I never had a Mum to talk to when I was growing up. I never had a sister to talk to as we aged together. I never had a partner that I felt comfortable in disclosing too. Those who I worked for, who I was able to talk to used my words against me. This is why I now struggle to talk to anyone about my mental illness.
By talking in the past I have been judged, discriminated against, seen as someone not worthy, and someone with no personality, and I have been nobody that someone wants to be around. In the workplace my talking only caused me bias, judgement and inequality.
As someone living with depression I never wanted to be treated any differently…..I just wanted to be treated fairly.
Fairness when you have a mental illness doesn’t happen.
So many with a mental illness face discrimination, judgement, negative work conditions and inequality. The circumstances of this treatment have been built over many years and continues to be maintained by the stigma attached to depression and mental illness as a whole. It is rare for people living with a mental illness to receive support for managing their illness while working, let alone the employer coming out in support of their employees who are struggling to manage the combintion of working and living with chronic depression.
In the past I have stupidly told my employer and work colleagues about my depression and it has done nothing but make it twice as hard, increase the stress, cause discrimination and inequality which culiminates into a tsunami of unfair treatment, blame, aggression and inequality that management will always get away with.
So excuse me if when I got my latest job that I wasn’t prepared to talk to anyone about who I was and in particular the mental illness that I was living with! Not only have I got to the point where I don’t have the confidence to be me, get to know people but I have learnt the mask of secrecy works best. If they don’t know who I really am and what I impacts upon me then they can’t hurt me!
At the end of the day there is only so much you can hide, particularly when you have to take sick leave to manage an illness that nobody knows anything about.
I started work in the health sector at the end of November 2013, a new environment than what I was use to when I worked within the emergency management sector. Not just a sector dominated by males the emergency management sector led with an attitude and a culture that was male oriented and that you didn’t have or talk about your problems.
Along with the silence of my upbringing, my career was shaped by the same silence.
I started back into the workforce after over 12 months of hospitalisation and ill health that consumed me 24 hours a day, with no reprieve and little hope for my future.
So after a number of sick days over a number of weeks my Manager asked me ‘if I was ok?’ I said ‘well no, I am not ok.’ What followed was a conversation about my depression and the impact it has on me on a daily basis. With my Managers support we agreed that once a fortnight I would work from home to assist me in mananging my depression. To my surprise there was no judgement, no inequality, no change in attitude in response to me talking to me about the mental illness that has continued to impact me.
I am the type of person that when I get an idea or project in my head I stick to it, obsess over it and I do anything to make it work and at the best quality it can be. This is how I work too. The fact that I am Type A personality just complicates everything ten times worse!
The last month or more I have been in a position where I couldn’t manage work demands along with life and living with depression. The last week I have been at home more than I have been at work, I was coming to the conclusion, as was my soul mate, that I was going to get fired because I had been on sick leave too often and for someone that is still seeing out their work probation period I was unsure I could keep my job. I went into this week expecting a lecture about my performance, or the lack there of due to my mental illness and the impacts upon my ability to work.
I went into a meeting with my Manager today expecting the ‘talk’ about my performance and about me not the person they need to do this job. Thatis all I could think about, I obsessed about it and it consumed me along with depression, that always impacted and influenced my life whether I liked it or not? I could only think that this was the end of this job, my fight to keep the mask up was finally over, I didn’t have to pretend to be someone that is strong when that is far from the truth.
What I thought would end in failure and the conclusion of my career ended up in something I didn’t think was possible for people I only knew as an employee. After recognising that next week we needed to have a meeting to go over my probation, all I could think about was this is it, I am doomed, say goodbye to any career that thought I had, thanks a lot depression once again. I thought the worst, because that’s what all discussions about mental health ended in, the worst. Heavy in negativity and inequality that is just the way it is when you have a mental illness, when stigma has such an influence on your life, and your Manager starts the conversation about ‘IT’.
It’s hard when you know your not okay, no matter the mask you put up, that you will cave when someone asks if your are doing ok. You find yourself in a force between saying you are not ok and putting the mask up more than you had before so you could hide what is really going on. When I am at my most vulnerable I can’t hide behind the mask of normailty, I don’t have the courage or the fight left in me. So it’s any wonder when my Manager asked me ‘the question’ that I said ‘no I wasn’t ok’.
What transpired was a conversation about how my Manger valued me as an employee and how she would work with me and HR to support me in managing the combination of working and having chronic depression. When it turns in your favour as it has, you just don’t expect it, especially where stigma rules. I didn’t expect the support. I never thought that my Manager would say to me that she would speak to HR to discuss how they can assist me in managing my depression while working because I was a valued employee.
Yes it is good to have a Manager that shows support to help me work with depression. The thing is after years of no support it is really hard to trust any offers of help. After a lifetime of mistrust, hurt and inequality to trust is more than a feeling, it is changing what has been your life.
I never expected help or support, and I guess until it happens I will not believe or trust but I have to believe that I have someone’s word of support means more than anything than what I have ever heard in a very long time and if it comes true it is set to change my faith in mankind.