Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Don't Ask, Don't Tell?

It's very nice that some of the people who have commented think that I'm brave and courageous for writing a blog on a disorder that makes "normal" people's hair stand on end.

It's really got nothing to do with bravery, courage or any high moral values on my part. Believe me, I'm the world's biggest chickenshit.

What it has to do with is my acceptance of who I am. Consider a gay person coming out of the closet. Now that takes guts, in my opinion. And total acceptance of who you are and complete disregard for "public opinion". Which may or may not include one's family.

And then there is always the question of who do you tell. I don't wear a "Kiss Me, I'm Bipolar" badge on my shirt. Most people don't even suspect that I have any kind of mental disorder when they meet me or even get to know me. However, the workplace can be extraordinarily difficult for someone with a mental disorder. Let me give you an example.

In my last position, which was operations manager for a small consulting firm, I was literally chief cook and bottlewasher. During the course of a week, I might have been off at a client site doing database consulting work, managing the network back at the office, running statistical spreadsheets, interviewing someone for a temp office position, designing and implementing the company web site, organizing trade show crap, writing contracts for clients, and a host of other things. I juggled many responsibilities.

However, during a medication change, suddenly I was falling asleep in front of my computer at 2 in the afternoon. Despite my using a Franklin-Covey planner religiously, I could not remember simple things, such as renewing service contracts on the company laptops. Always a sharp proofreader of my own work, suddenly I was making mistakes that were being caught by other people. Not good. And my boss was concerned enough to ask me if there was anything wrong.

So, what do you say? "Gee, I guess I screwed up?" Or, "I didn't tell you when you hired me but I'm a manic-depressive and I take killer drugs that can turn me into a zombie."

Anyone who takes psychotropic medication will find at some point that their functioning may become somewhat less than it had been. My feeling regarding my employer was that while he had the right to some explanation of why my performance wasn't up to speed, he did not necessarily have the right to know everything. My solution was to explain to him that I had been recently put on medication that had certain side effects such as drowsiness and that I did not expect the side effects to be permanent. And of course, they weren't. In the context of my work performance, he completely understood. To a point. I knew that if my mental state did not improve, he wasn't about to live with it indefinitely.

Sure, there's always disability when the going gets tough. I've been on disability exactly once--during a severe depression, for three months until I was better. However, I prefer to keep working rather than rely on SSI, which is harder than shit to get anyway. Working at something is really the best medicine, whether you have a high-level job or not.

In this country, people with mental disorders have rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Making sure that your rights are respected at work may mean that you will have to disclose your disorder. Here's a very good article about handling your disorder at work. I've found it to be quite helpful.

And when you're really struggling at work or with anything at all, think about all the well-known, creative people, past and present, who've been manic-depressive or depressed. They did it. There's always hope.


Barb B. said...

Having just the depression and not the manic is, it sounds like anyway, easier to handle.
I decided to tell my close friends once I realized what was going on. As I have said, my depression is connected to hormone imbalance during menopause. The shocking thing to me were the number of my friends who are having similar experiences and were told by their doctors to go home and cheer up. Including one woman who almost ran her van into a transport truck on the highway at 100Km per hour. I gave her my docs name, she went to him and is receiving help.
I told my kids, and that's the best thing I ever did. They live about 500km away, and were down for a visit. They went out and bought me a bouquet of flowers, gave me a big hug and kiss (we aren't a flower huggy kissy family) I had also mentioned my trouble sleeping, and for Christmas they got me a bath set with soap and lotion and salts etc that is supposed to help promote sleep. Whether it works or not, I can tell you it was a warm and fuzzy moment.
All in all, my experience of discussing my problems (suicidal thoughts, crying jags, pity parties) has been nothing but positive so far.
Barb B.

Gail said...

I'm seeing a new therapist who is making a point that while I have social anxiety disorder, its not who I am. So, I go back and forth between wanting to talk about it and tell everyone (especially since so few people can, really), and just wanting to not mention it ever.

I'm fairly close with my manager, and I don't bring it up. Mainly because I've found that when I tell folks, they at first don't believe me, an second, they then start to accomodate me in ways I don't need and aren't necessarily good for me. Yes, I get scared when I have to contact a big muckity muck. Yes, it's easier if my boss does it for me, but I also know I can't grow as a person or in my job if I lean on that.

Marilyn said...

The funny thing is, depression has gotten some very positive publicity in terms of celebrities discussing it openly, Tom Cruise notwithstanding. Bipolar not so much, although Patty Duke and Carrie Fisher have done a lot for the disorder. If a doctor tells someone to go home and "cheer up," then it's time to dump him/her immediately because they aren't listening.

I have slight social anxiety on occasion, so I can relate, Gail. It comes and goes but it's not really hindered me too much. If I'm feeling depressed, I like to withdraw from people. Hate making phone calls to people I don't know. However, that's always been part of my job, so I tell myself, "Fuck 'em if they don't like it, it's only a phone call."