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How Losing My Job Cured My Depression

Photo by Eduardoizq
The things you own end up owning you. It's only after you lose everything that you're free to do anything. ~Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

I thought I had it all.

I had a job that paid well and all the perks that went with it. I drove an expensive car and rented a spacious (but overpriced) apartment well-stocked with the latest modern conveniences.

I had a circle of equally high-flying, workaholic acquaintances, and we’d spend what little free time we had downing expensive drinks together in fashionable nightclubs and bars.

Fully occupied with my busy schedule, I never looked up long enough to realize that a cloud of discontent followed me everywhere I went. I also didn’t realize that chasing material excess was simply my subconscious attempt to outrun it.

But the economic crash of 2008 changed all that.

Like everyone else, I watched in alarm as financial institutions collapsed, sending shockwaves around the globe and setting up a financial tsunami that mercilessly destroyed those in its path.

So I guess I shouldn’t have been so shocked when I lost my job.

My Vanishing Existence

But leaving the office after having been informed of my redundancy, I felt numb. Who was I now? It was as if someone had ripped open my life and stolen both my reasons to carry on and the means to do so.

The car, the apartment, the lifestyle – they would all have to go. My entire existence as I knew it was about to vanish into thin air.

I spent several weeks trying to come to terms with what had happened, but I was incapable of making a decision about what to do next.

I couldn’t outrun my own mind anymore; I wasn’t busy or distracted enough to escape that dark cloud.

My job redundancy seemed to have made my very existence redundant, and a feeling of worthlessness overtook me. I stopped getting out of bed, stopped caring about my appearance and stopped eating proper meals.

My world contracted around me until it was virtually little more than the four outer walls of my apartment.

My former colleagues had become distant since I’d lost my job, and I’d neglected my family and friends for years – using my stressful job as an excuse to avoid keeping in touch with them.

So there was no one to notice that I was slowly being crushed by my own sense of helplessness. Even I missed the signs – burying myself in online films and TV shows and refusing to face how bad I was letting the situation become.

Facing the Truth

If it hadn’t been for a doctor’s appointment for an existing medical condition, I probably would have let myself rot in that apartment for months.

The whole experience of getting organized and out the front door that day was so overwhelming that I very nearly gave up and went back to bed. But somehow I found myself in front of my doctor, who immediately knew that something wasn’t right and asked me how things had been going recently.

I had nothing to lose. I had hit bottom. I faced the truth.

I came to the realization that I’d actually been unhappy — even depressed — for a very long time and that my hectic lifestyle had been a poor substitute for the things that were missing in my life.

Making money and living in the fast lane had provided me with a series of ultimately unsatisfactory short term highs, while deep down, I was hopelessly unfulfilled and desperately trying to avoid dealing with it.

The practicalities of my new life hit home:

  • Despite having earned a high wage, I had little savings in the bank.
  • My disposable income had been frittered away on luxuries that I didn’t need.
  • Staying in my pricey apartment while not working had nearly exhausted my limited severance pay.
  • The stereo that I’d played all through my youth had been replaced with a hugely expensive, state-of-the-art sound system that didn’t actually sound any better than the old one.
  • The flashy car that guzzled gasoline as eagerly as I’d once downed expensive after-work cocktails had simply been an extravagant replacement for the perfectly functional, cheaper model now sitting idle in my parents’ garage.

A Burden Lifted

In need of cash, I moved into a smaller apartment, sold my expensive car and stereo and felt as if a burden had been lifted from my shoulders.

Strangely enough, I didn’t really miss any of it. I realized that I’d been working a soulless job simply to fuel an extravagant lifestyle that wasn’t actually making me happy.

Although I’d been an avid reader in the past, I’d lost interest in books when I entered the rat race. Now that I was starting over, I found a part-time job in a bookstore.

The salary was incomparable to my previous income, but it paid the bills. Most importantly, it gave me free time.

Dark Clouds Disperse

I began to rediscover interests and passions that had withered and died during the nine-to-five or, more accurately, the eight-to-eight grind.

I had time to exercise again, an activity I’d sorely neglected when I was rushing from home to office to flashy bar. Lack of exercise had undoubtedly contributed to my feelings of depression, and as I progressed with my new running and weight-lifting schedule, I felt the dark clouds begin to disperse.

I also had time to reconnect with nature and experience again the mental health benefits, for example, of walking through a forest. Away from the bustling, noisy and polluted city, amongst the peace and quiet of nature, my spirits soared.

Most importantly of all, I had time to reconnect with family and old friends. Caught up in the pursuit of the material and only socializing with like-minded colleagues, I’d lost touch with old friends and missed out on the rewards of real friendship.

Socializing had become an exercise in shallow, self-congratulatory excess.  It was time to again begin enjoying intimate conversations and shared confidences — the real substance of friendship.

As former “good time” drinking buddies faded from my life, old pals re-entered it. Several of them remarked on my buoyant mental and physical health.

A Journey of Self-Discovery

The shocking loss of my job to the economic recession, and the subsequent downscaling of my whole life, had launched me on a journey of self-discovery, ultimately leading to a state of happiness and contentment my former big paycheck had been unable to buy.

I’d learned that the acquisition of material possessions and the pursuit of wealth had kept me trapped in a vicious cycle, where I was working too hard to fuel an unfulfilling lifestyle, which I needed to distract me from the deep feelings of insecurity and unhappiness that were eating away at me.

I’d lost sight of the real pleasures in life: time spent with friends and family, the rejuvenating power of nature, the rewarding feeling of doing a job you really enjoy.

If you are trapped in the rat race, I urge you to take a deep breath and examine your life honestly. Are you getting what you want from your limited time on this planet?

You won’t regret asking yourself this question.

And you’ll be well-rewarded if you act on the answer.

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About the author

James Armstrong lives and works in the UK. He’s currently writing about depression and mental health issues on behalf of https://www.drthom.com/.

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8 thoughts on How Losing My Job Cured My Depression

  1. Debbie

    Thanks for this article. I too lost my banking job. I didn’t know who I was without it. I jumped back 3 months later when another bank reached out to me. Then 6 months in to the new job I was so unhappy and felt like I was losing myself to unhappiness I quit…. I still don’t have a job but I have worked on my health and happiness. All I know is god has a plan but what I learned is that you must be TRUE to yourself. Losing your job hurts but not as much as realizing you weren’t really living…. Life is short ..be true to you…

  2. Ahsoka23

    Thank you for sharing your story. I quit the rat race in 2011. I have now become a full time actress and filmmaker. I occasionally teach English, but despite earning less money I have more time for myself and creating art. I reconnected with nature and just like you, my mental health has gotten much better.

    This really resonated with me and I am glad you are a much better person now.

  3. Valerio

    Absolutely fantastic post!

  4. Bart

    Thank you for sharing this story.
    If I could I would take similar steps because my (also quit succesful) office job isn’t making me happy either. The question I have is: how can you take these steps when you already have a wife and two young kids? I just do not see how I can do that now or ever will be able to. I can downgrade my own life for a better personal future, but not expect them to join me.

    • joe

      Bart,
      I fully understand your concerns. I left my job and my life one day and did not return for a month. Family and friends did not know what had happened to me as I was officially listed as a missing person. The walls had closed in so far around me that escape from life was one of only two alternatives I thought were out there. My return resulted in 14 months of putting my life back together before finally getting behind a desk again. I worked satisfying jobs during this time but at a pay far less than the family had grown accustomed. My life back behind a desk comes with a new understanding of what is important and how to maintain my sanity while doing the job I have been trained for. It did put a lot of stress on my family but they stuck behind me and did not push (at least not too hard) me to get back into the job that contributed so mightily to my depression. Having learned a valuable lesson, I have renewed my career with a different attitude and hope that the stresses that led to my breakdown are something I can now manage. Your family will stay by your side. You need to get yourself right before you can help others. Discuss your issues and concerns and put yourself first for a while. Yes it is selfish but it works and your family will appreciate it in the long run.

  5. Stephanie

    Same thing happened to me a couple of weeks ago. I got fired and thought I was lost. I was working my ass off the last 4 years and got used to it. I lost some friends and my family didn’t like my new lifestyle. But it kept me busy, so I wasn’t able to think about all the things that were going on in my mind. In the last weeks of my employment I got sick. I went to the doctors and they couldn’t figure out what’s wrong. I had an emotional breakdown 1 week after.
    Now that I’ve started going to psychological therapy I realized what’s really important. I don’t need to buy expensive things. I don’t need to be busy each and every day. I just need to calm down and take care of myself.

    Great article, thanks for sharing your thoughts to other people!

  6. Ann-Marie

    An interesting article. For most of us it takes a long time to realise that the daily grind of consumerism, keeping up with the Jones, and the endless buying of more stuff, doesn’t make us happy. Less really is more. It’s hard to get off the treadmill though, especially if you have a family to support. In some ways it’s easier when the treadmill throws you off – then you have no choice but to reassess. If you are still caught up in the daily grind of consumerism and aren’t happy I would start by making small changes, like eating out less, not buying clothes for a couple of months, decluttering. Spending your money on experiences – holidays, concerts, visits to friends, – rather than more objects is a good start. ‘7Habits of Highly Effective People’ by S Covey helped me at work a lot. By making some adjustments, you might find work is more bearable and you don’t have to chuck it all in to be happy.

  7. What a great article. I can relate. I was so unhappy and miserable in my job that I chose to quit. That was 3 years ago. I now earn a lot less than in my old job, but have a more peaceful life. Having said that, I am considering going back into the traditional workforce, not because I really want to, but because of circumstances. Although I am hugely conflicted on whether I should or I should just carry on along this new path.

    We are socially conditioned to work for a boss and most people are suffering through their jobs day in and day out. Very few think there is an alternative and even if they do, they’re too afraid to take the road less travelled. I’ve learnt that one can find a different way to live. It may mean giving up the big salary, and making do with a lot less, but it means more peace of mind. And what most don’t realise is – we can get by with so much less.

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