One of the things I’ve struggled with over the last few years is how my mental health has affected my career and vice versa. A large part of my identity has always been entwined with what I do and how well I do it, and it all started to unravel when I found myself deeply unhappy at work.
Obviously, the first thing I thought about was changing my job, but I wanted to stay in academic librarianship and there were very few positions available at the pay rate I was receiving. I did get interviews for all suitable vacancies in the vicinity, but didn’t get any of the jobs. This happened over the course of several months and I was gradually having more time off due to stress related illnesses such as IBS and asthma. Things spiralled downwards until I was routinely bursting into tears at home (though I did my best to hid tears and distress at work…), and feeling out of control. Ending in being off sick for several months.
Since I was a teenager I’ve always wanted to live by some “feminist ideals”- I wanted to go to Uni, get a well paid job, support myself financially, get my own place etc. I didn’t want to get married or be dependant on a man (though I always envisioned having a male partner). I managed all that, so it came as a shock when I realised I had depression. I shouldn’t be depressed! I was living by my ideals and hadn’t had any major upsets in my life.
However, through counselling and therapy I’ve realised I wasn’t just living my ideals, I was trying to be ideal… I put a lot of energy and care into trying to be very good at everything, and didn’t like to ask for help.
It all came back to that common cause of distorted thinking: Perfectionism.
Having to re-evaluate my life due to my ill health (mental & physical) has made me come to the somewhat painful realisation that I am not what I do. Therefore, my job can be just a job and I can be good at it without it being the major focus of my life. It doesn’t matter if the house is a mess, or what wage I’m earning (as long as we have enough to live on) or whether I’m the perfect friend. I can be me, with all my imperfections and the people who matter will still love me.
Now I just have to figure out how to be just me!