At 27 years-old, I found myself among the 21 percent of working Canadians living with a mental health problem or illness. And workplace stress was definitely the cause.
Almost immediately after losing a job I loved, I was scooped up by a medium-sized advertising agency. I took it because it paid well and rent was due in Toronto. Pretty soon though, I realized that I was living my nightmare career. I was rotting in an office, felt like I was creating nothing of value, and existed only to make more money for those who already had more than they needed.
Every time I saw a former classmate or colleague on Instagram living what seemed like their dream career, it crushed me. I felt as envious as I did embarrassed.
After about three months, I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning due to a feeling of crippling anxiety. My anxiety was also keeping me awake—so I was drinking every night to get to sleep.
The breaking point came one night when I polished off an entire 26 oz bottle of whiskey before finally passing out on the couch around 4 AM. My girlfriend found me the next morning, empty bottle on the coffee table. That was a Tuesday, and my college days were long gone.
Clearly, I needed to be proactive and change jobs.
The problem is, depression and anxiety send you into a vicious cycle where it’s really fucking hard to be proactive. You feel you need to change your situation to cure your depression, but your depression is stemming from a core belief that changing your situation is hopeless. So you feel stuck.
Out of desperation, I decided that trying just about anything to break the cycle was fair game. However, I didn’t want to just read a bunch of self-help books.
I also ruled out traditional counseling, partly because it’s so expensive. I had tried counseling a few years prior, when I was in them middle of a particularly bad period of anxiety and depression after finishing film school.
While somewhat of a relief to have someone to talk to, I found it to be cost prohibitive and slow in progress. I felt that I didn’t need another “be kind to myself” lecture for $150 an hour (I’m not saying this won’t work for you, I’m saying I felt it wasn’t right for me).
Most importantly in my decision to not pursue counselling, I knew what my problem and end goal was. My job was making me miserable and I needed to make a change, which meant I needed actionable things I could do that would give me the energy to hold down a job which paid the rent while searching for one that wasn’t bleeding my soul dry.
So I did what any sensible millennial would do and sourced a variety of remedies through stuff I saw on YouTube. Obviously, this is not hard science and you should talk to your doctor about what works for you, but here’s what I feel worked for me.
1. I cut sugar out of my diet.
Snacks are an easy way to cope with stress at work. Especially when your workplace offers you endless piles of free junk food. While sugar does give your brain a hit of dopamine, you withdraw from it like a drug. This TED-ed video lays it all out.
I started taking my coffee black, I switched from soft drinks to carbonated water, and I stopped indulging in the endless supply of energy drinks, chocolate bars and granola bars (which are also chocolate bars) at my work.
The first two days are bullshit. After that, your cravings stop and you’re amazed at how much more energy you have and calmer you feel.
This felt like a game-changer. I highly recommend it.
2. I started intermittent fasting and hit the gym.
You can’t be on YouTube for too long without eventually seeing Joe Rogan talk about something (usually involving a buddy of his). I stumbled on this clip of an interview with Henry Rollins talking about intermittent fasting and decided to give it a go.
Just like cutting out sugar, the first two or three days without breakfast sandwiches are a goat fuck of misery. After those initial few days, however, I began to feel pretty good and much more motivated to exercise, which made me feel even better.
But you shouldn’t start doing anything just because Joe Rogan does it. Probably ask a doctor if it’s something that would be OK for you to try.
I also went back to the gym three or four times a week—a mix of weights, running and core exercise, which are all supposed to be amazing for your mood and memory, according to another TED video I found on YouTube.
3. I started taking magnesium, daily.
You’ll find a lot of videos theorizing nutrient deficiencies being a key factor in causing anxiety and depression on YouTube. Many of them feel like propaganda and your skepticism metre should rightfully ping off the charts.
Nonetheless, I did try testing various supplements, to see how they would affect my mood. It turned out magnesium was the winner, making me feel much calmer in my day-to-day.
You might try a few common nutritional supplements including zinc, iron, magnesium and vitamin D to see if daily use improves your mood. But getting blood work done is one of the best ways to learn if you’re deficient in anything (and test for an STI as a bonus).
4. I started microdosing CBD and THC
I remembered CBD’s calming effects from when my family procured CBD oil from the Canadian government (this was pre-weed legalization) to help treat my younger sister, who is nonverbal autistic and suffers from tantrum-like panic attacks.
In addition to the calming effects, I also wanted a little THC to give myself a mood boost. So I started microdosing both.
I found that CBD made getting through the days easier and THC boosted my productivity in the evenings. If you look into taking CBD, make sure you understand the side effects so you can deal with those, and be aware that it doesn’t mix well with other drugs, especially certain psych meds.
Eventually, it all came together.
Having more energy and keeping my anxiety at bay meant I could be productive outside of work once again. Some nights I would brush up my resume, website or LinkedIn profile. Other nights I would try to connect with people I thought I might like to meet and learn something new from.
After a few coffee meetings and letting trusted peers know I was searching for something new, offers for interviews and eventually, jobs, came in and I made a job change for the better.
Depression, by its very nature, makes you feel like you’re trapped with no way out. And when the thing that’s causing you to be miserable is also paying your bills, it can really feel like you don’t have the time, space or ability to change things.
But what I learned is that doing something is always better than doing nothing. Not every day is a victory, but the more you do, the more you’ll feel you have the ability to change things.
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