Working With Mental Illness

Being on Social Security Disability Insurance at the age of 37 was not the path in life I hoped for.  Like most people I was raised to respect and honor the value of paid employment.  During the summers I mowed lawns, worked on my uncle’s farm, and occasionally delivered newspapers even in grade school.  I accepted my first “real job” working as a cook at McDonalds the summer before my junior year of high school.  My brother had worked there for a few years so they hired me.  I was fired a few weeks later because I couldn’t work fast enough to satisfy their needs.  I was even yelled at by the owner my first day on the job because I wasn’t working fast enough.  That was my introduction to the work world.

Over the course of the next several years I worked in retail stores and went to school.  By this time my mental illness was taking effect.  Some days I’d get panic attacks so bad I’d vomit before I went into work.  I was on edge at work except for when I was working alone or in a small group.  I just couldn’t work with the public without feeling terrible anxiety.  Because of this anxiety I would frequently make mistakes at my jobs and get yelled at by coworkers and customers.  This only made the anxiety worse as the months and years went by.  Not being able to deal with the public essentially killed any chance I had at a career as most jobs are now service related.  I really had no aptitude for working with my hands so I never considered trade school.

When I was twenty five, after I washed out of the masters’ program in college, I got a job working in a factory.  It was simple enough work that I didn’t really have to think about it.  But it was an overnight shift job and over the course of several weeks I couldn’t adapt to sleeping in the day.  Within a few weeks my work was suffering because I couldn’t sleep.  Once again problems with coworkers rose up.  One night when I made a mistake one of my coworkers threatened to kill me.  I made up an excuse that I was sick and walked off the job that night.  I never reported the incident because I feared management wouldn’t take me seriously.  It has been my experience over the course of most of my life that no one took my problems seriously.  To this day I still don’t talk about my problems until they become major issues.

I actually liked what I was doing at the factory.  I even liked when I was doing janitorial work for the county government.  In my county job I worked alone for the first two and a half years I was there.  And I loved it.  I could do my work, not deal with coworker drama, and I had my weekends off.  It was the perfect job for me.  But I was too good at that job.  I got promoted, moved to the courthouse, and was on a staff of a handful of janitors.  It went well for awhile until we hired some people who didn’t want to do good work and wanted to start drama.  I never understood why people always wanted to start drama at a job.  We were there to accomplish a job and make money, nothing more and nothing less.  But some people just aren’t content unless they are causing problems for others.  My coworkers at the factory got on me because my work was suffering because I couldn’t sleep well during the day.  My request to go to day shift was denied so I quit.  I could already feel mental health problems building and I knew it was only a matter of time before I had a full breakdown.  As it was a few months later I went to the mental hospital.

My only real complaints about work was dealing with the drama of coworkers and dealing with customers who thought they could treat me like dirt because I was making minimum wage.  It must make some people feel important treating small people poorly.  I wouldn’t know.  I could do just fine when I was working alone and only had to see my boss once or twice a day.  As long as the work was done I had no complaints or issues.  For me working alone is the best kind of job.  I think it runs in my family.  My father was self employed, one grandfather was a farmer and another was self employed.  I just hate dealing with office politics and needless drama.  And of course those are the staples of most modern workplaces.  I couldn’t figure it out.  But then I never could figure out why normal people act the way they do.  I can’t figure out why it’s too tough for some of you to just attempt to put differences aside and compromise.  I certainly can’t figure out why my culture praises ignorance and belligerence.  I am not ignorant and I have never respected ignorant people.  And I never will.

If I were to ever get back into the workplace it would be where I worked alone and didn’t deal with other people’s drama.  I could see doing a work from home job over telecommuting.  I have a friend and a cousin who do such work already.  Many office jobs can already be done this way even today.  But I know that some people don’t want to give up the office environment or give that much freedom to their workers.  Personally I’d love to telecommute.  I never understood the appeal of fighting traffic everyday to deal with people whose motives I can only guess just to do a job and get paid.  I know in the past I have said I never want to work again.  I should say that I don’t want to do any type of the work I have done in the past.  I don’t want to work retail and deal with unruly coworkers and customers.  I don’t want to work in an office and fight office politics.  I don’t want to work in manufacturing that is set up to wash out people who don’t toe the line exactly.  But that’s what my experience is in, even though I was never good at it.  I probably couldn’t make a career out of any of these jobs because many of those jobs are going to get automated within the next ten to twenty years.  My only real possibility of returning to work is doing alone work that allows me to use creativity, kind of like what I do with this blog.  Maybe I should become a professional ghost writer.

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Drama Free Living

It’s been quite quiet for me this summer.  I haven’t had any flare ups or episodes.  I haven’t even heard my neighbors arguing for weeks.  Somedays I wonder if I even have neighbors it’s been so quiet in my complex.  About the only time I see any of my neighbors is when I leave my apartment to run errands.  I don’t sit outside too much anymore just because it’s been so hot.  Fortunately we have only another six to eight weeks of hot weather left.  But I have been enjoying the peace and quiet.  I also enjoy not having flare ups or dealing with stupid and rude people all the time.

I used to have to deal with a lot of drama at work and in some friendships.  I haven’t dated for several years  simply because the drama and ups and downs just got old.  Having schizophrenia while trying to date adds a whole another level of difficulty.  And I came to the conclusion that I just don’t want to be bothered with it anymore.  I have enough problems as is.  I also had to cut negative people out of my life.  Sure it meant ending a few friendships and being real careful about who I let into my life.  And it also means much alone time.  But it’s alright because the peace and quiet is worth it.

Another thing that helps me is that I am debt free.  That is why I can live as a minimalist and not work.  I just live on my disability pension.  Right now I can budget it out that I don’t have to resort to credit cards to make it through the month.  I don’t have to take a thankless and stressful job because I don’t need the money.  As far as I’m concerned, the biggest reason to work for someone else is the money.  Being an employee, especially in today’s ever shifting and toxic work environments, doesn’t seem to be much more than glorified serfdom.  Why should any employee give loyalty to a company when the job can be taken over by machines, outsourced overseas, or just given to a younger person for lower wages?  If you’re going to be an employee, it’s best to go to the highest bidder.  An employer won’t look out for you.  An employer doesn’t care about you either.  Neither do most of your coworkers, at least that is my experience.  A boss isn’t going to help you develop your career.  You are on your own on that one.  I can do this blog without getting paid for it because I don’t have to worry about income or paying off debts.  And I absolutely love doing this blog.  It doesn’t really seem like a job because it isn’t drudgery like I was used to in my working days.  It feels more like a hobby that evolved into a life mission.

Since I don’t have debts and am content to live a minimalist life, I am quite free to write about what needs to be written.  Life with a mental illness isn’t pretty much of the time.  It is lonely, it can be frightening, it can be long bouts of depression and sadness, and sometimes I have found myself mourning over the career and lifestyle that never was because of this illness.  But, having this illness made me resourceful and creative.  It also made me smarter.  It made me think about many things that most people never have to.  It made me ask questions that most people would never think to ask.

Right now I’m dealing with a stretch where I haven’t had any real drama for months.  It helps that I have been able to largely avoid toxic, negative, and stupid people.  That’s no small accomplishment living in tight quarters like I do.  I’m pretty content to just stay home much of the time anymore.  I have gotten to where I feel naked without a good internet connection.  I imagine that’s going to become more common in the next several years.  I’m just ahead of the curve.  And I don’t have to submit to a bad boss or bad coworkers or unreasonable customers to make money because I don’t need the money.  I can get by just on my disability pension because I don’t have debts or expensive tastes.  I won’t spend a hundred dollars on a pair of jeans or two hundred dollars on a pair of sneakers or buy a new iPhone every year or a different car every three years.  I am content with what I have.  I love being a minimalist.  And that has helped me create a life with little to no drama in spite my mental illness.