Wanna trade jobs?

Broken Identity

Written by Trish

I guess before you can answer that question, you probably want to know where I work, what do I do all day, how much I make, and how’s the cafeteria food.

Well by a lot of people’s standards, including my own, I can’t work. Does that answer make you want to trade?

Today I was told by my psychiatrist that I probably won’t be able to work (again). I put “again” in brackets because I am not sure if she said it or that is what I expected to hear.

This assessment upsets me a great deal.

To me it means I can’t provide for myself if anything should happen to my husband. I will never know the comradely of working together for the same vision again. It means my sensory over-stimulation–the condition that impairs me–will never improve enough for me to dedicate 8 hours to a job, five days a week. It means the expectation I had that when I could work again I would be fixed was cruel.

I am a dependent and I feel like a burden.

So much of my identity has been tied up in what I do for a living.  Working at a job was something I always did well—the only thing I considered myself really good at.  Since my first job when I was 14 I have always received glowing reviews.  Starting a university co-op program really solidified that feeling of usefulness and my need for approval when I would struggle through school every 4 months to then go out to work for 4 months and excel, excel, excel.  I needed to be working; doing what I did best.

Since my first depression 10 years ago, I have started and stopped, negotiated and broke, jobs and contracts all because I felt I had to work to gain respect and to find myself again—that smart, quick-minded, resourceful woman that everyone admired for her ability to work in a male-dominated industry and rise up through the ranks of the corporate world.  Or so I thought that’s why they admired me.  Then I would end up aggravating my mental state to the point of having to quit.  So I tried volunteering instead and the same thing happened. Each time I quit, I felt more and more unable to commit to anything.  My self-confidence waned along with my self-worth but I continued to always get back on track so I could work again (for a bit anyway). That was how much I invested in having something to do each day that made me feel I was a productive member of society; that I earned my keep and I was really good at it.

I suppose I have known for a while that I can’t go back to a 9 to 5 office job.  I just had this story inside my head that I could work anyway if I really had too. I’m not that sick.

A fairytales’ spell infusing me with superpowers while cloaking my limits.

So where do I go from here?

I grieve. I grieve for the identity I have coveted all these years of this professional career woman who has marketable skills that could be applied to any industry for at least the six-figure salary she made in her early thirties. Successful; capable; there when you needed her and always at the office. Able to handle the stress (well at least hide the part of her that was freaking out), always reliable and always committed. Financially independent to the point of not having to worry about money. Aggressive. Loyal. Reputable.

Who am I if I am not these things?

(Do you remember that sound the needle of your record player makes when you scratch it across a record playing? If you do, play that sound in your head…. NOW)

Wait a minute… that last question did not sound right. Let’s play it again:

Why do I need a job to be these things?

I like that tune much better, though it doesn’t mean that I am no longer going to grieve my identity of that professional career woman. I will. Then, when I am ready, I will move on.

I will first look at my value system for my self-worth. I can contribute my passion and my skills using all sorts of vehicles that don’t require I punch the clock each day. This web site is one of them–I can do it in my own time when I able to give it my energy.

I can consider this: my ability to contribute and make a difference is not based on the amount of hours I log, the organization I belong to, or the money I make doing it. It is based on action and passion and I’ve got loads of both… most of the time.

I don’t need a job to connect with the world or a business to serve people what I have to offer.

(Okay I am trying this new perspective on-for-size and so far it is not choking my sensibility or riding my realism.)

The second thing I am going to look at is my definition of a job.  My current vision resonates with that of a lot of Baby Boomers and a good portion of Gen X’ers.  I think with today’s technology my new definition can be a lot more flexible in the hours I work and when and where I work them.

If I do work again, I will be self-employed, doing what I love, with my ideal customers who embrace my limits and consider them part of the quality of my service.

(Yeah… I like that… a bonus of being unemployable by standard measures is it gives me a box to break out from in order to write an exceptional job description!)

I would love to hear from you. Are you currently unable to work due to mental illness? How do you feel about it?


Image credit: Trish Hurtubise


Trish HurtubiseHi. I’m Trish Hurtubise…the founder, curator and an editor for Mental Health Talk. I love serving those who are relegated to the shadows by society by giving them a platform to share their voice and be seen and heard… hence my passion for working with all the wonderful people who have shared their stories and wisdom on MHT.

You may view all posts by me here.

Much love to you.

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  • Carol

    From what I’ve read, I believe that (asside from maybe the office part and the money part which are highly over-rated anyway) you are, to borrow your words,” Successful; capable; there when you needed her and always at the office. Able to handle the stress (well at least hide the part of her that was freaking out), always reliable and always committed. Financially independent to the point of not having to worry about money. Aggressive. Loyal. Reputable.” You can also add brave, unselfish, team player and teacher to the list. And I have never even met you.

    Thank you for sharing your journey. Not only is it helpful for people who suffer from mental illness but also for those of us who do not so we can better understand and maybe recognize early signs in ourselves or friends. I am a dental hygienist and in my job I update client’s medical history charts at every visit. I am blown away at how many people are taking anti-depressants vs how little we hear about what the disorder is. Not everyone understands that mental disorders are a chemical imbalance that can affect even those who appear to have every reason to be happy. I will post your site on my facebook page and encourage everyone to visit.

  • Trish

    Hi Carol. Thank you so much for your kind words. I really appreciate your feedback and your willingness to share this site on your facebook page. The more we can spread the truth and our honest experiences with mental illness, the more we can help others to recognize they are not alone as well as generate public awareness. xoxo

  • Unsure

    So sad to read Trish 🙁 Any update on where you are now? Could do with some advice lol..

    I am at exactly the same crossroads at the minute and am unsure of what to do? I really can’t carry on working at my job and I am certain I won’t get any benefits when I do hand my notice in. Work has become untenable with me having time off, Alienating pretty much the whole work force, Proper stuck in a rut and leaving is my only option….

    If I leave I will have nothing, Stuck in the house 24/7 living on a pittance, Really I see no escape from the cesspit of life ,Lliving with the voices in my head and no interaction from people….

    Sad times lay ahead and I am not sure I will come through it….

    • Trish

      Hi Unsure. Well, I am not working. I try small projects but it must be doing something I enjoy or I just get agitated and burnt out and overstimulated. I can’t seem to get paid for them though because most of the projects are for my learning! And I still cannot commit to enough hours in the day that would allow me to have a lot of clients in my own biz.

      I am still practicing to let go of my work identity. But I focus on my mental and physical limitations and I get frustrated. Then the other day I watched this Ted talk and it helped me see things from a different perspective: http://www.ted.com/talks/phil_hansen_embrace_the_shake.html. I am not sure how this will unfold but I find this video comes to mind when I start getting frustrated by my limitations effecting me wanting to do things that matter to me. I now question how my limitation might serve me and others.

      I am sorry to hear about your circumstances. I recommend doing whatever it takes to get support through this time–whether it be medical, community, psychiatric, etc.. They may also be able to find ways of you earning disability.

      I also recommend starting a project that you have always wanted to do. Something to look forward to everyday. And something that will take you out of the house on occasion.

      I suggest focusing on self-care and standing up for yourself when it comes to your needs.

      There is the flip-side… it may not turn out as you envision or expect.

      I am not a professional Unsure. I can only tell you what is working for me. Please find the support you need and do what is best for YOU.

      Much love to you,

  • Alec

    I’ve had to juggle my disability with my work many times, and left people hanging very often, I can definitely relate to this post… thank you for posting this (I saw it from twitter) and best of luck to you and everyone who experiences these hardships… my last job (bartending) I quit on the spot, I also turned down a really good gig as a musician recently, and if it wasn’t for my wife and mom and dad and grandpa and grandma, I’d be living on the street probably… I used to be on Ontario Disability Support Program, but there are details like when my wife is on employment insurance I can’t earn anything, and when she was working she made too much for me to earn anything… I haven’t seen anything, even a drug card since 2014… but luckily I have supports… I’d be lost without them. it’s ok to benefit from them I think.

  • Judith

    Yes,I can not hold a job.Before I worked..then get off..worked. .get off.Now I am dependent of less money (from the system ).But they do not believe that I suffer mental illnesses…No matter what I prove (psychiatrist documents).Like come on..everyone has a bad day sometimes.Yes,I am worried about my future.Can not learn a 3 years education (germany).Because of my mood swings,fear and insane perfectionsm.My dream is to do an education or study someday.For being independent, for having money to travel..for being a bit safe. Thanks,Trish..warmth hug

    • Trish

      Thank you for sharing a bit of your story, Judith. xoxo

  • Allison

    Wow. I am very happy I clicked on this link. For the past year, I have been struggling with my work identity. Since the age of 16, I have worked and even joined the military to further my education and gain new opportunities, always pushing myself threw each challenge. However, at one point, I fell and realized that I was living unrealistically. Perfectionism ran my life into the ground. After gaining some stability back, graduating college and moving on with my career outside the military, I thought my life would renew. Sadly, that’s not the case. After moving around with my spouse and having to adapt to new environments and cultures, I began to realize my dream of 9-5 and independence started slipping through my fingers. The things that I thought that made me important started to disappear but my biggest fear of being a burden grew. Last year, I was lucky to find an internship that was very flexible. But with time, it wore away at me too. After 8 months, a few weeks ago, I quit. I just came to terms with my MDD and that I will not be able to work a 9-5 job or even part time work, anymore. Even after all these years of therapy, hospitalization, medication and self-care, I can’t cure my illness. Instead, I need to “break outside the box” and create my own meaning of life. This new perspective isn’t easy but I am glad I am not the only who has been through it. I am happy that I am not the only person to face this challenge and feel similar frustrations. Thank you for sharing your story Trish.

    • Trish

      Thank you so much for taking the time to tell me your story. I’m so glad my post resonated with you. I wish you all the best, much love, and much happiness, Allison.


  • Jessica

    Hi all I so resonate with you. It’s soo hard not to feel like a burden, but I believe we want to work want to contribute, I believe we can through many things but it’s hard when financially were struggling. God may have us look to help in serving community. If we were working out time would be taken working. We are stigmatized judged at Times being called lazy, the church and society are more aware of mental illness. You are soo good to start this chatting online sitd, so we don’t feel alone, put to one side. Mental illness, is real it’s zoo hard when your not mentally ill to understand. You get overwhelmed fatigued anxious. Fibromyalgia chronic fatigued adhd I have so it can be tough, being a Christian to why is this happening to me. But I feel Jesus close he suffered, he is using my weaknesses to love others and depend on him. Thorn in the flesh but I’m see how I can serve in other ways. Love Jess x

    • Trish

      Thank you for your comment, Jess. Much love to you, Trish

  • Robyn

    Hi Trish,
    Thank you for your article here about the work situation and being told we can’t work. It was a relief to read.

    I find their diagnosis is correct about that, although I fought against it for many years, as I tried to go back to even a much simpler form of my job, when I first broke and almost broke again, with even Work and Income (Welfare) telling me not to try. I had been doing what my GP had told me to do and that’s to stay away from what broke me! I’m a slow learner and it took me a good few years to realise that I needed to listen. But you get it about the guilt we feel about not working and when we come across people with mental illness, who do seem to be able to work etc.
    I have come to the conclusion that I cannot compare myself to others. Our journeys are totally ours, and ours alone.
    A few days ago, I took a psychiatric test with some newly diagnosed people, when we all took the test before starting a mental health Coping Skills program, I am currently co-facilitating, with a therapist. (I had done the course as a patient about 4 years ago myself). My current test, even 4 years later, shows I still have symptoms in the SEVERE range, which surprised me, as I feel very much better?? The results worried me at first but I now believe that there is a reason I am unable to work and as you have said, it’s difficult to get those abilities back that we once had. I had a mental breakdown at my desk as a media editor, 10 years ago now and still obviously affected by it, although I don’t allow it to define me. Like you, I have found a niche, although in my case volunteering in mental health but it suits me because those professionals I’m volunteering beside, understand me and my situation. I believe being in that kind of environment is the only way I can function in regard to work/volunteering. Thanks again Trish and all the best with your endeavours.

    • Trish

      Thank you so much for sharing this with me, Robyn. I really appreciate your feedback and your story. Best of luck with the mental health volunteering! Much love, Trish

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