The Working Life: The Top Ten List - Part One

  • In this second entry in my blog series called "The Working Life," I want to stress that any kind of working life involves creating the life that works for you, regardless of whether you have or will seek paid employment. In the coming weeks, I'll focus on competitive jobs and volunteer work. The Top Ten List is a two-part blog entry in which I list the 10 things I've learned in my close to 19 years in the workforce. I take this hard-earned wisdom to heart and offer it to you in the spirit of wanting you to succeed should you decide to find work.

    1. Dress appropriately.


    For the interview, dress better than you would on the job, even if the job allows you to wear jeans. If you want a promotion, "act as if" you deserve the promotion, and dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Also: no funky jewelry in business. You can make a statement without looking weird. At my second job, when I came out of the hospital and returned to work, my heart wasn't in it. Subconsciously, I knew my career had been derailed and people treated me differently, so I didn't make the effort to impress anyone. I worked in an insurance brokerage, and wore an unusual copper necklace I had hand-fashioned at a jewelry-making workshop. Of course, I didn't have a chance, but doing this didn't help matters, which leads me to #2.

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    2. Disclose your psychiatric condition to your employer only if you're certain you'll need reasonable accommodations to be able to perform the job.


    The time to disclose is after you're made a job offer, not before, because they can't rescind an offer after it's made, but if you disclose on the job interview, you have no idea how it will be taken. I've been employed a long time: some employers knew I had SZ, other didn't [at least not that I was aware] or knew and didn't care. The feeling is that if you can do your job as well or better than the next person, it's nobody's business if you have a mental illness. However, the Americans with Disabilities Act-ADA Act-is in effect so that if necessary, you can request reasonable accommodations to do your job, like flexible hours on the day you need to see your doctor. If you accept a job without accommodations and later need them, speak up as soon as possible because you don't want to wait until it's difficult to do your job and you have a breakdown. An option to skirt the whole disclosure thing is to work in a mental health setting.

    3. Make your boss's work easier, and you'll be rewarded.


    Now, anything unethical you should not do, and you need to be able to differentiate between whether it's a reasonable request, or you're being taken advantage of. One time, a supervisor at work that I didn't report to asked me to take down the OSHA and Workers Compensation notices on the bulletin board, and replace them with the updated regulations. I had no problem doing this. In business, which is different, you have to decide what's acceptable to take on. At a corporation, you may want to volunteer for work that contributes to the bottom line and gets you noticed. As a woman, I drew the line at accepting any job where I'd have to make other people's coffee. I don't know how it is to work in business now because as a secretary, you may be asked to do that for your supervisor.

  • 4. Understand that it's a win-win situation: you're giving your employer eight hours' of your time, every day, and you should get something in return-a pleasant place to work free of harassment and stigma.

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    If you get the sense on a job interview or after being on the job that you're working in a hostile environment, carefully consider your options. The best time to look for a new job is while you're employed. It also looks better on your resume and in interviews with potential employers if you haven't been unemployed. Should you have to leave a job or get laid off, the key is to have six months' living expenses in an emergency fund-OK, start with two months', work your way up to three, and so on. The United States Social Security Administration gives people collecting SSDI checks a trial work period (TWP) of nine months during which you can work and still collect government disability benefits. Voila-bank the benefits or most of them, and you have an emergency fund. If you collect SSI, your benefits will be reduced while you work; there isn't any TWP.

    5. The flip side of the win-win-where you want a fun, nurturing workplace-is that it's a job, not a therapy session or amusement park.


    Ideally, your co-workers will be like family or friends, yet at the end of the day, you go home to separate lives and that's often when real life begins. You're not going to get along with everyone, and some people will make your life miserable, so that's why therapy or a support group could be the place to talk about what goes on at work. I'd love to have the kind of job where water cooler conversations were all-inclusive, and if someone asked how I was doing, I could say, "It's hard," because of the SZ. That's just not done. If it is where you work, let me know and I'll apply. Mostly, I covet the freedom to have a life outside of my mental illness, and work is the one place where I can survive and indeed thrive without focusing on the hell.

    In closing, I'll repeat my belief that any kind of working life is the one that works for you. As I hinted at in the last blog entry, the idea of a strengths-based recovery model is appealing because it involves drawing on each person's traits and skills and experiences: a package of inborn talents that everyone has, regardless of degree of disability. It's my contention that each of us has right inside us everything we need to succeed.

    Again, my goal in writing this employment-related series is to give you tools to use as you consider finding work or creating a life plan you can live with.

Published On: November 06, 2008