My Recovery from Schizophrenia: The Early Working Years

  • It is a testament to the strangeness of what happened to me that I was doing something not many people could.  But if you could, would you want to be doing it? 


    On August 13, 1990 I started my first full-time job as the administrative assistant to the director at an insurance brokerage.  Two months later my boss decided to give me telemarketing duties.  Each day I had to cold call prospects, dialing down a list of phone numbers we got from who knows where.  I flubbed and floundered my way through.  Is it any wonder that I probably needed to increase the Stelazine to 10 mg during this stress, instead of lowering the dose to 2 mg and then tapering off?

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    I was a telemarketer.  I kid you not.


    One day, in the middle of winter with my seasonal affective thing going on, I burst into tears in the conference room and disclosed to my boss I was on medication.  This was met with a box of tissues and her confession that her brother had bipolar.


    This first job lasted twenty months.  It was my way out of the system, enabling me to pay the rent on my studio apartment, put food on the table, gas in my car and clothes on my back.  This falls under the heading: don't try this in your own recovery unless you could famously sell the devil an ice skating rink.  Nobody bought what I was selling.  Eventually my job was downsized because management needed to pay the bills.


    My supervisor left the firm shortly after and referred me to her new boss, who hired me on the first interview.  In this next position I went out of the fry pan into the fire.  I had to keep track of hundreds of amendments and policy changes, all of which I failed at and let the work pile up in favor of more pleasant tasks.


    A year ago, I worked with an editor on the first draft of my manuscript, and he suggested that most jobs were soul-sucking, and especially so for people with mental illnesses.  I didn't get it back then-I wanted to book out of the housing project so fast that I took the first job that came along, rather than waiting for my editorial assistant dream job to appear.


    Learn from my experiences, folks, and take the time to explore what makes you tick and the kind of work you won't want to clock out of at noon.  It requires an open mind and some amount of effort to pursue non-traditional jobs, but the payoff is worth it.  Right now I work as a public service librarian.  The job requirements are to be cheerful and help people.


    One thing I do regret: that maybe I wasn't kinder to the other residents along the way.  Impatient to distance myself from what happened to me, I couldn't accept that living in supported housing was a life-long option.  Yet for some of us, the extra benefit of a counselor's support could be the difference between living in an attic room in your parents' house and having your own place out in the world.  In retrospect the choice is obvious, right?


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    Never again would I allow myself to judge anybody else's decision as to how he wanted to live his life.  The ultimate goal at the end of the day is to have treated everyone you meet with dignity.  In a coming blog entry, I'll give an insider's guide to finding, getting into and living in a good housing system where the staff respect the residents and provide support and encouragement.


    I am a great fan of Robin Cunningham and suggest you read his blogs as well as mine.  Over and over he alludes to the truth that almost nothing is impossible, it just may take you longer to get there or you'll have to come at it from a different angle.  This is the secret to how I healed:  I went back to school.  When I was laid off from my last-ever insurance broker job in June 1997, I met a career counselor who gave me vocational testing and told me I'd make a good librarian.


    It took me TEN YEARS of hell and heartache before I got hip to the truth that working in business wasn't for me.  So don't despair.  The moral of this blog entry is to do the best you can with what you have, keep your goals realistic so that you don't set yourself up to fail, and do what makes you happy.


    Give yourself as much time as you need to take to succeed.  Your efforts will bear fruit in due season, so be patient.  When the moment comes, you'll be ready.

Published On: May 05, 2008