Depression is a debilitating disease. There are days it paralyzes me, moments it takes my breath away, and weeks it causes me nothing but pain and sadness. Yet, I refuse to let my depression win. I seek to arm myself with every tool available to fight it – whether that’s how I exercise, eat, decorate my home, or even how I work.
I’ve learned a lot about myself and the way I like to work over the past few years. You see, when I first started my career as an Interior Designer, I worked in a very formal environment at an architecture firm. This was before casual Friday was hip and working from home was considered eco-friendly. In fact, in those days, working from home was seen as playing hooky or taking a day off. It was a big no-no.
I remember that office environment clearly because it was uncomfortable for me as an introvert. There was no privacy, no cubicles, no partitions – everything and everyone was out in the open. The offices that did exist had glass walls with no doors and the only place to have a private phone call was in the fire escape stairwell outside the office.
“There’s a darkness that’s coming over me. I don’t know what it is and I don’t know how to stop it.”
It was while working in this office environment that I first started struggling with Depression and Anxiety. I remember how difficult it was to get out of bed each day and go into that environment. I remember getting up to go have a panic attack in the bathroom. I remember crying in the fire escape stairwell. I remember feeling overwhelmed and anxious by the constant conversations happening all at once in that space.
My second job environment was like the first except on steroids. Ten of us were crammed into a room no larger than the size of a master bedroom. Phone calls were constantly happening, meetings with client were held in the middle of the space, and finishes for our 12 bajillion projects were strewn all across the floor. My work suffered. My well-being suffered. Even more than the first environment I did not want to be in this one. The clutter made me anxious. The noise made my head hurt. The constant overwhelm of people in that space made me run for the outdoors to get some fresh air.
“On the outside, I appear fine. On the inside, I feel like I’m drowning.”
I remember it was during that time that I was reaching a breaking point in my depression. Things were getting worse and worse and this work environment wasn’t doing me any favors. So against all wisdom and counsel from family and friends, I quit that job. I had no next job to go to. I just knew I couldn’t work there anymore.
As I started to work on my depression, get healthy again, and establish a new normal, I realized a few things about myself:
- I can’t work a 40-hour work week
- There are days I am not going to be able to get out of bed
- I get worn out being around people
- I prefer depth in projects and relationships rather than breadth
- I need to be outside everyday that I can be
- I need to be able to take days off
- I need to work in an environment that reflects the above
Whether I settled into it by choice or because it was the only option, I started working from home for myself. This was the type of work and the work environment that allowed me to have the lifestyle listed above.
Was it glamorous work? No.
Did it pay well? Certainly not.
Did it help me manage my depression? Yes.
Did it keep me alive and moving toward a more healthy lifestyle? Absolutely.
Here’s how working from home helped me manage my depression and obtain a more healthy lifestyle:
1. I started working out more
As I started working from home, I quickly realized that I didn’t have to be on a set 9-5 schedule. Since I work best in the morning, I started getting up early, getting my work done and then going for a walk outside or going to the gym in the early afternoon. I used to try to work out after a long day’s work and commute home. But the gym and park always seemed crowded and my body was always too tired. Being able to go at 2 or 3 in the afternoon or even earlier in the day around 11, meant I was more apt to go since I wasn’t as tired and there would be less people around. Fitting a regular workout into my routine boosted my self-esteem and scaled down my insecurities.
2. I started eating healthier
Being at home for breakfast and lunch meant I had the opportunity to make my own meals. Instead of trying to pack foods of convenience or picking up fast food during my lunch hours, I was intentional about my meals. I dove into learning how to eat healthily and what foods were best for me. I even researched foods that would help fight my depression. The time that I had to learn what foods to eat and how to prepare them is a benefit to me even still to this day.
3. I enjoyed being alone
Like I mentioned, I’m an introvert. I like being alone. It recharges me. So working from home alone allowed me to really dig into my design projects and get work done. I found myself to be more productive because I didn’t have constant distractions or people needing things from me. Being in a creative field, it also helped me to really step back when inspiration wasn’t striking. If I was struggling with a design, I could take the afternoon off. I could let my mind rest. And sure enough, that evening or the next day something would spark.
4. I started being more social
Because I was alone all day, I found that I needed to get out more in the evenings. Before when I was at an office all day around people, all I wanted to do was go home, curl up in my bed and stuff my face with a box of donuts. But when I started working from home, I had more energy to devote to my family and friend relationships because that energy wasn’t spent at work.
5. I started connecting deeper with friends
Needless to say, people were quite surprised that I was working for myself. It wasn’t the norm to leave a good job for pay that wasn’t a guarantee and that had no benefits. But as I started to tell people why, what I was going through with my depression and how I needed to work from home to be able to manage it, I started connecting in deeper ways with friends. My story encouraged them to share their story. And more meaningful relationships were formed.
6. I started saying “Yes” to more things
Working from home opened up a world of possibilities. I could now go to events, dates, meetings, run errands all during the day. I started saying yes to babysitting my nephews. I started saying yes to women’s meetings during the day. I started getting more things done during the day because I wasn’t stuck at an office 45 minutes from my house. I could grocery shop in the middle of the day. I could workout in the middle of the day. I could meet a girlfriend for coffee in the middle of the day. Essentially, for the first time in my life, I had work-life balance.
7. It gave me time to take care of myself
Outside of eating well and exercising, I still had a lot of doctor’s appointments as I learned to manage my depression. I was seeing counselors and doctors and spiritual leaders and friends and family all to keep my depression in check. So being able to turn off my work to go to a doctor’s appointment was a great relief. I didn’t have to worry about not having enough sick time. I didn’t have to explain to a boss what I was doing or where I was going. I was allowed to just be and take care of myself.
Since settling into working from home for myself, I have turned down at least four full-time job offers. Why? Because I see now that I work best for myself, alone, at home. I can take days off when I need to. I can take a nap on my lunch break. If I can’t get dressed in the morning, that’s ok. I can still go to work in my PJs and no one minds.
Fear has been my constant companion since I quit my last job and started working for myself. It tells me I should accept one of those full-time job offers. It tells me I am less than enough because I can’t work or function like others do. It tells me I am lazy and worthless. But I constantly remind myself that I have a debilitating disease. It is OK, healthy and wise to work in a manner that keeps that disease at bay.
So maybe you’re feeling stuck like I was. Maybe you know you can’t keep working like you are now. Maybe its the people, the commute, the environment – even just the type of work. Am I telling you to jump ship like I did? Absolutely not. I’m telling you to sit down and make a list of what YOU need. How do you best work? What type of work do you enjoy doing most? How many hours per week are you able to work? What changes do you need to make in your current lifestyle? What is irritating your depression or anxiety? What would help it?
When you can answer these questions, you can start making changes toward a more healthy lifestyle that suits YOU. That may be working from home 1 day a week or it may mean going outside to eat your lunch. It may mean going to counseling or going back to school. Remember that change, starting over, admitting you need help is NOT a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength.
There will be days depression paralyzes you, moments it takes your breath away, and weeks it causes you nothing but pain and sadness. Refuse to let the depression win. Start making small changes today that will lead to a healthier lifestyle tomorrow.