“…off to “Work” we go?” An Essay by Audrey Powers

“…off to “Work” we go?”
15 December 2013
123 Any Street # 456
Anywhere, Any Country 78900

Dear J:
Have you ever been on the other side of the question, “Why don’t you just get a job?” More importantly, why would you judge me if you know I have a disability? Why don’t you believe me when I tell you I am on disability? Why don’t you trust that the Social Security Administration, a federal government agency that determines whether or not someone is disabled, has deemed that I am unable to “work” based on my doctor’s reports? At times, I may look physically and mentally competent. However; many factors from the bi-polar and PTSD illnesses remain unseen. Oftentimes my emotional state looks like a Venus flytrap flower. This paralyzing instability has made me feel fearful about returning to “work” or volunteer “work” due to the stigma around mental illness. What do I tell an employer when I have so many medical appointments, when I have a relapse, that I can only “work” part-time, and that I will need special accommodations? If “work” is supposed to be, necessary for my mental and emotional well-being, then what do I tell myself when I’m unable to “work?” Dear J, have you ever considered the notion that “work” can have so many other possible meanings and that it may not necessarily involve a monetary gain?
For example, my personal experience continues to be that “work” is just learning how to maneuver around the “highs” and “lows,” the hallucinations (inconsistent or random), the leaving on of appliances and lights, and forgetting to turn them off. Sometimes “work” is hoping not to forget doctor appointments, to try to eat well on very little money with high inflation. Sometimes “work” is exercising to try to get physically healthy. Sometimes “work” is trying to balance out between increases and decreases with dosages of psychiatric medications. Sometimes “work” is attempting to hide the side effects of tremors, drowsiness, lack of concentration, diarrhea, and high blood pressure. Sometimes “work” is going to the Santa Fe Rape Crisis and Trauma Center to talk about things I wouldn’t normally. Sometimes “work” means asking for help. Sometimes “work” is grieving and recovering from losing fourteen members in my family. Sometimes “work” is just trying to write while resisting it at the same time. Sometimes “work” means trying to maintain a light bright enough to be seen in a dark alley. Sometimes “work” means trying not to die. So dear J, maybe not everyone can just get a job and this is what you can’t see.
In general, “work” or volunteer “work” gives me the opportunity to be a member of a larger society and allows me the ability to give back to my community. In addition, when I can help someone, even in the smallest of ways, I feel lifted up or encouraged. On the other hand, though, I have not worked in over five years and have been on disability. In an article entitled, “Dare to Tell: disclosure in the workplace,” Stephanie Stephens says, “High low, high low, it’s off to work you go.” When I did “work” at Dion’s, the roller coaster rides of the “highs” and “lows,” is what I brought to “work” with me. First of all, I had to deal with rude customers. On one night, a customer threw a plastic salad tong at me because it was broken. I was working in the dining room; therefore, I didn’t make his salad. I went to the kitchen to get him another plastic salad tong. When I brought it out to him, he said, “Never mind, we don’t need that tong, we found another way to get our salad out.” I was on the verge of tears. Then his wife left her purse behind on the back of her chair. I put her purse in the office and continued working. She returned saying she thought she left her purse behind. I went to get it for her. She didn’t seem grateful, nor did she offer a tip. From this experience, I learned that the customer is not always right. Secondly, I am tense working around too many people for large quantities of time. I discovered that I couldn’t handle six to eight hour shifts. Also, I was dealing with grief and loss from losing four family members in a whaling accident. In addition, I was coping with depression, PTSD, and bi-polar trying to “work,” and living in my first apartment. My short-fuse temper would ignite upon the management over menial tasks such as cleaning the restrooms. Not once, did I take into consideration what kind of day my co-workers were having. When I worked at Dion’s, I felt like I wasn’t meeting my own expectations of what meaningful “work” was, even though I was receiving a paycheck.
Currently, the closest I come to “work” is attending the Santa Fe Clubhouse which is a program run through the Lifelink. The Clubhouse is geared towards individuals with a mental health diagnosis or substance abuse issues. Their programming is structured after a 9 to 3 workday and includes a philosophy of side by side participation. A member can participate as much or as little as they want. All activities or groups can be joined on a voluntary basis. The Clubhouse has been necessary for my mental and emotional well-being; and my doctor seems to believe that this is a positive step in my recovery. Similar to my experience at Dion’s, I still feel stress from being around too many people. Also, as I continue to grow emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, I still find that I have to rely on an inner strength to stay present. My “highs” and “lows” interfere with my ability to interact with others. My concentration is limited, my mind wanders and it can have racing thoughts. This leads to confusion for many people around me.
However; attending the Santa Fe Clubhouse has provided me with a structure and a place to go. Joseph Epstein in his essay entitled, “Work and its Contents,” points out that, “The restorative effects of work seem to be beyond doubt. Being out of work, for some many, is the surest path to self-loathing. The loss of work isn’t only the loss of wages but the loss of an organizing principle in life.” I agree with Epstein’s statements because I feel like a loser for not “working.” I’m not earning my own money, but instead am relying on government assistance. As a result, I feel boxed-in to the category of one of those people who sit around all day and do “nothing.” In contrast, I feel that attending the Santa Fe Clubhouse will restore me into a positive role in the community.
P.S. Dear J,
In closing, there are many other meanings for “work.” Some of these meanings for “work” include necessities required for our emotional and mental well-being. Spirituality, exercise, eating well, recovery, positive relationships, physical, mental, and emotional health are just some of the additional meanings for “work.” So now dear J, do you believe that “work” can be more fulfilling and rewarding than just having a job that pays to remove “orange neon stickers” placed on your door by “PNM?” Alternatively, do I believe “work” has more purpose than to just receive a paycheck and fit in with the status quo?


This was first published in the anthology Singing Under Water.

2 thoughts on ““…off to “Work” we go?” An Essay by Audrey Powers

  1. Audrey, I love you! The work you do requires more courage and determination than getting a 9-5 job. –Libby

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