how to pursue professional goals with mental illness

It’s often easy to forget that mental illness is technically considered a disability. In fact, it’s the most common disability in the world. That means many people likely struggle with what is mundane for others. Every little task can feel like a struggle, climbing Mt. Everest where others step over a mole hill.
Herein lies pursuing professional goals with mental illness. Something simple like going to work every day and being a productive employee can feel very difficult and overwhelming. Mental illness can turn into a crutch, a major factor holding you back from being reliable and consistent in an office setting.

If you’ve faced failure and felt defeat in pursuing your professional goals, you are not hopeless. Your aspirations are possible, even with mental illness. Consult these ideas on entwining professional goals and mental illness, and you’ll become better equipped for anything life throws your way.

1. always put your wellness first.

Be gentle with yourself. You’re worthy of grace and patience. Don’t give up hope when you stumble: we’ve all been there, and failure doesn’t define your value as a person.
The only true constant in our lives is ourselves, regardless of your past, present, and future circumstances. Before pursuing professional goals, you need to prioritize your mental health. You must manage your living before making a living.
I’m someone who tends to put my work before anything else…a workaholic, you might say. I too often value my work over my mental health, which means I’ve often deteriorated without fully acknowledging it. I feel like I need to keep my employer happy, and my mental illness can come later.
If you haven’t already, find and accept help. Establish the right combination of medication and/or therapy that keep you healthy and grounded. Have a plan in place for when you’re feeling especially depressed and/or anxious. Become mindful of your moods and recognize the signs and triggers that reflect and aggravate your mental illness.
Increased awareness and prioritized health will all positively contribute to your professional goals, as well as any other ambitions you want to pursue. Mental illness doesn’t have to always hold you back if you proactively take care of it.

2. be vocal about your mental health.

Amidst mental illness, we’re not necessarily thinking about how our health is affecting others. Loved ones likely worry about you and want to do everything humanly possible to help. Employers and colleagues, on the other hand, must bear the burden of past-due deadlines, low morale, and frequently used sick leave.
Your co-workers and employers cannot help you if they don’t know you’re struggling. It’s not easy opening up about your mental health, but it’s necessary if you want to treat yourself well and ensure you have the best chance at success. They could make accommodations for you and overall be more understanding of where you’re at and how you’re doing.
Again, this was a huge factor in my comfort level at work. When I was in therapy for my eating disorder, appointments taking place in the middle of the work day, I had to communicate with my higher-up’s to ensure this was okay and to keep them informed. Other positions I’ve had, I wonder if I would’ve been more satisfied if I had opened up more. Don’t make my same mistakes: be honest, and connect to your colleagues as fellow humans who’ll likely understand and care.

3. strive for what suits your circumstances.

Many jobs and positions don’t cater well to those with mental illness. Office jobs can get monotonous, staring a computer screen from 9-5 every weekday. Too often, employers don’t acknowledge the mental health of their employees. We apply for positions often out of necessity rather than passion, further feeding a mental health slump.
By being honest with yourself and others, you can then make professional goals that’ll uplift you, not drain you. We all have a unique set of skills and preferences, and there are a plethora of positions available that can work within those standards.
Do you like leaving your house every day and having a very structured workday? Or do you want more variety in a job, doing different tasks to keep you occupied?
How about working from home to set your own hours to fit your shifting moods? Are you keen on being around lots of people, or working alone? What triggers your mental illness and stresses you out?
All of these questions are important to answer before even applying for jobs: you can weed out any that don’t align with your professional and health goals, saving yourself time, energy, and heartache. I also recommend somehow mentioning your mental health in an interview so job recruiters already know who you are and what to expect.
My professional goals have changed dramatically in the past years. I’ve now come to realize that I really want to work remotely, doing something creative, so I can have the freedom to travel, work when I’m motivated, and do what I thrive at. I’ve faced many setbacks in past job experiences, but they’ve all served me: I know what I don’t want from a job!
Moreover if you need a job to get by until you find that “dream career,” that’s okay. Take your time. Be picky with what you really want. And if that profession doesn’t exist, create it yourself. You’re braver, stronger, and smarter than you think. Your mental illness doesn’t make you weak: it gives you empathy, perseverance, and a unique perspective. Utilize that. Put in the work, and your professional goals can become your reality.

Have you struggled making professional goals with mental illness? What words of advice can you share with others? Leave them down in the comments!
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie
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