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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9 Ways To Deal with the Unemployment Blues

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Beautiful wisdom from the incomparable Miss Nina Simone.

Ah, being unemployed, I know it so well. It can be hard to keep your sanity after days in your pajamas, endless Netflix marathons and job searches to nowhere. Here’s a list of the things that can help keep you sane during temporary periods of unemployment.

  1. All those self-assessment or career quizzes you used to take at your last boring job will now be useful. You can go nuts without worrying about your micromanaging boss looking over your shoulder while you take that “Should I quit my job” quiz. Take notes and see if you can spot any patterns (e.g. it looks like 5 out of the 8 quizzes I took say I should be a social worker, I should look into that). For the purposes of this exercise, forget about salary or how realistic it is. What are your talents do you have and how can you use them to make your community a better place? This doesn’t necessarily mean non-profit. Perhaps you are a math whiz and would make a killer accountant. Maybe your number skills and ability to paperwork like a boss would help clients solve their most daunting tax problems.
  2. Write down a list of values that are important to you. Think about what news stories really affect you. What makes you angry? What makes you happy? What problems do you wish you could help solve? There’s usually at least a couple of interests or concerns that jump out at you. For me, I always come back to writing and humanitarian/non profit work. I still haven’t been able to narrow down a specific job title, but even unemployed, I’m a lot closer to my ideal career than I was ten years ago because a) more job experience and b) As a thirtysomething, I’m much more honest about the type of person I really am and what type of jobs I’m realistically suited for.
  3. Are there any occupational dealbreakers for you? Is working in a cubicle your idea of hell? Do you need an environment where people socialize heavily after work? Does the idea of massive overtime make you want to commit hara-kari? For me, I absolutely can’t deal with any kind of micromanaging and have been happiest at jobs where I was given the most independence.  Any job comes with its share of shit. Take the job where you have to eat the least amount of it.
  4. Polish and proofread that resume. Make sure your address, phone number, and email are all up-to-date. Remove any information that isn’t relevant to the next job you are going after. Make sure your past job titles are correct and really reflect what you accomplished. You’d be surprised out how much irrelevant and inaccurate information you leave on your resume while your employed and job searching isn’t a primary concern.
  5. Wake up and go to bed at the same time every day. At first, it can be difficult to resist the lure of staying until 2 a.m. to catch up on Game of Thrones and sleeping until 11 a.m., but that only perpetuates the aimlessness you often feel while unemployed. While staying up late and sleeping in occasionally is OK, waking up and going to bed at the same time will give you a sense of structure. Bonus: Establishing a regular sleep schedule makes it easier to go bed and wake without sleeping aids and alarm clocks. Think of how much more energy you’ll have once you’re gainfully employed again!
  6. Keep your place clean. It’s hard to feel good about yourself when you let the dishes pile up in the sink and let the toothpaste harden on your bathroom counter. Keeping an orderly environment will keep up a professional mindset.
  7. Get therapy.  Getting fired or let go is a kind of grieving process and one of the ways you can deal with your grief in a healthy way is to seek professional help. Therapy can be expensive but chances are there are at least a few mental health professionals that can work with you on a sliding scale.
  8. Exercise. Even if it’s just once a week. It’s still one less day of couch surfing and eating takeout. Active body, active mind. It’s easy to slip into bad habits like not leaving your apartment all day or drinking more than you normally would. The goal is not to beat yourself up for having those bad habits, it’s to gradually replace them with good ones (this advice applies for the employed as well as the unemployed).
  9. Give yourself a block of time devoted to just searching for jobs. I’m somewhat of a morning person after years of waking up at 6 a.m. to 7 a.m, so I tend to search for jobs in the morning and finish around 1 p.m. If you’re more of a night owl, start your search after lunch and finish in the early evening. Your job now is to search for a job, so structure is important. There will be days where searching for jobs seems too daunting, so if you need a mental health break, take one. It’s better to fill out job applications and send resumes confidently than to do a robotic job search just because.
  10. Reconnect with family and friends. This is a great opportunity to remind yourself that you are loved and connected to a world bigger than work. It could also mean networking opportunities. Sometimes someone knows someone who knows someone who works at your dream company and can help get your foot in the door.