A Day in the Life – Adaptation Required

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This is a poem about adapting, in life and in the workforce, especially when faced with mental health challenges.  I start by describing a more general view of how I have made it work.  In the second half, I go on to describe some of my  life – specifically in the workforce.  I discuss some of the views that I have had, and I try to share the ways that I have found to cope with stress and maintain mental health.  While this write up and the poem below go together: what I say in these few paragraphs is not entirely reflected in the poem, nor did I intend it to be that way.  When I write poetry, I often write whatever comes to my head.  I will endeavour to write more poetry, directed to the cause of mental health, and stigma in the work place.  I do feel that what I have here touches on some very useful strategies and ways of thinking for mental health.

With about fifteen years in the construction industry, I learned to keep my mental health thoughts and diagnosis to myself, at least on the job site. That is what is sometimes necessary to keep good relationships with co-workers, superiors and to stay employed.  These long-time trends are gradually changing.  I think that today we are more able to discuss ways to be mentally healthy, than we were a few years ago.  Discussing mental illness is quite a different matter.

While this poem does not name stigma directly, it should be mentioned that avoiding stigma forced me to put my health on the line in order to stay employed.  Mainly by not opening a can of worms, I sought to avoid the mistrust that discussing a diagnosis can create for both the worker and employer.  Part of this was self-stigma, and part of it was the very legitimate fear of social and structural stigma.  I ran into some difficulties by not identifying my condition (of living with bipolar).  Sometimes I had to work on days that I did not feel up to it, but had no good, usable excuse. This could have been troublesome, because the conditions in the construction or industrial environment are already very difficult.  If mental health is faltering, it can become increasingly unsafe.  Fortunately, I was able to avoid incidents by managing my schedule when I could, and taking rest for myself when possible.  I also learned to focus on other strategies that help me maintain stability: in basic physical health, as well as cognitive strategies.  Good habits in sleep routines and staying calm in difficult situations has been very important. Sometimes avoiding discussion of a labelled condition, can avoid the building of interactive social problems.  It is important to be careful in what we do and say.   Doing what is best for our health, should always be a top priority.

A label sometimes takes on a life of its own that is not always easy to manage. It can be safer to outright avoid discussion of labels in a personal mental health condition. Sometimes it is not. Deciding when to disclose should involve careful thought.  Hopefully one day, with the mental health movement creating more awareness of the truths about the manageability of mental illness, and sharing the best practices for dealing with mental illness, some of these problems could be avoided. For example, it may become easier for employees to approach their employers about mental health issues, if both parties are made more aware of how to work for the best of the two sides. Employers could learn to be more accommodating, and in return find the benefits of good work from a healthy workforce. Employees could be made more aware of the best ways to manage their own condition in the workplace.  After all that time in the trades for me, I greatly respect the work and the people, but recognize a need for change – specifically for more understanding and awareness of best mental health practices.

Aside from the medication I have taken religiously over all these years, I have had almost no professional help to deal with the workplace as a person living with bipolar disorder. It doesn’t seem that anyone tried to get involved.  From the companies that I worked for to the local health authorities:  I saw no one to communicate with about my concerns.  Maybe it was not readily available, with this time period’s resources.  At one point health contacts stopped offering counselling, or support – and then I just sort of faded into the paperwork I guess. This seems unreasonable, when working on major undertakings, such as an apprenticeship in the trades, or work as a journeyman, while living with a serious mental condition.  Someone in the health authorities, should follow up on this type of progress, since the worker and employer may need help.  There seems to be a lack of infrastucture to support this, that may come from the government. The companies should also share a big role and be directed on how to take more of a role in workplace mental health.  I hope to see resources become more available for such projects, in the years to come. What I can see that is needed most in this case is direct help in understanding mental health in the workplace, and support based on that understanding.  When stigma is common place, everyday in different job settings: it can be dangerous. The only way I have had to deal with that is through common sense – with virtually no outside help, early in the millennium.  I survived, but it has not been easy.

  • More attention needs to be paid to caring for mental health in the work-place, especially in industries that can be more dangerous, like construction.  As of this year, I have been working full-time in support work, and trying to apply my writing and research towards further education.  I have found that working with goals of health in mind, for others and for myself, is much more rewarding and conducive to mental health all around. If we can learn to incorporate this more into our work lives, no matter what else happens, we will increase our quality of life. Trying to make these changes more and more practical still requires patience, perseverance and actually: creativity too.

A Day in the Life – Adaptation

How our day begins, on the morning road,

Feeling like a chain, hauling up a load,

Yesterday is gone, still is on the line,

Plans for tomorrow, must be made in time,

Landing on firm ground, stack our days up high,

Many hours of work, drive to pass it by,

Dig deep to get ahead, as the friction burns,

Capture all that force, that holds, or grinds or turns,

Thought makes our life last, as it dissipates,

Turning wheel rides far, staying in one place,

Spinning like a top, rolling like a train,

Times we must move fast, still need to feed our brain,

When there’s even keel, take it all in smooth,

Can’t force the course too fast, switching gears can soothe,

Slowly grease the grooves, look close in the light,

Mood is a machine, must care and fuel it right,

Tighten what we need, move ahead so steady,

Energize and charge, when absolutely ready,

Build our universe, around true clear thought,

Eclipse doubt with calm, and give it all we got,

Know what to expect, being ready saves,

Life is a reaction, comes to us in waves,

Get through challenges, never let time lag,

Make changes and breathe, if our day’s a drag,

Just a year ago, couldn’t get out the door,

By coffee sometimes numb, lying at my core,

Climbing up the walls, difficult to bear,

Now a year later, work with human care,

Learning, and teaching, helps to drive my pay,

Best to find meaning, inspired all the way,

On the other hand, when I was in that place,

Earned far more dollars, just was not my pace,

For others I took care, as I met demands,

Hard to squeeze to size, an industry of plans,

Safety for myself, sometimes jeopardized,

Not by being careless, but by being compromised,

Never reckless work, my body paid that feat,

Hiding pain and grief, just to make ends meet,

Now that trial is done, new job has some peace,

Lofty goals I have, on life: a brand new lease,

How our day closes, as a chapter ends,

Feeling like a branch, bears hope as it bends,

Today will remain, full of life for us,

Compete to survive, learn all we discuss,

Forests of facts here, can define our days,

No tree is alone, the bond to nature stays,

Focus in our life, like books that we read,

Follow our main goals, work hard to succeed

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