There is no doubt that working has many benefits to those of us diagnosed with a mental health issue. Being among people and socializing rather than relegating ourselves to lying on the couch watching television is only one of them.
In this piece, we are going to take a stroll down the path to employment and find answers to some of the most pressing questions regarding seeking a career despite having mental health problems.
First, You Are Not Alone
Before we delve into the information I wish to share with you, I wanted to take a moment and shore up your defenses.
If you are like me, you might feel sometimes that you have failed as a person because you have missed so many opportunities in your lifetime. Perhaps you didn’t marry the person you wanted, or you didn’t finish college.
Whatever you are feeling, you are not a failure.
I understand very well the sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when you think of how many years you have lived and having little to nothing to show for it.
I have no house, children, spouse and own a car I cannot drive. I live in low-income housing, have a LINK card, and draw social security disability insurance (SSDI). By the standards of the world, I am nothing. A failure.
However, acquiring things is the way the world measures success, and it is totally wrong.
Society should not quantify our worth by our wealth, health, or any other measurement, and neither should we. You and I are valuable simply because we are human beings and because we are still alive despite all we have been through.
I have shared my experience with how the world has measured me to let you know, you are not alone.
What Did You Want to Be When You Grew Up?
The first step in finding the job or career you desire is to write down the things you do best and your strengths. Afterward, you can match them up with a career that is right for you.
Where I began my own search in 1990 was by thinking first about what I wanted to become when I was a child. There were two big careers I daydreamed about as a little girl and a teenager. One, I wanted to get married and have a large family. Two, I wanted to become a published author.
To follow these dreams, in 1993, on a warm and sunny April afternoon I said, “I Do.”
Marriage and children proved to be an unsustainable dream for me, as I was too ill to enjoy being in an intimate relationship and ran away eight years later. I experienced back then the crushing of my daydreams and felt a failure.
However, looking back I can see that marriage not as a mistake but as an experiment that proved to me that I did not want the career of wife and mother.
Writing, my other dream, became a reality. I will not say that it has been an easy goal to accomplish, it has not been. I have needed to hone my writing skills and struggled to find my genre. However, in 2015 I published my first book and began a blog that has since gone international.
So, I’m asking you, what did you want to become when you grew up?
Take Stock of Your Talents and Strengths
I ask that you try the following method. Sit down, take a piece of paper, and fold it in three columns.
In column one, write “my talents,” in column two write “my strengths,” and in column three write “jobs I want.”
There is only one rule for this procedure, do not say to yourself that you have neither talent nor strength because that simply is not true. All of us have these things and it only takes a few moments of inner-searching to realize what they are.
I’m going to give you some examples from my own list to help you to start your own.
Column One: My Talents.
- I can write rather well and enjoy sharing my thoughts through the written word.
- I understand and use the Word Office Suite.
- I enjoy public speaking. The bigger the audience the better I like it.
- I am creative. I enjoy writing, drawing, and singing.
- I’m intelligent loving everything science and enjoy reading research papers on neurology.
- I can type 144 wpm.
Column Two: My Strengths.
- I am a survivor and have always found a way to live through many disasters.
- I am open-minded. I enjoy listening to other’s opinions. I like nothing more than to sit and discuss different beliefs and thoughts than I.
- When warranted, I am extremely loyal.
- I’m the person you want around in an emergency. I keep my cool and do what is necessary to help.
- I am brave. I do not shrink away from a challenge and love it best when the odds seem insurmountable.
- I am persistent. I will keep chipping away at a problem until it has resolved enough for me to accept its resolution.
Column Three: What Career Would I Enjoy?
This is a tricky one because sometimes the career we want may be out of reach for one reason or another. However, that DOES NOT mean we can’t work towards the goal of that career anyway.
- I want to be a Ph.D. specializing in Psychological Neurology.
- I want to be published by a big publishing house.
- I want to be an internationally recognized speaker.
- I want to live a quiet life enjoying and savoring it.
Now, make your own list and don’t leave off anything. Just because you believe it is an unreachable goal, dream big, live large, and enjoy the process of self-discovery.
Don’t be modest and do not fear to recognize what you have already done in your life. If you are a stay at home mom or dad, you have enormous organizational skills. You also have the strengths of love, understanding, patience, and creativity.
If you are someone who has never worked due to a disability, you have skills linked to survival such as knowing how to apply for help getting food, shelter, and clothing. You also understand the realities of living on a limited budget.
These are the skills that many people are desperate to learn, so never believe you have nothing to offer because you do.
How Can I Find a Job That Fits My Talents and Strengths?
Now that you have written your three columns, sit back and consider what kind of job is a good fit. One way to do this is to enlist the help of friends, family members, mentors, or employment specialist.
When consulting with someone about the possibility of working, remember to bring and share your three-column list. Then sit down and discuss some realistic options that you qualify to do.
In the United States, most states offer programs to help people find employment. The federal government offers programs like the ticket-to-work program to assist those on disability in finding positions.
However, do not forget to talk about jobs or careers you have dreamt of acquiring.
Also, when speaking with some folks you will find resistance to thinking of what your career choices. It is vital to remember that it is not their life you are planning, it is yours.
Returning to or Entering College
If the job you have want requires a higher degree than what you may already hold, then perhaps you might consider going to college.
Many of us received the message while growing up that we aren’t smart enough, while others heard the same from an abusive partner in an adult relationship. Because of this maltreatment, for many, attending college is a horrifying thought.
However, it is time to evict those old tapes of the words that have held you back from your mind.
Told over and again while growing up that I was a “big dumb” girl, I believed those words spoken by my father. Then, as a Junior in high school, I went to my high school guidance counselor seeking advice about college, but he told me I wouldn’t succeed and should quit high school. He also said I would never amount to anything.
For years I believed I was too stupid to be successful or to enter and graduate from college. This belief became a self-fulfilling prophesy as I tried and tried to attend college but dropped out repeatedly because of my mental health problems.
It wasn’t until I was fifty-five years old that I reentered college once again. I finally graduated with my Associate in Arts degree in Psychology after twenty-seven years of starting and stopping my college career. I had once and for all beaten the recorded voices playing in my head saying I was stupid and not succeed replacing them with, “I am intelligent and I am successful.”
If you want to go to college, there are no barriers to doing so. There are scholarships and grants available to pay your way, and there is absolutely no age limit on learning.
Even if you try and fail, you can honestly say to yourself that college isn’t right for you. I don’t think you will fail though. Why? Because you are like me, you have survived so much in your life that studying for an exam is peanuts.
If college is not your thing, then fine. That’s okay. Your talents and abilities are valuable no matter where you choose to employ them.
Applying and Interviewing for Your Dream Job
As many of you already know, applying for employment is sometimes overwhelming. The application process is time-consuming and the questions seemingly endless.
Then the interviews begin.
However, if getting a job was only involved in the search and interviews, it would be easy. One also needs to prepare for likely rejection from a position you had truly wished to acquire. Rejection is hard on everyone, but especially so when you struggle with a mental health condition.
However, there are steps you can take to minimize the toll job seeking will take on your mental health.
One of these things is to create a realistic job-seeking plan. Spend two days a week looking for a job instead of five to seven. One day actively read through job postings and another applying for the jobs that interest you.
While job seeking, remember to take good care of yourself. Before you begin the process of looking for employment, write down a list of coping skills you can use to alleviate the stress of uncertainty and possible rejections.
Identify and utilize resources that will help you stay grounded such as people you can turn to for comfort and advice.
A Closing Message from Me to You
I realize I have used examples from my own life to give a perspective to this piece, and I hope that has not been a hindrance to your preparing for and seeking a job.
One thing I wish to impart more than anything else is the following closing thoughts.
First, it is NEVER too late to improve yourself. Whether it is working as a volunteer, returning to college, or finding the career you’ve always wanted, you are never too old to reach for the stars.
Second, age is only a number. Yes, our bodies begin aching and sagging as we age, but that does not mean when the pain of arthritis strikes you are past your prime. In fact, if you ask those of us who have reached middle-age, the years we have lived works in our favor. We are more mature, less likely to run from a challenge, and have an enormous amount of hard-earned wisdom to share.
Finally, never, ever give up your dreams. Act on them and do your best to make them come true. What’s the alternative, living in regret?
Which option sounds better to you?