It has been just over a month since I started my first job as a schizophrenic after military retirement. I only have three shifts left before the end of my two-week’s notice are up. I have been working as an assistant grocery manager at a local grocer. This one has been a failed experiment.
This job has had both successes and failures and I’ve learned a lot about myself and about working with a mental illness.
Don’t expect sympathy for mental illness
After I started the new job I discovered from the work schedules of my peers that shifts would be erratic from starting in the early morning to working late into the really early morning. Sleep is a cornerstone of my management of my disease. I can’t handle the changes in my sleep pattern and also the changes in the times of day that I take certain medications (that knock me out). So I told my new employer about my handicap and requested, as an accommodation, that I not be scheduled late and I could maintain my sleep schedule of 9:30 pm to 5:30 am with only a variance of an hour or so either direction on either end.
A few days later they came back and stated that closing shifts were a required part of the position that I was hired for. They did offer to put me onto a regular rotating shift where I would be on the same early shift for 4 weeks and then closing for 4 with a couple of days off between so that I could acclimate. So they didn’t deny accommodating my mental illness. I did take the job saying that my availability was wide-open. I can’t expect them to change the very nature of the position for me. They also offered to leave me only on the closing shift so I could maintain regularity.
Both options were unacceptable to me though because my military duties had caused me to miss out on my children’s childhood for months at a time. There’s no way I was going to let a post-military career do the same. Working nights in perpetuity or for weeks at a time was out.
Other than that, my disease went undiscussed by my employer. They didn’t ask if there were any other issues that it caused me or if there were other ways that they could accommodate. But I also understand this. I’ve accepted that mental health, especially schizophrenia, stigmas would follow me for the rest of my life. People don’t know how to and don’t want to talk about it. I also truly believe that the neurotypical cannot fathom what it is like to be afflicted.
Don’t Expect Sympathy from Your Mental Illness
I truly thought I could handle this job. I thought my duties would be simple, the stresses to be low and the environment to be tolerable. I was wrong on all three accounts.
Compared to the duties I’ve had as a military officer those of this job were simple. Compared to the challenges in problem solving while earning my two graduate degrees these were simple. On paper, I truly am vastly over-qualified for this position. In reality though, I am underqualified.
I no longer have the capacity that I used to for complicated thought processes and memory. If my directions were more than a couple of steps I would grow confused and be unable to remember them. My mind remains exceptionally critical but it is now totally focused on self-criticism which left me easily taken advantage of by subordinates. Even though I could formerly run circles around my new peers I feel vastly inferior to them in respects to the ability to do the job.
The stresses of the job also bothered me, but it was the environment itself that stressed me out. I had not yet been moved into people management and my current duties revolved more around inventory, assuring shelves were stocked. These duties stressed out my peers but I remained patently apathetic toward them.
I thought I could learn to handle the customers. I knew that they would feed into the paranoid side of my schizophrenia but I thought it would serve as an exposure therapy and I would build resilience. This isn’t just a crowded store, but also one that prides itself on superior customer service. Everybody’s primary duty was to greet each customer and smile every time they crossed them. And here I am, a schizoaffective diagnosed with avoidant personality disorder surrounded by strangers that I had to interact with.
Rather than growing more tolerant of these duties I would grow more and more weary in each passing hour and in each passing shift. As the day proceeded The Dragon, mostly controlled by meds, would start to show up. I would also start to hear my name called seemingly from people behind me. On several occasions I could physically feel people grabbing my shoulder from behind. Tactile hallucination being a new and concerning development. I’m able to fake it though, to smile, to say hi, but at a cost. By the time I would return home from my typical eight or nine hour shifts I would be so mentally exhausted that I could only crash on the couch. Crashing and being emotionally unavailable to my family in all my non-working hours is exactly what I don’t want to be.
Where from Here?
So instead of accepting their proposed accommodations or the demotions they offered I turned in my notice.
Fortune smiled, or maybe just took mercy, on me. Two days later I was offered a new job that really is quite the opposite: caretaker at a national cemetery. The duties will be simple and the stranger-danger will be low. I worked as a greens keeper at golf courses before and I know I enjoy the work.
The only thing that makes me nervous about the job is that it will be so solitary that my mind might have too much room to roam.
I don’t feel over or underqualified for the job. Sure, I have degrees and a plethora of leadership experience, but most of that is irrelevant to the position. I am, by my very nature, apprehensive about starting and loaded with doubt. But I spent a few weeks unemployed before the grocery job and I know that sitting around the house isn’t healthy for me either, I need to be out there doing something. After I’ve worked for a few weeks I’ll post how the new job is going.
Please let us know in the comments some of the places you were and were not successful working. Maybe some frustrated schizophrenic with aspirations of entering or remaining in the workforce will find some value.