When I had my second son, I had a nervous breakdown. I’m not sure exactly what the cause was. But things were bad. I had a three-year-old with autism, a baby with a facial deformity that required a team of ten different types of doctors, and no family helping me, and I didn’t take maternity leave.
This is what happened: I put a knife in my head. It’s a weird thing about the knife. A knife can’t get very far in one’s head. The head is protected. But there was enough blood that my husband and I decided I needed to go to the emergency room.
I took the baby with me. That’s what I called him: The baby. He was very new, and I was having trouble bonding. So I never let him out of my sight in the hope that physical proximity would promote emotional closeness.
The hospital in Brooklyn was well versed in post-partum depression. There was no wait to get into the emergency room. There was a social worker waiting for me next to a bed in a little room formed by large curtains on three sides.
We talked about the possibility of going to the mental ward. “You need a break,” she said. “You need some support.”
“Okay,” I said. Because I realized, when she said that, that I did want a break. Then I said, “I’ll take the baby with me.”
“You can’t. Can you leave him with a family member?”
“I have to breastfeed or I’ll lose my milk.”
She said, “You can pump.”
“No. I need to keep the baby. I need to bond. Look at his face. He’s deformed.”
Then the social worker left. She came back with another social worker.
The new social worker asked me how I am feeling.
I took this to mean that she was going to tell me something bad. People do not ask you how you’re feeling if you are feeling bad unless they are about to make you feel worse.
She said, “We can’t have a baby in the mental ward. It’s not safe. It’s not set up for babies.”
I didn’t just cry. I started convulsing. I think it was the fact that I thought I was about to get help and rest and now it seemed like I could have nothing.
The first social worker stayed. The second social worker left. The first social worker said things to me to reassure me that the second social worker was negotiating.
The baby was asleep in my lap. I sat cross-legged on the bed, starring at the wall for maybe an hour. Or ten minutes. Time was irrelevant at that point in my life because I had no idea where I was or where I was going or what I was doing. I was just trying to keep my kids safe, minute to minute.
The social worker came back and told me that they decided they would not admit me to the hospital, because then they would have to give me a room in the mental ward. Instead they would keep me in the emergency room. Right here. For as long as they thought I needed help to be safe.
I laid back and went to sleep.
I woke up to the baby crying and the social worker right there, next to me.
The hospital helped me make a plan. They told me I was probably not safe to be alone with the baby for at least a month.
I used a credit card to pay a nanny agency to be in the house all the time while my husband took my other son to 40 hours of therapy a week. This was not a good time in our lives. Our credit never recovered.
Here’s how this matters for your resume:
Ask me if I went to the mental ward. Is the answer yes or no?
I could say no. That would be, technically true. But the answer you are looking for really would be the answer to the question: did you ever have a breakdown that required serious help at the hospital level? And the answer to that would be yes. So I could answer yes or no to that question, and both answers would be true. It would be hard to call me a liar either way.
So it’s fair that I give the answer that is best for me in the situation I’m in. Life is messy and it is not black and white. There is no single, correct story about your life. Because each moment, in each person’s life, has multiple versions, all true.
The biggest problem people have when they are changing careers, or moving up the ladder, or re-entering the workforce, is that they cannot imagine telling a completely different story about themselves than they have been telling for the last ten years.
Did you know that my resume can tell the story of me as a writer or me as an operations genius? I don’t like operations, but if I had to get a job in operations, I could write my resume to indicate that operations has been my focus for the last fifteen years. And I wouldn’t have any lies on my resume. I’d just frame the truth in a different way.
The Farmer learned this quickly, when I started writing about him. He was engaged to a mail-order bride, he was basically living at his parents, he was lost and sad and anxious.
But the truth is that all stories are the wrong idea. Because every summary of every part of your life could be a totally different summary as well. And be equally true.
We got back together, of course. And people ask me how the Farmer can cope with me writing everything about our life. They ask how he can cope with no privacy. But he has tons of privacy. He has his own story of our life that is true for him, and that is private for him. He doesn’t ever think I lie on my blog. He thinks I tell my story — in the words and the pictures.
So here is a five-step resume plan for you to take control of your story:
1. Figure out where you want to be in your career right now, this moment.
2. Look back on all of your life and pull out the tidbits of your life that somehow relate to what you want to be doing now.
3. Get rid of everything on your resume that does not relate to what you want to do now.
4. Make a story that explains the way you got from one moment to the next moment in your life where you were doing what you want to be doing now.
5. Once you can tell the story verbally, have a resume writer help you build a resume that tells that story in resume format in a compelling way.
The most important thing about a career is that it is a tool to create a vibrant future. Your career is a mutable, dynamic story that you control. If you cannot tell stories about yourself from multiple angles, then the single story you have on that paper controls the rest of your life. You deserve more than that.