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 lifeโ€™s most stressful experiences. Itโ€™s normal to feel angry, hurt, or depressed, grieve at all that youโ€™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 hadย 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚
  • 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” –ย 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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Ten tools for unemployment and job success

  1. Turn job hunting into a jobย 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 ๐Ÿ™‚
  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.
  6. GO OUTSIDE. PLAY MUSIC.
  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 CVย and Enhancvย 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.

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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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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:

Achievements:

  1. I am writing a list of things I’ve done well ๐Ÿ™‚
  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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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!

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Building a happiness toolbox

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Want to shift your brain matter into a better space, without positive thinking? ๐Ÿ™‚

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 โ€“ 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.ย 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚
  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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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:ย https://themighty.com/2017/10/what-do-i-put-in-self-care-kit-mental-health/