Recovery Ink

I’ve lived in recovery for 33 years so far.

What I’ve learned:

You need to like yourself when you’re in your own company.

It doesn’t matter whether other people like or approve of you outside your home.

Only you need to be impressed with the person you are and will become.

I would like to believe that kind and compassionate individuals exist in the world.

The point is that you should take pride in yourself regardless of whether you have a fan club or don’t.

Being jealous of others will only keep you stuck. You’ll be unable to move on when you’re living in a mental garret you’ve enclosed yourself in.

The remedy for this self-stigma is to go the other way as hard as it can seem to do this.

I love reading empowering books and memoirs that successful people publish.

I want to soak up their habits and wisdom. To see what got them where they are today.

No–I’m not envious. I want to join them in their winner’s circle.

In the spirit of empowering blog readers I’m going to continue to write about topics that are in the vanguard that relate to my book Working Assets: A Career Guide for Peers.

While the COVID-19 outbreak has not ended this has shifted my focus to topics like WFH–working from home and interacting with others on Zoom video conferencing.

In the coming blog entry I will talk about working from home. This trend might remain in effect after the pandemic ends.

In future blog entries I will give interviews with women with mental health issues on the topics of having a job and having a family while living through the pandemic.

The Right to Fail

It’s my contention that the average Joe or Josephine on the street doesn’t get their behavior scrutinized half as much as people living with mental illnesses do.

On the flip side, the push to advocate for recovery for everyone can be well-intentioned. Yet it can set a person up to feel crummy when a goal they set for themselves doesn’t pan out.

Pat Deegan was prophetic in advocating for The Right to Fail.

I don’t like to use the term failure precisely because it’s a loaded word. Thinking that you have failed sets you up to not want to try again.

Instead you should think in terms of the action you took not panning out. You’re not a failure–you simply tried to do something that wasn’t viable in the end.

Living through the pandemic I’ve been thinking often about giving myself permission to fail at doing things.

For one I’m temperamentally unsuited to clean my apartment. Instead of doing my own wash I have a laundry service pick up and deliver back my laundry.

As well there are two donation bags that have been on the floor since March to take to the Salvation Army.

Fail boldly, I tell you.

Take the risk to achieve a goal. The outcome might sink like a lead balloon in a pond. That’s the signal to do things differently or to do a different thing.

My failed first career in corporate insurance offices is a cautionary tale about failure. It’s also a redemptive one.

I’ll talk next about the emotions that come up surrounding taking risks. And why sometimes you just have to risk trying one thing and then trying another.

Learning from our failures is the goal.

The Dignity of Risk

Pioneer mental health advocate Pat Deegan talked about “the dignity of risk and the right to fail.”

I want to talk first in this blog entry about the Dignity of Risk. In the coming blog entry I’ll talk about the Right to Fail.

Too often peers could be afraid to take risks. Mental health staff could have a poor impression of what a person is capable of doing. This could rub off on their patients.

As well family members might abandon their loved ones. It can be harder to take risks when there’s no one in your corner cheering you on.

The boxing match between you and your illness could be ferocious enough on its own. Thus the thought of tackling a grand goal can seem out of reach.

These factors add up to learned helplessness: the thought that it’s not worth trying to risk doing something so why bother.

Dare–I tell readers–dare!

To quote Michael Jordan:

Don’t be afraid to fail. Be afraid not to try.

This guiding motto is inscribed on a metal paperweight on my desk.

Too I have this quote magnet guiding me:

Proceed as if success is inevitable.

Only sometimes your best-intentioned plans go awry.

I will talk about having the Right to Fail in the coming blog entry.

After this I will give a pep talk about risking finding a job.

My Upcoming Talk

I”m giving the talk referenced above with the Queens Library on the internet via a virtual event that you can attend.

To register use this Queens Library link to obtain the URL or telephone number and the pass code.

I’ve memorized the talk I’m going to give. As well I will be reading an excerpt from Left of the Dial.

Two doctors from the Zucker-Hillside Hospital will be joining me on the panel discussion.

It’s going to be a treat for audience members.

I will be taking and answering questions at the end.

My talk will be about 8 minutes.

I’d love to have blog readers join in.


Decorating Your Workspace

Your desktop serves a function. Too I think decorating your workspace with flair can give you the emotional energy to tackle the day’s tasks. I’ve learned that a desk devoid of personality can make a person ill.

In the time of social distancing I’ve been set up with a computer at a temporary table in a meeting room. It is debilitating to be surrounded by white walls. After being relegated to this set-up I started to think of interior design. How it affects a person’s mood performance and creativity on the job.

In a corporate cubicle it might be harder to decorate with “cutesy” items on your desktop. Having a plant on your desk could improve your health. I’m going to buy a plant to place on my new table.

I think any architect planning the interior design of any workplace–be it an office or not–should be innovative in their use of lighting furniture and paint color.

On the fabric wall above my regular desk I hung two 5″x7″ pieces of artwork. On the desk cabinet below I stuck refrigerator magnets. One has the quote: Leap and the Net Will Appear. Another is a David Bowie Heroes magnet.

I will be happy to return to my desk where I can talk with coworkers every day. I’ll end here by saying that sprucing up your workspace goes a long way in improving your mood performance and creativity on the job.

Yes–I wish someone had thought to paint the meeting room walls sky blue. While I labor at this table I’ll bring in the plant to improve the air quality. I’ll clear space on the table for the plant.

Creating Workday Rituals

More on creating workday rituals:

Right now, I prefer to talk about creating rituals. Using the word self-care has become trite. Too often the need for self-care is impossible to live up to. This is because a person could feel poorly when they’re not engaging in self-care to the degree they think they’re “supposed to.”

Twyla Tharpe the American dancer wrote a book about the creative habit—about learning it and using it throughout your life.

The number-one takeaway I always remembered and practiced out of all the tactics she listed in the book was this one:

Engage in a warm-up habit before doing your task. In her book Tharp talked about the routine she engaged in before going to the gym to work out every day:

Take a shower. Get dressed in her gear. Hail the taxi to take her there. Get in car. Tip the driver before getting out. Walk into gym. Exercise.

In this regard having a workday ritual could help.

In the morning when you wake up you could engage in a habit as a warm-up to get you ready to go to your job.

This could be doing 5 sun salutations of yoga.

This could be scrambling eggs and cutting up an orange.

(I don’t recommend having boxed cereal for breakfast. Nor do I recommend having orange juice. I prefer to scramble eggs with veggies and have an orange.)

This could be taking a shower.

The creative habit you choose to use in the morning—and in winding down at night—is up to you to try out and decide if it works. My ideas above are suggestions. You might find other rituals to engage in that suit you better.

Sometimes it can be jotting 5 things down in a journal that you’re grateful for. Or lying in bed and resting and doing breathing exercises.

A British M.D. in his book How to Make Disease Disappear listed this breathing technique:

Breathe in for a count of 3. Hold your breath for a count of 4. Breathe out for a count of 5.

I use this breathing technique silently wherever I am to cope with stress.

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.

Disarming Dastardly Dan

Now a female coworker can be rude and hostile too.

The person I’ve interacted with on the job was a Dastardly Dan because they have been men.

At one job I simply walked out of the room when the coworker was in the room at the same time.

Luckily I was able to do this.

Sometimes I left the building and walked to a nearby coffee shop to meet an unemployed friend for a hot chocolate.

In most situations at work involving a rude and hostile coworker you won’t be able to bolt at will.

This is where I think beating them at their own game is critical.

Flatter them have conversations with them and try to disarm them.

Whether intentionally or not they’re trying to get a rise out of you to exert control.

When they see you’re not taking their bait this will frustrate them. They might discover it’s not worth their while to continue their behavior.

In the 1990s I worked for a jerk. Leaving that job I went from the frying pan into the fire of another job where I was laid off only three weeks later.

This is why I make the case for investigating non-corporate office jobs and careers that attract people who want to make a difference.

The bottom line is: get an office job should your personality be suited to working in an office. Should you want to work in an office that’s your right.

I work in a library and that’s where I encountered Dastardly Dan.

Rude and hostile coworkers exist everywhere.

Yet you have tactics for managing them. See if anything I’ve written here makes sense.

Forgiving Yourself and Others

This coming week I’ll return to talking about careers with a focus on living through the pandemic.

For the last blog entry of the current week I want to talk about something no one else has talked about:

Forgiving yourself and others.

I think too that each of us needs to forgive the pandemic for disrupting our lives. The outbreak isn’t a real person yet it has damaged a lot of us.

Anxiety and depression were on the rise when people were forced indoors for months on end seemingly without end.

Individuals who work the 12 Steps in addiction recovery are supposed in one of the Steps to make amends and ask for forgiveness.

My contention is that even though a person might not have an addiction you can benefit from taking an inventory of your actions. And asking for forgiveness if you feel something you did harmed another person.

Living through the lingering COVID-19 outbreak I think is the perfect time to engage in a self-improvement project like this.

It’s because in our lifetime none of us has ever had to cope with a setback as challenging and severe as the pandemic.

This is the perfect time to forgive yourself and others.

How many of us can say we’ve been doing everything we’re supposed to do every day of the week?

We are human beings not machines. And sometimes the best of us break down.

Forgiveness is called for. To forgive is to heal.

Benefit of Having a Routine

The number-one benefit of establishing a routine is to feel like you have control over what’s happening in your life.

Ever the trouper that I am it wasn’t until this month that I understood exactly how hard it’s been for me to live under quarantine.

What helped was having a consistent routine all along since my job shut down in March:

I exercised every week for one or two days each week with only a few weeks of not exercising.

I cooked my own dinners 5x per week throughout the last four months.

Having a routine gives a person stability.

A lot of things aren’t under our control. “Let Go–and Let Life” is my motto for accepting what I can’t change.

It hit me only recently that my old routine wasn’t working pre-pandemic. Post-pandemic I was given the hidden opportunity to make changes I might not have made before.

Having to “put out fires” and respond to repeated “emergencies” is no way to live our lives.

By establishing a routine we take back control over what happens in any given week.

Inside of the unpredictability of the COVID-19 outbreak is indeed a silver lining for all of us:

The ability to reclaim our power as individuals living our lives.

My book-publishing goals have been put on hold. Yet inside of this dashed dream I take joy in keeping the 3 blogs.

My intention is that readers can learn from my insight and observations.

Hope is called for. Optimism is called for.

A better day lies ahead. I firmly believe this.