I want to talk about something different today. I want to talk about career change and depression.

I’ve struggled with paralyzing low moods since I was a young teenager. Depression, along with debilitating levels of anxiety, was what forced me into therapy in my mid-20s, which helped me to learn a lot about who I really am and how I operate in the world, which ultimately led me to coaching.

I say “forced” because I’m convinced that if I hadn’t been drowning in unbearably high levels of pain, I wouldn’t have taken the good, hard look at my life and what wasn’t working for me that was necessary for me to change paths.

And I’m not the only one. I’ve personally seen a strong link between career change and depression in others as well. I talk to people all the time who are trying to make a transition and feel hopeless, despondent, and lethargic.  Sometimes they use the word “depressed” and sometimes they don’t, but the same energy can often be felt in their words and mood. It’s quite normal, especially when people are in or facing a big change.

The Negative Feedback Loop

For some reason, most of us don’t want to admit that our careers have us depressed. While my mood is much better than it used to be and I no longer need to take medication for it, I still have days when depression rears its ugly head (or traps me in its web—take your pick of dark metaphors here). Often it comes from stresses at work, but I hate to admit that.

I want to look like I have it all together, that I can handle it, that something as innocuous as doing my job could never get me so upset. I want more than anything for that to be true, because there’s a lot of shame in our culture (and in my head) attached to being weak, messy, or out of control.

But when I deny the depression, I just make it worse. Like a tar baby, the more I struggle to free myself, the more entangled I become.

I believe that’s because one of depression’s key features is a disconnection from feelings. When I deny my depression, I squash my emotions, becoming further alienated from myself and less likely to do what I need to feel better. So the depression worsens.

The Surprising Truth

The good thing about falling into the cycle of depression a lot is that you have the opportunity to break out of it just as many times. And what I’ve discovered over the years of dancing with depression is not what I expected to find in the beginning. It’s far better, in fact.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

Messy is good. 

When I really think about it, I can’t really come up with any good reasons not to be messy. In fact, it seems to be a pretty common natural state in the world. Once you embrace your depression, uncomfortable as it is, there are possibilities to enjoy it—for example, using it as an excuse to get outside more, call a friend, or treat myself to an uplifting movie (if it says “heartwarming” or “makes you want to stand up and cheer” on the back of a DVD, I’m pretty much guaranteed to love it).

Being messy also connects me to my common humanity, because no matter how bad I feel, I can be sure that there are lots of other people all across the world feeling the exact same thing as I am right now (it’s estimated that there are over 14 million Americans feeling depressed at any given moment in time). If I weren’t humbled by depression, I would likely try to convince myself that I’m the one human being on the planet completely in control of her emotions. How lonely would that be?

Bad feelings aren’t bad.

One time a few years ago before I was married I went on a date that let’s just say didn’t go as well as hoped. I woke up feeling depressed the next day. As I lay on the couch observing what was happening, it occurred to me that I was really just feeling disappointed. When I let myself feel the heavy weight of disappointment in my body, the depression lifted.

Often depression visits because I’m resisting some emotion—anger, fear, sadness, etc. The emotion feels too overwhelming, or the reason for it too small and inconsequential for me to welcome it in. I’ve found, however, that if I can honor and treat each feeling like a welcome houseguest (like in Rumi’s amazing poem “The Guest House”), there’s relief and wisdom to be found.

Depression isn’t a cruel dictator; it’s a determined teacher. 

Depression is kind of like that teacher you hated while you were in her class but then realized after you left how much you had learned.

In my experience, it slams you to the ground in order to make you listen. My depression almost always carries with it a message that I need to hear, but that I’ve been resisting. Sometimes it’s as simple as, “Slow down and get some rest.”  Other times it says, “Speak up for yourself.” Or, “Pay attention!  This isn’t the right path for you.”

Depression has taught me a lot. As I said before, I don’t think I would have sought out the support I needed or gone on the scary and difficult journey of learning the truth about myself if I hadn’t have been forced to out of sheer pain. And that journey has led me to my calling and brought me tremendous joy, purpose, fulfillment, and gifts to share with others.

The Way Out

If you’re feeling depressed, hopeless, or despondent, first of all, remember that it’s temporary. It never lasts forever. Every time I feel depressed, I think I’ll feel that way forever, but I never do.

Remembering this, the best thing I know to do is to reach out for support. Get out of your own head. Talk to friends and family about how you feel, or find a good therapist. Let them help you listen for what depression is trying to tell you.

We don’t need to be ashamed of our depression (or anxiety or fear or any other perceived neurosis). We don’t need to deny them. They’re part of who we are, which is both deeply flawed and utterly perfect.

Find Support to Make a Change

If you think your depression is related to a career change, please feel free to get in touch with me.

I offer individual and group coaching programs at various levels of investment designed to help you listen to your wisest inner self, discover what you’re meant to do in the world, and get started actually doing it.

To find out more, schedule a free 1:1 call with me. We’ll illuminate your goals, clarify your challenges, and discuss what each program involves and how it can help. There’s no cost for the call and no obligation to buy anything. Click here to apply for your free call today.

Photo credit: David // CC