Working with mental illness can be tough. I should know, I’ve done it for two decades.
If I’m being honest, I didn’t do it well for most of that time but I did learn a few things that worked for me.
When I was first diagnosed, though, I became very frustrated with the information I found online. None of it worked for me, and most of it was actively harmful to my daily success.
That was when I decided I wanted to find a way to express what helped me to people in a way that wasn’t condescending or full of shit.
You see: even the highly regarded magazines on the topic of ADHD tend to speak about patients in a very childlike manner. It’s unconscious and subtle, but it’s there.
How? Ask yourself this: if you had a broken leg would a doctor advise you to just try and stand on it as much as possible until you can tolerate the pain of standing all day?
That’s effectively how a person with chronic anxiety, bipolar disorder, ADHD, or any number of other mental health issues has to live their life.
That’s what advice like “work on your time management skills” says to people with ADHD.
Stand on that broken leg until you stop complaining that it hurts.
It’s time to reframe your mental illness in your own head.
1. Drop the negativity, blame, and guilt!
People are expecting you to perform beyond perfectly at all times. They are expecting you to dance their dances on your broken leg.
It’s ok to not be able to dance on some days. Forgive yourself the distractibility.
You don’t need to “improve workplace habits,” the workplace needs to improve its understanding and support! All you need is understanding, patience, and a little space to breathe.
My name is Anthony and I have ADHD. That makes people talk to me, and treat me, like a child. Those people are dicks, and I support you if you’re in the same position.
You’re not a child and in many ways are wildly more capable than the average person. Don’t forget that. It’s not your fault you have a mental illness, don’t let them put the blame on you by making you feel like you need to fix it.
It’s on you to do your best, and that’s it.
2. Take Care of Yourself
This means the whole shebang:
- take your medicine
- talk to your therapist
- practice your skills
- get good sleep
- maintain a good diet
- get some exercise
Even your environment plays a role, so be sure to surround yourself with things that make you feel positive.
Taking care of yourself will translate into every part of your life, making working with mental illness a little easier.
3. Treat Mental Symptoms like Physical Ones
That’s what this whole thing is about, right?
I believe you should treat your mental health symptoms just like physical health ones.
Give yourself forgiveness for suffering from them, grant yourself some leeway and rest when you need it.
This means, if you need it:
- take sick days when necessary and possible
- change habits where appropriate (getting good sleep, eating well, and staying active helps!)
- talk to your doctors frequently, especially if symptoms change suddenly or drastically
- seek alternative workloads and other accommodations where appropriate and possible
- take more frequent breaks when necessary
Treating your mental health symptoms like physical ones is critical to your long term success.
You will live a longer and happier life if you do.
Working with mental illness can be tough, but it’s not impossible.
You don’t have to disclose anything to anyone, and I support you whether or not you do.
Let go of the guilt of having a mental illness. It’s not your fault.
It’s ok to feel frustrated by all the advice out there. However well intentioned, it tends to miss the points that we actually struggle with.
And it tends to feel a little condescending to suggest that all we need to do is somehow just practice not suffering from our symptoms.
So while you will still be expected by society to perform to their standards just remember: anyone giving you shit couldn’t survive a day with your brain.
You’ve managed to do just that, and I think that’s incredible.