I wish I could stop pretending not to be mentally ill.
I no longer care to keep my mental illness hidden. Yep, I’m no longer ashamed. I have worked really hard to get to this point. I’m not depressed right now, it appears my anxiety will never go away. Does that make me weak? Should I hide my illness like the dirty little secret the world wants me to think it is?
I think not. But here’s the thing — I’m looking for a job. I’m working with my university’s job placement service and they think I should keep it hush-hush. I was forced to leave my last job when they refused to allow me a reasonable accommodation to mitigate my anxiety. Their HR department was appalled that I had told my coworkers and supervisors the reason for needing the accommodation. They said something to the effect of, “You know, you don’t have to tell anyone.”
Yes, of course I know that! I’ve wasted years of my life concealing my mental illnesses!
I’m proud of what I’ve done to live life to its fullest. I’m proud that I can manage my illness. I’m proud that even if anxiety won’t go away, I’ve learned how to live with it. I’m proud I’ve achieved as much as I have while battling a sometimes life-threatening illness. I’m proud that I never succumbed to my suicidal ideations. I’m proud I somehow never gave up on myself, even though I really wanted to.
But I’m not allowed to even acknowledge what might be my greatest achievement in life in the workplace or when seeking employment? This makes me angry and feels counterintuitive. Sure, I’ve achieved many other remarkable things, but I’ve had enough pretending that I never suffer from depressive episodes. Or that I’ve never become paralyzed with panic. The depression and the anxiety are a huge part of what makes me who I am. My ability to overcome those monumental obstacles is remarkable and something any employer should value.
Instead, I have to feed the stigma? Even though I’m done hiding? Hiring managers and HR departments are just not ready for my lack of shame. This feels so wrong. I must begrudgingly conceal what to me is one of my greatest strengths. Anyone who has had recurring bouts of major depression knows that just the fact that I’m writing this shows I fought and I continue to fight. I fought hard and with everything I could muster to beat that last episode: the one caused by my employer failing to allow me a reasonable accommodation.
But part of my self-care strategy is learning to choose my battles. While I want to fight this battle, I need income. But this is not how I would like to get a job — by lying. Oh sure, I’ve done it before. I’ve honed the skill of masking my symptoms to the point where HR departments don’t believe me when I say I have anxiety. I suppose I’ve lied my way into every job I’ve ever had.
Maybe I have to sit out this battle, but the war isn’t won. I will be a good little job-seeker and pretend I don’t have a life-altering illness just to get hired. But just because I can’t fight this round doesn’t mean I’m done. In fact, it has fueled my desire to stop the charade. You better believe I’ve only just begun to fight the stigma we all know needs to die. This little setback is just more motivation for me to stop pretending that I’m not mentally ill, because I am.