19 May 2016

Solitary confinement

When my last temporary assignment finished a week before Christmas, I resolved to give myself a month off before looking for permanent work. Fortunately, I received a job offer two months later and took up a new role three weeks after that.

Altogether, then, I was at home for just under four months - and the experience nearly sent me over the edge mentally.

The downslide began soon after I signed on. In the past, I've been short-listed for almost every job I've applied for and haven't been rejected for any that I really wanted, ie post interview. Now the only response to most of my applications was resounding silence.

Understandably, my stress levels rose, in spite of the fact that I had sufficient funds to tide me over for several months. My main concern was that my age might have catapulted me onto the employment shelf. And so long as I was out of work, I felt in limbo and unable to move on with the next phase of my life, which was immensely frustrating.

As the weeks passed, all sorts of old anxieties resurfaced - and were joined by new ones on a daily basis. I ricocheted from one obsessive thought to another with no let-up. People talk about losing their minds and that was exactly how it felt. It seemed as if mine had become a separate entity, with my thoughts running amok like a bunch of crazed Gremlins.

This period coincided with a sudden growth in my boyfriend's pet-sitting and dog-walking business, which meant he was working seven days a week. We live in different parts of London, so our time together dwindled almost to vanishing point.

Not only had I lost my work routine, but also my weekend one, and, as a result, all the associated people contact. I didn't see much of my friends, either, as I felt unable to relax and socialise when I didn't have a job. Often days went by when my only face-to-face human contact was with supermarket cashiers - and with Aldi's high-speed service, even that was fleeting.

I became aware that being home alone so much was contributing to my mental decline; I simply had too much time to think. Although I've always been happy in my own company, and never short of projects to occupy me (even when not job-hunting), I began to feel very isolated.

I'm now in the sixth week of my new part-time position, which means I'm out of the house for at least three days a week, which has definitely improved my mental state. In addition, learning new processes has occupied my brain to the extent that there's no room for my usual anxieties - at least, not while I'm at work.

Isolation is often a feature of mental health conditions and my recent experience has shown me how that isolation can actually make such conditions worse.

Image courtesy of sakhorn38/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Of course, it takes great effort and courage to break out of that situation, especially if you suffer from, say, depression or social anxiety. 

However, whether that break-out means securing a job, taking up a volunteering role, or just arranging to see a friend for coffee, the pay-off is definitely worth it.


Anonymous said...

This is interesting to me, as it reminds me of how my mother would FORCEFULLY commit me to certain social activities in my very small town, and yet I enjoyed taking part once I DID take part. I was born in the USA in 1951 (female)

Helen Barbour said...

Anonymous, thanks for your comment - it is interesting to hear of your experience from across the pond!