When I was first diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia I was clueless as to what exactly that entailed. I knew that I would have to take anti-psychotic medications for a while and go to therapy. Yet I had absolutely no idea how much my life was going to change.
As a result of my worsening mental illness, my ability to concentrate gradually became less and less. I also had problems remembering details and paying attention. It became bad enough that I had to give up on my original career dreams. I started college as a Pre-Pharmacy student with the intention of becoming a research scientist for a pharmaceutical company. Because of my worsening mental illness and deepening paranoid this dream became impossible to achieve.
My grades were declining to where I wasn’t even sure I could stay in college, let alone go after my dream. A change in course was in order. Even though I knew very little about the subject I switched over Business courses. My thinking at the time was I wanted to be employable immediately after college if I did get better.
As my college career progressed in my business classes I never achieved the level of academic success I once had. This was due to my illness making it impossible to concentrate for long periods of time or pay attention to minute details. I also had problems prioritizing projects so I often had to rush my college class projects. As a result I didn’t get as good of grades as I could have had I not been mentally ill.
With all of the effort I was putting into just getting through my classes, I wasn’t even thinking about what jobs I would be good at once I finished college. I really had no clue what I wanted to do once I was done with school. I didn’t research potential careers very closely, at least not careers that someone with my particular illness could do.
I was in a really odd place, looking back in retrospect. I was mentally ill but I had been able to maintain much of my original natural intelligence. I had always been one of the most intelligent kids in my class in high school and even managed to do well in my classes in college in spite of my paranoid schizophrenia.
My problem was I had serious stress and paranoia issues concerning other people. Those issues, along with my problems with anger and depression, made, and still make, holding a regular forty-hour a week job for any length of time impossible. It was, and still is, frustrating to be sitting on this intelligence but not able to use it, at least not in a job.
After I graduated from college I applied for every business related job I could find. I didn’t get many responses to my inquiries. I was sending over twenty resumes a week but was having absolutely no luck in landing an interview. I was painfully finding out that the “apply for everything out there and hope something hits” tactic to job applications does not work. It wasn’t until a few years later I learned that it’s far better to focus in what you want and be patient.
I thought that I wanted to work in banking or insurance. I believed that these were stable industries that would be not too difficult to get into. Yet I couldn’t get interviews for even these industries. I was painfully finding out another truth: Job hunts immediately after college take a long time. The person who finds a job before graduation is not the rule; he or she is the exception.
Finally after three months of living with my parents and futile searching, I changed my expectations. I decided that I was taking the first thing that came along. That job came in the form of a minimum wage job as a store clerk, and this was a part time job on top of that.
The first few months weren’t that bad. The boss liked me and I worked well with the customers. Yet I had a coworker that was constantly on my case and was very unpleasant to be around. It finally became bad enough that after four months of this that I decided as soon as something different, not necessarily better, came along I was going to jump on it. The biggest reason was to be done with this disagreeable coworker. I couldn’t put my finger exactly on it, but I think this coworker found my quirks of being mentally ill frustrating. I never said anything negative to this person though inside I was seething angry with this person.
One thing I couldn’t deal with very well in the past because of my illness is work place politics. I have gotten better about it with age because of better coping methods and being able to better tell when I’m just being paranoid. In my younger years I could never understand work place politics, pecking orders, jockeying, etc. My thinking as a younger man was we are on the same side and we ought to make an honest attempt to get along. Now that I’m a few years older and have a few years of work experience, I have just accepted politics in the office as just part of human nature. Just because they occur does not mean that I am expected to participate whole-heartedly in the gossiping or anything malicious. But I am expected to do my job to the expectations of my bosses and coworkers, and that is what is ultimately important in keeping a job.
If you are an individual with mental illness and you do seek a job, know that there are personality differences among your coworkers and office politics. Just know that these are rarely personal, they are just part of human nature that cannot be changed. It took me a real long time to figure this out. Until I did figure it out, my working life was often miserable simply because I had misguided expectations.
My expectations have changed so many times over the years since I was eighteen. My expectations about working alone has gone from where I wanted to be a great research scientist to wanting to work in insurance to hating even part time work to fearing I would never work at all to now I work twenty hours a week as a custodian back to not working right at the moment. I don’t think I would have become interested in writing had I never become mentally ill. Maybe something positive has come out of all of this after all.
I don’t know where this journey is going to end. But I do know that right now that it is quite exciting and each day brings something different and new. I wouldn’t have had this if I never become ill or had to change my expectations.