Stigma isn’t fought in whispered conversations with family, it’s fought on professional blogs, at conferences, and in fair, up-front hiring discussions.
Screw it, I’m coming out. I can’t live with this weird firewall between what I’m going through and my professional career.
In 2000, I was hospitalized, and diagnosed with severe Type-1 Bipolar disorder — the bad kind, characterized by bouts of psychotic mania, and extended depression. In 2016, after a particularly toxic work situation, I was hospitalized again.
I’m doing ok, and in case you are wondering, am not having some kind of crisis. Well maybe “some kind of crisis”, but not the kind to worry about, just the kind that produces un-circumspect blog posts like this one.
In my first years I worked up to Software Engineer 2 from QA analyst at Solutions for Progress, now called Communally, a company where copious “mental health days” were a thing, and sh*t got done, but not because someone was yelling for it.
Earlier this year, as a more or less Senior Software Engineer with 10 years of solid experience I took a job that should have paid north of $100,000 for $55,000 per year. I did this in pursuit of some breathing room in my professional life. Some room for the days or weeks where code just doesn’t flow, even if they are backed up by days and weeks of better-than-usual productivity. I took this job, at a granola-crunchy public radio company in pursuit of the same supportive atmosphere that got me through my first 7 years.
The only thing is… I was afraid to tell my new employer about my condition! Would they have hired me? Exactly where in the hiring process should this come up?
Interviewer: “Hello Sam, I see you went to Penn, and studied Computer Science later in your academic career?”
Me: “Yes, that’s correct, and by the way, I have a severe (albeit treatable and well-managed) mental illness.”
Interviewer: “That’s fine, let’s do some white-boarding about algorithms.”
So now I’m stuck. This new gig still wants blood, even at the reduced salary, and I’m feeling overwhelmed. When I’m overwhelmed I can’t sleep, much less code.
I’m writing this post just to get it out there. I have this thing, it doesn’t define me, but part of managing it is having it be part of the conversation. I don’t know what the response will be, or if I’m putting a nail in my career coffin, but I kind of don’t care. Stigma forces you to hide. We pay lip service to fighting stigma, but the best way to do that is just not to hide.