Bringing My Own Kind of ‘Madness’ to the Office

This post was originally published on this site

I’ve been fired more times than I care to admit. I have even more resignation letters to my name.

Work and paranoid schizophrenia aren’t exactly a recipe for success.

At one job I had, on the ground floor of a city office, there were bars on the windows. The bars were no doubt put in for security reasons, like all the other shops and offices on the street. But I grew increasingly convinced that they were placed there just for me as part of a grand conspiracy. I have always felt that people are setting me up for heinous crimes or that I’ve committed one that I can’t remember and that the police are spying on me to gather evidence. With the windows I felt they’d been fitted by a stranger who knew of me, sometime before I started work, to send me the message that I would soon “be behind bars.”

Seeing a policeman on the street outside the office or hearing a helicopter fly by would set my heart racing. I was convinced they’d finally come for me. I didn’t last long in that office.

The sedative effects of my medications also mean I often oversleep and get into the office late. Really late. Sometimes 90 minutes late.

The head of my department at another job I had didn’t seem to mind, as I always made the time up in the evening. But colleagues did mind, others in the office told me, including the girl who sat next to me. Back then, I wasn’t open about having schizophrenia. I didn’t want to stigmatize myself by giving reasons for my tardiness. So I assume people just thought I was lazy.

Far too often, I would regard an off-the-cuff remark by a work colleague, a roll of the eyes when I offered an idea at a meeting, or a sigh when I arrived late, as aggressive and threatening, an insult directed toward me.

At another office where I was working as a commercial copywriter it still pains me to recall the time someone asked what I was listening to on my headphones. When I replied “Coldplay” and my colleagues all laughed, I wasn’t sure why. Maybe they found me as depressing as the artists I listened to? Once again it felt like I was being bullied. I quit that job shortly afterward.

To this day I am unsure if I was a victim of bullying in the office or just overly sensitive to others.

And a 9-to-5 office role is relentless. It doesn’t allow me the flexibility to see a therapist on a regular schedule. I also often forgot general medical checkups, and many times forgot to re-order my medication at the pharmacy, which would send me into a panic attack.

Luckily, every office has its own underdog or “pecked hen.” They usually gravitated to me as a kindred spirit, taking me aside to calm me down or nip out for a cigarette.

I remember on one occasion catching the girl who sat next to me glancing at my computer screen to see what I was working on. But she held the glance for about 10 seconds, which seemed like a really long time, more like an intrusive stare. I got very upset and sent a strongly worded email to the company manager, with a few line managers cc’d for good measure. The email was so strongly worded that my colleague had tears in her eyes when she was called in about it and was granted permission to leave work for the day. She even brought some chocolate to say sorry to me and mentioned more than once that she was Christian.

Once I left that job she unfriended me on Facebook, on my birthday. Even though by that point she knew I had mental health problems.

When I got my dream job as a fashion writer in London, at a very decent salary, the “flights of ideas” that are part of my illness, compounded by the restlessness brought on by my medications, sabotaged my success. I’d been there for two weeks when I asked if it was possible I could take a six-month leave to work as a trainee reporter at a local newspaper in Hawaii. That wasn’t allowed, but two weeks later I took three days of holiday and a weekend away to travel to Paris to write a deodorant review for a small, independent magazine. I took another week off soon after to host writing workshops for people with disabilities.

My boss was very understanding, and I did last in that job for 18 months but ended up resigning to be closer to my mother, who was having health problems. My office goodbye card was memorable: Even though I hadn’t told many people about my condition, all the notes went along the lines of “I’ll miss the madness.”

An important lesson I have learned by overcoming adversity in the workplace and learning to live with mental illness is that we can build castles with the stones that life throws at us. I now work from home as a freelance writer, at hours to suit, which allows me the flexibility to get the regular therapy sessions and medical checkups that I need.

I mostly write about mental illness. I am also writing my first book, “A Beginner’s Guide to Sanity,” with a highly regarded professor of psychiatry.

I made just $6,260 last year as a freelance writer. But I’ve seen very real and positive results.

My psychiatric diagnosis has changed from paranoid schizophrenia to schizoaffective disorder. People with schizoaffective disorder are considered more social than those with a schizophrenia diagnosis but have occasional “mood swings.”

My new work life, along with therapy, has also taught me that qualities such as confidence as well as work-based skills can be learned and built on.

Perhaps most important, I’ve come to accept that I am a work in progress.