The thing you need to know about dealing with anxiety and depression while balancing work is that it’s like having another full-time job that you hate. Is it impossible? No. Is dealing with them worth it? Yes. That’s the good news.
But managing depression and anxiety while working is no easy task, and they often leave me so exhausted that by the time weekend finally comes around I take solace in my apartment and Netflix for two days straight avoiding humanity (and the MTA).
The greatest challenge I face every workday is getting out of bed. Almost every morning, my mind goes to battle fighting the urge and need to stay in bed: my bed is where I feel most safe. The depression and anxiety that often crush me make convincing arguments that leaving my bed is dangerous — and sometimes those arguments win. Sometimes they don’t.
When they win — when I am able to stay home — I get immediate relief. I tell myself, “I’ll try again tomorrow”. Tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll do better. Tomorrow I’ll be able to get out of bed. Tomorrow I won’t be a failure. Tomorrow I won’t let my colleagues down.
The relief is short lived. Nearly anything can start letting guilt seep in: an email, a phone call, a calendar reminder, the time of day. The guilt about staying home is overwhelming and I begin to feel anxious about having to face work and my co-workers. My shame game is strong.
If I win the battle of getting out of bed, there’s usually another one waiting for me. Depending on the day, it starts with the simplest next step, like getting dressed, or it happens later, when I get to work. Have you ever opened your calendar, looked at what you had to do for the day, and just panicked? Have you ever had a part of you that said: “No, I can’t possibly do all of that” — even when there’s not that much to do or the tasks aren’t hard? It’s a really fun and exciting ego boost.
I scroll through social media to distract myself from the anxiety. I start reading the news and opening tab after tab after tab of articles I want to read. I use the number of tabs I have open or apps open on my phone as a barometer for my mental state: the more I have open the higher the chance things aren’t great.
While my depression and anxiety mostly impact my ability to complete (or just get started on) work tasks, they also interfere with normal work-related activities like meetings. Meetings by phone produce unexplainable anxiety — I prefer in-person meetings because it’s easier for me to work through the all-consuming uneasiness when I can look someone in the eyes. I feel more in control.
Yet even when meeting in-person, I find it hard to participate. If I’m asked a direct question or for my opinion, I’m comfortable and confident responding —it’s jumping in on my own that is difficult. By nature, I’m more of an observer; I need to process before speaking — and on top of that I find it hard to speak up because my anxiety and depression try to convince me that whatever I have to say isn’t worth sharing and is a waste of everyone’s time.
The exhaustion of depression and anxiety is real. It’s a chronic, persistent effort to live life, to move through each day. In many ways, I’m lucky: I have supportive family, friends, coworkers, and supervisors. I have health insurance and access to therapy, medication, and an employee assistance program. I have more good days than bad. It’s still a struggle.
Jennifer Koza is a social worker who believes support and empowerment are key to life — and has the data to back it up. By day, she is a research and evaluation analyst, committed to preventing violence against women and studying the value of work and workplaces. By night, she is a painter — or at least she tries to be when she's not catching up on TV/movies (or re-watching The West Wing, Gilmore Girls or The Office).