There is a secret that nobody tells you when you start to work in a call center. A dark shadow that creeps among the agents. It hides behind the cheerful opening and closing lines they seem to profess to their customers. It’s mental illness. It can damage even the strongest person. This is the story on how I faced that shadow head on. The story of how I was overcoming depression as a call center agent.
When I started working for my first call center, I was a 20-something millenial who had stopped schooling for half a year already. I was already in a spiral of discontentment.
I was good at my previous job of hosting children’s birthday party in a fast food chain to the point that it bored me. I’ve sang enough “Happy Birthday” songs to last me a lifetime, thank you very much. I stopped giving an effort after a while. My attrition was ridiculous. Always late, absent and anything I can get away with. I think my boss was glad I resigned, in the end.
Just exactly a week after I resigned was my first day of training as an agent. It was overwhelming. Not only was it my first time but it was for, what my co-trainees call it, a “super agent” position. It was tech for both internet, cable and phone plus billing at the same. We handled installation, disconnection, bill payments, late payments, and more. Suffice to say I didn’t last long.
Training opened my eyes to the world of the BPO industry. People coming from all walks of life gathered in that office to face the common problem we all have: poverty. Honestly speaking, this is the driving force of the industry. It’s easier, faster, less labor intensive and the pay is so good. You can have a solid financial future for yourself and your family.
But again, money can only take you so far. Despite this almost secure life, attrition is also high in a call center. People who has not worked in this industry can never understand the shadow that slowly creeps into the minds of agents. It’s a combination of a lot of things stress, an access to a more sophisticated lifestyle, the night shifts and pressure. It slowly creates hollow in your soul that you cannot fill. Some are strong enough to fight it, others are not so lucky. I certainly wasn’t.
The common misconception about depression is that it just arrives like a cold of flu. It doesn’t. It starts out small. You usually make up excuses for it. As you go along further, you start to take little hints. Your mood changes only slightly, falling asleep is getting a tiny bit harder to do, food seems to call to you even if you’re not hungry. Eventually, it will evolve into a monster that you’ve cultivated until it’s too late to go back.
Then suddenly, it’s very difficult to laugh. You try to cheer yourself up by doing all sorts of things. It doesn’t work. And then you stop caring.
“…and that’s the most frustrating thing about depression. It isn’t always something you can fight back against hope. It isn’t even something-it’s nothing. And you can’t combat nothing. You can’t fill it up. You can’t cover it. It’s just there, pulling out the meaning of everything. That being the case, all the hopeful, proactive solutions start to sound completely insane in contrast to the scope of the problem.” –Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half
In my second call center, depression was rearing it’s ugly head. It was becoming uncontrollable. The most frustrating part was, I knew I can handle this job. Heck, I’ve done harder things before. But the consistent onslaught of calls and problems flowing for 8 hours straight was just too much for my already broken spirit to go through.
I knew I wasn’t the only one experiencing this but people rarely talk about it. We pass it off as stress. Drank too much and ate too much. Trying to fill something we do not understand. Eventually I succumbed and left my second call center.
My third one came a little later in the year. This was my last call center. It was the best experience I’ve ever had. Near the end of my run with this center, I got myself diagnosed. First, I was medicated for insomnia and schizophrenia. Later it got better and became a bipolar disorder.
Being on medication for a mental illness and taking in calls was a nightmare. The meds were confusing. Working was confusing. Life in general became confusing. But I was getting better. Or so I thought.
The depression was coming back stronger. The medication was not helping at all. Overcoming depression at this point was a daily battle that sapped all of my energy. So I stopped taking the pills. I stopped going to the doctor. And you know what? It worked.
“Life passes. Then comes the depression. That feeling that you’ll never be right again. The fear that these outbreaks will become more familiar, or worse, never go away. You’re so tired from fighting that you start to listen to all the little lies your brain tells you. The ones that say that you’re a drain on your family. The ones that say that it’s all in your head. The ones that say that if you were stronger or better this wouldn’t be happening to you. The ones that say that there’s a reason why your body is trying to kill you, and that you should just stop all the injections and steroids and drugs and therapies.” -Jenny Lawson, Furiously Happy
I do not recommend stopping your medication. It really depends if you feel that it will work for you. Nobody can absolutely say what will happen. If it’s worth it or not. I do not know why it worked for me, but it did.
I stopped working altogether. It was the hardest decision I had to make. I was already getting better. I was comfortable. The work was manageable and pay was ridiculously good. But I knew that depression will come back eventually if I do not stop this cycle.
So I went back to school. Now, I’m trying to finish up my studies to pursue a career in media. Depression is still with me but it is dying bit by bit everyday. Just like how it started.
I won’t lie. Overcoming depression is a lifetime goal. It’s probably the hardest thing I have ever-and still continue to do. The call center life did not match my personality. And that’s okay. I am comfortable enough to say that it’s not my fault. So if you are guilty for thinking the same thing, don’t be. At the end of the day, you are your greatest ally. So help yourself. Be kind to yourself. Will it get better? I do not know yet. I do know that life, no matter how much you complain and mope, will go on. So you must, too.
Related Links to overcoming depression:
Check out Allie Brosh’s Blog titled “Hyperbole and a Half”. It also talks about overcoming depression. Try reading the book version. You will not regret it.
Read Jenny Lawson’s blog called “The Blogess”. It features her book, Furiously Happy. Also a good read.