Hey Bob, Sally here.
First, thanks for the information you’ve posted on your website.
I’m 26. I went to college, received my bachelors and masters degree all in preparation for my dream job. I just got hired to my “dream job” and I’ve never felt so low! I HATE it with a passion. I have great anxiety and a vague fear about the future. My thoughts are consumed with the dread of having to go to work, even on my days off. I have an inability to concentrate, focus, or make decisions.
I understand that all jobs have stresses, especially this career. Normally, I’d be able to persevere (being in a normal state of mind). But I feel as if I have no control over my thoughts and emotions and this scares me. I feel on edge and am scared what I may do under the constant stresses of work. I genuinely think that I am mentally ill. The obvious decision to me is to quit. But I feel trapped in this job because of the state of the economy here in the US, as well as disappointing my family by being a quitter, and the difficulty in getting hired at a new employer if they find that I quit this job.
This catch 22 has brought upon recurring thoughts of suicide. THIS is the most scary thing to me as I am 100% against the idea. I can not fathom that my mind even considered such a thing. It seems that the longer I stay at this job, the more out of control my thoughts become. I often wish that I could take some time off of work so that I can see a doctor or go to some kind of treatment center, but I fear that I could get fired for even admitting to such a problem.
I try to imagine what it would be like if I did throw in the towel and quit my job. Suddenly, I remember what “normal” feels like again. I regain my sense of identity and have a desire to do the activities which once brought me happiness when I had the time to do them. This is when I realize that my mental health is far more important than anything else.
I notice in your online chapter of First Aid for Depression that getting out of your job/marriage/stressful social situation is not a recommended choice. Why not?
Thanks for your time,
Seems to me that your reaction is perfectly understandable. The feelings you have, the thoughts that torture you, are not signs of any mental illness, but something that a great many people in similar situations experience. If anything is sick, it’s the culture that put you in your position. “You’ve got to be crazy to stay sane in a crazy culture.”
Let me answer your last question first. Distress is not caused by anything “out there.” It comes from our reactions to it. I can guarantee that you could construct a hypothetical situation in which you would have exactly the same job, in exactly the same circumstances, but thriving on it. I don’t even know what the job is, what your profession is, and why you find it so distressing. But relatively minor changes in some aspect of your life could turn your reaction around.
A nurse working in the emergency department of a hospital once came to me because of job stress. She said the only good thing about the job was that it paid much better than anything else she could get in her profession. The job’s been so stressful that she has retrained as a massage therapist, and is in the process of slowly building up a practice.
Well, she and her guy decided to buy a block of land near a beach, and in time build a holiday house on it. This is a substantial financial commitment. She said, “Guess I’m stuck for several years if I’m to pay for what I want. You know, that job is not all that bad, really.”
The job became a means to an end for a reward she has set her heart on. Therefore, she has a reason for putting up with aspects that previously felt unbearable. So, they now feel less heavy, although of course they are still stressful.
Perhaps it’s helped that she’s been learning stress management skills from me. You will find these tools in From Depression to Contentment: A self-therapy guide.
So, her experience gives you two possible tools to examine.
1. She has retrained. She is older than you, with three children, and was working at this job, but found the time, energy and commitment to do a part time course and acquire a new set of skills. Maybe you can do the same. Your current education is not wasted. Even if you completely retrain, it will still be useful in many ways, often quite unexpected. Or, you can use it to get a different job in the same field, or move sideways into something a little different, or do some additional study and move into a related field.
2. You can also think about your situation differently, as this lady has. You know, you could find another job, entirely different from this one, and may become just as distressed — if your perception is to focus in on the bad things about it.
Nietzsche wrote: “You can bear any what if you have a why.”
You’ve got to read two books. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, and The Rugmaker of of Mazar-E-Sharif by Najaf Mazari.
Both these books show not only survival, but the triumph of the human spirit, in circumstances that seem from the outside to be unsurvivable. Najaf grew up in the middle of the war in Afghanistan. He was tortured by the Taliban. He escaped, eventually nearly drowning when a leaky people-smuggling boat sank on the way between Indonesia and Australia. When he arrived, he was put into a concentration camp for years. Yet his book is gently amusing, never bitter, inspiring and uplifting.
When you have attitudes like those of Najaf or Viktor (whose story is better known), everything can be coped with.
That’s what I meant. The problem is not your nasty work situation, but how you perceive it.
OK, now let’s have a look at having no control over your thoughts. You know, nobody does. Thoughts, urges, emotions, images, memories, moods are not under conscious control. They come, and that’s that.
The trouble is when we take them seriously, as if they were real. They are not; just something that goes on inside your head. They are neither true or false, just are.
If these thoughts give you distress, and interfere with having you enjoy the good aspects of your situation, then refuse to dignify them by either believing them or arguing with them. Allow them to be there, as an unwanted but unstoppable background noise, and get on with what’s good in your life.
For example, right now, you might write down a list of all the good things about your job. You may be surprised at how many you will list once you start.
You have the power of setting a time limit, and by the time you reach it, improving the outer aspects of your life by changing your job. You also have the power of changing how you look at your life, and then you can have contentment, regardless of whether your job has awful elements or not.
Thank you Dr. Bob Rich. You’re Amazing! Your words have helped a lot. Thank you for taking the time to put things back into perspective for me.
PS My job is in law enforcement.
Yes, police work is inherently stressful, but also, potentially it is one of the most rewarding.
Think of yourself as needing to set a positive example to society. You are an authorized superhero without the gimmicks, there to lead people from crime and sleaze toward decency.
I think of myself as a worker for the Light.