Depression is a strange illness. On one hand, there’s a group in Singapore that believes it is a debilitating sickness - enough to cripple you mentally so that you’re unable to hold a stable job. And then there’s the other group who believes that depression is simply a state of mind. You can shake it off and continue working a standard 9 to 5 like the rest of the adult world.
As someone with Dysthymia (A.K.A. Persistent Depressive Disorder), I’ve ironically been on both sides of the argument. Here are some tips I’ve learnt to help manage my work-life balance as well as my depression at work:
1. Know the Best Times of the Day
In order to survive the workday with the unusual and unexpected ups and downs of depression. You must first be aware of how your mood pans out throughout the day. This way, you’ll be able to understand when you are most productive - allowing you to plan your workday for efficiency.
Personally, for me, a heavy workload or a day filled with unplanned work are possible triggers. It sucks me into a hole and I find it hard to concentrate on my work throughout the day. Also by mapping out and tracking my emotions throughout the workday, I realised that my depression is at its worst, early in the mornings. To combat this, I allow myself to complete easier, bite-sized tasks early in the morning.
2. Have a Support System
What helped me stick to the jobs I’ve had throughout the years (whether it was a toxic and stressful environment or not), was a good support system. It is especially important to have someone I can rely on both at work and outside of work. Depression makes you feel isolated and alone. Which in turn makes you push people away in order to separate and cocoon yourself away from the “harsh” outside world. This was a troublesome experience especially when I worked at customer-facing jobs and refused to provide adequate service to my customers.
However, having colleagues who are able to recognize the symptoms of my escalating depression helped immensely. These colleagues helped me by motivating me in times of distress and even providing help - so that I can squeeze in a quick break to breathe before resuming work. Outside of work, I found it important to have friends and family members who understood the daily challenges I faced as an employee with depression. Venting about the different events of the day and receiving the different advice on how to make the next working day better, kept me motivated and interested in my current work.
Yes, yes. I rolled my eyes too when my parents, psychiatrist, GP and friends recommended exercise as one possible way to manage my depression and its symptoms. And it took me a solid two years of procrastination before I got off my couch and started working out. But once I did that, boy did everything become simpler! Regular exercise put my mind at ease because it made me feel good and it helped me take my mind off my current worries. Sure I’m exhausted but there is nothing like kicking and punching out my daily frustrations (and burning calories) all at the same time!
Additionally, the weight loss that accompanied my exercise schedule helped me gain the much-needed confidence to leave the house and get more social interaction. Attending fitness classes also exposed me to a range of different people - some of whom I’ve formed friendships with.
So yes, consistent exercise was one of the many weapons against depression I had in my arsenal. But going from wallowing in bed to sprinting around the park is a tough and challenging process. Here are some tips to help you get that much-needed exercise to help combat your depression:
Find out your interests: Are you interested in getting your heart pumping with cardio? Or maybe you’d prefer the zen and relaxing aspects of yoga instead. Try out a range of different exercises and you’ll be able to pinpoint what your interests are.
Prepare for possible obstacles: One important lesson I had to learn when trying to manage my depression with exercise is that skipping an exercise session one day does not mean that I’m a failure. It was important to remind myself that I can always make up for any of the classes I’ve missed out on by simply scheduling a quick exercise session that day after.
Bring a friend: As someone who is extremely self-conscious, joining exercise classes with a friend kept me on track. We got to beat some weight loss goals together and we had so much fun that I’ve managed to break out of my shy, introverted shell (at least during classes)!
4. Find Treatment
I cannot stress this enough, it is important to find treatment to help manage your depression. As a self-proclaimed creative, it took me a long time to find treatment. I kept postponing proper treatment because I was afraid that I’d lose my creative essence. Whatever that means.
But after having a third mental breakdown at work, I decided to seek some help. And boy was that a good decision. Medicine, therapy, and the help and support of a good doctor motivated me to seek continuous help and improvement. Having a proper medical diagnosis was also useful on days when I needed a short, therapeutic reset from my job.
5. Be Kind to Yourself
Due to the stigma, having depression is something that most of us wouldn’t want to readily share with our bosses. But if you feel comfortable sharing your condition with someone at work, you’ll soon realize that you’re not alone. From one person to another with depression, take every obstacle as a learning curve, and be kind to yourself. Take things one day at a time - even if you’re messing up at work.
Finding it hard to cope? Here are some helpful resources for you:
Samaritans of Singapore (suicide hotline): A hotline dedicated to providing confidential emotional support to anyone facing a crisis, or thinking about suicide. Call 1800-221-4444 (24-hour hotline).
EC2 Singapore: A chat platform for those who prefer writing their problems out to trained counsellors. Online counsellors are available for quick chats, Monday to Friday, from 2pm to 5.20pm.
AWARE Women’s Helpline: A hotline run by women for women. AWARE’s trained helpliners are able to assist with a variety of concerns, as well as offer support and encouragement. Callers are also able to schedule an appointment with a counsellor or a lawyer. Call 1800-777-5555.
AWARE Workplace Harassment and Discrimination Advisory: A free service that provides advice and support to those facing harassment and discrimination at the workplace. Call 6950-9191.