If you’re a person in recovery from an illness like bipolar you’ve probably heard the phrase “meaningful work” and know it’s considered to be a cornerstone of wellness. Like many of you (I read your blogs too) I’ve had a really hard time keeping jobs over the years. Partly that’s the illness (I’ve impulsively/stupidly quit jobs when manic more than once, and depression has led to poor performance that led to dismissal) and of course there’s rampant employer stigma and glass ceilings. But I wonder if the wellness movement itself is giving false hope?

For example, there’s The Center for Reintegration, which operates clubhouses and the annual Lilly Reintegration Awards (nominations due by June 29). The site has advice like, “Make a list of your best skills and traits (‘dependable’, ‘always punctual’, etc.) for use in a job interview.” I don’t know about you, but it’s *because* I’m totally undependable that I’m not working full time anymore.

I’ve been to a clubhouse, I’ve been to a job rehab firm, I’ve been to a charity, and the best they’ve had to offer was rewriting my resume and telling me to look for casual work in retail. As if I could keep to the schedule of a crappy minimum wage job any easier than I could in my former (much better!) career. As if it’s okay to not show up when all they want from you is face time wearing a smock and a fake smile. As if I wouldn’t lose a job like that too. And how is crushing my self-worth supposed to lead to meaningful work? How are they defining meaningful?

The key, the absolute essential thing for me, is an understanding employer and the flexibility to take time off. Writing is a good option because I can work from home and nobody’s going to get upset about long lines at the checkout if I don’t show up one day. PsychCentral is ideal, absolutely wonderful. But there aren’t many places like this. Instead of telling people to go fishing for work in the general job market, it’d be more useful if rehabbers cultivated databases and relationships with employers predisposed to non-discrimination.

Sorry to be so skeptical and negative. Lately I’ve noticed a growing number of people who are professionally ill, paid for speaking engagements and articles about how sick they used to be and how life is so rewarding now that they’re on lithium or whatever. The Reintegration Awards honor them; “The achievements of people living with severe mental illness who give hope to others facing similar challenges.” Obviously, I’m not in the running. I was offered cashier training but ended up back in the hospital instead.