Mental Illness at Work: 3 Ways to Succeed

Succeeding at work with mental illness

Imagine tomorrow you wake up feeling listless, extremely fatigued, sorrowful and hopeless. Imagine if the day before you were energetic and lively. When you live with a mood disorder, it can make everything – including succeeding at work – feel daunting. It’s a common tale and it’s also my story, until I learned the coping skills needed to thrive.

In the United States, 14.8 million people aged 18 or older have clinical depression. For a young adult entering their professional career, completing their studies or beginning their life with a special someone, depression can feel like being hit by a semi. At best, it is scary and lonely. At worst, it can be life altering. But you do not have to travel the journey alone. There is hope and that hope is not a fantasy.

When I was 30, I entered graduate school to become a professional counselor and therapist. I had my books, my slip for my first course and my gumption. I also had an overwhelming fear my entire dream would come crashing down if it was discovered I had a mental health condition, which was officially diagnosed five years earlier. I cried by myself as I read the “impairment” section of the American Counseling Association’s Code of Ethics. It explained that counselors must refrain from providing professional services when they’re impaired by physical, mental or emotional problems. I thought I was done for and I had not even reached my first chapter exam. But my story, like many others, has a positive ending. I applied important lessons learned from a mentor, a successful psychologist. Those lessons became my hope and action plan. I now tell my young adult clients to remember the three R’s.

Succeeding with Mental Illness: The 3 R’s

Read

There will never be an advocate as powerful as the one in the mirror. I rapidly learned that if I wanted help I had to know what help meant in my day-to-day life. I needed to understand what medication and therapy were being recommended. I had to know what questions to ask and what answers to give to my medical team. I learned these by reading. I read medication pamphlets to understand the benefits and potential consequences. I read the homework my therapist offered. I read about depression and its overall effects. These activities helped me advocate for myself and when you have a mental health condition, you must be your own best advocate.

I took extra steps to read with my partner so she understood each step of my journey. I involved her in my support group because she was my second-best advocate. She read the same materials to make sure I did not miss a key step. That assistance made a world of difference in my mental wellbeing. Once you have read, prepare to…

Recognize

I cannot stress that word enough. Recognize, recognize, recognize! Know your symptoms and learn what they mean. Teach your friends, family and partner your symptoms so they can see them when you are not able. The greatest advice I can give is to be aware. Know the difference between a bad day and a potential episode. Once I recognized the signs of depression before I was entrenched, I was better able to head them off with increased exercise, hobbies and relaxation techniques. None of this would be possible without first learning to recognize a symptom. Some symptoms of depression are as follows:

  • Trouble with concentration
  • Tiredness
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Changes in sleep
  • Sad or “empty” feelings

I also learned to recognize the strength I was gaining thanks to the hard work I was putting into my mental wellbeing. I learned to look at my depression as less of a struggle and more of a challenge. I became more positive and recognized that small victories were important. I stopped allowing for external controls on my life. I was in charge. Once you learn to recognize, know how to…

Respond

I struggled with learning how to respond instead of reacting. Once I built my recovery network, which includes doctors, professionals, a therapist, friends and family, I had multiple facets to my action plan. I learned that I could call on others without shame. I learned that I could safely ask my doctor about medication management. I responded with homework assignments, reminders and affirmations, and physical exercise. They were my life savers. When I felt less capable and needed help responding to obstacles, I learned to employ my recovery network. I was armed with all the tools I needed. While every day may not be perfect, I am stronger for the knowledge.

Thriving In My Career

Seven years after my first day of graduate school, I am a fully licensed psychotherapist and the CEO of a practice. I work in the office and in the field doing equine-assisted psychotherapy. I am a writer, speaker and advocate for mental health. I am a success story. All of this was made possible by my personal journey and my support network who taught me to read, recognize and respond. Now it’s time for your success story.

Daniel Giers

Daniel Giers

Daniel Giers is a member of The Stability Network, CEO of Healthy Strides and private practice psychotherapist.
Daniel Giers

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