Depression from job loss and chronic illness

Slow Love.jpgFrom the "unsubstantiated evidence" files, I wanted to share with you a quick light that popped on in my head while reading a much-discussed article from last weekend's New York Times magazine.

In it, former House & Garden magazine editor Dominique Browning vividly shares her experiences following the folding of the magazine in 2007. This long-form essay is adapted from her upcoming book, Slow Love: How I Lost My Job, Put On My Pajamas, and Found Happiness.

Much can be discussed about her experiences but I was particularly struck by the account of her response to her newfound "freedom."

In this way, being unemployed is a lot like being depressed. You know how there are millions (O.K., a handful) of things you swear you would do if you only had the time? Now that I had all the time in the world -- except for the hours during which I was looking for work -- to read, write, watch birds, travel, play minor-key nocturnes, have lunch with friends, train a dog, get a dog, learn to cook, knit a sweater, iron the napkins and even the sheets, I had absolutely no energy for any of it. It made no difference that music and books and nature had long been the mainstays of my spirit. Just thinking about them exhausted me. I had absolutely zero experience in filling weeks -- what if it became years? -- with activity of my own choosing. Being unemployed meant being unoccupied, literally. I felt hollow.

This passage reads in many ways like my own less-polished account upon learning that my pneumonia diagnosis in late January would confine me to my home, away from work, for four weeks (which ended up being about seven weeks and continues on and off today):

When told I'd be confined to bed for a month, I thought that it would be great - that I'd get two papers and a grant renewal done and still have plenty of time for blog posts I've been wanting to get to, finish writing a couple of songs to take to the studio, get all the tax documents together, maybe learn a little CSS and webpage design and get around to a hosted personal website for the domain I've had for a year, etc.

After 10 days now, I've really done nothing more than read for short periods and sleep for long periods, with energy only for one blog post, a paragraph or two on a paper, and arranging for my classes to be taught. Twitter works, though, as 140 characters is about the limit. To be really sick - to the point of not being able to concentrate for more than 10 min - is a foreign concept. And I'm not actually *really* sick like other folks with chronic illnesses, cancer, etc.

To be unable to make your body do what you want it to is frustrating enough, especially when your little girl wants to go play in an infrequent snowfall of significance.

I'm slowly getting my energy back, some days better than others, and Dominique describe further a very similar pattern. Just a few thoughts today - and I'll definitely pre-order the book. Her writing is glorious.

You can learn more about Dominique Browning at her blog, Slow Love Life.

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I missed most of my youngest first year due to prolonged illness, barely able to do the minimum for her and my other two (one not yet diagnosed with autism). How the world kicks you in the teeth when you need a little TLC. Trying to do more just led to getting sicker and doing less. The guilt and depression keep you from using time well.

I now really appreciate being well, having time for my kids and things like gardening. I still do not have warm feeling for some relatives that made a bad situation worse by their lack of support. Wishing you a steady return to normal.

I was unemployed and on welfare for a time in the 90's and Browning's description is exactly how I felt. It was one of the darkest periods of my life.

Glad you're starting to feel better though.

Yes, I had thought similar sorts of things about my time in recovery from brain surgery. Especially when I thought I was getting my energy back. But it made me crazy to stay at home so much so that I went into work only 3 weeks out from brain surgery. Bad idea. That took me out for weeks. I've learned that if your body needs to sleep - let it. The other thing I had to do was give myself permission to rest - both the mind and the body.

One difference with Browning, at least from the NYT excerpt, is that she did not appear to be in dire financial straits. She has a suburban NY home that she sold and moved to another getaway she had in Rhode Island - while she notes that she scrimped and saved for the RI cottage, few of us might have such a backstop if we lost our job. For example, @PiT notes that she was on welfare, an even more emotionally-rife issue than just losing one's job.

@Ruth, I wish you only good things - there will always be people who don't understand.

@Girlpostdoc, the going back early was not an option for me because my pulmonologist and advanced-practice nurse were very adamant about my recovery and that was further enhanced by a wife who is a physician. Where I am getting pushback is that I am now looking reasonably well - minus 13 lbs and with no stamina to walk more than 10 min at a time - and some people not understanding that I sometimes just can't make it through the rest of the day and have to go home and rest. Again, I am finding that going through a long illness has given me more understanding and compassion for others like me. The grief I am getting from other people now is likely because they have not experienced chronic or major illness themselves.

bding unemployed--not t speak of the depression that goes along with--is a full time job in and of itself: forms to fill out, dingy offices to sit in hour after hour, lines, and if you show up 1 minute late, too bad -- come back tomorrow, or next week, or next month or never.

By Lisbeth Jardine (not verified) on 30 Mar 2010 #permalink

Great post! Thanks again for visiting Professor Angrist's class last week.

Thanks, Rachel - the pleasure was mine. Please be sure to drop me a line when you start up your own blog again!