The role of mental illness in the workplace…We often find highly creative and hard working people with challenges…

by | Jul 29, 2012

“Artists, we imagine, dazzle us with inspired insight precisely because they have achieved an elevated level of mental health. Not so fast, Sparky. In fact, many of our most popular performers suffer crippling forms of mental illness and manage to flourish anyway, even going so far as to incorporate their psychological challenges directly into their art and performances. For example:

Lady Gaga has a pathological fear of being eaten by a bear (arktophobia). Psychologists are evenly split regarding the significance of her now iconic “meat dress”. Some maintain that it was a way for her to bravely confront her fear, while others believe it was so reckless as to border on sheer self-destruction.
Adam Sandler has crippling self-esteem issues; ridicule reduces him to tears. This is why, despite the odds against it, he managed to produce many movies without ever making a funny one – that is how intensely he dreads the idea of being laughed at.
Sacha Baron Cohen, who suffers from malignant narcissism and profound self-loathing, insists on making films so insulting to audiences that contempt and revulsion seem to rise from them like steam, eventually finding their way back to him, thereby solidifying the illnesses.”

As written in my book, living with the stigma and denial of mental health challenges was my secret journey for most of my adult life.  Learning how to cope was a trial and error experience at best.  But discovering a few hidden talents along the way that came from my symptoms of PTSD helped me to succeed in professional life.  Hyper-vigilance for one was a good thing that energized me each and every day, and still does.  I am always on alert!  I rarely missed an opportunity to make a difference in my work.  My creative instincts put me ahead of the pack most of the time.  I refused to fail!  It was survival and a desire to succeed that kept me going to be sure.  If a person with mental health challenges can focus and channel the upside of symptoms like extreme hyper-vigilance & hyper-arousal you can compete more effectively in corporate life or in other professional endeavors i.e., a first responder vocation.  Sales and marketing was my career path, and bosses loved me!  Sometimes it was a love/hate relationship, but my employers always knew the results would come with me at the helm.  I really believe employers can miss an opportunity to hire a talented and results focused employee if they allow a mental health issue such as PTSD steer them away.  I hired professionals who had the energy and motivation to succeed.  I was given the chance of my life with the Western Union Telegraph Company in 1965 while another company rejected me because they were concerned about my mental health diagnosis.  I will say, however, that it was very challenging coping with my symptoms without understanding what was happening, and not knowing anything about treatments that may or may not have been available.  It would have been much better to mitigate, especially off the job, if the information and awareness of PTSD and treatments were known to me many years ago.

Steve Sparks
Reconciliation: A Son’s Story

About the author

Steve Sparks is a retired information technology sales and marketing executive with over 35 years of industry experience, including a Bachelors’ in Management from St. Mary’s College. His creative outlet is as a non-fiction author, writing about his roots as a post-WWII US Navy military child growing up in the 1950s-1960s.
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