Job update

Hello? Is anybody out there? Is anyone still listening?

Apologies for the radio silence over the last few months. It wasn’t for lack of ideas and thoughts to share, but more for lack of motivation and follow through. It’s been a long, cold winter for me! How about you?

The run-down of this winter is coming in instalments, because a lot has happened despite the long cold. First off, and the main event, an update on work.

I quit my old job in August, yep the same one that I started in April, and moved on to another job. I’ve never “given up” so soon! But it was a good move, probably the best career move I’ve ever made despite quitting being seen generally as a negative thing. Four months in community pharmacy, and I’m done! It wasn’t the community, it was the pharmacy, more specifically the management of the pharmacy, and more especially the owner/manager/slacker/ingrate/greedy pig/jerk. I’ve done that fight in a job once, and it changed the course of my mental health for life! This time, I knew enough not to stay, and I’m proud of that! It shows that I learnt something that first time around, and that’s a victory. As soon as I realised that the situation wasn’t going to change (another thing I’m proud of recognising this time around) and that my initiative was unappreciated, I started planning my departure.

And karma smiled. Well I don’t believe in karma, or the universe, or fate. But everything fell into place like it would if you did believe in one or the other of those things. I monitored the regular SEEK pharmacist job alerts that I’d signed up to receive before this job, as well as the Society of Hospital Pharmacists job register. I was still searching for my escape route (you know, never leave a job until you’ve got another job), when I got a call from Slade Pharmacy at Epworth Private Hospital in Richmond asking if I would like to interview for a casual position! Ah yes! I would definitely like to interview for a job with flexible hours in a hospital, albeit the dispensary! Especially since you called me; is this a dream come true? So why did they call me? Turns out that when I interviewed for them last year and didn’t get the job, they said “can we keep your resume on file?” and meant it! How about that? I thought it was just a line that everyone says when you don’t get a job as a consolation that maybe in the future there’ll be something there for you. But this time there’s an actual consolation prize in form of a job! Amazing.

So, interview, check. Job offer, check. Give notice that I’m leaving, check. Get obnoxious response from boss, check. Leave job feeling even better about my decision to leave, check. His response when I said I was leaving? “That’s a relief. Return the keys. Retail is not for you”! Sorry. You’re wrong. Retail pharmacy is for me, in fact during uni days I worked in retail pharmacy for 3 years and had a great time. But you’re right, the way you mis-manage it, it’s not for me. Ciao!

Usually when someone is looking for work, changing jobs, planning a career or whatnot, they consult their own needs and maybe that of a partner or family member. It comes down to what you want from a job, where you want to work, what you want to do in your job and that’s it. That’s true for me too, but in my case, there are a few other factors that contribute as well.

Number one: how will this job affect my health? That’s always the first consideration nowadays. Do you ever even think about this when considering a job? I certainly never did before I got sick. Could I work fulltime, could I manage the stress, how would I manage my workload? I never even thought about these as issues, I never thought about it period. I just knew inside myself that I would manage whatever came to me. I never doubted being able to do whatever job I got. I didn’t understand there being any option but doing the job well and going home to rest before going back the next day. Until the last year of my first job led to my physical health falling apart, and my mental health beginning to deteriorate. My second job was endlessly fulfilling but my mental health was already on the way out and too far gone for me to hold my head together, so I had to bow out. Ever since then I’ve been returning to work and thinking about what I can physically and mentally manage in a job.

Number two: what do my doctors think? Their opinion isn’t the end of the matter, but it has a lot of weight and sometimes it does decide the issue. My psychiatrist for instance has an old-school understanding of what hospital pharmacists do, but a very up-to-date understanding of how my previous jobs have affected my mental health. His current stipulation has been no hospitals, which of course I’ve found very challenging to accept! Hospitals are my place, I’m sure of it, but the politics of my first and third hospital jobs have been tough on my health for different reasons. So, I did what he suggested and tried retail pharmacy. I wasn’t very enthusiastic at first, but I tried to see it as a challenge, as a chance to update and broaden my drug knowledge and expand my mind with a different type of practice. But unfortunately, I found a great job in a terrible environment. I tried hard to make it work, but it began to drag me down after a couple of months and my psychiatrist could see that clearly, once referring to my ex-boss as Frankenstein’s brother, and another time as a peasant which amused me greatly! But still, when I broached my new job at Slade Pharmacy with him, I went cautiously and emphasised the words dispensary, retail, community pharmacy, and minimised the word hospital. But as it turns out, that first job as a casual dispensary pharmacist starting in September was easy to sell. Meanwhile my GP is supportive of anything that I want to put my hand to, even recommending I just not work for a while longer if it suited me. But getting back to work has always been a driving force with me, for better or for worse.

A week into my casual dispensary role, I heard someone dropping the words job and emergency department!! Wait!! What?? My favourite ever job so far! On offer right here? Where I already have a job? Ears pricked, senses heightened, on full alert I went into action finding out as much as I could. As soon as possible I interviewed for and was then offered later that week a role in the emergency department, 2 weeks into my casual dispensary position. I was more hesitant in telling my psychiatrist about that. I used words like part time, structured, working with another pharmacist, dedicated time, no involvement with the main hospital. But it went over easily. He saw how the community pharmacy thing went; we tried that. So now this is a new thing that I wanna try, and we’ll watch and wait this time.

The third and last factor is a third party checking in on the progress of my work. I’m receiving income protection payments from an insurer, and they check in on me every month. There’s a lot of filling in of forms by myself and my GP, supplying payslips when I’m working, and periodic check ins with a “rehabilitation consultant” who keeps tabs on my work and my health, and a case manager who keeps tabs generally. They do keep the pressure on to remain in paid work, of course, and they aim to get me back to full time work, something that I’m by no means convinced is possible. When I wasn’t happy in that retail job, I did experience some pressure from them to keep going rather than quit, but I was sure I was doing the right thing, and now in hindsight they agree. It’s just another little something in the mix that complicates my plans for what work I want to do and how I want to do it.

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R U OK?

Today is R U OK? day. It’s an annual day nominated by the R U OK? suicide prevention charity to think about the people in our lives and consider if they are okay. More than that, it’s a day to take ourselves in hand, try to be brave and open a conversation if we think someone we know is struggling. Of course this is something that should happen every day. But today is a day to revive our intentions to be a good mate to our family, friends, colleagues, anyone we bump up against in our daily lives. It’s a day to understand a bit more about what drives people to consider suicide, and to learn ways that we can safely help them.

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I’d love each one of you my readers to check out the R U OK? website. Just pick one topic and give 5 minutes of your time to taking on some new knowledge, or understanding, or strategy. It really can change and even save a life. It’s that important.

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Some of the topics I think are great are Mates, resources for every day, news stories and information, but I’m sure you’ll find the topic that makes most sense, or means the most to you.

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I’ve been a mental health advocate (at least I think I have been) for a lot longer than I’ve been ill with mental illness. By that I mean that I’ve considered mentally ill people the same as myself just with a condition requiring treatment, and tried to show to others that they don’t need to be feared. As a child I was used to being around mentally unwell patients. One family friend had schizophrenia and another had bipolar disorder. We saw them regularly, saw them better and worse, visited them in hospital and knew they were just people like the rest of us. And they were just the people who had known, obvious, must-be-treated illnesses. Who knows how many people in my acquaintance had depression or anxiety that was more or less invisible. I wouldn’t know. It was never talked about. If they were there, I never knew. Which is a terrible shame.

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So today is about conversations. I want people to have conversations. But first of all I want to tell you why R U OK? as a charity and a question is so important to me.

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When I was depressed or anxious, I felt awful. I was barely dragging myself around, limping from bed to work and from work to bed. My brain was either whizzing or sluggish; it wasn’t very useful. I felt like all of this must be pasted across my face, and that surely someone would notice today that I was struggling and ask me about it. It had to be written on my forehead, I thought, why can no one see it, why is no one wondering what’s wrong with me? I was just dying for someone to see it and come to my aid.

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But nothing happened. I didn’t want to be attention seeking and bring it up myself, I wasn’t one of those people who was always making a fuss. But I was in pain here, it must be obvious. I thought of a hundred ways to bring it up, but I just couldn’t. It was too obvious a way to start a conversation, there was no easy lead in.

“So you’re having tuna for lunch, that’s interesting, did you know that I’m depressed?”

So I dragged myself around, wondering and waiting and hoping that someone would do the hard part for me and bring up so I could let it all pour out. And do you know the funny thing? Having felt so isolated, like no one could see the real me inside, like I was alone in this experience and so on, once I was officially sick and had told people about it, I had several comments along the lines “oh I thought so” and “I figured something was wrong” and “I knew something wasn’t right” and “you didn’t seem like your usual self”. If just one, only one person had actually said that out loud, it would have been such a relief, a balm, a comfort! It probably would have meant that I got help sooner. It could’ve shorten the process, and I would have been so thankful. It would’ve meant such a lot.

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Speak up. If you can see a change, say something. If things seem different, say so. The worst that can happen is that you’re wrong, and they are just having a bad day or week, or are preoccupied. But how can it hurt? At the least, I’m sure they’ll appreciate your concern, the effort that you’ve gone to, your care. It would be a rare person who would take exception to your kind heart.

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The second part is knowing what to say. The reason for this charity’s name is that R U OK? is a powerful question. It might not seem like it, or seem much different to our usual greetings, but it works. We say hello, hi, howdy, how are you going? what’s up? how’s it going? how’s things? alright? and a hundred similar things so many times a day. And we’re programmed to response almost rote: good thanks, hey there, great, how about you? not much, well, yep and so on. So much so that if someone says something different to these, we can accidentally get caught saying good thanks before we’ve even registered that they’ve asked us what’s up?!

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But R U OK? hits a different nerve. It makes us really think about how we are, and it elicits an honest answer.

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So here’s what I want to do. I want you, one day over the next day or two, to count how many greeting encounters you have in one day. I consider one encounter to be one person say hello and/or how are you and the other person responding. Now I know for myself, home most days, there aren’t very many encounters. But for people working in retail there might be many, maybe more than what I’ve allowed for. I really want to know what your number is! Please get involved and let’s see how many times we bump up against each other each day.

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I’ll post the results as early as possible once you’ve had a chance to respond with data from your working life today and tomorrow. If you don’t read this until the weekend, give me your weekend numbers too.

My aim for this poll is to think about how many times we have a typical hi/how are you conversation. The next step after this is to consider what might happen if we changed ONE of these rote conventional habits into an R U OK? conversation. What could U achieve, how could U have an impact on someone else’s life? You already read my tales of mental illness, so you already have a kind heart and I daresay you want to help others too. This is the perfect chance, and I hope to take the baton and run with it.

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