At the end of 2008, I finished my undergraduate degree in business. I’d had good grades, summer internships, the semester abroad in Europe—everything expected of an upper-middle class child from the suburbs. The goal of my university career had been “make money now, do good with it later,” but as graduation loomed, I had almost no idea of how I would make it, or where I would start. I was offered a data entry job with the government. It wasn’t what I had in mind, but I took it at my parents’ behest as a way to pay rent while I figured what to do with my life.
I wanted to get out of the city where I grew up. That was my goal as I worked at the data entry job. I had little expectation of emotional satisfaction from my work, but the job was uninspiring in the extreme. Days would go by without me seeing another person I worked with. There was nothing to do for long stretches of time. When the lease on my apartment was up, I moved back to my parents’ in the suburbs, and continued to put away money to make my big escape. But my ambition and motivation dwindled. I quit the job soon after.
Things start to get a bit murky here, partly because of my willful mental obfuscation of this time period. What timeline I can piece together comes mostly from checking the creation dates on old resumes. I had a few phone interviews for big firm consulting jobs, I applied for marketing positions in companies by depositing my resume into the black hole that is online application systems. I was truly failing for the first time.
I began to feel diseased during conversations with friends—they were making plans for the future and pursuing goals, and I had little to relate with or add. They may not have been happy, but they had momentum. I was worried they would start to regard my inertness as contagious. And I had decided I wanted to kill myself.
Depression had been as much a constant in my life as anything. There had always been those days where I’d wake up and everything would be so bright it hurt somewhere that felt inextricable from my being, the core of who I was. And these days would pass, and things would be fine. This time was different, though, a vile combination of my fear of failing with a new desire to fail spectacularly. If I couldn’t be a great success, I could be a great failure was sort of how the thinking went. I was addicted to the downward freefall I felt I was in, until I realized just how completely detached from the concept of living I was.
If I had known how difficult it would be to climb out of the pit I threw myself in at the time, maybe I would have tried to stop the fall sooner. But maybe more likely, I wouldn’t have tried to climb out at all.
Finally, after a year of walking around my parents’ house in a pair of my father’s old jeans (I had gained weight and couldn’t bring myself to buy new pants), I went to a doctor and was put on a low dosage of an anti-depressant. The drugs enabled me to leave the house and do things other than lock myself in my mind, but the nihilism that had crept in some time before remained. I no longer wanted to die, but living wasn’t easy.
And then, escape. Just after my 25th birthday, I bought a one-way ticket and moved to Toronto. But there I failed, continuously, to procure employment. I went on job interviews, tried to network, and burned through my remaining savings. Here is the part where people usually ask why I didn’t take a barista job, why I felt entitled to some sort of career. And the honest answer is that I was terrified of serving jobs. I had always worked in offices, and had heard stories of overqualified applicants with no experience being rejected by Starbucks. And the other honest answer was I couldn’t see the point of spending half my time serving coffee just to support myself the rest of the time looking for a “real” job. I assumed if I treated finding a job like a full-time job, I would eventually secure something, even if it was a low-paying internship. I was wrong.
After three rounds of interviews and then rejection for a position I had strongly felt I would get, I reached another breaking point. I hated Toronto, had few friends, and could no longer afford to spin my wheels in a city where everything cost money. I called my parents, and not without a great deal of guilt, asked if they would support my decision to take an intensive French program in Montreal. They would.
Montreal was a unicorn I had long ago written off—cheap rent ($425/month with one roommate vs. the $750/month + two roommates in Toronto), European sensibilities, renowned cultural scene, but with a language requisite I would never possess. But the unbroken promises of a new city proved too tempting, and I made the move. I took a full-time French program at McGill, which my parents ended up de-facto paying for after my student loan application was denied (since the program was under “Continuing Studies” it was not considered academic enough to warrant aid).
The French program has finished. Unemployment is now underemployment, a step up, and I’m happier than I was a year ago. I do research for a doctoral student, and the stipend covers my rent and utilities every month. In addition, I do freelance work (often with an emphasis on the “free”), volunteer (the same thing?) and write long-form articles on energy, regulation, and academia.
I occupy the nonsensical space that I suspect more of my peers are finding themselves in—I have no money, and I just returned from a trip to Hawaii. I dumpster dive, and my parents buy me expensive dresses to wear to weddings. There are a lot of days when I feel encased in cement. Job applications are particularly arduous and stressful affairs where I don’t dare allow myself to think about what I would do with a steady income. I have about $3,500 in credit card debt, and a hundred dollars or so I always seem to owe my cell phone provider.
I’m no longer on the meds. My prescription ran out and I didn’t refill it. Withdrawal was really hard—I wasn’t expecting it and it just sort of hit me and was awful. It’s made me reluctant to get a new prescription. There are definitely days or periods where they would help, but they sort of need to be taken steadily. If I did go back, I might ask to be put on something else. I don’t have a doctor in Montreal. I should get one.
There are days when I think it’s going to be alright, and that something has to come along. “Everything works out in the end” is an often-used comfort for the middle-class, I think, and part of what precipitated my downwardness was that I lost total faith in that adage. With my depression it wasn’t just the dearth of hope, it was that I felt hope was irrelevant. But now hope is back, in spurts. I have hopeful moments where I’m calm and everything feels clear, and then there are days where the clouds move back in.
Kate Allison is a fake name for a real person.