5 Challenges of Being a Professional Living with Depression

Depression sucks. And even with the overabundance of information available, there are still people who like to throw out bad advice like, “Just stop being depressed” and “If you make yourself busy, you won’t have time for depression.” My personal favorite (sarcasm font activated) is being told, “Well, maybe if you go outside and hang out with friends you’ll feel better. That’s not how this works! That’s not how any of this works.

I’ve only begun speaking about my depression openly in recent years because mental health is still very much taboo and misunderstood in the Black communities. I was diagnosed with Major Depression and Generalized Anxiety as well as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in November 2006 when I first came home from Iraq. A special shout out to Professor Christian Hunold at Drexel University who cared enough to me pull me aside one day after class and tell me, “I don’t know what it is you did or saw over there, but there is so much sadness behind your eyes. I really think you could benefit from talking to someone—a professional— about it.” I cry every time I think about that day because no one had ever cared enough to even notice. And he was absolutely right. And those feelings of sadness—the sadness in my eyes was there long before Iraq. As a matter of fact, my childhood best friend, Christine pinpointed the exact day she noticed a change in me.

Oh that’s easy. The day your mom left you changed into a completely different person. You were always this happy-go-lucky kid. Then you came to school and was like, ‘My mommy’s gone to join the Army. My mommy left.’ And that was it.

I remember that day. I was in the second grade at St. Ignatius of Loyola in West Philadelphia.

Here I am, nearly 20 years after my diagnosis, and 31 years of living with major depression. The operative word here is living. On the outside looking in, most people wouldn’t notice even the clearest symptoms of major depressive disorder, which, according to WebMD include:

  • Fatigue or loss of energy almost every day

  • Impaired concentration, indecisiveness

  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt almost every day

And Healthline includes these that symptoms that only recently began being associated with depression:

  • Rage

  • Aggressive behavior

  • Unexplained body aches and pains (that is, they aren’t because of an accident or exercise)

Challenges of Being a Professional Living with Major Depression

Depression can really put a damper on a professional’s lifestyle, especially their working relationships and even completing simple tasks.

  1. Getting to work.

    Sometimes the motivation just isn’t there. Whether you are a freelancer or working in an office, getting out of bed, being is often a struggle. It’s not being lazy or a lack of motivation. Constant sadness is emotionally draining, especially when you are pretending everything is okay. What’s more, when your depression is absolutely debilitating, how do you call out sick? You worry that you’re letting your employer down, but you’re also afraid to tell your employer about your depression.

    Even though what you’re experiencing is debilitating, you still don’t believe it’s as important as other sicknesses and you feel ashamed for needing to call in. And if you work a low-wage job, your employers are less likely to understand. Let’s not forget that access to mental healthcare for low wage workers and their families is damn near non-existent.

  2. Getting actual work done.

    With depression, the ability to focus can be incredibly difficult. Depression affects many parts of the brain and can impair the ability to concentrate or make even the smallest decisions.

  3. Networking

    Networking with work colleagues and people in your industry is scary enough as it is without depression. But adding a depressive episode to the fire can really put a damper on networking with people who can be instrumental in aiding you in your career. It’s absolutely infuriating when you know you need to attend an event or attend more networking events in general, interact with work colleagues, but you just can’t find the energy or motivation to be around others because you’re sad.

    In some instances, I have been able to force myself to be around people and attend events, but I found that I often felt as if I were alone, even though I was surrounded by people. That loneliness was unbearable and I would end up just disappearing and leaving to go home. And the guilt of feeling as if there were something wrong with me BECAUSE I couldn’t force myself to stay for longer than five minutes, I’d just crawl into bed, pull the covers over my head and cry. Thank goodness for organizations like GirlBoss Community that help bring women professionals together online.

  4. Dealing with mood swings.

    When you’re living with depression, just about everything can annoy you, no matter how small. Other people’s idiosyncrasies can drive you nuts without depression. With depression, it can be downright unbearable.

  5. Trying new medications.

    Medication can be tricky. Meds for depression and anxiety can take 4-6 weeks to begin to work. Not only that, but sometimes, the side effects may end up causing more harm than good. It really depends on what you can handle.

    For me, losing my hair, being severely fatigued, feeling lethargic and numb, and going through withdrawal symptoms if I missed my dosage by just a few hours—those side effects were no longer worth it for me. So, I’m actively talking to my doctor about trying new medications. But it takes time. First, we used fluoxetine to ween me off of venlafaxine. The fluoxetine is not strong enough for me. And I’ve since developed muscle ticks from the venlafaxine. So, I’m going to try to manage my major depressive disorder without medication for a time. I feel physically better without it, but my emotions are all over the place. I have more energy, but in bursts. I’m still fatigued quite often, but not as much as when I was on venlafaxine. I’ve been working out again, I’m not overeating anymore. Unfortunately, I’m easily frustrated and annoyed, my patience is nonexistent and I cry at the slightest things.

Managing depression without medication

These challenges go beyond simply not wanting to be around people. Personally, I don’t want anyone to see me that way. I’m already an introvert, but also, my past experiences of trying to cope with depression while being around others has made me feel worse about myself. I imagine I’m not alone in this. I manage my moods a few ways, though, nothing is full proof. These don’t work all of the time, but they help immensely.

Lifting weights. Helps release endorphins.

Taking Vitamins B and D. B-complex vitamins help with brain function, increase energy, and metabolism. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to depression. So taking vitamin D helps with improving my mood.

Getting sunlight. Sunlight increases the production of vitamin D, so I try be out in the sun at least 20 minutes a day.

Play video games. I’ve been playing video games since Jungle Hunt on Atari. Yes, I’m that old. Video games are relaxing and they help me to focus on missions. They also allow me to interact with people at my own pace. Gaming has always been a passion of mine, which is why I started Ge’NeL Magazine. Sometimes my depressive episodes are so strong to the point I lose interest in gaming. It’s how I know I need to increase my fight. Although, I don’t always have the energy to fight in me.

Cuddle with my pups. Our pets know when we’re not feeling well. One thing I love about my pups is that I don’t feel judged when I’m curled up in bed crying for no reason. I don’t have to hide that from them the way I feel the need to hide it from my family and the rest of the world. My pups cuddle up next to me and give me stinky kisses. And when they need to go potty, they let me know. My love for them forces me to get out of bed to take care of them.

It’s really not easy being a working professional living with depression. No matter how many times we hear our loved ones tell us “You’re not alone” it doesn’t stop us from feeling that way. That’s not how depression works. If there were an off switch, we’d have been shut this shit off. But there isn’t an off switch. All we can do is our best to cope and hope that people understand.