How to cope with being unemployed

I remember typing this phrase into Google some months ago, during a very bleak British winter which I was riding with an empty wallet and booming silence on the job application front. Google sent me back sometimes helpful, sometimes not advice. The thing I liked was the comfort of ‘here are the ten steps to…’ and reading what could prop me up in a numbered way.

I don’t really remember most of the steps, but I do remember the comfort of reading that what I was feeling was totally understandable. Like:

Losing a job is one of life’s most stressful experiences. It’s normal to feel angry, hurt, or depressed, grieve at all that you’ve lost, or feel anxious about what the future holds. Job loss and unemployment involves a lot of change all at once, which can rock your sense of purpose and self-esteem.

I did think that was a bit of an exaggeration for my own situation, because I had deliberately left a job, moved countries and started a new chapter. I hadn’t exactly been forced out. But as it turns out, after the first three months, the symptoms are pretty much the same as any other grief. Except your self esteem can wobble itself out of you 🙂

So what makes this so hard?

  • Jobs, whether we like them or not, give us a sense of place in society. We are part of the hordes of people moving through the days into post-work debriefs at night. You might hate commuting, but you’re still part of another group who also hate commuting. The shared community of misery is still a community 🙂
  • Jobs place us among people every single day. This is ALOT OF TIME. If each working day forces us to be with colleagues, whether we like them or not, it’s still 28 800 seconds of company. When you’re job hunting, that’s a whole lot of seconds by yourself.
  • Routine, routine, routine. As someone wise once said, too much choice is the modern day misery for us all. When you work, your days are organically structured and the most decision making you’ll do is what to make for lunch, how early or late you catch the train and whether to exercise at midday. Without work, every.single.choice changes the entire flow of the day. What time to wake up? Where to apply for jobs from? Cafe or home? Do you have a start and finish time? Etc etc.

    “Choice overload can make you question the decisions you make before you even make them” – Paradox of Choice.

  • Brain stagnation is tough. Instead of jumping in on the latest debate about corporate changes and gender inequality pay gaps, you’ll find yourself being able to contribute only on the topics that you have time to read about, between job hunts. Quoting BBC works the first few times – after that, you miss your own particular input on the things you learn through your work. This whole personal pronoun (me, my, I think) takes a backseat when you’re looking for work.
  • No one understand the stress. Of money. The identity. The reasons why you’re not getting a job. Until you’re in the same boat, it’s another divider between people, and as humans we shine with serotonin when we feel part of group norms.

I could go on and on.

In short, it’s rough. But it doesn’t have to get rougher! Below are my own overly-tried-and-tested ways of dealing with the in between time, until someone grabs you by the collar and hires you into their happy family 🙂


Ten tools for unemployment and job success

  1. Turn job hunting into a job right from the beginning. I didn’t do this, and only started properly when the panic set in (month 2). Saying to yourself you are about to start your work day means that you need to get up on time, shower, eat breakfast and be working from 9am. You can choose your finish time and lunch time, but make sure every day it is roughly the same.
  2. Use the emotions of boredom, fear of rejection and total confusion as anchors reminding you of mindfulness. Sitting with the uncomfortable but doing it anyway.
  3. Dress smartly. Whatever your smart might be is up to you, but don’t wear pajamas and a hoodie. I did that, too, and it was not nearly as effective in my productivity.
  4. Make a goal to visit and work from 3 coffee shops a week. Bear in mind, this costs in flat whites but it saves your sanity. For two hours, travel somewhere cool and you’ll be inspired by the co-work spaces around you and the people you sit alongside. I even got a date by doing this and free CV advice 🙂
  5. Write out ‘where I am in six months’ free style and put it up next to your bed or desk. Write how you want to be feeling, the kind of job you want to have, the money you are making, clothes you are wearing and what you’re doing with your time most days. This might sound silly but on the days when your brain freezes up it’ll give you the wind behind your back.
  7. Do a weekly budget and figure out how long you have before you hit critical, and what to do if that happens. It will dispel some of the lurking subconscious fears about cash shortages you do have going on.
  8. Decide what your daily reward is. For me, it started a bit splashy and then went down to a free series or two, but I made sure I was saving up something to look forward to at the end of the day.
  9. Pay someone to do your CV for you. I didn’t do this, and it would probably have saved me 245 hours of rewording my basic template and getting me a job alot sooner than the six months it took. Sites like Visual CV and Enhancv are really good.
  10. See friends, see friends, see friends. Even if you don’t want to. Invite people to cheap vegetarian dinner parties, go and babysit for someone, plan a weekend run. This is key for mental health and pure de-stress. If you don’t have friends, go to a support group of sorts, because there are a whole bunch of wonderful (free) friends waiting there.

Above all, keep the faith.

Learning to Surrender

A good friend of mine sent me this wonderful 9 minute podcast today. It’s called Learning to Surrender.

When I got it, I partially felt like rolling my eyes because I feel like I could record a podcast called “Being Forced to Surrender”. But, I gave it a go. Here is an extract, which gives you an idea what it’s about.

Surrender means to give up, abandon, relinquish, to wave the white flag. What a beautifully divine word. A word we should choose at every chance we can remember, for as the story goes, we are not in control, we are floating on a cosmic river carried from the stars, into our mothers womb, out into the world, where we then resume the same course, only now grounded in body.
This episode helps let go of our worries and fears. It reminds us that we are supported and that life is unfolding just as it should.

If you want to listen, click here.

It’s a different experience to surrender to life on life’s terms. I’m still learning. And surrender and acceptance don’t imply you sit passively, allowing anything to happen to you. I like to think of Life as my partner, maybe leading more than I allow. When I lead, it generally is a short lived high 🙂

The other day, I sat bawling at my kitchen table – the 245th job rejection of the year – for a role I really wanted. Allowing myself to feel the despondency and sadness that comes with getting a big fat no is quite a big thing for me. Waterfall instead of plugging up the sink.

What didn’t help was my sweet friend trying to make things better and fix me. She suggested I could have a mental block, not getting jobs because I might not believe in myself. Instead of now crying from sadness, I felt like weeping for a different reason.

Things not going your way, including your mental falling-apart-ness is definitely NOT due to a mental block. It is simply Life. And the best thing you can do when people try to attribute made up stuff to your situation is smile and shake your head.

On a different note, I’m listening to this awesome Ted talk tonight, by the amazing Andrew Solomon. He says it like it is.

To watch, click here.

(or press play below)

Happy listening!


Books and blogs when times are rough

“When things fall apart and we can’t get the pieces back together, when we lose something dear to us, when the whole thing is just not working and we don’t know what to do, this is the time when the natural warmth of tenderness, the warmth of empathy and kindness, are just waiting to be uncovered.”

Pema Chodron

Your brain is not the most awesome or inspiring place to delve into when you’re feeling awful.

Scientifically speaking, things have changed too.

Your brain:


What can save the day is a couple of things. Maybe add new ones to your own ideas list. Not everything is appropriate for different times of day or weeks; sometimes you need cheer up laughter and other times you need to listen to someone talking of an experience you relate to, so that you feel less lonely. So, here are a few suggestions based on things that have worked for me.

  • For leaving the house and walking down the road when existential panic and feelings of WTF threaten to overwhelm you: music and podcasts 🙂 
  • For getting dressed in the morning: sometimes a podcast, sometimes a piece of comedy from YouTube. Sometimes angry female lead songs.
  • For commuting: definitely a podcast
  • For getting home from work: music
  • For bedtime: a spirit-based podcast or a book (if you can concentrate enough to read – this is often one of the first symptoms of mental illness)


For comforting people, who strengthen you just where you are:

  1. Tara Brach:
  2. Pema Chodron:


For changing your brain up and out of the sadness (thanks to The Mighty)

Tune 1

Tune 2

Tune 3

Tune 4

Tune 5

Tune 6


For books that comfort:


For podcasts you can relate to:

  1. Mentally Yours
  2. The Hilarious World of Depression
  3. Mental Illness Happy Hour
  4. On Being

And…. buy or read any design, art, fashion or tune-out magazines that help you feel superficial and detached from the world of mental illness. Because life is also about coral pedicures, baking the perfect chicken pie, Singapore shopping and antique jewellery up for auction. The main purpose of anything you do is to either bring comfort to yourself and/or help you to feel less alone and more understood.

Finally, my favourite mental health cartoonist in the world is Gemma Correl. She takes the seriousness of things out of things, and will put a smile on your face 🙂


Happy reading, smiling and listening!




When your doctor uses Google, and you’re too well to see a psychiatrist

I always thought this couldn’t be true when people mentioned that for most ailments their GP googles the recommended treatment plan before handing out a script. And yet, throughout my mental health adventures, doctors in the UK have done this. Seemingly without shame, and then list the dangerous and life-threatening side effects I might experience if I take the recommended medicine.

It’s enough to make anyone not know whether to cry, have a tantrum, walk out or burst into slightly hysterical laughter.


The first time this happened to me it was super understandable. I had arrived from South Africa on medication which had South African names. Googling the generic was crucial! But after that things got less helpful. The doctor asked why my dosages were so high (little did he know how much I had fought that increase) which incited feelings of shame in me. Another one suggested I was someone who just didn’t sleep and clearly medicine didn’t help me (ignoring the country move and unemployment I was experiencing which threw me into stress-induced insomnia). A psychiatrist suggested my night sweats were some form of alcohol withdrawal (they weren’t, and trying to label me as an alcoholic was not helpful for my mental health at all!).


All along, I advocated for my right to medication, my right to change this if it was not working and my right to go to sleep. I asked for a short term dose of tranquilliser to help me leave the house and attend the job interviews I needed so badly to go to. My doctor almost had a small collapse and suggested I use ten mild tablets over a period of three months.


Finally, after being turned down by the assessment centre (called Single Point Access) (SPA ironically) (I privately nicknamed it No Point Access) 5 times and deemed not mentally ill enough, I got in and asked for a psychiatrist. It had taken eight GP appointments, one hospitalisation, three sessions with a mental health nurse… and two months of a lost file. I think they created a new one for me.

In terms of funding shortages, I think they spent more money through these collective disconnected meetings with me than the hour I had with the NHS psychiatrist. Finally, the sweet but inexperienced junior psychiatrist I saw listened to my advice on what medicine to give me, consulted her senior doctor and dutifully handed me pills. She forgot to mention how bad the side effects of these could be and asked if I would like to choose between seeing her again (critical if a new medication is introduced) or getting some counselling. I was not quite sure what to say but accepting I couldn’t be given both (greedy) I went for the medication follow up.


So what to do in these sort of situations? Firstly, pull out months before things get critical. Don’t share too much when you sense you aren’t being taken seriously. Don’t get passed on to 32 people and have to rehash your story – it is humiliating and exhausting. Get a friend or family to sponsor private treatment. Listen to your gut. Go to a support group. Write some ragey letters which it’s advisable you don’t send until well enough to edit. KEEP ADVOCATING FOR YOUR MENTAL HEALTH.

If all else fails, create your own ideal remedy for depression and read a book about someone who has it worse. There is always someone 🙂


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Self compassion during mental illness

Let’s face it. Mental illness sucks. Later, it gives one a new perspective on life, shapes one into humility and can really help develop our empathy for other people during suffering.

But while it’s going on? You are unlikely to have the pre-shitty-feelings confidence and self esteem.

So how does one interrupt some of the self-whipping and feeling like a loser? Self compassion 🙂

Self compassion or being a little bit kind to ourselves is like wrapping ourselves in a metaphorical blanket. It’s hard to do. And just reading about it, or listening to a Ted talk, might be all we can do. That’s good enough.

We may feel worse when the weather is sunny and we think the world is smiling on the beach. The weather inside ourselves feels grey and unforgiving.

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So what is self-compassion? And how do you do it if life really isn’t mirroring you as a successful, awesome achiever? You might have become chubby, unemployed and too broke to leave the house even if the existential depro cloud wasn’t there…

This little video explains it all 🙂 After that, I’ll show you how I do it, even on the worst days.

I’ve learnt that being kind to myself is often just thinking up a list of all the things I’ve achieved and saying a whispered ‘well done’ to me. Like this:


  1. I am writing a list of things I’ve done well 🙂
  2. I made it to work and functioned
  3. I had a shower
  4. I am not out taking drugs
  5. I’ve never taken drugs
  6. I have survived lots of stress
  7. Anyone would feel like I do if they had been through so much
  8. I messaged some friends
  9. I am writing a blog entry 🙂

It’s not so hard to do this and if it is, it gets easier with time as habit changes the brain a little.

Give it a go, and not if you feel strong enough to do it, but if you don’t!


How to handle unhelpful people

On your journey, you’ll experience doctors, family, friends, strangers, colleagues and sometimes pets (kidding) who say really unhelpful things and don’t get what mental distress feels like.

Others will be amazing.

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The unhelpful ones are those who give the worst advice, or judge you when you’re feeling worse than shitty.

Firstly, it hurts. Words hurt. You’re vulnerable and ashamed and afraid. You need love, compassion, support and sometimes medication or a bed to sleep in at a loving friend.

The technique I’ve developed is simple. Firstly, I swear quietly at them in my head. Or about the situation. Then I smile and try and say nothing to conserve my energy and avoid a debate.

Remember two things. No one is allowed to tell you right now that everything happens for a reason. They’re also only allowed to give advice with permission, or a background of their own experience. And a hug. Maybe lots of hugs.

And… memes to lighten up a heavy topic.

When the doctor tells you he won’t give you medication, and recommends meditation:


When someone judges the fact you are taking psychiatric medication for your mental wellness:


People who imply you can cure this with enough effort:

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One thing I’ve learnt is to feel angry, but not hold on to it, because bitterness and resentment screw up your healing process. I have learnt to hold compassion for ignorance, forgiveness for those who try hard but do it all wrong and sometimes just faking it to make it. Except when people have told me it is all in the mind, and sometimes suggested I take serious detoxes or loads of pot and other drugs to sort myself out.

Thankfully, times are changing and we are blessed to live in an era (espeically the UK) where mental health and so many shame-associated topics are now getting money and media coverage. I count my blessings with this, and look forward to the day when my kids (who will hopefully not have the same issues as me!) discuss problems in the same way they would discuss sport.



Building a happiness toolbox


Want to shift your brain matter into a better space, without positive thinking? 🙂

When people suffer from depression, the brain can feel like it’s literally a fogged up car. With anxiety, there’s just way too much fight or flight going on and everything is overwhelming, unless it (feels) like the external world is under control.

Scientists are doing really cool work looking at how our brains work in complex ways when we do relatively simple things. Some time ago, a study was done with a group of people who underwent brain scans while being shown a series of 30 paintings by some of the world’s greatest artists. What happened? The artworks they considered most beautiful increased blood flow in a certain part of the brain by as much as 10 per cent – the equivalent of gazing at someone you love.

Beauty is one avenue for a brain boost. My friend Josi has always surrounded herself with works of colour, splashes of scatter cushions and things so visually lovely to look at that she takes herself out of her feelings and into the state she wants to be.

So what if you’re too depressed or sad or stressed to look at a painting? Or too afraid to even try peel yourself out of the house to go to an art gallery?

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Well, in times like these, what helps is a toolbox of ideas – like a physical, more creative version of the self-care plan. It’s a box of ideas and things that one can look at it, and feel sparked by. Or the box could have self-care comfort things within it. It should be something pretty, and filled with things that make you feel connected to something more wonderful than your awful feelings.

Some effort to set up, but after that it’s a ready-made tool to help you anytime.

When we are little, we slowly learn to self-regulate because if we don’t we see we are rejected by the group. So, while felt it good aged four shouting and hitting your friend, at age 10 you stop doing this because you have learnt to develop other ways of being – which make life easier, rather than harder.

Self soothing is a developmental stage, a skill that infants gain as they grow older. As adults we do this on a daily basis because if we didn’t, we would be a stressed out ball of emotion, constantly swinging between extremes.

If you’re mentally unwell, this ability to self regulate and self soothe might just feel too much. But it can be as simple as making a little care box for yourself to use whenever you need to.

If you don’t have the energy to make a box, a simple list will do 🙂

So, how do you start?

Write down a brain-load of things that the you-before-mental-illness enjoyed doing, and might enjoy trying now. This should be as long and varied as possible, and micro-step focused . Things you’ve actually done. Don’t put down skydiving if you’ve never done it. Unless you’re maniac it’s unlikely you’ll get there 🙂

For example:

  1. I used to like having a bath with glitter foam
  2. I used to laugh at memes and funny pictures
  3. I once said caring things about a tough situation to myself and then I felt better
  4. I used to love to vacuum the house while saying angry speeches to everyone I was remotely annoyed with.
  5. I used to wash my hair and blow dry it.
  6. I used to like putting colours together in new ways when I got dressed.

You can write this list and stick it next to your bed (I did this and it helped).

Or, chuck the words or sentences in your self care / happiness toolkit box.

Making the actual box goes something like this:

  1. Buy a box from a stationary store.
  2. Better still, use a second hand one – something around the house – as long as it’s fairly easy to see in (a wine case won’t do!)
  3. Write Happiness Box on it 🙂
  4. Give it a quick clean

You can do two things now. Put your happiness list in cut up words or sentences into the box. Then chuck a few things in which evoke sensation, scent or something lovely in you. For example, new socks, nail polish, a good pen, a perfume bottle, bubble wrap to pop.

Anything that’s small enough to fit and reminds you that happiness is accessible anywhere and anytime. You can mix the two up 🙂

Close the box and put it next to your bed or somewhere within reach. Stretching out to reach something can feel a bit much to do if you’re very depressed.

This is not a fix or a cure, but a little way of cushioning yourself when times feel impossibly hard.

Don’t worry if you can’t do it. If you achieve doing even 10% of this task, you’re winning. If you actually do any of them, try and observe your brain before and after. You’ll notice a difference!

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p.s. for more ideas, check out the awesome list of 25 ‘what to put in your box’ from: