Mental Illness and the Modern Professional

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Preach.

 

People should be encouraged to disclose mental illnesses to their boss as easily as they would disclose physical ones. #endthestigma

Most of us work (or have worked) in artificial environments where small talk substitutes real human connection and people use verbal abominations like “synergy” and “tiger team.” Authenticity might be the new social media buzzword, but it’s hard to come by in Corporate America. Of course, I’ve never felt a sense of belonging in Corporate America and I don’t want to. I like being a weirdo with a dry sense of humor who wants to skip the water cooler talk and wants to learn what drives someone or what brand of fucked up they were raised with.

Look, I’m not a (completely) out-of-touch idealist. I know that coworkers depend on you doing your job well and sometimes you have to suck up your feelings to get the job done. This blog is semi-anonymous because companies, like people, simply don’t know how to deal with mental illness and I wanted to create a safe space. Nobody wants a depressed neurotic who questions the corporate status quo. More importantly, if you talked about your depression or anxiety as openly as you would tell your coworkers you’re coming down with a cold, you’d be met with blank stares or be labeled “crazy.”

We need to stop acting like plastic professionals who don’t have struggles, flaws, demons that drain us and strengthen us. I work hard, I play hard. When I believe in what I’m doing, I’m an unstoppable force of nature. I think quickly because I think all the time, I’m always on. It’s my blessing and my curse. My brain has no off switch, so it tells me things like “you will die never having achieved anything real” or “you will have a seizure driving this car.” Some days I live with anxiety and depression, some days I suffer from it. People with anxiety and depression aren’t any less capable of doing their jobs than those without. We just work differently. Consider this:

  • More than 41 million Americans–18 percent of the population have some type of mental illness.
  • Untreated mental illness could cost employers as much as $100 billion per year in the U.S. alone.
  • Depression has become the world’s second leading cause of disability.
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Image from priory.com. This website is UK-based but tons of great resources here about mental illness.

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t feel the need to lie to our employers. We could call in depressed or anxious as easily as we would call in sick without fear of stigmatization or being fired. But we don’t live in an ideal world, we live in this one.

 

 

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Mini-Post: Depression is Not About Big Victories

Depression isn’t about big victories. It’s about small ones. It’s every day you can write instead of procrastinate, exercise instead of binge-watching Netflix. It’s when you can cook yourself a healthy meal instead of ordering sodium-laced takeout for the third day in a row. It’s reaching out to loved ones instead of withdrawing from them. It’s about slowly replacing negative self-talk with positive (even if you can only muster up one complement about yourself or one thing you are grateful for.

Half Defeat, Half Determination

Still all quiet on the job front. At first, I was really gung ho about not letting the unemployment blues get me down. I applied for jobs every day, made sure my resume was updated and error-free. I even emailed certain companies asking why they decided not to select me for an interview when I felt I had the qualifications and that I was genuinely interested for any constructive criticism they could provide me about my resume. No response. I did yoga to help keep me active and mentally grounded. And yes, it’s only been two months (exactly two months to the day) that I’ve been fired.

I always thought I was the type of person not to easily give up in the face of adversity, but that’s not entirely true. Half of me almost always wants to give up when I’m faced with one of life’s many obstacles. After all, I left New York City because I lost my job and wasn’t able to carve out a semblance of a romantic life (one night stands don’t count). Of the usual things about New York that people always complain about were true in my case too. (You can only sustain the pace of intense living for so long, tiny apartments are super expensive, etc).

And now I want to leave Austin. I tell myself it’s because I don’t like the fact that you have to drive everywhere and I find that it’s hard to make friends in this city (which, true). Really, it’s because I lost my job and haven’t really been able to make my life work here after six years either. I have a boyfriend, but both of us have acknowledged we can’t do much for each other except work on ourselves (I’m unemployed, he’s underemployed). I love him and I know he loves me and we’ve managed to make things work under a very difficult situation. He’s a big part of the reason I didn’t pack up long ago. He’s the reason I hope I can make it work here.

Of course, I’m lucky. I have friends and family I can move back in with if I can’t find a job by the end of my lease in late July. As someone who lived in a foreign country when she was 17, who has lived on her own for most of her adult life, the very real possibility of moving back home in my mid 30s is a hard pill to swallow. I have the security of knowing I won’t be living on the street or in my car and that’s something I don’t take for granted.

I have fantasies of some magical event or person coming to rescue me from a life filled with a never ending cycle of occupational drudgery followed by unceremonious termination living a humdrum existence in a second-tier city. The other half of me knows that no such event or person exists, the only person who rescue me from said occupational drudgery and humdrum existence is me and I’m not up to the task of rescuing myself from my own life right now.

 

Making Friends in Your 30’s is About Lowering Expectations

“Friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .” C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

I’ve lived in Austin for six years and I don’t have any friends here. Now that I’ve admitted to myself that Austin isn’t for me and eventually I’m going to return to the northeast to be closer to family and best gal pals, I’ve made my peace with it. I’m in that sweet spot where you decide to either settle or give up completely (much like dating). I’d be happy to meet someone I can call once a month to hang at a coffee shop, dinner, happy hour or the park. More importantly, I’d like to be reasonably sure they won’t flake out on me at the last minute or worse, do the ole one-two-three hangout before the inevitable radio silence. It’s much easier to maintain the deep friendships I already have, even though they are long distance, than it is to start from scratch and risk another flake out or fade out from a new person.

I know what you’re thinking: Wandering Professional, you probably haven’t tried hard enough. I admit that I struggle with depression and anxiety, so that’s certainly a factor. I’m also in a relationship and that can make you overly reliant on your significant other for entertainment and companionship.

On the other hand, I joined a friendship matchmaking site. I regularly attend book club meetings. I tried (unsuccessfully) to befriend a former coworker. We hung out a total of three times and she went dark once she started dating her girlfriend. She resurfaced again asking me if I wanted to hang (“I haven’t seen you in ages.”–the battle cry of flakes everywhere) and then would cancel on the day we were supposed to hang out. When I first moved here, a friend of mine was nice enough to friend-set me up with one of her childhood buddies, but he and his girlfriend only seemed to like hanging out in a big group of people they already know. I didn’t mind since they are nice, down-to-earth people and we had a good time together, but I was never really able to make meaningful connection since the dynamics of big group hangouts don’t really allow for that when you’re an introvert. Eventually, I realized I was only being invited occasionally out with them and then barely at all. They seemed more interested in hanging out with each other then welcoming me, a newcomer, into their bubble. I moved on.

I asked my other friends who live across the country if they had a hard time making friends and they all answered a resounding “yes.” We longed for the days when making friends was as easy as being in the same class or field trip together. Even in the bad, Big Apple, making friends took a little longer but they seemed easier to come by. Maybe because I’ve spend most of my life in New York and I’m more familiar with that culture. Maybe because living in such a crazy, crowded place where your day could bring you anything from a subway car masturbator to a city bus breakdown causes people to bond in the way that only intense circumstances can.

What it is it about making friends over 30? Why is it so hard?

  1. Work. It’s no secret that Americans work a lot. If we aren’t tired from working 50 hour work weeks, we’re drained because we hate our jobs (or both). After a long week, it’s that much harder to carve out the time to make new friends. Work also keeps you an weird emotional mode, you have to friendly with people but you can’t really be open and vulnerable in an competitive environment where you are being paid to show up every day. It’s possible to become friends with people you work with, but usually that means working in a uniquely nurturing environment or you become closer after you’ve moved on to another job.
  2. Family. Some of my parent friends are able to instantly connect with other parents. Having kids is a pretty major thing to bond over. Others are so busy with spouse and children that trying to make friends just seems like an unnecessary obligation in a world full of necessary ones. If you are childfree like myself, it can be especially daunting because most people have kids and can find it hard to relate to people who don’t (by choice) have them.
  3. Significant other. Now here’s where friendship gets really tricky. Not only do you have to worry about your potential buddy getting along with you, but they have to get along with your partner too. You also have to worry about your partner liking that person. You might be a couple with similar personalities, but every person has different friendship requirements. What works for you might not work for your partner and vice versa. In our couples bubble, we often neglect maintaining our old friendships (especially if a relationship is new) so the odds of going out and making new friends are even lower.
  4. Older and pickier. Getting older is great in so many ways. You are more self-aware, experience has (hopefully) made you more confident, and you put up with less bullshit, which means you are pickier about a lot of things, especially making friends. This means we can be especially harsh or impatient when it comes to new friends, especially when our time is limited with family, work, etc. I’m a romantic by nature, so I have a very idealized, Stand by Me view of friendship. I’ve learned that making friends in your 30s involves a lot of expectation lowering. Obviously, you don’t want someone who’s overly dramatic, toxic and manipulative, but friendship in your 30s is more about making friends who make time for you when they can and you enjoy spending time with them. Deep friendships take time, and that’s something that’s in short supply as you get older.

“Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.”–Girl Scouts Song

If I had one piece of advice for twentysomethings, it would simply be to quote that song above. Your twenties are an especially crucial time for making and keeping good friends. Not having friends in Austin sucks, but without my Google hangout sessions with my best girls I’d go insane. Once you really start adulting, you’ll need those deep friendships and you don’t realize how it is to find and cultivate them when you’re older.

 

Classic Fashion Corner: Iris Apfel

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The grande dame of accessorizing, Iris Apfel

When it comes to fashion, Iris and I couldn’t be more opposite. I hardly wear jewelry, I’m not big into furs or bold southwestern patterns and I can count the number of colors featured in my wardrobe on one hand. I find her fascinating because of our sartorial differences, not in spite of them. In a world where so many people give up on fashion once they reach middle age, Iris shows us age is no excuse to look dowdy.

Fast facts about Iris Apfel:

  • Iris has a fashion mentorship program at the University of Texas.
  • Although Iris has her own documentary and has been featured Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s and Bill Cunningham New York, getting her in the public eye took some convincing. “I was not a public person.”
  • A lady after my own heart, Iris is vocally anti-Botox.
  • Her trademark large framed glasses have been her signature look ever since she was a little kid and she is a self-described “flea-market freak.”

Our Baby World: Kittens

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Fast facts about kittens:

  • These tiny lil gals and guys don’t just snuggle next to each other to be adorable (although they absolutely are). They do it because so their small bodies can regulate temperature.
  • Kittens eyes and ear canals are closed during their first few days of birth. Around 10 days (but sometimes as old as 21 days), they start to see and hear.
  • Each adorable noise your kitten makes has a different meaning. A drawn out squeal means your kitten feels lonely (go cuddle with it, you monster!). Shorter cries means your lil fur baby is hungry.
  • By the time a kitten is 4 weeks old, it will usually start sampling its mother’s food.