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‘Don’t Quit Your Day Job’: On Working Through a Health Crisis

I had mental health issues in 1991 that caused me to be hospitalized for two weeks, after which I received a diagnosis of bipolar illness. My psychiatrist at the time encouraged me to go back to my full-time teaching job immediately after getting out of the psychiatric ward. This was hard, but I think it was the best thing I could have done in the long run.

I remember I was hospitalized in the summer right before the fall semester began. I didn’t have my textbooks to create a syllabus. My brother drove 150 miles over to Pennsylvania to get them. (I was hospitalized in my home state of Ohio.) I remember sitting in the psych ward lounge, writing my syllabus and course calendar. People asked me what I was doing. I guess I looked strange, pouring over a writing text, scribbling notes on yellow legal pads. I guess, I might have looked like I had it all together. Of course, I didn’t, but the drugs I was given had stabilized me enough to concentrate on paperwork.  

After this experience, I stayed two years at the university in Pennsylvania. There, I grew lonelier and lonelier until I decided to move back to Ohio, where a year later, I met my future husband and things got better.

If I hadn’t jumped back into my life as it was at the time, I may never have returned to an existence of relative normalcy, a life of functioning in a job on my own, in my own home.

This same sort of situation happened again when I had breast cancer years later in 2011. I had to have three cancer treatments — chemotherapy, radiation and a double mastectomy. At the beginning of my chemo, I needed to decide if I was going to continue to work at my teaching job, or if I was going to take a leave of absence. 

I consulted with my psychologist, who said, “Keep your job; it will keep your mind off of your predicament.” At her advice, I continued to work all throughout my cancer treatments. I was working part-time, teaching two writing classes at a local university, so this was doable. I could also manage it because I had a great friend, Leslie, who subbed for me when I just couldn’t drag myself in. All in all, during those few semesters, I missed four classes, but that was better than quitting cold turkey, better than staying home and, most likely, sleeping all day, out of touch with the world.

Currently, a friend of mine is having a mental health problem. She’s experiencing frequent, severe panic attacks that are interfering with her day-to-day life. She has a high-powered job in marketing; she creates websites for a financial services company. Her boss knows of her predicament and has offered her a leave of absence. She recently asked me what I thought she should do.

Based on my experience, I advised her to try to hold onto her normal life — to not quit her day job. But I also stressed that the decision was ultimately between her psychiatrist and her.  

Note: For some, the appropriate thing to do might be to drop everything and regroup, to pull back from day-to-day life.  This wasn’t my experience, but it could be the experience of many individuals.

Things have a way of working out. I talked to my friend last night and learned that her boss has offered her the opportunity to work from home for a while — a great compromise. She’ll have the shelter of her apartment, but she’ll still have something productive to do; she’ll have to set goals and meet them. It’s a win/win situation.

The decision concerning continuing to work through an illness can be a dicey one. Again, consulting with your doctor is best. He or she knows you and what you’re up against and what you’re capable of.

I didn’t quit my day jobs. My decisions led me to ultimate success. I’m here to tell about it.

‘Don’t Quit Your Day Job’: On Working Through a Health Crisis

Laura Yeager

Laura Yeager has been writing for over 35 years. Some of her favorite topics include mental health, writing, religion, parenthood, dogs, and her day-to-day life. She is a mental health writer for Her articles about writing have appeared in The Writer Magazine, The Toastmaster Magazine, and Her spiritual writing has been featured in several venues including Aleteia USA, Busted Halo, The Liguorian Magazine, Canticle Magazine and Guideposts Magazine. A graduate of The Writers' Workshop at The University of Iowa, Laura teaches writing at Kent State University and online Creative Writing at Gotham Writers' Workshop in New York.

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APA Reference
Yeager, L. (2020). ‘Don’t Quit Your Day Job’: On Working Through a Health Crisis. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2020, from
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Last updated: 26 Jan 2020 (Originally: 26 Jan 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 26 Jan 2020
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