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I Will Not Compromise My Mental Health for a Job

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Years of self-analysis and self-love has led me to develop a strong self-confidence. I am grateful for the strength that allows me to recognize and to leave toxic relationships. I walk away like I’m headbanging at a System of a Down concert — no f***s given, neck aching with whiplash. I do not give people permission to disrupt my peace.

My work relationships, however, are different. It’s stumbling into a mosh pit at a Taylor Swift concert. I did not know you were trouble when I walked in. I didn’t expect red flags to trip me up. I have been in denial of toxic work environments for nearly my entire professional experience. Because, of course, when you jump from one workplace environment to the next to the next, it starts to seem like you are the common factor of failure.

To answer the question, “Why is it so difficult for me to get a job?” I have become self-critical. I have a college degree, I ace interviews, so why am I not as successful as I want to be?

Well, maybe it’s my resume — maybe I don’t seem impressive enough. Or maybe I just need to tough out those uncomfortable situations at work. Maybe I’m difficult to work with and I’m not a people person or a team player.

I’ve challenged myself to change careers in the middle of the pandemic. I’ve challenged myself to go back to my previous career when six months of job searching turned up zilch. And then I quit when I got a new job. And then I quit that new job.

So what the heck was going on here? Was I such a “weenie” I couldn’t meet simple job expectations? What was it about me that wasn’t enabling me to keep a job for longer than a year?

In the midst of texting a mental health hotline, as well as texting a group of friends, feeling like rock bottom kept becoming even rockier, I challenged myself to look outward. “I’ve looked inward and sought to self-improve,” I told myself. “What about my job environments? What aspects of those jobs do I wish were better?”

Cue the lightbulb moments: My jobs made me miserable. Why? Well, maybe because I wasn’t getting the support I needed while also facing unrealistic expectations. I wasn’t getting positive verbal reinforcement from my higher-ups, and that lack of validation of doing a good job hit my self-confidence. When I was vulnerable to a coworker and expressed I needed a mental health sick day, I was viewed as “not a team player” by higher-ups. When I officially declared the need for mental health accommodations, I felt like the weakest link (and it was a months-long process to obtain only one of the four accommodations I requested).

I am someone who places a lot of value on my ability to pass as “neurotypical” and “hardworking” and “a regular employee.” But that’s not my truth. So, it’s no wonder faking it, with the belief I can “fake it ‘til I make it” led me to failure after failure with my job situations.

The reality is, I am someone who needs an employer who will respect mental health days, and who will encourage and praise me in addition to criticize my work performance.

It has taken multiple rock bottoms for me to realize and recognize workplaces can be toxic. Jobs that don’t allow me to be my authentic, mentally-ill self are jobs that prevent me from being able to work to the best of my ability. When I feel pressured to present as neurotypical, I burn myself out and become resentful toward my employer. And I quit.

The quitting is an action of self-preservation. It is not an act of cowardice or lacking resilience. It has been my unconscious recognition I deserve better. I think this realization allows me to search for a work environment that acknowledges and genuinely promotes mental health.

Instead of my previous approach of searching for a job by submitting dozens of resumes to companies, I have become more mindful. I have a part-time job, at the moment. My situation is stable enough to allow me to consciously search for a good job. And that is something I do not wish to compromise on. I am focusing my energy and intentions toward finding a good job where the environment promotes my mental health instead of hinders it. I want to find a good job where I want to stay for longer than a year.

I believe I can obtain job stability by remaining uncompromising toward my truth: I am a person with mental illness, and that mental illness requires patience and compassion presented in judgment-free sick days and positive reinforcement. The absence of these work environment features is the presence of red flags. And I hope I can unapologetically headbang away from bad jobs  to crowd-surf my way into a good job.

Getty image by gruizza

Originally published: February 3, 2022
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