Revealing Personal Mental Illness in the Workplace
“The first lesson to learn is to resign oneself to the little difficulties in life, not to hit out at everything one comes up against. If one were able to manage this one would not need to cultivate great power; even one’s presence would be healing.” Hazrat Inayat Khan
1. From Working though workplace stigma–Coming back after an addiction by Peter Grinspoon, MD:
My first day returning to work after being treated for a severe opiate addiction was one of the most daunting moments of my life. Everyone in the office, from my manager to the administrative assistants, knew that forged prescriptions and criminal charges were the reason I had been let go from my previous job. My mind was spinning. What would my coworkers think of me? Who would want to work alongside an “addict”? Would they ever come to trust me? Did I even deserve to be here?
When my life was crashing and burning due to my addiction (detailed in my memoir Free Refills: A Doctor Confronts His Addiction), a return to work seemed like a distant prospect, barely visible on a horizon clouded by relapses, withdrawal, and blackouts. My finances, my professional reputation, and my family life were in terrible shape due to my drug-seeking behavior. Working was not a tenable option until I received treatment and established a solid track record of recovery, which a potential employer could rely on.
The fact that I was now in recovery was a great development, and it was further ratification of my progress that I had landed a job and was returning to work. So, why wasn’t I feeling overjoyed?
2. From Disclosing Mental Illness at Work: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly by Ashley:
After my first psychiatric hospitalization, I had no choice about disclosing my illness. The provincial College of Registered Nurses put conditions on my professional license, and required that my employer be informed of these conditions. My manager used this as an excuse to treat me like I was incompetent and dangerous. I had decided that I might as well be open with my colleagues, and luckily they were super supportive. Without that support I don’t know know how I would have been able to handle my manager’s passive aggressive BS.
At my next job, they were initially supportive when I got sick. But that changed when I didn’t make a neat and tidy recovery. After my third hospitalization in the space of just over a year, my manager tried very hard to block me from returning to work. I had no idea what was happening or why it was happening, and when I found out I felt completely betrayed. I felt desperate to leave that job, but that was made harder by the fact that managers gossip, and the talk about things they have no right to gossip about. Thankfully my coworkers were amazing, although I did find out later there was some slightly inaccurate information that got passed around as gossip.
Give yourself permission to take a break.
Feeling overwhelmed? Take a step back from the situation. No one is going to stop you from taking a step out to use the bathroom or go get a drink. No one is going to wonder where you went or think twice about it. You are free to take breaks when you need them, because sometimes work can be overwhelming. W need breaks. We are human beings, anxious or not.
Don’t forget to practice self-care.
Don’t forget to include you time in that schedule. Even if you only have five minutes of your day, take some time for yourself. Maybe it’s during your lunch break and you take time to eat slow and enjoy your food. Maybe you go to work early and just sit in your car and listen to your favorite song before you go inside. Give yourself you time, and remember the end goal. I don’t know about you, but my end goal is peace of mind, and I’m willing to take the steps to get there.
Say to yourself, “They’re criticizing you because they want to help you, not hurt you.”
If your coworker gives you feedback or advice, odds are they are trying to help you… not hurt you. They want you to be better are your job. Getting criticism is hard, but you have to remind yourself they aren’t out to get you. They don’t want to bring you down, they don’t want to hurt your feelings. They genuinely care about you and want to see you do better. If they feel comfortable enough to tell you that, it’s really a huge compliment.
Pat yourself on the back for showing up to work.
Nothing is worse than calling out and feeling the guilt of knowing you should be at work. Give yourself credit, you went to work today! You did it! That’s half the battle. You’re doing something productive that is helping society in one way or another. You are doing something. Whether you love your job or not, you still managed to get there to work. That’s something to be proud of.
Bonus–check out this CEO’s response for a mental health day off–You will Bear Witness.