Barriers to Employment

One in 5 Americans has a disability from what I’ve read in a book and online.

In the RespectAbility internet article one woman wasn’t getting job offers. She disclosed on interviews that she had a disability. After not getting job offers, she stopped disclosing to hiring managers.

Having an invisible disability is no better. Given the choice to “pass for normal” would you want to? A friend pointed out that a lot of peers don’t want to hide in a closet for the rest of their lives like gay people who pretended they were straight.

“This is part of who I am” is the war cry of many people living with disabilities.

The term used is ableism to refer to how outsiders view a disability as a liability that is aberrant.

Unlike a lot of disability rights activists, I’m okay with being called “courageous” and “inspirational” in the face of adversity. This won’t win me any fans.

To people who use wheelchairs, for instance, rolling around is a normal part of their lives.

What do I think?

The interview is a sales pitch for how you can solve an employer’s need with your service. You want to “close the sale” and get a Yes in the form of a job offer.

As a candidate across the desk, you wouldn’t dwell on deficits and drawbacks.

Sadly, this is how having a disability is perceived: as a limitation on what a person can do.

I have a Visionary archetype. As a Visionary, I had the audacity to think a person with a mental illness could hold a job. In spring 2022 my goal is to publish the book Working Assets: A Career Guide for Peers – Finding and Succeeding at a Job When You Live with a Mental Ilness.

How to risk identifying as a having a disability:

If you’re compelled to be honest you must frame having a disability as giving you the mindset, creative problem-solving skills, and competitive edge to get results for the company. Try quoting the following statistics to make this case:

            A 2018 Accenture study revealed that firms with the best practices in hiring individuals with disabilities saw:

  • Twenty-eight percent higher revenue
  • Double the net income
  • Thirty percent higher profit margins

On average over a four-year period.

I talked about this Accenture study in a prior blog entry.

The fact is that a businessperson might be thinking about the increased health insurance costs that a staff member with a disability could incur.

How to prove you’re a capable and competent worker to a hiring manager in a half-hour interview?

It’s obvious to those of us living with a hardship that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

A lot of us have grit, strength, and resilience in the face of adversity. How could we not perform better than lazy coworkers or rude coworkers or entitled coworkers?

This is obvious to me. On one interview I went on over 11 years ago the HR person asked me: What hardship did you experience that made you who you are today?”

Sorry, talking about having had a breakdown when I was 22 wasn’t the answer I gave. I talked about what it was like when I was 22 and my grandfather was in a coma hooked up to a respirator in the ICU.

Having a mental health issue or diagnosis is [intractably] not seen as a selling point.

Not that any illness should be more acceptable than another. Every illness should be seen as an ordinary part of the life of a person living with a disability.

Folks: I don’t live in hiding. Google me and the truth is out there: in my memoir Left of the Dial, in my blogs, and on my website.

In the coming blog entry, I’m going to review the book Disability Visibility. Twenty-first century voices talking about living with a disability.

Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is another way to drum up cash to start a business or fund a project.

The 3 main crowdfunding sources are GoFundMe, Kickstarter, and IndieGoGo.

Kickstarter is for creative projects. GoFundMe can be for human interest projects like supporting a family whose house has burned down in a fire. IndieGoGo is where you can find the latest in cutting-edge tech projects.

See GoFundMe here. See Kickstarter here. See IndieGoGo here.

For all of these funding platforms you must start strong on the first day your project goes live on the website for funding.

See each source’s terms and conditions. You might have to raise all of the money you seek or you won’t get any of the money given to you.

You can go on YouTube to watch videos about how to execute a successful crowdfunding campaign.

With Kickstarter you offer your funders something in return for their money. Like a copy of your book when it is published.

Other Side Hustle Approaches

Individuals with disabilities often do well starting their own business, according to the authors of The Next Millionaire Next Door.

For residents of Brooklyn in New York City the Brooklyn Public Library hosts a yearly PowerUp business plan competition.

Locals can create a business plan and pitch it to a panel of judges. The best business idea wins seed money so that the person can start up the business.

See the Brooklyn Public Library website for details.

See if your local library system has a Business and Career Center like the Brooklyn library does.

Often there you can get information about starting a business. The Business and Career Center will also host virtual workshops today and in-person workshops once the pandemic ends.

In the coming blog entry I will talk about crowdfunding to generate money for your business or other plan that requires capital.

Side Hustle Muscle

From January 2007 to September 2015–close to 9 years–I had a second job as the Health Guide at a mental health website. I wrote news articles about hot topics in recovery and answered questions in the Q&A forum. At that time I was in the vanguard writing about things no one else thought to write about. Just like I’m doing today.

I recommend getting a second job or having a side income stream. Rather than selling your soul to earn the big bucks at a job you hate or that doesn’t fit your personality.

Below this blog entry I’ll offer links to websites that can help you create a side hustle.

You can read the Kimberly Palmer book The Economy of You where she talks about going into business for yourself part-time in addition to a day job or full-time if you’re able.

See also the Chris Guillebeau book: Side Hustle: From Idea to Income in 27 Days.

Buy the Patrick G. Riley guide: The One-Page Business Proposal. I own this book and have used it myself. One page is all you need to pitch your service.

In coming blog entries I’ll talk about other ways to earn extra money.

Here I’ll end with one caveat for creative folk:

You often won’t get paid to write an article for a website. HealthCentral paid me when I was the Health Guide. I call the use of free mental labor an “intellectual sweatshop.”

Here’s a list of websites that can help you:

Writers Editors and other Creatives can search for work at MediaBistro.

Entrepreneurs of all stripes can find help at the Small Business Administraion.

SCORE or the Service Corps of Retired Executives I have used years ago with video chat help.

Shopify is a way to sell your product(s).

Guru is the place to find and hire freelancers. I found my local web designer here.

On Not Being That Coworker

You know the one: who makes your life miserable on the job.

A coworker could be dastardly. That’s no excuse for joining them in a race to the bottom.

Taking the high road as the expression goes is what’s called for. Asserting yourself when it’s clear you’re being taken advantage of on the job.

The case is clear: you don’t want to be that coworker that causes trouble for no reason at all.

Scenario #1 for example: You have seniority in choosing vacation time. A coworker comes to you and asks you to allow them to take off in June so they can visit their elderly parent in Sweden.

What you don’t do is schedule your vacation in the exact week the coworker wants to visit their parent.

Scenario #2: You see that someone has changed your weekly schedule without your permission or knowledge. The person might have told you that you couldn’t have off that Monday because the firm was short-staffed. You’re told you can no longer have off on Monday. This person then schedules themselves off on Monday.

What you do is act assertive and talk to them. Instead of firing off an angry email to them or going ballistic toward them.

Why would this person not say upfront that they needed the day off and could you switch with them? Who knows?

Scenario #3: Someone is stealing your food from the refrigerator at work. What you don’t do is print up a flier that you tape to the refrigerator stating: “No Stealing Food.” This would likely be a real deterrent like the electronic noise in Rite Aid that goes off when you reach for the deodorant behind a clear panel.

Instead: You can ask your supervisor to send an email to staff asking them to bring their own food. Or have a salad for lunch. Chances are no one else wants to eat a salad.

True story: At one job I bought a glass to use in the workplace kitchen to drink water at lunch. It looked like a regular whiskey glass. Curiously it went missing shortly after I started using it at lunch.

What you can do: keep the glass at your desk until lunchtime. In shared kitchen space it might not be clear whose glass is whose.

The wind-up: act ethical and above-board in how you interact with coworkers.

The truth is I don’t think most coworkers or supervisors intend to harm you or are acting with malice. They are simply self-centered and acting in their own interests.

Which is something you should consider doing on your job: figuring out whether the same person is repeatedly acting dastardly toward you. Not allowing this behavior to continue. Speaking up for yourself assertively and confidently.

This points to a real irony: that self-disclosure on the job about your bipolar or schizophrenia often only backfires. Interacting with coworkers for eight hours a day you are already a huddle of personalities that can be too close for comfort even without throwing a mental illness into the mix.

I will talk more again about self-disclosure in the workplace. This is definitely a case of “Do as I say not as I’ve done.” A victim of accidental disclosure–and then my honesty about publishing my memoir Left of the Dial had a happy ending.

Disability Pride Month 2021

Disability Pride is a thing with Disability Rights Activists that has garnered us July as a theme month.

Au contraire I’m not proud to have a disability.

I take pride in the skills, abilities, and strengths that I used to help myself recover and continue to use to empower others to recover.

The fact is that the breakdown and major relapse I experienced were two terrifying events. What happened to me wasn’t normal. I’m not proud to have been symptomatic. I cannot champion that being ill was a good thing.

What happened after I recovered was the great thing: I decided to do pro bono public speaking as an Advocate. My goal here was to motivate other peers to go after their goals with gusto.

I wanted to be the cheerleader for others who didn’t have family support or mental health staff in their corner telling them that recovery was possible.

Since 2002 when I first started out I’ve been attacked for claiming that recovery is possible.

One critic told me they doubted other peers could do what I’ve done.

That wasn’t my point in publishing my memoir Left of the Dial–to dangle an unobtainable carrot in front of people.

The exclamation point was that you could have your version of a full and robust life living with an illness.

Finding the career that gave me joy and listening to music and dressing in outfits and making art was what enabled me to recover.

Recovery comes to each of us in different guises. Each person’s recovery is as individual as our thumbprint.

Sing in a choir. Bake a cake. Ride a skateboard. It’s all great.

In 1988 I wouldn’t accept “the only option” presented to me: warming a chair in a traditional day program, collecting a government disability check for the rest of my life, and living in crack-infested low-income public housing.

It’s fine if a person must collect a government disability check and can’t hold a traditional job.

Yet even with these limitations I submit that they can have their version of a full and robust life.

It’s called No Judgments okay.

Elsewhere in other blogs I’ve praised the hard work and cheerfulness of Rite Aid cashiers. Some of them have been working at their jobs for three four or five years.

No one gives them grief for not having “competitive employment.”

Yet as soon as a person with a mental health issue can’t hold a job they’re looked down on.. The Right Wing crucifies people for collecting “entitlements.” Even if you have a genuine disability in some states the government doesn’t want you to collect Medicaid unless you have a job.

Intelligent thinking right? How is someone who’s actively symptomatic always going to be able to hold a job?

The point is my memoir Left of the Dial went a step further than Elyn Saks’s memoir The Center Cannot Hold.

What both our books had in common was the premise that you can do what you love even when you struggle.

You can have your version of a full and robust life even when your life is hard because of your illness.

And it’s precisely because you’re doing what you love–on or off a job–that the pain is alleviated.

Point taken? I hope so.

Seeing The Ability in Disability

Our disability might be invisible to others we interact with. Only this disability is real to those of us living with it.

My memoir Left of the Dial detailed in graphic fashion what happened to me. It was an unusual story that I wanted to tell to give others hope for having a life of your own design.

Ever since I started in 2002 my pro bono Advocate work I’ve been met with resistance. Outsiders and even mental health professionals claimed that recovery was not possible at all.

Setting the bar too high as to what constitutes recovery is something I’ve always been against.

Having competitive employment should not be the barometer used to judge a person living in recovery.

As a professional librarian with a Masters’ degree I’ve seen firsthand that anyone with a pulse can get a job.

As an ambitious individual I can tell you this: wherever you’re employed there’s always going to be a slacker who doesn’t do any work or does the bare minimum.

A coworker might be rude and hostile too and they don’t have a mental illness.

This points to the fact that no one should feel guilty and ashamed for having a disability whether invisible or out in plain sight.

I write blog entries and books and do public speaking to educate empower and entertain my target market of individuals living in recovery.

As a librarian I have a niche in helping customers craft resumes and conduct job searches.

My goal was to use my experience to help people in recovery find and succeed at having a job you love.

Today numerous different jobs exist that are off the beaten path of careers.

The point is that having a disability doesn’t have to limit a person from getting out there and contributing your talents to the world.

Whether paid or volunteer work the possibilities are beautiful.

If you want to get a job you deserve to try to do this. No one should tell you otherwise.

Individuals living with a disability have gifts, strengths, and abilities that make us assets to employers.

Think positively. It’s 2021–there’s more hope than ever.

Surviving the Pandemic

The Test and Trace Corps person who interviewed me told me I could be put up in a hotel while I was under quarantine.

What? How would I travel to the hotel if it were possible I had been infected?

Surviving the pandemic can be harder for individuals living with mental health issues.

On a regular day a person with OCD might have the urge to wash their hands repeatedly.

Now we’re in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and washing your hands for 20 seconds throughout the day is the norm.

This irony is not lost on me.

How have I survived living through the pandemic?

In the early months I had my pharmacy deliver my pill bottles to my apartment. The independent pharmacy offers free delivery. I tipped the person who brings my pills $4.

You could use CVS or Rite Aid or a national chain to fill your prescriptions. I prefer to use an independent pharmacy with the free delivery option. Supporting small businesses is one of my goals.

Isolation can breed paranoia and illness.

It’s strange yet true that I don’t like being holed up in my apartment when I have nothing to do. Even though I was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

What has been the hardest for me was not being able to perform at poetry readings and have dinner in restaurants with others.

The absence of joy is no joke.

Depression can cause fatigue.

The one good thing was that for the most part consistently for the last year I was able to exercise in my living room.

Keeping up exercising is the key factor rather than stopping totally for a long stretch of time.

What saved me was that I kept exercising even if it was just one day a week for 30 minutes.

We are closer to normalcy. Yet we are not there yet.

I will continue to protect myself by wearing a mask everywhere washing my hands for 20 seconds throughout the day and maintaining 6 feet distance from others even when masked.

To end here I will say that I understand how hard surviving the pandemic has been for those of us with mental health issues.

Life Under Quarantine

I want to talk about this topic because the pandemic is a threat still.

For those of you who are onsite working at your job there should be protections in place to guard your health and safety. You should not fear speaking up if your employer disregards your well-being.

You should expect that your employer is taking strict precautions.

Two weeks ago I received dose one of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine.

A day later I experienced the side effect of feeling unwell. Luckily it lasted only one day and was a minor side effect.

Though it was a minor side effect it felt severe. This required that I take a sick day to recuperate.

Your employer should have protocol in place for what happens when a coworker gets infected with COVID-19.

In New York City the staff that came in close contact with that person are told to quarantine for 10 days.

The Test and Trace Corps in NYC will call you up to conduct an interview with you while you’re in quarantine.

You can get food delivered to your home while you are under quarantine in New York City.

In three weeks I get the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

My take is that you absolutely should quarantine when told to do so.

Refrain from going out. See if a friend or family member can buy you groceries and leave the bags at your front door.

The Test and Trace Corps person that telephoned me ran through a detailed list of questions.

One of the questions she was supposed to ask me was about disability.

Though I hadn’t been infected with the coronavirus I stayed in my apartment anyway.

This was a royal bummer to be restricted from going out.

You’re also supposed to get tested for COVID-19 when you have been identified as a person who came in close contact with a person who tested positive.

Though I was nowhere near the person as I had gotten the first dose of the vaccine and was in my apartment I quarantined for 10 days anyway.

Things are getting better yet we are not out of the thick of the forest.

Keep washing your hands for 20 seconds throughout the day. Wear a mask when going outdoors interacting with others anywhere and even when in the common areas of a building.

Remain 6 feet apart even when wearing a mask.

The goal is to not get infected with COVID-19. Most people have mild symptoms. Only it’s possible for others to have severe symptoms.

Death is possible for anyone of any color creed or socioeconomic strata.

While you are sheltering indoors should you still be inside your home this is the perfect time to work on setting a goal you want to achieve when life returns to normal.

In the coming blog entry I’m going to talk about my experience living through the pandemic as a person diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Podcast

In May I envision starting up a podcast about mental health.

You should be able to access it via this blog:

On the Front Porch with Christina.

The podcast will be the length of a TED Talk: 18 minutes.

I hope to broadcast the podcast twice a month starting out.