By the time Joanne (not her real name) graduated from university, everyone else had already gotten jobs.
She was the only one left straggling behind, and inevitably felt that she had no choice but to accept the first offer that came her way.
“I felt increasing pressure to get a job,” she told me. “The pay wasn’t high, but I wanted to remain open to opportunities, especially because it was my first job.”
She was determined to stay at least two years in her first job (which was somewhat related to her degree) – at least, that’s what she heard a fresh grad was supposed to do. But she later discovered that she didn’t like the job and found the work tedious.
The work culture wasn’t great either, with judgmental colleagues who loved to gossip flanking her left and right.
“This guy came into the company on the same day as me. When he came in the next morning and he said hi, I heard my colleagues gossiping about him and calling him weird. They even started nitpicking his habits. Those colleagues even gossiped about each other, and this was constantly going on in the background all the time,” she said.
“I’m pretty sure they gossiped about me too.”
Overtime work was also standard fare at that company, with many colleagues bringing work home. She would then stay in the office till late to work, pressured by this display. She was also determined to learn as much as possible, and also wanted to earn a decent salary to bring home.
But her motivation was doomed to dry up from the start.
Soon, career progression came to a standstill – there were no opportunities to move up the ladder at her company.
Naturally, Joanne began to dread work more and more.
The Onset of Depression
There was no purpose to her work and nothing to keep her focus. Soon, that dread turned into a drop in productivity before it ultimately became depression for Joanne.
“I couldn’t focus, and I always felt so tired,” she told me. “I didn’t realise this either, but I was constantly complaining to friends about work. Some nights I would go home and just cry, and I would start thinking of ways I could avoid going to work.”
She would visualise herself getting into car accidents to get out of work, and at one point even considered throwing herself into moving traffic. At night, at home, other suicidal thoughts would cross her mind.
But quitting was never an option; she was still determined to hang on to the job because of societal pressures, and the very real need of earning an income to contribute to her family.
Yet there was no running away from the inevitable.
She reached breaking point during a work performance appraisal session with her supervisor. “I went to the toilet and had a full breakdown as well as a panic attack,” she said. “That was when I knew that I needed professional help, or I would off myself.”
That was a turning point for Joanne. The doctor had her diagnosed with major depressive disorder and anxiety, and she later tendered her resignation just shy of the two-year mark. She was 24 years old at the time.
Her supervisor wasn’t surprised in the slightest when she turned in her letter.
“She could tell I wasn’t performing, and she told me to get some proper help,” Joanne recounted. “So I resigned even though I knew I would be jobless for a while. I just knew I couldn’t carry on any longer.”
Learning How to Cope Amid a Job Search
She spent the next few months unemployed and dealing with her depression, while her emergency fund — thankfully — kept her afloat. Many thoughts were running through her mind, and she couldn’t quite shake the thought that she was now a “useless member of society” because of her joblessness.
This also prevented her from being upfront about her depression with her parents, who still have no idea what she’s taking medication for, even today.
“It’s still a very hard subject to broach, for me,” she said. “My mum asked me once why I was taking so many meds, and I told her it was just for my sensitive nose.”
Joanne knows her parents probably have their suspicions, however. But they have never once broached the subject with her either, and she’s been content to leave it at that. After all, dealing with depression was hard enough — what more dealing with the social stigma attached to it, even at home?
“I found it difficult to get out of bed everyday because I was so exhausted and always felt so terrible,” she said, candid about her experience.
“I became numb, like life was just happening around me while I was here just… being useless. Every ounce of energy was spent just getting up, to just try applying for jobs.”
The job search was a slow process for Joanne; she didn’t have much experience, after all, except from her first job. And even then, the systems and software that she worked with at her first company were not commonly used by most other companies. So, her options were limited.
She attributed most of her feelings of failure to being bad at her job. “I felt like as a young and hungry fresh graduate, I wasn’t living up to expectations that I needed to do well. My peers were advancing in their careers and I wasn’t contributing anything of value.”
She added, “I felt like a huge burden because I stayed home all day due to depression. I always thought to myself, ‘Everyone else is doing just fine! Why am I the only weak and lousy one, so easily defeated by work?’”
During this time, she leaned on her support system consisting of her friends, who were more open and accepting about depression than her parents.
“It came as a sort of relief for some of them, because they were always unable to help me,” she said. “So they were happy I finally got professional help.”
She stressed the importance of being open about one’s mental health, as much as possible. If anything, it would help to raise awareness. Joanne appreciates the space it’s created for people to be able to freely ask her about issues relating to depression or anxiety.
“I feel like I can share my knowledge with them, so they can figure out whether they’re facing it themselves or even just to be able to understand someone else going through the same thing,” she said.
Joanne later found a job with a small company in a different industry.
And despite having to accept a pay cut because of it, the new job came with a slower pace and allowed her to take the time to recover and regain confidence in herself as a professional.
“It gave me knowledge of the industry, and eventually I went on to another role.”
But finding a new job wasn’t the be all, end all solution to her problems.
“The thing about depression is that it doesn’t go away so easily,” she said. “Even if your mood stabilises, even if you start working or doing stuff again, you still have to be aware of your thoughts — and the voices in your head.”
For Joanne, it was only just the first step in a long journey ahead: obtaining the right medication, and finding a suitable therapist.