Everyone complains about work. Having to go to work every day, working too much, not getting paid enough- working can be challenging for so many reasons. Today’s episode focuses on working while having schizophrenia.
Host Rachel Star Withers, a diagnosed schizophrenic, and co-host Gabe Howard share antidotes from their own work lives and speak with fellow schizophrenic Michelle Hammer. Michelle, an award-winning graphic designer and entrepreneur, discusses her struggles working full time and transitioning to working for herself. Cheryl Wallace the Vice President of Programs at Rose Hill Center, a psychiatric treatment and rehabilitation center, also joins this episode and speaks about how Rose Hill facilitates programs to help people with schizophrenia rejoin the workforce after a psychotic episode.
Highlights From “Working With Schizophrenia” Episode
[01:15] Rachel’s weird job history.
[03:00] Is it Rachel’s schizophrenia or her dislike for normal work?
[05:00] Being a stunt woman with schizophrenia.
[10:50] Guest interview with artist Michelle Hammer.
[13:43] Michelle’s family reacts to her decision to start her own business.
[16:13] Michelle’s advice to other people with schizophrenia who want to start a business.
[21:00] How Family and Friends can help.
[29:00] Reasonable Accommodations.
[34:00] Do you tell an employer you have schizophrenia?
[37:38] Guest interview with Cheryl Wallace the Vice President of Programs at Rose Hill Center
[46:34] It’s okay to work part-time, it’s okay to do what you need to do.
About Our Guests
Entrepreneur and Artist Michelle Hammer is an NYC native. She was diagnosed at 22 with schizophrenia. With her artistic talents and fearless personality, she founded Schizophrenic.NYC; a clothing line with the mission of reducing stigma by starting conversations about mental health. Schizophrenic.NYC takes a portion of the profits and donates to organizations in NYC that help out with the mentally ill population of NYC.
Cheryl Wallace is the Vice President of Programs at Rose Hill Center. As one of the nation’s leading long-term mental health facilities, Rose Hill Center in Holly, Michigan offers comprehensive psychiatric treatment and residential rehabilitation services for adults, 18 and over, on 400 peaceful and serene acres. They offer effective therapeutic modalities including group and individual therapy and responsible medication management. Each week while living in on-campus townhomes, participants commit to 30 hours of meaningful activity. Some individuals will attend educational classes, find paid employment, or volunteer in the community.
Computer Generated Transcript for “Working With Schizophrenia” Episode
Announcer: Welcome to Inside Schizophrenia, a look into better understanding and living well with schizophrenia. Hosted by renowned advocate and influencer Rachel Star Withers and featuring Gabe Howard.
Rachel Star Withers: Listeners, could a change in your schizophrenia treatment plan make a difference for you? There are options out there you might not know about. Please visit oncemonthlydifference.com to find out more about the benefits of once monthly injections for adults with schizophrenia.
Rachel Star Withers: Welcome to Inside Schizophrenia. I am Rachel Star with my wonderful co-host here, Gabe Howard. Everyone complains about work going to having to go to work every day, working too much, not getting paid enough working can be challenging for so many reasons. But we’re going to explore working while having a serious mental health issue like schizophrenia. So I’ve done so many weird jobs, Gabe, like across the board. I was a wedding videographer for one day, one day and halfway through the day after the third bride came in complaining about their work. I was like, I I can’t do this. And I literally got up and left and I was like, you don’t have to pay me for today. I’m really sorry.
Gabe Howard: Do you feel that living with schizophrenia contributed to that because like you said, it’s boring, you’re sitting behind a monitor all day and then there’s confrontation, there’s chaos, and then there’s this whole, you know, wedding industry that we know about. Was all of that too much pressure? Because we know that you’re an accomplished video editor. There’s no question about that. What about this? Made it too much.
Rachel Star Withers: I think that it was such an open atmosphere like there. You could see everybody and you were sitting there nine to five video editing with all these people around. If I could have been sent the footage and done it at home, I probably would’ve been fine. But yeah, it was a lot and a lot of confrontation as far as people coming in. And weddings are boring.
Gabe Howard: So what other jobs have you had? I mean, we know about schizophrenic stunt girl, which we’ll get to at the end. What are some other just normal regular 9:00 to 5:00 jobs for Rachel Star?
Rachel Star Withers: Well, I haven’t had many 9 to 5 jobs, but of the ones I’ve had? One was I worked at a Christian furniture store in their marketing. And if you’re not from the south. Yes, that’s the thing. We have a lot of Christian stores like. That’s part of it. It’s in the logo is a giant cross.
Gabe Howard: Wow. Now, how long were you employed by the furniture store?
Rachel Star Withers: I was there for six months, which is like amazing for me to work or full time job for six months. And that killed me. I was oh, gosh, I mean, I. Towards the end, I eventually just went to one of the bosses, like, I can’t take this. I’m genuinely sorry. I guess I always feel so bad, like quitting something. I always apologize. Like, if I’m sorry, this place is horrible, but I’m sorry I led you to believe I’d be a good worker and I cannot take it here.
Gabe Howard: Just to be clear, do you think that it was because of living with schizophrenia that made you not be able to take it or was there something else going on or is it is it this kind of gray area where maybe it was a little bit of both? Is that hard to tease out?
Rachel Star Withers: I would say it’s absolutely a gray area. A major part was my schizophrenia. I have a very hard time doing the same thing day after day. I have a hard time doing the same thing for hours on end. About four hours in, I’m out. It’s just hard for me to pay attention. And that’s not like, oh, what about a lunch break mixes it up? Nope. If I’m stuck in the same place, it’s too much for me, and especially when it’s the situation of a desk. If I like literally stay in one place. Oh, I just go crazy. I can do it for about a few days. And then I start getting weird and I go downhill quick.
Gabe Howard: And I understand why you’re calling that a gray area because, for example, my father is a truck driver, my brother is an electrician. My brother in law is a police officer. And I point that out because none of them have schizophrenia and they all feel the exact same way that you do. They’re like, put me at a desk and that’s death. I don’t want to do it. That is horrible for them. They love doing stuff on their feet, working with their hands, moving around the city. I would hate all of those things. Like I don’t like to go outside. Now, I don’t want to be chained to a desk either, but I don’t want to do manual labor. So you learned that in your the beginning of their career. Sitting behind a desk bad. So then you started to get into some more like creative jobs. What were your jobs after the Christian furniture store?
Rachel Star Withers: Oh, I’ve bounced all over personal training. I’ve been a personal trainer. I’ve worked in gyms that’s always been like a kind of a side job for me. Every gym in the area here of Charlotte, I’ve worked in all of them.
Gabe Howard: Did you do better there?
Rachel Star Withers: So I’m totally fine if it’s a part time job or idealists say three times a week, they’re totally fine. I’m good with it. But if I have to go like day after day, I can’t take it. Even doing the same activity day after day, it just it wears on me and I get burnt out bizarrely quick.
Gabe Howard: And then you moved on from from personal training. You did what has really lasted the longest, right? The stunt woman. The modeling, the acting instructor. So you found your niche. And the reason that I bring that up is not because you’re really, really good at it, because you are really, really good at it, but because you went through a lot of different jobs to find the thing that work. Now, being a stuntwoman sounds really cool. But but from a job perspective, remove the cool and talk about that the day to day, the nuts and bolts. Why has this lasted? In a way that personal trainer at a gym or marketing at a furniture store or videographer for didn’t?
Rachel Star Withers: I started making stupid videos of myself after I got obsessed with Wild Boys, which was a spinoff of Jackass.
Gabe Howard: Jackass was a show where people filmed themselves doing stupid stunts or just doing stunts. I mean, we don’t even have to put stupid in front of it. Just just ridiculousness.
Rachel Star Withers: Yes. Things you shouldn’t do, things cmmon sense would say, “Don’t do that.”
Gabe Howard: And you did them and for example, like laying on a bed of nails, like walking across glass, you know, you’ve done some of these things and you still do them to this day and you excel at them and people enjoy watching them. And you you’ve made a career
Rachel Star Withers: Mm hmm.
Gabe Howard: Out of it.
Rachel Star Withers: Yeah. My thing was let’s see what’s possible and have fun, so it wasn’t so much like, oh my gosh, that’s so amazing you can do that. It was I show everything. I showed the complete fails. That’s usually what’s funny is the fact that I’m trying something that is clearly not going to work. But sometimes it does. And even I surprise myself. And you can probably tell by my voice, I’m more excited talking about that because it was something that was interesting to me and I was very lucky that I put it on the Internet and a TV show contacted me and I’d never realized, oh, I could make money at this because I was just being stupid of and that was like 14 years ago. And it kind of evolved into me going to full on stunt school to try and actually be in movies for it and different things. And, you know, as you do one thing, you learn others. And I learned about how to do all types of other entertainment similar to this podcasting.
Gabe Howard: But here’s something that I want to touch on for a moment, you know, I first met you at an event and you talked about setting yourself on fire and full disclosure. I met you as a woman living with schizophrenia. You talked about setting yourself on fire. And I immediately thought, OK, that’s not good. That sounds very bad. Now, you went on to explain that, hey, look, there’s a safety protocol. And I started thinking, I’m like, wow, that there are a lot of safety protocols now. Now, again, as somebody who lives with bipolar disorder, I would like to think that I’m above creating stigma or believing stereotypes. But but I’m not. I thought to myself, how does a woman living with schizophrenia set herself on fire and keep herself safe? Can you talk about that for a moment? Because if you don’t follow all of these safety protocols, you could get very hurt.
Rachel Star Withers: I have been hurt a few times, but it had nothing to do with my schizophrenia. Yeah, no, it’s funny because I started out doing crazy stunt videos and things. I didn’t talk about my schizophrenia. I didn’t open up publicly about it until years later. And I’ve always been very careful to not combine the two. It’s I’ve never made a video like, yo, I’m Rachel, I’m schizophrenic. Let me go run my head into a wall. Like, they’re very like I’ve always kept it separate because for me to safely do stunts and for one for them to be entertaining, I have to be all mentally here. So I can’t even film when I’m off. And when it comes to fire, I usually I have a spotter and whatnot and many times it’s my father. So like nothing bad could happen from, let’s say. Me not being fully there.
Gabe Howard: And you recognize that and make make good decisions that the people around you are also empowered to say, hey, maybe today is not the day.
Rachel Star Withers: Yeah, I’m never really filming alone, doing anything, there’s always someone there just as backup around, even on my little baby stunts. So yeah, the bigger the stunt, the more people actually have that have to help me with it.
Gabe Howard: I bring this up because a reasonable person hearing that somebody’s job was stunt person would think, OK, well, they have help. They have safety nets in place. They sometimes literally safety nets. But like you said, they’re not just running around with a camera doing these dangerous things all by themselves. But in your situation, also living with schizophrenia, you’ve also built up a safety net around not being off to make sure that you are mentally able to complete the stunt and relying on the people around you and yourself to know what that is. So again, that we get to the gray area, right, because living with schizophrenia is not the only types of people that have to be perfectly well to do stunts.
Rachel Star Withers: Right.
Gabe Howard: So being in control of these things and making sure keeps you and everybody else safe.
Rachel Star Withers: Right. And just distress. I have been trained, I have actually gone to stunt school. And yes, it’s not even just. Oh, well, I’m mentally sane, I can totally set myself on fire and watch this YouTube video on how to do it. Like, no, I have actually went to like a school for it and I’m constantly doing trainings and things to learn the correct way to do things. It’s just like getting a job. You have to be trained to do it.
Gabe Howard: Speaking of boring at 9 to 5 jobs. We got to interview Michelle Hammer. Now Michelle Hammer is the owner of Schizophrenic.NYC. It’s a clothing line that empowers people with mental illness to be their best self. She’s also going to talk about being a graphic designer in New York City who lost a number of jobs before she came to terms with what she could do and what she couldn’t do as far as being a person who lives with schizophrenia in the workplace.
Rachel Star Withers: I absolutely love Michelle and she has done so much. Let’s talk to her right now.
Rachel Star Withers: We’re here with our first guest, Michelle Hammer, who is an award winning graphic designer and an entrepreneur with her Web site being schizophrenic.NYC. Michelle, it might come as a shock, but you’re schizophrenic too, right?
Michelle Hammer: I believe so. I’ve been told that many, many times. I hope so.
Rachel Star Withers: So in your work career, you’ve actually worked for some pretty big design firms. What was that like?
Michelle Hammer: It can be very difficult because, you know, you work on your design and then you get asked to get approved by a million different people. And it’s just annoying and it’s frustrating. So I like to just not do that anymore.
Rachel Star Withers: What have you found to be the biggest challenges working for other businesses?
Michelle Hammer: Just dealing with the hierarchy of other people telling me what to do all the time, especially when you’re schizophrenic and you’re trying really hard to pay attention on what you’re doing and then people just keep giving you direction. And it’s just really confusing. Just cognitive skills aren’t that great, sometimes, you know, when you’re schizophrenic and you just try to understand as much as you can and you try your best. But sometimes it’s just really hard working for other people.
Rachel Star Withers: As far as with the schizophrenia, were you ever just kind of like unable to revise something?
Michelle Hammer: It’s not that I was unable to revise things. It was just frustrating a lot of times when you’re just hearing voices in your head or you’re just talking to delusions or hallucinations. It’s just there are really big distractions sometimes. You don’t really understand what people are really saying to you or you’re not understanding the direction or the rules or there are so many things on your plate. It’s hard to, you know, really understand like this. Do this here, do this here, do this here, do this here and just kind of try to problem solve your way through every single thing you have to do can be very, very challenging.
Rachel Star Withers: So you went from having what I would assume is some pretty coveted jobs for artists working for these firms to putting that aside and working for yourself. What was the biggest challenge in doing that switch? That’s hard for anybody, but especially when you have a mental disorder going on.
Michelle Hammer: Yes. So eventually I just I couldn’t work for anybody else anymore. It just wasn’t working out. I couldn’t do it. I can’t work. I can’t get in at 9 a.m. anymore. It was too much. I decided I’m going to work for myself. And that was interesting. I just kind of just went right into it and started just starting schizophrenic.NYC, my mental health clothing line. Just made some shirts and went to a pop up shop at the Long Island City Flea and was like, Hey, buy my shirts.
Gabe Howard: How long ago did you start schizophrenic.NYC?
Michelle Hammer: This is my fourth year, I started in May 2015.
Rachel Star Withers: When you first decide to do this, were your family and friends, like, really supportive or they were like, oh, Michelle, no?
Michelle Hammer: Oh, my goodness. It’s actually like my my mother contacted my doctor. I was like, what is she doing? Like, what is she spent a lot of money on these T-shirts? What is she doing? And even my doctor was like, are you sure you want to do this? Are you sure you want to tell everyone you have schizophrenia? Do you really want to do this? Is it something you’d really want to do? And I was like, yeah, I’ll do it. Yeah, yeah. I really want to do it. And everyone around me was like, are you are you sure? And I was like, yes, I want to do this.
Gabe Howard: Just to clarify, the issue wasn’t whether or not they felt you could start a business. The issue was whether or not you should boldly and loudly proclaim that you’re a person living with schizophrenia.
Michelle Hammer: Yeah.
Gabe Howard: So they had full faith in your ability to start and run a business. Even with your mental disorder, they just questioned the type of business.
Rachel Star Withers: From this, you know, you’ve branched off. I have some of your artwork where you can buy some of Michelle’s artwork at different things, but also the T-shirts, the different inspirations, kind of that you put out. The “Don’t be paranoid. You look great.” I love that. Where do you see the future of schizophrenic.NYC going?
Michelle Hammer: Oh, my goodness. The future of schizophrenic.NYC, who knows? We’ll see. We’ll see what’s happening. I’ve been working with a lot of advocacy, everything that’s going on right now with the gun violence and blaming the mentally ill. I had a protest in Union Square in New York City and we’re just trying to just keep going. Keep fighting the man and keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger. Have a new shirt that we came up with that says, “I am mentally ill and I don’t kill.” And we’ve gotten a ton of preorders on it and can’t wait till they’re ready for everyone to wear and everyone to just wear. A big sign that says that on their shirt, to start more conversations and to just start a whole movement of please stop blaming us, please.
Gabe Howard: I love how you frame that. And it’s also important to point out that you’ve really evolved past your stated goal of just being a graphic designer and selling shirts. You’ve branded yourself as a personality. You’re your own public relations firm and you really do a lot of work in a very high level.
Rachel Star Withers: Your advice to other people in our situation with a mental health disorder? Because I think you have the fear of one starting a business. But then the fear of what do I do if I can’t handle it? Sometimes I have like little mental attacks or I’m like, oh, my God, I don’t know if I can handle this. What is your biggest advice to people like us?
Michelle Hammer: Just go for it. Just try it. You can’t do anything. You don’t know if it’s gonna work or if it’s not going to work if you don’t try. Just try. I get messages all the time on my Instagram. Like, how can I start a business like you? How can I start something like this? And my answer always is. Hustle, hustle, hustle. Just hustle. I used to have a pop up shop where I started at 10 a.m. and then I would leave at 10 p.m. Twelve hours. Just hustle. Talked to as many people as I could talk to. Just sell for as long as I can. I was out there forever, just trying my hardest. Meeting as many people, talking to as many people. And I have great stories. I would meet people and I would tell them that I had schizophrenia and everyone that I would meet, they would either say they had a mental illness or friend of theirs op a family member of theirs does, or where they work in the mental health field. So it always baffles me why there is so much stigma around mental illness, especially in New York City, where one in five individuals has a mental illness. But nobody talks about it because of all the stigma. So really just trying to, you know, change the conversation. Change the conversation.
Gabe Howard: Is it fair to say that running a business is the same for somebody with schizophrenia as somebody without schizophrenia? There’s no magical difference in rules. I mean, business is business.
Michelle Hammer: Business is business and people are going to judge you differently. If you’re running a business with schizophrenia or not, they’re going to say it’s 10 times harder for you.
Gabe Howard: Is it 10 times harder for you?
Michelle Hammer: Well, I wouldn’t know because I’ve never run a business not being schizophrenic.
Gabe Howard: Excellent point. Thank you, Michelle.
Michelle Hammer: Yeah.
Rachel Star Withers: Michelle, do you have anything you want to promote specifically coming up?
Michelle Hammer: Not anything specifically coming up, but you can totally buy my stuff at schizophrenic.NYC and love everything. T-shirts, pillboxes, artwork, leggings and you know, I got tons of anything you desire.
Gabe Howard: Michelle designed the book cover for “Mental Illness Is an Asshole” as well. I mean, you do a lot of design work outside of your own advocacy work and your own brand as well. I mean, you’re quite prolific. Do you have a website for your graphic design work?
Michelle Hammer: Yes, it’s HammerTimeDesign.com.
Gabe Howard: I highly recommend.
Michelle Hammer: Yes.
Rachel Star Withers: That was great. I always love getting to talk to Michelle.
Gabe Howard: It’s interesting how, like, you both worked really, really hard to get to where you were. You both understood that you needed accommodations and coping mechanisms and you both, as we heard before the interview and then in Michelle interview, you both had a lot of jobs that you just had to quit or in Michelle case, get fired from before you realized what you could do versus what you couldn’t do. And then finally, you’re both so successful because you didn’t dwell on what you couldn’t do. You figured out what you could do and excelled at it.
Rachel Star Withers: And I love in Michelle’s interview where she actually says that the main secret to her doing this is hustling, you know, is if this is what you want to do. Fight for it. And that’s not, you know, great advice for someone with a mental health disorder. It’s great advice for anyone who wants to do something. Starting any sort of business is insanely hard. And to keep it alive for multiple years is amazing for anybody.
Gabe Howard: It is, and, truth be told, if we’re really being honest, holding down a 9 to 5 job Monday through Friday or whatever job you choose, whatever your hours are, we tend to think of this as something that’s just so incredibly simple. But it but it’s not having a job. Takes skill. It takes preparation. It takes professionalism. It takes it just takes a lot of things.
Rachel Star Withers: Mm hmm.
Gabe Howard: We tend to paint them all in the same brush, but not every job is the same. Not every job pays the same and not every job needs the same skill set. So to just throw out the statement, oh, anybody can get a job. Well, a job doing what?
Rachel Star Withers: Now, of course, the opportunities, just like the city versus the country thing, there may be a lot less opportunities, especially if you’re having issues traveling and you live out in the country, you have a lot less jobs that you could even apply for. One of my biggest things is I’ve had some horrible jobs, but I loved the people I worked with. And it was like a joy to go to work because of the people and same things. I’ve had some jobs that some people might consider. Oh, God, you must have loved doing that. I’m like, no, because I hated my boss. I hated who I had to work. Like they made it intolerable. And there’s so many factors that do go into it. I think whenever you have a mental disorder, you’re dealing with that plus medication side effects constantly changing, plus your symptoms constantly changing. And then, of course, your own family life.
Gabe Howard: We’ve discussed on the show before that having a very supportive family is helpful in all areas, is having a supportive family helpful to being employable? To working?
Rachel Star Withers: Yes, especially whenever you’re talking about starting something new or going back to work after, you know, let’s say some sort of breakdown, having to take like a break from it, you might have to lean on your family for a lot of different help. Financial help has been my biggest one, where I became very sick and I had to quit jobs and I had no money coming in for a very long time. And if I hadn’t had the support of my family, I would’ve been homeless. I would have been out of luck.
Gabe Howard: For me, I was very fortunate. I never needed financial help from my family, but what I did need is it. When I went to the psychiatric hospital, when I was off work to seek treatment, I’d be off work for four, six, eight, 12, 16 weeks at a time. And then one day after not having worked for that long, it would be time to go back to work. So here I am, you know, bipolar disorder and an anxiety disorder. And just getting over whatever kept me off work for that long. Now it’s that Monday morning and here I am wide eyed and terrified to go to work. And every single time a family member or a friend drove me to work, they helped me wake up in the morning. They put me in the car. They drove me there. They walked with me into the lobby. Or, you know, depending on the job is as close as they could get. And then they would pick me up from work. They would agree to have lunch with me. And sometimes this would go, you know, multiple friends and multiple families, somebody dropping off, somebody to pick me up. But that was so incredibly helpful because I knew that support was so close and I didn’t need them for anything, but I didn’t care. That made a world of difference in me returning to work. How do you feel about that? Like, how can family members be more supportive in the helping us get over our fear?
Rachel Star Withers: Just talking and I don’t mean, you know, pushing so much to get a job, but just talking to you. My parents are great about asking me, hey, what did you do or you have any stories? What’s been going on? You have any interesting people you’ve met are interesting projects. What are you up to? And just kind of like getting me to talk about work. I’ve noticed just kind of helps me become more confident, even if I’m not so confident while I’m there. My parents like my biggest cheerleaders with that kind of stuff. You know, whenever you have a breakdown, everything kind of is scary afterwords. It can be scary to just like go out to eat. You’re overthinking everything. And if you have anxiety or if you are having hallucinations or delusions worried about other people are looking at you, you’re doing things weird, especially if you’ve been on some certain medications, you might have developed tardive dyskinesia with the shaking minus shaking a lot. And having to start a new job can sometimes be embarrassing because I look like I’m terrified. I’m not I’m just like shaking out of control. I’m dropping things. And I obviously feel like I have to address it right away. And all of that can really just be a lot for anyone. You know, whatever job you’re thinking about doing, you know, just trying to shop and fill out applications can be very intimidating. In the past, you know, my mom has went with me on a couple different ones just to to help me check out the places, say, hey, you know, yeah, I could do this. And she’s like, all right, you know, that new place you could walk to that job like you could. And that’s nice. You know, when you do have kind of that gentle push.
Gabe Howard: But that general pushes is it’s very valuable because on one hand it’s saying, hey, you should do this because it will benefit you. But on the other hand, it’s also saying, I believe that you can do it.
Rachel Star Withers: And now, a word from our sponsor. It can sometimes feel like another schizophrenia episode is just around the corner. In fact, a study found that patients had an average of nine episodes in less than six years. However, there is a treatment option that can help delay another episode, a once monthly injection for adults with schizophrenia. If delaying another episode sounds like it could make a difference for you, or your loved one, learn more about treating schizophrenia with once monthly injections at OnceMonthlyDifference.com. That’s OnceMonthlyDifference.com. And we’re back talking about working with schizophrenia.
Gabe Howard: How do you feel about volunteerism as a path to employment?
Rachel Star Withers: I think that, you know, a lot of people who get nervous when it goes when it comes to going back to work and maybe you flat out can’t or you’re like, rich, I can’t even do a part time job. Volunteer work is great. Anything that gets you out and moving. I pretty much always been involved in some sort of volunteer work. Right now, it’s super fun. I dress up as Spider-Man for the local children’s homes and I love children, so I don’t want them, but I like their happiness. So I love like doing any kind of volunteer work with that. Collecting books if you’re out there and like you love animals. Oh, my goodness. All of the shelters, I know the ones by me. Have these programs where you can volunteer to come and walk the dogs makes you feel so good to actually be helping out.
Gabe Howard: Yeah.
Rachel Star Withers: And then, of course, if you have something you want to work towards, consider internships and apprenticeships. You know, sometimes you can flat out ask people, hey, can I shadow you on the job? And that’s a really great way to kind of put your foot back in the working pool and kind of just. Even though you’re not getting paid for it, kind of get to contribute and do some cool things. So am I like really neat jobs? I’ve done have all been like interning or shadowing different entertainment people where I straight up just e-mailed or called them, got their contact info and was like, Hey, I saw you’re shooting a movie. I was wondering could I come out and shadow you for a few days and you’d be surprised how many people actually respond back like, oh yeah, sure. Come on down.
Gabe Howard: It’s 2019 now and obviously we’ve discussed the benefits of volunteering. But, you know, sometimes it’s just it’s nice to make a buck. And hey, the Internet provides.
Rachel Star Withers: Yes, one of the most amazing things to me is how easy it is to get like your own job where you’re like your own boss through these apps. I have a friend who actually does really well. But pet sitting, that’s all she does.
Gabe Howard: And she uses an app to do it. And of course, we’re all familiar with Ride shares.
Rachel Star Withers: Yep.
Gabe Howard: Probably the most popular hustle side hustle.
Rachel Star Withers: And I love the ones where you’re paid to go pick up someone’s food and take it to them. One of my friends who has severe autism. Well, if you were to meet him, you’d be like, OK. Yes, something’s off. But he can totally drive fine. And he does that for a few hours every day. You know, when he’s feeling good enough to do it and his parents pretty much kind of keep tabs to make sure he’s OK, but that that’s his job. And it’s something he can do completely on his own. And if he has to take a day off because of issues, OK? He just doesn’t do it. He doesn’t log on. And that’s just so cool that we have this ability to kind of pick up all these like little baby jobs.
Gabe Howard: Now, let’s talk about accommodations, because accommodations work in all kinds of ways. There’s reasonable accommodations. There’s unreasonable accommodations. There’s legally required accommodations. And all of this starts with you self advocating because your employer is not going to walk up to you and say, hey, I think you might need X, Y, Z accommodation.
Rachel Star Withers: You don’t sometimes know what you can and can’t ask for. I was in college and there’s like a whole part of the college devoted to that, and I’d never known that until I was in my third year of college and having major issues with brain damage. And I was like, oh, I can come here and you can help me? And that’s when I learned about it. Oh, wait. I can do the same thing on jobs. And from there, I’ve been able to either work with my boss or H.R. on certain things. One of my biggest is that I can’t deal with money. Anything with numbers. I get very confused. Let’s say you give me 20 pennies and tell me to count them. I might come up with a different number each time. I can’t explain why. If I’m just doing even just basic, simple math, I start getting confused. So I’ve had to be very open. Now keep in mind, I’m not applying for jobs at banks.
Gabe Howard: Right. Because you’re aware of this.
Rachel Star Withers: Right. Yes, I’m not being ridiculous when I’m like, you know, oh, I got this job at the bank, by the way. I can’t do anything here. I’m just going to sit here.
Gabe Howard: Because that would be an unreasonable accommodation.
Rachel Star Withers: Oh, right. Yeah. They’d be like, why did you even waste our time? I am very open about it. So that when I do apply for a job, if I find out there’s gonna be a situation like I know right up in the interview, I usually will say something. And then let’s say after I get hired, they change it. Not usually. What happens is as you work for some place for multiple years, they’ll change your position. So suddenly they had me at the cash register and I had to go and be like, I’m really sorry if you remembered when I was hired three years ago and they were like, Oh, wow, Rachel, we totally forgot. And, you know. Yeah. You can’t expect employers to always remember little things about you. So I brought it up and they immediately just kind of adjusted the schedule so that I never worked the cash register alone. I always had someone there.
Gabe Howard: Rachel, it sounds like a lot of your your jobs and a lot of your career have been for smaller businesses, you know, 25 employees or less if you work for a large company. What should you do?
Rachel Star Withers: All large companies should have an H.R. Human Resources go to them and talk. And it’s really good and you’re gonna feel more confident even in just talking if you have like doctor’s note or something like that, kinda to back up what you’re saying. If you don’t want everyone to know, just go to talk to H.R. or a boss or whoever you might have to and just be like, oh, by the way, I have this, this, this and this. You usually don’t have to even disclose your diagnosis, but it’s good if you have some that says, “Hey, this person has trouble with certain things.” One of my doctors actually wrote down options Rachel struggles with at the time. I haven’t really bad memory issues in a he’d written down three different accommodations that maybe they could look into working with me over. So I actually had like these suggestions there and I sat down, I talked with the boss kind of thing. And, OK, here’s what we’ll do. We’re gonna try this for two weeks and they’re like, let’s see how this goes. Especially when you are working for smaller businesses, you know, there’s different things that can happen. I wish I could say all of the jobs I’ve worked. They were incredible and worked with me at all, Rachel. That’s fine. And we’re a very open workplace. But that hasn’t happened. I have definitely had some bad run ins with jobs and whatnot. And sometimes you are all you can do, though, is speak up for yourself. You do have to advocate for yourself. Don’t just keep getting miserable. Speak up, document everything. Emails. If they said, OK, hey, we’ll do this, write it down.
Rachel Star Withers: Even a hey, can I get that in writing and just keep it for your own kind of personal info. I still have the doctor’s recommendations from back when I was in college years and years ago. And while it’s not the best thing that you know, if you’re in a bad situation and it’s hurting, you mentally, quit. It’s going to get harder. That is one thing Michelle talked about. She had to step away from working at those big firms. I’ve had to step away even on small part time jobs, because it was just a really bad atmosphere for me mentally. It’s one reason I like working part time jobs and pushing it to other people with mental disorders, because if you’re working at the snow cone stand for 15 hours a week. Quitting is not going to ruin your career. Like I’ve blown through a lot of part time jobs. It’s not like I have to list them all on a application like, well, I worked three months here at the snow cone. I worked at the baseball stadium on and off for like if you are just trying to get your foot back in the water, and you’re like, hey, this is not a good situation for me. Find another one. You might absolutely love working at the sub shack. Okay? Because you might get to be like, oh, hey, I get free subs and I’m having a good time. I like my employees. And this is an easy job. And you know that not everything has to be prestigious. You can just do things that make you feel good about yourself. And that’s not bad.
Gabe Howard: And that’s also the path to getting to something that is. I’m going to say more prestigious. Nobody starts at the top rate. You start at the level that you can start and you make incremental change and you keep building up when somebody is interviewing for a job. And I don’t care if it’s at a large firm or if it’s at a smaller place. Do you tell them in the interview that you’re a person living with schizophrenia or that you have a mental health condition?
Rachel Star Withers: I personally do not mention anything until after I get the job. Unless during the interview they flat out say something that I know is gonna be an issue. So they flat out say, oh, and you’re gonna have to be counting a lot of money. Can you do that? I’m not gonna flat out lie and be like, yeah. And then the next day after I get the job, “Oh, I was just kidding. I lied yesterday.” So I am. I’ve always been incredibly open about that. If there is any like thing that just flat out I know I’m going to have a problem with.
Gabe Howard: And to be clear, you’re not required to do so, disclosing a health condition is not something, whether it’s mental health, whether it’s mental illness, whether it’s physical disability, whether it’s anything, they’re not allowed to ask you about that and you are not required to tell an employer. So you can choose to. That is absolutely your decision. But I don’t want anybody listening to this to think, oh, well, you’re keeping it from them. That’s not okay. No, it’s absolutely OK. But obviously, you can’t get an accommodation unless you tell your boss or human resources.
Rachel Star Withers: You know, Gabe, if you work at a larger corporation or company, you don’t even have to tell like your boss or supervisor, you go straight to H R and they deal with that. You also like don’t have to tell people exactly what you have. Like, well, I have schizophrenia or I have schizoid personality. Like I many times will just kind of keep it vague as I have a brain disorder and people he’s like, oh, OK. Very few people follow up asking questions about that. My doctor’s notes, they usually don’t say anything specifically like, oh, she has schizophrenia. It’ll say she has usually some sort of mental disorder and it’ll be worded that way, but nothing specific. That’s another thing, too, is you can be vague with people. If your co-worker flat out ask you something, you don’t have to tell them.
Gabe Howard: Especially a co-worker,
Rachel Star Withers: Yeah. Yeah.
Gabe Howard: You don’t have to tell your co-worker anything. I can understand people thinking that they might have to tell a supervisor that that’s your boss. But yeah, you’re not required to disclose anything to a co-worker and you’re not required to disclose health conditions to a supervisor. And the only way that you would need to disclose health conditions to human resources is if you’re asking for that accommodation. Otherwise, it’s your business.
Rachel Star Withers: Yeah, and I will say this. I know that times when I’ve had to take off and then come back. Yeah, sometimes co-workers can just flat out ask you things they shouldn’t. People can be kind of rude and usually I’ll just say, oh, wow, yeah, I’ve been sick and I’m like, OK. Like, I just say sick. I thought, well, I had a mental breakdown and I was wanting to kill myself. And I was so absurdly depressed, like I just said, oh, I was really, really sick. And people like, oh, OK. And they kind of stepped back like, oh, god, how are you? Are you better? I’m like, yeah, I’m good. Like, OK, I do. I’ve gotten to the point sometimes where I’ll, like, practice what I’m going to say if I’m asked if someone brings up, hey, you know, I heard you left work the other day and you were talking to yourself, what went on like, you know, I just had this really bad headache and I was just so hard to think clearly. And people always like, oh, OK. Yeah, no, I’ve had some bad migraines, too. Like, yeah. Yeah.
Gabe Howard: It is amazing how quickly people want to tell their story on top of yours. It’s important for people like us to know that people aren’t actually all that concerned with us for the most part. We think that everybody is like, oh, Rachel left work and they’re all having like meetings about it. In actuality, they just kind of noticed it. And as a point of curiosity, they brought it up to you. Rachel, you had the good fortune to interview Cheryl Wallace. Can you tell us about that?
Rachel Star Withers: A few years back, I got to meet Cheryl Wallace. She reached out to me and she is the V.P. of programs at Rose Hill Center, a mental health facility. They do mental health rehab and also have these work programs pretty much helping you come back from big breakdowns. Got to go there for a few days. I toured the facilities. They’re amazing. And I got to learn all about their programs and different things. So I was so excited that she had time for us for this interview.
Rachel Star Withers: Hello, Cheryl. So tell us a little bit about what Rose Hill is.
Cheryl Wallace: Rose Hill is a residential program for adults who have a mental illness. We are on about 400 acres and we are located in Holly, Michigan. We are a a volunteer program. And we are not a locked unit. So people are living on our campus, but they are able to come and go as they wish.
Rachel Star Withers: And how is Rose Hill different than, let’s say, a standard mental health hospital?
Cheryl Wallace: Rose Hill Center is a residential program and we have folks who come and live here for six to eight months. It’s long term. It’s not a place where you go and take care of an acute illness that’s going on in the moment. But it is basically an opportunity to change your pathway to to manage your symptoms, to be in recovery and learn how to live a fulfilling life. We have individuals from all over the country that come to Rose Hill, so we have a work component on our campus and then we help people move out into the community to volunteer, go to school or work in the community while they’re living here at Rose Hill.
Rachel Star Withers: And can you tell us more about the work programs that you all do?
Cheryl Wallace: We have a structured program so probably five to six hours a day. People can choose to be in one of our work crews. When people first come to Rose Hill, they make a choice on what area they might like to work in. We have a kitchen management crew which basically makes breakfast, lunch and dinner for all of the residents. They work with the chef and they work in a kitchen that is like a restaurant quality kitchen. The second team we have is our horticulture team and we have four big greenhouses on our campus. We have a butterfly house. They also take care of the grounds and to learn about basic taking care of flowers and plants and vegetables and things of that nature. It’s very rewarding to get your hands in the dirt and make something beautiful bloom. So it’s a very popular crew. We also have a farm crew and our we have a fully functioning farm. And then the last area that people can work in is our housekeeping crew, which helps keep all the infections down, cleans the common areas of the different buildings that we have. And we also have about 10 people working on that crew. We have a lot of buildings here.
Rachel Star Withers: When you have clients, do you ever have issues with someone being scared or hesitant about working again?
Cheryl Wallace: All the time. One of the reasons why you get so much benefit from this type of a program when you get to feel comfortable going back into the workforce with a lot of support. A lot of safety nets around. People come to Rose Hill, a lot of times, it’s after an acute episode in their illness. And so they’re very afraid of not being able to do something that they used to do or not feeling confident. There’s a lot of fear that goes on, especially with people who have a diagnosis of schizophrenia. They may have paranoid thoughts or some negative symptoms of not being able to motivate. And so here at Rose Hill, we would take all of that into account. We help people to manage the symptoms and their medications and we slowly work them back into the workforce with lots of handholding and support and then generally increase their responsibility as they feel comfortable to do so. It’s really a challenge sometimes to think, well, I’m just going to get up and go take care of this like nine to five kind of job. And we recognize that people have a lot of symptoms that they need to get under control or at least feel comfortable with before they add on more stressors of a job. We start there, we start on our cruise so that people feel confident they have increased responsibility. I mean, it’s fun. They really enjoy working with the different members of their team and with the animals or work in the kitchen or whatever area they are in. And then as they become more confident and feel like they want to go out in the community, we have different stages. And when they get to Stage 3, we encourage people to work with their vocational coordinator to either volunteer or go back to school. And then once they’re doing that, we try to get them up to about 20 hours a week. And then once they’re confident in that we will also assist them with getting a community job if they feel that that’s what they’d like to do.
Rachel Star Withers: Awesome. Have you found that there’s any general type of work that people respond to with schizophrenia or any other mental disorders? As far as getting back into the workforce?
Cheryl Wallace: I think a lot of times we find with people who have a diagnosis of schizophrenia that starting out with a physical job usually works better for them to get back in the pace. If you are trying to manage maybe some of your delusions or voices or something of that nature, sitting in the sedentary jab kind of allows for a lot more time of concentration. Sometimes people who have a diagnosis of schizophrenia get ill when they’re younger, you know, in their 20s or in college. And so they’ve never really had the opportunity to hold a full time job. So for those folks, it’s also learning what that means. They are perhaps have been stunted at that age or having to really deal with those challenges for a while. And so learning what it means to hold a job. Work with other people. Take direction. All of that, something that we do here at Rose Hill as well.
Rachel Star Withers: And how have you seen people change as they go throughout the program?
Cheryl Wallace: This program is amazing. I mean, simply amazing we have success story after success story when somebody really dedicates themselves to wanting to be able to manage the symptoms with a life worth living. All of those pieces, then we can give them the support and they get the challenge of, OK. These symptoms are happening. And how would I manage that without going back to the hospital or without stopping my medications or whatever? And they learn that they can be really successful in managing that and that gives you confidence and comfort. And I mean, we have people that have been through a program that came here that were really unable to participate or engage socially or we’re very, very frightened. Perhaps some medicines weren’t working very well. And when they leave here, they’re living on their own. They have good relationships. We’ve had people that come through our program who are now E.R. nurses or accountants or I have one guy that’s running a Habitat for Humanity because he wanted to give back to the community. I mean, we have people that just work in the stores and that that’s good for them or just continue to volunteer and help in their community. So it’s amazing. Stable, happy, good relationships, all the things that we all want in life, very, very possible. It takes hard work. It really does. But I think most people that come through our program leave very successfully.
Rachel Star Withers: Thank you so much. Thank you for that information and thank you for all the work that you guys are doing over at Rose Hill.
Cheryl Wallace: And I just want to thank you for letting me have the opportunity to talk with you.
Rachel Star Withers: I love how she brought up the different types of work programs they have. I feel that I would want to be with the animals, and if I wasn’t able to work with the animals, I would do the cleaning crew because I love sometimes just like a good menial task where I can just blast music and just being left in my own world. I feel like those would be the two I gravitated towards.
Gabe Howard: I wish that there were programs like this all over the country, right? I mean, I think that they provide a lot of experience, balance, value. I think that they get people out of their own heads, out of their own homes, out of their own situations and position them to do better. I sincerely hope that if anybody listening to this has one of these in their area, absolutely take full advantage of it. And if you’re ever in a position to advocate for a program like this, please do so, because getting back to work has made all of the difference in my life. And you know, Rachel, you and I talk to hundreds of people in our job and they all describe that working gives them a sense of purpose and value, not because they have mental illness, not because they have schizophrenia, not because they’re living with a disorder, but because every single human on the planet immediately introduces themselves as this is my job.
Rachel Star Withers: Very true. I’m 34 years old and it definitely comes up. You know, I’ll see someone from high school, but I’ll run into someone that, you know, is a family friend. Well, what’s Rachel up to now? What are you doing? And sometimes, you know, I feel bad that I don’t have a better answer. Like. Well, you know, I’m really successful working at such and such or. Oh, well, I’m married with two kids. Like, I don’t have that. Well, I work in entertainment and I live with my parents in the basement below. That’s why I’m here as you guys stopped by. You know, I feel really bad. I hate having to tell you, like, oh, where do you live? And I’m like. Why does it matter? Why you asking? Because I like, oh, well, I put myself down. And I think people in general, we always put ourselves down and we don’t have to. You know, it’s OK to be like, yeah, well, right now I’m just working a part time job doing such and such. I’m focusing on myself. I’m focusing on bettering myself.
Gabe Howard: But it sounds like some of this is the judgment that you put on yourself. Like you said, they’re not actually asking that. That’s just what you heard.
Rachel Star Withers: Correct. Mm hmm. And one thing I liked that Cheryl said was, and I’ve never thought about it until right in that interview was that a lot of us we didn’t go the normal route. You know, we had breakdowns in our late teens, early 20s, which if we had it, you tend to graduate high school, go to college, start working full time. That was kind of what my brother’s route was. Went straight to college, started working and then decide to do military. So working full time the military, whereas me, I had a really rough time after high school for a few years, had some major breakdowns, finally got terrified. I went from being straight A’s on a full scholarship and then being terrified to actually start college thinking I couldn’t handle it even though I was on a full scholarship. I didn’t think I could handle it. Just being terrified to have to sit in a classroom and going back and doing that instead of four years. It took me over five because again, halfway through had another major breakdown and then I barely made it out just because it was so hard and college just finishing it was a weight off my shoulders, but I didn’t have any energy then to enter the workforce and I had another breakdown. And so when she said that, I was thinking, Oh, she’s right. I never learned how to work a 9 to 5 job. Even my college, I would say, was not a normal in any way college experience because it was so scattered and broken up just trying to make it. And that made me feel a little bit better about myself. When she said that because I felt less of a failure, you know, I’m like, yeah, my brother did have it easier.
Gabe Howard: Well, it’s very true. And to be fair, it’s not just high school college, it can be high school, trade school, high school, interning, in high school, getting your first job, high school, military. But the one thing that is certain is that when you’re a worker in your early twenties, your late teens, early 20s. Supervisors are willing to give you more benefits of the doubt. They’re willing to give you more on the job training. They’re willing to give you a little more latitude because they understand that when they were 20, they did boneheaded things and made mistakes. They’re not willing to give that same leeway to a 30 year old because they think you should have learned it by now. But as Cheryl pointed out, and as you just said, when all of our peers were learning how to join the workforce at 20, we were trying to survive. We were trying to get a diagnosis. We were trying to get well. And yeah, that made me feel a lot better, too, because, yeah, we overcame a lot to be here and we deserve credit for that.
Rachel Star Withers: Yes, sometimes, like, we forget how awesome like we are, what it takes to come through things, when I think back, you know, there were days that I lost the ability pretty much. I remember standing there having to get ready for work and I couldn’t remember how a zipper worked. And it was like 30 minutes and it was just like that piece of the puzzle was missing. And I’m just trying to like figure out how a zipper worked. I’d already graduated college. It was summa cum laude. It you know, and then I’m standing there a few weeks later not knowing how to zip up my jacket. And yeah, like when you think like, wow, some of us have really come through a lot where you had to relearned how to socialize with people. You had to re learn how to be able to wake up every day, take a shower and eat breakfast. And if you’re out there listening, you don’t have a mental disorder. You know, maybe you’re a caretaker. Sometimes it can be frustrating like, well, why won’t this person just take care of themselves? Why won’t they just get up and, you know, do this thing? You know, sometimes it’s next to impossible. Like taking a shower, once a weak, sometimes is a major feat because it’s like a giant dark cloud is in your brain and everything’s harder. And to look back at how bad sometimes things were. And somehow I still managed to hold down a job that was even 20 hours a week. I’m like, how did I do that?
Gabe Howard: But you did it. We have to remember to give ourselves credit for that, because we tend to focus on the things that we lost, the times that we lost, the opportunity that we lost. The fact that it’s harder for us to get a job where we’re super ready to focus on that. But the fact that we have survived in an area that other people didn’t even have to compete,
Rachel Star Withers: Yeah.
Gabe Howard: We need to give ourselves credit for that, too.
Rachel Star Withers: I would you know, right now that whatever you’re doing, it’s totally fine. Don’t put yourself down if you can only volunteer one day a week at the church. You know, in your neighborhood, then that’s something that’s you getting out, even if it’s. Well, Rachel. I didn’t get out this week. All I did was I set up an account on an app to maybe start walking dogs. Hey, that’s something. Any little step, you know, we’re not all on the same race. And you can’t look around and compare yourself to other people who they didn’t have a mental breakdown. They didn’t have to repeatedly start over. We like to compare ourselves, like, to someone else who’s also our age that maybe graduated from high school the same time as we did. You know, I’m like, man, they got like a wife and kids and they have like this full time job. And this $300,000 house. And I’m the opposite in every way possible. But you had to start over like five times, you know, and they didn’t. They never had to. So you have to see like where you’re at is sometimes so much more impressive, the more someone else’s because of what you had to do to get there. Thank you so much for listening. We’ll be back next month. But please, like share, subscribe. If you have friends out there who you think would love to hear this podcast, need to hear this podcast, please send it over to them. Thank you so much for listening.
Announcer: Inside Schizophrenia is presented by PsychCentral.com, America’s largest and longest operating independent mental health website. Your host, Rachel Star Withers, can be found online at RachelStarLive.com. Co-host Gabe Howard can be found online at GabeHoward.com. For questions, or to provide feedback, please email [email protected] The official web site for Inside Schizophrenia is PsychCentral.com/IS. Thank you for listening and please share widely.