How Losing My Job Cured My DepressionThe 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.