Suffering from depression

M

My teaching job at the university ended last Christmas, as did my grant money, and I submitted my PhD thesis in January and started applying for full time jobs. By February I was forced to cancel my car insurance, park the car off-road and declare a SORN, because I couldn't afford to pay the insurance and road tax or buy petrol. I passed the PhD viva a few weeks later, and sold my car so I could afford to pay for my thesis to be printed and the graduation ceremony etc - it didn't matter because I couldn't afford to drive the car anyway.

It's now August and I'm still applying for jobs. There are few jobs even worth applying for, and I mostly get turned down for them without even an interview. I'm not restricting myself to academic jobs (which are few and far between), but other employers look at my CV and respond with something like "You have no commercial experience, we think you'd be more suited to working in academia". College teaching jobs turn me down because my teaching experience is in higher education, and there are other candidates with specific college teaching experience. Employers also turn me down for jobs requiring less qualifications, because I'm over-qualified (i.e. they want someone who's less educated than the manager, satisfied with a low level job and unlikely to leave for a better offer).

I'm increasingly depressed and isolated. I turn down friends when they invite me to go out - I can barely afford to eat, never mind pay the bus fare into town and meet friends for coffee. They're all going abroad on a hen night, and I'm the only one who's left out because I can't afford it - I know it's not their fault, but it hurts. Also (and I know this is bad) it hurts me to see all the shiny new things they buy with the salaries from their professional jobs. I worked just as hard, my professional qualifications and experience are at least equivalent to theirs, yet they have cars, iPhones, new laptops, new clothes, holidays abroad, apartments and new furniture, etc. If I could get a lecturing job I'd immediately be on a par salary-wise - the problem is not that I'm below these people in any way, but merely that there are jobs available in their fields and not in mine.

I can't relocate because I have elderly parents who need support (I do their shopping, housework, etc). They spent all their savings on helping me through university, on the mistaken assumption I'd get a great job and be able to pay them back. I've totally let them down. For my birthday they gave me a gift card for the pet store, so I don't have to give my dog up because I can't afford to buy dog food. I was so touched by their thoughtfulness, but at the same time so hurt because I've ended up in a position where I'm receiving dog food for my birthday. I can barely face my parents because I feel like such a failure :'(

T

Hi Mlis,

I understand where you're coming from having suffered from similar depression myself. The feeling of owing a lot to your parents without any sign of being able to pay them back (financially or otherwise) is totally crippling. Combined with your sense of isolation because of your career path at the moment, it makes for a really nasty self-ebbing process but trust me, as someone who understnads those feelings, if you keep trying to stay positive in your approach to whatever it is you're doing, those feelings will go away, that's how depression worked for me anyway- it started to slowly go away and now, even two years later (from the worst part of it all), i still have some bad days- but I stay positive. I do other things. I can't recommend enough the joy of going for a walk or jumping on the bike for an hour. If you start to regroup and gather some thoughts, you will feel and appear more confident.

I started as a stand-up comedian during the worst few months of my depression- it was something i always wanted to do and now i make a really good living off it while i study. would it maybe be worth your while pursuing some hobby or interest that may lead to remuneration? There's also plenty of online jobs for academics on elance.com- money isn't great but it's better than doing nothing.

One other thing I noticed was that friends who had never felt as down as i did had absolutley no idea how debilitating depression can be, so don't blame them when they make you feel like shit. chances are they aren't trying to.

I really hope this doesn't come across all preachy and that, becasue it's not my intention. I just read this, identified with it a lot and didn't want to just exit without saying that you are not as isolated as you might think. Hope you'll start to feel better. PM me if you wanna chat.

Ciarán

K

Hey Mlis. I'm so sorry you're having such a rubbish time. Although I've been well for quite a while now, I have bipolar and have been hospitalised for depression numerous times, so I know how absolutely awful it is. I think it is made so much worse when you don't have a job or something to take your mind off it as well- it's even easier to feel rubbish when you don't have anything else to focus on. I hate to ask the obvious questions, but on the practical side of things are you getting medical help for the depression, and are you claiming any benefits you are entitled to? Is there anything you could do to improve your chances of getting a job and give you something to focus on? I don't recall what area you're in but could you work on a publication or do some voluntary work? With your friends, could you ask them to spend time with you doing something that doesn't cost anything- even if it's just a walk in the park/on the beach or whatever? It might make you feel better to just spend some time with them (even if you don't really feel like it)- isolation really doesn't help with depression either. You haven't let your parents down at all, you obviously put a lot of time and effort into making sure that they're well-supported, and I bet they are so glad they have you. Best, KB

D

Hi!
I really feel for you, I 've been through similar situations, and it is a vicious circle you need to break.
Just put a schedule in your life, you will feel so much better. I tend to think that I will be unemployed for ever, as soon as I get a job I suddenly realise all the things I could have done during the jobless window!
You can make a list with all the things you want to do and make a daily schedule. Start exercising in the mornings, take care of the garden, publish this paper you always wanted and never had time. Get any job that will give you a little bit of money and an excuse to go out and meet people. Pub jobs can be fun too!

Taking care of your parents is already a major contribution. (I recently left my parents alone with a nurse when they most needed me.) You have already paid them back, because they are proud of you.

I am sure things will pick up soon.
xxxxx

C

Hi Mlis, I am really sorry to hear that you feel so down. I understand your sense of frustration, and it is totally understandable that you feel low after you put a lot of effort in completing your degrees etc. It is a very bad time for jobs in general, even worse for people wishing to work in academia, or with PhD experience. I am sure that your family understand this very well.

The only thing that I can recommend you is not to isolate yourself. Do take any opportunity to get out. Your world does not end with your fancy friends - have you ever considered doing charity or voluntary work? Depending on where you are and what you chose, there may be paid positions also in that sector. I did voluntary work for the local museum in the past, and I ended up with a temporary job in their educational department. Hardly a great achievement, but it was an important experience, I earned some money, and it looks good in my CV.

Who knows what is in store for you behind the corner? Do expect something positive to happen, and try to pursue every avenue that can lead to a job or outside activity. A positive attitude brings positive results.

When you get an interview try to sell your pluses. You certainly learnt transferable skills in the course of your PhD: how to manage time and resources, computer skills, organizational and presentation skills, perhaps a language or a technique that might appeal to the prospect employer. Learn to tailor your CV onto the specific job requirement. My Uni has a career services available to students and employees, but also to anyone external. Does your uni have something similar? It worth to have a chat with someone there.

Also, there are lots of short-term things that you can do: from giving private lessons (councils also organise short courses locally - language, computer, art, etc.) to dog- sitter. I know, these are not long term solutions, but they get you out of the house while you plan what to do long term.

I hope that things for you start to change for the better soon.




M

Thanks for all the supportive replies.

I try to get out when I can; friends drop in and we go for a walk on the moor, and they invite me round if they have a dinner party, etc. But I'm fully aware that the majority of the time they go out together and exclude me - not intentionally, but they know I don't have money for trips, meals, drinks, nights out, etc. When we are together, I'm painfully aware of how different we are - they're young professionals who are buying their own apartments and spending money on whatever they want, and I can barely afford to eat. It seems unfair - I worked just as hard (if not more so), and only last year I was their equal, with an income from the university and hopes for the future. Now suddenly I don't fit in any more, and as time passes I get further and further away from who I used to be, and I become more and more isolated.

I moved out of the city to save money, so any voluntary work would incur travel expenses that I can't afford. I can barely survive as it is - spending a tenner a week on bus fares to get to a voluntary job would absolutely destroy me. I'm trying to fill time by writing publications, but it's hard now that I no longer have access to supervisory advice. Little jobs would bring in a bit of money, which (I've been told) would promptly be deducted from my benefits and I'd only be allowed to keep £5 of my earnings, so once you factor in travel costs I'd actually be worse off.

There seems to be little that the doctor can do to help with my depression, other than prescribe drugs. But (as he pointed out) drugs would only treat the symptoms, not the cause (unemployment). There's no type of therapy that could make me feel better about being broke and hungry, and no type of counselling that could make me feel good about my hard earned education apparently being worthless. The only thing that could make me feel better is getting a decent job and earning some money so I can resume my normal life - anything else is just drugging me so I can forget about my miserable situation. I keep applying for jobs, but actually getting one is out of my hands - I feel utterly powerless :(

C

Hi again! As I said, I understand your situation.

However, I think that the main point here is getting you out of the spiral of negative thinking. Because, even if the dream job materialise now, there is no guarantee that other problems won't appear at your door-step (e.g. nasty boss, long hours, etc.). So, I think that is matter of learning how to deal with the dark moments in our lives.

Obviously, I don't know your situation in detail, and what kind of connections you have. But in the current situation the dream job is unlikely to materialise from nowhere. You need to have contacts - that's why I suggested the charity or voluntary work - you need to be proactive and create the opportunity if you don't have any.

You are a clever person and you know very well that staying passive and expect things to change by themselves is not going to provide a solution.

I know that is tough, but you can find your way around this.


S

Hi Mlis,

I'm really sorry that things are not going well for you at the moment. It sounds like things are really bad right now for you and whilst I agree with you when you say that counselling won't help you financially, that is, it won't give you a job or put food on your plate, I also agree with Corinne about the seeing things differently. We can't (always) change our circumstances but sometimes, looking at things differently helps us to achieve our goals. Like, seeing things negatively sometimes makes us forget our good qualities that could potentially help us in finding ways out if that makes sense. As for volunteering, they usually pay for your travelling costs if that helps ;-)

K

Hey Mlis. Just a thing about anti-depressants- If you're against taking them then fair enough, but even though they won't treat the cause of your difficulties, that doesn't mean they won't help at all. They won't solve your problems but for many people they make day to day life more bearable. Even though I'm on continuous lifelong medicine for my bipolar, I only go on anti-depressants occasionally when things are really bad, and for me they have helped to reduce symptoms even when a situation can't be changed and I have seen them help many others in this way as well. Obviously it's your choice and I totally get why you wouldn't want to go on them (I detest being on medication for my head but I'm stuck with it), but maybe just bear it in mind!

It sounds like you're in a really tough situation but you're doing all the right things. It is horrible to compare yourself to others (I think we all do it) and to know that you've worked so hard and aren't realising the benefits from it. Are you getting much feedback from the job applications (the ones that are at the right level for you, rather than the ones you're being told you're over-qualified for)?

Best, KB

C

Hello, just to add as Skig says most voluntary jobs pay for travel costs, and if it's a charity which cannot afford to pay you, often the Job Centre will pay it, my friend did it this way when he was unemployed and so was never out of pocket for volunteering.  I think some larger organisations also give you money for your lunch.

Although as you said getting little jobs don't help, my friend also got a job helping out cleaning at a church just to keep himself busy and was getting paid for the two hours, but then they took all his benefits away because of this - he now voluntarily does the cleaning instead.  So much for the government encouraging people to work when they punish you for working part time!

Anyway that was a bit of a tangent, I've been unemployed recently too and it is so disheartening, I ended up working in a supermarket for 5 months before I found something actually in my field and even that was temporary, but it has to be done sometimes just to keep afloat.  They say you have to apply for at least 50 jobs to get one interview now, and probably about 150 at least before you get a job, so you are definitely not a failure, many other people are going through the same problems. So just keep on applying, perhaps get someone else to look at your CV and covering letters, as you are not in a positive mind set at the moment this might be reflecting on how confident you sound on paper without you realising. 

I hope that you find something soon and I'm sure you will! Good luck =)

T

First of all I want to say that I really feel for you as it must be very hard to be in your situation but I also wanted to tell you to stop comparing yourself to others and saying it's not fair!

I am a lot older than you and have a family but I can really relate to a lot of what you say. I have three kids and am married and luckily I have no worries about buying food but I do cause myself a considerable amount of heartache by comparing my situation with others around me. We live in a very small flat, no garden but we can't afford to move. This year we went on holiday (as always) to....my parents' house! Meeting up with friends from university there really is a wide difference in wealth. Some are really struggling whilst another lucky b***** flies to Australia for the WEEKEND. What I am trying to say is that you shouldn't feel a failure, life isn't fair. Some of my better off classmates from school (and I hate to say this) are those who left before uni and got early into the property market - those who tend to be worse off are those with more qualifications. That's not to say that I think it is not a good idea to get a PhD - far from it. But don't expect it to pay off financially, at least not straightaway and don't feel like a success or a failure because of your own financial situation.

I know this isn't easy and I certainly am not trying to be blasé. I think the most important thing you need to be doing right now (apart from finding a job) is concentrating on not cutting yourself off socially. Your friends should be making an effort to come and see you if you cannot afford to travel. Don't be afraid to let them know they are needed! Good luck!

P.S. My parents bought their lovely big house on one salary (smaller than mine) while my mum stayed at home. Times have changed and I bet your parents know that and realise you are doing the best you can in a difficult situation.

M

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The job centre said they wouldn't pay travel costs for any kind of job, voluntary or otherwise. They also said I'd be in trouble if they found out I was accepting any cash in hand, as it could be seen as illegal payment for work. I can do voluntary work for a few hours a week, but only if the place is within walking distance (because I can't afford bus fares), and there aren't really any voluntary opportunities in my little village.

There aren't really many jobs to apply for within travelling distance, but I do apply for as many as I can find. The professional jobs which I'm qualified for keep turning me down because of a lack of commercial experience - apparently working on commercial projects while employed by the university for six years doesn't count, and how am I supposed to get more experience if nobody will employ me? Academic jobs keep turning me down because another candidate has more publications, more experience, their PhD research and/or teaching experience is more relevant to the post, etc. When it comes to academic jobs, local jobs are advertised in the international market and this greatly reduces my chances of being selected, especially because we're in a recession and there's a shortage of jobs. I think it also has something to do with the fact that someone from my old university who disliked me has moved into a high level post in my field at another local university, and she probably just bins any applications I send to that department.

When I apply for jobs which are somewhat related to my field but aren't in my specialist area, they say (quite rightly) that I don't have the relevant skills. When I apply for jobs outside my field, they say I should stick to my specialism - you know, the one that nobody wants to employ me in! When I apply for jobs that I'm overqualified for, they simply won't consider me as they think (again, quite rightly) that they'd be wasting their time and money on me because I'm not interested in it as a career and I'd leave as soon as I got a better opportunity.

I just seem to be getting nowhere, and quite frankly it's depressing when I'm even turned down for crappy jobs that I don't actually want. Plus it's depressing that I'm a highly qualified expert in a certain field and I'm essentially throwing that away to flip burgers or whatever the crappy job is. It cost me a fortune, a load of effort, and several years of my life to become an expert, and now my expertise seems utterly worthless - while my friends have less academic expertise but are raking in the dough in other fields like law and accountancy. It's only natural to compare ourselves to our peers - I'm the only one of our group who is unemployed, who doesn't have a professional job, and it seems unfair because I probably worked the hardest. If I'm no longer on a par with my peers, where does that leave me?

Perhaps you're right though. If I can't find a decent job which utilises my hard earned skills and expert knowledge, I should probably just get the doctor to drug me until I forget what a waste my life is.

K

Hey again Mlis. You know, I'm actually not sure what other advice I can offer, because it sure sounds like you're doing everything you can in a very difficult situation. All I do want to say is that things do change and you have to keep that hope going, because you will get through. I won't bore you with my complete medical history, but to try to summarise: After gaining straight A*s at GCSE and As at A-level, I went to a top uni in the UK. One year later I was diagnosed with bipolar, sectioned and spent the next 4-5 years in and out of mental hospitals, often sectioned for my own safety, totally drugged up and receiving electro-convulsive therapy basically to keep me alive. I was told that I should move to permanent psychiatric care and should lose all hope of ever going back to uni. I eventually did go back to uni but had to drop out another 2 times due to re-hospitialisation. By this time my friends were qualified doctors, lawyers etc, and I had lost my place at uni, my job, my drivers licence, and many of my friends, and as far as I was concerned, my future. Six years on and I have my PhD, a number of publications, a fiance, and a post-doc that I start next month (in bipolar disorder). Part of that was down to new medication that has kept me well, and amazing friends and family, but it took a long long time and a lot of hard work to get back on my feet. But things do change, instead of everything going wrong things slowly started to go right, I started to be lucky instead of unlucky. You really never know what's around the corner, so please stay positive and don't lose hope. You sound so unhappy and I really hope that things get better very quickly for you. Best, KB

T

Maybe you should reconsider moving somewhere with better transport? When I stay with my parents I am shocked by the cost of bus fares to the nearest town (20 mins away) - £6 return! It is actually very expensive to live in the country imo unless you have a car.

M

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Thanks for sharing your experiences Keenbean. It helps a lot to know that someone else also struggled and eventually won through. I hope things continue going well for you.

I moved to my current location because the rent was £75 cheaper than living in the city, and (now that I can no longer afford to have a car) being within walking distance of my parents' house saves me £15 per week in bus fares. So I reckon I'm approx. £150 per month better off by living in my current location instead of living in the city and taking the bus to my parents' house. If I didn't live within walking distance of my parents, there's no way I could afford to travel to their house regularly to help them out. Moving is therefore out of the question unless I get a job and can afford a car to drive to my parents' house regularly. Unfortunately that means I have to pay bus fares in the opposite direction if I need to go into town. I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place :(

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