Q: Do you have any suggestions of activities that will boost my self-confidence and my skills?

Q: Two years ago, I landed my first job out of library school. I was fired after four months, during a manic episode. It was very painful to deal with unemployment at the same time I was coping with the onset of bipolar disorder, for which I am currently undergoing treatment. About five months after I was fired, I started working part-time at another institution which has a more positive and supportive work culture. For the past six months, I have tried to get another full-time position with little success. This is partly due to the fact that my self-esteem is very low, and my self- confidence is all but gone. Do you have any suggestions of activities that will boost my self-confidence and my skills?

TA: According to the International Labor Organization and the World Health Organization, approximately 20 percent of the world’s population suffers from some type of mental health condition. “In the United States alone, more than 34 million people between the ages of 18 and 64 have been diagnosed with a mental illness. And for every individual who has been diagnosed, there are nearly two people whose conditions have gone undetected and untreated.” (The State of Mental Health, Society for Human Resources Management)

There are two reasons I quote these statistics. First, so you know that you are not alone. Working through the daily struggles of any illness while managing a life and career can sometimes feel very isolating. Please know that there are others out there managing their way through the same process.

Second, I relay these statistics to make others aware of the struggle you describe. In their 2000 survey of people living with bipolar disorder, the National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association (National DMDA) concluded that “the general public needs to have a better understanding of mental illness… Reduced stigma and discrimination will go a long way towards improving patients’ lives, particularly in social and work environments.” (Living with Bipolar Disorder: How Far Have We Really Come? National DMDA Constituency Survey)

I cannot give medical or legal advice, but your question: “how can I boost my self-confidence and my skills?” rings true to most job seekers. You’re certainly on the right track. You said that you are currently undergoing treatment, and that is perhaps the most significant step in this process. Taking care of yourself and managing the illness (and not the illness managing you) is the single most important thing you can do to take control of your life. And, with that sense of control, comes self-confidence.

Additionally, you are working part-time at an institution that sounds like a good fit. You describe the culture as positive and supportive. Each day on the job is another day of experience that you gain. Try to look for ways to build your skill set while at work. I like to think of self-confidence as similar to a bank account, a pool that we have to add to, and, on occasion, make withdrawals from. For example, take small opportunities to get involved in committees, teams, or new assignments at work, or volunteer to do the behind-the-scenes work of a project (data-crunching, re-shelving, proof- reading…), if you’re not quite yet comfortable with groups.

Any chance that you have to step up, take on, and succeed will add “credit” to your self-confidence account. As your account grows, you’ll be able to take on larger challenges and bigger risks (perhaps volunteering to lead a project, or interviewing for a full-time position.) All the while, as you are building your self-confidence account, you are also adding valuable skills and experience to your resume, which will be extremely helpful in your long- term goal of finding full-time employment.

All the best with your pursuits!

Other Useful Sites:

The State of Mental Health, Society for Human Resources Management

Let’s Talk Facts About: What is Mental Illness? American Psychiatric Association
Let’s Talk Facts About: Bipolar Disorder (Manic Depression) American Psychiatric Association
Living with Bipolar Disorder: How Far Have We Really Come? National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association Constituency Survey

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