‘Am I unwell enough?’ Managing life, work and mental health

Content warning: Mental ill health

I have a mental illness. This is far from a secret – I talk about it all the time. I joke that I have made a career of oversharing. Right now my mental state is pretty tenuous and I am debating whether I should call the crisis team or not. My clinical manager was off work today so when I called expecting to talk to her I was told she was on leave. This left me feeling quite alone and vulnerable.

The interesting thing about my illness – or one of them at least – Is my capacity to work full-time, write books and do all manner of things while I am quite unwell. I remember a friend saying how amazing it was that I was unwell but that I was able to sell my house last year. I never worked out if that was a criticism and admonishment for me not to complain about my illness or if it was said from a place of thinking I was impressive. Looking back I think it was impressive to renovate and sell a property when I had only been discharged from hospital a few weeks prior and that the hospital stay was eight months! I didn’t think I was doing anything unusual at the time. I needed to sell my house so I did what you do to sell it. I am quite stoic and determined which I think makes that kind of thing possible. 

I was not always able to accomplish things when unwell. I was unemployed / outside of the labour force from 1994-2003 and accessed disability payments. I remember being reviewed for my payments and worrying I would be too well to keep receiving them. My psychiatrist who filled out the form said ‘I will use the magic word: psychosis”! She was correct in thinking that part of my illness would warrant a continuation of my income support payments and it was a few more years before I started my current job. 

My illness is a tricky one. Basically what happens is that if I get very anxious over a long period – or, as happened in one instance I take ADHD medication – I lose touch with reality and go into a psychotic state which is frankly terrifying, like living in a nightmare. I also get mood issues, usually depression but sometimes mania. Life becomes hellish and I often want to check out before I am supposed to. The first time I was psychotic I had no idea that I was unwell. I thought the universe was ending and I was the only person who knew this was happening.  Very, very frightening. I call it my Alice in Wonderland experience – more the scary confusing bits that the whimsical ones though. I have taken medication for psychosis since 1995 and – unless there is a cure for schizophrenia – will probably have to do so for the rest of my life. The meds have side effects but I don’t usually consider living without them as it is likely that would end very badly.

I manage an immense workload both in my advocacy work and my day job. My managers at work and I agree that I do the work of two people. My capacity for hard work is huge. You might think that this is a negative in terms of mental health but it really isn’t. In fact work – day job or advocacy-related – is an excellent distraction when I am having a hard time. If I can focus on my work I am spending less energy devoted to worrying about my mental health. This doesn’t always work for if I am very unwell I cannot focus on my work. When this happens I take leave or downtime – depending on which sort of work I am doing. I take my work very seriously and love that I can devote myself to it.

I sometimes wonder if people think I don’t have as much drama with my mental illness as I say I do. This is because on the surface I am doing things that most people could only do if they were in a good mental state. The thing with me is that I don’t find anything I do very difficult whereas I think most people probably would. Most people would think that writing a book was a very difficult and involved process but for me writing a book is something I do most years and I really enjoy. Definitely not a big challenge for me. The same goes for my paid work. I have been at the same level at work since 2009 and know my job pretty much backwards so it isn’t really a big challenge to do my work. Sometimes even I doubt the level of my mental illness and then remember that I take major medication and every few years end up in hospital for a long time. I think comparing people’s mental health and judging what you think they should or shouldn’t be able to do is not really all that helpful.

I am proud of my accomplishments as a person with a mental illness / psychosocial disability. Life can be really challenging and frightening but I am still here. I have a 100% strike rate of keeping going and getting through the difficult bits. And I know my work around mental health has helped a lot of people. If my story and experience can help others to manage their mental health then I am doing something right!

3 thoughts on “‘Am I unwell enough?’ Managing life, work and mental health

  1. Well, some people, men especially, continue to work despite poor mental health not because they need the money or because they are not really ill, but because work is all they have that gives them purpose or identity. I remember I wrote a story once about a man who was a workaholic, and his story was, he studied law, then he was called up for National Service and went to Vietnam. He came home, got married and had two kids. His life started to unravel when his son wanted him to play soldiers with him, and when his son ran around playing with his toy gun, he used to get angry. That marriage ended in divorce, and he turned to the bottle. He remarried some years later, and had another kid to his second wife. That marriage also ended in divorce. No, he wasn’t a nasty, entitled man, he was usually an easy-going man, but his life was marred by nightmares and flashbacks (I can relate to that) and his kids didn’t want much to do with him. I remember, I developed a rapport with a security guard who was a Vietnam Veteran. He’d had similar experiences and he and I would often talk about what caused our own PTSD. Mine, as you know, was from school bullying.

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  2. Dear jenn,

    Maybe you could more about your illness in next blog. Were you sick because of Asperger’s? Because of some trauma tic experience? Or because you were covering up your Asperger’s for too long? Your blog would be more clear if you discussed the cause s of your illness.

    Regards,

    Tracey.

    On Fri, 8 Jan 2021, 06:56 Yenn Purkis Autism Page, wrote:

    > Yenn posted: ” Content warning: Mental ill health I have a mental illness. > This is far from a secret – I talk about it all the time. I joke that I > have made a career of oversharing. Right now my mental state is pretty > tenuous and I am debating whether I should call” >

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  3. It’s awful that when you need help, it isn’t available! I wish I could help but I have neither the training nor the knowledge on how to do it – except to say, “hang in there Yennski – you are helping lots of us out here and we care for you too”.

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