10/31/2013 06:12 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Surviving the Fall: How Getting Laid Off Taught Me About Adjustment Disorder

I tossed and turned in bed, unable to find the rest I so desperately craved. It wasn't that my thoughts were preventing me from sleeping -- I wasn't thinking of anything, at least not consciously. All I knew was that the ball of stress that had settled in the pit of my stomach sometime around March was wrecking havoc on my body, and that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't find the happiness that had always been such a hallmark of my personality. I couldn't even close my eyes -- when I did, all I saw was Candy Crush, my brain working to obliterate rows of phantom candy again and again, preventing me from sleep and peaceful thinking.

In early March of this year, it was announced that the media conglomerate that owned my company would be laying off many employees across its different businesses in an attempt to increase revenue. My company wouldn't even be considered for layoffs, we were going to be sold off, and all of us would lose our jobs in one fell swoop. This news came at a horrible time for me -- I had just moved into the job I had originally moved to New York for. I had just become completely satisfied with my life. Now I didn't know if we would arrive at work one day to find our computers dismantled and HR waiting with exit paperwork.

As it turned out, we had six months before the company would close its doors, but we had no way of knowing that at the time. What resulted was the worst kind of hiatus, it was "business as usual," with the knowledge that the work we were doing didn't matter in the long run. My coworkers scrambled to find jobs, difficult and time consuming in our slow-moving and incestuous industry. The lucky ones got out early. The rest of us were left to suffer.

The entire situation was very disconcerting. I used to anticipate new work assignments, but after awhile, my response to everything was "F*#k it." My coworkers and I all started gaining weight from the stress and unhappiness in the office was palpable. Work had become a toxic environment, and there was absolutely nothing we could do about it other than continue to apply for new jobs that were few and far between.

How do you cope with uncertainty that you have no way of controlling? Uncertainty is possibly one of the worst emotions one can feel. Not knowing the future is inevitable, but not knowing if you're secure in your home, your job, or in love is wrenching. The stress of it all does horrible things to your mind, to your body, to your whole perception of self. I'm a very perky and social person by nature, but I saw myself change in unexpected ways as the days dragged on. I no longer treated my life as a happy adventure -- where I would otherwise look forward to my time out with friends, spending weekends picnicking in the park and dancing the night away at concerts, I started to draw away from them, finding solace instead in binge-watching episodes of Breaking Bad in my apartment by myself. I played Candy Crush obsessively -- the idea that I could engage in something with a clear goal, something I could control, was very appealing. I tried to work out at the gym, but I found that I often didn't have the energy to even make it off the couch.

What I didn't realize until much later was that my coworkers and I may have had what is termed as an adjustment disorder , a fairly common occurrence that crops up when a person has trouble adapting to a major stressor such as financial troubles or a job change. Sometimes called situational depression, the main difference between an adjustment disorder and an actual depression is that once the stressor is removed, the feelings of helplessness disappear, whereas with major depression the problem is not so easily resolved. The symptoms can be quite similar -- hence my antisocial behavior and general lack of interest in life-- but the feelings typically don't last as long. More than anything, it means that the person is ill-equipped in dealing with the changes in her life, and that she has two options: either solve the problem, or develop some coping mechanisms that kick those feelings to the curb.

Since I couldn't easily solve the problem of finding another job before the old one disappeared, I had no choice but to find a way to make myself happy while I applied for new jobs. What I found was that although I am typically very good at handling stress -- I've been meditating since I was 16 and have a very optimistic outlook towards life -- losing my job meant losing a part of my identity, which changed my entire perspective on life. Suddenly, all the work I'd put in throughout my college career, all of the internships, the networking, the very fact that I'd moved here for this career, was all for waste. If a corporation could just dissolve my company with a snap of its fingers, did it truly have any meaning? If I didn't have a company to pay me for the skills I'd worked so hard to cultivate, what would I do? Who even was Lauren?!

Clearly I was having an identity crisis, and before long enough I'd ditch my feeble attempts at happiness through yoga to watch Breaking Bad and consider dealing meth as a viable career option. I wish I could say that I found the key to banishing adjustment disorder, but honestly the most I could do was push myself to apply for jobs and force myself to be social while secretly wanting to be home in my sweats instead. I definitely had moments when I was at least halfway happy -- going out of town with friends for a music festival, for instance -- but my impending unemployment was always lurking in the back of my mind. The day that I was hired at a new company was the day I was truly happy again, and I swear I couldn't stop smiling. It was as if all of the endorphins that had been denied for those months came flooding back all at once, and suddenly I was myself again. I felt as if I were greeting myself as an old friend when I teased the bouncer at a bar and got my friend in without her ID, when I started a dance party in the middle of the floor, when I actually wanted to talk to fellow partiers rather than being immediately put off by the fact that they were happy and secure while I was the opposite.

The most I can say is if you're going through an adjustment, don't let it get the best of you. Keep pushing for your identity, don't let the fact that you don't feel like yourself keep you from living your life. You may not want to smile all the time, but as long as you try, you're winning. And while you're avoiding constant Resting Bitch Face, identify the situation that's making you unhappy, and do your damndest to change it. Seek therapy if you feel it could be helpful, but more than anything, don't give up the knowledge that this too shall pass. Because if you give in to hopelessness, you're letting unhappiness in the front door. Don't be passive. Choose what you let into your life. Be the one who knocks.

For more by Lauren Taylor Shute, click here.

For more on happiness, click here.

Subscribe to the Lifestyle email.
Life hacks and juicy stories to get you through the week.