Two questions arise in regard to returning to work: how is my ability to concentrate, and how well can I control my anxiety?
My last job at a major educational publishing house required a high level of intelligence and at times hyperfocused concentration. It would seem unlikely that with PTSD I could even hold that position. I didn’t for its duration. In spite of a reduced workweek to 25 rather than 40 hours thanks to the flexibility within the company’s employment policies, eventually my brain became overloaded. I lost my ability to concentrate about 8 months after getting the PTSD diagnosis. I also avoided becoming overly anxious by not showing up at the office, showing up later, and leaving earlier. When six weeks were left on my contract, I was unable to complete the project I had volunteered to do.
After six months of self-imposed rest and therapies including equine, somatic, and talk, I am confident to go back to work.
Though I haven’t stopped applying for jobs since ending the contract with the publishing company, a part of me knew I would end up as I had in the last 11 years, eventually struggling with anxiety to the point of losing critical thinking ability. In 2003, it would take three weeks to reach that point. By 2008, it took only one week. That year, I took out a home equity loan for $50,000 and spent a year writing and completing my first book. I suppose a sense of hesitation might have been in my cover letters lately.
Part of regaining confidence involves accepting limitations.
Before 9-11, I was a workaholic. I had a job at an investment bank and worked on a furniture design business that had started as an architectural design business. Though I worked over 50 hours every week, I still spent time with friends and threw parties at home. In the year after 9-11, I lost my job as a supervisor at a private bank, because I had become sick from the World Trade Center dust, which contaminated my apartment.
It took learning about PTSD to realize how 9-11 affected my work ability. On that day, I gave up my design business and sought to do something for the greater good. But it took years to figure out what to do. In that time, I did a lot of everything else: bartending, waiting tables, music production, acting, book authoring, bookkeeping, and other random jobs.
It’s especially important for those suffering with PTSD from traumas involving death to find work they can enjoy. It’s hard enough having dark memories that loom and depress. Finding enjoyable work might mean taking a cut in pay. It certainly does for me.
This past week, I met with an employment agent to see if I could find secretarial work. I thought I would enjoy working for individuals. But the meeting only helped me realize the grave reality that because of PTSD, I would be limited with how much and what kind of work I can handle. As the grieving process includes acceptance, so does the process of returning to work with PTSD. Especially difficult with learning to accept was realizing I would be overqualified for every job I am able to do short of the hospitality industry. Perhaps I will go back to bartending.
What I aim to do is something that can turn into a full-time job that I would not only enjoy, but would apply toward that greater good: public speaking. Getting in front of a crowd is exhilarating. And it’s a platform to get messages out about the things that concern me – including plastic pollution, conflict resolution, and, of course, PTSD.