Some readers will have noted, if they follow my personal blog, a recent post where I discussed, in fairly unambiguous terms, the fact that I manage a mental illness. I don’t place this into a separate category to “work/life balance” – if such a thing is possible, except in terms of shifting tensions for us all. I know nothing makes me grumpier than a holiday or social occasion that has passed its prime!
Outside of my “just getting things off my chest” space, I think there is a particular set of self-management issues that are invited, created and addressed by our profession. Libraries are like the spice of Dune to those of us with unusual brains. Which of these describe a strong aspect of your personality:
- Putting things in order! Whee!
- Once upon a time there was a little pandy-wandy named Gerald, and he lived in a little (etc.)
- These are the rules. These are the principles. These are the outcomes.
- I feel good from helping people.
No, they don’t mean you have a mental illness; for a start, the DSM-IV “diagnosis by tick box” is a blunt tool. The best analyst in the long run is the self (although outside support sure helps), and I’ve only presented four ‘boxes’ to tick that I hope suggest continua of behaviours. In the first example, some are routinely tidy; some are obsessively tidy; some people are helplessly untidy. They also tick four broad categories of library activity – which I’ll define here as operational, creative and strategic and service. Those terms aren’t actively considered, but I think they’re of value.*
So if we have a tendency to a particular personality type, and if that tendency can at times dominate other needs to the point that wellbeing can become affected arguably that is when we become “mentally ill”. I’m projecting four of my personal areas of “work for extra credit” into the ones I’ve pulled out of a hat – I’ll let you project you own. We are therefore, I suggest, drawn to our profession because of the opportunities to exercise sometimes distressing aspects of our selves in safe contexts. Sometimes it works out in a wonderfully healing way, and sometimes not.
People who have mental illnesses have passion. Boy, do we. All those pent up feelings? There’s your real distillations. There’s your drive to produce realworld changes to the benefit of a community. When we allow ourselves to be well enough to manage them, and ourselves well.
I’ve been adjusting my routines over the last few months. All part of transitioning to this wonderful job I have. It’s been a very good journey , while not always comfortable.
Previously similar amounts of external, uncontrollable change (whatever the source, however functionally difficult it is for me to acknowledge the concept “uncontrollable”) have risked what one of us geeks might term a “catastrophic failure”; that is to say, my approach to resource management has been to throw things (projects, relationships) out and build up from as close to zero as has been necessary to “start over”.
Here’s why this is a good move: There are times on the learning journey when the amount of resources available demand that for survival to occur. In those situations, to do so quickly and cleanly allows the process of rebuilding to happen more rapidly and efficiently.
Here’s why this is a bad move: Grieving adds to the pain of change. I don’t know about you, but I grieve everything.
I do advocate clear signals between yourself and those who hold the responsibility for extracting the good oil out of you as the best path, but to reach for a longer goal I believe motivation for the professional has to come from within.
At this point I’m willing to suggest the tentative conclusion that I’ve crashed as much as I’ve going to crash, I’ve changed some things but I don’t feel I have had to throw anything out.
What’s been different this time? Sure, a few things around proactiveness in the workplace; being upfront about certain discussions; but I’ve been working within full disclosure for some time now. Learning to understand personal communication styles in key working relationships is not a paradigm shift for me, as important as it is in any context.
Given mine’s a communicating role, the decision to openly communicate about my condition as one strategy for decreasing my day-to-day anxiety has been remarkably effective. Nothing is more relaxing than one’s “worst secret” being found out and this, along with modifications to diet and exercise, has delivered progress in my ability to sleep reliably I haven’t had since first being diagnosed a decade ago.
The solution I’m secretly most pleased by was my attention to my creative side. Children’s librarianship was a hugely satisfying context to explore my inner Walter Mitty and be legitimately paid for it, and I learnt a few other useful things about “the real world” during that time. When I recognised the transition to come would result in losing that creative outlet, I started looking for other creative projects.
Auckland Libraries‘ music librarian, Marilyn recommended I look a project she felt would be ideal for my interests, tying together as it does my solid grounding in classical music theory and practice and love of electronic instruments. My two hour-a-week storytelling commitment thus turned seamlessly into a two-hour-a-week practice commitment, and while I miss some of the magical friendships with children and families I’ve had, I’m glad to have the opportunity to further explore creativity and performance art in other contexts.
There has been another benefit to all this, beyond having the opportunity to maybe, just maybe, do some interesting things with a great job. This morning, Sally noted that my stomach had flattened as a result of the aformentioned stress, diet and exercise. I picked up her current reading, which had a besixpacked warrior, rogue, rake or somesuch on the front. Apparently I don’t quite measure up to the ideal just yet. Bring on the stress and watch out cheesy book covers!**
*For a start, I think there’s a huge amount of ground to explore in the gaps that can arise between “activities and structures intended to create service outcomes” (eg strategies and policies) and “service as it occurs”
**Oh, lord no.
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