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Returning To Employment After A Mental Breakdown (Guest Post)

Today’s guest post comes from Hannah, who shares her experience of attempting to re-enter the workforce after a significant mental breakdown.

To offer some context, Hannah’s story comes from Malaysia, where there are no anti-discrimination laws with regards to employment.

Trigger warning: In this piece, Hannah talks about her experiences with suicide attempts. If you feel you are at risk of being triggered or upset by this topic, please do not read any further.

“Puan, Saya Mengaku Bahawa Saya Sakit Jiwa”

(Ma’am, I admit I am mentally ill)

I was involuntarily admitted to a psychosocial rehabilitation home in December 2018, after my mother decided she couldn’t handle my seventh suicide attempt. Of course, this story’s outcome depends on who you listen to; me, my family or the psychosocial management.

The facts are as follows:

– I had an episode in the centre.

– I broke a fluorescent lightbulb.

– The orderlies took me to the affiliated hospital.

– I get checked into the psychiatric ward.

– I didn’t go back to the home.

Apparently, I’m such a failure at everything that I even fail at killing myself. That cycle of “I’m a failure” type thinking has haunted my entire working and student life – so a good 13 years, now.

Trying to get back into the workforce when your family caretakers don’t even trust you to go to the washroom on your own is tough. I knew that work = money = freedom, but how was I supposed to get work when I was restricted to three hours of monitored internet on a borrowed laptop a day?

It took me four months to get back to some semblance of normal from both the suicide attempt and the recovery process itself. I was allowed chaperoned visits with select people (my partner, some friends), limited amounts of contact with the outside world and no vices whatsoever.

I almost wish I had enough money to go to a fancy rehabilitation centre on an island somewhere, but what can you do?

I developed agoraphobia (that’s defined as an extreme or irrational fear of entering open or crowded places, of leaving one’s own home, or of being in places from which escape is difficult) from being secluded for so long. Every time something happens, this is my default and trying to work upon developing this phobia works magic upon my depression and anxiety – I get increased levels of both, simultaneously. I hate myself for feeling this way. I cling to my phone, my things and my coping mechanisms like a safety blanket and internally berate myself because I am soon-to-be a 26-year-old woman, what am I doing behaving like this?

My return to social media in March 2019 upon regaining access to my phone and real-life (with my first real job!) was lauded as triumphant, with pesky whispers about where I’d been. I tried to be open, honest and transparent – my family vetted my initial social media caption and spun it into something more Brand Friendly™️.  I went with it.

Going Back To Work…

There’s something inherently terrifying about returning to the workforce in Malaysia after a mental health stint: you wonder how you’re going to answer certain questions on employment forms because there are no anti-discrimination laws here.

You wonder if you should lie on the form, and figure out how to make excuses for your monthly therapy appointments. You wonder what happens if you have an episode (again) and you end up in the emergency ward – would they fire you on the spot? There are things to consider and there’s absolutely no way anyone has the right answers for any of them.

The Local Attitude To Mental Heath…

I’ve considered applying for disability due to chronic mental illness, but at the same time, do I want that label for the rest of my life? I already have so many; do I need a little red laminated card stating that I, in fact, am an OKU (orang kurang upaya: disabled person in my native tongue) and thus making discrimination against me illegal but persecution based on my mental illness is not?

It’s almost 2020. I’m so done with this.

I’ve tried and failed at several jobs. My CV is a mess where each stint at a job never lasts more than three months, maximum. I tell interviewers it’s a contract thing, but honestly, having Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) means it’s hard to hold down a job without imploding, let alone a relationship or a steady household.

What should be small issues that I can suck up and deal with are amplified in my head, like the time my former housemates were so abusive that I ended up losing my job due to poor performance. I didn’t have understanding superiors and they expected me to just ignore the ongoing abuse at home.

Admitting you’re mentally ill in this country is like turning on a neon sign indicating you‘re a target. Admitting you have anything significantly worse than depression or anxiety leads the majority population to treat you like a leper – more often than not, youth don’t have family support here.

Getting into the workforce with a mental illness? That’s like playing a video game on hard. Getting into the workforce after a mental breakdown? You might as well be playing Dark Souls on Ultra settings with a potato (hard x 10,000,000).

Malaysia’s Ministry of Health admits they don’t have enough concrete data to make an accurate assessment of re-employment after mental illness but the hospital admission rate of the mentally ill has decreased within the last five years. With a ratio of only 1:200,000  in terms of psychological healthcare providers to patients in Malaysia, we’re not doing so well.

For what it’s worth, I’m still trying to get a job again. I’m still trying to figure out where I belong. I still don’t know.

Malaysia needs to get its act together before our mental health numbers go up in the worst ways possible.

Hannah Azlan goes by @hannahcyanide on all social platforms. One part intersectional feminist, one part mental heath advocate – she mixes her love of all things witchy with everything beauty and allows for as much self-care as she can afford.

Follow her for more insight into her daily life!

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Have you experienced discrimination at work based on your mental health? Maybe you’re struggling to get back into work following a period of unemployment due to mental illness? Tell us your story in the comments.


Returning To Employment After A Mental Breakdown

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