Tag Archives: unemployment

blog conversation: leaving bad work experiences behind

as you probably know by now, jacob from the job mob and i are having a blog conversation about recovering from bad work experiences. in his latest post about the topic, jacob points out, quite rightfully, that one of the reasons why we end up in bad work situations is because we didn’t ask the right questions in the job interview. or maybe we asked them and got a bad vibe to begin with and didn’t pay attention.

and again it’s the same as with other bad relationships – we often get a funny feeling right away but for some reason, we don’t take our gut reactions seriously and instead of getting the hell out of dodge, we willingly (if often unconsciously) line up for maltreatment.

this dovetails well with what i was going to talk about today. in my last post about this, i suggested that the first three steps in dealing with a bad work situation are resigning, recovering and looking at your resources. let’s talk about the next step today: research.

one of the things to contemplate in the resource phase is your set of values. the next step is to find out what companies share these values. how do you find this out? a good place to start are your local business news. here in vancouver we have a great newspaper, business in vancouver, that is a veritable treasure trove of information.

of course you can also google the topic, and you’ll come up with something like this. as you browse through this information, watch out for information about company practices that are in line with your values. e.g., if you need work-life balance, look for companies that talk about that, too, or offer on-site daycare, flex-time, etc.

the next step is information interviews. select a few companies that seem to have values similar to yours and set up a visit with them for 15 minutes or so. ask them a few questions about their practices. naturally, you don’t want to grill them. “so tell me, exactly how many people of colour are working for you right now, and how come you don’t have more?” wouldn’t go over too well.

however, if you asked, “what would you say are your top priorities in human resources?” you’d have an opener, and the conversation could then lead to a question like, “and how do you think diversity in the workplace fits into all this?”

after just a few hours of scouring through information and three or four information interviews, you’ll be amazed what you can find out.

i’m looking forward to jacob’s thoughts on this.

homelessness and mental health

i recently found out that my friend aaron zacharias wrote an article on mental health and homelessness. you can find it at heretohelp, an e-zine dedicated to mental health.

the article shows very clearly how mental health and homelessness interact. tenuous mental health, especially when coupled with adverse events such as divorce, workplace accidents, or, in aaron’s case, unemployment, can explode into a literally maddening spiral of not just mental illness but severe and alarming deterioration of all of a person’s life. homelessness is perhaps one of the most damaging consequences.

it’s interesting to juxtapose this with anti-psychiatrist psychiatrist (yes, you read this right) thomas szasz’s thoughts on homelessness. szasz argues that mental health is not a cause of homelessness per se. he also says that once a person becomes homeless, she or he will often act and think in ways that are associated with mental illness.

that is, once a person is uprooted, they can and most often will experience hopelessness, confusion, sadness, lack of motivation and can display extreme anger. that only makes sense since a lack of physical place/space and the attendant personal security is almost always accompanied with irregular and insufficient sleep and meals and increased exposure to violence, to name but a few adverse events. these alone are apt to drive a person crazy, in a very literal sense.

aaron traces this from both ends – a decrease of mental health while he was homeless, and an increase once he found a home again. here is a shortened version of his article:

i had already been through more than my share of trauma, beginning with an abusive childhood. but it wasn’t until i became homeless at the age of 42, that i developed a paralyzing sense of despair and hopelessness that led to several years of prolonged anxiety and depression.

when i was in my early 20s, i had been unable to finish my education because of financial problems and stress – guaranteeing me a lifetime of low-wage employment.

but in the 1990s, our governments began to slash social programs and restructure the economy, with disastrous effects on the lives and livelihoods of the working poor. unemployment insurance was renamed, ridiculously, employment insurance and became difficult to qualify for. getting social assistance became a humiliating nightmare.

before i knew it, i was unable to pay my rent. i had quit my job; funding cutbacks had affected my employer and they wouldn’t give me more than seven hours of work a week.

the severe economic pressure i was living under, along with unresolved issues of childhood abuse, precipitated several breakdowns. i wasn’t thinking clearly. and the cost of housing was rising much faster than most people’s incomes . . .

i ended up homeless.

i was one of the fortunate homeless – i was able to couch surf. that worked for a while, but people soon began to get sick of me. i was paying my way, but they made it clear they wanted to move on with their lives and, since i wasn’t doing this for myself, i was too much of an emotional burden for them.

i was easily victimized because of terrible self-esteem, stemming from the childhood abuse. being dependent on the kindness of others, it was like the proverbial wounded chicken getting attacked by the others in its flock.

being homeless and constantly distressed made stable employment impossible.

later on, among other places, i found a room in a shared apartment with two other people. not only were there three of us in a cramped two-bedroom apartment, but three days a week the landlord’s mother and young son were there. day and night, there were comings and goings. it didn’t feel like a healthy situation: among other things, the landlord insisted on keeping his cat’s litter box in the bathtub.

fortunately, i had been networking with judy graves, who coordinates the tenant assistance program for the city of vancouver. one day, judy asked me about my housing situation and then got me onto a number of wait-lists.

i have now been living in candela place1 for almost five years, and i’ve been employed and off social assistance for the past four and a half years. when i moved into candela place, i began seeing a psychiatrist, who for four years helped me work through my traumatic stress issues, without putting me on medications. i am now working full-time as a peer support worker with vancouver community mental health services

thanks to safe, secure and affordable housing, my life is finally in a good place – i no longer feel as though i have to squander all my energies at merely coping and surviving.

now that i’m no longer in a panic about having to survive each day, i can actually enjoy things – and with a depth of pleasure i never thought would be waiting for me at this stage of my life (i am in my early fifties). i’m still a working artist, and i’ll be travelling to costa rica this spring, where i’ll be painting murals in a bed and breakfast.

(you can find aaron zacharias’s paintings here).

(you can find this article posted in the surfers’ paradise blog carnival. that’s web surfers, not wave surfers. and no, i don’t look like that lady standing right over my post 🙂 )