Tag Archives: Mental Health

Dr. Strangejob- or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Accept Change

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Whenever we have company-wide “all hands” team meetings at work (every 4 to 6 months), we kick them off with a few volunteers who do 7 minute presentations on a given assigned theme. It can be a personal story but must relate back to our work lives in some way. I have given a passing thought to volunteering on a few occasions but never followed through. However this meeting’s assigned theme screamed my name; “Reinvention”. A single concept that can have so many intertwined connotations.

I jumped right in while I had an hour between conference calls and started outlining the talk. This was an easy one for me as I have endless reinvention material. I decided to make my story about all of the short term, highly diverse jobs I had before I found my intended career. To be fair, I work in web-based software interface design and that wasn’t even close to being a mainstream career choice when I was starting out. so I made do with what opportunities came along.

The title of this talk is “Dr Strangejob….or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Accept (Career) Change” It helps if you’ve seen the movie and some of my audience is much younger than me, so some of the joke will be lost on them, but I hope the overall theme is universal enough to speak to them. What I was forced to hold back in this talk was the mental struggles that made this journey all the more challenging, especially previously undiagnosed ones.

Here’s a sneak peek: I will have 4 lessons learned for each job and how they can apply those lessons in their day to day work lives. I am now realizing this applies far beyond the professional realm into the fabric of how we all live, so I thought I’d share some tidbits from the presentation with all of you. I won’t bore you with the whole outline, just a few highlights.

Job 1: Waitress- Lesson learned: Never punch a brick wall, especially mid-shift. 

Translation: Try not to let your frustrations overpower you. You will only end up hurting yourself in the long run

Job 2: Furniture Sales- Lesson learned: It’s a dog eat dog world out there.

Translation: There are situations and people in this life in which you will not be cut any slack. People are competitive by nature and we can all get lost in that, but if we lose the egos and work together sometimes, we can accomplish amazing things.

Job 3: Apartment Property Manager: Lesson learned- Never let them know where you live, especially when your property has faulty piping.

Translation: Sometimes we are too close to the problem, so caught up in the midst of the drama, that we can’t focus clearly enough on the solution. Try to find a way to step back, tune out the noise, and find objective solutions.

Job 4: Software Project Manager- Lesson learned. Everyone always has an agenda (some of them are even valid)

Translation: Put yourself in someone else’s shoes, even if you 100% think they are wrong and a total asshat you never know what is motivating them unless you really listen. They may even have a point.

I then conclude by drawing the more literal connections to what I present to what we do for a living. I think there are 2 key universal points that apply to all of us.

1. Practice empathy every day. 

Empathy is a critical skill specifically to software design for end users, but more generally I think if we all made a daily habit of practicing it, we could change the world….end stigmas…stop bullies….help the abused (both human and animal). There are boundless possibilities.

2. Relax, we aren’t saving lives (unless of course you are actually saving lives to which I say….all due respect to you. You amaze me)

What I mean by this is that we all need a small butt-kicking in perspective readjustment at times. The world usually isn’t ending and lives usually are not at stake (unless of course….see above) so take a deep breath, be honest with yourself about the worst that can happen, and then put one foot in front of the other till you make it through.

That’s pretty much it….my rough draft of 7 minutes of attempted levity and education. And just remember what the picture says “You can’t fight in here, this is the war room”

I Pledge to Blog for Mental Health in 2014

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“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”  To learn more or to participate, please refer to A Canvas of the Minds: Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project .

Wow, I can’t believe it’s been nearly a year since my last post. I began this blog last September during some rare down time as I was starting to reevaluate the priorities in my life. I got off to what I thought was a good start but saw very quickly the posts began to devolve into what I felt was a whiny soapbox for a life which, considering my circumstances, was not all that bad. That nagging sensation caused me to back away from posting. I have been here all along, reading what others have written, empathizing with their stories, and commenting on occasion. I think the new year is a perfect time to start things back up and I am proud to participate in this year’s Blog for Mental Health effort.

For those of you who are new to my blog, I am type 1 bipolar with rapid cycling and mixed states. That being said, I am lucky to have been able to parlay this challenge in recent years into an uncharacteristically high-functioning existence, I don’t know whether it is pure stubbornness or ego, or residual manic delusion, but i know I am one of the lucky ones (as much as I may tend to forget at times). There were some years prior where I wasn’t so lucky, or responsible, or aware of the consequences of my actions and I continue to feel those effects, but I can only now look forward, change what I can, hope for the best, and help others when I am able.

It is my hope that the more of us who gather together to support one another and educate those around us, the faster we can begin to eliminate the stigma that still surrounds us. We are taught to hide in shame from our illnesses in fear of loss in relationships, friendships, and professional credibility. People fear what they do not know, so let’s educate the fear away, raise our voices, and support each other in the cause.

I pledge to become a more active participant in my own transformation as well as the transformation of public perception. I am not quite yet ready to “go public” with my real identity (as I see some of you…much braver than i…have started to do) but from this small, anonymous platform, I will toss my tiny pebble into the lake and see if I can make a ripple or two along the way.

On Anonymity and Mental Health

I’m in a pickle. I want to talk openly with my friends about my life but there are too many things I’m supposed to be ashamed of that prevent me. For example, I joked about my ADD earlier and I guess that’s prevalent enough these days and sufficiently mainstreamed to the point that it’s socially acceptable. That’s all fine and good but mention bipolar and people raise an eyebrow. Why am I supposed to be ashamed of that? Would I be ashamed if I had cancer or diabetes? Is that an unfair comparison? In my limited experience I think the chance of it resulting in death is just as real. The amount of work I have and continue to put in to staying alive is just as hard. Yet, I am doomed to suffer in silence. My close friends know; the ones I know won’t judge. But that circle is in the minority. So for now I blog in half-shadows with no lack of awareness of the irony that I can tell eleventy-billion strangers my deepest darkest with less shame than I can tell my causal friends, my coworkers, my extended family, or my love interests.

All that said, bipolar isn’t a death sentence and it isn’t actually all bad. I live a highly functional life. As a matter of fact, I have a job that 99% of the people I know have already admitted they could never handle. Maybe facing the abyss every once in awhile removes some barriers to life.  Once you’ve looked down the barrel of an open 19th story window, other stuff just isn’t so scary. I get on a plane every-freaking-week (side topic; newly acquired claustrophobia, will address later) and fly off to god knows where to the office of Client X, Inc. I interview people, gather requirements, actively listen (the hardest part), and play psychiatrist, consultant, designer, process analyst, friend, devil’s advocate, scapegoat, or whatever they need me to be for them at the time. It’s mentally and physically exhausting, but I’m good at it. In fact, I’m good at a lot of stuff and I rarely give myself credit for that. And the public speaking. Was my worst fear for years…until I got perspective (see 19th story window). Now I do it almost weekly. Do I love it? Not really. Am I good at it? Well, yeah, I guess I am.

So, my first piece of unsolicited advice for anyone reading this who has *any* sort of mental illness: Try to look at it as an opportunity of sorts. You have a unique experience with this world. Yeah, you got dealt a sucky hand and I will not minimize the gravity of that, but the reality is what it is. We don’t have a choice but to make the most of it. Wallowing gets you nowhere. Get a good Dr., a great therapist, some excellent drugs, and then go for it. There’s nothing you can’t accomplish. Your brain is a unique gift. It’s receptors fire in different ways, finding unusual pathways to innovative solutions. Use that, harness that, and forge ahead in the glory of your own uniqueness.