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.

 

 

 

Telling Our Stories

At the educational conference I was the first person to talk at the session on: The Impact of SSI and SSDI on Going to Work.

My co-presenter detailed how to apply for these benefits and how to use the Ticket to Work and PASS Plan options to find a job so you can stop collecting SSI and SSDI.

At the start of my talk I quoted lines from the Anne Sexton poem “For John, Who Begs Me Not to Enquire Further.”

She is a famous poet who had her own mental health challenges and is no longer here. Sadly, like a lot of gifted artists, she took her own life.

Yet the lines from her poem are often quoted. She tells the reader that she has nothing else to give and that what she has to give can be hopeful in its own way.

After I quoted the lines I told the audience: “This is my story. It’s the only story I have to tell. It’s unusual and a little atypical. I tell it to uplift and inspire others.”

I’m here to say that what you feel can be healed. Pain can end. I’m a firm believer in using our pain as the catalyst for self-growth and finding out what our life’s purpose is.

I stand by the motto: “service above self.”

It’s true that you get what you give–plain and simple–you get what you give.

Other forums exist in which to spread hate of psychiatry, hate of people who are different from you, and any other kind of hate.

This blog will always be not just a hate-free zone it will be a healthy zone.

It comes down to this: my ethic is: “This is my story–it’s on the table. You can take it or you can leave it.”

In the next blog entry I’ll talk about the new dynamic of holding a job circa 2016.

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.

 

Creating Secret Accommodations

At least five years ago I researched ADA Act accommodations. The SAMHSA Website had a trove of information about the topic back then.

Though I’m no fan of SAMHSA their information did redeem them as a government agency.It was one of the better functions of this agency.

A guy was interviewed who said he created his own accommodations and didn’t tell anyone else. No one was any wiser. He was able to get his job done.

Employers were quoted as saying they would give an accommodation to any employee not just a person with a mental health challenge.

What I’ve done–and this is going to sound heretic–so do this at your own risk–is take a break away from the building. I’ve gone outside to talk on my cell phone. I’ve gone to Starbucks for a hot chocolate on one job.

You have to be careful what you do on the job–logging onto Facebook from your employer’s computer is often frowned upon. Oh–people will do this. You shouldn’t.

This is why I recommend buying a smart phone with a data plan for Internet service. Do what you want to do from your cell phone.

Check your company’s policy about how long you can take a break and how often and when you can do this throughout the workday.

Some of us aren’t allowed to go outside the building on our breaks. So pretend I didn’t say I went to Starbucks.

In reality management might not care a lot what their employees do. Supervisors might turn a blind eye on whatever goes on. Which is why you should be careful in the ways that count when you’re working on a job.

In a long-term research study of sustained employment of individuals with mental health conditions participants listed these and other coping skills for stress on the job:

praying or reading the bible, exercising, talking to a support person on the telephone, going to a quiet room, taking medication if necessary, and having a snack.

Talking on your cell phone to a friend outside the building for 10 minutes can do the trick. And if you’re allowed to go outside on a break and on lunch hour I say: do this.

Again I will always stress that exceeding your employer’s expectations can often tip the scales in your favor at your performance review. With such accolades you can often succeed in requesting a modification to your job.

This sounds like it’s not right yet that’s how it is. You might think that if a rude co-worker is held up as a shining model employee that you can slack off in your job and be given credit. It doesn’t work this way. It’s always the other person not you that will be lauded over.

I wouldn’t risk slacking off on a job. Not if you want to succeed at holding a job in today’s wildly fluctuating economic environment.

Exceed your employer’s expectations. Then you might be able to get yourself a Frappuccino. Any questions?

 

Managing an MH Challenge on the Job

Using a diagnosis to describe what happened isn’t often helpful.

It places a person in a diagnostic box that’s hard to get out of. I call this an “identity straitjacket.”

You think that you’re doing so well that you’d like to tell others so that they can cheer you for having done so well. Not so fast. Not on a job. Doing so cost a friend a promotion.

Like it or not claiming the diagnosis–a clinical term–to talk about yourself can color how people respond to you. Yet rightly so a diagnosis is simply something you have, not who you are.

I’m only five feet tall. I have dark brown eyes, black hair, and pale skin. That’s a part of who I am–and I don’t equate the illness with being a personal characteristic like these things are.

It all comes down to the action(s) we take to manage our condition. This is all that matters when working at a job and having to request a reasonable accommodation.

As long as a person is able to manage their condition in a positive and proactive way–then I say the diagnosis is irrelevant and it’s almost secondary as a guidepost for what we can do.

Thus on the job if you ask me it makes more sense to talk about a functional limitation when you need to request an accommodation.

The goal on the job and I dare say in ordinary life is for each of us to exceed the expectations other people have of us.

Disclose that you have SZ or BP or whatever you have and your co-workers will often suddenly have a negative expectation or impression of you.

This is how it is in a lot of offices.

I say: disclose only if you need a reasonable accommodation under the ADA Act to be able to excel in performing the functions of your job.

Yet the choice is ultimately yours.

I’ll end here with some encouraging words:

You do not need to be entirely symptom-free to hold a job.

I’ve known a couple of peers who still heard voices and had full-time jobs.

Yet do you think they told their supervisor that they heard voices?

In the next blog entry I’ll talk about how to create your own accommodations on the job with or without management approval.

 

 

My first job was as an administrative assistant. Yet I decided I would try to excel as an account executive in the insurance field after my first job ended.

The assistant job was okay for what it was. Yet an intelligent, quirky young girl like me wouldn’t really succeed typing letters all day and processing expense reports.

Nor would it turn out that becoming a corporate superstar was a better goal.

Environment is everything when it comes to succeeding on the job. I’ve also worked in a law firm as well as offices.

If you ask me any artist should steer clear of a buttoned-up mentality in the workplace.

By all means work in an office if that’s what suits you. Set career goals for yourself wherever you work.

Yet jumping out of the boxes others place you in is imperative. Coco Chanel the legendary fashion designer is quoted: “To be irreplaceable you must be different.”

When your fate is in the hands of your boss or your employer it makes more sense than ever to acquire skills you can use in a solo gig to earn income in addition to your day job.

My prime beef has been when mental health or vocational staff tell patients or clients what they think we should do without asking us what we’d like to do.

A job like an administrative assistant can be a good job in its own right or it can be a stepping stone to a different or better job.

I just think any career exploration should take into account a person’s gifts and strengths and personality.

Wherever you go you will have to deal with co-workers.

I’m going to talk in the next blog entry about why disclosing your MH challenge on the job can backfire. Then I’ll talk about getting secret accommodations that no one else has to know about.

Types of Accommodations on the Job

You can legally use 40 hours per year to take off sick to care for a family member where I live in New York City.

The FMLA–Family Medical Leave Act–is a national law that allows a person to take up to three months off for a health condition.

I once told a woman she shouldn’t have gone into a hospital–she should’ve used the time to go on vacation or to go to a spa instead. This because she had confessed going into the hospital hadn’t really helped her.

If a person absolutely needs to go into a hospital by all means they should do it without delay. They should have an explanation for why they took time off from the job.

On the job if you ask me it helps to frame requesting a reasonable accommodation thus:

“I want to exceed your expectations for what I can do. To do this I will need an accommodation. Here’s what I think might work. How does this sound to you?”

You tell HR–the Human Resources Department staff member–and can tell your immediate supervisor that you need an accommodation. Ordinary coworkers don’t have to know and often shouldn’t know about this. They might think you’re a slacker who can’t do the work and is trying to get out of doing your fair share.

Thus it might be better and more helpful to frame the request in terms of a functional limitation not in terms of a diagnosis. I would go so far as to refrain from calling it a functional impairment. I would use the word limitation instead.

Here’s the deal: so-called normal people get accommodations on the job for all sorts of reasons not having to do with illness. And their bosses don’t blanch to give them these modifications.

A co-worker can request and be granted a different schedule–coming in earlier and leaving later–to take Hebrew lessons.

Another co-worker could take a longer lunch to go shoe shopping and no one else knows this not even the boss. In fact Penelope Trunk The Brazen Careerist talked years ago about taking longer lunches.

It might be a function of having a creative job or other kind of job that is not in an office. This is why I’ll always recommend non-traditional work for those of us with an MH challenge who would wither and die working in a cubicle in a job with narrowly defined duties and a power hierarchy.

In the next blog entry I’ll talk about why we shouldn’t limit ourselves or accept the boxes others try to place us in.

Disclosure on the Job

I’ve been employed at different jobs for over 26 years now.

Thus I’m confident that I know a thing or two about how to succeed on a job.

One thing I must underscore is that it’s still dice-y to disclose on a job that you have SZ or BP or any other MH challenge.

So-called normal people are lauded as shining employees even when they’re rude to customers and hostile to co-workers.

Normal people get a pass on the job for all kinds of behavior. Think again if you’ll get a pass on the job. This is just the way it is.

Management often turns a blind eye when a co-worker is rude to customers and staff. Management doesn’t reward people with an MH who exceed everyone’s expectations on the job.

This has been my experience. I would love to hear from readers if they’ve had a different experience.

I was at one point supposed to request a reasonable accommodation on a job and I didn’t do it because I no longer needed to.

For a number of months I was falling asleep at least three days a week. After a simple change in dose time to taking the high dose at night and the low dose in the morning–voila–I was wide awake every day.

With a simple change in dose time I stopped having a side effect.

To cover my ass I had claimed I had narcolepsy. At first I really had no idea what was going on so I thought it might be narcolepsy.

On the other hand it’s not always entirely helpful or useful to use a diagnosis as the reason for needing an accommodation.

So-called normal people get accommodations on the job for reasons having nothing to do with having an illness.

Thus in the next blog entry I’d like to give more tips to job seekers and HR staff about requesting an accommodation.

Requesting A Reasonable Accommodation

At the NAMI-New York State Educational Conference on Saturday, November 12 I will talk about requesting a reasonable accommodation on the job.

You can go on AskJAN to figure out what kind of accommodations you could request linked to different kinds of functional impairments you might have.

The ADA Act is clear that giving an accommodation cannot create an undue hardship on the operation of the business. The employee also still has to be able to perform the job duties. It is not a Get Out of Work Free card like a Get Out of Jail Free card in a Monopoly game.

The purpose of asking for an accommodation is precisely so that you can succeed in your job alongside co-workers who don’t have an impairment.

My take on this is that you should strive to excel not turn in the bare minimum that’s acceptable for an employee.

Coco Chanel the famous clothing designer is quoted:

“To be irreplaceable you must be different.”

You might scoff that you shouldn’t have to be twice as good to be taken seriously.

Wait a minute. Everyone has to be twice as good regardless of whether or not they have a mental health challenge.

Being twice as good on a job might just get you a free pass on your performance review.

All things being equal being twice as good comes in handy when you have to request a reasonable accommodation too.

You might think this is unfair yet this is how the world of work works.

I will be talking about the specifics of requesting an accommodation at the NAMI-New York State Educational Conference on Saturday, November 12.

The bottom line as I see it: if you need an accommodation on the job it’s better to ask for it as soon as you think you need one rather than waiting until you’re in dire straits.

Be grateful. We live in America. We have the opportunity to work at a job with this kind of legally-sanctioned help.

Introduction to Educational Conference

I’m set to give a talk on employment at the NAMI-New York State educational conference on Saturday, November 12 from 5:40 to 6:40 p.m.

My talk will focus on my new peer-owned resume writing and career help service. It will also detail my own experience with requesting a reasonable accommodation on the job.

Here now I want to give a plug for my memoir Left of the Dial. The book chronicles how I recovered with the help of family support, a great psychiatrist, and also peer support in the later years.

What’s remarkable is that in all my life and early in my recovery I was able to see possibility where others saw pain. Even today I see potential where staff still tend to see disability.

In 1990 I blazed a trail for myself at a time when no road out had existed for a person like me. Years later I had the vision to use my writing to uplift and inspire others that an open road now exists for them too.

In the 1980s and early 1990s when I was young and in love with Manhattan I refused to be placed in any kind of box–not a sartorial one; not a psychiatric one.

Dressing in Avant Garde fashion and listening to alternative music was my way to jump out of the boxes others tried to place me in.

Quite simply I didn’t want the label schizophrenic attached to me either.

In time I understood that the diagnosis is best used as a tool to help someone get the right treatment for the symptoms they’re experiencing right now.

My memoir Left of the Dial is a treat because it follows along in the lives of real people living real lives outside of the hospital, outside of any kind of institution. The characters in my book have unique identities apart from their symptoms.

My goal was always to write about what happened after I recovered. If another woman could write about her chronic symptoms and endless hospitalizations, I thought, why can’t I write about a success story to give others hope?

I don’t know about you however in my 29 years in recovery I’ve read and witnessed numerous hell-and-heartache stories.

When I pick up a memoir I don’t want to read about yet another train wreck. I want to be inspired that it’s possible to overcome whatever challenge the character faced.

Don’t we all want to be given hope that if a character in a book can conquer an obstacle that we can too?

Bingo. That’s what it’s all about.

We need to set the clock to today when it comes to thinking about recovery. As of today a significant number of people–more than ever–can and do recover and some of us can be in remission for the long-term too.

We cannot dwell in the psychiatric failings and abuses of the past.

I’ve talked in here endlessly about the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act. This year the U.S. Congress passed this bill into law. We’re awaiting the U.S. Senate to pass their version.

Now more than ever with landmark legislation like this–and with better treatment, support, and lifestyle options for peers–we cannot regress to continually parroting that no one can recover.

Yet we cannot forget or ignore or abandon our peers who have a chronic form of their illness.

Only now with the possible assistance of the U.S. government in passing laws to promote access to better treatment it’s possible that fewer people will be getting worse and worse without help.

Getting the right treatment right away equals the possibility of a better outcome.

Starting next week I will blog in here about the topics I’m going to talk about at the educational conference. Stay tuned.