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I have not worked since I left my job in 2013 due to my mental health. I have successfully gotten a couple of jobs since, but have not made it past the induction period before I’ve become unwell again. I just don’t seem to be able to deal with the stress that comes with being employed. I may be able to work again one day, but for now I am unemployed and I stay at home.
At times I have struggled to find meaning in my life now that I am not working, and to feel that I am still of value.
Over time, I have come up with some things I think are important to remember, and I would like to share these with you.
1. You can still be productive.
If you want to make some money, find something you are good at and turn it from a hobby into a profession. It could be anything – sewing, building things, crafts, computer programming. Find possible freelance jobs online, or try selling what you make on eBay or Etsy.
You can still be productive even if you don’t make money. You could write your own blog, or for one such as International Bipolar Foundation. You could write short stories or even a novel.
Even the simplest hobby can be transformed into something productive. I like reading, so I set myself the challenge recently of reading all of Oprah’s Book Club books. I get the books out the library to keep it free and clock my progress on the Goodreads website. Making goals like that gives me structure and something to aim for, and makes me feel like I’m achieving, no matter how slowly.
2. You can still refresh yourself and learn new skills.
There are countless online courses available now in every subject you can think of, and many of these are free. I do a lot of the English literature ones and learn about books and poetry, because that is what I am interested in.
You could also check out your local college for daytime or evening classes, to learn new skills too.
You could teach yourself a useful skill you’ve always wanted to learn, such as cooking, gardening, knitting, or anything, using the Internet or books from the library.
3. You can still expand the size of your world.
This may be easy or difficult depending on your condition, but getting out of the house is really important to stop you getting bored or isolated.
If you prefer to be alone, you could take yourself on adventures. Find out about all the free attractions in your city or area and go and visit them armed with a camera. Be a tourist. Walk around your neighborhood. Find local parks or nature reserves and explore.
Try and meet up with people if you are able. Being around other people will lift your spirits and give you fresh input.
If you don’t want to leave the house but are getting frustrated and feel stuck, try to change things up by moving space. Try sitting in a different room, or go outside in the yard.
4. You can still help others.
Volunteering is the best way to do this. It is great way to feel like you are part of something and to get a sense of satisfaction. It also is a chance to be alongside others who are in need, and puts your own needs into perspective.
Some places require references and have a long hire process just like a job, though with some you can just turn up to and do what you can. These are the type I prefer, because they are flexible, and the work depends on how much you want to give or are able to do that day. Others find a regular volunteer service works better because it gives a sense of structure to their time.
You don’t even have to be an official volunteer to help others. I have an elderly neighbor who loves to engage in conversation with me, and I give him a hand with his trashcans each week. I’ve also joined some online mental health forums and I try to answer people’s questions and make suggestions to help support them.
5. You can still have a vocation.
I have often dreaded the question ‘so what do you do?’ in social situations. It is so much harder to answer this question if you don’t have a job or vocation of some sort.
The thing is, you can have a vocation or an identity even if you’re not working. Spend some time thinking about it and creating YOU and who you are.
Depending on what you do, you can say you are a writer, you sell things online, you make things, you volunteer, you are studying.
When people ask now I say I blog from home and I’m working on various writing projects, alongside some studying and volunteer work. People are genuinely interested to hear more, and I no longer feel uncomfortable about them finding out ‘the truth’.
Being unable to work is nothing to feel ashamed of. There is a lot you can do, and you should feel proud of the things you do!