Working from Home Part Two

You can make a salad or heat up soup for lunch. I’m a big salad freak and coworkers have always remarked on the job about my favorite lunch greens. In the afternoon I have fruit or a container of plain full-fat Greek yogurt with berries mixed in.

Again, at home like at work you can use time management apps like Time Doctor, Toggi, Rescue Time, Focus Booster, Hours, and Vericlock. The monthly fee to use one of these apps ranges from $5 and up.

Try to schedule non-work interruptions during the time of the morning and afternoon that you take a regular work break..

At home you should be in command of your desktop just like at the office. On my desk I placed a magnet with this quote: Art is a Guaranty of Sanity. Plus, a Michael Jordan quote magnet that reads: Don’t Be Afraid to Fail. Be Afraid Not to Try.

Keep active and in touch with your supervisor and coworkers. While I worked remotely in my apartment on some days during the COVID-19 outbreak I telephoned my supervisor to talk about pressing issues. It’s more imperative to talk to your boss in a WFH scenario.

At the end of the day to transition into home life I recommend changing your clothes into your preferred casual lounge outfit to delineate night from day and household management from business protocol. Store your work clothes in your closet or drawers instead of tossing them on your bed or a chair.

Working from Home – Part One

The rise of work-from-home or WFH has become a reality in the post-COVID world. Being successful on the job working remotely comes down to time and project management tactics that will give you an edge.

Not having a long commute to the office has its advantages in terms of setting yourself up for a successful day. All you must do is shower, get dressed, have breakfast. Then walk to your desk or dining table to use your computer or laptop.

This gives you benefits you don’t ordinarily have. How to reap these rewards?

Schedule your work and life routine into five parts: getting ready/self-care; morning work; lunch; afternoon work; ending of day/transition back into home life.

Not having to commute to work with a bus, train, or car gives you extra time to devote to self-care in the morning. Why not apply makeup to feel good even though no one else will see you? Or write down five things you’re grateful for in a grateful journal. Meditate for ten minutes if you’re able.

Or simply compose yourself with a breathing exercise I do anytime anywhere when I’m under stress: breathe in for a count of three, hold the breath for a count of four, breathe out for a count of five.

Dress in the business attire you ordinarily would on the job. For breakfast, I recommend scrambling eggs and veggies if you’re not a vegan. Some people cook oatmeal. I don’t advise that you have any kind of boxed cereal.

Without having a long commute to the office this is where having a leisurely healthful breakfast can make your day by fueling you up for the tasks at hand.

 Like at the office, schedule your work in one-hour blocks. Get up from your desk every half hour to rest your eyes from the computer screen. Take one short break in the morning and one short break in the afternoon.

To be continued with Part Two

Failing Boldly

In 1990 when it was unheard of for someone with schizophrenia to hold a job I obtained my first position as the administrative assistant to the director of an insurance business.

From 1990 to June 1997 I was laid off–that is terminated–from 4 out of the first 5 jobs I held in that time.

One office manager told me over the telephone not to show up the next day.

I was in my twenties and early thirties when I thought that having a corporate insurance office job was what I wanted in life.

I was 25 when I started my first job in that field.

Decades later I shake my head wondering what possessed me to to want to do that.

Here is what I can tell you:

You might have wanted to work at a job or career and it turns out not to thrill you years later.

You might have been convinced you wanted that job or career and it goes up in flames because it’s not the right one for you after all.

Failing boldly is nothing to be ashamed of. I don’t like to use the word failure because it’s a loaded word.

There’s a negative connotation to failing in American society.

It’s doubly hard to allow yourself to switch gears when you live with a mental illness.

The average Joe or Josephine on the street doesn’t get their behavior scrutinized half as much as we peers do.

Only when an option you chose didn’t work out it’s not that you failed–it’s that the strategy simply wasn’t the right one for you to pursue long-term.

I’m 55 years old today. Thirty years after failing boldly in my first career I’m a different person than I was at 25 years old.

So much of what we peers could do starting out in recovery might be done in reaction against our diagnosis–in the quest to be “normal.”

I would tell readers to choose from different alternatives the option that resonates with you today.

For any number of reasons–and for those not having to do with having an illness–your first choice might not work out.

What you learn along the way in life–either picked up on a job or in a relationship or with a hobby–is hard-won wisdom.

This wisdom will serve you well throughout your life.

I’ll end here by saying that sometimes the best of us can be in denial. We ignore the subconscious dreams we have at night that are red flags telling us not to continue down the road we’re on.

Or we’re afraid to risk doing the thing that is our wildest desire in life.

Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of rejection, and fear of other people’s judgment among other hurdles must be overcome if you and I are to have a life of our own design.

In the coming blog entry I’ll talk more the way I see things. I’ve been living in recovery for 33 years so far.

The more I live my life the more impressed I am with peers who have the courage to stand in their truth and tell their stories without feeling guilty or ashamed.

Be proud of yourself for risking doing something, for trying and possibly failing, and for continuing in the face of this setback.

Coming up what I’ve learned from living in recovery 33 years.

Finding a Job with a Purpose

One of the benefits of collecting SSI or SSDI is that you can do volunteer work or get an internship in the field you want to work in. You don’t have to get paid on an internship because you have the government check coming in.

This is the counterpoint when others claim that individuals on a low income can’t afford to do an internship.

It’s also the counterpoint to the idea that you should take whatever job you can get. And be happy to have that job even if it turns out you hate the job.

The remedy as I see it is to use the internet and the resources available to you to narrow down your job leads to 2 or 3 careers.

Then you can choose the one that resonates with you right now as the goal to make happen.

Seek out others who have gone down this road before you or who are going down this road along with you today.

Get feedback encouragement and advice from them and give your own feedback and encouragement and advice to others.

You will need reinforcement when things take longer or don’t go as planned or don’t pan out.

Doing things that give you joy as you embark on your job search will boost your mental health.

I think that it helps to not expect yourself to do the impossible. Give yourself a realistic and attainable lifeline for achieving a goal not a restrictive deadline.

Enjoying the process counts more than obtaining the goal. Research indicates that it’s in the striving to achieve a goal that we feel the happiest.

In the coming blog entry I will talk about what failing at my first career taught me.

It was the job I thought I wanted.

Sometimes a dead-end is the exact detour you need to go down to find out what your purpose in life is.

Recovery as an Act of Bravery

In my Queens Library presentation which I gave from memory without reading notes (!) I talked about the 3 factors that enabled me to recover fully: having family support, adhering to treatment by taking medication every day, and using the creative process on and off my librarian job.

To wit I said:

Only by expressing your identity will you thrive in recovery. Your diagnosis does not define you. You define you.

I identify as an Artist. My 5 great joys in life are art, music, fashion, books and writing, and exercise. I’m happiest performing on stage at poetry readings.

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Recovery is an act of bravery.

It takes courage to be yourself in a society where there’s a lot of hate and judgment going on.

Yet the only way to live is Your Way.

My failed first career in corporate insurance offices is a testament to how I became ill by squelching my true Self.

Like Pat Deegan expressed peers should have “the dignity of risk and the right to fail” in any arena in our life–even in our careers and our relationships.

I took the risk to have a career that I thought I wanted to have. All along I ignored the subconscious warning signs that I was going down the wrong path.

It took me 7 years followed by 2 years in a law firm office library before I realized I wouldn’t ever be happy and healthy working in a business where I had to button-up my Artist self.

Expressing yourself is an act of bravery too.

I relate to LGBT individuals who were asked to submit to conversion therapy to straighten themselves out.

Early on in my recovery I tried to conform to what was deemed “normal” in society. And I failed miserably in my attempt to be someone else.

I would ask readers: “Why have you been afraid to express yourself?”

Here I am telling you as one peer to another:

You are worthy. You are beautiful.

Show yourself to others. Live out loud. Shine on.

There is no other way to live.

Queens Library Talk

Drs. Costakis and McKelvey of Zucker-Hillside Hospital Northwell Health talked about schizophrenia using a PowerPoint slide show listing symptoms medication and other facets of treatment.

At the end there was a Q&A. One question was directed at me re: what I wrote in Left of the Dial to the effect: I strive to be creative and express myself yet want to blend in.

The person’s question was about how to set that boundary.

I want to go into more detail here to expound on what I told the listeners on Tuesday.

The boundary lies in how you interact with others in an appropriate way and with respect. Not sharing private information about your life indiscriminately. Being able to discern what is fair game to reveal and what should be kept to yourself.

To the people listening to the talk I had said:

I think you cannot act false to yourself. You must act true to yourself. Early in my recovery I had jobs in corporate insurance offices and I had an apartment. So it appeared that I had recovered because I had a “normal” life.

Only I don’t consider myself to have recovered until I started my librarian job when I was 35 years old. The library was a different environment.

Working in the corporate offices I wasn’t able to thrive. Not only that it failed to give me economic opportunity.

I would say that you should show up as yourself in every interaction you have with other people.

That is the answer I gave to the question. At the end of the event I think I could’ve said more along the lines of:

Today I have no desire to blend in. Certain things I wrote in my memoir when it was published I see differently today.

For one–how I was impressed with women I called “living museums” with the perfect hair impeccable pocketbook and smashing clothes.

The idea of wanting to blend in no longer holds an allure either.

This is because for years after the book was published I’ve thought that you cannot repress your soul and expect to be well.

I would go further to say that that you should choose your job carefully when it comes to the type of work environment you will thrive in.

In the next blog entry I’ll talk in more detail about my own career trajectory to illustrate this point.

It comes down to what pioneer Advocate Pat Deegan called having “the dignity of risk and the right to fail.”

Sometimes you don’t know until you try on a job or career for size that it’s not the right one for you.

I was 24 when I expressed that sentiment about wanting to blend in.

I’m 55 years old today and things are different.

When you’re first starting out making a compromise might be necessary to get your foot in the door of having work experience.

Only I still think it’s a slippery slope in terms of finances and self-actualization to hide yourself and your light from view at any time in your life.

Using Traits and Strengths on a Job

I’ve been told that I’m the exception. This doesn’t make me feel better. And it’s simply not true.

I interpret that shopworn comment as a barb that discounts the role of a person’s personality–who they are and their traits and strengths–in enabling them to recover.

In the April 2015 issue of Current Psychiatry an article stated the people diagnosed with schizophrenia can hold jobs.

Who are you going to trust–a medical journal or some outsider on the street whose opinion is conjecture and not rooted in fact?

Recovery appears to each of us in different guises. Our recovery is as individual as our thumbprint.

Celebrating differentness is the first order of the day.

Those people who view peers in terms of our illness and symptoms are setting us up to believe that recovery is a dim star.

Aside from other people not being able to see beyond color or gender to the person inside:

Peers living with mental health issues are often not seen as our true selves apart from our diagnosis.

The premise of my memoir Left of the Dial was that I healed when I was able to use the creative process on my job and outside of my job.

The point wasn’t and isn’t that everyone living in recovery should be able to have an M.S. or L.C.S.W. or J.D.

The exclamation point [!] was that I recovered because I found the job I loved that enabled me to use my traits and strengths.

I recovered when I stopped buying into the myth that I had to do what everyone else did–have a corporate office job and a normal life [average or ordinary; conforming to a standard or type].

In daring to go down a path that differed from the norm I was able to recover. This was my road. Your road again will be different.

!!!

In the next blog entry I will talk about a written exercise I created to heal from self-stigma when a bout of doubt had come on.

The point is you should take pride in who you are. You should figure out the kind of job that will best use your traits and strengths.

My Strong Belief

My strong belief is that a person can only talk about their experience taking or not taking medication as a factor in their recovery.

A Peer Specialist should not tell their patient to stop taking medication. They should not give advice on how to wean yourself step-by-step off medication.

Any Peer Specialist who is telling their clients to discontinue medication is in effect practicing medicine without a license.

In most states in the U.S. only an M.D. can regulate the use of a patient’s medication or determine that a patient doesn’t need medication.

I’ve been in remission from schizophrenia for over 28 years precisely because I take medication. I credit this as the number-one factor that enabled me to go to graduate school obtain an M.S. and find a career I love.

For others they might not have to take medication. Everyone is different and what their body needs or doesn’t need is going to be different.

To recap: a Peer Specialist should not be practicing medicine without a license.

Peer Specialist Ideas

Last week I was asked for ideas about how to succeed in a paid Peer Specialist job. These tactics could work well at any job.

  1. Set boundaries between you and your clients / coworkers.
  2. Create workday rituals—more on this in the next blog entry.
  3. Focus on having conversations with your clients.
  4. View the relationship as an equal partnership.
  5. “Practice what you preach” to clients.
  6. Expect to have setbacks.
  7. Act resilient after a setback—see my blog entry on using FORCE.
  8. Set career goals you want to achieve.
  9. Take walks with your clients should you be able to.

In the words of Pat Deegan Peer Advocate pioneer:

Recovery involves having “the dignity of risk” and “the right to fail.”

Too often peers can buy into the myth of self-stigma and its corollary feeling that we’re not good enough. This is an impossible standard that peers are held to that people who don’t have a mental health issue aren’t held to.

This thinking can be reinforced by outsiders or by ourselves.

I would say the two top tactics for any career are to set boundaries and to set job and career goals. The third tactic is creating daily rituals.

Your Boss Isn’t a Therapist

In the coming blog entries I’m going to write a blog carnival about tactics that might help a person succeed on a job.

The person who solicited my ideas was set to start a job as a paid Peer Specialist.

The social service field has a high degree of what is called compassion fatigue–a kind of burnout people with humanitarian careers experience.

Before I move onto that focus I want to end here with more of my experience having spoken out on a job.

This happened in the 1990s in a corporate insurance office job. I was 27 years old. What I said came back to haunt me in a performance review.

I had either written in correspondence or told my boss directly that I didn’t like how management belittled employees. I used the word belittled.

Ever since then I haven’t been a fan of using any boss as a therapist to talk about perceived workplace injustices with.

Over 20 years later I did attempt to right a wrong on my job–and this backfired too.

Especially when you’re just starting out in recovery and might be less emotionally stable or still have residual symptoms this is where it can get dice-y to call out management on your job.

It might be the symptoms talking and not you. As your mental health improves it could be easier to interact with your coworkers.

This is what I will start to talk about in the coming blog entries carnival: how to cope well with challenges on the job.

Whether you’re a paid Peer Specialist or have a different job I think what I’m going to write could help anyone.