By Julie A. Fast
Working life was already difficult for many of us before the pandemic. Maybe you spent the beginning of 2020 looking for a new job or career, taking care of those around you, organizing your dreams and planning for the future. This was certainly my path at the beginning of the year. Then, in just a few weeks this March, ALL of our goals and dreams became a tangled ball of string! As I write this, we are still in a world that is filled with chaos and uncertainty.
How do we keep going when life is a daily challenge? I share my answer below.
My work story starts in 2002. This is when after years of struggling with serious mental illness, I finally created a website and published my first mental health management books online as ebooks. I got my first traditional book deal a year later. I eventually wrote six books. It was a difficult career, but I got my work done. I had plans to write a book a year and to travel the world as a speaker. As a person with bipolar disorder and a psychotic disorder, this wasn’t easy and it took all of my energy, but I made it happen. I was able to work in a career I loved and even found time to help raise my nephew.
Everything changed in 2012. I had a biking accident that resulted in a very serious injury to my back and hip as well as memory problems and ultimately significant work struggles that I couldn’t explain. I lost the ability to tell time or work with numbers. I was in and out of the emergency room and was even tested for a stroke as no one could explain my baffling symptoms.
I lost my ability to write books.
This was devastating. Like many, I had to support myself, so I created a new career where I worked directly with clients as a coach and wrote short and long form articles instead of the books I loved writing. I also spent a lot of time marketing my already written books and eventually turned my energies to research in my field. I could study and form ideas, but writing a book was still impossible. This career change was unexpected. It was such a struggle I wasn’t sure if I could keep going, but I did. No one had the answer as to why could I work one on one or write a short article, but I could no longer finish a book.
I did have support around me, but I often felt on my own health-wise and especially financially as my health care took every penny I made. (Raise your hand if you’ve been through this!)
I used the ideas in my book Getting it Done When You’re Depressed to get me through this time. The ideas I had created for depression were also helping me with my memory, extreme anxiety and focus problems around work.
Four years later, I was more out in the world and decided to go to a party that just happened to be filled with hands-on health care workers. For the first time a cranial sacral specialist heard my story and said, “Let me feel your head, Julie!” He put his hands on my head and I could feel my skull move. He said, “You have a traumatic brain injury that hasn’t been addressed.” My life changed after that party. I had the first piece of the puzzle on why I could no longer work as I had in the past.
I know that the professionals I saw for the four years until this point cared about me, but the fact that they missed such an obvious reason for my work problems was devastating. I felt incredibly lost and upset. Everyone and I do mean everyone knew I hit my head on concrete in the biking accident.
It was a confusing and incredibly upsetting time. Many of us who join groups, such as Dress for Success, have had this kind of inexplicable life event that took us off our intended path. The accident cost me my book career, my speaking career and drained my savings to the point that I had to move in with a relative. I needed answers and it would take me another three years to find them.
I was eventually diagnosed with a frontal lobe brain injury that led to an executive functioning disorder. I had also injured the part of my brain that processed numbers and dates. The traumatic brain injury also led to anxiety. This explained the panic attacks I experienced when I tried to work on large projects.
Writing and assembling a book for publication is 100% about executive functioning and time management. I finally had answers.
This information gave me a direction. I spent a year learning about executive functioning and with the help of the brilliant people around me such as my coauthor Dr. John Preston, I realized that I had to teach myself to write books using a different part of my brain. My original brain path that let me write very long books with relative ease was gone. But I was determined to write ‘big’ books again and I kept going even when I was crying and so filled with anxiety I often felt like I would pass out.
At the beginning of this year, I was finally getting back in life and felt well enough to tell my agent I was ready to try for a book project again. She was hesitant as she knew my struggles of the past seven years, but she supported me and we started on my plan.
Within a few months, I had three book projects lined up. The first was with a private publishing company and would be a compilation of the short-form writing I did online while I searched for answers as to why I could not write books! Then, I got two deals with large publishing companies. I put the books in order and got to work. Remember, I still have the head injury so this was not easy. I had to voice record a lot of my ideas and then transcribe them. I kept telling myself that I would be ok and that my career was back. I had my working places set up and the support of friends and family whom I met with regularly to help me through the process of teaching myself to write books again. This was in February of this year.
The pandemic hit right when I started my first project. In just a few weeks, a year of planning was out the window. I was stuck at home where I have never been able to work and I lost my support system. I know you went through this as well. I once again had to find another way of working around my brain. I kept going and eventually finished the first draft of the book of the first book. At the same time, I had to work on the second project and work on my contract for the third project.
I was so excited to be writing books again, but it hurt to write and use my brain in a new way. When the pandemic was added on top of this, my health really went downhill fast and I started to feel incredibly sick. I had shingles.
Then, the editor and publisher of the first book got Covid and we all realized there was no way the book would be ready for the original publishing date. Months of work with no pay had to be put on hold and the project was pushed to 2021.
I then focused on the second book deal and finished in time, but was often so sick I thought I would pass out from the anxiety and loneliness of working without anyone around me to help my mood. The project is done.
Today, I am faced with the third book project as we go through another wave of Covid in my city. I’m not able to see my family in person as they work with the public and I’m often desperately lonely and sad about it all. My physical health is poor and I recently went through yet another downswing that is simply part of life when you have bipolar disorder. And yet, like you, I am still here fighting the good fight and figuring out how to make it through these life-changing times.
I know that you have similar stories. I am here to tell you that writing about our lives, talking with others on the phone and through video chat, setting up health care appointments and taking up old hobbies or finding new ones is what got me through these rough months. I often feel awful, but I get out of bed every morning and face the day with the desire to create a life that works for me during a pandemic. I have many good times and consider myself a phoenix. I always rise from the ashes!
This is my message to you. Nothing can stop you! Like the phoenix, you can and will rise over and over again no matter what life throws at you. We have all been through a lot. We have financial worries and concerns about our future, but that doesn’t stop US. You are reading this newsletter because you are a fighter! A winner! An adapter! A leader! You strive for change and for creating a better future using the materials you have in front of you right now. You have not let the pandemic stop you from learning and growing. You are ready for work, ready for success and ready to look professional and fantastic during an interview for the job that IS waiting for you.
Sometimes we have to create things out of thin air. This year is still an incredibly tangled ball of string. We have to unravel it slowly, but it can be done. We can adapt. 2020 threw everything at us, but as women with a plan who know the importance of self-care and of managing our mental health, we are still out there using resources like Dress for Success. Nothing is going to stop us!
Julie A. Fast is the bestselling author of Getting it Done When You’re Depressed, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder and Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder. Julie is an award-winning mental health writer who has millions of views of her relatable and heartfelt blogs and articles online. She was the original consultant for Claire Danes’ character on Showtime’s hit TV show, Homeland. Julie is a go-to mental health expert in the news and is regularly featured in news stories and interviews on the topic of brain health, relationships and family dynamics. She is on the mental health expert registry of People Magazine and often writes on current topics for her Psychology Today Blog.
Julie lives with daily bipolar disorder symptoms including depression and anxiety and also works hard on managing her psychosis. She knows the struggles and challenges faced by a person with mental health concerns, as well as the family members, partners and health care professionals who want to help. Julie’s work focuses on managing the mood so that goals and dreams can become a reality. She specializes in getting things done when life gets tough! You can find more about her work at JulieFast.com, on Facebook at Julie A. Fast and on Instagram @JulieFast.