GUEST POST BY MARIA M. BLACK
As a woman, have you ever felt excluded from career success because you struggled with a mental illness?
I definitely have! In fact, I’m writing this today because I failed at so many attempts to be successful. In the last four years I’ve been through three jobs. I spent six years finishing my undergraduate. And, I’ve had one mental breakdown.
All of this was because I consistently struggled with PTSD, anxiety, OCD, panic disorder, and depression.
But wait, this isn’t a post about failure, it’s about success, right?
Yes and no. You see, finding success as a woman with a mental illness is full of failure but also bravery, endurance, creativity, and strength. It’s a multifaceted process that takes years.
Women, Mental Illness and Careers
According to data from the National Institutes of Mental Health, Women are far more likely to be diagnosed with Any Mental Illness (AMI). In addition they are also more likely to be diagnosed with a Severe Mental Illness (SMI).
-The prevalence of SMI was higher among women (5.7%) than men (3.3%).
-The prevalence of AMI was higher among women (22.3%) than men (15.1%).
-More women with SMI (71.5%) received mental health treatment than men with SMI (57.7%).
-National Institutes of Mental Health
Women are also one of the fastest growing segment of the US Labor Force, occupying 57% of the workforce in 2019.
This means that many women who work are struggling with a moderate to severe mental illness at the same time. So how can this be? How can women make up so much of the workforce even with such debilitating symptoms?
Because we’re incredible, duh 🙂
But seriously, it is because we’re tough. Women can handle a lot, we can push through just about anything. But that doesn’t mean we should have to in order to find career success.
I found that trying to push through school, a job, a marriage, was possible but really only at the cost of my own sanity. And this happens to so many women.
We’ve been told we can have it all, but are rarely informed of the price it costs.
So How Can Women Find Career Success Even with Mental Illness in the Picture?
The answer is to do it our way.
That’s right. As women, we have to stop trying to achieve success in a traditional masculine way. That approach only leads to stress, unrealistic expectations, and burnout.
The men can *have* all that nonsense. Instead, we can use our magical super powers of intuition, grace, and intellect to rise to the very top. And keep our sanity along the way.
Redefine the Concept of Success
Success isn’t one size fits all. It’s an ideal made up of many factors. What’s important to you? What kind of person are you? What do you believe in?
For me I realized I was reaching for someone else’s ideas of success. My loved ones had always encouraged me to go to college and get a job. But they had done so with their ideas in mind. I needed something practical and not creative because there’s no money in creativity. I needed to work hard to find success because that’s how they did it.
Yes, they all meant well. But the more I pushed towards their concept of success, the more miserable I was. And the worse my mental illness became.
So I had a breakdown. I failed, miserably. But in my darkest hour, I was able to finally see what was important to me. It took a while and a couple of false starts. But I ended up redefining my concept of success to fit my needs.
Redefine Your Core Priorities
When I had my breakdown, it became pretty clear that I had two options: get new priorities or continue to be miserable.
I chose to redefine my priorities. I identified what was good for my mental health and incorporated that into my career. Those things were: having a creative job, working from home, and owning my own business.
I noticed I disliked unclear deadlines. I hated being overwhelmed with requests from others. And I was negatively affected by an on-the-go lifestyle.
I found I enjoyed being able to work on my own timeline on things I cared about. I also loved the freedom working for myself gave me to handle my mental illness. Best of all, I was finally doing something creative that made my heart sing!
Value Your Intuition
Women usually have much stronger intuition than others. It’s an incredible skill to have. The problem is, since the workforce has been so male dominated for so long: intuition isn’t valued as much.
So we women hide away our intuition and go with the flow. Unfortunately, I believe that’s what caused me so much anxiety and panic at work. I’m a gut person. I just *know* what works and what doesn’t. That doesn’t fly in most jobs where customers and bosses require numbers, facts, and data to prove value.
But, intuition is just as valuable a tool as data when making a decision. As a woman, how many times have you had a “feeling” about something but said nothing? Only to find out you were totally right in the end?
So, don’t be afraid to use your super power, ladies. The world needs it.
Protect Your Time
The best advice I can give you to preserve your mental health while reaching success is to say “No.”
Warren Buffett said it best: “successful people don’t get that way because of the things they say yes to, they get that way by saying NO to 98% of requests”
Your time and energy are important. And if you have a mental illness, they are also limited. So protect them by:
- Saying no to unnecessary meetings
- Saying no thank you to more work when you feel overwhelmed
- Respecting your own time and that of others (i.e. if a meeting goes over time, leave at the appointed time)
- Setting appropriate boundaries with co-workers, bosses, and customers (no calls on off hours, no emails past 5PM, etc.)
- Giving yourself time to meet deadlines
- Saying no to unreasonable deadlines
- Take frequent and meaningful breaks
All of this will combine to bolster your mental health. It will also make you a better and more productive employee in the long run.
For a long time, I believed I couldn’t work due to my mental illness, let alone have a successful career. I know lots of other women in the same situation. But we can have fulfilling work lives. We just have to go about it in a different way.
If you’re having a hard time at work because of a mental illness, just know that it’s okay. Remember to engage in therapy, take care of yourself, set boundaries and put your priorities first.