Every now and then I like to write about depression, and how I’m living with it. I have five minutes or so now, so I thought I would.
I’ve got five minutes or so now because I don’t have a full-time job anymore. I walked away last week. Just like that other job I left back in 2012, or the other one back in 2011 (though that wasn’t really my choice), or that one in 2007, or 2004, or 2003, or… well, you get the idea.
I have these two competing feelings inside me. One goes like this: you need to work to be happy. You might disagree and you might think that working doesn’t make you happy – you might be sitting there reading this thinking work and happiness can’t ever really go together – but I know that working keeps me busy, gives me a purpose, gives me a routine, gives me money and motivation, gives me a reason. I remember being unemployed. It wasn’t the boredom so much of the lack of direction, the lack of purpose, that slowly clasped its fingers around me. But there: that’s thought one. You need to work to be happy. I do. I need to be doing something – not anything, but something I really believe in – in order to keep myself floating above everything.
Then I have this other feeling, which goes like this: but work also makes me sad. Not the work itself, because you do work you choose to do, if you’re lucky enough – and I know I am lucky enough – that reflects something about you. It’s not the job itself. It’s never about the job itself: it’s always about the periphery around it, those other things that you have to do, all those other plates you have to keep spinning.
You start a job, and it’s wonderful, then, weeks or months later, comes the creeping disappointment. Not in the work itself – it’s never been about the work itself – but about all those other issues. The being forced to do things a certain way. The lack of agency. The importance of compliance. Endless compliance. It must be like this, never like that, because this is the only way, because I said so, and no, your opinion is of no importance, just shut up and get on with it. You must do that, even though you don’t want to. You must do this, not for anyone’s benefit, nor for any greater good, but because I say you should.
Don’t do what you don’t want to do. That’s the mantra I have nowadays, at the moment. It’s the only thing that makes sense sometimes. I know other people have made endless careers from doing what they don’t want to do. Or doing things that aren’t perfect. We don’t get a Goldilocks career – no one does. There are compromises that turn up along the way. And I know that’s important: it’s a huge part of life to compromise, to get through, to choose the least worst option, sometimes.
But sometimes, that least worst option is to make sure that you don’t end up doing something that’s making you unhappy. If it’s making you unhappy, what good is it doing? It just chips away at you, eats you away. It breaks you down from the inside, until all that’s left is an empty grey husk in some clothes sitting in front of a screen. That person who started working there, who had your face and your smile, has gone: all that’s left is stress, and pressure, and pain.
Don’t do what you don’t want to do. More important when you’ve got responsibility than when you haven’t. You need to be happy, to have some semblance of control and enjoyment in life, if you’re going to have a chance of looking after other people. So when I saw, flickering, on a screen, last week, a tiny human life that somehow I had been a tiny part of making, I thought to myself: you need to do everything. Everything. Make yourselves happy first. Then you can help this other little person.
Life is too short to waste on jobs that don’t make you happy. Pressure and stress might be acceptable or somehow tolerable when it’s just you – although I never found them so – but when you need to be the best person you can be, you can’t spend most of your day doing something that makes you sad.
I’m still working. I’m still going to work, and doing something that I’m good at. It’s just that it doesn’t feel, at the end of every day, like there’s a giant looming darkness in the near distance; it doesn’t feel like I’m unable to breathe. Sometimes you have to step back to jump forwards. Sometimes you just have to step back. I can’t explain the release any better than that. You can’t, and shouldn’t, always do what you want to do. But don’t do what you don’t.