My Administrative Assistant Job

In 1990 I obtained my first full-time job as an administrative assistant to the director of an insurance firm. It was the first job I held after I got out of the hospital in October 1987. I was 25 years old then.

Today most professionals type their own correspondence so a secretary job is on its way out as a viable long-term career.

I want to devote a number of blog entries to this first job I held to segue into information about the second nonfiction book I hope to publish within two years.

My experience at that first job is illustrative of what not to do when you’re a mental health peer first starting out.

I don’t recommend telling your supervisor that you have a diagnosis of SZ or BP or whatever you have that you’ve been given.

My first job was in a corporate office. I would say in retrospect from my own office jobs: consider a corporate position only if you have the temperament to handle the pressure.

I told my first boss what my diagnosis was. I might have been in tears when I told her.

Listen–I’m a woman and this is my blog–so I’m going to reveal something that no one else will have the guts to tell you:

Getting your period and having SZ at the same time is a recipe for ongoing hell.

I’m 52 now and boy am I glad all that is over. Getting your period can worsen your SZ symptoms. So if you’re caught in a crying jag and otherwise experiencing the worst at that time of the month:

I urge you to weigh carefully taking any traditional job where you’re entitled to only 3 sick days per year. That’s the scenario in most office jobs.

At my first job in the office, I would have to go home sick as soon as this monthly shit hit the fan. I’m telling you this as a female mental health peer because you’re not alone in what happens.

I have one purpose in telling readers this: because of this type of scenario I urge you NOT to disclose your diagnosis to your supervisor or coworkers.

In the 1990s, I found out that I could take BuSpar–a non-addictive mild anti-anxiety pill–thought to help with the PMS. Ask your female doctor if this could help you. I can’t diagnosis any condition or prescribe or recommend any drug.

Yet I write about my experience in the early 1990s as an administrative assistant to make the case for not disclosing your diagnosis at any kind of office job.

In my memoir Left of the Dial I employed a sense of humor in detailing the functions of my administrative assistant job.

It was hell, hell, hell, and then some more hell.

I took the job so that I could kiss the SSI checks goodbye and afford to live in my own apartment apart from “the system.”

With so much of the moods a young person could have and the severity of symptoms at that stage of recovery I understand how hard it can be to just exist in recovery doing the best you can at that age.

In my second nonfiction book I’ll talk about this in more detail.

I’ll end here and in the coming blog entries give you a preview of the information contained in the second book.

No one else is going to tell you these things yet someone has to.

Up next I’ll talk about one of the most awful words in the dictionary: commute.

The commute you have to and from work can also be hell when you’re just starting out.

I have ideas about how to manage that too.



My Second Nonfiction Book

I’ve been remiss in publishing blog entries here because I’ve been editing and revising the book proposal for the second nonfiction book I want to publish.

It’s a one-of-its-kind career guide. I will be able to tell you more about this in October.

October is Disability Employment Awareness Month.

Coming up in October I will return to writing about career topics.

As of tonight I’ll be returning to writing blog entries here.

What I’d like to start out writing about this week is a true story.

It goes back to my time working as an administrative assistant in an insurance office.

That was my first-ever full-time job after I stopped collecting government benefits.

Stay tuned.



Discarding Goals

I firmly believe that everyone living on earth has the potential to do some kind of work.

For one person this might simply be doing volunteer work or working on their recovery. For another person yes this could be getting a JD.

We are not to frown on those of us who are less fortunate than we are in this regard.

In two months I’ll be 52 years old–and the older I get it’s become imperative to prioritize what I want to do. You too will turn 52 hopefully at some point if you haven’t gotten here now. Prioritizing goals at mid life is the way to go.

In keeping with setting priorities each of us should know that it’s okay to discard a goal or goals that don’t have the chance to be achieved.

At 52 life is getting shorter thus the requirement of choosing wisely what we focus on.

At 52 I’ve discarded a number of goals that used to burn brightly in my mind as things I really really wanted to do in my fifties.

You like I did will plan at 40 what you want to do in the future. Yet the view is different 12 years later at 52. Thus the beauty of discarding goals that weren’t meant to be.

This doesn’t mean you’ve failed just because you’ve quit wanting to do something. You can only fail at something you’ve actually done that didn’t turn out right. You can’t have failed if what you wanted to do you didn’t try to do to begin with.

Bingo–that’s the difference in succeeding at goal-setting–especially at mid life. When we give up focusing on one thing we can replace it with another thing.

Recovery is the gift of a lifetime that we give ourselves in which to heal and be whole and well and happy.

We cannot rush or cut corners when it comes to achieving our life goals. Better to have entertained a goal or two and not acted on it than to sit home throwing ourselves a pity party and not even trying to set a goal because we think we can’t.

Banish the word “can’t” from your vocabulary I tell you. Replace it with “I’m willing to try to see if I can do this.” That’s more like it even if not everything we try will always work out.

I want to continue to talk about setting goals. What I’ve written here is the short version. A book years ago was published that talked about the benefit of quitting.

The difference is: quit when it’s not to your advantage to continue. Persist when the goal is so life-changing that to not risk trying to achieve it would fill you with regret at “what might have been.”

The quote is: “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”

The view from the cusp of 52 is grand.

Yes You Can

I’ve changed the quote at the top right of this blog.

Years ago circa 1989 when I was shunted into the day program a woman I met told me: “Not a lot of people with a disability could do what you do.”

It’s true that I took offense at this because I thought it was possible to do these things.

As of today the proof that Yes You Can really is that we are “individuals” living with a mental health challenge. Not “consumers” or “schizophrenics” or any other label.

Each of us has the potential to do the things that give us joy and happiness. Each of us has the potential to heal and have optimal mental health. Each of us has the potential to flourish doing what we love.

Harboring jealousy at other people isn’t the way to live our lives.

Today in 2017 I can adamantly rebut that woman’s decades-ago comment with this:

You don’t have to become an Ivy League lawyer or a famous writer to get on with¬† a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life after you receive your diagnosis.

That’s the distinction I’ve always made in the various incarnations of my blog:

Often our internal roadblocks limit us more than external factors.

The goal I dare say is to be happy and healthy–that’s the true aim of living in recovery.

Each of us gets to define what happy and healthy looks like for us in our own lives.

Again it goes back to what I’ve written about self-stigma. If you’re trashing yourself or someone else because they’re a cashier in Rite Aid, that’s NOT right.

The woman who commented to me that way in the mists of time was an exceptional baker. She could cook like you wouldn’t believe.

So if you are a creative chef creating culinary wonders that’s your version of happy and healthy.

I thought about this woman’s comment today because I was talking with my literary agent who’s as visionary as I am in championing mental health.

Years ago when I first started blogging I had the audacity to claim that most people could recover and go on to have your own version of a full and robust life.

Frankly I’m tired of so-called experts claiming that no one can recover. I’m tired of getting attacked because I choose to focus on on the positive instead of dwelling on symptoms and lack and deficits.

The point is: if you can bake a souffle you’ve got that over me.

Any questions?

Two Great Career Books

I recommend two great career books for their singular focus.

The Career Code: Must-Know Rules for a Strategic, Stylish, and Self-Made Career by Hillary Kerr and Katherine Power is geared to women.

It contains the perfect example of a one-screen pitch letter that was sent to a person that another woman met at a networking event.

For this alone it’s worth buying the book.

101 Job Interview Questions You’ll Never Fear Again by James Reed is exactly this: a list of 101 job interview questions and how to respond to them.

It’s the best book on answering interview questions that I’ve come across. It was published this year–in 2016–so it’s up-to-date.

One curve ball question that could be asked is “If you could be an animal what one would you be?”

Here’s how I’d answer:

“I’d be a giraffe–do you want to know why–in real life I’m only five feet tall. If I were a giraffe I’d be the tallest animal in the zoo.

Walking down the street as a real person I’d only be able to see five feet in front of me. As a giraffe I could see for miles around. This would give me the benefit of seeing the big picture.

Instead of only seeing one city street I could see the grid of whole neighborhoods and how they connect. It would be a kind of global view.”

What animal would you be?


I’ll continue to write about employment on Mondays and Thursdays.

Going forward I’m going to return to writing about health and nutrition on the weekends.

I’d like to write about health and nutrition again too since I’ve discovered some great books on the topic of fitness.


Mental Health in the Workplace

At the NAMI-New York State Educational Conference on November 12:

I talked quickly about my experience with disclosure on the job and requesting a reasonable accommodation under the ADA Act.

Absolutely if you need a job modification you should ask for one because this is a legally-required benefit that employers have to accommodate.

Under this national law you can obtain an accommodation:

When it doesn’t present an undue hardship on the operation of the business and when the employer is aware of the disability.

At the panelist talk after the lunch on Saturday the topic was Mental Health in the Workplace.

You should know that a lot of companies offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

This is where you can talk with a counselor before your stress gets out of hand or when the stress has gotten unbearable either way.

One of the panelists talked about how things are different now.

Like her, I’m a GenX-er–a member of Generation X.

We remember that in the 1990s you weren’t supposed to leave the office at five o’clock on the dot. You were supposed to work overtime and not supposed to leave before your boss left.

The expression to describe this dynamic was that when your employer asked you to jump you were supposed to respond: “How high?”–and jump higher to prove your worth.

Now of course long-term job security isn’t guaranteed.

The female panelist remarked that Millenials are game changers because they’re doing work aligned with their values.

They’re not staying late on the job because they prize their life–and most likely want to preserve their sanity.

The recent economic downturn most likely has given Millenials¬† the confidence to say: “We’re not guaranteed to fatten our bank accounts so why break our backs for an ungrateful employer?”

There’s a reason Google and other firms have a massage therapist and dry-cleaner on campus: they want to keep you at the office.

This has been the trend: being expected to answer from home work e-mails at midnight.

No. No. No. Taking Back Sunday shouldn’t just be the title of a rock band–it should be the manifesto of workers everywhere: we’re not going to take this intrusion into our private lives.

As a GenX=er I’ll end here with this: it might be useful and necessary to have a second job of some kind to bring in extra money.

Instead of working every night until 9:00 p.m. for an employer that won’t give you any extra money.

Peg Bundy–the wife on the TV sitcom Married with Children once said:

“If I wanted peanuts, I’d fly Delta.”

I will talk in the coming blog entries about more hopeful employment news. I will give a list of must-read career books too.

It IS possible to love your job, love [most of] your co-workers, and love your paycheck.




5 Benefits of Taking SZ Medication

Here I’d like to talk about something I referred to in my employment talk at the 2016 NAMI-New York State educational conference.

For those of us who could benefit I want to offer a positive perspective on taking SZ medication.

In my firsthand experience and from observing others it’s my firm belief that most people diagnosed with SZ need to take medication to have a better chance at living a full and robust life.

Taking medication can give a person a competitive advantage in succeeding at setting and achieving goals in the real world.

Here now I’d like to talk about the benefits of taking medication for those of us who need to:

Side effects can be managed.

As soon as I switched the dose time to taking the tiny dose in the morning and the high dose at night–voila–I was wide awake every single day and no longer falling asleep on the job.

You’re in control.

I guy I love told me that he feels “calm, in control, and focused” when he takes medication.

Exceptional M.D.s and therapists can be found treating mental health conditions.

You can go on the Resources to Recover Website to view the directory of family-endorsed providers in the NY-NJ-CT-MA area.

True mind freedom is possible.

With clarity of thought and balanced moods it’s easier to live your life.

People who take medication can have better health and live longer.

One study revealed that peers who took medication were better able to stay on top of their health and actually lived longer.

A friend of mine with SZ is now 72 and he’s taken medication since he was 13.

On Thursday I’ll return with details about how the employment talk went and things I talked about. It was a smashing success.