Take Care of Yourself: Mental Health and Your Career

Like a lot of people, I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety; more depression than anxiety, but they tend to go hand in hand because they are sweet, sweet, lovers. I know what my roots are — being raised in a toxically masculine culture where I was never the right kind of boy and all the self-loathing and isolation that entailed. My triggers are a bit harder to define, though.

Lately, I’ve been feeling…not quite right. It’s not quite the throes of a depressive episode, but it’s something less than baseline, just the same. I’m productive, but I’m tired. I like my job, but I’d rather be somewhere else. You’re probably reading this and saying, “Dude, it’s called being an adult with a job. Quit your whining! You’re not special.” And you’re right. But still, there it is.

Is librarianship your passion? Are books your passion? Is teaching your passion? What about metadata? Are you passionate about metadata? If you said “Yes” to any of these questions then I hope you have a job that allows you to do what your passionate about. If you don’t, then I hope you’ll have that job soon.

It doesn’t take long to read this blog to see that I am not a passionate librarian. This sounds like a dig at the profession, or my job in particular, or like I’ve got an emotional issue that should be dealt with with a professional. It’s not. The fact is that I work to live, not the other way around. I like my job. I love my colleagues and my work environment. I am very proud to call myself “Librarian.” But, at the same time I’m never going to be the guy who eats, sleeps, and breathes his job.

In fact, I reject the idea that one must be passionate about their work. No, you don’t. That is an artificial and unreasonable expectation to have of your job. The thing about passion, too, is that it’s difficult to maintain. And what do you do if your passion for your job has faded? That’s called burnout and has a host of other problems associated with it. I’d rather my approach.

I need lots of down time. I need lots of vacation days. I take those that when I can, although it’s harder now that I’m the boss. I also need creative outlets, especially since my job has no intrinsically creative aspects. I have about 35k words of a hard science fiction novel written. A novel that I really believe in and think could be good, but I don’t work on it anymore because by the time I get home at night the LAST thing I want to do is sit in front of a computer and write. [he said ironically]

Lately, Wifey and I (she doesn’t have a creative job, either) have been getting into — of all things — carpentry. It all started when we got cats and built crates to go over their litter boxes. Then, there have been several iterations of cat containment strategies for our patio that has eventually led to building a catio that’s currently about 95% complete (Phase 1, anyway, unless we change our design again). We also have plans for ottomans, an end table, another crate, the list goes on. You’d be surprised what you can build in a 9′ x 9′ outdoor space.

The creative outlet is helping, but frankly, this feeling I’ve been having isn’t going away. I have better days and I have worse days. At this moment I think it’s a build up of stress from the daily grind of running an Access Services department at a large university library. Just now I can feel the stress knot between my shoulder blades. It’s small, but it’s there.

My sleep is being affected, too. I’m not having trouble sleeping. In fact, from my perspective I’m sleeping like a rock, but I’m not rested the next day. Today has been particularly bad and this is a day in which I had to be at work an hour earlier than normal to open the building and have a three-hour night class that I’m taking after work that will ultimately result in a fourteen-hour day on campus.

What’s happening with me, right now, is not depression or anxiety, it’s stress. I know that I internalize my stress and I think it’s finally built up enough that it’s starting to have physical affects. There’s not much I can do about my work load right now, so I have to take care of myself in other ways. Tomorrow morning, Wifey and I are going to get up early and do Week 1, Day 2 of Couch to 5k. I need to try to eat something healthy after work and before my class, then go to bed without having any alcohol, and having a healthy breakfast in the morning. That’s what I need to do to take care of myself.

We all have to take care of ourselves. We all have to take time apart. We are not good to our patrons, our colleagues, or our families if we don’t. You well-being is never less important than your work. You need both, yes, but if one suffers then the other will too.

Take care of yourself.

3 thoughts on “Take Care of Yourself: Mental Health and Your Career

  1. Hi. I was reading your blog post and wondering whether you have read Helle Hedegaard Hein’s book about motivation? Hein is working at Copenhagen Business School. I have had the great pleasure of hearing her here in Norway twice, and I am fascinated by her research. Basically, she found out that most of the existing management literature was based on managers of industry workers. The theories did not help a manager of other kinds of workplaces. She did two major studies, one from a university hospital and one from the royal theatre in Copenhagen. Her research led to four new categories of workers: Primadonnas (in her sense not a bad thing), Performance trippers (well, that’s what she calls them in Danish), Pragmatists and Salary receivers (let’s hope you never enter that territory..). Hein explains it MUCH better than I can, obviously, but her idea is that you need workers who fit in to all the three first categories. Hein says, there should be mostly pragmatists in a workplace. Those are the foot soldiers, the ones that go to work, does the job well, and then leaves the job behind when they go home. They thrive when they know what to do, and can pat themselves on the back and be content with having done it. The performance trippers have two subcategories: the extrovert and the introvert. Common for them both is that they need to be able to get a little “kick” out of something. For the extrovert it can be that people praise them to their faces. They love the attention, and they love to be able to get something on their plate that is challenging and potentially highly visible when it’s done. The introverts like complicated puzzles. They can work on something for hours, forgetting all else, if they can get something that really challenges them. They are not great at doing things they don’t like or are interested in, but they are wonderful to have around for difficult problems etc. The primadonnas: you don’t need many of them. They are generally bad at collaborating, they can often get in trouble with their colleagues, but they feel like their work is their calling. They usually work long hours, and often do lots of work that they never get credit for, and often they do not ask for it either – because they feel like it’s part of their calling. They can do amazing things if they are given enough space.

    It sounds to me like you are a pragmatist – a foot soldier. We need those. We need those who come to work, do it well, and then leave it behind until the next day.

    Good luck with the carpentry! 😉


  2. Quit your whining, I feel that all the time and I can’t really vent about my burnout. My brother-in law is laid off and he is getting sick over it. You are taking care of yourself. I like that catio. Did you want to be boss before you were boss? Was that a goal and were you happy when it happened?


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