A Writer with Bipolar Disorder Trades Discouraging Unemployment for Happy Employment
Disability employment wasn’t on my mind. Instead, I thought I was unemployable, despite being able to learn anything fast.
Let me introduce myself. I’m Daniel G. Taylor. I write the blog here for the SALT Foundation. (I also write the weekly email newsletter, Full Life Weekly. But don’t tell Roger Donnelley, our CEO, I told you that, as it’s signed in his name.)
Why did I think I was unemployable? Let’s find out.
My History of Bipolar Disorder
Back in 1996, a breakup with my partner triggered my first manic episode of Bipolar Disorder I.
To prove I was worth being loved, I thought I needed to become an undeniable success.
My plan was simple: I’d expand my freelance writing business. In two days, I’d take over every other business in the world. Yep, I expected Bill Gates and Steve Jobs to work for me.
My ambitions ended when I turned up on Grandma Norma’s doorstep claiming to have put the rainbow in the sky.
Grandma found the number for the Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team (CATT) and they came. They decided I needed to be seen in an inpatient ward.
Over the next five years, three manic episodes followed. Each resulted in a stay in an in-patient ward.
My Employment Journey
As a teenager, my employment journey looked like anyone else’s. At 15 years old, I got a job as an attendant at a service station. They paid me cash: $3.15 an hour. I was rich!
While waiting to find out if I’d been accepted into uni, I asked myself what I wanted to do with my life.
Since I was six years old I’d been a writer. Could I make a living from it?
I got into uni, and also built a freelance writing career. At 18 and 19, I was writing for The Age, Good Weekend, and The Big Issue Australia.
The work was fun, but it was a constant hunt for assignments. And I never earned enough to support myself.
Circling back to my first manic episode, my lack of ability to earn my keep was a key factor in my split.
Employment Tied to Mental Health Recovery
A post-psychotic depression would follow each manic episode, lasting about six months. Then I’d ease myself back into the workforce. I’d start working in a volunteer role as I regained confidence.
I found a paid role as a telemarketer (please don’t hate me!). That gave me the work history for a role as a market researcher (almost as annoying).
Next, a group of us market researchers got jobs at National Australia Bank (NAB). We worked in the credit card fraud department. Over the next couple of years, I had it made.
I had a good job, earning good money. And my mental health was stable: When spring rolled around (my usual relapse time), I didn’t get sick.
But then came the crash. Less than two years after I started, I had a manic relapse.
Is the Disability Support Pension My Only Option?
Following that episode, I felt I’d done my best. My mental illness would dominate my life, preventing achievement. After many steps, I got on the Disability Support Pension (DSP).
My new belief was I couldn’t earn more than the DSP. What meaningful work could I do? Would potential employers take a chance on me? What could be the right job for me?
Using Disability Employment Services
As I tried to find a job, I worked with some of the disability employment services out there, including JobCo.
The best thing they offered me was accountability.
Each week, I’d have to turn up for an appointment and make progress towards looking for work.
Finding My Dream Job?
By 2007, I was living in Adelaide. Besides writing, my other grand passion was reading. So when I saw an ad in the window of my local bookshop for a sales assistant, I thought I’d apply. Even though I didn’t have any skills in retail sales.
While I lacked the skills, I knew what to do from the books I’d read, especially Brian Tracy’s books on selling. I knew if I got a job in the bookshop, I’d find meaningful work.
I got the job. And the whole time I worked there, I showed up an hour early whenever I had a shift and was never in a hurry to leave.
Unexpectedly Becoming a Carer
Grandma Norma was the woman who put me through high school and university. She was a remarkable woman and my inspiration. So when I learned she had a skin cancer and needed someone to take her to appointments, I put up my hand.
When I arrived back in Melbourne, I realised Grandma needed more than just short-term care. Something else was going on and she needed a full-time carer. Later on, we’d learn that “something else” was a mild cognitive impairment, a type of dementia.
Upskilling and Starting a Side Business
During my time as a carer, I learned copywriting, the most highly paid form of writing. Why is it paid so highly? It’s about persuading people to act.
When I bought the copywriting course, they offered me a resume writing course.
As a result, I started a business, Melbourne Professional Resumes. This allowed me to earn some extra money beyond my DSP. Each resume took three hours from start to finish, and I had a week’s deadline. This meant I could handle a steady flow of them with plenty of time to get the work done.
Side note: You’ll gain from my time as a resume writer. Our blog will have many posts on disability employment: How to find a job and keep a job.
How I Got My Job at the SALT Foundation
While I have a mental illness, I don’t have a psychosocial disability and I’m not eligible for the NDIS.
As a co-facilitator for the Geelong Bipolar Support Group, I heard about the NDIS as it was introduced. Still, I knew little about it.
A friend from church asked if I’d act in a video for him. The location: The home of the SALT Foundation’s CEO and founder, Roger Donnelley.
I’d known Roger for 30 years through church and as we reconnected, he asked what I was doing with myself.
I explained I was a copywriter, and what that meant (“writing that persuades people to act”). He said he had a project for me and asked me to quote him for it.
That “test” project led to an ongoing project. In time, I went from contractor to full-time employee as SALT’s marketing manager.
I used my copywriting skills to move people along what is known as the Customer Value Journey. People unaware of us. They progress through a journey that ends with them recommending us to others.
In February 2022, I went part time so I could take on clients as a mental speaker and freelance copywriter.
The Secret to My Success Was Not Being On the “Inside”
You may read the above and think I got my job because Roger knew me. While that made it easier, the SALT Foundation has an employment philosophy. The best way of putting it: Take a chance on the people no one else will.
As the marketing manager, I was thrown in the deep end and expected to learn how to swim. Those are the challenges I love.
The Result of Working for the SALT Foundation
Above, I mentioned the two things that inspire me the most are reading and writing. Through my work at SALT, I get rewarded for doing those things.
I get to do a lot of reading and other just-in-time learning. This way, I can put in place the latest ideas in digital marketing.
And I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of writing.
Job Seekers Take Note!
If you’re looking for job opportunities, use these tips.
Look for Your “Acres of Diamonds”
Often the thing that’s going to make you most employable is right beneath your feet. For me, it was reading and writing. What is it for you?
Leap Before You Look
If I’d thought about it, I could have talked myself out of a job: I didn’t know how to be a marketing manager. But I trusted my learning ability. And I knew my copywriting background had implanted the foundations of marketing. Don’t wait for things to be perfect, leap!
Learn As You Act
According to Stephen M. R. Covey in Trust and Inspire: How Truly Great Leaders Unleash Greatness In Others, all human knowledge doubles every 12 hours. Rather than learning all you think you need, learn just enough to do the task before you.
Conclusion: Disability Employment Opportunities Abound at the SALT Foundation
I’m just one example of people with disability that the SALT Foundation has taken a chance on. Maybe you’ll be next?
The SALT Foundation is currently seeking support workers throughout Victoria. If reading my story has inspired you, then apply filling out the form below.
Daniel G. Taylor is a mental health speaker. Daniel teaches people affected by mental health personal development principles so they can reach their goals and achieve their potential. He lives with bipolar disorder and has developed a lot of tools and strategies for staying well long term. He’s the author of “Staying Sane: How to Master Bipolar Disorder for Life” and a contributor to “Mastering Bipolar Disorder: An Insider’s Guide to Managing Mood Swings and Finding Balance” edited by Kerrie Eyers & Gordon Parker (Allen & Unwin, 2010).