How a call center job healed my depression
“Call it therapy,
and it will be a therapy for you”
It might sound bold.
But I think that 75% of me getting out of my depression can be attributed to my call center job.
In the past, I used to laugh at friends when they said they found a temp job in a call center. “You mean you are going to work there out of free will? You like your ears getting roasted by a headset, and speaking to people who already hate you before you said your name?”
And now here I am, picking up the phone and answering questions about my all-time favorite topic: health insurance.
It’s October, and it rains. Not only outside, but also in my head.
It’s been raining in my head for four months now. Showers full of negative thoughts. There is a constant drizzle of resistance against everything, and every now and then a downpour of desperation.
I am depressed, and I know it.
In a way, I hate my stupidity. How can I follow all these personal development workshops for 10 years, and not be able to reproduce just one of its lessons right now?
And that’s not even true. I am perfectly able to reproduce the lessons. But the cloud of my skepticism has grown so big, that it also swallowed all the wise lessons. I don’t believe in them anymore. When I hear these wise lessons in my head, I hear them in the voice of Mr. Bean. It sounds ridiculous.
I go to a psychologist, who comes up with the phenomenal plan to put a bunch of pills in my mouth.
Around this time, I feel completely preference-less. Every form of preference gets smothered in a swamp of doubts and criticism. But one thing I know very sure at this moment: there is NO way any antidepressant will enter my mouth.
I go to another psychologist, who opens up a beautiful space for me to express my feelings. For thirty minutes, I feel great. I cry. But then, there is a cloud-burst in my head again.
Big drops of thoughts are pouring down: “This is useless! You feel good now, but when you’re home again, everything will feel shitty as usual. There is no solution! You are hopeless!!” In the two sessions that follow, I’m not even able anymore to connect with my emotions. Every question she asks me gets trapped in my head. I feel completely “unhelpable”.
One month later, I sit on the couch of a dear friend of my father, Erik. We talk for three hours straight. The only reason he sits with me, is because he cares. I can feel it.
Our talk is remarkably practical and tangible. He asks me what went well last year. He asks me what didn’t go well. And he asks me about my goals, however small, in the fields of friendship, learning and work. Because he is not digging up my emotions, I don’t get trapped in a big knot of thoughts.
He helps me to soften and break down my “all-or-nothing-approach”. Like: “Either I find myself an amazing job, or I stay at my couch.”
I haven’t been working for three months, and all the big plans for my own company disappeared in the swamp of negativity. I have no clue where to go.
Erik proposes to make it very small. “Why not take a simple job first, and then take it from there?”
And so I did.
The call center
I decide to take the first stupid and simple job that will cross my path.
The only demand I have, is that the position doesn’t require me to write an application letter. After four and a half months of depression, not much application motivation is left in me.
I don’t have to wait for long.
There it is. A big banner, on a job site.
“HAVE YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO WORK IN A CALL CENTER?”
Uhm, no. Honestly, there is no single square millimeter of my brain that can form a “YES” to that question. The advert goes on:
“Fill out your name, email and phone number. APPLY NOW”
This is the part where they get me. Applying is so easy, that without thinking, I fill out the three-field form. Clicking that “Apply now” button gives me a strange feeling of satisfaction.
Long story short, I got the job.
Better than antidepressants
Here I am, answering health insurance questions. Going to an office every day from 8.30 am to 5 pm, and having a measly 30-minute lunch break.
Me, the adventurer and the office-despiser.
When I step into this job, I have to drop many beliefs about who I think I am. And only after a few weeks, I become able to drop my shame about my very special “career move”.
In the societal “climbing-a-professional-ladder-sense”, what I am doing is ridiculous. But in my personal situation, it all makes perfect sense.
I realize this job serves me better than any antidepressant could do.
The call center job gives me a solid basis, financially and time-wise.
It structures my life, and enables me to be of service to hundreds of people every week.
There is no time for my negative mind-spirals, because there is always a caller waiting to be picked up.
There is no time for worry at all, because the phone conversations completely absorb me in the here and now.
Slowly but gradually, I say goodbye to my depression.
The depression has been a special guest, a very intense one. He has taught me a lot. I’m not sure if I have ever seen a better teacher. But now it is also clear to him that his time is over. We part as friends.
That moment when inspiration flows in after months of inspiration scarcity… is pretty magical.
It’s like warming your hands on a fire, after a long Antarctic walk.
Strangely enough, the call center job inspires me. I have little to no affinity with insurance, nor do I get really excited about the (regular) healthcare world. Service and client contact, however, do excite me.
I think of 100 ways we could improve the service we deliver. I realize in how many ways marketing and client service are related. (In my ‘previous life’, I used to work in the field of online marketing with my company Shine Online).
Depression is like a big growing cloud, slowly overshadowing all different aspects of your life. Inspiration has the same underlying mechanism, but the other way around. It’s the sun that drives away the fog. Inspiration is contagious, it overspills over from one area of your life to another. The inspiration from my job also triggers more inspiring thoughts about my friends and personal goals.
It feels like I get my future back
I dare to have some small dreams again. I dare to look further than only the next minute.
There is an intern vacancy for a Communications Editor, and I apply with enthusiasm. They pick someone else in the end, but the whole process of applying was already ground-breaking for me. I was “going for something”, and that felt pretty good.
I am working as a call center agent for four months now. I know everything about hearing aids, physiotherapists, acupuncturists, incontinence materials, paroxetine and Ritalin.
I can chant the answers to the frequently asked questions in my dreams.
I know which colleague will make which joke.
There is a slight attachment to the feeling of security and safety the job gives me. Spring 2016, I experienced such a number of adventures some people might only experience in their whole life. After flying high on all these adventures, depression hit me. So, although I’m longing for it, I’m also still a bit scared of adventure and what it may bring.
To the universe, however, my longing wins.
The 13th of March, my boss fires me. Slightly out of the blue.
His message: “It’s time you are going to do something again that really fits you”.
It hurts. I am angry, sad and crying. Which lasts for 15 minutes.
Then a rush of energy comes in. It feels like a weight gets lifted from me. An inspiration mill starts to spin at high speed in my head.
At that very moment, my friend the depression smiles from a faraway distance. He knows I can handle this. I feel his attention and warm thoughts. And maybe for the first time in my life, I truly love him.
Leave a comment to share your own experience, or reflect something back.