Disability Employment Awareness Month

October is disability employment awareness month. I will try then to give a book talk where I sell copies of the memoir and talk about finding the career you love.

I once helped a guy in a wheelchair who wanted to get a job. The impressive thing was not only was he in a chair he was new to America. I thought: what a great attitude to think you could work at a job even though you use a chair.

This impressed me to no end that some people who could walk on their own two feet are lazy *sses and this guy was ready to rock.

Isn’t there a Soul Asylum song about a person in a wheelchair? About a person in a chair who has so much more to do with their life and doesn’t care about the chair? I think it’s the lyrics to “Black Gold.” Google it if you want to read the lyrics.

I was trained to help people with disabilities do career searches three years ago in October. I will tell you now: a research study indicates 42 percent of employers look favorably on a resume when the person lists a volunteer position if they have no paid employment or have an employment gap between jobs.

On September 30 I will be stepping down from my Health Guide position at HealthCentral. I might freelance there instead or freelance elsewhere. In the nine years I was employed at HealthCentral I wrote at least 11 news articles about how to search for a job and other aspects of conducting a career search.

In October at HealthCentral if I’m able and in this blog if not at HealthCentral: I will detail the research about how individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia who haven’t ever been employed can best take steps to find a job. Research has been done about this and was reported on in the April 2015 Current Psychiatry journal.

Stay tuned for some illuminating blog entries in October.

Volunteer Work

I make the case for doing volunteer work instead of attending a Clubhouse.

A study indicates upwards of 42 percent of employers view volunteer work favorably when it’s listed on a resume. Having a volunteer position as part of your history can help you when you have an employment gap because you have a diagnosis.

You can go on Idealist to find paid or unpaid jobs in the non-profit sector linked to a cause you’re passionate about.

People I’ve created resumes for who have gotten professional positions have listed this kind of community service on their resumes. Acting as a leader in your community does matter.

I was only 26 when I started my first volunteer job in the ComPeer non-profit: I was a peer to a senior citizen woman named Lila who lived in a residence. We’d listen to Yankee games on her radio. I’d drive her to an ice cream shoppe in the summer. I drove her to a picnic and drove her home from the picnic.

I was 31 when I volunteered in the Alzheimer’s Association Forget-Me-Not Thrift Shop: I sorted incoming clothes and priced them, arranged them on the racks, and rang up the sales.

No: I’m not kidding when I recommend that a person diagnosed with a mental illness does volunteer work if they can’t work at paid employment at this moment in time or when they can’t work at a paid job at all.

An employer does not want to hear that you have a gap in employment or haven’t worked at all because you have a mental illness. That’s reality.

And besides, each of us should really be contributing our talents to others in society and using our talents for the greater good. A person might be in mental or emotional pain. Doing volunteer work can help us transmute this pain and feel better about ourselves.

I have interacted with too many individuals with mental illnesses who think the world revolves solely around getting their needs met and on what other people can do for them. It’s often that they continually judge and attack other peers.

This has to stop: the judging, the hurtful comments, it all has to stop. The way to have a better life is to do something that also helps other people have a better life. Sitting around judging others instead of trying to improve your own life might make some people feel better yet it’s not the right thing to do.

Volunteer work: that’s the ticket. Doing volunteer work in studies has proven health benefits. And people who do volunteer work for altruistic reasons live longer too and have better mental and physical health.

What’s not to like about volunteer work? I recommend you Just Do It.

Failure

“What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?”

That question is irrelevant to me and should be irrelevant to others. I don’t think failure should be avoided or can be avoided.

In the insurance field risk was defined as “uncertainty concerning the chance of a loss.” Risk avoidance is not a healthy strategy and I don’t recommend risk avoidance as a way to go through life.

Wanting to be certain at all times that things will work out or that you won’t fail will keep you stuck and unable to move on.

Like I said I failed big time in my twenties and early thirties. I was laid off from four out of the five jobs I held from 1990 to 1997.

The catch is: you don’t always know you’re making a mistake when you choose to do something. This kind of trial-and-error can be minimized yet it can’t always be prevented.

You can scroll down to read one of my earliest blog entries here about how you can take the CareerMatchmaker quiz on the CareerCruising database that is available at the Brooklyn Public Library website and might be available at your library’s website. Possibly you can type CareerMatchmaker into the search box on the right to be taken to this blog entry.

Or you can go on the MyNextMove website to take a free career quiz.

The fear of failure doesn’t have to motivate a person to back out of doing something.

In fact I did not know I would succeed when I went back to school to become a librarian. Yet I was willing to try most of all because the therapist had given me true career counseling thus from the start I had a better chance of succeeding.

Failure is what it is: a mistake to learn from so you don’t make the same mistake again.

The more risks you take the more confidence you get.

Serendipity

I tried to enter therapy in the summer of 1996 with a guy who saw patients on Staten Island on the weekends.

The health insurance plan authorized only five visits because I had a preexisting condition: I was diagnosed with schizophrenia so the health plan wouldn’t allow me to see a therapist.

At the second visit I told Dr. B that I was in danger of losing yet another job in the insurance field. Miraculously, he told me he was a career counselor to upper level executives in Manhattan Monday to Friday. He told me he would do vocational assessment with me so that I could find a better job.

Dr. B gave me the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and gave me vocational quizzes to answer. By the fifth and last session he gave me career options to consider. That’s how I decided to go back to school to get a Masters in Library and Information Science.

Accepted at all three library schools I chose Pratt Institute and graduated in June 2000 with an M.S.

I’ll always be grateful for this random accident in meeting a therapist who turned out to be a career counselor.

This experience has influenced me to champion that a person diagnosed with a mental illness gets practical career counseling right from the start of their recovery.

Square pegs shouldn’t be forced into round holes:  This happened when the OVR state agency counselor in 1989 shunted me into training to become a secretary because I was female. No useful vocational assessment was given to me.

Imagine that: the health insurance plan told a person diagnosed with an emotional illness that she couldn’t see a therapist. You must remember that the Affordable Care Act guarantees that everyone can buy insurance even those of us with preexisting conditions.

I kid you not. I was denied therapy. And like I said miraculously I was able to get career counseling instead of therapy.

Ever since I started looking for my first job in 1990 I’ve had an unusual interest in creating resumes to help people get jobs. One guy I helped got a job as a dentist. A woman got a supervisor job. Another woman got a job as a secretary.

You should absolutely check in with your local neighborhood library to see if a librarian at a branch in their system helps people create resumes.. This is a free service that doesn’t cost you a dime. Check it out.

I would like to send a letter or e-mail to Dr. B telling him I’m eternally grateful that he was the catalyst in speeding up my route to having a better life outcome.

I will talk in future blog entries about finding the work you love and would be good at.

Changing Course

A book published recently extols the virtues of quitting instead of hanging in forever at a job or in a situation that isn’t going well.

The expression “Quitters never win and winners never quit” does NOT apply to sticking it out in a job or another endeavor that’s making you miserable.

Finding your true joy in life often only happens after you’ve failed big time doing something you originally convinced yourself you wanted to do. I’m going to trot out my one-trick pony example of how I bombed out with smashing success in my first career in the gray flannel insurance field.

I was laid off from four out of the five jobs I held from 1990 to 1997. People back then would ask me what I did and I’d say: “I’m professionally unemployed.” It was like making a career out of not having a career.

No job I held lasted longer than 19 months. I kid you not. I job hopped so often that I could hop along better than the Easter Bunny.

One employer simply called me up on the telephone and told me not to come in the next day and not to come in at all after that. Yes: I was laid off via the telephone. I got a special dispensation to come into the office so I could retrieve my gym bag I’d left under my desk the day I went home sick with a cold.

I got a cold and three days later my employer called me at home and told me not to return. String the violins.

It takes courage to change course. Suze Orman famously tells people not to go back to school for a degree when they’ve been laid off. Pay her no attention if getting a degree IS going to help you get a job in the long-term.

I went back to school for a Masters in Library and Information Science even though I was unemployed. I had no guarantee I’d get a job in the field yet the job I wanted required that you have a masters degree.

This story is like everything else I often tell you: unusual. I will return in here with the remarkable story of how I decided to go back to school. I went back to school 10 years after I was diagnosed.

There is hope dear readers. Feel free to laugh out loud when you envision me hopping along like the Easter Bunny.

Added Attraction – Extra Blog Entry

I wanted to publish an extra blog entry today after having read an Atlantic magazine news article on Twitter. It quoted research that 70 to 80 percent of individuals living with schizophrenia want to work and think they’re capable of working.

The Atlantic article said it’s their doctors who tell their patients they can’t work. I have in these various incarnations of my blog for the last nine years railed against the mental health staff who have a dim view of what patients diagnosed with schizophrenia can do in their lives.

I have always championed that in my own life I recovered BECAUSE I found the jobs I love and that I’m good at. I wasn’t able to do these jobs because I had recovered. I will always claim that it is the other way around: I recovered only after I found the careers I loved.

In New York City: Baltic Street AEH, Inc. provides advocacy employment and housing for individuals with mental illnesses. Baltic Street has an employment agency with two locations in Brooklyn. The staff there help people get and keep jobs they like and would be good at too.

The day is here. Today is the day when not only it’s possible to recover it’s possible to have a full and robust life equal to people in society who don’t have mental illnesses.

If you are a mental health staff person I urge you to take the long view and consider that your clients can indeed work at some kind of job. It might not always be a JD or MD. It might be a job in Rite Aid. It could be as the CEO of a corporation like my friend was able to do.

I urge readers to consider doing what I do. My first thought is NOT “This is impossible” or “I won’t be able to do this.” My automatic thought is “How can I make this happen?”

If you have a goal of any kind–to get a job, to live in your own apartment, whatever–I’ll be the first to tell you that you have right inside yourself what you need to succeed.

And if you want to get a job you can go to your local neighborhood library and ask if at a branch in their system a librarian helps people create resumes. Resume help is available at libraries in Brooklyn, NY.

Turn over every stone. Be creative. If a solution isn’t immediately available, see what you can do differently using your own strengths and your external support system.

Remember: I’m confident when I tell readers that I recovered BECAUSE I found the jobs I love.

If you want to work, you deserve to try. I will devote more blog entries here to this topic in the future.

Getting a Job with a Chronic Illness

I’m going to start in this Flourish blog to create capsule collections of topics linked to my own experiences in recovery. My goal is to uplift and inspire readers to dare to dream that living a full and robust life is possible even though you have a mental health challenge or any other challenge.

This blog entry will be the first one for the careers collection.

A book was already written on this topic: I’d Rather Be Working by Gail Backstrom. She wrote the book to guide individuals who have chronic illnesses to getting and keeping a job rather than collecting a government disability check. The book was published easily seven years ago.

I didn’t know whether I’d be successful when I dared risk getting a job as an administrative assistant in 1990 when no one else with schizophrenia was employed or dared dream of getting a job. As I wrote in last week’s Left of the Dial blog I took the risk not because I thought I would succeed. I took the risk because not trying would’ve been a greater shame to me than trying my best and failing.

The HealthCentral editorial team wrote in a news article: “The only real failure is the failure to try.” I’ve been the Health Guide for HealthCentral’s schizophrenia website for nine years now. I could not believe when I saw that quote that the editorial team had the guts to come right out and tell readers this.

In recovery as in life there are no guarantees. You have to fail big and to fail often before you can get to where you ultimately want to be in life. Perfection is a myth because it implies there can be no growth.

I don’t know what’s worse: being afraid to risk doing something new or being afraid to fail at something you do.

Always wanting to be certain or wanting to always do the right thing is a merciless creed to uphold. It’s an impossible standard to live up to.

I will come back in here on Monday with a great Theodore Roosevelt quote.

The ADA Act is 25 years old this Sunday. That’s something to celebrate for all of us individuals with chronic illnesses or any type of illness or challenge who want to work.

Would you rather be working?

You deserve to try. And if the first job or career doesn’t work out, I’ll talk next week about the beauty of changing course.