Depression and Bad Jobs

Depression and bad jobs don’t mix.

I’m a writer struggling to find a better writing job in the community, but my day job as a cashier in retail gets in the way of positive thinking. In fact, I have found that retail work only gets in the way of progress for those seeking better opportunities.

I never liked retail because it is one of the more soul crushing jobs for me. I don’t like being face-to-face with customers for five-to-eight hours and resolving their petty materialistic issues.

But the sad thing is, when you need a job to fill in the income gaps, retail is one of the easiest to come by on such short notice. I can work part time while writing as a freelancer. The only problem is, retail saps me of my energy, so when I get home, I only want to read or play video games.

This is where retail interferes with healing from depression, because no one cares about my feelings at my job. Imagine a job where you have to ask permission to get a drink of water, go to the bathroom and wait for scheduled breaks. That’s my job. When my blood sugar drops, it doesn’t matter, because I have to wait for my scheduled break to eat. When I feel a sudden attack of anxiety in the middle of a transaction, I have to wait until I can go back to the break room for my medication.

Also, most days for me aren’t more than six hours, which means I only get a 15 minute break to scarf down food and get back to work. It’s not enough time for me to write or read a book. That’s how the retail system is designed. They make it intentionally difficult to plan your own life around the job.

After seeing so many older people in retail talk about how they just fall asleep when they get home, I realized that I don’t want that to be me. I want to actively find better opportunities and take risks rather than staying cooped up for another day.

I’ve heard an older man say that this year was his sixth Christmas working at Kohl’s. An older employee I spoke with said she wanted to write for newspapers when she got out of high school. I wonder what happened. But that won’t be me.

It is hard to work a bad job when you’re depressed. Positive thinking doesn’t come easy to me, but I took it in these steps. Here is a break down of the way I am training myself to act and think while working a bad job.

1. Don’t feel bad about not writing a novel when I come home. Write a small blog post or a little bit in a short story. Read the news and brainstorm articles for a bit. This keeps me active in my craft.

2. Retail is not permanent for me. I worked hard for four years to learn my craft, and I’ll be damned if I can’t make a decent living from it.

4. Actively seek new writing opportunities on my days off. Wander the neighborhood for ideas to prevent stagnation of my mind and body.

5. This job is temporary, and it is helping to pay our rent and bills.

At 23 years old, I’m told there is still time to make things work out. But time seems to go by so fast, and in order to make my dreams work out, I must actively seek the solutions when the opportunities arise.


Mental health workshop in West Philadelphia

Community organizer Leon Robinson Jr. is concerned about the stigma attached to mental illness. So, he organized a mental health awareness workshop at the Community College West Regional on Wednesday, Oct 29 at 6:30 p.m.

“I felt there was a need for folks to start addressing mental health,” Robinson said. “Mental health is a difficult thing to talk about.”

The idea came to Robinson when a woman approached him when she was at a loss for what to do about her four-year-old daughter’s behavior. As a result, Robinson decided that information on mental and behavioral issues should be more accessible to residents.

“I have to find more ways to get this information out there,” Robinson said. “How can we get this out there today?”

Members from The Consortium discussed where neighbors can turn to in times of mental health crisis.

For those not familiar with The Consortium, it is a nonprofit Community Mental Health Center founded in 1967 with a focus directed towards delivering services to neighbors in West and Southwest Philadelphia, and also throughout the city. Regardless of income, behavioral healthcare needs are addressed. Adults, children and senior citizens can access its behavioral health care programs and services.

Members from The Consortium spoke at the mental health awareness workshop.

Members from The Consortium spoke at the mental health awareness workshop.

Raymond Harrod, director of the Psychosocial Program, works with with the Community Integrated Recovery Center (CIRC). His job is to accept individuals who have had mental illness for a period of time. The program focuses on teaching patients to heal through a program of their choosing.

Members of the program choose their own goals, Harrod said. For example, one patient’s goal may be to “get the voices to stop” or to earn a BA degree.

At that point in the workshop, Harrod organized a small role play with two participants from the audience. Two volunteers played the parts of a patient with schizophrenia and the voices plaguing said patient.

One volunteer played the schizophrenic patient, while the second volunteer and Harrod played two different voices whispering in the patient’s ears simultaneously. The goal of the role play was to simulate what schizophrenic patients experience regularly.

Supported Employment Coordinator Doug Tillman is in charge of a department at The Consortium that helps mental health patients find employment.

“It doesn’t matter whether you have schizophrenia or mild depression,” Tillman said.

He explains that many people go through a period in which they are unemployed and feel like they cannot provide for their families.

“People who have anxiety and depression are more confounded by the feelings that come with not being able to work.” he said.

At Tillman’s program, there are always staff members willing and available to help people to use the computers and to find work. In fact, a lot of people on staff have experience with mental health issues, either personally diagnosed or as caretakers.

Consortium psychologist Dr. Carter explained that 26 percent of the United States population has mental illness. The problem is that there is a stigma attached to it, so people are afraid to get the help they need.

For psychiatric emergencies, The Consortium also offers a Mobile Crisis Unit for individuals 18 and older and for businesses located in the West Philadelphia area. A person who is in a severe mental health crisis such as suicide may be persuaded to get more intensive treatment at a hospital.

Some of its services include on-site evaluations, arranging voluntary and involuntary hospitalization, and crisis intervention. People can get referrals from Mercy Crisis Response Center, and through Philadelphia Behavioral Health System.

Michelle Tatom with the Functional Family Therapy said the Mobile Crisis Unit will go anywhere it is called to, including but not limited to shelters, homes, churches and schools.

Mental health issues are not the only problems that are difficult to talk about, as Gwendolyn White, director of Medication Assisted Treatment Program, pointed out. The Consortium also helps people with addiction..

White works in the methadone rehab at 451 University Ave. She said uses only methadone, and patients must be 18 years or older with a history of opiate use in order to be considered for the program. Also, people must have tried other treatment options prior to methadone before being considered for treatment.

To find out about more of The Consortium’s services, check out their website at To contact the Mobile Crisis Unit, email

Dental phobia: My story

Today,  I went in search of online anxiety support groups. Skimming Psych Central, I noticed one that hit home for me: Dental Phobia Support.

I always knew I had dental phobia, but it never occurred to me to find a support group for that, because for adults, fear of the dentist and doctor is heavily stigmatized. We expect children to be scared or nervous experiencing the dentist for the first time, but society rarely expects adults to fear the dentist.

I registered for the forum and thought about how far back my fear started. I thought back to my first filling. My parents brought me to their dentist, Dr. Arbuckle, to get my cavity filled. I was 7-10-ish, and I was nervous because ahead of time, my mom and step dad educated me on the procedure.

They told me about the needle and the drill. They told me the needle was necessary so I wouldn’t feel the drill. But my anxiety built up from there throughout the entire appointment. I remember being called in from the waiting room; My grandma and mom came in with me. I sat in the chair. Dr. Arbuckle (a name I will always dread in the sphere of dentistry) snapped on his rubber gloves and prepared the needle.

Panic. Panic. Panic. I started to shake uncontrollably and cry before he even got it in my mouth. When he got close enough to my mouth, I pulled away.

Seeing how scared I was, the good dentist suggested I watch him administer novocaine to the mouth of another patient waiting in another exam room. He wanted to show me how painless it was.

So I watched. Yes, I watched and I died standing up. Or that’s what my mother and grandmother said. They described my face as turning a shade of ghostly white and my lips a shade of ice blue. I remember feeling cold, standing in that spot watching the dentist stick the needle into the patient’s gums.

Mad Scientist Arbuckle failed to notice how squeamish I was. It was obvious from the start that he had little to now training with children.  Either way, I think I died standing up. But I came back to life. Barely. I suddenly needed to use the bathroom.

Against the protests of the adults, I ran to the bathroom and locked  the door behind me. How long could I pull off this farce until the adults decided to take me home without incident?

The adults coaxed me out of the bathroom and into The Chair of Death again.

Another failed attempt at administering the injection led me to the bathroom once again.

When they coaxed me out more forcefully the second time, Step Monster Alan was in the Mad Scientist’s room waiting for me at The Chair. Mad Dentist Arbuckle made threats about wrapping me in a straight jacket while Alan held me down,  his arm pressed against my chest so I couldn’t breath.

I begged Step Monster Alan to stop. Like a desperate aniimall, I saw only one other option as the Mad Dentist Arbuckle lowered the injection to my mouth.

I bit his rubbery gloved fingers hard, making sure it hurt.

He pulled his hand back with a stream of curses that remain a blur in my memory.  He didn’t want to work on me anymore. My parents could take me to a children’s dentist, because he didn’t want anything more to do with me.

A short time after that, my mom and step dad told me Mad Scientist Arbuckle quit. I assume that was true, because I never saw him in that office when I accompanied the parental units to their dental appointments.

That was just the beginning of my dental phobia. I use not having dental insurance as an excuse to not go to the dentist. I know that there are student dentists in my city that work on low-income patients for free, but my biggest fear about that is they are students. What if they can’t handle an extremely anxious, out of control patient?

The major problem for me now is the pain. I fear the pain the dentist brings me, and my heart races at the sound of a dental drill and the smell of a dental office.

Cleanings are extremely painful on my teeth because dentists rinse with cold water.

When I was in high school, my mom figured it was time for me to start seeing her dentist. I had thought nothing of this transition at the time, because I was no longer a child. It made perfect sense to me.  But my phobia only worsened my visits to this new dentist.

My worse memory at this new dentist is of this gruff, stern Russian hygienist spraying my teeth with painfully cold water. I was crying and whimpering, and she told me she couldn’t work on me if I kept doing that. I stopped for a minute, but the water hit my two front teeth with such force, that my body jerked and sprayed her in the face with water.

Boy, was she pissed. I apologized profusely and explained that my teeth are very sensitive. She told me it wouldn’t hurt that much if I flossed more.  What made my phobia worse (if it could get worse) is that, despite having a novocaine injection, drills still hurt my top teeth when I get fillings. The dentist’s lack of bedside manner  didn’t make it any easier on me. His response was, “It’s all in your head,” or “It’s just the sound of the drill that scares you.”

Well, at that stage in my life, I think I could tell the difference between physical pain and being afraid of the sound the drill makes.

I don’t know how to overcome this fear, and I am considering asking my doctor to prescribe me a Xanax for the  time I get up the courage to see a student dentist for a cleaning.  I really want my teeth to be healthy, but this desire for healthy teeth isn’t  helping me to overcome my fear.

Does anyone have any suggestions? Would anyone like to share their experiences? I invite you all to share your stories and recommendations in the comments.




Difficult Day

Well, it has been a difficult day, and by far a difficult month. I don’t like to self-indulge too much in this kind of rambling, but this is an anxiety blog.

So right now my boyfriend is a courier and the major financial support in our home right now. I’ve been earning very little while freelance writing for neighborhood papers. I get paid $50/article. The most I’ve made in a week is $100. It sounds sad, but there are weeks where I can’t even find stories to cover. I’m still working on story-finding techniques, but with very little guidance from anyone.

Well, today, my boyfriend got into an accident that made it so he can’t drive his car. He’s completely uninjured, and I am grateful for that. There was a light post in his blind spot, and he backed into it enough so it caused some structural damage on one of the wheels.

He called me today to tell me all of this. Given our fender bender experiences in the past, I knew this would be costly. Before the insurance covers anything, we have to come up with $1,000. As soon as he told me this, I knew I would have to do the one thing I dread: begging family. I feel terribly guilty asking my family for money because they always do so much for us and everyone else, plus they aren’t rich folks, either.

At that point I am having a panic attack about having to call my beloved grandparents who are by no means wealthy and ask them if they have $1,000 to give. I popped two klonopin to take the edge off.

I wasn’t upset when my grandma said they weren’t able to lend any money because they don’t have much themselves right now. I was just happy to have her on the phone to talk to. She talked me into a calm state of mind.

She told me that my mother might have some of my savings bonds that my aunt used to give us when we were babies. They wouldn’t be worth much ($25-$50 at most), but that is a start. Next, I would have to very nervously and timidly ask my mother and her husband if they happen to have $1000 they can spare.

In the mean time, I want to say that I am dealing with my anxiety a little better now in this financial chaos. That’s more than I can usually say about myself when dealing with money issues (which come up a lot, by the way). It seems that one of my major stress triggers is financial problems when they arise.

I have a difficult time stepping away from the issue and thinking clearly about it. People always tell me not to be stressed because money issues are a part of life and happen to everyone.

But I have to find it within myself to say, “OK. There is nothing that can be done immediately, so I need to go about my routine to let my head clear.”

That’s difficult for me to do, because I was not taught how to handle financial problems. Growing up, adults told me not to worry! They have it under control. So, naturally I tried not to worry.

But that didn’t help me at this point in my life.

However, I am grateful that I am not dealing with this alone. My boyfriend and I are here for each other and in this together. I don’t want him to feel alone in it, either.

Currently, he’s been waiting for a tow-truck since 1 p.m., and it’s 7 p.m. now. I hope it comes soon.

I hope I’m not alone in the way that I panic over financial problems. Does anyone else out there have intense anxiety about finances? Please share.

Bullet Shells

Grandpa and I crunched our way through the chest-high, golden grass hiking through the woods, as we did so many summers before. He parked his pick-up truck by a trail on the side of the road where maybe only one or two other cars were parked.

These hikes made me feel protected from the life and worries I temporarily left behind in Brooklyn during the summer. Skyscraping trees allowed me to be a fantasy adventurer carrying a sword and bow with a quiver of arrows.

I couldn’t do that in Brooklyn where there aren’t any forests. Skyscrapers and brownstone walk-ups don’t rustle in the wind with leaves soothingly swooshing. Fairies, elves and bandits don’t hide in allies or behind dumpsters with feral cats.

Our shoes crushing twigs, leaves, soil and stones was the only music  on the humid summer morning, a sweet reprieve from roving engines, honking, yelling and rush of New York City. Grandpa showed us that it’s OK to pick up cool trinkets previous hikers left behind.

My favorite trinkets to collect were bullet shells. Their copper colored, cylindrical bodies clinking together made me happy.  I like the feeling of them in my hands and the shininess in the light. That summer I collected so many that I filled up a lady bug tin with them.

I was so proud of that collection. It’s lost in time now left behind at my step dad’s home in my mom’s hurry to separate from him.

My mother wondered why I liked going to Michigan for the summer when I was a teenager.

“There’s nothing for you to do there,” she would say. “Not like there is here.”

Was she serious? Certainly, there was plenty to do.  I went on adventures with my brother and grandpa in the woods. There were always bullet shells to be collected and not enough people to collect them! Michigan needed me as much as I needed it.

I cannot resist the bullet shells  calling me with their jingling on the crisp forest floor.


Being a Highly Sensitive Person

I think this topic might need its own blog all together, but it also belongs here because being a highly sensitive person (HSP) impacts your mental health in positive and negative ways depending on how you nurture the trait. And this is, after all, a mental health blog about how I was forged in the heat of chaos and came out a ball of jittery nerves.

A few sessions ago, my therapist recommended a book titled, The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D. Before I even bought it, I could tell from my therapist’s description that it was for me. My loved ones and I always knew me to be highly sensitive. It is a self-help book about how to work with your high sensitivity as apposed to working against it.

What does it mean to be highly sensitive?

According to Aron,  the term is used to describe people who have extra sensitive nervous systems. After being out and about among sights and sounds for a day, HSPs feel overwhelmed. Aron calls this “over arousal.” But being highly sensitive also means you are more aware of subtleties in your surroundings.

Aron says HSPs take in all the subtleties others miss. What seems ordinary to others, such as loud music or crowds, can be highly stimulating and stressful for HSPs. For example, most people ignore loud music, blaring sirens, glaring lights, clutter and chaos. HSPs are disturbed by them.

When most people walk into a room, they notice the people and the furniture, and that’s about it.  HSPs can be instantly aware of the mood, the freshness or staleness of the air, odors and even the personality of the person who arranged the flowers.

On the note of  odors, I always feel ill or put off by the invasion of an offensive odors in my environment. When we’re driving behind a stinky diesel truck, I gag and my hurts until it goes away.  I like burning candles, incense and oils, especially if they have a therapeutic qualities. I like seasonal scents like apple pie and pumpkin latte candles in the fall and winter. I burn Japanese lavender incense and drink lavender tulsi tea to destress.

If I enter a room, I become immediately aware of people looking at me. I reassure myself that it’s a natural reaction to look at someone who enters a room. But I might actually feel negativity in someone’s look. and tell myself not to think anything of it.  But if I do something that “earns” a nasty look from someone, then I feel like leaving.For example, when I went to a party among a group of fellow journalism students, the girl who lived in the house wanted to turn off the lights and turn on a white, flashing strobe light. When the strobe light came on, I started getting a headache and had to close my eyes. My friend asked the girl if she could turn the light off because I was getting a headache, and that won me a dirty look.

Despite my sensitivities that make me seem like a party pooper to society, I don’t forget that I belong to a group that often demonstrates great creativity, insight, passion and caring–all traits valued by society.

What have I learned so far? 

I want to point out two major facts Aron established in the first chapter.

“Fact 1: Everyone, HSP, or not, feels best when neither too bored nor too aroused.” 

What does she mean by this? An individual will perform best on any task when his/her nervous system is moderately alert and aroused. Too much boredom makes one dull.   You remedy boredom and fatigue by drinking coffee, starting a conversation or listening to music.  Personally, I try to snap myself out of afternoon sleepiness by napping or riding my bike. Coffee in the afternoon makes me nervous.

Too much arousal, and we become stressed, chaotic and frantic. One way I have experienced this mental chaos is by not knowing which priority is the most important even though it would be clear if I were calmer. I could sit around for an hour trying to figure out what task to complete first amounf a lot of different tasks. On better days, I have my priorities and mind more centered. There are also several ways to remedy this. Some may choose meditation, deep breathing, alcohol or drugs.

Either way, humans need to maintain an optimal level of arousal– somewhere in the middle.

“Fact 2: People differ considerably in how much their nervous system is aroused in the same situation,  under the same stimulation.” 

This fact made me think of the times when I was with family or friends, and how I am the first to want to go home. When I have company over, my boyfriend (Will) and our friends will stay up chatting late into the night. After three hours of hanging out, I want to go to bed. If Will and I are at our friends’ home for the Sunday dinners, I am the first the want to go home after two to three hours while everyone else is super talkative.

Another example is if I am out running errands all day, by the time I get home at 4 or 5 p.m., I don’t want to leave the house for the rest of the night. Not even for fun.

Being an HSP makes me and you special. For example, I have  learned that, given the right environment, I am capable of vigilance, accuracy, speed and I can detect minor differences. I am highly conscientious, so I am better at spotting errors and avoiding making errors than non-HSPs.

Each of these traits contributes to my career as a writer.  When I was a copy editor for my college paper, I noticed spelling errors that no one noticed even after three or five editors proofread the draft before me. I am frugal about getting the facts and sources right in my articles.

I usually get tasks done on deadline when I have a deadline. I make fewer mistakes in my writing when I turn a draft into an editor because I proofread a few times. I’m not perfect. I do miss things, but editors in the past have commented on how clean my drafts usually are in terms of grammar.

I’ve honed my skills as a reporter to know what information is needed to make an article less cryptic. I ask better questions and think of more sources.

I am also sensitive to other people’s moods.  I  become frantic  when others around me are angry or annoyed. This dates back to when I lived with my mom who has a terrible temper. I always felt like a hunch-backed lab assistant scurrying for the missing item the mad scientist misplaced.  As a result, when Will or anyone around me gets angry, I feel nervous and awkward. Even if the anger isn’t directed at me,  I somehow feel the need to retreat into the shadows of the mad scientist’s dungeon and wait for the storm to die.

While I am trying to overcome all the negative events in my life that made my highly sensitive nervous system so anxious, I am learning how to strengthen my positive traits to put myself out in the world as a writer. Whether you know it or not, the world needs you.