• James

Making a New Start

"We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us." - American professor of literature Joseph Campbell

With my last job, my depression had taken over – I could no longer perform my duties and so I had to leave.

It wasn’t a huge shock. The writing was on the wall for a long time. Even when my depression wasn’t affecting my job, I was already looking for other, more fulfilling positions. But knowing that I was going to have to deal with my depression as I moved on, what would be next?

Since I had already taken up photography as a serious hobby the last few years, it made sense to try to turn that into a job. But I had a lot more to learn before I could become proficient as a professional photographer. It also meant investing at least some money in new equipment and marketing. I had the opportunity to work with a real portrait and commercial photographer. I even spent one day assisting him on a shoot to see what was involved. I wasn’t sure I could do it since it is such a competitive field.

Then I considered teaching, since I’ve always been attracted to that in one form or another. I had volunteered as a mentor to LGBT youth, and in many jobs, I would often unofficially train and/or mentor newer employees. But I knew becoming a school teacher meant going back to school which would take time and money I did not really have. One solution was to teach ESL to new Canadians and so I started an online course to get the certification required. I was ok with the courses at first, but I eventually found it really challenging to keep up. I knew going into it that I was never a great student. Add to that the lack of motivation I felt on many days and it wasn’t before long that I was unable to complete assignments and had to withdraw.

By now, I had truly no direction and no job prospects.

I am extremely lucky that I have my partner to lean on, otherwise, I would have been in much more dire straits. Still, I was beginning to panic and lose hope at the same time.

We couldn’t survive on his income alone so I had to find at least a part-time job so I could help pay for our expenses. If I wanted to work outside my field in a job that had flexible part-time hours, the most obvious answer to me was to look in the retail/service industry.

The problem was, I had no experience at all in that area. Could I even stand on my feet for an eight-hour shift as a server or salesperson? I’ve always had a desk job and I wasn’t exactly fit these days.

Before going down this unknown path, I decided to get the advice of a friend who is a senior manager for a large retail chain. He told me that the one thing I thought would be a hindrance – my age – could actually be an asset. If I could get my resume in front of the right hiring manager who could see the benefits of not only my extensive work experience, but also my life experience, I just might get a chance over a Gen Z who would stay for the discounts and leave as soon as they found something better.

If I had to choose, I’d pick a clothing store, since I had always been interested in clothing. So the next day, I worked on my resume to emphasis my communication and inter-personal skills, and sent in an application to a men’s clothing retailer.

Within days, I got an interview and was offered a job. Was this the life that has been waiting for me? With almost every job I held after graduation, I struggled to find meaning in it. I desperately wanted the "perfect" job where I could apply my skills and help people and make change for the better. And yet, this job - which was so unrelated to my field of study and what I perceived to be my life's mission - presented itself almost as if the universe had aligned.

I was thrilled and extremely nervous at the same time. This was a full-time job – they didn’t hire part-time salespeople. Could I manage it? Would I inevitably succumb to my symptoms and eventually lose this job like the others before it? The only way to find out was to take the plunge.

It’s been just over three months since I started this job. I have officially passed my probation period and at my review, my manager said I was doing very well and whatever weaknesses I had, he and the other managers were confident I could overcome them with time.

In the first week of my new job, I was asked to "model" some of our new clothes for an online presentation to some of our top customers.

During the first few weeks, I was careful not to jinx myself by saying out loud, “I love this job!” I was waiting for the other shoe to drop in some way… that I would not be able to meet sales targets or that my pattern of feeling fatigued and indifferent would get me fired again.

But it hasn’t happened so far. And I truly do enjoy this work. It’s not exactly transforming communities and influencing public policy, but I do have an effect on people’s lives. The best part is, I get immediate feedback… I don’t have to wait six months to find out that some project made an impact on someone I would never meet.

It’s also not just sales. It’s about figuring out someone’s needs to want to look a certain way, or to present themselves in a particular fashion for a specific occasion or environment. And honestly, some guys have no clue when it comes to their wardrobe.

But I am making a lot less money. Did I waste my time getting a degree when all should I have done when I was younger was to get a job at The Gap? Are people wondering why the hell I left a cushy government job with a great pension only to sell clothes? These questions nagged at me at the beginning, but they don’t anymore.

In many ways, this is becoming my dream job. I don’t dread going to work because of some boring project I have to work on through never-ending meetings with 20 other people. I don’t have to spend time and energy navigating office politics. I don’t take my work home with me at all – except for the stories I tell my partner. In retail, you meet all kinds of people with all kinds of quirks. I’ve encountered some really fantastic and personable customers, as well as some truly horribly rude ones. Both make for great stories to tell.

My partner Ken says he’s never seen me as happy and excited as I am these days. My depression and inability to work were putting a real strain on our relationship.

Is my depression behind me? I don’t know. Even in the last three months, I called in sick a few times because I was extremely tired or felt depressed. I did talk to my psychiatrist and even though we agreed that I was starting to turn a corner, we decided to continue with my anti-depressants for a while longer – three months of improvement don’t quite offset years of depression and anxiety.

So if I’m feeling so much better, am I still able to speak with authority on living with depression? Do I keep writing this blog? In my last post, I did feel better, but I did not anticipate feeling A LOT better this quickly.

And what does it say about the nature of my depression when it seems all I needed was a job I truly liked? Do I truly define myself through a job title and vocation? And how long would I continue liking my job and keep feeling positive?

I don’t have the answers. But I do know that one of the myths of depression I’m trying to dispel is that people who suffer from depression always need to be sad all the time and can’t function at all. Before I started this job, I didn’t feel capable of living a real life. I really thought I would spend most of my time at home and do the odd photography assignment to make a few bucks. After the last three months, I can say that I’ve had a much more positive outlook on life than I’ve had in a long time.


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