The Working Life: The Top Ten List, Part Two

  • In this third blog entry in my Working Life series, I'll present the last five items on my "Top Ten List" of things I've learned during my career span so far. It is my hope that you come away with the sense that there is some kind of job out there for you. With Barack Obama in the White House, I hope that people with psychiatric and other disabilities who want to work at part-time or minimum wage jobs will be able to keep their jobs and not risk losing Medicaid or Medicare. Any universal health care option has to be affordable to everyone and not take up such a chunk of money that it's not worth it to stay employed because all your earnings go towards premiums and drug co-pays.

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    6. Start out doing volunteer work, an internship, or get a part-time job to prepare for the demands of permanent, full-time employment. This gives you the foundation-solid ground-that enables you to find a more challenging position. It does what I call "establish the floor" of what you can do. I also would encourage anyone to find office work as a good "starter job." Though I wasn't cut out to work in business [or so it seemed-the career was actually the mismatch], I will never regret my time spent working in insurance brokerages because I learned valuable skills and lessons, and came into contact with people from different cultures and backgrounds. Had I not gone through this trial by fire, I would be at a disadvantage.


    7. Find the kind of "starter job" that will enable you to transition into your ideal job. The average worker changes jobs if not careers at least six or seven times in his or her life. To maximize your success, you should cast your net far and wide. People with SZ tend to be good with computers, so if you can't tolerate non-stop activity with other people, consider web design or computer programming. There is a job out there for you-it takes persistence, resourceful and sometimes luck to find it. You don't have to work on Wall Street or be a cardiologist [though if you wanted to and could do that, by all means try]. The point is new industries are created all the time. You deserve to hold on to the hope that you'll obtain the kind of work that pleases your soul and is fulfilling. It may not be in a traditional setting, and it may not happen when you first start out.


    8. When you find a job, it will enable you to have a social life, so treat yourself to dinner and a movie with friends. What happens at work could be stressful, so keep in mind the coping strategies talked in the "The Working Life: An Introduction." Doing things with friends and family after hours or on the weekends will boost your mental health. If you can save up the money, I recommend you take a vacation at least once a year. I have two weeks off in June and will be traveling to Saratoga Springs, NY for a writing conference. Also, keep rested and try to get at least seven or eight hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. Spending an hour each evening to unwind has psychological benefits. I recommend that your commute to and from work be no more than fifty minutes each way. For me, even that would be a stretch.


  • 9. Create a daily routine if you collect disability benefits and have no intention of working at paid employment. A friend told me that when she was on SSD, she always made a point to keep busy, so did volunteer work to occupy her time. Again, this is about creating the life that works for you, and if your idea of the kind of life you want to live is to stay at home, that's your prerogative. As long as it's a conscious choice you've adopted, you're the only one who has to be OK with it. If a lack of motivation is part of the package of how the SZ manifests itself in you, make a goal of doing just one thing each day. Your "one thing" could be as simple as reading a book. Consider recovery to be your number-one job. I feel if you can't work, or tried and it didn't work out, keep hopeful. Things could change and another job might work out better, or you may need to collect a disability check. Either way, a working life, as I can't stress enough, is the one that works for you. I'll make no bones about it: it's not easy living with the SZ, yet you are the one in control. As I said before, staying on your meds will benefit you greatly. Plan your day, it's up to you. "Self-determination" is a fancy word that simply means each person has the right to decide how he or she wants to live her life. Your idea of recovery will differ from mine.

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    10. Network with other people who have psychiatric diagnoses for mutual support and to pick their brains as to what works for them, solutions and techniques they've found for dealing with symptoms, navigating the world, and fighting stigma. Without going into detail so as to not break confidentiality, I'll tell you I've met five women who meet once a month in each other's houses to talk about our lives and share what's happening. Everyone has a full-time job and feels a connection to each other because we struggled [and in some ways still do] and yet achieved our employment goals.


    In the end, it comes down to dignity. Having a job is the sure-fire way I know to feel productive and like I'm a part of the world. All of us should have the opportunity to work at a meaningful job. I'll close by re-affirming my hope that with Barack Obama in office, people can work at gift shops in malls or other places and not risk losing their health benefits or find out their paychecks will barely cover the premiums or go totally towards premiums and co-pays.

Published On: November 11, 2008