You don’t realise until you stop working how much small talk revolves around what you do. You’re at a party (yes you can have a mental illness and still go to parties, but that’s for another post) and you strike up a conversation with someone and the inevitable questions begin. They want to get to know you, and for some reason it begins with;
“So what do you do?”
“Where are you working at the moment?”
It’s a loaded question. That feeling of dread begins to creep over you. You find yourself making excuses for not working;
“I’m in between jobs right now.”
If you can’t work because of a mental illness, why should you feel ashamed? It means you are taking your health seriously and not working yourself into a crisis. There is more to life than your job. Work doesn’t need to define you. If you find yourself unable to work completely it means you’ve been struggling for too long. I had to give up work and I’m not ashamed any longer. Why I gave up my full time job There are so many more things that define a person; their hobbies, their passions, their personality to name a few.
I go for full honesty, every time. I say fuck their sensibilities and how talking about mental illness might make them uncomfortable. If someone wants to get to know me, the real me, then they are going to have to understand I suffer from a mental illness. An illness that is severe enough to stop me from working. If I lie it’s only going to negatively impact on my self esteem. I’m only hurting myself by not being truthful.
This isn’t an easy approach and I know many people find it stressful to talk about their illness for fear of being judged. If someone judges you for your illness and not working they are not worth getting to know. They’re not worth you investing your time into that friendship. The more you talk about mental illness, the easier it gets. The more people hear about these experiences, the more open and receptive they will be.
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