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



The Unpredictability Of Life With Mental Health Problems

Nobody can predict the future (except for Raven Baxter of classic Disney Channel hit “That’s so Raven”…anyone else miss that show? SOMEONE REMINISCE WITH ME).
Predicting the future is, however, a hell of a lot harder when you are living with mental health problems, aka almighty inconveniences that could pop up and smack you right in the nostril at any time. Of course everyone has the risk of things popping up unexpectedly in life and smacking them in the nostril, regardless as to whether they have mental health problems or not (which is why I always keep mine protected and am currently running interviews to employ my own personal nostril body guard…applications are still open for any hopefuls out there), but I think when you are mentally ill, the chances are increased and you are far more aware of them.
It is like leaving the house and wondering whether or not to take an umbrella. Some people may look out of their windows and see a blue sky with no sign of anything to suggest that an umbrella will be needed in the near future. Maybe a storm will randomly come along out of nowhere and surprise them, but they are not thinking about, nor are they aware of that storm before it has arrived. With mental health problems though, you always know that the chance of rain is there, you can always see the black clouds looming and can’t risk planning a picnic too far in advance or leaving the house unprepared without your wellingtons, just incase.

It isn’t that I particularly want to predict the future, but I cannot stand the swirling uncertainty that being a bit bonkers in the head can cause. Take right now for example. Okay I am in hospital so we have my current location all clear, but other than that I have absolutely no idea as to what on earth is going on.
Being under a section, I can’t exactly decide on discharge dates right now, so I do not know how long it will be before I am home. I don’t even know where I might be in the coming weeks as things are currently not going particularly well and there are talks of me being moved to another unit, one of which could be in Glasgow which is a long way from my hometown of Bristol and is terrifying the life out of me (if you do not live in the UK and do not know how far apart these locations are, all you have to do is get out your Atlas and find a map of the UK. All good? Ok, now put one finger on the very top of the country and the other on the very bottom in the little denty bit. That is how far away they are, aka THE ENTIRE LENGTH OF THIS TEA OBSESSED ISLAND. It is so far that there are airports in both locations so that you can fly between them because nobody has time to sit on a train or in a car for three million hours.) Everything is being done both by me and staff to prevent that from happening, but all in all, it is not my decision and more down to professional people in suits. Then if I were to be transferred to some currently unknown location anywhere across the country, I have no idea when it would be or for how long I would be there.
When it comes to medication I am similarly in the dark as to what will happen because a certain medication I have a problem with and do not want to take, has now been approved by a second opinion doctor, so legally if I refuse to take it orally, I can be injected with it. IN THE REAR. People really should not be stabbing that area with needles. I need it kept bruise free for me to sit on!
I don’t know how long I will have to take it, what will happen with the dose, if it will change, or how I will feel if it does (I am really not a fan of the current side effects).

Then there is my appeal against my section at a tribunal in a few days time, again a place where I can share an opinion but not make a choice. Being in hospital means waiting for a decision to be made and permission to be given on EVERYTHING, even whether or not you can go to the toilet, have a shower, or whether you are allowed to have a cup of tea in your room with your friend, aka things you would generally take for granted. You want to pee? You pee! You want tea with a friend? You tea! In hospital though? We are going to have to “discuss that with the team”. Good lord do they love to discuss things. It isn’t even just short term plans either, because things get even more foggy with a chance of showers and a few tornadoes when looking to the long term, especially when people consider their lives outside of a hospital setting, where things can be even more uncertain.

I love to keep things organised, I love to plan and I have always liked the idea of those huge calendars that big families buy brightly coloured magnets for, to stick to the fridge. In my mind every square and every day is scribbled on in black marker with holidays, social occasions, appointments and of course Great Aunt Enid’s 94th birthday. How can you book a holiday to the Canary Islands though when there is a 50/50 chance as to whether or not you will be well enough to go. Maybe when you book the holiday things are fine, but how can you guarantee they will be the same in a few months time? How can you be certain you will be able to make Little David’s football match on the 12th when depression could strike you down into immovable zombie mode ten minutes before the big game? How can you guarantee your presence at Aunt Enid’s all night rave at 2am? (She may be 94 but nobody can control Aunt Enid. When that woman wants a party, you had better be ready. With glow sticks.)

Obviously the only thing you really can do in these situations is to go ahead and agree to these potential plans and hope for the best, but as ok as that is in theory, it doesn’t take the uncertainty of the future out of the equation, sometimes financially worrying uncertainty if there is a risk that your flights to the Canary Islands and all inclusive hotel resort are going to have to be cancelled.
Aside from long term social activities, there are long term considerations like job courses to consider or places at university. In 2014 I was given a place at a university nearby to study to become a teacher, applications, exams, interviews, all done and ready to go…then I went into hospital. No worries we thought! The children can wait an extra year for my excellent teaching skills. Maybe it will be a good thing, give me more “life experience”, “develop me further as a person”. I asked if I could defer my place to the next year, all was agreed and the plan seemed back in place. I left hospital, I started to prepare for a life in the classroom teaching children all the reasons as to why penguins are awesome (might chuck in some lessons on times tables and ABC’s to keep OFSTED happy…Penguin starts with a P…One penguin plus another penguin equals two penguins…potentially three if dinner and a movie goes well).
Then, unexpectedly and unplanned, I ended up in hospital and my 2015 teacher training once again had to be put on hold. I asked if they would let me defer the place one more time but that request was denied and to be fair that is probably a good thing, because since then my mental health has been even more unstable.

Due to this I haven’t really been able to make any future plans because I never know how well my brain will be functioning, so whilst being unsure of the current plan here in hospital, things are even more uncertain when we look to the future. I often see people making “5 year plans” and “10 year plans” involving things like “get married”, “Become manager”, “own first house” or “give birth to child”. 10 year plans? Good lord I don’t know what is happening in the next ten days! Ten hours! Ten minutes (actually that last one is a lie…I am going to finish this blog, make a cup of tea and then mum is coming to visit. YAY).

Like I said, regardless of whether someone has mental health problems or not, we are all going to get unexpected storms that crop up and throw our neatly colour coded calendars from the fridge and into the recycling. It is however made even more complicated when you can already see the clouds forming, have a brain that is known to explode, and you are constantly aware of that ticking time bomb waiting to go off.

Take care everyone x


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…