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How a Self-Care Day Helps Me Stay Employed With Schizoaffective Disorder

The Mighty logo The Mighty 1/24/2022 Syrena Clark
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After my diagnosis nearly a decade ago, I thought I’d never live a “normal” life again. I certainly never thought I’d work. I just didn’t see myself as capable any longer. Whether that was because of society’s expectation or my own predisposition remains to be seen. I just didn’t see it as a possibility, however remote. I had been cut down and what was expected of me, by those around me, had drastically changed. It’s not that the people I surround myself with didn’t believe in me, but they had been told certain things and had been made to believe in certain realities, which didn’t harbor room for upward growth or change.

The day I received my diagnosis I was sitting in the car of my social worker, all the world bathed in hot, uncomfortable sunshine. Clutched in her hand was an envelope and, in my mind, that envelope held the rest of my life. Everything hung in the balance that day, and because of two words “catatonic schizophrenia,” the scales were tipped in an unfortunate direction.

She said, “You have got to keep this a secret. Nobody can know.”

At that moment I felt unlike myself, like a mutant, like an example, like a case study. I didn’t feel like myself.

About two years after my diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder (originally bipolar 1 and then catatonic schizophrenia) I decided to go back to school. I didn’t place any expectations on myself. I just decided I’d do what I could do. Going back to school, for me, wasn’t to secure me a well-paying job as it is for some, rather it was the commencement of a choice. I wanted to prove to myself that I was still capable of something. This was, of course, society’s expectation once again: that to live means you have to be capable of some big thing, that you can’t just live your life, that you must be a productive, actively producing, member of society to be deemed worthy. Even now, I harbor a hatred for this abstract concept of “able.”

But, I did it anyway, partly because I wanted to, partly because I felt I had to, mostly because I wanted to (or even felt I needed to) prove my life wasn’t over. Doing so wasn’t without apprehension.

Then my senior year of college (this year) I took a job. Again, not without apprehension; certainly, I was afraid. Afraid that I couldn’t do it. That my body wouldn’t let me, that my mind would rally against stressors and collapse. I was afraid, plain and simple. And I still am. Every day I am. Every day I hear that voice in the back of my head, literally in my case, telling me that I’m going to fail. That’s hard to hear every day while you’re working so hard to succeed.

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The biggest question quickly became not if I could work — I was working after all — but instead, how would I take care of myself while working?

I needed a mental health day, a day I could guarantee I would be able to see my doctor, a day where I could work my side gig. That day became Tuesdays. When I took my job, I made it clear that I could not work Tuesdays. I wake up, have some hot coffee (I drink it black or very occasionally with hot chocolate mixed in) have my staff meeting for my second side job, (social media management), and work for a few hours. Take a shower. Then have the rest of the day to myself. Once a month this day includes therapy and psychiatry. I might write, play my favorite escape Stardew Valley, clean, and relax. I only get two days off a week and Tuesdays are for me. If you work and have a mental illness, you should try to make this work for you as well. Of course, it’s much easier if you state your expectations in the beginning, hell in the interview even, so you don’t have to try and wrestle your way into it later.

The other thing I have on me is a mental health first aid kit. I won’t say I haven’t been to the bathroom a few times to break that out and calm myself down. What you keep in it will be unique to you. Bring a comfort item, like a favorite mug with your favorite drink, a comfy scarf to wear around your neck, or something that helps ground you. Don’t be afraid to ask to step away for a few moments to gather yourself, even if it is under the guise of having to use the bathroom. Deploy your coping skills. I use DBT almost all of the time.

If you have meds, take them. Adhere, don’t stop taking them without talking with your doctor. If you don’t that’s OK too, but if you’re suffering without reason, maybe consider them. I would, of course, never push medication, but it has helped me so I do advocate taking them if you are already, nonadherence will just complicate your life.

Your employer doesn’t have to be made aware of your illness; mine doesn’t know. All they know is that I have a condition that I wear a medical alert band for, and how to use that if they ever need to. That’s as far as that conversation has gone.

Working while having a mental illness like schizoaffective disorder often isn’t easy. It requires a good deal of planning, making sure you have what you need when you need it, and it requires, above all else, advocating for yourself. This isn’t easy and can take some time to master. I advocate for myself constantly, at work, at home, at school, out and about, at the doctor’s office, just about everywhere. You have to, or you’ll never get what you need especially when what you need is so specific and unique to you.

I want to make it very clear: there is nothing wrong with not working. This is just a compilation of tips if you decide you’d like to. Society’s concept of what is “required” of you is wrong. You have to live a life that works for you, and no two lives will be the same.

Finally, don’t be afraid. Even when fear is knocking at your door, even when your insecurities are incessant. Know that you can do it, worst-case scenario, which is not actually very bad, is that you find you can’t and nothing changes. The best-case scenario: you rock it.

Find a day that works for you. Tuesdays are, again, for me. Your day might be different, but everyone needs a day. A day to take care of yourself, a day to relax, a day to learn to love yourself, a day to see your doctor, a day that doesn’t change, a day you can look forward to.


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