The Difficulty Of Having A Job When You Have Mental Health Problems

Oh what a week it has been! Friends gather round, because boy do I have a disaster of a story to tell you! 

So let’s go from the very beginning (a very good place to start I hear) which takes us back a few weeks ago to a time when I was feeling very guilty about the idea of applying for benefits from the government due to mental health problems. I know that technically I am entitled to monetary support but I have always struggled with the guilt over accepting it and for this reason, a couple of weeks ago, I decided to try and get a job. Ideally I wanted a job for only a few hours a week  because I knew that anymore and I couldn’t cope, so I was thrilled when a few days into my search I found that my local supermarket were looking for someone to do a 12 hour contract. Consequently I filled out an application form, had an interview and bingo! I got the job! But the problems did not end there… 

The problems started on my very first shift of 2-10pm on June the 23rd 2018. I arrived promptly to meet the manager who was lovely, and then I was placed on the till with the idea of shadowing another member of staff. When I was shadowing it was all fine as all I really had to do was stand there and try to figure out what was going on, but then it was my turn to go on the till and it was here that the problems began. You see, because of OCD I find it extremely hard to touch things, primarily money. Now you may be wondering why I thought I should accept a job where touching money was going to be part of the proceedings but hey, I will be honest, I didn’t know it was going to be as much of a problem as it was. From my very first customer I was in trouble. I not only had to touch money but I had to touch the till, and inside my head was screaming. Unfortunately though, I hadn’t told the members of staff about my problems so I had to simply do my best and soldier on as if nothing was wrong. It was agony. With every customer that came along I became closer and closer to tears as my anxiety levels rose and rose. I was making silly mistakes on the till because I was so anxious I couldn’t focus on what I was doing and the more failures I made the more embarrassed I became. Not only was I struggling with touching things though, I was also struggling with members of the public looking at me. You see in recent weeks my self esteem has taken a violent plummet to the depths of the bottom of the ocean (around the place the Titanic lies buried under a hell of a lot of water), and I strongly believe that I am the most hideous being to ever grace the planet. Consequently, being looked at by members of the public was really difficult and raised my anxiety levels further. 

For two hours I did my best, touching things and being seen, but then someone I knew came into the store and from there it all fell apart. Don’t get me wrong, it was lovely to see a friend as I was working but it was a friend who I haven’t seen since all of this alcohol induced weight gain and therefore they naturally commented on it. Again don’t get me wrong, nothing nasty was said, my friend just told me how well I looked, but this was enough for me to feel like the fattest person who has ever lived on the planet and from then on as I stood by that till, I was swallowing back the tears. I tried to carry on swiping and talking, being as good as I could be with customer service but soon I started to feel a panic attack coming on. All the touching, all the being seen, the encounter with a friend all got too much and soon I was finding it hard to breathe/hold back the tears/not faint. Immediately I realised that I couldn’t do the task anymore, so I ducked away to speak to the manager in the office where I had one of the most humiliating discussions I have ever had. 

Luckily the manager I spoke to was lovely, beyond lovely but it was incredibly humiliating having to explain that I was struggling on the till because I am completely mental. In hindsight I should have told my employers about the problems before (note to all people out there, if you are going to get a job, let people know about your problems first) but foolishly I had kept all that quiet in the foolish hopes that it wouldn’t be relevant . Thankfully the manager accepted what I said about my mental health problems and he sent me home, which was a big relief. I practically ran home in tears, anxious about disappointing my parents but thankfully they were lovely and understanding too. 

Cut to now, the next day, when I am currently sitting and writing this blog not knowing what to do about anything. I had a job, I managed two hours and then I ran away, so who knows what is going to happen next. I don’t know whether or not to quit (that is if I even still have a job to quit after my behaviour) or whether or not to try and give it another go. All I know is that that two hour shift was utterly and completely terrifying and I feel like a massive failure for giving up on my first day of work. I so desperately wanted to achieve something, to be normal, to have a job and I messed it all up. 

I guess on the positive side I have learnt the lesson that when you go into a new job with mental health problems, it is important that you tell the employer, but other than that I cannot see any good that has come from this. Maybe I should run away with the circus and become a clown. 

So that is my latest update, I had a job, I lasted two hours and then I have potentially quit the job. Like I said I won’t know what exactly is happening until I next get to speak to the manager, but it looks like this career has gone down the drain before it ever got the chance to start. In the meantime I am going to keep going, keep blogging and trying to keep myself safe at this still difficult time (I still haven’t managed to stop drinking yet and I am sorry to all those that news disappoints…still working on it though…). Anyway, that is all I have for now…

Take care everyone x

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Why Living With A Mental Illness Is Like Having A Full Time Job

When I told my mum and my various therapists that I had got a job for Christmas, the general reaction was “Why on earth have you gone and done that”, and admittedly, upon accepting the job, I felt very much the same. Realistically, I knew that my mental illnesses are currently putting too much of a strain on me to manage a job on top of them, but nevertheless I felt I had to get a job and that there was no choice in the matter. Why? Because of a question I always get asked by people in day to day life: “What do you do?”.

Whenever you meet someone new or see a family member that you haven’t seen for a few years, people tend to ask questions along those lines to find out what you are doing with your life, this often meaning in terms of job or career. It is this question and the moment in which it is asked that I always dread.
You see, pretty much all of my friends have proper jobs and it is generally accepted in society that everyone has a job to show that they are a valuable member of the population, contributing to society and earning money to put into a bank account somewhere to save for a mortgage on a house (what the hell is a mortgage!? How do you make a bank account?! Where do banks keep all the money? Who is in charge of all of this? When did they teach this in school? Why are piggy banks no longer acceptable as a money holding receptacle? Have I been mis-sold PPI?!).

Unlike most of my friends and indeed most people my age however, I do not have a proper job nor have I taken my first step onto the career ladder (I haven’t even found the damn ladder).
The reason for this is because my mental health currently dictates my day to day life and arguably makes a regular job impossible (hence why I have not applied for a regular job in years). This means that every time someone asks me what I am doing with my life I feel incredibly embarrassed and inferior having to say that I am “just trying to work on my mental health”. In essence this is ridiculous as I am well aware that there is no shame in not having a job because you are too unwell and I would never judge anyone else for being in a similar situation. Being ill myself, I know how drastically it can impact one’s routine, but as much as I know that I worry that people who haven’t experienced such things will think I am someone who is lazy or sponging off their parents, someone who should be written about or filmed for a Channel 4 documentary so that the general public can watch and rave on twitter about what a terrible person I am. Luckily I have never had any bad comments myself, but I know for a fact that when people ask my mother what I do and she responds with “Katie can’t work because of mental illness right now”, she has received comments akin to “so what on earth does she DO all day?.
It is as if they think I just tick the box for having a mental disability on all the forms I get for the sake of not having to hold down a job and then lie at home complaining about how bored I am. This could not be further from the truth. I tick that I have a mental disability on all of these forms and then when I go home I am not being bored, I am wrestling with a mass of nastiness in my brain that is trying to kill me, and that in itself is pretty hard work. I always felt like it was equivalent to a job myself, but lately the number of “what do you do” questions has been putting such a pressure on me that I started to wonder whether or not I really was making excuses and was as lazy as I assume everyone thinks I am.

After a week of work though, I have fully learnt the lesson that I feel more people need to learn in society, that being mentally ill is very much like a full time job all in itself (a really rubbish job with no time for a tea break, no pay and no Christmas party. Yeah. You heard me. NO CHRISTMAS PARTY.)
Things that should take minutes just take hours when it comes to me and the time simply goes by without me realising it. Showering can take forever and meal times are at least three hours so some days I may only be able to say “I have eaten three meals and had a shower” in response to “what have you done today?”, which doesn’t sound like much.
In the mind of a sane person that probably conjures up an image of two hours activity at the most with time in between to spare, without realising that really to achieve that is over ten hours work a day, and that doesn’t even include other things I may have to do like go to an appointment, go to the loo or get dressed (all of which are more things that go on for longer in duration than the film Gone with the Wind. God have you seen that movie? IT GOES ON FOR HOURS. I swear it never ends. It has been running in my living room since January 1989 and they are still waffling on. Also for a film with the word “wind” in the title I would like to complain that it is simply not blustery enough. I don’t even think we have had a light breeze yet let alone the gale force tornadoes I was expecting. FALSE ADVERTISING. MOVIE PEOPLE ARE EVIL.)
When viewed like this then, it is easy to see how mental illnesses demolish the time and effort people would usually put into a job, and it is the reason that I am struggling so much with my career as a Christmas temp for six weeks.

I only do five hour shifts five days a week which may not be as much as other people, but in carrying out that job the issue is that I haven’t simply been able to resign from my mental illness one to accept it. Having a real paid job doesn’t mean that I can just stop showering or eating for hours on end, so essentially I am now working two jobs. Considering I never really get free time you may be wondering how on earth I am able to do these two jobs as where can i fit these extra five hours in? As an answer to that I will simply say that rather than resigning from my mental illness job, I have had to resign from the position of “person who sleeps” instead.
Nowadays I work for five hours, then come home and work my usual eating and sleeping routine (I can’t bring myself to eat breakfast before work so I literally am having a working day then coming home and starting with the routine from the beginning with meals like breakfast as if I have just woken up).
If I am lucky and my “day” of trying to eat/stop washing/stop obsessively repeating things like brushing my hair finishes, it is then that I will go to bed. However, by this point it is practically time to start the next day in terms of official work, so after two to three hours I am up and have to get started all over again. I have also had to cancel every therapy appointment I had this week and I really am so exhausted that I have no idea what is going on. I am sort of in that drunken state that you find yourself in when you haven’t had enough sleep and end up staggering about, bumping into things and laughing at the pavement which in your deluded state suddenly seems to be a hilarious invention worthy of much mirth and merriment. It has got to the point where yesterday I genuinely felt a small hole when washing my stomach in the shower and panicked because I thought I had been mortally wounded somehow/was about to see my liver fly/spill onto the floor, before I realised that that “hole” is the belly button that has been chilling in the same place upon my abdomen for the past 24 years. As signs that you are pushing yourself too hard, I think “being scared of your own belly button” is a fairly big one.

I know that in writing this I am going to get comments telling me to quit this job before it gets too out of hand, and to be honest if it was anyone else in this situation I would be saying exactly the same thing. Carrying on with this job until the end of December goes directly against all the advice that I gave in my “tips for managing a job interview blog” (e.g. the whole “don’t push yourself past what is possible and take care of yourself first” idea), yet I am frustratingly one of those silly people who can give very good advice but very seldom follow it. That said, I still stand by all of that advice and can reassure you that there is no way I would be carrying on with this if it were a permanent position. I am not stupid, I KNOW that I could not keep up this level of hectic-ness forever. The way I am managing is by thinking I just have to keep my head down, get on with things for another 6 weeks or so and then I can get back to working only my mental health job. After that I think I will accept that I have thoroughly learnt my lesson and there is no way I will be applying for any more jobs until I am a lot less bonkers.

Nevertheless, as difficult as it is, I still really wanted to write this post as this experience is something that I am learning from, and hopefully they are lessons that, in writing them here will help us all out in the long run. If you can’t work because of your mental illness it doesn’t make you lazy, as you technically have a job getting through every day, it just isn’t one you handed in a CV for yet this doesn’t mean it is any less real. Also I really hope that this helps spread the message to people without experience of mental health problems as to what it means when someone is out of work because they are mentally unwell. It isn’t about laziness, it is simply about having the internal job of fighting your demons that nobody else can see, and if more people realise that then maybe the pressure to perform when you are not up to it will one day subside so other people don’t find themselves in my current pickle.

Now if you don’t mind, I will love you and leave you all with the illustration below, an image that depicts what the movie Gone With The Wind would have looked like had I been the writer/director.  As for me I think it is time to go to sleep. My next shift at work starts in a few hours. Oh good lord…

gonewiththewind

 

5 Tips For Managing A Job Interview When You Have Mental Health Problems

A couple of weeks ago, I had a job interview. Much like most people before an interview, I was terrified, but not exactly for any of the usual reasons for pre-interview nerves. Of course the normal worries like “Am I going to look like an idiot?” “What if I can’t remember my own name?” “What if I can’t answer any of the questions?” were there, yet the leading racers in the anxiety Olympics were all mental health related. My main concerns were things like “Are they going to want to shake hands?” “What if I have a panic attack?” “What if they offer me a biscuit?” and “Is it socially acceptable to go into this interview with a hot water bottle shoved down my trousers?” (admittedly that last one isn’t exactly mental health related but I think we can all agree it isn’t on the list of the most common interview worries…I was just very cold…still, my mother confiscated the hot water bottle because it would make me “look weird”…yeah…I am sure they saw the icicles forming on my chin as totally normal…I’m not bitter at all…)
Prior to the interview then, I had a lot on my mind, and in turn a lot of preparations to make to ensure that I was going to be able to actually get through the interview. This meant that over the course of the experience I learnt a few things, so I thought I would pass them onto you now in case anyone else out there is struggling with the “please hire me by the way I am insane” issue. I can’t say these tips are going to make your job interview a jolly occasion, but in the end, I got the job which the interview was for, so I guess these tips have their uses…

1. Anticipate parts of the interview that are going to cause particular problems: Prior to an interview, there are several things that everyone will think about in preparation. Maybe they will research the company in which they are seeking employment, think about potential questions, or have a google search of the latest updates in the business world so they are prepared for any topic up for discussion. In the same way then, it is important to think about and prepare for any potential events that could be difficult. For example, I was worried about hand shaking, so in preparation I spent the days before the interview anticipating the touching of palms and speaking to people about it to get through some of the anxiety. In practical terms I also found an anti bacterial foam that supposedly lasts for six hours, so I was sure to pack that in order for me to be able to use it before the interview as a sort of protection glove. I then made sure I knew where the nearest bathrooms were for post interview washing. I even prepared how to turn down a biscuit incase one was offered, so anticipate potential mental health hiccups and solve them before they arise. (Thankfully water was the only refreshment offered so I never had to turn down a biscuit…I accepted the water and really wanted to drink it, yet never got a chance because I was too scared of making a slurpy noise. Had it been a job interview for a position as professional slurper I would have drunk the water as fast as I could and been sure to demonstrate all the slurping noises possible but alas, my interviews was not located in an institution that advocated slurping…or hot water bottles stuffed down one’s trousers apparently…)

2. Be realistic: In job interviews, it is sort of an unwritten rule that you say “yes” to everything and worry about consequences later. Can you speak french? Of course you can! You have a french dictionary at home and 24 hours to learn it…what could go wrong? Can you fly? Of course you can! How hard can it be to sprout wings /morph into a sparrow overnight (from experience I can assure you that is VERY hard indeed). As great as it is to say whatever you can to get the job though, it is important to be realistic and not agree to things that your mental health is going to make impossible and that you are consequently going to go home fretting about. If you have social anxiety and can’t speak publicly to a crowd of thousands, do not agree to do so and then regret it later. If there are things you are not going to be able to do, let the people know right away to avoid getting into a difficult situation further down the line. Yes it will be awkward and maybe you won’t get the job if there is a key part of it that your mental health makes impossible, but then again if that is the case, maybe that job isn’t the one for you. In terms of being realistic about actions you can perform, it is also important to be realistic concerning what you can manage when it comes to hours. Accepting a job 24 hours a day 7 days a week when you know it will overwhelm you, interfere with medical appointments and leave you no time to take care of yourself, is never a good idea. Getting the job is important, but taking care of your needs is vital as without looking after yourself you wont be able to perform at work and getting the job will not be a success you can celebrate for long. I for example know that there are multiple aspects to this job that are going to be extremely challenging and on the surface, if I am honest with myself, the hours are more than I think I can realistically handle. However, I made sure only to apply for a Christmas job for 6 weeks so that if I get overwhelmed/it is detrimental, there is at least an end goal in sight.

3. Get there early: Everyone knows you should get to a job interview early purely because being late is not the best way to promote the “great time keeping skills” you bragged about in your CV. Nevertheless, with mental health problems I would always advise not just getting there early enough to ensure you are on time and make a good impression, but getting there super early to allow for potential disaster/to allow you to remove the hot water bottle shoved down your trousers. Obviously you can’t plan what your brain is going to do in advance and it would be unrealistic to decide that you are going to schedule a panic attack for 11:15 so you have time to calm down in time for the interview, but if there is a risk of that kind of thing happening, get there with the time such an event would take spare. If you often have panic attacks, get to the interview with enough time to have one. Even if you don’t have panic attacks but suffer with anxiety, still get there early just to allow yourself to gather your thoughts and carry out any coping mechanisms like listening to a certain song or practicing mindfulness if needed.

4. Do not take rejection personally: One thing I really struggle with when it comes to job interviews/anything in life, is the fact that I take rejection extremely personally. My main worries about not getting the job weren’t about not getting the job in itself, rather they were worries about the effect it would have on my self esteem. For example I know that getting rejected from roles in school plays/not performing as well as I wanted in a test, has always led to difficulties with self harm, self hatred and general feelings of “everyone hates me and this is a sign that they don’t want me to be alive anymore because I am so terrible”. Before you go for the job interview then, try not to build it up to be this majorly important thing on which your value as a person and entire future happiness depends. Don’t see it as something on which your life rests, as ultimately no job is worth that. Maybe even write out some bullet points in case rejection does come to remind you of the rational facts in the situation. When the rejection comes it is likely your thoughts will spiral into the irrational emotional side of the brain so get your pre-rejection rational thoughts in order first. If you don’t get a job it doesn’t mean you are a terrible person/rubbish at everything/doomed to fail in life. It likely means that there were a hell of a lot of applicants and even if you were more than skilled enough, perhaps you just weren’t right for the role or someone else was better suited. If you are a doughnut maker and don’t get a job as a doughnut advocacy speaker it doesn’t mean you don’t make good doughnuts. It might just mean that you were up against a talking doughnut, and lets be real, who is better to speak for doughnut advocacy than a talking doughnut? Nobody, thats who.

5. Be honest: This is the final tip I have to offer but it is also THE most important. When I used to be preparing for interviews I would debate whether or not to tell the potential employer about my mental health problems/how much to say. I always wanted to hide it incase my mental health would stand in my way, yet ultimately that just meant that by hiding my difficulties I made life more difficult for everyone involved. Eventually the truth would always come out, and it would have been a hell of a lot better simply to be honest in the first place. If your mental health affects your life in terms of abilities or availability, let the employer know. Otherwise you will find yourself lying about reasons you need a day off to go to an appointment and having to invent mythical physical diseases to request time off work when really you are having a mental health crisis. For the past few years I have even put my mental health problems somewhere on my CV or within any applications so that everyone is on the same page before I even get an interview. This then makes it easier to talk about in the interview and by being honest both I and the employer can see if the job will be possible/work out ways to make it possible. When I worked in a coffee shop I was open about my fear of touching the hoover and thus allowed to use it whilst wearing rubber gloves saving me a lot of anxiety and excuses to get out of having to use a hoover. Again, like the tip about being realistic, there is always a chance that being honest will affect your chances of getting the job, but if it affects your life so much that it will inevitably cause problems at work, again, maybe that is a job you shouldn’t be applying for.

So there you have it! My top tips for managing job interviews with mental health problems. Now of course I have the mission of managing the actual job itself… To be honest I haven’t figured out how to manage that bit yet, but I guess that is something I will learn along the way. If my experience over these next few weeks does teach me anything about mental health in the workplace though, I will be sure to pass on any helpful lessons to you later.

Take care everyone and good luck with any potential job opportunities. YOU CAN DO IT!

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