Unemployment and Mental Health

We have been on quite an interesting journey together over the last year. You might remember me writing about Why I left the Fitness Industry. I wrote this piece after leaving my Personal Training job in October 2017. Since then I have been focusing on completing my Honours and doing some free lance writing and advocacy work. But I have been largely relying on Centrelink payments to survive. Recently, I wrote about Job seeking while mentally ill to reflect on my journey to find stable employment as I came to the end of my studies. I’m happy to share with you that I have now found the right fit. In January 2019, I am starting my new role as an NDIS Educator. This three day a week role will be complimented by my casual role as a Graduate Research Assistant that I started this month.

So this seems the perfect time to reflect on the just over 12 months I spent unemployed and how it impacted on my mental health.

It’s complicated 
I left my job at the gym because it was taking a serious toll on my mental health. At this point in my life I thought that I would prefer to be unemployed than continue in that role. The lifestyle was wreaking havoc with my Bipolar and I was exceptionally unwell. Leaving that job was the right decision. For the first few months I was fine, I was just focusing on getting stable mentally. However, I underestimated how long I would be unemployed for. It got to the point in my recovery where I felt capable of getting back to work. And yet I couldn’t find work. This was when the tables really started to turn.

One of the things that is most difficult about unemployment is no-duh, the money. Whilst unemployed I was constantly stressed. If an expected expense came up, even as small as needing to top up my myke, it would dent into my budget for the day. I’ve gained a lot of weight over this year (and whilst most of that can be attributed to my medication) I have no doubt that my lack of money contributed. Often I relied on noodles and snacks to get me by instead of balanced meals that would have been more expensive to make. This weight gain made me feel bad about myself and inadequate.

No Social life 
Lack of money also made me miss out on social events. I missed major balls for my footy team because I couldn’t afford a ticket let alone an outfit for the event. I would look at all the photos of my friends at these events and feel very sad and isolated. I would have been there if I could have been. I often couldn’t do things that I wanted to. I’ve desperately missed just going to the movies with my partner. I’ve had no ability to be spontaneous and just catch up with a friend on a whim. Everything about my life had to be calculated around my limited Centrelink payments.

Imposter syndrome
Yes, the lack of money was tough and stressful. But for me, the greatest strain unemployment caused me was on my mental health. My self-esteem took a beating. I felt like a fraud. Here I was doing  my Honours and being flown around the country for advocacy work. From the outside it looked like I was kicking goals. But I felt like a complete failure.  I was an imposter. I could not feel successful. Nothing I achieved made me happy because ultimately I felt like an incomplete adult because I wasn’t employed.

Lack of confidence
Unemployment wears away at your confidence. The more jobs I got turned down for, the more I believed that I was incapable to doing anything that was worth while. But at the same time I was frustrated because I had so much to give and no one would give me a go. I was constantly living in this awkward Venn diagram of feeling entitled to a job but also believing I was pathetic and couldn’t work a job even if I tried.

Nothing to say
It was so hard not to compare myself to others. It’s just so normal to catch up with people and you ask them how work is. I often felt like I had nothing to offer people and nothing to say. Not that work should define who I am but I felt like I was missing a huge part of who I am that people couldn’t ask me about. I preferred to listen to others than talk about myself as I felt I had little to contribute.

As much as the year I spent unemployed sucked I am grateful for this time. It gave me a lot of time to think about my future and what it is I value and actually want out of life. It also made me especially grateful for the opportunities that have come my way in recent times.

I want to thank you all for being with me on this journey as it hasn’t been easy and The Extra Ounce has been a kind solace for me through these dark times. Onwards and upwards.

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