People who struggle with mental illness are all around you. They are your cashiers, your bus drivers, your doctors, your co-workers, and so on. It’s common to think that people with mental illness curl up in a ball and stop existing. Many think those struggling are locked up in what they call the loony bin. They are wrong. People with mental illness can live productive lives and they do. They can hold jobs and be a functioning part of society.
I’m a cashier and I have worked at the same grocery store for almost 25 years. I took a year off from college, and that’s when I began working at the grocery store. When I started at the store, I worked in the bakery and I was very depressed. I only talked if I had to. The bakery manager was loud and he scared me. We had to know the prices of pastries in the display case. My mind was plagued with racing thoughts, deep sadness, and worry. With my emotions combined with my learning disability I couldn’t remember the prices. I was moved to the front end as a bagger.
I did go into recovery for a few years and began to live the life I never had in my school years. At my job I found more friends than I could have ever imaged and began dating for the first time. I started going out with a group of friends after work to a bowling alley. We would bowl until two in the morning and then I’d get up at eight to go to work. I was living the life I always dreamed of. I was having fun. I wasn’t cured, but I was living life to the fullest.
Everything was going great until it wasn’t. It seem like I fell to the bottom in a flash. I was living in an apartment with a roommate, I was dating a guy who I thought was great, and I was enjoying my life. Yet I fell down that hole again. I hit rock bottom. It became a struggle to get out of bed in the morning. I began injuring again. My thoughts were jumbled, and I fought to concentrate, yet I went to work. I forced myself to get though a day of work with a smile and without falling apart in front of customers.
Only a few people I worked with knew I was struggling. No matter how bad I felt, I went to work and put on a mask. I did my job and I did it well. I moved up from bagger to cashier. I was functioning at my job even though I couldn’t function at home. I’d work, go home, and fall to pieces. I was a mess and on top of it, I moved in with my boyfriend. I soon found out he was abusive. This led me deeper into my illness, and yet I went to work.
I could have given up. It would have been easy to curl up into a ball and not leave my bed. I did call off more than I should have, but I still worked. Most of my co-workers did not know I was sick. It was so difficult to put a mask on and try to pretend I wasn’t dying inside, but I did it.
I worked while dealing with an abusive relationship that made my mental illness worse. When my boyfriend kicked me out, I was admitted into a mental health hospital. I took time off work to get better. My therapist started to fill out paperwork for disability. I told her I didn’t want disability; I wanted to work. She insisted I was unable to work because of my mental illness. She was wrong; I went back to work.
Many are working with mental illness. They are all around us. Some are struggling, but hiding their pain, and some are in recovery. If you have mental illness, don’t let anyone tell you, you can’t work. There are people doing their jobs all around us every day while fighting unseen illnesses. Just because people are struggling with mental illness doesn’t mean they are unable to hold a job or be a functioning part of society.
In August I will be working at the grocery store for 25 years. I’m enjoying my job even more now that I’m in recovery. Working while I was at my worst helped me climb out of the dark hole. It kept me from sitting home and giving up. Working helps me feel like a valuable part of society and helps me to stand tall in the light of recovery.