Since Bell Let’s Talk day is happening tomorrow; I’ve decided to write a little bit of my mental health journey after losing my job due to Covid-19. I would like to thank the Wingman team for giving me the opportunity to share my story. You guys are amazing!
On the day of my second interview with Wingman, David and Vivian saw a cheerful, energetic candidate that was eager to work and had everything under control. Little did they know that I had had a panic attack before our call, and that I was going through a very rough time with my mental health. At this point, I had been unemployed for nine months and I was quickly losing hope.
When I first heard about COVID-19, I assumed that it wouldn’t affect me directly. I figured that I would just work from home for one or two months until the situation was resolved. I didn’t know that I would lose my job in March 2020 and wouldn’t return officially to the workforce until nine months later. Not having a job and a solid routine for this amount of time takes a toll on anyone, especially someone who struggles with their mental health. I could say that 2020 was a terrible year for me, but I won’t. What I will say is that 2020 was the scariest and most challenging year in my life so far. I look back at this year and I’m thankful for everything that it taught me, but it wasn’t an easy lesson. Today I’m not going to sugar coat things for you, I’ll open up and let you into my chaotic mind. I’ll tell you more about my mental health journey during the pandemic, and I’ll give you some tips that helped me stay grounded and balanced while being unemployed.
Before I write anything else, I want to add a small disclaimer. I am not a mental health expert. I’m just a regular person who has been struggling with anxiety, depression, and OCD throughout her whole life. My intention is to provide you with tools and tips that may help you in your self-love and healing journey, and I do not intend to replace a licensed physician.
To Start, Here’s My Story
When I was let go by my previous employer, I held on to the chance of being brought back to work for them once their situation improved. I convinced myself that I was going to be okay because they would re-hire me “in a month”, so I would just wait. I am a person who thrives on schedules, routines, and to-do lists (thanks for that one, OCD!), so the first thing that I did during my “short vacation” was to stick to a schedule: wake up, coffee, yoga, shower, walk, Netflix, bed. For a while, this worked perfectly. It felt like I was getting a nice reset from the stress of office life. When a month passed, I began feeling uneasy because I wasn’t receiving a call back.
The first stage: Denial.
I was in denial for a while. It made me feel safe to think that I was going back to my old workplace sooner than later – I had to, no? If not, what would I do? I tried to not think about a negative outcome, especially because I was new to Calgary, I had moved into a new apartment recently and it was the first time that I would be living by myself. The possibility of having to find a new job in the middle of a pandemic was not something I wanted to think about. Neither was having to move out of my apartment because I couldn’t afford the rent. I HAD to make things work, and I had to convince myself that everything would solve itself soon.
The worst thing about living in denial is how hard it is to cope with the situation when you wake up from it. In June, my partner asked me a question that woke me up instantly. “So, have you been applying for jobs?” he said one day after lunch. That’s when it hit me, I was not going to go back to my old office and I had to do something about it. So now what? I actually had to look for a job! My (fantasy) world came crumbling down. How was I going to compete with other prospects that were probably better than me? Was I going to get rejected multiple times again? Would I find a job before my CERB payments ended? I had been avoiding this moment for the longest time but it was finally here. At that point I realized that I had no job, no plan, and (sooner than later) no money. I was freaking out.
Anxiety kicks in.
This is when my anxiety kicked in – It came out of nowhere, waking me up at 3 AM and making me wonder what I would do with my life. It flared up whenever I had a job interview, making me feel like I wasn’t going to get the position because I wasn’t good enough. Unfortunately, in my case my high anxiety peaks are followed by really low depression episodes – the ones that make it hard to wake up in the mornings. Pair that with my OCD and the need to keep everything clean (always) and we have a recipe for disaster. I applied to at least 10 jobs per day, and I felt devastated every time I received a rejection email so I gave up for a few weeks at a time. When you’re being rejected over and over, it’s really hard to remember how much you’re worth professionally.
This started affecting me during my job interviews as well. Instead of just focusing on nailing the interview, I was stressing out because of how much I needed a job and how important it was for me to go back to my regular routine. While I was answering the interview questions, I couldn’t help but overthink everything that I was saying and giving up on the opportunity of getting hired even before the interview was over.
2020 was exhausting, but there was help out there.
The year 2020 was rough for my mental health, but I kept on convincing myself that I was doing the best I could with the tools that I had available in this stressful situation. After lots of good cries, anxiety attacks, and depression episodes, I realized that this time around I couldn’t solve my issues by myself. I needed external help. This is when I found Calgary’s Distress Centre, a confidential phone line that connects you to a counselor 24/7. I also started investigating more about my anxiety and depression, following positive accounts on social media, studying about natural healing, and reading tons of self-help blogs.
Here are a few tips that have helped me during my mental health journey:
1. As Repetitive as It Sounds, It IS Okay to Not be Okay
You’ve read this phrase multiple times, but it’s true. Struggling with your mental health doesn’t make you weak, it makes you human. This pandemic has been incredibly hard on everyone, and you are definitely not the only person who is feeling down. The first step in your healing process is accepting your anxiety and depression as a part of you, while not letting it define you. It’s okay to admit that you don’t have everything under control always. Instead of putting yourself down when you feel anxious or depressed, try to be kind and loving. Treat yourself the same way that you would treat a close friend or important family member — You are worth the self-love.
2. Small Steps Are Big Wins!
When you feel like doing nothing, even the smallest actions can feel like huge efforts. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you feel like you can’t accomplish a task. As someone who is very active and feels accomplished only when she’s productive, it’s hard for me to take a step back and be loving towards myself when I feel like I can’t cross every item in my to-do list. I’ve had to learn to put my needs first. It’s okay to unwind and do absolutely nothing every once in a while. Learn to listen to your body and don’t feel bad if you need to pause and rest for a moment. Celebrate the little tasks that you did finish and remember that you can always empty your to-do list the next day.
3. Do More of What Makes You Happy – Because You Deserve It
I was listening to a natural healing audiobook and the author asked a very simple question: “Who were you before you forgot who you really are?” This question resonated with my life so much. Who was I before the unemployment? What are those things that can make me happy? What were the things that I did for fun when life was less stressful? Ask these questions to yourself and create a self-care plan for hard days. In my case, I have a little care package prepared for when I need a little pick me up. It includes some face masks, a book about crystals, some affirmations to read out loud, and a list of quick activities that I can do to feel better (meditations, breathing work, yoga, CBT).
How am I today? “I’m Thriving!”
Whenever someone asks me how I’m doing, I tell them that I’m thriving. Usually people laugh and think that it’s just my signature phrase, but it’s actually my mantra. Personally, I like to think that even when things are hard, I’m still working on becoming a better and stronger person. I do have a job now, but I still struggle with my mental health. I believe in the power of my own words, which is why whenever I’m down I like to reassure myself that everything is going to be okay, because it will.
- Health Link 811 or Mental Health Helpline: 1-877-303-2642
- Distress Centre: (403)266-4357
- Provincial 211: provides referrals for community, government and social services
- The Bell Let’s Talk Toolkit: https://letstalk.bell.ca/en/toolkit