Too often we hear from people who are worried that they can’t achieve their dreams or have a successful career because of their mental health issues. We hope our “Working It” interview series proves that it’s possible to do that and so much more.
You can read the first installment, with YA author Zan Romanoff, here.
TWLOHA: For our readers who aren’t familiar with you or your work, can you tell us a little about who you are and what you do?
JESS: I’m Jess Manuszak, the electric lightning bug and shouty mastermind behind Verve & Vigour Copywriting Studio in Denver, Colorado. I’ve worked with 100+ clients you’ve heard of, built a pretty solid financial base for myself, and haven’t even been scolded yet for cursing too much on the internet. #winning
Or at least that’s the cutesy way I introduce myself at parties.
But if we’re sitting cross-legged on my couch watching house flipping shows and scrolling mindlessly through Twitter, I’m just Jess.
Am I still the founder of a copywriting and marketing company who really gets off on what I do, both professionally and personally? Absolutely. But I’m also the friend with Bipolar II who bails on plans last-minute. The wife with Borderline Personality Disorder who picks fights. The travel buddy with PTSD and agoraphobia who just wants to sit in the hotel room. The “boss bitch” with newly-diagnosed ADD.
It sounds like there’s a lot going against me, and in some way, there is. But over the years, I’ve taken those gray, concrete barriers to my “success” and carefully stacked them on top of one another—not to build a wall, but to build a staircase for myself to somewhere better. Balanced. Stable.
So to answer your initial question, I’m Jess, the determined powerhouse who will grind away at the world until I’ve made my mark—mental illness be damned.
TWLOHA: How does mental illness affect your life and work?
JESS: I’m about to get uncomfortably honest. In the past, it’s cost me a lot of great relationships, good opportunities, and straight up JOY. My mood disorders, especially, were like a wildfire most of my life: carelessly charring everything in their wake and growing hungrier as they intensified.
But now, about 4 years after my initial Borderline and Bipolar II diagnosis, I’d say mental illness only impacts my day-to-day in small ways that might be annoying sometimes, but typically aren’t destructive or dangerous anymore. It’s not all cured, just really well-managed.
TWLOHA: What steps do you take to manage your mental health?
JESS: I really try to support my mental health from just about any angle I can. That way, if I slip up in one area (ex: missing a week at the gym), I have the rest of my positive habits to help pick up the slack and keep me out of The Depression Hole (←worst place ever).
A sampling of my personal support: leaving the house every day, elevated heart rate for 30 minutes every day, take my meds 100% of the time on a set alarm schedule, spend 5 minutes with a quick meditation app on my phone, attend at least 2 social activities every week, see a psychiatrist and psychologist twice a month, drop the shame of being in inpatient and intensive outpatient, complete upkeep work in my dialectical behavioral therapy workbook, shower at least 3 times a week…you get it.
Is it sexy, shiny, or coated in glitter? Oh sweet lord, not in the slightest. But by having a master checklist of things I know help me feel better in my phone keeps my self-care consistent (thereby effective).
TWLOHA: What would you tell someone who doesn’t think they can manage their own schedule or support themselves while dealing with mental illness?
JESS: When I first started cobbling together what my own personal care looked like, I got really overwhelmed at the thought of doing all of these good habits every day forever and ever until the end of time AND running a business. Exhaustion, much?
But the raw and unvarnished truth is we’re all works in progress. You don’t have to completely overhaul your life overnight, introduce 100 positive changes before breakfast, or do every single thing every single day. Start small, build from what feels good, and go from there. Once helping yourself out becomes a habit, the management piece becomes a whole heckuva lot simpler.
Though mostly, just remember that if you want something badly enough, you will find a way to make it work for you. For example, I only schedule calls with clients very first thing in the morning so I don’t have time to think about it all day, get anxious, cancel the call, and then feel like a failure for cancelling (which catapults me into a negative self-talk spiral, blah blah, blah.)
Supporting yourself takes effort, but don’t forget that working for yourself means working with yourself.
TWLOHA: Do you ever feel wary about speaking so openly your mental health? If so, why did you decide to do so anyway?
JESS: Ugh, I wish I could say I was 100% comfortable with it, but I’m just not. (I’m 76.9% comfortable with it though, so that must count for something.) Ultimately, my own personal fear comes from the stereotypes that exist about “freelancers” (unreliable, hard to track down, unprofessional, inconsistent), and the stereotypes that exist about mental illness and mood disorders (unreliable, hard to track down, unprofessional, inconsistent). I mean, talk about a Venn diagram, amIright?!
That said, I knew I couldn’t complain about the stigma and then just stay silent. The real turning point came the day I checked myself into inpatient a few years ago. There I was, staring at my swollen eyes in my bathroom mirror, clutching a bag of clothes under one arm and a lifetime of baggage under the other. “I love you,” I whispered, desperate to hear those words out loud. “I’m here for you. And I’ll never leave you.”
I wanted to say those words to the world. But instead I settled for taking a mirror selfie (swollen face included), posting it on social, and being very clear about the message:
- I’m not well.
- I need help to be well.
- I will be proactive in getting help to be well.
- And this is something to be CELEBRATED FOR EVERYONE.
Nothing changes if nothing changes, and silence stays silence if no one speaks up. As someone with such a messy mental health diagnosis, I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t add my voice to this revolution.
TWLOHA: Finally, is there anything you wish someone would have told you when you were struggling? Or something you’d like to share with our readers who are struggling right now?
JESS: I wish I’d had someone who had hit rock bottom take my hands and tell me that things WILL get better, because they’ve been there and they’ve survived. (None of the fluffy stuff from friends who “felt anxious that one time” ever helped me.)
So consider me that person for you. I’ve not only hit rock bottom—I bought a house there.
And I’m telling you with uncomfortably intense and complete certainty that these huge feelings you’re having aren’t bigger or more powerful than you. When you find your way out—and you will find a way out—you’ll leave breadcrumbs behind you to make getting out the next time easier. The breadcrumbs become a worn path in the dirt. The path becomes a flashing neon-lit concrete sidewalk, pointing you towards the exit so loudly you couldn’t stay stuck if you tried.
Keep your head forward, little bird. All the best stuff lies ahead, anyway. <3