Mental Illness is a touchy subject – unlike, say, cancer or diabetes, it isn’t something that can be diagnosed via blood tests or biopsies. And everyone suffers some amount of anxiety and depression at different times in their lives. I’ve struggled with my own mental illness for years, both being tortured by its overwhelming nature, and, often in the same day, telling myself that I’m overreacting and totally fine.
Mental health conditions cost employers more than $100 billion and 217 million lost workdays each year. When I’m lost in a web of anxiety, I know I’m not being a good employee. This reminder of my failure as an employee spins me into a deep cycle of depression and worthlessness which quickly spirals out of control. I get so mad at myself because I simultaneously feel like the greatest impostor of all time and know I can do a better job that what I do right now, but the sadness of being an obvious fraud gets in the way of productivity. Eventually, my boss catches on, and I move on. I put so much of my personal worth on my job, I really don’t have much else in my life outside of my job and my husband. My career is everything. Maybe that’s the problem.
Dealing with Depression and Anxiety at Work
It’s not like I can talk to my boss about my anxiety and depression. Even when I feel like it’s a real part of my personality, I still see my inability to maintain a constant mood and focus more of a reason to let me go than an excusable character trait to resolve my poor performance paired with the occasional epic success. And what is there to talk about? Unlike my last job, my boss lets me leave the office to do work (which helps) and doesn’t say anything when I arrive later and stay later (though I imagine him silently judging me, as he should if I don’t get my work done.) If anything I’d want to be able to work from home a few days a week because I really do get more done from home – but in a small company this would be very noticeable. And I need to be at the office. There really is nothing that can be done. This is also why I feel so hopeless.
Depression is a funny little beast. If I were poor or unloved or unemployed or living in Syria I’d say I have plenty of reasons to be depressed. But, today my life is going incredibly well. Even though my job isn’t secure, I actually like a good chunk of the work and the subject matter, and I’m fortunate enough to finally be making the kind of salary I need to afford the life I want (*if only I could sustain and grow it for the next 20+ years.) My husband is one of the sweetest guys in the world, and he loves me even though I’m a total trainwreck and in a constant state of either avoidance or panic. I live in America which, as long as Trump doesn’t get elected president, is a pretty amazing place to live all things considered. I am so incredibly fortunate and yet I find myself looking at people laughing together and realizing I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be happy like that. I feel like an alien looking in at the world from across a forth wall, attempting to not raise suspicion of being an outsider.
The depression I can deal with – it’s the anxiety which eats me alive. My mind spins constantly running every possible scenario of any potential situation. I know that I have to just STOP thinking and start doing, but yet another day goes by and I don’t know where the time went. I do my best work in bed late at night and stay up until 3 or 4 am, only to wake up exhausted and being upset at myself for not sleeping well, facing down another full day of work where I cannot focus.
It may be too late for this job (I’m trying desperately to make lists for myself and get through the things that I know would make my boss at least somewhat happy with me) but that is such a short-term solution. It’s like I am supposed to be taking the SATs and I’m struggling to get through a kindergarten entrance exam. I know I can do great work, but not consistently, and this makes me a bad employee. I have good ideas, I’m decently intelligent and even rather exceptional at bits and pieces of the role. But that is not enough. Especially not when I am overrun by anxiety every single day. I would like to stay in this job at least until the end of the year, if possible, and in that time prove to both my boss and myself that I can actually get great work done.
In the meantime, I continue to spend too much on therapy ($175 a session because although my insurance now covers $25 sessions with in-network doctors I’ve yet to find any with availability to take new patients, esp those who can see me around my work schedule.) So I’m going twice a month to one therapist – who the jury is out on – who I’m hoping can help me focus on strategies to handle my mood swings and anxiety so I can remain employed at least through 2017.
For two 45-minute therapy sessions a month, I’m spending $4200 a year.
…this cost is beyond worth it if it saves my job, but it’s rather expensive if it doesn’t. And I’ve been through so much therapy with a variety of psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors and social workers, I’m not sure if it can help any more. I’ve avoided drugs for a long time (with the exception of ADHD medication I briefly took a few years ago which just made me increasingly crazy) but maybe there’s some chemical cocktail which would help me better fake being normal.
I want, more than anything, to feel good about the work I do on a daily basis. I like making money (clearly) but making money also adds to the anxiety. I find myself much more comfortable making “less” than I deserve than more – the expectations when I’m making too much are suffocating. This tells me that unless I can figure out how to get over this, I’m going to be incapable of being the proper breadwinner of my family. I daydream about being in a job where I make $100k-$120k (which here is a mid-level salary) and the work I do is appreciated because the boss knows he’s getting a great deal on me for my contributions. Instead, I know he’s just seeing me as a loss center, and I’m incapable of digging myself out of that hole.
Unfortunately (or fortunately?) it’s very hard at this point to get a job that pays so “little” (in my field.) I’m pinged by recruiters left and right for senior level roles that pay probably even more than I’m making now. I don’t want that. I want to be a mid-level individual contributor. Then again I was a mid-level individual contributor in the past and then I was miserable also -but going “back” to that now, maybe I’d be able to do a better job and actually provide much more value than I’m paid.
Or – I just suck it up, get on some serious anti-anxiety drugs(?), and be some brilliant employee who gets in the office early with her hair and makeup done perfectly and stays late and always exceeds her goals and communicates just the right amount with the perfect blend of personal confidence and admiration for my superiors. I just don’t see that ever being me. I’m always a bit of a hot mess. I don’t want to be. I just worry that I’m in the complete wrong field. Maybe there is something out there I could be great at, but it’s not this. And, given I’ve come so far through all this struggle with my mental health issues, I really don’t want to start over. Where would I even start?