Reentering the Workforce After a Breakdown

Ashley Smith blogger extraordinaire is featured today as my Guest Blogger talking about:

Reentering the Workforce After a Breakdown.

In her own words she’ll talk about her experience plus give tactics that could help peers.

How to Reenter the Workforce After a Breakdown:

I worked many jobs prior to my first breakdown at age 20. I started working when I was 14 years old. I struggled to maintain jobs, but didn’t understand why. I didn’t know I had a diagnosis. My last breakdown occurred in 2018. There were a series of stressful events that led to my meltdown.

After the hospitalization I participated in weekly therapy sessions and developed an extensive health plan. I worked hard to build myself up to return to work. I carried out a range of steps to restore wellness. I managed a daily routine which consisted of walking around my neighborhood for 15 to 45 minutes, journaling, listening to entrepreneur empowerment talks on YouTube, and reciting affirmations along with my prayers. I kept all doctor and therapy appointments and continued to take my medication.

I developed a variety of projects such as my book, Coping Takes Work. I also took on small jobs as a freelance writer and blogger. When I built up my confidence I steadily applied for jobs. I utilized my network and let associates know that I was looking for work. A great resource that I utilized for my job search was reading Christina Bruni’s book, Working Assets. The book is filled with important tips and strategies on how to re-enter the workforce while living with a diagnosis.

It took several months to get back into the workforce due to my health concerns, COVID-19, and job availability. I didn’t take the first job that was offered to me, because I weighed my pros and cons. I was mindful of my family needs and the demands of the position. When I accepted my job I made a commitment to focus on stress management techniques to maintain wellness in order to work.

Yet, keeping a daily self-care ritual is challenging. However, I learned to recognize when it’s time to change my routine. Currently, I manage my health by practicing stress management skills. My stress management plan consists of self-reflection time, confidence-building activities, and participating in therapy.

Finally, as I reflect on my experience I urge peers to create an individualized plan of action to maintain their wellness and jobs. I support alternative healthy coping skills that help people. Lastly, I define recovery as staying in your good place, therefore, create that good place by managing your stress and taking control of recovery and life as best you can.

–Ashley Smith

Read her blog at Overcoming Schizophrenia here.

Remembering Robin Hugh Cunningham

Robin was my mentor. Not that I asked him to take on this role.

He simply gave of himself freely that way without having to be asked.

In 2005 when I started writing the Recovering Together column for SZ magazine I called up NAMI-New Jersey where he was on the board. I told the woman who answered that I was interested in having Robin be a featured panelist for the Q&A on hot topics in recovery. I gave her my telephone number.

Exactly one half-hour later Robin called and said Yes. I had been talking to him ever since 2005.

Robin Cunningham lived to be 77. He died in December 2019.

He lived to be 77 even though he took schizophrenia drugs for 64 years–ever since he was 13 years old and first diagnosed.

For the first 10 years he heard voices that the pills couldn’t quell.

His doctor tried every new medication that came on the market. Ten years later Etrafon stopped the voices.

Robin recommended me to his boss at HealthCentral. In 2007 she gave me a job as a Health Guide along with Robin at their schizophrenia website. I held that job until September 2015.

The exclamation point – ! – is that Robin didn’t die 25 years earlier like news accounts claim that people diagnosed with schizophrenia do.

Robin had a full and robust life. He had a daughter and a wife. He was full of kindness and compassion.

Robin obtained an MBA and rose up to be the CEO of a corporation.

He told me stories about his life which I soaked up. I was eager to learn how a person diagnosed with schizophrenia could do these things.

We talked on the telephone from time to time.

I installed his memoir on my iPad. You can buy Descent into Chaos on Amazon or special order it from a bookstore.

Robin’s life journey was a testament to having a never-broken spirt in the face of adversity.

In 2000 after retiring from his business career he was a pioneer in becoming an Advocate for his fellow peers.

Robin Hugh Cunningham is gone. He should not be forgotten.

Ashley’s Pandemic Story

Ashley S. Atlanta Georgia

Living with a mental illness is challenging in itself with the stigma and managing recovery. Since the coronavirus outbreak I watched more of the news broadcast than ever before. This pandemic is nerve wrecking.

When I heard of the news for Georgia residents to shelter in place I did not know what that meant and hoped for life to return to normal. Generally, I am isolated and work from home, while my son is in school during the day.

Accordingly, I set in place another routine. We walked our neighborhood frequently and kept doctor appointments. The coronavirus disrupted our routine but also enhanced bonding time between me and my son.

We walked, played card games, and watched more movies. Sometimes this new norm felt suffocating, but the walks around the neighborhood while keeping therapy appointments helped me maintain wellness.

Kurt’s Pandemic Story

Kurt S. Bronx New York

Next week will mark for me the 3rd month of the pandemic—as far as the many changes I have had to make in my life. I have been extremely fortunate that I either did not get the virus (or if I had it a mild case which only consisted of severe vomiting) and I have been able to work from home 4 days a week.

The 2 major hardships are that I am not allowed to visit my son, who lives in a group home (even though he is only 5 minutes away) and that once a week I still must take the subway (I use a face shield which gives me a pretty good level of comfort).

My mental health has been surprisingly good during this time, I believe most likely because the pandemic has allowed me to appreciate the smaller things in life.

My Pandemic Story

Christina B. Brooklyn NY

I’m learning to be patient with myself when I fail to attend to self-care. I’ll use the exfoliating scrub only 1x per week when the directions state “use 1-2 times per week.”

Sometimes in your life and in recovery you can only do the bare minimum.

For the last 3 months I’ve been mostly staying indoors in my apartment. Going outside I risk running into a bunch of yahoos in my neighborhood that walk around with open faces not covered up.

I treat myself to Petit Pot organic chocolate pudding when I order my weekly groceries.

Every day I record on a weekly To-Do pad the lunches and dinners I’m having to track how well I’m eating.

At the start of the outbreak it was harder because it was winter and gloomy.

It’s gotten better except I have a dial for compassion that can’t be shut off. Watching the memorial service for George Floyd on TV I was heartbroken.

To cope I’ve turned to using my 3 blogs to speak out.

Artists and Authors like I am can use our emotional energy to create words and images that move people to action.


My 82-year old mother told me three weeks ago:

“There is nothing unless there is truth.”

How right-on that statement was. Her fortune telling was eerie in light of the future protests.

We are moving from the age of lies and misinformation to the Age of Truth telling.

If I cannot be honest in the blogs then how will I be able to make a difference?

Bravery is called for. The courage for each of us to speak the truth and tell our stories.

Peers living with mental health issues should not feel guilty or ashamed for having an illness.

No human being living on earth should live in fear of any kind.

This goes for fearing what people think of you. It goes for fearing that you could be killed.

In this blog I’m going to post peer stories and essays.

Individuals speaking their truth is how the needle shifts in society towards love and acceptance.

Telling our stories gives others permission to do the same.

 We’re all together as human beings living on earth.

My first foray into Storytelling will be to post a blog carnival of first-person accounts about living through the pandemic.