As most of you know, I not only write about food, I also write about mental health (and most of the time, how they relate to each other).
The month of May is national Mental Health Month and this week is Mental Health week! It is also the launch of Partners for Mental Health's campaign "Not Myself Today at Work." In spirit of the campaign, I have a guest writer this week who talks about how mental health in the workplace has affected her and the stigma surrounding mental health at work.
Here she is!
The fact that I work for myself is rather strategic. I learned in my first “real” job that the traditional work environment is not for me. With the ups and downs of a mood cycling condition (I have rapid cycling cyclothymia), a 9 to 5 is practically out of the question. If it’s a really rough morning – one of those somewhat rare times that I am in the throws of a depression or, more likely, horrendous exhaustion thanks to middle of the night hypomania – motivation can be very difficult.
Furthermore, through unintentional trial and error, I learned that having a hypomanic cycle in the middle of the office is never a positive. I don’t have the option to take a break from everyone, lie down, take a walk, whatever I might need to help me deal with it. Co-workers don’t know what to do when you become irritated, anxious, overactive, or supremely stressed out about things that seem like no big deal to them.
While everyone at my former job realized how hard I worked at my job, I was rarely promoted. I was passed by numerous times, by less qualified people, and I’m quite sure it was because they were nervous about my personality. They didn’t like someone who had no filter at times, who got anxious and frustrated easily, whose brain went all over the place and therefore could have concentration trouble, who have black and white thinking (classic of a cycling disorder), no matter how well I did my job.
People are scared of what they don’t know, and they certainly didn’t seem to know cyclothymia. I can’t say I always blamed them, but I was noticeably marked and singled out as being a “trouble maker”, I felt that my opportunity for success and advancement in the company was thwarted because of it. I once got “written up” for an alleged coworker who wasn’t even in the building. He and I were good friends and had in fact never argued. But if someone claimed I acted out, it was believed. I was actually sent to a class on “dealing with difficult people” because of this situation that never occurred to help me learn how to “play well with others”. I was further written up for interrupting conversations on the phone. Nobody understood that I have severe phone anxiety and it’s difficult for me to even be on a call, let alone sit patiently and converse naturally. It didn’t matter that the clients absolutely loved me, to the point that several company reviews pointed me out as their preferred employee and said others needed improvement. I was a “difficult people”.
Back then, ironically, I wasn’t diagnosed. I just knew I was “different” for lack of a better word. I didn’t think like everyone else or see the world through the same lense. I started my own business seven years ago. I was diagnosed close to four years ago. I began openly discussing my condition about a year ago, and it was nerve wracking.
Though I don’t have to worry about workplace discrimination anymore, I am part of numerous organizations. There’s always that thin line of how much do I want industry colleagues to know. While it’s technically illegal to discriminate because of a condition (thank you, ADA), it doesn’t mean it won’t color people’s opinions of me, even subconsciously.
When I suddenly decided to open up and not only tell my story but start doing some mental health support work, I took a major chance. I opted to stop hiding –from everybody. I decided that if someone was going to discriminate against or even dislike me personally or professionally because of a medical condition (and make no mistake, that’s what is is), then I didn’t want them in my life, whatever the consequences.
Today, the only people that now are unfamiliar with my condition are my clients, and that’s simply because there’s no reason to bring it up. I run a travel planning company. I am happy to tell them everything they need to know about travel, but my health history has no place in the conversation. I’m lucky that, at least to my knowledge, most people have been very supportive. I’m still sure there are those who are weary of me, who in the back of their minds are concerned that I’m unstable or difficult and keep their distance. I feel there are people who don’t believe in my abilities, and that I’ve possibly missed some opportunities because of that. But I truly, whole-heartedly believe my life is better off without anyone that feels this way. I realize everyone doesn’t have the opportunity to be so open, and I feel so lucky that I can.
Read further on the facts about mental health in the workplace and Partners for Mental Health's campaign at www.notyselftoday.ca