career

'I sold my business because of my mental health struggles. Now I can't find a new job.'

This post deals with depression and could be triggering for some readers.

Job searching is a struggle many encounter. Looking through endless job advertisements, scrolling through the criteria, applying for multiple positions, only to secure an interview here and there. 

But imagine trying to find a job when your mental health is not in a good place

This is exactly what *Lucy is experiencing. She is also in the process of being formally diagnosed with ADHD, bipolar, depression and anxiety. It's led Lucy - who is 44 years old - struggling to see how she will secure long-term work and support herself and her family. 

For over 17 years, Lucy was the owner of a successful dance school in NSW. She had started the business from scratch, and although she has had depression and anxiety her whole life, in her earlier years Lucy was finding it more manageable. But when the pandemic popped up, Lucy knew she couldn't handle any more small business-related stress.

"During lockdown, I realised just how burnt out I was from being a dance teacher and running the business. I was finding it harder and harder to concentrate and manage things, and I began the process of being diagnosed with ADHD and bipolar," Lucy said to Mamamia.

"It was becoming debilitating."

Watch: How to talk to people with anxiety. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia.

Even when the lockdown lifted and business started back up again, Lucy wasn't coping and her cognitive function was declining. 

"I couldn't handle the stress of being responsible - for the families and kids I worked with, the COVID safety implications, the thought of teaching again on such a repetitive cycle - it was too overwhelming."

After being offered a contract gig doing kid's photography, Lucy decided to sell her business of 17 years. She figured she could also find another part-time or full-time role to supplement her income so she could continue doing the occasional photography work - which is her passion. But as the months rolled on, Lucy was fearing the worst - could she ever find a job?

"I was looking towards a new chapter, or so I thought until I couldn't get a job. What do you do when your mental health means you can't hold down a job or even get one? I'm applying for a lot of work, but I'm not landing much, and it could also be to do with my age too."

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She continued - "But I'm seriously applying for everything because I do actually want to work. I need the money to help my husband - who is also struggling, plus my kids and general living costs. I've probably only got two responses out of the last couple of dozen that I've applied for. It's exhausting."

Each time Lucy scrolls a job advertisement website, she sees the exact same cookie-cutter call out:

"Are you a go-getter? Would you describe yourself as enthusiastic and bubbly?

"Are you organised? Do you love being part of a dynamic, fast-paced environment?"

"Do you have excellent attention to detail? Are you a multitasker?"

And every time Lucy sees one of these questions, the anxiety builds. Because deep down she - like many others - knows she is often none of these things. 

So what do you do when the answer is "not really" or "I might make mistakes" or "only sometimes"? 

"Given my mental health conditions, some of those skills or qualities are really difficult for me," Lucy shared. "Take for example multitasking - due to my ADHD, I get a lot of brain fog and I struggle to do two things at once. I also can experience imposter syndrome and low self-confidence."

Plus, when it comes to attention to detail, Lucy says she can be quite forgetful and struggles to retain information.

"I've realised that I can't say to my future boss if I make a simple mistake 'I'm really sorry, that won't happen again'. Because there is every chance that it will, and perhaps I am not the most reliable person. Those realisations don't help the feelings of chronic stress, anxiety and depression."

Image: Getty.

*Stacey is another woman finding it difficult to secure stable work while living with a mental health condition.

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Recently turning 50, Stacey has been through countless careers after not feeling settled in any industry. She also hasn't been able to hold down a role longer than a couple of years. At the moment she's sub-contracting, as Stacey's employer "wasn't impressed" with her need for flexibility.

"My employer fired me but kept me on as a sub-contractor. I just needed more flexibility - not only for myself but also as a single mum for my son who has ADHD and is on the autism spectrum," she said to Mamamia.

"I've been misdiagnosed with major depression since I was a teen. I feel permanently overwhelmed and anxious and struggle with depression, often due to overload. I was diagnosed with ADHD mid-way through last year and while it was great to finally have answers, I still haven't found out how to get a handle on it."

Being a middle-aged woman, Stacey has also seen firsthand the effects of ageism in the workplace and trying to secure a job. 

"With all these things in mind, I have massive imposter syndrome. The million tabs open in my brain leads to stress and overwhelm so it's hard to find something to accommodate that. I'm now thinking about my next work move. It would be nice if we lived in a world where mental health was better accepted - I think employers should be more empathetic to different needs, as long as the work gets done."

Listen to The Quicky. Adult ADHD: Why so many women are going undiagnosed. Post continues after audio.


This is something Lucy hopes for too - for people to understand the challenges that come with a mental health condition and day-to-day functioning. 

"Some people ask me, 'why don't you just make a note in your diary or calendar to keep up with deadlines?' But it's complicated - I then forget to check my diary, can't find the motivation to get up and look at it and there's always a level of brain fog too. It's frustrating."

But instilling a bit of hope is the fact Lucy is in touch with WISE Employment, a non-for-profit that helps people with disabilities and mental health challenges find meaningful work. Also encouraging is that Lucy's photography contract gig has been helping her to keep motivated. Not to mention the fact that employer has been very supportive.

"It's hard and I don't know what the future looks like for me right now, I am in the thick of it. But there are some employers out there who are kind and supportive - and that's important."

Both Lucy and Stacey's names have been changed for privacy reasons. Their identities are known to Mamamia.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

Feature Image: Getty/Mamamia.