ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Prospects vs. Limitations

By Jack Bragen
Friday September 28, 2012 - 06:12:00 PM

When a person with mental illness, their family, or their treatment practitioners anticipate few prospects toward a career or other goal, it may be unnecessarily pessimistic. It can also become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Persons with mental illness and their families should have hope tempered with realism of a possible good outcome. Having optimism and the preparedness to try increases a person's chances that they will do something good in life. 

For those who hoped to do work of some kind and make a future for themselves, maybe encouragement would be better than premature hopelessness. For those who merely want some relief from their illness and to whom success doesn't matter as much, they should not be pushed into excessively hard work. 

If someone with a mental illness does not feel a pressing need to prove something in the world, and would rather focus on his or her recovery, they should not feel pressure to "do something" coming from this manuscript. The idea of "accomplishing something" (such as a job, a hobby, volunteer work, school) is only a suggestion and comes from an agenda that not everyone needs to follow. 

Depending on the severity of someone's illness and the level of his or her recovery, a person with mental illness can end up relatively capable or relatively limited. This sometimes translates into limited prospects in life. 

It can be depressing to face a disability that removes you from an arena in which you were once successful, or that prevents you from, in the first place, competing. It is not easy to face having limited prospects. 

A person who faces a major mental illness undoubtedly must live with some restrictions. Trying to act "as if" there were no disability could lead to a relapse. For example, adequate sleep for a person with mental illness is a must. Most persons with mental illness seem to also require more idle time than others. The things we must do to maintain wellness may draw on a considerable amount of time and energy. 

I had problems maintaining work in my twenties, and I realize in retrospect that it was largely a psychological problem rather than a limitation from the illness. I found myself in a negative pattern that I did not know how to escape. Not grasping the realities of work situations and not having enough clarity were factors. 

For one thing, I was choosing the wrong jobs. In my twenties it was relatively easy for me to get hired, but it was hard to do the work. I was unclear about the fact that in order to work at a job, I had to tolerate a significant level of discomfort. My emotional equipment wasn't working well enough to do that. 

When trying to gain success in the face of obstacles it is important to have clarity about what one is up against. A person can accomplish so much more when they do mental exercises or meditation to get the mind on the right track. This allows one's efforts to be grounded in reality. Thus you are working with people, places or things not as you imagine them, but instead, as they are. 

Numerous persons with a mental illness can do an honest self-assessment to determine where they have talent, and to determine in what areas they are more limited. Success is more likely to come from pushing the envelope in the areas that seem to work better. Had I not chosen writing, I would doubtless be doing or trying to do some kind of electronics or technical job. Most likely I would be self employed at this because the regular jobs in that industry are nearly all full-time, which is beyond my limit. 

If a person with a disability does not feel able to work at a nine-to-five job, and feels unprepared for several years of going to college, it does not rule out all accomplishment. A person could start a small business in an area within their forte. 

Becoming self-employed may be a better situation than regular employment for many people who follow a different drummer. In self-employment, it's good to pick a type of business that seems worth doing, even without the anticipated money. In today's economy, self employment is less promising than in the past and should perhaps be done with a goal of breaking even, and for the purpose of obtaining other benefits of being in business. 

The good thing about self employment for persons with disabilities is that you can tailor the structure of the business to suit your strengths and weaknesses. 

As an example of small business; starting a computer services business can be a very low overhead situation, since you do not have to rent a space, and you are only paying for advertising plus administrative costs. Unfortunately, a lot of people are doing this job; consequently you may need some kind of additional angle to get customers. Even getting one customer per week could make a significant augment to an SSI budget. 

It helps not to take success or failure too seriously. Excessive work ethic is bad for persons with mental illness (and those without) and can create illness or other problems related to stress. A person with mental illness should not be pushed to their extremes in the hope of excellence. Many persons with mental illness, if pushed excessively in the name of work ethic, end up having a meltdown rather than delivering more work. 

When dealing with a person with mental illness who has goals it's important not to make remarks that detract. It is hard enough for a disabled person to try to achieve their goal without needing to be discouraged on top of it all.