Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Unemployment and mental illness

Over the past month I have been transitioning from the job I have had for the past two years and into a new job I will be beginning next week.

This got me thinking about how important it is to any person's mental health that he/she be healthily occupied. This goes far beyond the time one is involved in paid employment, but let's begin the discussion there.

As timing would have it, the same week I was applying for my new job I watched a great movie looking at this very subject called The Company Men. In addition to the excellent performances from the very talented (and well known) cast I felt this movie hit the nail on the head in regard to the significance of a person having a job to his or her own sense of wellbeing and healthy self-esteem. The movie puts this in focus as we see a domino-like series of characters laid off over the course of the movie.

One character in particular (played by Chris Cooper) stuck out to me as portraying a very real persona - someone who becomes depressed after losing his job. In a telling scene late in the movie the character's old boss finds him sitting at a bar and clearly drunk. "I can't go home yet" he says. "My wife doesn't want the neighbours to discover I am unemployed so I come here until it is 'home time'".

My own experience of being unemployed mingled with my battle with depression. It took me two years to go from the point of leaving psychiatric hospital until I was capable of taking a quarter-load of study and resume my university degree. These were tough times. I suppose what kept me going was the sense that I had turned an important corner during my hospital stay (as I have previously written about) and that the future could well be bright, even if the light at the end of the tunnel seemed distant much of the time.

If we found ourselves unemployed, what we need most is a sense of direction and a reassurance that our worth does not consist in a job title or a lack thereof. In The Company Men, Ben Affleck's character discovers this truth quite beautifully. For anyone who is struggling with mental issues connected with unemployment I highly recommend this movie as a source of insight and inspiration.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A New Year's resolution worth keeping

The more I think about how significant anxiety problems have been in my own journey, the more I am motivated to write about how to overcome them. You could say anxiety rehab is a never-ending process in that you are never 100 per cent cured - a bit like what they teach at Alcoholics Anonymous.

One key aspect of my own anxiety issues has been the tendency to rush just about anything I do. Of course there can be good reasons to rush. If I am at an airport and need to make a connecting flight then I will probably happily concede feeling a bit light-headed from the dash once I am on the plane.

Furthermore our reasons for the more everyday kind of hurrying are often noble. Perhaps you are a conscientious worker and are motivated by the desire to do a good job. Or maybe you want to get through what you are doing so you can get home in time to read your daughter a bedtime story.

We are often keenly aware of the positives associated with hurrying but less so with the negatives. It has been my experience that rushing almost always has a negative pay off, and often we do not factor it in to our decision-making.

To illustrate the negative pay off of hurrying we can apply the concept of inertia to how the mind works. I first learned about inertia at school watching crash-test dummies being propelled through car windshields. The key principle of inertia is that objects moving at speed have momentum. The person operating at an unsustainably fast mental speed creates their own kind of inertia which has effects on that person long after they have decided to stop whatever it was that they are doing.

"Hurry inertia" (as I call it) has involved for me an ugly mix of guilt, instability and lack of confidence in myself that I cannot seem to place nor easily shrug off. These feelings are then compounded by the fact that in my hurry state I actually become much less considerate of others and more prone to poor decision-making.

As with so many aspects of mental health the key point to be made here is one of awareness. The New Year's resolution I want to suggest is a simple one: resolve to be more aware of the speed at which you operate. It may just open up new possibilities in your day-to-day that result in a healthier you in the coming year.

Don't be a mental crash-test dummy