If I were to meet anyone who has been diagnosed with mental health problems and he/she were looking for advice as to what to do from the diagnosis onward, it would be 1) Don’t Give Up, 2) Look for what you are naturally good at despite your problems, and 3) Get Really Creative.
In this entry, I’m going to tell some of my personal story from the last several years. It’s a short autobiography of sorts. In February of 2006, after having washed out of the MBA program at a small state university, I decided to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance. I had recently lost my graduate assistantship due to my grades. It wasn’t that I didn’t like my classes or hate my work with the university. Far from it. I absolutely loved the work of being a research assistant, tutor, seminar presenter, and occasional substitute teacher. Yet my mental health issues were flaring up during this time. I would have been allowed to stay in school in hopes that I could raise my grades and get back on track. But the prospect of going to school without a job and no way but loans to pay for it while taking on my mental health issues just didn’t appeal to me. I was able to get through undergraduate college without any debt thanks to academic scholarships, working full time during the summers, and the much appreciated assistance of my family. I was afraid that taking on the burden of continuing graduate school with no guarantee of getting my grades back up, having to go deep into debt to continue said studies, all the while combating mental health problems and being a financial drag on my family (who were already paying through the nose for the high risk health insurance I was on for meds that otherwise would have cost almost $2,000 monthly); all of it would have been major problems that simply were not worth it.
Looking back on it, I believe I could have completed the MBA program had it not been for the mental health burdens. But, like almost everyone, I simply didn’t have the unlimited funds to cover medications, health insurance, and retaking the two classes I didn’t do well at all in. Yet, knowing myself better now at age 33 than I did at age 25, I know I would have been unhappy with being another cubicle bum jockeying for dollars. Even though I appreciate money as much as anyone I know, I also know it isn’t my only motivator or even one of my primary motivators. I have found, over the last several years of experience and looking for tendencies in my life going back to before I even started elementary school, that I really enjoyed sharing what I learned with others and giving advice. If I did complete the MBA program and then become something like a financial analyst, I wouldn’t have been meeting my need to share what I learn to others and helping others avoid problems. I love explaining things to people, assisting people, and looking up things I don’t know. I always have. Had I been able to stay on the ‘traditional’ path, I would be miserable at a cubicle job but would still have my personality slants I mentioned above. I would have probably then gone on to attempt to get a PhD just so I could teach at even a junior college. I probably would have been doing what I loved, but would have had a rough road to get there. But to quote Eric Church, “Thank God I ain’t what I almost was.”
Instead, due to circumstances beyond my control, I was forced to become competent in areas besides business and economics. While I am not an expert on treating mental health problems and issues in others, I have over the years become quite knowledgeable on how to survive with mental health problems and issues. In the process, I was able to work a part time job for over four years. I have, thanks to being on Social Security and having the earnings limitations that come with being on Social Security, become knowledgeable on how to survive on what most people in the Western world would consider below poverty level existence. I have learned how to ‘stretch a dollar’ far further than one could learn in any business school. Thanks to following my natural love of telling stories, explaining things to people, and reading, I am also a self taught writer. I have been writing seriously for only ten years as it wasn’t something I acted on until I was almost out of undergraduate college. Because of my mental health issues, my natural empathy for other people, and my natural desire to share what I learned, I eventually came to write about my experiences with mental health problems and issues. Many of these writings have found their way onto this blog, The Writing of Life. I may not have a string of letters behind my last name that ‘qualifies’ me as a trusted expert, at least not in the traditional academic sense. But with my experiences with my own mental health problems combined with my writing skills and the power of the internet in the Information Age, I can fulfill my natural talents and perhaps help some people in the process.
I have no idea where my life’s journey will go from here. But this blog will be part of it regardless. In only seven months of having a definite focus in my blog, I have had over 1,500 visits already. Though there are bloggers that get that even on a bad day, this is already more than I would have expected when I started. And that’s with sometimes infrequent posts. Being somewhat risk adverse by nature, I never would have started the process of becoming a mental health advice blogger had I never been forced to change directions. Yet “Thank God I ain’t what I almost was.”
I was wrong about the math of how long this blog has specialized on mental health issues. It’s actually been more like nine or ten months instead of the aforementioned seven months. My apologies.
Awesome post!!! “Thank God I ain’t what I almost was.” I need to start using that as a mantra when the shoulda couldas might-have-beens start taking over my thoughts. You are spot on about having to be creative. The below-the-poverty line income of SSDI really challenges you to try to survive in creative ways. And, just to let you know (in case you didn’t know already), you were super smart not to try to stay in school by taking out student loans. I made that mistake and I’ve learned what a moneymaking racket it is….and how hard it is to ever repay those suckers. And, they can also garnish your SSDI check and deduct 15% from it before it reaches you. Try surviving on the initial low, low monthly check….and then losing another 15% on top of that. Often, for me, no amount of creativity could not even begin to help that nightmare. Thanks for the post and take care.
Thank you for the comments. I knew that SSDI checks could be garnished for student loan repayment. I just didn’t know it was that much! Now I’m really glad I decided not to stay in school.