I started this blog as I wanted to write about my ongoing struggle to find full time employment and how my anxiety can affect, and be affected by, this. Although I am not unemployed, I am on a zero hour contract, volunteering and getting occasional freelance editing work, I don’t have what I would call a career and I definitely don’t have certainty. I think the issue of ‘certainty’ is the crux when it comes to finding work and the anxiety tied up with it all. Certainty is something everyone probably strives for, as it offers a sense of comfort and stability, but in reality even those in full time employment don’t have certainty. For me, anxiety feeds on uncertainty, and any type of change, be it good or bad, has the power to unsettle me and throw me back into the anxiety pit. Looking for a job can be a stressful time for anyone and unemployment can lead to anxiety and depression, so it’s obvious, really, that for someone who already suffers from these conditions finding work isn’t going to be a barrel of laughs.
Finding and applying for a job
Since getting my PhD in 2012 I’ve done more job applications than I care to remember whilst also working a few different part-time jobs. The jobs I have had have basically been a means to an end – I needed the money so I did the job. Although the jobs I’ve had have often left me feeling down at the fact that all my PhD had achieved was a job in service on minimum wage, I’m glad I did these jobs and stuck with them. They got me out of the house and talking to people on days when I might have avoided social contact. I knew, though, that I wanted more out of life and that I was capable of achieving more. So almost every day I would get home from work and start the endless trawl through the job websites and crack on with applications when a job came up that interested me. Out of all the jobs I’ve applied for in the last three years I have only had three interviews. So all the time and effort I was putting into writing cover letters and adapting my CV had begun to seem worthless. Dealing with rejection is never easy and as many people with depression will know rejection can just add to the worthlessness you already feel.
To tick or not to tick?
The equal opportunities form. A quick afterthought for most people who whizz through it feeling a sudden pang of fear at the age bracket they’ve now entered. But for me this government induced PC page tagged on to the end of every job application brings up a dilemma. Should I tick the disability box or not? Is my anxiety disorder ‘worthy’ of the accolade? Or will people think I’m wallowing in self-pity and really, really, there’s no way I have a disability. After living with mental illness for over a decade I know that anxiety is a disability, a disability that resulted in me leaving a job as being stationed in a room unable to leave it caused me to feel trapped and have crippling panic attacks.
So why is there still a part of me that wavers the cursor hesitantly over the ‘yes’ box unable to click and confirm it? Maybe I still feel embarrassed to admit I have mental health issues. Or maybe it’s because I worry that if I do say I have a disability that will be the only reason I get an interview (or – if pigs could fly – the job itself) because the place I’m applying to needs to up its disability quota. To this day I still think I only got an interview for one of the jobs I applied for because I ticked that box. But did I? Or is this just self-doubt creeping in again? My mind asks more questions and at greater speed than Paxman trying to beat the gong. I didn’t tick the disability box for most of the jobs I applied for as I wanted to earn the job on merit not because I have a mental illness. I needed the reassurance that I was good enough for the job and that they wanted me for me.
Work ethic – taking on too much?
Just as I often feel the need to prove to myself that I can get an interview (or job) because I am good at what I do, I also often take on too much, both socially and work-wise, to prove that my anxiety won’t stop me from doing anything. The problem with this is that I often end up over-tired and burnt out, not good for someone who suffers with mental health problems. I think that many people who have mental health issues often push themselves too hard and can often find it really hard to say no to people. For example, my friends have told me they wouldn’t have done some of the things I’ve done such as going down to London on my own for a week to do research, giving papers at conferences, going to a hen do where I didn’t know anyone but the hen herself. But I’m so afraid of letting people down or feeling a failure that I go out of my way to take things on or say yes to things that other people would have no qualms about turning down. The thing is – if I did refuse a social invitation or an offer of work/training I would spend more time agonising over the fact I said no, and how people may have interpreted that, than if I just did it.
In the last few weeks I’ve completed an internship on an exhibition, started cataloguing the exhibition material as a volunteer, carried out archival research, learnt how to proofread and copy edit and then proofread two dissertations, started a new part time job as a visitor assistant (help I’m trapped in a room which I can’t leave!), started this blog, and submitted job applications. I couldn’t say no to helping with final preparations for the exhibition even though it meant devoting more time to it than usual, I felt obliged to do the archival work as it was for an acquaintance who has helped me a lot in the past, I need to do the cataloguing so I can add that skill to my CV, and the list goes on. All my commitments, whether paid or not, have some reason which means I cannot give them up. This workload, which involves a lot of planning to fit it all together, has taken its toll physically as well as mentally. My mouth is full of ulcers, my neck aching and my jaw often clenched so tight even chocolate might find it hard to make its way in.
The busyness of it all
Speaking of chocolate – that did find its way in when I was up until all hours working then unable to get off to sleep. So my diet has slipped and that’s not the only thing to fall victim to my increased workload. Exercising has become almost non-existent as I haven’t had time for it recently, reasoning that work, and doing things which might lead to more work, are much more important than working out. But what is, actually, more important? Work or your health? I’ve read a few interesting articles recently about how ‘busy’ we all are nowadays. I can relate to this. I’ve even started adding leisure activities to my schedule – finding time to watch the TV programmes I’ve recorded has almost become a chore not a choice. On my list of things to do you might even find ‘read book’ because it has become a task I feel I need to write down otherwise I might never get to do it. If it’s on the list at least I can attempt it when the other things are ticked off. But more things have obviously been added since then, so the book gathers dust on my bedside table, all I’ve previously read fading each day I don’t get through the list. But maybe we should stop being busy and take the time to do what we actually want to do. We are allowed to relax and it’s ok not to be busy – it doesn’t make you less important in any way, it often makes you happier.
Making time for yourself
As we all know, and as countless websites, studies and articles tell us, a healthy diet combined with regular exercise and sufficient sleep all help combat depression and anxiety. So I’ve recently made a new schedule. A schedule that ensures I stop doing work at 10pm at the very latest (ironically posting this after 10pm) so I have an hour before I go to bed where I can read my book or watch television or do whatever I feel like doing. I have decided I need to make time for exercise and that if I do exercise I enjoy I’m more likely to stick to it. I’ll be tackling the chaos that is the swimming baths again and practicing my downward dog before striding out into the countryside. However, getting rid of the chocolate is a bit harder … it does contain endorphins, which are good for depression, so it’s kind of like medicine right? And it is my birthday tomorrow so it would be rude not to have some cake …