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Be a contender: Mental illness recovery & your resume

main2.jpgAs a person who has healed from four severe mental illnesses and a blooming young professional, I believe in acknowledging the whole of my experience. I bring it up during all of my interviews because I don’t want to work for people who stigmatize my uniquely acquired knowledge base. Mentally ill Americans are one in five, about as common as brown eyes.

If you’ve started looking for help, excellent–you’re among 50% of the mentally ill population. More people have a Facebook account right now. Before you’ve even gotten into the therapy room, you’re already an amazing human being. Why not heal and use the awesome skills that come from this journey to get a job that matches your worth? Let’s get down to business and frame those core competencies.

Communication, communication, communication

Can you factually describe your thoughts and emotions to another person? Can you do it without voicing any positive or negative judgements about them? How about when it’s around a touchy subject or when you’re angry? The worst part about mental illness is that no one can see it except in your behavior. At the outset of my treatment, I consulted over fifteen different medical professionals. I told each and every one in excruciating detail exactly what was going on with me. Having to do that again and again made me miserable. Each time I did it, however, I gained new insight into framing the indescribable.

Becoming more able to articulate what exactly is occurring inside of your brain has a profound impact on your recovery, especially the speed at which it occurs. Within three months, I was able to find a program that worked for my illnesses. Within eight, I was symptom free. That ability doesn’t just go away. Clear and effective communication on that nuanced of a level finds a new outlet in your personal and professional life. By the time you finish therapy, you’ll have turned this classic soft skill into adamantium.

Resume Bullet Point: "Effective communicator that can explain complex concepts without being reductive.”

Establishing equity is the new black

Being a team player is great and all, but have you ever tried to create equity in a relationship where there supposedly was none? Mental illness recovery is your chance to get up close and practical. Intellectually, I understood that my doctors knew what they were talking about. Emotionally, I was certain that the vast majority of them were indulgent quacks who only knew how to coach white girls. During one session, I got into a heated verbal altercation with a psychodynamic therapist who previously worked at Wellesley. #ExplicitBias

While I still have a lot of opinions on that school of therapy, I learned a little secret that helped me smooth things over: Your doctors are experts on illnesses. You’re an expert on yourself. You’re meant to work together, like the marketing department and the sales department. Don’t make the mistake of acting like an old business model.

Resume Bullet Point: Worked with a team of professionals cross-discipline to dynamically problem solve.”

Leave the cannoli, Take the meds

eat.gifMy mother and my grandmother both struggled with mental illness. Though they didn’t explain it to me until adulthood, I was aware of exactly when they went off or on their meds. Sometimes I knew if they were transitioning from one to another. When they were on their medication and going to therapy, they were great. When they went off medication without consulting a physician, they were crying in closets. So the first time a psychiatrist asked me if I wanted to try medication, I cut him off at the beginning of his “It’s totally normal/You’re not alone” speech and told him to pony up. 

Medications provide a nifty little barrier between you and all your symptoms so that you can do the lion’s work of recovery. You are reprogramming your brain outside of a natural hormonal event. When you and your doctor(s) work together to find the right ones, medications do about 20% of the work. As I’ve said to friends whom I’ve advised on the subject, if you think 20% is small amount, then give me 20% of your next paycheck.

Resume Bullet Point: “Utilizes all available resources pragmatically.”

There you have it. Worried about telling a prospective or current employer about your current mental state? Check out this excellent how to. No matter what, I believe in your strength. Go forth and be well. And eat the cannoli.

Commarrah Bashar is an actor, producer, writer, and advocate. For inquiries: commarrah.bashar@gmail.com


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