In late August The New York Times published an article titled “How to Manage Mental Illness at Work.” It couldn’t have been more timely since I had just begun working full time for the first time in nearly four years. Previously, I had been a doctoral student, spending most of my time writing, at home, on my own schedule, and teaching an occasional class. Now, as a professor, I teach full-time, so I’m trying my best to find a system that balances work, home duties, and free-time, and keeps me mentally, emotionally, and physically in a good place.
I highly recommend reading the article in full as it outlines the rights you have under the A.D.A. to request accommodations that you might need, in addition to being just a nice reminder that there are many of us out there in the work world, and these conversations need to be more commonplace.
Beyond the legal advice, here are some suggestions from the article that I found really helpful:
Save the repetitive, tedious work for your down days. Some jobs may require both creative and mechanical or tedious work that you can split up and work on when you’re best able to do it. If your workweek includes brainstorming pitches for a meeting and manually entering data into a spreadsheet, try to get the more creative part of the job done when you’re having a good mental health day, and save the tedious stuff for when you’re having a harder time.
Seek out the work style that suits your needs best. For the last six years, I’ve had the good fortune to work from home. Before that, I learned that working in an office was harder for me based on my needs. You might prefer structure or you might prefer flexibility, but pursuing jobs that give you what you need can be better in the long term than trying to fit your needs into the spaces left over by your job.
Take care of your home life. You can’t control everything that happens at work. You have a lot more control at home. If you need space to cry, scream or break down, give it to yourself when you’re off the clock. Take care of the basic routines like food, hygiene and chores that give you a sense of stability.
Avoid trying to keep up with your co-workers. It’s easy to get swept up in a corporate culture that prioritizes a certain kind of performative work. If your co-workers can sit down for four straight hours and pump out work, don’t try to force yourself to do the same. If you need frequent breaks to keep your stress levels down, that’s how you work. As long as you’re able to do the job to your own (and your boss’s) satisfaction, how you get there shouldn’t be as big a factor.
If you do nothing else, follow the advice in #4: “Avoid trying to keep up with your co-workers.” Don’t measure your worth or value based on your ability to complete the same type of work as your co-workers. Every mind-body is unique, and what is a huge accomplishment for you might look different than it would for someone else.
For example, last week I submitted conference travel paperwork and midterm grades. All in all, it took little to no measurable time or mental exertion. They’re very mindless tasks. However, both of these processes greatly elevate(d) my anxiety (for some unknown reason), and I had been dreading these tasks ever since I put them in my planner. But now they are done, and I allowed myself to feel proud, accomplished even. Conversely, I just created a writing plan for an article I have due in the spring, and I lesson-planned for each of my Wednesday courses. Both of these tasks took considerably more time and brainpower, but they caused me less stress, and I don’t feel that same sense of accomplishment.
In short, different strokes for different folks!
Celebrate what makes you you unique, and pursue a life (both at work and outside of work) that supports you and your way of being.
If you have a story about mental illness — whether personal or concerning a loved one — please consider sharing your experience by writing a guest post, doing an interview with one of us, or joining the team as a regular contributor. Even if you aren’t at a place yet where you feel comfortable disclosing your name, the church body needs your voice. Let’s shine a light on the darkness, together.