Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Depression and Unemployment in Middle Age

On the scale of life's most stressful events, unemployment is in the top ten, usually around number eight. Obviously there are worse things that can happen to a person, but it should also be obvious that losing your job deserves -- or even demands -- a grieving process similar to other major life losses. Depression is a common theme among the unemployed, and for good reason. I'm not saying we should get stuck in it. But overcoming the devastation of job loss will take time. It will require being open to the stages of grief, and facing an extremely potent mix of emotions.

First, getting fired means rejection. It means that people in positions of authority didn't value your contributions enough to keep you around. Even if you thought you were doing a good job, others did not. They picked your colleagues over you, and that is painful and frustrating. Unless you were part of a mass layoff, you are probably left wondering who you offended, what exactly you did wrong, and why they didn't pick that crazy person everyone talks about? Oh my God, were they talking about me?

Then there is the sense of personal failure. The grim reality of rejection brings feelings of worthlessness on an epic scale. After years of working for a company, it comes down to this? No gold watch. No retirement party. Not even a thank you for your many years of service. Instead you get a bunch of empty boxes your office roommate keeps helping you pack. Your ego deflates like a big balloon, and you have trouble making eye contact with anyone as you prepare to leave. Did any of them know before you did? Were people talking? Who were they? For how long? Will it matter tomorrow?

All at once you are on the outside looking in, looking in at all the offices and schools and hospitals and restaurants where The Employed get to go. But you are no longer one of them. You don't belong anywhere anymore. You have turned in the badge that used to let you into the building with people you called colleagues yesterday. You have been officially cut from the team. You go home and pray your spouse forgives you, and you probably cry very, very hard.

The first reaction to unemployment is usually shock, and maybe denial. Losing your job makes you rethink who you really are and what life and work and accomplishment are truly all about. In time, unemployment will become less personal. Shock will give way to other emotions. Although the path to recovery probably won't be smooth, know that you aren't alone, and that this is just one more piece of the puzzle that is your life. It doesn't make the whole picture.

Try to remember that no matter how much you have lost, no matter how much it hurts, the sun will come up tomorrow. The earth will keep on spinning. You are still breathing. Though you feel as if you just fell down the rabbit hole and are no longer so sure of who you are, other people have climbed out of this misery. And you will, too.

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