How do I become myself in the workplace again after mental illness?

Mental health prioritization when you return to work is critical to a successful return.

For me, I couldn’t dismiss the impact of my illness.  I needed to assess both the limitations and also the opportunities that it presented. The illness has forced me to prioritize what I really want in life (which still includes professional success) as well as a healthy lifestyle to achieve and sustain these goals.  Below are some suggestions on how to reconcile existing goals with living with mental health issues.

Taking stock

What did you like about your fast-paced, productive woman track? Mental illness may force us to slow down and take stock of our career path. That gives us time to review what we’ve been doing to date and whether or not it made us happy. For example: I liked the intellectual stimulation of being a lawyer, banker, but I did not like the hours or authority figures

Did your old fast-paced life contribute to your illness

Consider whether or not your old face-paced life contributed to your illness. For example, work stress often contributes or even triggers mental illness, it was definitely a contributing factor in my mental illness

Revised goals that prioritize your health

In view of the above would you change your goals? You have to take the two factors above into account. You must prioritize your health and stay well to accomplish your goals

Pick something ambitious, achievable, but manageable

I have always been ambitious. I would have never been able to accept a career that was not ambitious, but I had to pick one where I could better manage my stress. Having a startup is very stressful, but it offered me the flexibility to allow me to work around my medication regimen and adjustment.

Mourning your former self

Don’t lament new limitations. In the earlier years of my illness, I went through a deep mourning phase as I watched my classmates get promoted, mover further away from me and feared I’d never catch up to them. I had to stop measuring my progress on this basis. Now I know that those benchmarks actually limited me. I was so concerned about not falling behind that I didn’t think about the possibilities outside those constraints. I ultimately embraced the possibilities of a new career and one potentially more fulfilling.

Make sure you have the right doctor

My last doctor knew my academic credentials and ambitions. I had shared my hopes and dreams of creating an online peer support community. She called my hopes delusions of grandeur and put me on a medication regimen that kept me sleeping 14 hours a day, which made it impossible to do anything at all. I found the courage to terminate my relationship and find another doctor that respected my goals.

Have your doctor treat you not your disease

I cannot over emphasize the importance of having a doctor that treats you, your goals and dreams and not the disease. I told my new doctor my hopes and dreams which he accepted as part of my treatments. So he helped me reach and maintain stability and reach recovery. I’ve been able to stay stable with him. When I struggle from time-to-time he helps me assess and often adjusts my medication to try to address it. When I told him that my nighttime medication was making it hard to me to wake up in the morning he gave me a stimulant that helps.

Give it all that you got

You’ll have to work very hard whatever your decision to achieve your professional and personal goals – whether it’s continuing to pursue the same path or new/adjusted goals. We must not let the stereotypes of mental illness; the stigma keep us back. Many people with mental illness are ambitious, do work hard, are accomplished. You can find many examples on the Stability Network.So many more have the potential and capacity to achieve ambitious goals but lack the right support.

Don’t let mental illness take away all of your past achievements, but do it for yourself, don’t do it for others or to prove them wrong. Always prioritize your health. Do what makes you happy and I’m sure you’ll find yourself on the right path to your high-functioning self.

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