what we should be doing..

    • Epikus says:

      I an currently also in the numb-shut-everything-out-phase. Numb is a good word for it. The thing that I loved doing the most–composing music and teaching people how to do it via YouTube–has become something I now avoid. My computer sits silent, collecting dust, even though I upgraded the hardware recently to handle my music composing demands…

      I can’t work a regular job anymore. Each time I try, I break down severely after about a week and a half to two weeks. The music and video production were the only viable options, and even that has become too much (all work from home type of work)…

      I think I’m resistive to many types of treatments, including natural. I’ve tried all of them that I know of…and they’ve all failed. I’m still trying to cope with and work through not associating my self worth with employment…It’s hard.

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