When people ask me what I do for a living — a question I get all the time — I always reply with “writer.” I rarely tell people I’ve received Social Security Disability for quite some time because my condition doesn’t allow me to work what some consider a real job.
I’ve tried working — in fact, I worked for most of my life and paid into Social Security — one of the reasons I can collect benefits now. I’ve managed restaurants and lead a team of web designers to create the interface for a website for the U.S. Postal Service. I’ve built interactive presentations for Intel’s employees around the world.
There was a time I worked, and I did a damn good job.
But, my illness got to a point where I couldn’t do the kind of job I knew I was capable of doing. I knew it was my last job when I cut myself so deep in the employee restroom that I had to go to the emergency room. My self-harming was getting in the way of me being a valuable member of the team. I spent more time obsessing over the voices in my head than the reports I had to do.
When they laid me off, it was almost a relief. The next decade saw me in and out of mental hospitals from suicide attempts. Even though I was severely ill, I still tried to keep any job I could get.
When no one would hire me because of the huge gap in my resume, I worked stocking shelves at Target on the graveyard shift. I did it because I’m not a proud man, and I needed the money. I even had to quit the stocking job because the voices convinced me my manager was trying to put a bomb in my car. He didn’t like the terrorist accusation.
I’ve tried freelancing over the years, but what always happens is I get busy, then I get ill and can’t deliver on my commitments. Clients wouldn’t continue to hire me when I disappear for weeks at a time, no matter if it was for a good reason. I couldn’t hide what was happening to me, and after I explained myself, the clients always found other freelancers. No one wants a mentally ill web designer or ghostwriter that can’t deliver on deadlines.
So in October of 2018, when I discovered Medium, I thought my wish for a job I could handle had come true. I found I could work hard when I was feeling good, and when psychosis came calling I could take care of myself until I was on the mend. Medium was always there for me when I came back.
Sure, I was a little jealous of others who started after me and easily surpassed my number of followers and income in the Partner Program, but I knew it would be a slower journey for me because of the time I needed to recover every month. For every three weeks I worked tirelessly, I would fall apart for a week — like clockwork. The cycle repeated until my son was born in July of 2019. For some reason, I’ve avoided the soul-crushing episodes in exchange for more anxiety, panic, and depression. Yes, I still hear voices all the time, but I can ignore them enough to put in my long days writing and promoting on social media.
I’ve stayed right around the same income for the last six months. I’m still waiting for the event that will be a turning point for my writing career on Medium. I’ve been writing as often as I can, building my email list, promoting my personal brand, and lending a hand to other writers who may be struggling with mental illness. I’d love to expand my advocacy and help more people, but I know I can’t push myself too hard. If I push, my sick mind pushes back, and it always wins no matter how much motivation I have inside.
I am on the cusp of everything taking off for me, so I’m working diligently, but still taking care of myself. I’ll be no good to anyone if I have another earth-shaking episode again.
Patience is the thing I have that I know will take me to the next level.
My story isn’t unique. There are many of us out there struggling with a mental or physical illness and can’t hold a real job. The thing you should know about all of us is we want to work, but are unable. We would rather work, but can’t.
Many of us have found writing and have committed to do whatever it takes to turn Medium into a full-time income. It’s horribly difficult when you have a 500-pound gorilla on our back, but I’m here to tell you that you can do it.
- Be patient — Don’t be afraid to take the time you need to care for your specific needs. Medium will be here when you are well enough to work again. Don’t feel like you will lose momentum. If you need time off, take it. But when you are ready to work, push as hard as you can.
- Run a marathon — This race isn’t won with a sprint. You need to be all-in on Medium for the long haul because that’s what it will take to get where you need to be. Pace yourself, and leave enough motivation for the time when everything takes off for you.
- Ask for help — Don’t operate in a vacuum. Although this journey may feel lonely, some people are willing to help you along. Join Medium-themed Facebook groups. Connect with the writing community on Twitter. Build a tribe of like-minded people that can help when you really need it. Be willing to help others as well.
I’m no cheerleader, but I love to help others when I can. If I can tell you anything, it would be that you are a champion for trying when times are hard. Our lives with illness are difficult, but they will never again call us lazy because they can see our hustle.
There will come a day very soon when all this hard work will pay off, and we will be able to look back at the struggle with fondness and help others who have fallen by the wayside.
We are in this together, and we can do it!