ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Employment: Don't Give up Too Easily

Jack Bragen
Sunday February 02, 2020 - 06:00:00 PM

Not everyone is interested in having employment. If you are mentally ill and disabled and aren't interested in that, there is nothing wrong with that. Yet, this week's column is intended for readers who have thought about working, and who wonder if they would want to try that. 

Government benefits exist because not everyone should have to work to survive. Because of that, if a person with a disability seeks work, they are doing that because they want to, and not because they have to. There are exceptions to this, since SSI gives a meagre amount. Many people can't live on what the government provides and must supplement their income with work. 

The big problem with living strictly on government benefits is the economic deprivation of that. Being broke is no fun. And, for many people on SSDI and/or SSI, the money lasts halfway through the month, and after that, we are in the dire straits of having an empty bank account. 

Many persons with mental illness are taught to believe we can't work. Persons who work in the mental health field are not invested in, or convinced of, our potential. I've been told numerous times by those who work in mental health that I am unable to work. If I believed this, I would not have pursued jobs. If I hadn't pursued work, my life up to this point would be missing something very good. The experience of having worked adds to the fabric of life. 

In my late teens I worked as a janitor, and this area of work wasn't good for me. However, in my early twenties, I was employed and self-employed in electronic repair. I also worked for temp agencies in numerous capacities. For example, at one point I was an inventory taker. At another point, I did merchandising. At another time, I performed manual labor. And I've done a number of other jobs, mostly when I was a lot younger than I am now. I was a success in less than half of the positions I tried to do. However, no one has the right to project on me that my work doesn't amount to much. 

As someone with my psychiatric disorder, I could claim that my various types of work have been far more successful than anyone should or could expect. Yet, people have criticized and have invalidated. 

The idea that we should be employed should not be a way of slamming ourselves or of being bashed by family. Work should be joy. When work isn't joy, you should not do it. The exception to this is where you need to work to survive. 

I am not claiming that fulfilling the expectations of a job will be comfortable. If you must always be comfortable, you will not be able to work. When at work, the energy necessary to perform is far more than what many mentally ill people are accustomed to. 

If we are a little older and have not been acclimated to working, it is harder to adapt. If we are unused to demanding environments, it is hard to ramp up to what is expected. Additionally, medication, especially antipsychotics, limit energy output. Thus, when we are trying to perform in a job, sometimes we are fighting against meds. This is precarious. This is so because when we rev up to meet the demands of a job, with or without ingesting a lot of caffeine, it may interfere with the effectiveness of the meds. 

I am currently in a work attempt. I am not sure of whether this will be successful. Yet, if I do not succeed in this particular job, it doesn't say anything about me. There are numerous entry-level jobs, some of which I can do and some I can't. If I never try, I will never find out. 

Being a published author is a thing that numerous professional people dream of, and which many find unattainable. I've done this, even while I've been told by professionals that I can't work, and even while their presumption is clear that I am not as good as they are. 

The thing to remember about a job is, if you stumble, if you fail, get up, brush the dust off and try again. This is a truism that many people might characterize as Republican. Yet, I have found it to be so. 

If a mistake is made in a job, don't throw out the whole job unless you have to because of the circumstances. If a job is lost, get another one. 

Or not. If you would rather take your hat out of the ring, there is nothing wrong with that. Parents and others do not have the right to belittle a mentally disabled person for not working. 

People will not hesitate to criticize your efforts. A counselor recently implied that I can't work. When I questioned/confronted her about it, she wouldn't admit it, and she deflected the question. Just because people who work in the mental health field have an opinion about us, doesn't mean they know what they are talking about. 

In a recent day in my work attempt, I had the thought that I did not really need the job, that I was doing this because I wanted to and not because I had to. This resulted in poor job performance that day. It is a disadvantage to feel that you do not really need a job. However, if you are mentally ill and if you feel that you have to do a job, this may not be accurate, and it can also create an increase in symptoms. 

In work attempts, people with mental illness must walk a fine line, one of mastering a job, which entails effort, energy and fortitude, versus keeping symptoms under control. There does not have to be this conflict, if it is a job that really suits you. But, as a third consideration, finding the ideal job is a rarity, and if we want to work, we may have to take something less than ideal. 


You're still invited to visit my professional Facebook page. I haven't added to it in a while, but will do so when I can.