To My Former Employer: What You Should Know About Mental Illness
To my former employer,
I wrote this letter for you. But it’s also for me and for others who’ve felt helpless and at the mercy of an uncaring and unsympathetic employer. For those of us who’ve devoted every shred of their time and energy to their career, only to be sucked dry and discarded as a worthless empty shell.
I wish I could have written this a long time ago. Instead I’ve suppressed these painful memories. Squeezed them into a tiny ball of shame, guilt, fear and disappointment. Pushed them down deep into the pit of my stomach, hidden from all conscious thought or prying eyes.
It’s how I survived. It’s how I endured the shame and humiliation I felt when I was told I was no longer needed. Or the awkward silence as I collected my personal belongings from my office. Or seeing my colleagues’ faces as they avoided all eye contact with me — their fellow colleague, the person they used to laugh and joke with, the one they once considered their friend.
It wasn’t always bad between us. I recall how you were “thrilled to have me on board.” You appreciated my passion and my eagerness to please and impress. You loved how I was “highly self-motivated”and how I continuously “exceeded your expectations.” At least until I started to struggle, take longer to complete simple tasks and sometimes had to take time out. I could no longer be the person you wanted or needed me to be. I failed you.
But you failed me too. There was no loyalty, compassion, patience, tolerance or understanding – just contempt. You acted as if I had committed some terrible sin or atrocity against you. Like I was faking my illness and trying to sabotage the work I had taken such pride in doing so well before.
The truth is this experience almost killed me. I ran myself into the ground trying to maintain my good reputation. I didn’t give up the minute my life became tough. You didn’t appreciate the hours I worked at home, catching up on bad days when I could barely focus on the simplest of tasks. Or the weekends I spent exhausted in bed trying to preserve enough energy to rise for another busy working week.
I was kicked whilst I was down and in my foggy, distorted mind I thought I deserved such harsh treatment. I believed my pain was my fault and losing my job was just something I had to put up with because of who and what I was; weak and flawed.
I wanted this torturous life to end and would gladly have rid you of my existence had it not been for my family who cared for me and stuck by me. They knew I was still worth something and with some care, would get better again. In time and with their support, I began to see that too.
Ten years on and the ball in my stomach is slowly unravelling, moving its way up to the surface of my consciousness. I’ve held on to it all this time, along with the blame for failure and the feelings of guilt and shame. Today I am passing them back where they truly belong – with you, their rightful owner. My former employer.
And my final message to you?
I hope you have learned from your mistakes. I hope you have grown to be a caring and compassionate employer who truly values and respects its people. I hope that you recognise mental illness is common and widespread and is of growing concern for many. I hope you now realize the best approach is to support employees who are struggling so they come out stronger and more resilient on the other side.
I hope you are more like the employer I’m with now, who accepts and appreciates me for who I am. Who sees the contribution I make and the value I bring despite my illness, but also recognizes the strength and determination I bring because of it.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
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