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The Vine: July 8, 2009

Submitted by on July 8, 2009 – 2:43 PM80 Comments

How do you alphabetize a list containing items starting with numbers? I remember learning back in the day that you do it as if you were writing the number out. So "5th" goes under F, as if it were "Fifth." But Word, Excel and other computer programs just put numbers at the top of a list, before letters, which drives me nuts because I'm irrational and can't let go of something I learned in elementary school. What do you think?



Dear Adam,

In the TWoP book, we did it your way; the entry on 21 Jump Street, for example (hee!) (…shut up), went after the entry on 24 and before the entry on Twin Peaks. That's how I tend to do it when it comes up, and I think most readers of a list can figure out pretty quickly which way it's set up.

But the Chicago Manual seems to think it's okay to group numerals in an index together "in numerical order at the beginning of the index, before the As. "Whether you want to extrapolate that to lists, I can't say, but again, readers probably figure out where to look for those list items after having found one of them, so, since it doesn't sacrifice clarity either way, do it however you see fit…or can make your software see fit.

Hi Sars,

I'm in my final undergraduate year at a university in Canada, as an international student. Before I came here, I'd spent my entire life as an Indian (dot not feather) expatriate in one of the only countries in the Middle East that isn't fucked to hell politically.

I had a fairly liberal and comfortable upbringing, my parents are giving, loving people who unhesitatingly paid for me to go to a school halfway across the world, and judging purely from my grades in high school and most often at university as well, I'm a fairly bright person.

The problem? I've suffered from depression for as long as I can remember. I was a quiet but content kid, a weird geeky but happy preadolescent, and then: bam. My early teenage years onward were a haze of sadness, anger, bulimia, surliness, the whole deal. As I've said, my family weren't negligent, they probably just thought I was being an exceptionally difficult teen, plus depression is not really something that our culture has much knowledge of.

My first year of university was a nightmare of loneliness and crippling social anxiety, overeating and holing up by myself watching crap TV and movies (I didn't drink, and barely socialized). I had had no real relationships in high school (no romantic ones, a few reasonably close friendships) and uni was more of the same but worse. It got a bit better each year until I finally, at the start of this year, had some friends and vastly more social skills than I started out with.

The thing is, I still feel totally stunted in almost every way that matters. I have a few friends, but it's a pretty sparse social circle. I drifted through uni, doing well occasionally and barely passing courses other times.

I will graduate with an English major — I love the life sciences, and did well in the biology and physics and math classes I did, even upper-level ones, but had no idea what I would do as a career even if I could physically buckle down to the workload of a science degree. Not, of course, that I have any more of an idea what I could do with an English degree: I just haven't had the ability to consider it intelligently, and now that my brain is a bit clearer I'm panicking with how much I have to figure out to be a functioning and fulfilled adult and don't believe that I can do it.

What scares me the most is the fact that I have no idea of what direction my life is going in and I don't know if I can take the reins to direct it properly. I have no idea what I could do, don't know where to begin looking for possible answers. For as long as I can remember I've been only just able to manage the bare essentials of daily living; now I have to do much more than that and I'm rudderless.

I guess what I'm asking is: do you (or your readers) have advice for what a new English graduate with a year or so of research assistant experience could do to direct her future? What kind of jobs I could look for, or would be qualified for with my degree? I know that having some kind of direction can only help my mental state, and it's pretty clear I need help.

I know that this is a vague and pretty desperate-sounding letter, but I'd really like some honest insights from people who may have been through something similar, or who just can tell me how I can get my shit together.

(Note: I can't afford therapy, and I do take antidepressants, but they only help a bit and the side effects are awful.)

Stunted Twentysomething in BC

Dear Stunt,

People tend to work themselves up into an anxiety attack over what "adult life" is like. I'm not judging you; I did the same thing when I was staring down the barrel of my last months in college. The economy was in the crapper then, too, although not at its current depths, and I had a degree in creative writing, a c.v. that had nothing to do with anything coherent, and exactly zero time spent living further than 50 miles away from my parents.

The tendency to view post-university life as an intimidating monolith of mortgage payments and caring about school districts is natural, but it's not rational, is my point. "Adult life" contains multitudes, as the expression goes. You don't "have to" be or do anything in particular, so your first job is to stop comparing yourself to "people" or "everyone" or any group noun with no faces, and focus on yourself and what you want to do.

Your second job is not unrelated, and that's to get serious about your mental health. I feel like I've answered dozens of letters over the years that boil down to "I suffer from depression and it's making my life very difficult to navigate, but before you suggest that I do anything about it: I can't." I know it seems like you can't, I know it seems like a pain in the ass…it is a pain in the ass, but it wants doing, so that everything else that wants doing won't be such a huge chore, or present as something you think you can't possibly accomplish. Go back to the doctor, get a recommendation for a free or low-cost clinic, and work on finding a prescription that doesn't interfere with you physically. If the first one doesn't fit, go back again. This is a task on your to-do list for daily living; it goes at the top, and you've got to keep at it 'til it's crossed off, or the rest of the list is going to feel like a millstone.

While you're making lists, write down all the jobs you'd like to have or think sound cool. All of them; anything. Write down where and how you'd like to live, what you think you need to make a home. Google. Read. If you want to become a beekeeper, figure out how, and start. Take a few botany classes, go to beekeeping school, apprentice with a local apiary…befriend a few bees, whatever. Do something. Go in a direction. If that direction sucks, go in another direction. Figure out what you want to do, write down all the tiny steps on the road to that objective, and start crossing them off.

Your issue is that everything seems huge, and therefore hopeless; the solution is twofold: 1) get in a healthier headspace where "hopeless" is a smaller factor, and 2) break the huge things down into all their small component parts so that you can start doing instead of staring and sweating.

Everyone goes through this; most of us go through this more than once in our lives, trying to figure out where to go and how to get there. It's not just you, and it takes a while. You won't get to keep bees next week; you have to learn, and work, and do other things from 9 to 5 at times, and get stung. (This metaphor is boomeranging on me, but I'm not backing down.) It isn't all fun, but disorganized know-it-alls like myself do it every day, and so can you.

You wanted specific advice about how to get a job and manage daily living, and you probably don't think this is it, but…it is. Get your meds straightened away, make giving yourself a break a priority, and just get started on something, anything. You'll feel better about things very quickly, and if you don't, remember, it's not just you.

I've looked around and I haven't found a suitable answer for my question…

When interviewing for a job, is it current/cool/hip/whatever to send a Thank You For Interviewing Me card?

I know it gets batted about every now and then, but I don't know anyone who has actually sent one, and I can't help but feel that for someone of my age/generation (30) that it's obviously a brown-nosing technique, and not a true thank-you, at all…

(And if we are supposed to send one, what do you say?)


I am employed, but my friend isn't

Dear Emp,

Interviewers know what's up with the current economic climate; egregious brown-nosing is not a great idea, regardless of the state of the job market, but they have a job, you want that job, and everyone involved probably understands that you'll do what you need to.

With that said, while I don't think there's anything "wrong" with it, I do think it presents more pitfalls than it does opportunities. Is it memorable, more so than other interviewees? Perhaps, but that can cut both ways. You have to walk a nice, straight line of professional demeanor, keeping it short and free of personal asides; you have to use a bland, formal stationery; you have to worry about it proceeding through the mailroom in a timely fashion…all for something you could just as easily do in an email, and more quickly, with less anxiety.

In the case of an informational interview, or one with a friend of a family friend, a situation that has a personal cast to it or where there's a pre-existing relationship, sure, send a note via snail mail. If it's something you got through could come off as a little weird, and the simple fact is, it just takes too long. Unless you're super-sure of yourself with it, stick to a brisk follow-up email.

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  • Jennifer says:

    Stunted: Everything Sars said. And, as an English major, you really can do almost anything. For example, one of my best friends, who was an English/Theater major like moi, started her own theater, which she ran until she moved to a new city, is currently a VP at a bank, and is looking into a senior-level marketing job at a non-profit. (Did I mention she's two months from turning 27?)

    Now, you don't have to be like my over-achieving friend, but the beauty of an English degree is that, quite frankly, it's general enough that you can go into most fields. People don't like to admit this, but for all that higher ed is awesome, most jobs are learn-as-you-go. So make that list, find some free clinics, and take it slow.

  • SorchaRei says:

    @Stunted…. Take Sars' excellent advice. But also take yourself over to your university's Career Services office. The people who work there are totally used to dealing with undergraduates who are in the throes of "I'm about to graduate and I have no idea what comes next". They can help you sort out what you have to decide now and what you can let happen as it happens. They can offer all kinds of assistance, ranging from personal inventories, to contact with people who were in your shoes a year ago, all the way to basic job-hunting and survival tools.

    Sort the meds, start sorting your life as Sars suggests, and let the people at Career Services help you break this thing down into pieces the right size for you to deal with.

  • Linda says:

    Even if it's not considered cool, I always send a handwritten note after I interview for a job. (Unless I don't want the job, of course.) I keep it short: 3-5 sentences. Besides expressing thanks, I mention something I particularly enjoyed hearing about in the interview, something good about how the company works/what it does, and then express specifics about how I would be a good fit for the job. I close by thanking the interviewer for meeting with me, and by hoping that they'll be in touch.

    Maybe it didn't occur to me that it would be brown-nosey because I so commonly write physical thank-you notes for gifts, dinner at someone's house, etc. I think it's good to go home from an interview and write the note immediately so it gets to the person soon–I can see how an email has less chance of being lost, but I've just always thought that a physical reminder of an interviewee is a good thing to be sitting on someone's desk (not lost in his or her inbox.)

    That said, I work for myself now and don't interview for full time positions. However, since I freelance, I /always/ write a thank-you note after meeting a potential client. I include an extra business card. I find that often a client will call back after receiving this note. In addition, if a client takes me on for a project, I write a note thanking the person who passed my name along to the client.

    One last note about standing out to a potential boss: a leave-behind. This depends on what kind of job you are interviewing for, but as a graphic designer, when I interviewed for jobs I would leave behind a portfolio sample, or other promotional pieces I've designed (like a bookmark with my company and web address on it.) If it's something useful, like the bookmark, it's another good way for someone to have my contact information at his or her fingertips.

    Anyway, maybe I sound like a crazy thank-you note sender, but good luck with your interviews either way! I think it's never wrong to be grateful.

  • Emily says:

    Consider medical writing/editing. I work for a medical education/communications company and we are always starving for medical writers, copyeditors, editorial assistants, proofreaders, etc. It would combine your English + Life Science interests nicely. Just read the AMA style guide and you're good to go!

  • dakotawitch says:


    As long as you are still in school, you likely do not need to worry about "affording" therapy. You should have access to at least a limited number of free sessions through your school. Your fees are going to pay for these services, so take advantage of them. Every place is different, but these services might be offered through the University Health Clinic/Center, Counselling and Testing, Psychological Services…spend some time with the University webpage or telephone directory. If your university has a decent psychology program, they are likely to have a clinic where advanced graduate students (under supervision) see clients as part of their training, and for free.

    As someone who deals with depression and was first gob-smacked with it in my first semester of college (16 years ago), these services are a life saver. There is no shame in seeking them out. They may also be able to help you with your medication, if necessary, but even if you have to keep seeing your regular GP about the chemical side, having someone to talk to sooo helps. Run, do not walk, to seek these services out.

    And stop by Career Services (or some similar named agency) on campus while you are at it. They are there to help you negotiate the waters after college. Take in your resume, meet with a counsellor, work those resources. Also consider reading Jobs for English Majors and Other Smart People (can't remember the author) if you can get your hands on a copy. I graduated with an English major, and while I went on to doctoral work in the social sciences, I have spent time as an editor, proofreader, copywriter, researcher, and all round word geek.

    Good luck, Twentysomething. You can make it through this, and have more resources at your disposal than you realize.

  • carrie says:

    Stunt, I was in a similar situation a few years ago and have just now come out of it. Sars's advice is great and I would also suggest looking back on all you've accomplished since you were a teenager and make a list. You've gotten better, gotten a degree, navigated moves, etc. You're not in a great spot but it's better, you did it once and can do it again and better. Refer to that list when you feel like a complete loser.

    Definitely switch drugs! There are many kinds and you haven't found the right one.

    It also sounds like your parents are good folks who wouldn't want you to be suffering. Perhaps you can tell them that you are "ill" and need a bit of help and maybe they will throw some money your way for counseling.

    Good luck.

  • Jen S says:

    Stunt, I went through this and so did everyone I know who was lucky enough to afford college. Sar is right on with her advice–depression is not something you just have to live with, and it won't go away on its own. It will slowly grow and drain more and more of your energy until a truly absurd and disproportionate amount of your time is spent placating the damn thing and you'll suddenly realize that you're 37 and answering phones in for a pizza company–whoops, that's me.

    And an English degree is not worthless. It proves that you A) have the brains and discipline to complete a course of study and have trained your mind to think in concrete and focused ways and B) you now have the basis to appreciate so much more of our language, literature, and history. Every book you read, every play you see, every TV show you rip to shreds on your blog will be the richer for it. My degree is in theater. No, I don't use it in my job. But my mind was primed and ready for some of the greatest things ever created because of it, and I keep myself much better company as a result. And so will you.

  • Liz C says:

    @Adam, I just checked the good old-fashioned phone book, and numbers are listed in alphabetical order as your described. That said, when I look stuff up in the online version of the phone book, it can search for "1", and doesn't need me to spell it out "one". I'd argue that the convention of putting numbers in alphabetically was to make things easy and clear back before the days of seachable, sortable lists.

    I also think context matters: if this was a printed list of businesses that were being thanked in a program, then I would put "4Head Hair Designs" right in there after "Forever Tan." But if I was doing the list in Excel, I'd just let Excel sort out the list, and look for the numbers at the top.

  • freewaydiva says:

    @stunted: The beauty of a liberal arts degree is that you're not pigeonholed into any particular profession, which may seem like a detriment. What I've found, however, is that degrees like English are actually a *benefit.* What it says to an employer is that you can THINK CREATIVELY and PROBLEM SOLVE. You can be trained up in the technicalities of a position, but you likely come to the table with a set of "soft skills" that are much harder to learn on the job. You're more marketable than you think. Also…the only thing stopping you from doing exactly what you want, regardless of your degree, is you. Go in any direction that thrills you. :)

    As for the depression – I live in the Pac NW, stateside, and know that weather plays a huge part in people's general well-being around here. I suggest two things – see if your uni has a student clinic that offers counseling for free or supremely cheap, and then go get a sun lamp.


  • Karen says:

    To Emp,

    I've heard over and over again to send an actual hand written thank you after a formal interview. One suggestion was to even write it immediately after the interview and hand it in person to the admin. assistant or the person at the front desk (thus avoiding snail mail and also hopefully cementing yourself in the interviewer's memory). I have no idea if this really works or not since formal interviews aren't normal in my industry and I haven't had to interview for a job in over 10 years. I wonder what people who are in charge of hiring think…

  • Elisa says:

    You deserve recognition for taking on this task before it's too late. I see so much of myself in your letter and wish I had had your foresight to get moving sooner. I graduated university 5 years ago and kinda zoned out. I was at graduation in the morning, and living in my parents' basement that night, with zero direction for "what comes next". My small group of friends were all in other cities, hours away. I left my future on the backburner and made a subsistance way through the days. After a year on antidepressants and some relief (but not as radical as I was expecting) I started cognitive-behavioral therapy 2 months ago. My therapist stresses the same mindset as Sars: Break down the Big Items into smaller goals and recognize the "decision points" that occur throughout the day that can bring you closer to the path you want to be on. Paralyzing fear does no one any good, and it doesn't go away on its own (even after 5 years). I started with just taking an informal art class once a week, as some type of scheduled event that wasn't work or stressful. Therapy is another structured activity. I'm finally coming around to looking at the bigger Big Items, like career, but self-defeating habits are hard to break all at once. Best of luck. ps-While you are still at university, check with the student health center to see if they offer free counseling. Mine offered 10 free sessions to students, and I wish I had taken advantage then.

  • ferretrick says:


    I was always taught that you send a thank you letter for an interview and get it out quickly. #1 its proper etiquette, #2 done the right way its a good way to remind the interviewer of who you are and get your name in front of them one more time. Linda gives excellent advice on what to say. Start by thanking the interviewer for their time. Say something like, "I enjoyed meeting you and learning about [Company]. I feel I would be a particularly good fit for this position because…." Close by saying that you look forward to hearing from them soon and you can be reached at [e-mail or phone]. Sincerely yours, sign it, done. Keep it brief-two short paragraphs at the most.

    I don't have a source for this other than my personal feelings, but I prefer to get these typed, on regular copy paper. I feel that business communication should always be typed and professional looking-a handwritten card is too personal (and brown nosy). OTOH, an e-mail is too brisk and informal. You can dash off an e-mail in five seconds; a typed letter that was addressed and posted shows more effort on your part. Also, print out your envelope, don't handwrite the address.

  • Hannah says:

    Hey Stunt, I thought I'd follow up Sars' (and other readers') sage advice with…more of Sars' sage advice. Check out the response to the second letter here (beginning "Dear Young):

    I got an English degree about a decade ago, and also contended with what seemed at times like constant anxiety about doing "the right thing(s)" with my life (still do, sometimes). I'm now in my fifth year at a decent job I honestly never saw coming; I printed out that response and have it hanging next to my desk.

  • Shannon says:

    I'm an attorney, so take that into consideration, but I think it's pretty standard practice to send a thank you note after an interview. I sent them after interviewing for my first legal job and I sent some last week, since I'm interviewing for a new position. A quick poll of my associates (all under 35), every one has sent a handwritten thank you after an interview. I never even considered that it could be considered a brown-nose move. I see the reminder to send a thank you note just as often as some job hunting site/book recommends dressing professionally or bringing additional copies of your resume.

  • KatC in BC says:


    I live in BC as well, and graduated with an english degree from one of the universities in Vancouver. I went through the same panic attacks about what the hell I was going to do with that degree in the last 6 months before I completed it. And I'm fine. So are all of my other friends who did english degrees. Some of us work in social service at non-profits, some do editing, and some do cool things like run orientation for foreign students at other universities. Basically, we all managed to use the very transferable skills we had cultivated – high quality writing, editing, arguing, and time management (because dear god, english majors can procrastinate) to become valuable employees in a range of fields. Like Sars said, break the larger goal down into something you can put in a list, and start to cross it off. Don't think "Find a rewarding, good paying job with awesome health benefits and unlimited opportunity for advancement." Think "Sit down this afternoon and write a list of what my favourite classes were, and why I liked them." That means you're moving foward.

    As for the depression, there are a few places you can look for low cost counselling in BC. It has the more terrible name ever, but try calling Victimlink at 1 800 563-0808. It's a referral line staffed with paid, trained staff who will listen to your needs, and point you in the direction of the best services in our province. You could also check out the Canadian Mental Health Assoc BC Division ( I have friends that work at both Victimlink and CMHA, and I can tell you that they're excellent.

    I hope that helps. Take care of yourself!

  • Bria says:

    I've sent handwritten and email post-interview notes in the past and had good results with both. Now that I'm on the other side of the interview table on a regular basis, I must say that I appreciate some acknowledgment of the interview but I don't care if it's a card or an email.

    Heh, once in law school, a guy who interviewed me for a summer job told me that, unfortunately, they had so many applicants that they would essentially be throwing our resumes down the hall and hiring the ones that flew the farthest. I took a chance and sent him 4 pennies and a note explaining that my research showed resumes with pennies taped to the corners tended to fly farther than plain resumes and would he be kind enough to affix those enclosed to my resume prior to the hall-toss. I got the job; he still has the pennies in his desk. Looking back, I'm horrified that I pulled something so cutesy, but hey – it worked.

    Stunt: hang in there. The job thing will work itself out. Please, please take Sars's advice on getting your depression under control. As others have said, there are likely therapy resources available to you at low or no cost through your school. If not, look around your city for a clinic that operates on a sliding scale. There are just so many parts of your letter that scream out as Things That Need To Be Worked Out With Help – please give yourself permission to ask for the help you need. Please? There's a brighter, friendlier world waiting for you to see it through different eyes.

  • attica says:

    To Stunt: One of the things I do to encourage myself about any daunting task is to step out of myself for a second and imagine all the people (whether I know them specifically or not) who are currently doing the daunting task and recognize that they are probably no more capable than I am (and in many instances, less!). If they can do it, than, heck, I can too. As a concrete example, I had to learn to drive a manual transmission. I did not want to learn how to do it; I'm not particularly foot-eye coordinated. But I thought: Geez — if a moron like Boss Hogg can drive a stick, I can certainly do it. (Yes, I know he's fictional. He's a fictional moron who drives a stick.) Am I driving Formula One today? I am not. Did I dump my automatic transmission car for a stick? I did not, and never will. But I drove myself through England and Ireland all by myself and lived to tell the tale.

    Now, all of this supposes that you are able to step back from yourself for a moment, which brings us back to Sars's advice re: your meds. Do that!

    Also: I am the proud holder of an English degree and have had a lovely bunch of jobs in banking, in import/export, in retail distribution and in publishing. An English degree (with research experience! Oh! You're a gold mine!) gives you analytical and critical thinking skills that will work just about anywhere.

    Good luck.

    On the Interview Thank You note, I've written 'em, but they looked less like a Thank You Note than a resume cover letter (different content, of course). This was in the days before email, however, so I'd endorse that as your follow-up vehicle as well.

  • Eli says:

    @ Emp:
    My dad worked in HR for decades, and I've had proper interview etiquette drilled into me for as long as I can remember. Pop's official declaration is "ALWAYS send a thank-you!" He's certainly of the old school when it comes to all things HR, but said he always looked to see who would send a follow-up after the interview. In reality, there's little difference concise and well-written email and a concise and well-written (hand-written) note: what he looked for is the effort rather than the delivery.

  • J says:

    @Emp: Some kind of thank you is a good idea, but these days, a well-crafted e-mail is just as acceptable as a hand-written card. The percentage of applicants who send anything at all is so low that even an e-mail is noticed, and generally appreciated.

  • Anlyn says:


    I also struggle with depression, and have for 15 years. A few years ago I tried anti-depressants, but they didn't work out for me. And I think I've tried every anti-depressant known to man. Zoloft, Lexapro, Effexor, Cymbalta, Wellbutrin, Paxil (ohmygod, I gained 30 pounds from that one), Geosomethingorother, something that started with an N…seriously, you name it, I've tried it. In one combination or another. For whatever reason, drugs don't work on me.

    But there are some things that help. One, exercise. I have a bad back that's forced me to exercise regularly to keep it from hurting. I swim, I use the elliptical, I walk my dog, and I bicycle. And it's a life-long commitment…if I stop for more than two weeks my back will let me know I need to get back to it.

    Eating well. HA! you say? Yeah, me too. I hate to cook. But I feel so much better if I eat veggies, fruit, and greens than if I eat a candy bar or ice cream or loads of salty, microwave meals. That's not to say those aren't good things, or that you can't eat them, but do it in moderation. Eat a banana one day, an apple the next, an orange the next, and load up on veggies at night. There's an awesome black-eyed pea salad my local deli fixes that I can take home. Look for options that work for your lifestyle. I hate to cook, so I buy a lot of deli stuff. It's hard, but it's really worth it.

    Keep your living area clean, whether it's a house, an apartment, or just a dorm room. This is my hardest one. My house is a complete pigsty. One whole room is completely covered with loose papers and books. I'm not kidding…an entire room is uninhabitable because of all the junk I've thrown in there. My living room is a mess. And my kitchen, bathroom, and bedrooms are all bad. And it really brings me down, because every day I walk into that house, I'm confronted with the evidence of my depression. If I could clean that house, and keep it clean, then it would improve my mood…I don't know, several hundred percent. I know it. But it's the hardest thing for me to do.

    Find a hobby, like Sars suggests with her bee-keeping example. Take up needlepoint. Learn to ride a horse. I learned the sail a few weeks ago. I doubt I'll ever do much with it, but it got me away from the house, and forced me to take a chance on something different. Take risks–small ones, at first, then bigger ones. Force yourself to make eye contact with strangers. Volunteer. Gradually your confidence will build, and you'll realize that you are a worthwhile human being, with a whole lot of worthwhile things to give.

    Good luck.

  • M says:


    I here you about the meds. I was on an anti depressant once that made me so sleepy I fell asleep even when my adrenaline was surging in an interview…AN INTERVIEW. Needless to say I got off that stuff right away and found some new stuff. The new stuff works okay, but it wouldn't work nearly so well if I didn't have a great therapist to go with it. You NEED talk therapy if you have depression. There are no if, ands or buts about it. I guarantee that you'll have to go through a few doctors or therapists before you find the one that's right for you (and doesn't cost you an arm and a leg), but it is so so worth it when you find the right ones.

    If you're still in school, a good place to start is the student health center. My experience at college health centers is that the counselors are not really used to dealing with folks who need long term help. But most college health centers have at least one psychiatrist on staff and they typically have more training for severe mental illness. If your health center has a website, check out the counselors' credentials and interests before you call them up to make an appointment. Their services are often free or low cost. Plus they might be able to recommend other therapists or psychiatrists in the area if you're not a fan of their services.

    Other resources include NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and DBSA, the Depression Bipolar Support Alliance. They both have websites and they both run support groups for people with mental illness and their families. DBSA even has online support groups too if there are no support groups in your area. Since mental illness runs in my family both groups have been immensely helpful to me. I'm sure you'll find them helpful as well.

    Hang in there! You can do it!

  • M says:

    Oh, I forgot that Stunt was in Canada. NAMI and DBSA are American organizations, but I'm sure they still have some ideas where to get help in Canada. And I doubt DBSA checks citizenship for their online support groups.

    Good luck Stunt.

  • Erin says:

    As someone who hires, I have to say that I appreciate the hand-written thank-you note, because I think being able to write a thank-you note is a skill I'd like to hire for. (I routinely send handwritten notes to people who've been helpful to me professionally.)

    Also, if I'm going to be working with you and your handwriting is for crap, I'd like to know that up front! That way I can make allowances if necessary (leaving aside any ADA issues, obviously, if you're MISSING an ARM, I don't expect you to have perfect handwriting).

  • Cyntada says:


    You'd need to see a physician to explore this, but please don't rule out the possibility of your depression having its roots in a hormone imbalance. Someone near and dear to me has such problems and his depression went from "imminent-suicide" to "gone" in a few days with one over-the-counter hormone that he needed. (His blood workup revealed that he was so low in that area, it almost didn't chart.) When you mentioned that your issues began with your teen years, it rung a bell for hormones, especially low progesterone. A women's clinic might be able to get you an affordable blood panel to start with.

    Cannot agree more with Sar's and others advice here. The most important part of working is doing what you love, or making steps toward that. If something is so attractive to you that you'd do it without pay, see about turning that into a career.

    Re: interviews and thank-you notes, I see that rec on *every* how-to-get-a-job article. My graphic-design-focused temp agencies emphasize it also, as well a random corporate headhunter I worked with. (She not only insisted that I write one, she also insisted on proofing it personally before I sent it.)

  • Annie F. says:

    +many to those that say an English major is far from worthless. I used to joke about my degree, but it has opened far more doors than a plain business degree would have. And, it gave me the option to go in so many directions (research, law, marketing, teaching, etc.). It shows that you can think critically, and back up statements you may make with logical thought. The business side of things, well, you can learn those when you are actually working in the job.

    As for interview follow up…I have interviewed for many jobs (it's almost a joke in my family). I almost always follow up with a handwritten note, UNLESS my follow up interview is in a day or so. BUT, you have to get the letter into the mail before the end of the day/mail pick up, so it arrives the following day. My notes are short, usually bring up something we discussed in the interview, and a forward-thinking statement about further follow up.

    Also, before you leave the interview, ask what their timeline is. Then follow up around the time they may have a decision via email, "When we spoke, you mentioned we should touch base around Xdate. I just wanted to follow up…" This is a good time to think of a new, relevant, and engaging question to ask and interact.

    Looking for a job stinks, especially in this market. But you can set yourself apart but making sure you know about the job/company, asking relevant questions, and doing proper follow up that exhibits your enthusiasm for the position.

  • JanBrady says:

    Emp, this is one of the rare instances in which I disagree with Sars. Always send a thank-you note after an interview (unless, as Linda noted, you don't want the job). And not just in a shaky economic climate. It's not brown-nosing if you do in fact want said job–you don't have to lie or tell the interviewer she's a pretty pretty princess, or whatever. It's a way to show you understand what the job entails, and confirm your interest. I always appreciate receiving a thank-you note in the mail, and can tell you it does help candidates stand out when I'm making hiring decisions. I've been on job panels and have heard many other panelists say the same.

    As for handwritten vs. typed, I work in magazine publishing, editorial side, and the standard is handwritten on a nice card. We're pretty casual that way. But I suspect for most industries, it's typed on nice paper. And do send it through the mail, not via e-mail. It's a classy, tangible reminder of who you are.

  • JanBrady says:

    p.s. I'm in my early 30s, and peers and colleagues my same age send the handwritten notes, so I don't think it's a generational thing.

  • Rebecca says:


    In my library, we arrange material with numerals in the title ahead of everything else, and then in numerical order. So, "24" comes before "Absolutely Fabulous" but after "3rd Rock from the Sun." If the number in the title is spelled out (i.e. "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers") then it goes in alphabetical order.

  • bluechaos says:

    @Stunt: As someone who scared the shit out of a University-provided counselor with her inability to stop hysterically sobbing, I'd like to third or fourth or whatever the hell number it is now of get thee to student health services. I was also able to see a doctor through the university and she prescribed Lexapro (which made me drool at night), so we switched to Zoloft, which seemed okay, but made me feel sorta numb (and withdrawal after a dose reduction was not pretty), so now I'm on Prozac (or the generic version thereof). In addition to trying out different medications, dosage can be key. Anti-depressants also help with social and other kinds of anxiety, which at the time wasn't quite as important to me as stopping with the crying already, but has really helped me out in the long run.

  • Recruiter says:

    Bria makes an excellent point. If you see an opening to differentiate yourself when interviewing for a job along with many faceless others, take it. If I were interviewing two absolutely interchangable candidates and one sent a thank you and the other didn`t it might possibly influence me, but in 10 years of recruiting I have never had to decide between 2 interchangeable candidates.

    Also, people forget that recruiters and hiring managers are individuals. A gimmick that gets you in the door like Bria`s example above might strike another decision-maker as hubris and get the resume tossed out. Personally, I HATE getting snail mail from candidates. It makes me feel the person is out of touch with technology and doesn`t respect my time. But obviously many recruiters feel differently and you take your chances either way, so better to go with your gut, be sincere, and hope the person is making an objective decision.

  • Valerie says:

    Stunted – I, too, graduated with a BA in English and no idea what I wanted to do. I spent about five years in retail and other entry-level jobs before I decided I needed a plan. I worked through the book "What Color is Your Parachute?" – it's been around for ages (although updated regularly), and it helped me enormously. It really does help you see what you're good at, and that those skills really are valuable and useful. I also went to a local career counseling center. I ended up getting a master's in library science, and it's the best decision I ever made.

  • Kath says:


    I never knew even to email a thank-you for an interview until recently. Apparently I was raised by wolves. I always write thank you notes for gifts and stuff, it just honestly never occurred to me to thank them.

    My first job after college was with a big government agency, and even if I had written a letter, it probably wouldn't have made it to my interviewers before I got a conditional job offer. I recently interviewed for an internal transfer and, after asking my friends "do people really do that?" and feeling pretty brown-nosy, sent a thank you email to my interviewers. I got the job.

    A handwritten letter/card feels kind of smurfy to me, and I'd definitely stick with email or a typed letter.

  • Editrix says:

    @ Stunted

    If you are good with words and can understand medical/science jargon, hoo boy there is a lot for you to do. Edit medical journals. Prepare applications for research funding at universities. Do PR for an organization that promotes health awareness. Be a paralegal for a firm that specializes in science-related patents. Be a congressional aide (or the Canadian equivalent) for someone on a technology-related committee. Someone who is good with both lay and technical language is an asset. If job prospects aren't good and it's not impractical, find an organization with a mission you support and volunteer there. I will bet you that within a few years you will be in one of those weird niche jobs and it will complement your skill set beautifully.

  • Leigh says:

    I got the sense that the thank-you note question was actually about whether to send one AT ALL, not just handwritten vs. email, and to that I think the answer is an unqualified YES. I have hired interns three times a year for the past three years and the very few who sent a follow-up email definitely got the job. (Even better interview-advice-I-can't-believe-needs-to-be-given-but-clearly-really-does: research the company you're applying for before your interview!) That said, I think handwritten vs. email depends on the type of company. If you're applying for a job with any kind of modern or tech aspect, email is probably better–handwritten looks old fashioned and out of touch. But if you're applying for a job in a very conservative or traditional company or industry, handwritten just might take you over the top. And, like Recruiter says, even just feeling out the preferences of the individual person who interviewed you is probably the smartest way to decide.

    As for Stunt, I think Sars gave great advice, followed by a lot of really wonderful advice by readers. I just wanted to add that while yes, an English degree really is a ticket to the entry level of almost any career path (besides maybe doctor or other hard-science field), if you really like English and want to stick with that area, think about either teaching english or publishing. I went with door #2 and never looked back, although I've had several vastly different jobs within the field. Which leads me to my other point–what you choose to do right out of college is hardly a life sentence. Try some things out, see how it goes…there are lots of jobs out there you'd never think of or hear of until you've started working, and you can pursue them as you see them. You're young, you're smart, you'll figure it out.

  • Rill says:

    @stunt: I work at a uni in BC, and I wanted to echo what everyone else is saying regarding getting in touch with your counselling centre on campus. As a student there you should have free access to all the support they can provide. Also? 20% of the program I advise for is made up of students from around the globe, and the culture shock and loneliness happens to many international students but can be even more intense if you are already dealing with depression issues before leaving home – I would also suggest checking out your International Ed department, our IE dept has social activities and events on and off campus for intl & domestic students, and it might be a great way of meeting other students (maybe even from your home country that you can connect with) and broadening your social circle for the time you have left in school. I am very sad to hear that you have had to deal with this for three years.

    Like Jen S, my degree is also in theatre, and I don't use it directly in my job either (I work in the sciences, go figure!) but the transferable skills I learned have proved so valuable in my current career.

  • Nicole says:

    Emp: I just got through with interviewing about 20+ candidates for law clerks positions. I admit that the ones that wrote notes stood out among the very otherwise similar students. I figured if they took the time to write a note, they must want it more than the others. One actually wrote his note in the parking lot and hand delivered it 20 minutes after our interview, which was a first for me, but he's working here now. An email is easy and practically effortless. A mailed note shows me that you took the time, and went above & beyond, which is a feature I'd look for in an employee.

  • jami says:

    Emp: The newish conventional wisdom seems to be to send a formal thank you note, promptly (within 24 hours), via email. Apparently, snail mail often takes a long time to get through a company's delivery system and may be missed on someone's desk, particularly if they're traveling, whereas people nearly always check their email.

    I have been job hunting for about a month, and I have heard this from two different companies that handle outplacement services.

  • Soylent Green says:

    @stunted Seconding both the need for you to seek some help for the depression issue, but also chime up with a me too about the final year of uni freak out.

    I graduated in the early 1990s which was a pretty crap time economically, although probably not as crap as the times now and was convinced that after all this time studying I was going to end up working at McDonalds (Douglas Coupland's Gen X had just come out). Compounding my problem at the time was that I had changed degrees and was a year behind a lot of my friends who had graduated, gotten jobs and were thus free to go out on weekends while I had to study, which made it all seem harder.

    Assuming you don't have some pressing financial need to get a top paying job ASAP, might I suggest you get something a little more casual, or part time-y and mentally untaxing, such as phone market research? That way you give yourself a little breathing room to both tackle your depression and find a job that interests you, but it's not the full on JOIN THE WORK FORCE moment.

  • Alexis says:

    For Stunt:
    I really liked Barbara Sher's book *Wishcraft* when I was trying to figure out what the heck to do with my life. She's great about discussing breaking tasks down and giving yourself a goal and a concrete plan for getting there. It can come across kind of you-go-you! but that's not always bad, especially if you're struggling with depression (which I had been when I read it). She's also great on looking creatively at what you like doing and figuring out how to apply that in the world, rather than just slotting yourself into the obvious options. College career people are also usually awesome. I went back to mine after grad school (not kidding) and they still were willing to help me out with advice and networking.

    And please see if you can find some kind of way to get therapy-type help with the depression. I wish I'd done that in college when I could have maybe gotten a university counselor or the low-cost clinic. Finally getting proper help 5+ years later has made my life so much better than I ever imagined.

  • Suzann says:


    I graduated with an English degree about six years ago and didn't really figure out what I wanted to do with myself professionally until three years ago. During those first three semi-aimless years, I went through many a tearful and intense freak-out — "what am I going to do with myself?!", "why didn't I think this through more carefully while I was still IN college?!", "why did I get such a useless degree?!", etc. It was pretty tough.

    I ended up just getting a kind of "whatever" job (receptionist) to pay the bills while I dithered, and as I settled down a bit and started exploring the skills that came most naturally to me, I discovered the work I was actually interested in: tech writing & editing. My coworkers figured out that I was good at drafting documents and handy with the ol' red pen, so they started sending those projects my way and I found myself really enjoying them. I did some research and discovered the tech comm field, and right away it sounded like something I could sorta maybe get into and even — gasp! — use my degree a little while doing.

    So, long story short, I got myself into the TC certificate program at the university I graduated from and took classes in the evenings for nine months. After getting my certificate, I finally left the "whatever" job and got work as a tech editor. I love the work I do now and I'm so grateful to have discovered it.

    I guess my point is just that if you take things one step at a time and keep making good faith efforts to move forward with your life, even if it's just inch by inch, I think you'll figure out what you're truly skilled at and want to do long-term. I definitely know what it's like to feel adrift in the big world after college (i.e., totally freaky), but I think most people do figure something out after a little while. Just be kind to yourself and give yourself the space to wander and experiment a bit.

  • Barbara says:

    Regarding the post-interview thank you note…I have definitely seen that advice all over the place AND I've seen it specifically reference the hand-written note or card rather than the typed (or even emailled). However, others above have made very good cases for the non-hand-written…so I guess it depends on the industry, the job, your gut and maybe your handwriting!

    I do have another instance where a note can be helpful…and that's when you DIDN'T get the job! WAY back in the day my Dad was the unsuccessful candidate for a job so he sent a letter thanking them for their time, saying that he was still interested in the company and asking them to keep him in mind should something else come up. Well…within a short while the 'successful' candidate either didn't work out or got another job or something and they remembered the note and offered my Dad the job!
    …Just another thought!
    (Full disclosure: I have never done ANY of the above…but I keep MEANING to…oh yes I do!)

  • Bo says:


    It sounds like you are looking for a why to your depression, and the why may be purely chemical, so it may not have anything to do with all the things you mentioned being good about your upbringing and family. It may just be.

    But one thing I didn't realize until recently, when I was listening to a round table by neurologists and psychologists and psychiatrists, is that although medication can help and talk therapy can help, most patients do best with a combination of both. As someone who always avoided medication because I was afraid of it, that really struck me. Now I know that if I find myself starting to spiral again, I'm going to add the medication factor to my talk therapy.

    As for not being able to afford talk therapy? Many many therapists will work on a sliding scale, allowing you to pay what you can afford.

  • Sharon says:

    re Anlyn
    for cleaning you might want to try A few too many LOLs but usefull

  • Bactria says:

    Stunt, I hear you. I fell into depression at university, but didn't get diagnosed for another 7 years. I still have it, but it's managed and only nags at me when I am overtired. And I totally second the advice about medication and counselling – I did two rounds of cognitive behavioural therapy at my university. They were done by supervised Masters students who did an excellent job, and it cost me very little. But I really want to emphasise the difference that a) exercising regularly b) eating properly and c) having a hobby can make. I am in a choir, and the regular deep breathing, community activity, and concentration on something totally different were really effective against both depression and accompanying anxiety. Things can get better, one step at a time – hang in there.

  • Stephanie says:

    Stunted — Does your university have a career center? Mine had a little "You can do anything with a liberal arts degree" booklet. Here's a list that I took from the online version (much of the rest of it directs people to institution-specific resources, but this is applicable across the board).

    Books for Liberal Arts Majors located in the Career Resource Center
    • Guide to Your Career, Princeton Review
    • Liberal Arts Jobs, Nadler
    • The Liberal Arts Advantage: How to Turn Your Degree Into a Great Job, Giangrande
    • High-Tech Careers for Low-Tech People, Schaffer
    • Major in Success: Make College Easier, Beat the System, & Get a Very Cool Job, Combs
    • What Color is Your Parachute? Bolles
    • Zen and the Art of Making a Living, Boldt
    • The WetFeet Insider Guide to Industries and Careers for Undergrads
    • Series of “Great Jobs” books for Liberal Arts Majors, Anthropology Majors, English Majors, Foreign Language Majors, History Majors, Political Science Majors, Psychology Majors, and Sociology Majors
    • 101 Careers in Mathematics, Mathematical Association of America
    • How to Get Any Job with Any Major, Asher

    My university also had a Counseling and Psychological Services organization that offered a certain number of sessions free for students. Might your university have something similar?

  • jane says:

    It never really occurred to me to write a 'thank you' note for an interview… but then again, I've never really HAD an interview where I had to wait longer than a day or two to find out whether or not I'd gotten the job. I think if it's one of those positions where they say, "hey, thanks for coming in, we'll let you know in two weeks after we interview all the other candidates," then, yes, I probably WOULD write one. But maybe leave it to either an e-mail or a very short hand-written card?
    Having been part of the hiring process before, I'd probably laugh out loud (not to their face, but still) at someone who either snail-mailed or left a very lengthy letter of thanks.

  • La BellaDonna says:

    Stunted: What Sars Said. (This should be available on a T-shirt, IMO). Even though I didn't finish my degree, just having a solid English background led to copyediting work, and I use those skills every day in a support position in a law office. The ability to write clearly is not as universal as I, in my innocence, once believed; there are attorneys who are very happy to have me exercise my editing and my writing abilities on their drafts. I would echo the suggestions that you might like to look into medical writing.

    I'd also like to echo what Cyntada said about hormones, and what Anlyn said about eating properly. If you're eating poorly, your brain is not getting the chemicals it needs to function properly, and this alone is enough to send some people into depression. I had very unhappy results with antidepressents, myself; I'm not suggesting that you not take them, but I would strongly suggest that you add a B-complex vitamin supplement to your everyday routine (as always, check with your doctor about possible interactions). I started taking a B-complex, and the results were much more effective than the anti-depressent, with no noticeable side effects. Many years ago, at Princeton's Brain Bio Center, I learned that the proper combination of vitamins can make a profound and rapid change in someone's mental and physical well-being. I'm not suggesting it as a magic bullet, but if you are eating badly, a B-vitamin complex will help you feel better physically and may help you feel better able to cope.

    Anlyn's right about the exercise, too. The great thing I learned about exercising is that you don't actually have to feel like exercising in order to do it. It's easier if you do enjoy exercising, but that's a bonus, not a requirement to actually exercising. Anlyn's right about keeping your living area clean, too. One of the symptoms of depression is not feeling up to cleaning, and a chaotic living area makes the depression worse. When you look for a place of your own, look for a place that is small enough for you to take care of easily, and keep it as empty as possible, for now. Books and especially papers can proliferate at a horrific rate. If you keep your living quarters on the Spartan side for now, it will be easier for you to take care of, and will also be cheaper, resulting in fewer bills to worry you. Unpack once you move. It's fatally easy to be overwhelmed at the prospect of unpacking, and living with a home full of boxes aggravates the depression. I speak from experience.

    Anlyn, I feel for you. I'm wrestling with the same clutter problems. Right now, I'm trying the Ten Minute Rule: when I get home, I set my alarm for ten minutes, and I stuff papers, etc., into a trash bag until the alarm goes off. Then I stop. If I look at everything I have to do, it paralyzes me. But I can do anything for ten minutes – vacuum the couches, shred paperwork, put books on the shelves. Maybe it would help you?

  • Karen says:


    I've always sent a handwritten note (3-5 sentences or so) within a day or two of an interview. Its never occurred to me NOT to do so. It shows good manners and professionalism — not brown-nosing. In fact, I'd view a follow-up email as more obnoxious — its both too informal and intrusive. And I'm in my early 30s, so I don't think its a generational thing.

  • Emerson says:

    Much good advice for you here, Stunted Twentysomething. I have two more links, which you can examine or not:

    As Sars said, the thing to remember is that everything is not decided in an instant. You grow over time. And, as English majors know, there is always more than one answer. Like everyone here, I wish you the best.

  • AES says:

    Hello Late Bloomer (Stunted seems too final),

    The advice that has been coming your way is all fantastic, and I second it wholeheartedly. I would just like to add a few points:

    1. I experienced a similar mounting depression and anxiety in my final year of college and let it slide, which resulted in a complete and total meltdown only about four months after I graduated. I think your decision to reach out for help now is really fantastic. The stress of finding yourself suddenly at loose ends is incredibly powerful- the best advice I can give is to get help early and often. The transition is not fun for anyone, and I have often dreamed of starting classes called "so you're going to be a grown up now," but having a history of depression only makes it harder. If you start now with the talk therapy, and as others have said there are many free and low cost options out there, it will be one constant that you can hold on to while everything else changes around you.

    2. Get thee to a psychiatrist! A GP can help, certainly, but a good psychiatrist will make a world of difference. My current psychiatrist was able to make a couple tweaks to my medication that seemed superfluous at the time, but it made a world of difference and I will be eternally grateful. And a really good one will also have life style recommendations as well. Your school health center will have one on staff, but if you don't feel you are getting the care you need keep pushing. I realize this is hard to do in a depressed state, but make it one of your small steps to seek care that makes you feel comfortable and at ease.

    3. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Obviously, the outpouring of support on this site makes that clear in a wide-world sort of way, but as you begin to sort out your treatments with the help of your school or local center, you will realize just how many of your fellow students are struggling with similar issues. You have depression- some people have diabetes. You would never expect someone with diabetes to settle for sub par medication and no support. Give yourself the same courtesy.

    4. There is no 'right way' to live life after college. Make the decisions that make you happy, and find your own path.

    Keep your chin up, and know we are all behind you!

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