Some traumatic experiences in the past 2 years made me realize how desperately unhappy I was in my "old" life. I have a good education & strong job experience, but also have mental health issues to manage and I'm kind of allergic to corporate life. I'd like to change this trend in my life, but I'm having trouble visualizing how to do this without going back to how I was living before. Feeling stuck on how to move forward & requesting AskMe's wisdom on the matter.
posted by cardinality to Work & Money (11 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Background: I've been a lifelong sort of crunchy-punk mildly-queer type. I'd always felt that I could make the most difference by devoting my skills to a field that best matched my ideals & interests. I chose to focus on something environmentally-related, but due to my weak math skills, I had to choose a less hard-sciencey path than what I preferred.
I have an AS in IT/networking, and a BS in geography with an emphasis on geo-technology, plus a minor in environmental studies (aka ecology-lite). I completed two years towards an MA in geography, with an emphasis on environmental GIS and planning, but didn't complete the degree due to financial and mental health issues, to my lasting regret. I've done a lot of work with environmental outreach & advocacy groups; done tabling, done IT work on the side, helped run events, conducted tours, etc. I can deal with people to an extent (and I'm good at it in small bursts), but I'm super-introverted & it wears me down after a while. I had a GA in my uni's sustainability office my second year of grad school. I'm really good with data-wrangling, becoming an expert user with complex software, visual display of data, problem-solving, and teaching. People tell me I am friendly, patient, good w/ organizing complex data, & a dedicated worker. So I feel like I have a good basis for some kind of stable career, and to date, I've just gone about it wrong. I got hired post-school as a GIS Analyst in the environmental & civil engineering industry, and while I enjoyed the work itself, I hated the field I was in and the clients who hired us. I felt like a complete sellout, but I didn't know how else to get experience in my general field and that's who was hiring at the time.
The problem: This is where the "feeling like a spy" comes in. I hated everything about corporate life...hated where I lived, hated having a long driving-commute, hated the office-lady clothes, hated office politics, business-speak, office-behavior, all of it. It felt like a performance & I sucked at it. I felt like I was living a double life, and after three years in the working world, I became extremely depressed, began to suffer panic attacks at work, etc. The stress of having to work so hard to appear "normal" & blend in was killing me with the anxiety it caused. I was constantly afraid of being "found out" (yeah, good ol' impostor syndrome) and never felt like I was "doing it right." I made some really bad choices in my personal life, tried job-hopping to terrible ends, and things just spiraled out of control. I was basically on a "let's destroy everything that feels stable and normal!" bender. I've been unemployed for the past year while trying to recover from the Very Bad Things that happened as a result of my self-destructive phase. I've been in therapy & working it aggressively since last year, because I don't ever want to repeat this phase of my life. I understand why I got into those situations, and I'm more stable now than I was a year ago. I ended up having to declare bankruptcy, and last year I was ultimately diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, major depressive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. (Apologies if this is burying the lede, here.)
Current: I've made a lot of personal positive changes this past year. I gave up my car, and rely on public transit, bike, or walking now, so that small change has made me a lot happier than I would have ever expected. I shop locally, have a community garden plot, and am living a much more eco-friendly lifestyle. I've made a small group of friends who share my values, and that helps.
I'm terrified of going back to work only to find out that I can't do it, or committing time & mental resources to a new career only to have another breakdown. I don't know how to get to "job/life stability" from here. I think that I want to go back to work, but right now, I'm only supposed to be working part-time. Some days I feel okay, and others I feel like applying for SSDI would be the better option. I feel torn between "I need to take care of myself right now," versus "I don't want to give up on everything I worked so hard to achieve." I understand now that I have to work within my limitations, and I want to be useful & productive, but not at the expense of my mental health. I was in Go Go Gadget Overachiever mode before, and while I love throwing myself at an in-depth problem...are there jobs where I can do something like that, but in a lower-stress field? I tried working with Occupational & Vocational Rehab last summer, but found it confusing, and they didn't seem to know what to do with me. I found it more frustrating than helpful.
TL;DR: I have a hard time fitting into corporate culture and seem to do better with small companies where employees have more leeway in terms of personality and appearance. I have a good skills base, but I don't know what to do with it. I'm interested in lefty progressive causes, non-profits, community- or environmentally-focused. I have mental health needs to manage, and I need to find a career path that will allow me to support myself but not burn out again.
My question is: can you share any ideas for career paths or specific jobs I could investigate that would work with my needs, and/or can you speak to the mental health-versus-career angle regarding my next steps? Thanks!