How Much Is On Me? Occupational Therapy, 13/10/2016

Well, that turned into a much longer break than I’d planned. Originally, I was planning to throw up the third post in that "Obsolete Democracy” series last Friday, take the Thanksgiving weekend off for a gathering with friends in St Catharine’s, then finish it with a fourth entry yesterday. 

Instead, those are going to come tomorrow and Friday, after a delay of nearly a week. 

I'm going to be honest on this space – it was the result of another mental health crisis. A panic attack whose repercussions I’m still dealing with. In my own person, in my relationship with my partner, and at my work. 

It’s been difficult to reorient myself, and income insecurity continues to gnaw at me whenever I think about it for too long. Which is unfortunate, because I need to think about it if I’m going to solve it.

What’s helping, is that I’m getting myself accustomed to some mild anti-anxiety medications – though finding the optimal dosage is probably going to take a while. Another thing that’s helping – if slowly – is my cognitive behavioural therapy sessions.

Wallace Stevens, from “The Man Whose Pharynx Was Bad”
Horizons, full of night's midsummer blaze;
Perhaps, if winter once could penetrate
Through all its purples to the final slate,
Persisting bleakly in an icy haze;
One might in turn become less diffident,
Out of such mildew plucking neater mould
And spouting new orations of the cold.
One might. One might. But time will not relent.
And I’ve been reaching out to some old friends. Not just friends in general, but friends who’ve had experience with depression and mental health problems. And friends who’ve been more successful at the post-doctoral career transition than I’ve been so far.

My current mental health issues are the product of a career transition that’s honestly been rougher than I had always planned. Soon after my teaching opportunities dried up, I realized that I had fewer resources than I originally thought for my Plan B outside the university sector. And despite my investments in retraining, a corporate or public sector career hasn’t really taken off.

Several parts of my life are going well – my research, writing and publishing, and film festival work. But none of those are actually making me any money at this point, and those financial worries have compounded over the years. That kind of constant stress doesn’t do nice things to a person’s mind.

The blog is called Adam Riggio Writes. And I do. But even though Adam Riggio Makes a Decent Salary wouldn’t be as interesting to read about, it’s something that I’ve wanted for quite some time. And for the last four years, it just hasn’t come together. 

So the years of stress, worries, missed opportunities, failed chances have all added up. The result is a powerful sense of shame, and all the feelings of worthlessness that implies. 

Shame that my first chosen career, the one that I dedicated my 20s to training for, the one to which I devoted myself to the detriment of a lot of other aspects of a well-rounded life, fell apart. Shame that I’m nearly 34 and still hustling to get a career and financial solvency together. Shame that I'm a failure. A non-starter. Shame at my own economic impotence. Shame at messing up. Shame that I’m ashamed instead of being an optimistic go-getter who gets results.

And always the worries that there is only so much time. That the more time I spend struggling, the more like a perpetual failure and a loser I'll appear to more and more hiring committees and human resources evaluators. The continual message from my therapist is that I must focus on what's in my power to change. 

But the forces and decisions that make the biggest impact on all our lives lie beyond our powers. That's the source of my fear, stress, and anxiety. Worse is that others all too often judge our character as if those forces and decisions were in our control. We're blamed for them. Attempts to name them as beyond our control are written off as 'avoiding responsibility.' And we feel ashamed.

I know it can get better, that there are plenty of opportunities that I can still take hold of, if I can find them. But I also know that life rarely feels that way anymore. 

And I worry that being honest about my mental health struggles will alienate me, and drive away possible opportunities. “Why would I want to work with someone who has to take anxiety pills? Who has these mental health problems? Who admits to feeling stress and lacking constant confidence?” Everyone who suffers from any mental health issue is afraid of that.

And I’m sick of being afraid.


  1. I sympathize with your career transition and the issues something of the sort can cause mentally. When I changed my career path at 35, it was extremely stressful and I did not think I would make it. If it was not for a loving and patient wife, I think I would not have completed my journey. I wish you luck on your career change.

    Leonardo @ US Health Works

    1. Thanks, Leonardo. It's much appreciated – I'm always happy to hear from other folks who've gone through the tough times of building a new career and come out the other side. Keep your head up.