Why I Shouldn’t Have to Lie About My Mental Illness to Get a Job

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.

jobinterview 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. 


4 Reasons Why I Almost Didn’t Speak Up About My Mental Illness

Five years ago at the age of 17, I was diagnosed with a mental health disorder for which I had symptoms ever since I was a child. It was a shock. At the same time, I was relieved to know, at last, what had been happening to me for so long. Quickly, I decided to fight and to do everything in my power to not let this illness define me. Five years later, I can now affirm that I’m on the road to recovery and stability. I’m leading a happy and successful life on many levels, and I hope my story will be one of resilience, hope and courage.

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photo: Daniel Levesque, TEDxQuebec

On December 1, 2015, I shared my story on the stage of TEDxQuébec in front of 200 people. Deciding to share my story wasn’t easy. I wanted to do it for a long time, but I hesitated and felt extremely anxious about my decision. Here are four reasons why I almost didn’t speak up about my mental illness. (And why I eventually did.)

1. I didn’t want to be labeled.

I’m an individual, not an illness. My struggles with my mental health are only a part of who I am but don’t represent the woman I am as a whole. I’m still an outgoing, happy, strong-willed and passionate person even with a mental illness. I didn’t want people to put me into a small box and to not look beyond that. I didn’t want to be treated or perceived differently than I currently am.

2. I didn’t want people to pity me or to feel sorry for me.

Although I went through a difficult time due to my life experiences and the symptoms of my mental illness that arose from it, I still consider myself a lucky and fortunate woman. I appreciate life and everything that I do precisely because I have been in pain for so long. Living with a mental illness forced me to question what I wanted to do in life and made aware of the person I wanted to be early on. I have a clear direction of where I want to go because I have struggled for so long with my mental health. Some people who are much older than I am and don’t live with a mental illness aren’t as fortunate to have this sense of direction.

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photo: Stephanie Pineau

3. I didn’t know how people would react.

Let’s face it. There is still a lot of stigma regarding mental health. And it’s something that scares a lot of people. I’ve come to realize that society tends to treat people with mental health issues differently than those who live with physical illnesses or injuries. However, I realized my real friends would stick with me. Those who walked away from it out of fear or discomfort are simply people I would have turned myself away from at the end of the day.

4. It’s not often talked about in the black community.

People of color are often ignored in this conversation altogether. As a black woman, I believe that each and every one of us should take care of our mental health. Yet, most of the stories we hear, even if they’re very inspiring ones, tend to be about white people, leaving people of color out of the picture. Dior Vargas, a Latina feminist and mental health advocate, has made an excellent point of that. We need to be more inclusive when we talk about these things. So I decided to stop waiting for someone to represent me and be that person instead. I decided to be the change I wanted to see in the world because I have the intellectual and personal resources to talk about this topic.

At the end of the day, I didn’t know what the consequences would be, positive or negative, regarding my choice about speaking up. Seeing many young people around me being isolated and treated differently solely on the basis of their mental health issues gave me motivation to speak up. I gathered the support I needed to do that from local organizations and talking about my decision with my parents.

As a counselor and a social work student, I feel it’s important that I embody the values I find important in my profession. And part of that was to let myself be truly seen, as the professor and author Brené Brown would put it. I decided to speak up not only to help others but also out of authenticity. Being able to admit one’s own vulnerabilities takes courage. And there is strength in that.

I decided to talk about my mental health because I want to make the point that it’s OK to talk about these things. I want people to understand that living with a mental illness is not the end of the world once you get the right tools and the proper help. I want people to understand that we can all struggle at one point in our lives, that every experience is valid and that there should be no shame around these discussions.

Asking for help is actually a sign of humility and self-respect. And more importantly, I want people to understand that it’s possible to lead a joyful, happy and successful life despite living with a mental illness. There is always hope. I am the living proof of that.

The Mighty is asking the following: Give advice to someone who has just been diagnosed with your mental illness. What do you wish someone had told you? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

5 Tips for Talking to Nosy Relatives About Your Mental Illness

The holidays are a time where relatives often come together, whether for good or for ill. And for those of us who are ill, it can sometimes contribute to that part of our lives. Family support is important, but when your relatives won’t stop asking questions or offering unnecessary advice, it can get overwhelming. Here’s your guide to surviving the nosy relatives of your holiday season.

Note: You know your family best — if any of these points sound like they won’t be effective for you, don’t do them. Your results may vary on all these suggestions, but these are some strategies that help me.

1. Changing the topic can work wonders.

Whether your relatives see and respect the topic change, or let it whiz right past them without realizing what you’re doing, a good old-fashioned “Oh hey, that reminds me!” goes a long way. For example, if someone asks why you don’t have a job yet, a great response is something like, “It’s complicated. But I hear cousin George has a new job doing fecal transplants. That sounds fascinating.” Or if you’re feeling spunky: “Have you tried the fruitcake yet? It’s truly delicious.” Topic changes are especially great for those awkward lulls in conversation after things have turned to a truly uncomfortable subject.

2. Honesty is (sometimes) the best policy.

Sometimes being grossly honest is the way to go. If your relative asks why you’re not eating enough, you can stay straight out, “Well, I’m getting over a nasty case of the eating disorders so sometimes food is a little hard for me.” This is best if you know your family has some awareness of mental illnesses and is likely to respect boundaries. It can absolutely be intimidating, but you’d also be surprised how supportive some people are once they know what’s actually going on.

3. Recruit a friend.

During the holidays, I often question whether I’m being oversensitive. For a while, I thought I was just a mean, nasty person because I had a hard time being around my grandmother, who can seem overbearing. This year, I talked to my dad about it and he confirmed she can be somewhat on the abrasive side. It helps to know I’m not making it up or ruining the holiday. Having someone else whose eye you can catch or who can laugh uncomfortably with you goes a long way.

On that note, it helps to prep your closest family members. That way, you’ll have someone willing to swoop in and either explain or distract as necessary. For example, anxiety and I have a close relationship, which is made worse by holidays and large groups of people. I pretty regularly sneak off for a few minutes (or hours) on my own to read a book or just decompress. When I give my dad a heads up, he makes excuses for me. This way, my family doesn’t feel unwanted or ask if I’m feeling OK when I get back.

I also have some family members who like to push my buttons, and when I talk to my parents they’re usually really good about inserting themselves into a conversation for me.

4. Set your boundaries.

Setting boundaries is a skill, and it’s one you can learn with practice. With some people, being straightforward that you don’t want to discuss something is a good option. Ideally, you can describe what they’re doing, tell them how it affects you and ask them to stop. Then you can introduce a consequence if they don’t stop. For example, if someone keeps asking you about your mental health in a way that makes you uncomfortable, you can say, “You keep asking me personal questions. It makes me uncomfortable. Let’s talk about something else, otherwise I’m going to go hang out with the kids for a little bit.”

This may seem mean or as if you’re stirring up drama, but you have every right to ask a family member to respect your boundaries. Think about how much you’re willing to disclose ahead of time, and then decide if you want to set and enforce a boundary with those who continue talking and asking.

5. Have a sense of humor.

If having a sense of humor is how you cope, embrace it. “Oh, it’s time to talk about personal health issues now? Do tell me about yours!” Humor often gets the point across quite quickly.

Follow this journey on We Got So Far to Go.

The Mighty is asking the following: As someone who lives with — or has a loved one with — a mental illness, what’s one thing that’s particularly challenging around the holidays? Why? What advice would give someone going through similar challenges? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

5 Reasons I’m Not Ashamed My Daughter Went Away for Mental Illness Treatment

Every day, parents are challenged by teenage children who have mental illness and addiction. The decision to send our 17-year-old daughter to residential treatment this past spring, where she lived and received treatment for addiction and mental illness, was not an easy one — but it was a necessary one. Some friends and family members didn’t understand why we needed to make this seemingly drastic decision — things weren’t that bad, were they? Didn’t she just need time to mature? Weren’t we being too harsh with her, expecting her to be the “ideal child” that her older brother seemingly was?

Here are five reasons we’re not ashamed we sent our daughter to residential treatment.

1. She was somewhere safe.

Despite the fact my little girl would be living 70 miles away from us with limited communication (we were allowed phone calls once a week with weekly visits on Sunday), we knew she would be safe. We could sleep well each night without worrying about where she was or wondering if she would sneak out. I was entrusting her care to a group of people I didn’t know, but it didn’t scare me. We have lived with terrifying for most of the previous year.

The advent of a driving license, new friendships, the continuing battle with impulse control due to ADHD, and the emerging battle with depression and anxiety, was causing our daughter to make dangerous and risky decisions. She used drugs and alcohol to help her cope with depression and anxiety on a daily basis. The constant fighting, defiance and willful disobedience make us feel completely helpless. We were watching our child make decisions that could have permanent and devastating consequences for herself, our family or others. She needed to be somewhere else so she could live.

2. She was getting the help she needed.

We were lost, and didn’t know where to turn. She had a brief inpatient hospitalization early in the year and then entered outpatient treatment. The outpatient treatment didn’t seem to help much. She was easily triggered and was still sneaking out, lying and self-harming. Even after a parenting class that helped us better handle the situation, she still was floundering with anxiety and depression and wasn’t embracing therapy. 

But at residential treatment, she had to participate in therapy — she had nowhere else to go and no way to escape it. She still had difficult days in treatment, but her treatment counselors were constantly there to help her face her illness and behaviors, and find ways to make positive changes.

3. We realized just how deep her illness was.

We were ignorant to the intricacies of mental illness, and soon were overwhelmed with the variety of diagnoses that were given to our daughter: major depression, moderate anxiety, borderline personality traits, PTSD, dysmorphic body image. This was not something that would be quickly cured. It’s a long road of therapy, mood swings, outbursts, emotional meltdowns and medication adjustments. The patient and family both go through the stages of grief and acceptance of the diagnosis, and have to live with a new “normal” that may never return to life as it was.

4. It brought our family closer together.

We would have never thought this experience would help us gain a new level of compassion, love and understanding. We are a positive, faith-fueled family, and always try to find the blessings in the trials we face. During our most frustrating days as parents, we look at how this has brought our children closer. When my son visited his sister in residential treatment, they would embrace and express love for each other, laughing and talking like I don’t remember them doing in over a decade. Our patience and communication was stronger and honest, even if sometimes it was hard to hear or say.

5. She is on the road to recovery and wellness.

My daughter was discharged after 91 days in treatment, and bringing her her home to live with us again was more frightening than bringing home a newborn baby. We’ve taken parenting skills classes, attending mental health training and engaged in family therapy. We now find most days things are getting better. However, she still manages to find a ways to sneak out, to deceive and engage in self-sabotaging behaviors.  

Recovery is a long, winding road, with many obstacles and detours. We’ve had a few setbacks, including a four-day inpatient hospital stay to halt some negative and risky behavior patterns, and also a medication adjustment. Family therapy has been very positive and we’ve seen our relationships and home life improve greatly.

Many people will ask, “What can we do to help?” or “What do you need?”  We need you to love us — all of us. There will be times we want to talk about what’s going on, and times we don’t. Sometimes all we need is a hug. We love our daughter so much it literally hurts. Parenting a child with mental illness and addiction is tough, and I believe it’s only through the grace of God we get through it each day.

The Mighty is asking the following: Parents of children with mental illnesses – tell us a story about working within the mental health system. What barriers of treatment have you experienced? What’s a change in the system that could help your child? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

10 Things I Know About Living With a Mental Illness

I don’t know any of you. You may be living with clinical depression, anxiety, panic attacks, schizophrenia, borderline personalities, post-traumatic stress disorder, hyperactivity, seclusion, substance and/or alcohol abuse or from other forms of devastating mental illnesses. I don’t know where you come from, your family, your health history or the unique circumstances that have arrived in your life. I don’t know if your illness is from genetics, or if it was catalyzed by something terrible that happened to you. You could be going through a massive change in your life, or you may be struggling with the loss of a loved one.

But there are a few things I do know when it comes to your fight with a mental illness:

1. I know it can feel like you’re alone in this battle.

2. I know it may seem like no one understands what you’re going through.

3. I know how it feels to seem isolated, invisible or alone in a crowded room.

4. I know what it’s like to put on a fake smile to hide deep pain and loneliness. I know, all too well, all of these fake masks we put on when really there’s quick sand trying to pull us under.

5. I know how it feels to lose interest in things we once loved. All of our favorite places are gone, we don’t want intimacy anymore and we push love away.

6. I know how it feels to toss away your social life and your social circle.

7. I know what it’s like to be tossed away from your family.

8. I know how it feels to want someone to call, email or even to text.

9. I know how it feels when you try everything in your power — absolutely everything — to try to fill in the growing emptiness and despair that’s living inside of you. I know what it is like to try and mute or shut out that emptiness and despair.

10. I know how it feels to ponder about death.

Beyond all of this, I know how clinical depression feels and I’m very aware of the thoughts and feelings that lead someone to contemplate suicide.

But, we all know there are two sides to a coin; there are two sides to a story. There are a few other things about life — things that make life truly awesome and inspirational.

First, I know there is hope. Just as winter is conquered by spring, or as the darkness is dominated by the light, I know you can make it through this. And what’s even better, you can come out a much stronger and better person for experiencing it.

Second, I believe God’s everlasting love, guidance and strength is made available to every one of us.

Third, I know the seasons will always come and go…year after year. The seasons of life: the hope of spring, the abundance of summer, the harvest of autumn and yes, even the darkness of winter.

Four, I know miracles happen every single day. All we have to do is read the newspapers or watch the news. There’s always news about a miracle taking place for someone and for some family

Most importantly, I know you are not alone. We are all on this path together. There is hope. Let’s reach out to one another and walk in the sunlight instead of the dark.

Let’s heal — together.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or mental illness. It can be lighthearted and funny or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include at least one intro paragraph for your list. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

A Survival Guide for Maintaining Your Mental Health Over the Holidays

The holidays can be really hard, especially when you live with a mental illness. Here are some of the few things you can do in the coming weeks to preserve your mental health.

1. Find a way to maintain your routine. 


It’s not going to be your normal routine, because even if you don’t celebrate the holidays work/school/family/life gets disrupted this time of year. So try to find a way to do the same thing every day. It can be something small, like taking your meds, walking the dog, screaming into a pillow — whatever you need to do. Set an alarm on your phone. Ask a friend to text you a reminder. If your dog’s bladder is reliable, set your watch by that.

Personally, this is the hardest thing for me to do. I fail at it a lot. But I will say that when I was home for Thanksgiving, I did take a nap every afternoon.

2. Get some alone time.

I need some alone time to recharge, but it can be really hard to ask that of my loved ones. I love them and I want to see them, but I get really stressed if I don’t get some time to be in my own head.

But this isn’t true for everyone. If it’s not for you, take some down time with other people. You can watch bad TV together. Listen to the new Adele album and compare feelings. (Or, if you’re a robot, compare…pistons?)

3. Be healthy (but not too healthy).


Try to maintain eating habits you’ve learned work for you, but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t. If you eat eight of Aunt Linda’s cookie bars, that’s OK. Give yourself a break. It’s not the time to start new habits.

4. Know “this too shall pass.”

The holidays don’t last forever. Things will get less hectic.

5. Don’t feel bad for feeling bad. 


It’s OK. I feel it too. It doesn’t mean you don’t love your family and it doesn’t mean you don’t love your friends.

People all over the world feel like crap. I have a theory that’s the whole reason holidays were invented. Everyone who lived in the darkest, coldest parts of the planet were sick of feeling crappy, so they decided to find ways to bring a little light into their lives. It’s a valiant effort, but it’s OK if it doesn’t work for you. It’s OK to still feel crappy.

6. Find an emotional life raft.


Pick one thing you like about this time of year and hold onto it. I like Christmas lights. They’re pretty, shiny and everywhere. I like to drive around and see all the houses lit up. I like to think about all the families in the lit up houses, and how they’re all going through a million different things and how some of them probably can’t wait to take those lights down.

Also when I see two houses next door to each other, I like to imagine that they’re fueding and competing with each other for the best display and it will all escalate into a slapstick romp of a fight. It’s the little things.

7. Be kind to others.

Whether it’s people close to you or people you don’t know. Volunteering, donating or lending some support to someone who needs it is a great way to get out of your head, distract yourself and give you some perspective.

But also be patient with the people around you. No family is perfect and they might say some things that hurt you. Try to forgive them, and be grateful for the people in your life who get it right.

8. Be kind to yourself. 

Self-care is not selfish. You’ve got to be your biggest ally and your biggest advocate. You will be OK. Because you’re not alone, and you are OK.


A version of this post originally appeared on Project UROK.

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