Thoughts On Holding A Job With Schizophrenia

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Being on Social Security Disability Insurance at the age of 36 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.

 

Thoughts on Socializing While At Work

I wanted to originally do this in one post.  But I had to break it into two smaller posts.  Consider this my buy one, get one free promotion. I do enjoy having good conversations one on one or with small groups.  But far too often we are kept apart from people on an individual basis.  We seldom have in depth conversations with our coworkers because there isn’t enough time during the work day to just sit down and chat with your coworkers.  And most people are usually too tired to spend time with coworkers at the end of a shift or they have family obligations.  We work with these people every day, sometimes for years at a time, yet we rarely get to really know them.  The irony about most jobs is that much of what is done during an eight hour work day is redundant busy work, especially in most office jobs.  Most of what is done in an office, from my experience any way, seems could be done in half the time the work shift demands people be at their cubicles and acting busy.  I found the same thing in high school and college.  Some of those classes could have been only half as long and almost all of them could have been more stimulating.  I had a couple friends who were homeschooled for part of their academic careers and they said they usually had only four hours of classes a day while I had at least seven.  And they still did better on tests, and later their careers, than many kids I went to regular school with.  Unless you are working in the trades, working in the medical field, or working in a factory, most jobs could probably easily be done from home via telecommuting or with only four to six hour work days.  Even store clerks have to always look busy.

During the years I worked in retail I was told it was bad and tactless to chat with my coworkers while we were on the clock.  Who decided this?  I wasn’t asked for my opinion. Can’t have coworkers knowing each other and getting along well, now can we?  That might make things awkward when a coworker gets fired or reprimanded for arbitrary reasons. As long as we’re not insulting the bosses, the company, the customers, etc., than screw you.  As long as we are still helping the customers and getting our work done, it shouldn’t matter that coworkers would spend a few minutes talking to each other during slow times.  The same people we sell to in the large chain stores chat with their coworkers in their offices but manage to get their work done, let’s not kid ourselves.  Why should we have to look busy when we have a few free moments?  Why shouldn’t we be allowed to get to know our coworkers?  My coworkers and I didn’t complain when our bosses took half hour cigarette breaks, hid out in their offices for hours at a time claiming they were doing ‘paperwork’, taking longer than allowed lunches, or talked with their friends and family on company time.  And some people wonder why fast food workers are demanding $15 an hour.  I don’t think it’s the money that’s as large of a deal as the lack of respect and accountability that front line workers get from their managers and their companies.

Yes, the money matters.  The money from fast food and service jobs matters more than twenty to thirty years ago simply because there aren’t that many manufacturing jobs left, at least not in America.  We are running out of jobs that people with less than average intelligence can hold.  Those jobs are being outsourced and even those outsourced jobs are being taken over by machines. A buddy of mine works at a caller center for a bank and is sometimes concerned about his bank outsourcing his job to India.  Yet, the man and woman in India may soon be worried about their jobs being taken over by automated programs.  I get my prescription medications refilled by an automated program that calls me when I’m running low already.  The only time I actually deal with a human is when I pick my medications up at the pharmacy.  And in several years when delivery drones get real good, I may not even have to do that.  Dominos Pizza is already experimenting with delivery drones that take your order right to your door in some countries. Sheesh, my five year old nephew might not even need a driver’s license when he turns sixteen in eleven years.

No longer can a kid not smart enough for college move into a factory, farming, or mining job for the next fifty years of his life.  These twenty to thirty somethings working at McDonald’s or Wal-Mart would have been doing factory work if they came of age in the 1950s instead of the 1990s or 2000s. They are not lazy and unmotivated like most of the popular culture and elder generations think they are.  People thought the World War II generation were drunkards and fornicators when they were in their teens and twenties during the Roaring Twenties.  The clean shaven 18 year old GI who grew up dirt poor in the 1930s that was a private in World War II probably had a 35 year old commanding officer who drank copious amounts of bootlegged alcohol and had lots promiscuous sex with flapper girls and suffragettes during Prohibition.  I also doubt the World War II generations of Japan and Germany are held in such reverence; they might even be considered an embarrassment.  The world is a stage, we are the actors, and the history books are almost always written by the winners.

If our elders were born in 1980 instead of 1950 they’d be irritated about having only fast food and retail jobs as easily available jobs too.  Bill Gates once said that my grandparents generation would have called making hamburgers an opportunity.  Smug and hypocritical advice coming from someone who outsourced a lot of his company’s work.  It could be that once wages get to $15 an hour, then front line employees will be replaced by machines.  Yet, I have never seen a computer shop at Home Depot or a robot eat at Subway.  Reminds of a story I heard from a TED talk when the CEO of an auto maker in Detroit and the head of the auto workers’ union were talking.  The company president was talking about putting in robots in the factory and jokingly asked the union boss how he would get robots to pay union dues.  The union man jokingly asked the auto exec how is he going to get robots to buy cars.  Just some things to think about.  Things could get ugly in the next couple decades.  Occupy Wall Street could just be the start.

Being Held Accountable While Having A Mental Illness

         This is kind of a tough topic to write about.  I’m going to discuss being held accountable while having a mental illness.  I know that I am walking a very fine line when I say that there were times that I, as a mentally ill person, needed a healthy dose of tough love from my friends and family.  Fortunately, I have friends and family that know me well enough that they know when I’m using my illness as an excuse for when I could be doing better.

         Being mentally ill myself, I completely realize that not all mentally ill individuals would fare well at all under the tough love approach, especially when applied hap hazard.  I am not advocating hap hazard approach to tough love with anyone.  I am saying that there are some of us who can handle such a thing, in the right manner applied at the right time.  It is a fine line to walk and should be applied only when a support person (whether it be family or friends or counselors, etc.) knows the mentally ill individual extremely well and knows when it will work.  It is far from an exact science.  I would go as far as saying it’s like raising children, knowing that some things work with one of your kids but doesn’t work at all with another.

          Fortunately, it is possible to hold someone accountable without resorting to tough love.  Tough love should be used only as a last resort.  But use with caution and always use with healthy doses of love.

         My bouts with schizophrenia and depression made the going in college and the first few years of work extremely rough.  There were times that I just wanted to quit on the idea of being able to work.  But with people like my parents, my friends, my psych doctor, my counselors at college and later when I was working, and my extended family, I had plenty of people holding me accountable.

       Support people are not there just to be a shoulder to cry on.  They are also there to administer a healthy dose of discipline and tough love when necessary.  And there are times when tough love is necessary for even the mentally ill if we are to improve our current situations.  We have to be held accountable like everyone else, sometimes even more so.  I am sure there are many times I didn’t make things easy for my support people at all by my actions and bizarre behavior. 

        Had I not had a counselor to meet with once a week while in college to help keep me grounded and focused, I probably would not have graduated college.  I certainly wouldn’t have done as well in my classes as I did.  And that is simply because I knew I had someone who was going to ride my case if I didn’t do the job in classes. 

       Had my friends and family not encouraged me through occasional tough love, I would not have tried several different jobs before I finally I found a job I could do that I was good at and that didn’t cause me much stress.  I may not have been working my dream job, but I had the discipline to stick to a job for over four years had my friends and family not challenged me to keep looking for work when I was ready to throw in the towel.

       I didn’t like the tough love approach at the time it was being applied.  The thing is, it’s not supposed to be liked; it’s supposed to motivate you to do good things with your life.  Sure I as a mentally ill individual could just mope for the rest of my days about what I have lost?  But what does that gain me? 

        Sure you are mentally ill or may know someone who is mentally ill?  But what are you going to do about it now?  Are you going to learn about the illnesses and try to better yourself?  Or are you just going to drift through life?  The choice is yours.