Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Get A Job!!!

"Get A Job!!" Do you remember that old song by the Silhouettes? "Get a job. Sha na na na, sha na na na na. Every morning about this time, she gets me out of my bed, a-crying, 'Get a job.' After breakfast, everyday, she throws the want ads my way, and never fails to say, 'Get a job.' Sha na na na, sha na na na na."

But what if you can't get a job, or if you get a job, you can't keep it? How can people who are successfully employed understand the difficulty that having chronic depression or bipolar disorder creates for a job-seeker. How can they understand the embarrassment of having to answer that killer question, "Why did you leave your last job? And the one before that? And the one before that?" Over and over.

You can't help but wonder at what point the prospective employer will begin to think that there is a problem. Red flags waving. Knowing that he is formulating a plan to turn you away without letting you know that he will never hire you. No way. You can't really blame him. If you were the employer, in all honesty, you would see red flags too. The only difference is, you know what colored the flag red.

We live in a society where the most likely introductory question will be, "What do you do?" That's a question that I most hate to hear. I know that it's coming, and I get all stressed out while I'm waiting for it to come. I've tried to think of something safe and strategic to say. "I do mostly what I want to do." "Nothing that I can get out of." "Oh, this and that." "I read and walk and shop and fish and sleep and eat and watch TV and..." No matter what you say, the interrogators will never let you off the hook. They persist, "No, I mean what do you do for a living?" You can't even satisfy their relentless questioning by saying, "Well, I'm a mostly retired preacher."

"Mostly-retired" is a euphemism for mostly unemployed and mostly depressed and mostly feeling helpless. The reason that job seekers are advised to diligently look for employment is that counselors know that they will eventually begin to feel worthless, if they don't find a job pretty soon. For most of us, self-esteem is tied into our ranking in the employment hierarchy. If we are not a fully functioning member of the club, then we lose our self-respect. Even if we know that we would choose to work, if we only could.
You have no idea how hopeless and helpless a person feels when he can no longer use his education, his skills and his experience to benefit society and care for his family. It's frustrating and heart-breaking to say good-bye to your dreams, and to the self-fulfillment that comes with full time employment.

In a Newsweek article on men and depression, Dr. James Siepmann is described as a example of the disappointments faced by people struggling with chronic depression or BPD. "Siepmann, a family physician and father of five, gave up his medical practice in 2000 when his depression got so bad he couldn't bring himself to get dressed in the morning. Despite numerous types of treatment, he spends most of his days at home and can only muster the energy to shave once a week."

I wonder how many times he's heard his mind saying, "Physician, heal thyself." I can easily understand the disappointment he must feel. All of his education, skills and experience are no longer utilized to do what he is driven to do.

I got a late start on my formal education. Ten days after I graduated from high school, I entered the military. After spending a year and a half in Viet Nam, and over three years in the Seabees, I was discharged and returned to the Oklahoma workforce. I was twenty-one. In the next four years, I hopped from job to job, town to town, and state to state. Finally, following a divorce, I decided to start taking some college courses while I worked a full-time job. An hour here and an hour there.

I took my first undergraduate course when I was twenty-five, and my last undergrad course when I was forty-five. Twenty years of hard work, sacrifice and expense, so that I would be able to say, "I'm a college graduate!!"' I jokingly tell people that I was a slow learner, but I have had a healthy measure of pride in my accomplishment.

What I have in common with Dr. Siepmann and with others who struggle with mental illness, is the inability to use what I've learned to do, to accomplish what I've been trained to do. He can't serve as a physician, and I can't serve as a preacher. Both of us are miserable, I'm sure. It's not easy to become reconciled with the probability that you will never again be the person that you once were. I was a skilled teacher and preacher. It was something that I loved to do. I envisioned my entire life being spent as a preacher, but now that flame has been doused.

Those of you who don't wrestle with this problem, thank God that you have been blessed with employment. Really. Please try to understand the grief that the rest of us have to deal with. In my opinion, it's easier to recover from grieving over the loss of a loved one than it is to stop grieving over the loss of a dream and the loss of your self-esteem.

None of us who are unemployed or partly employed want pity, but we do need understanding, support and respect. A dream would be good, also. We just want to ...Get A Job.

["I'm so low, I could do a ten minute free-fall off the edge of a dime."]

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