Monday, February 19, 2007

no right (or easy) answer

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This article raises an important consideration for those of us dealing with mental conditions like depression:

Should You Tell?
For People With a Mental Illness, There's No Easy Answer
One in four people has depression or mental illness, and many of those who are affected face the same dilemma: Tell your boss, and you may be ostracized, penalized or not hired. Don't tell, and your boss might lose confidence in you. Despite the long way we've come -- public figures such as former Montgomery County executive Douglas Duncan, Pittsburgh Steelers superstar Terry Bradshaw, and writer and political adviser Robert Boorstin have announced that they, too, have depression or other related illnesses -- a strong stigma is still attached to these diseases.

It was a combination of migraine disease and depression, and the unfortunate interplay between them, that caused me to lose my job last fall. I know too well that when your mental condition is not well controlled, it is nearly impossible to keep up at work, and it can be incredibly damaging to your career. I feel such a sense of humilation over losing that job. I don't feel that I could ever go to anyone there for any kind of professional connection in the future, which just kills me. I loved that job so much, and I felt like I gave 110% when my health allowed me to do so. It feels like a huge waste of three and a half years. Maybe disclosing my depression would have made a difference, but I honestly don't think so. Did I do the right thing by keeping that a secret? I don't know, and I guess it doesn't matter because there is no way in hell I would have ever been able to acknowledge it openly.

In that vein, the only thing I see missing from this article is the reality that some of us are paralyzed with shame about our mental illnesses. It is very uncomfortable for me to even apply the label "mental illness" to myself, let alone discuss my condition with anyone other than my husband or (maybe) my parents. I truly cannot imagine discussing it with an employer.

I recently read Kay Redfield Jamison's book An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness. I am in awe of her ability to be open about her bipolar disorder. True, she had no choice but to disclose her disease in order to get hospital privileges for her job, but I honestly do not know how she did it. Maybe someday I will get past the shame and feel more comfortable being open about my condition.

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