I remember leaving work with my boss one day. This was a few weeks after I’d taken a sick day for some anxiety symptoms. While making small talk in the elevator, my boss asked if I was feeling better. My heart raced as I tried to assess the situation. I had told the office I was having stomach problems, which was true, but I knew the cause was my mental illness. My boss continued, “You should see a doctor and get it sorted out; your health is important. If it’s your stomach, maybe you should try a new diet.” Wanting to end the conversation, I flubbed a story about my doctor blaming stress. “Oh,” my boss said. “Well then, you better get used to it, ’cause it’s only going to get worse.” I knew then that I would never tell my workplace about my mental illness.
I’m no longer working there, but I am looking for a job. I’d love to be completely open with potential employers (hi, if you’re reading this) about my depression and anxiety. We know the facts, but there’s still an underlying feeling that if you’re not ill enough to be hospitalized, you’d better not mention it at work. God forbid you take a sick day for your mental illness. I even doubt how debilitating my own condition is and I live with it! But that’s my own sickness trying to make me feel like I’m not good enough: I can’t even get mental illness right.
But I did get my mental illness “right”, as it (and other matters) kept me out of full-time work for almost two years. So along with the fear of rejection, I also have some ‘splainin’ to do about my employment gap. Do I tell my future workplace I couldn’t work due to depression and anxiety, or do I lie? Both explanations suck. Employers don’t want to deal with a sick person. What if I relapse and need a significant amount of time off? On the other hand, lying makes it seem like I’m lazy or a bad worker. Also, I’d be lying. It’s a gamble I can’t win.
I have yet to tell any employer about my mental illness. I’ve tested the waters with my volunteer positions and while they’ve recognized and accommodated it, it still feels taboo. I skirt around the issue to avoid awkward conversations. I’m still more comfortable excusing myself for stomach trouble than stating that my depression didn’t let me leave the house. After all, my well-being is important, as long as it has nothing to do with mental health, right? But in all seriousness, I sincerely hope that at my future job I can be honest and feel safe speaking about my mental illness.
About Whitney Reyes
Whitney has always loved writing. Before she was first diagnosed with depression and GAD at 17, she started sharing her thoughts with the world on her blog. After completing journalism school, her mental illness came back with a vengeance. She's now writing about her experience on Healthy Minds Canada and social media. You can follow her on Twitter and read her other work on her personal website.