“Coming out” about mental illness is nerve-wracking! The stigma of society’s uneducated opinions on the subject weighs heavy on the shoulders of someone holding back on sharing their illness with friends and family. But being open and honest about the issues you face with your support structures can also be incredibly freeing.
That’s not to say you have to go around proclaiming your illness from the rooftops. An asthma sufferer doesn’t necessarily tell every person they meet about their asthma. But in the same vein, neither do asthma sufferers hide their inhaler. If they need to use it, they don’t go and hide in the bathroom first.
For me, the biggest change has come from being honest with my employers in particular. In a previous job, I did everything I could to hide what was going on for fear of people’s reactions. And of course, when things deteriorated with my behaviours in relation to being manic and psychotic, I found I had no support – because no one understood the root of the problem. When I needed people to be tolerant and forgiving I came across brick walls.
The first time I decided to share with a manager my hand was somewhat forced by a major depressive episode that saw me going into crisis care for a week. I had to come up with a reason for my absence and after a lot of deliberation and discussion with my husband I chose to tell the full story. I had left work at midday for an appointment with my care co-ordinator and by 4pm had been granted a bed in crisis accommodation starting the following day. I spent the next hour writing and re-writing the email to my line manager, fretting about what she might think or do in reaction to my revelations. In the end I kept it brief – I summarised that I was in a severe depression and feeling suicidal; that I needed to take a week off to get myself back to being myself. At this point I had been in the job for about eight weeks and was still on my probation period.
Around 10 minutes later my phone rang. It was my manager and I tentatively answered the call, my mind filled with all the awful possibilities. I needed have worried however, as she proceeded to tell me that I had her full support and backing, and finished by saying that if I needed her all I had to do was call. It was such a huge weight lifted to hear her saying that. On top of this, once I had returned to work she arranged for me to speak with an occupational doctor to review my working environment and check if I needed any adjustments made to accommodate my needs.
Fast forward a year and you find me where I am writing this from; a new desk, a new company and a new boss. In my first month working here I started having problems with paranoia and anxiety. Within another two weeks it had ballooned into a psychotic and mixed-mood episode. This time I didn’t wait till the last possible moment to tell my manager. With the help of my husband I drafted up an email and hit send; an hour later I was in a meeting room listening to the boss tell me that I have him behind me all the way. Once again I felt that burden lift – I had felt like I was carrying a dirty and shameful secret around with me before telling him (the irony being that I had nothing to feel shameful over).
I just want to share a few resources with you to wrap this up. First off is the Equality Advisory Service who have been brilliant at answering my questions (such as “Is asking to change my working hours considered a reasonable adjustment?”). Next up is Mind’s Mental Health at Work section. And finally the page on workplace support on the Time To Change site.
As always, I welcome your thoughts, comments and questions, whether you post them here, on Facebook or on Twitter @justdontsayimcrazy.