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Everyone Who Needs a Mental Health Day Deserves a Reply Like This From Their Boss

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When you need to take a mental health day off from work, chances are your first instinct is to think of a more “legitimate” health issue to explain your absence. Stomach bug, bad cold, persistent cough… all of these “physical” health issues typically sound better than saying you need a day or two to rest your mind. Unfortunately, some employers treat taking a “mental health day” like it’s an excuse, making if difficult for those living with mental illness to be honest about their health.

When Madalyn Parker, a web developer and engineer at Olark Live Chat, told her coworkers she was taking a few days off for her mental health, the CEO of her company replied — and set a new precedent for how a boss should respond when someone needs a mental health day. Parker shared the exchange in a tweet that has been retweeted over 8,000 times.

In his reply to Parker’s honest email, her boss said:

Hey Madalyn,

I just wanted to personally thank you for sending emails like this. Every time you do, I use it as a reminder of the importance of using sick days for mental health — I can’t believe this is not standard practice at all organizations. You are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can all bring our whole selves to work.

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via NoStigmas

In a Medium post, Parker’s boss, Ben Congleton, reflected on this email exchange going viral. He commended Parker for her bravery, and said he hoped this would start a larger conversation about mental health in the workplace.

He wrote:

It is incredibly hard to be honest about mental health in the typical workplace. In situations like this, it is so easy to tell your teammates you are ‘not feeling well.’ Even in the safest environment it is still uncommon to be direct with your coworkers about mental health issues. I wanted to call this out and express gratitude for Madalyn’s bravery in helping us normalize mental health as a normal health issue.

Executives, he said, need to focus on the humans who make up their organization, and that includes thinking about mental health.

It’s 2017. We are in a knowledge economy. Our jobs require us to execute at peak mental performance. When an athlete is injured they sit on the bench and recover. Let’s get rid of the idea that somehow the brain is different.

Thanks to Parker for being honest, and her boss Congleton for showing us how far compassion can go in the workplace.

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When You Feel Held Back From Greatness by Your Mental Illness

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“There’s this person inside my head. She’s brilliant, capable. She’s me, only so much better. And I’m afraid I will never become this person.” — Meredith Grey, “Grey’s Anatomy.”

This hit home for me tonight… I’m laying in bed, still slightly lethargic from my latest depression and new medication addition. But, in my head, are finally-clearing thoughts that aren’t so negative. It’s like the cloud is lifting and my creativity is again infusing the brain that felt useless for a whole week.

Recently, I was offered a position at work that I would have normally jumped at. It was a good learning opportunity, but would have been a challenge walking in to help clean things up and turn things around. It would have required more dedication and more on-call hours. I like a challenge. When I’m well I am so productive, creative and innovative.  I feel like I connect with people and I make positive changes.

Unfortunately, with the nature of my illnesses, I can’t count on being well all of the time. I can’t maintain a fast pace and ridiculous schedules and loads of stress… not for long periods, at least. I’ve learned through counseling that these are triggers for me.

The best thing to maintain stability is to work where I have flexibility, but normal hours. Where I have some autonomy to be creative, and where I can maintain some routine and structure. Stress is inevitable in any position, but mostly manageable.

And that’s exactly what I have right now.

So, although I am “capable” of the position, I chose not to pursue it. This was a decision that made my health a priority. It was rational and pretty big according to my counselor.

But this has me thinking… I have mental and physical chronic illnesses, and although I am capable of doing big things, I may never do them. My health has to be my priority and I have to set healthy boundaries – and yet I feel robbed. I feel like I have these limitations and it just plain sucks. So, I have a question for my readers, because I’m curious and looking for some way to rationalize this…..

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Do you feel your mental illness or chronic illness has limited your ability to pursue greater things? If so, how do you cope with that? How do you accept it?

Is it just a matter of mindset?

Anyway, I would really appreciate your feedback.

Thank you,

One Flawsome Momma

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Finding Motivation to Make a Change in Your Life With Mental Illness

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Much of my work as a therapist is helping individuals to resolve ambivalence to lead an intentional life. Ambivalence arises when we feel more than one way about something important. This can feel immobilizing.

Let’s say you want to make a major life change, but you can also see the advantages of the keeping things exactly the same. Or, others are telling you that you need to make a change, but you aren’t exactly sure what is the best action to take. Or, you might feel committed to making a change but aren’t actually sure how to go about doing it. At times like these, you may feel vulnerable to external pressure (for example your boss, your partner, your family) to make decisions for you.

It can be clarifying in these moments to connect with what motivates you most in life. What are your most closely held personal beliefs and values? What drives you? What gives you momentum? If you listen very closely, you’ll notice you have an internal voice that tells you what to do. That voice may be very quiet at times, or you may not feel ready to listen to it, but there it is. Studies show that connecting with personal motivation is key to making effective and lasting changes in your life. As a therapist who specializes in motivational enhancement, I offer some suggestions for getting ready to make a change by tapping into what motivates you most:

1. Give yourself credit for thinking about making a change.

In the counseling field, it is well-recognized that there are generally five stages of change:

1. Pre-contemplation (a.k.a. the “Get off my back, that’s not my problem” stage),

2. Contemplation (the “Well, OK, maybe you have a point” stage),

3. Preparation (the “Hmmm, I wonder what resources are out there” stage),

4. Action (the “OK, fine, I’ll take some steps” stage), and

5. Maintenance (the “Look at me, I’m doing it! Let’s keep it up!” stage).

Even if you are not ready to act on making a change, there is a lot of work that can be done by hanging out in the thinking-about-it phase. If you are not ready to do anything else, simply let yourself imagine what it would look like to make a change and go from there.

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2. Look at the pros and cons of making a change.

When trying to decide whether to make a change, it can be helpful to write down all the pros and cons of keeping things exactly the way there are. Then make another list of the pros and cons of making a change. It may sound obvious, but the act of writing down the pros and cons of a making a change can bring important values to the surface. Pay attention to where the balance of pros and cons pushes you towards an action step.

3. Be specific about the change you would like to see.

What kind of change are you thinking of making? Is it drinking less alcohol in the evenings, exercising more, worrying less or using assertive communication? Define exactly how you would like to improve your life, even if you are not ready to make a change yet.

4. If you’re still not sure what to do, then make space to connect with your inner wisdom.

Take a few moments away from any distractions. Sit in a quiet space and slow down your breathing. When you inhale, breathe in the question that you are struggling to answer. On the slow exhale, simply listen for an answer. Take your time because the answer may not come right away. Sometimes the answer will come in the form of a thought or an “aha!” moment. Sometimes the answer will be an image that flashes in your mind. Or, the answer may come in the form of a sensation, or a settling in the body, when the right answer comes to mind. No matter how the answer comes, giving yourself the space to tap into your inner wisdom will help get there.

5. Ask yourself: How would my life be different if I made this change?

Imagine every aspect of life with this change: Who would notice? How would you feel about yourself? What is possible with this change that wasn’t before? How is your health impacted by this change? Visualizing the change you would like to see in yourself can help you imagine what change even looks like, build readiness to take action steps and boost confidence that change is a realistic possibility.

Whenever you are struggling to make a change, take a step back and look at your deepest and strongest motivations in life. Listening to these inner motivations will help you get closer to action steps. But, of course, you must first pause and reflect on what these motivations really are.

What motivates you to live the life you want?

Anna Lindberg Cedar, MPA, LCSW is a therapist with special expertise in motivational interviewing to help individuals resolve ambivalence and take action towards their goals. Find out more: www.annacedar.com.

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20 Things People Don't Realize You're Doing Because You Have a Mental Illness

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For people who don’t live with a mental illness, it can be difficult to know what someone struggling with one is “like.” If we aren’t careful, stigma can easily inform how we view these individuals, even though mental illness expresses itself in many different ways, some more obvious than others. While some people have a hard time getting out of bed, others might may appear to be functioning well — it’s different for everyone.

To find out how mental illness shows itself in ways other people can’t see, we asked our mental health community to share one thing people don’t realize they’re doing because they have a mental illness.

 

Here’s what they had to say:

1.“[I] dodge phone calls. I’d much rather talk via text. I don’t know why, [but] there’s something about talking on the phone that makes my anxiety act up.” — Christa M.

2. “I sleep until noon, but it isn’t [just] sleeping. It’s hiding from the world. I still get my job done, but just getting out of bed and facing the world hurts.” — Ryan M.

3. “[I] let my room get messy. It sometimes gets to the point where in parts, you can’t see the floor. I hate looking at it every day but there is just no drive inside of me to clean it.” — Teigan M.

4. “I am the queen of being busy. I mean, I work full-time, but besides that, I don’t visit family because I’m ‘too busy.’ I keep to myself because I’m ‘too busy.’ I don’t clean one day because I’m ‘too busy’ and I just need a break.” — Tiff K.

5. “Putting my physical health at risk. I tell myself it’s in my head because that is what I have been told so many times before. I will avoid doctors until I develop unbearable symptoms or become [incredibly] paranoid.” — Charlotte U.

6. “It is something I’ve overcome, but driving! I was 23 before I got my driver’s license. I still don’t drive on the freeway, and I’m 26. It’s been a [debilitating] thing I’ve always had to fight.” — Krystal M.

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7. “People don’t realize why I miss work so much. I can barely get out of bed anymore. It’s painful to always be told how ‘lazy’ I am when I’m trying to stay alive.” — Alicia F.

8. “Doing nothing and not having an explanation for being disconnected from society in a way and being consumed in isolation and silence. Alternatively, doing certain actions based on impulse that don’t really have an explanation, as well occurring seemingly at random. I believe both are induced by my mental illnesses, the former being from depression, and the latter being from anxiety.” — John C.

9. “People think I don’t listen because I can’t remember things. The brain fog sucks.” — Laura G.

10. “I sleep way too much. I hide from people. I avoid talking to people, which damages relationships. I chew on the inside of my lips and cheeks and the sides of my tongue. I have permanent blisters. I do everything myself because I cannot ask for help. I stay exhausted.” — Kaity O.

11. “I have to ask for clarification on directions or instructions multiple times. I know what to do, but I get so worried I’m going to forget so I have to make sure I know every step. It’s the same with when I meet people places, especially if I am going by myself. I have to triple check the time and place before I feel comfortable enough to go. Both of these scenarios become extremely frustrating to those around me. I always feel like they think I’m ‘dim’ or unable to understand anything, but I am just trying to calm the voices in my head.” — Emily H.

12. “[I] forget important events. Such as final exams and important projects. At first I thought it was just my memory, but after making three schedules, I still forget everything.” — Briar P.

13. “When I’m out and about I always [have] my headphones in. Even if it’s to the shop across the road. [There is] too much going on outside for me to focus. Also [if] I’m in a busy area, I need someone with me and I wear my sunglasses. I wear the sunglasses to trick my mind [into thinking] it’s darker outside. Whoever is with me has to stay beside me at all times so I don’t feel overpowered by all the other people around me.” — Michael D.

14. “People don’t realize I feed off of their mood. One minute I will be having a great day and then someone comes along with negativity and drama and my whole day is ruined and they are over it in five minutes.” — Jennifer F.

15. “[I] sit staring into space, even when in a social situation. Or [I] just lie in my room in bed not moving. Sometimes you just have no drive to do anything, stuck in the ‘in between’ stage [when] you aren’t dead, but you don’t feel alive. It’s like you’re drifting halfway between.” — Georgia C.

16. “[I find myself] picking my skin. When I feel an anxiety attack coming on, I pick at my arms.” — Mikehla D.

17. “I have a bad habit of keeping things bottled up when I really want to talk, although I can’t convince myself to just talk to someone because I feel a burden. Then I go quiet and say I’m alright when I’m really not.” — Robbie M.

18. “My friends don’t understand when I just disappear for a while and ignore everyone. I come off as rude to them but they don’t know that I just need some time to gather myself occasionally.” — Nathan D.

19. “My impulsivity and intensity are not because I am mean, ignorant or reckless — they are due to my bipolar disorder. I feel way too many emotions at once or I feel one emotion strongly and no others. I cannot control certain urges sometimes, such as impulsive raising of my voice, going on dangerous shopping sprees, starting arguments with people because my emotions are more powerful than my logic in the moment, etc. [I] think of my brain as a scale like the sign of Libra. The emotion side is far heavier than the logic side. The right system of medication and therapy help me to realize and work on this.” —Betsi L.

20. “[I] act perfectly normal. Usually I’m smiling, laughing and talking as I normally would, appearing functional. The reality is I’m exhausted, sad and empty. In fact someone said to me today it’s so hard to tell I have a mental illness because I cover it up so well in front of others.” — Amy B.

What would you add?

Thinkstock photo via bruniewska.

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Why Breaking the Stigma of Mental Health Means Expressing My Emotions

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My therapist has been telling me for a while I need to grieve for my childhood self because the trauma of being bullied badly in school is still a part of me. I decided to put up a Facebook post about the impact on my adult life of being bullied as a child. I wrote about how I struggle with constant anxiety, poor mental health and body image issues. I hoped this would help me stop feeling embarrassed that I had been bullied, and instead, acknowledge that I had been hurt and am still hurting.

My post began receiving “likes” and “loves” starting the minute I put it up. I also began receiving messages and comments on the post from a lot of people. Many of the messages I received were touching, warm messages from people in my current life. They wrote that they would never have guessed that I had been a shy child, afraid of everything and myself, when they see the confident, articulate woman I am now. Some wrote to me about their own experiences with bullying, mental illness and body shaming in school. A few of my classmates from school also wrote that they had remembered me getting bullied in school, and that it was bad and they wished they had been there for me more at the time. These responses were wonderful. It felt nice.

Standing out amidst all these sensitive, thoughtful responses was one from a man I barely knew. He told me that he appreciated my post and it is sad that I got bullied, but I should really not speak about my insecurities on a public forum. When I asked why, he told me that people will think I am “weak” and will use this information “against” me, therefore, I should not be “immature” and speak about my vulnerabilities online.

Women’s emotional reactions are sometimes stigmatized as “crazy,” “hysterical” and even “irrational.” Women are often gaslighted into thinking that they are too emotional and are overreacting to situations. We might not seek psychological help even though we need it because we might believe that we are responsible for our own mental health condition. I distinctly remember thinking to myself that I needed to stop taking my emotions so seriously and make a better effort not to cry in the months just before I was diagnosed with depression.

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Men, too, might experience similar struggles. Expressions of vulnerability and insecurity are often seen as unacceptable by standards of masculinity. Expressing vulnerability, in my experience, is something that only “hormonal women” do. Men are supposed to be stoic, emotionally “rational” and self-reliable. They may also be less likely to seek psychological help for this reason. Mental illness is often considered a weakness, and this makes it hard to break the stigma around it.

We all live in bodies which may be difficult to truly occupy and love, yet we are not allowed to express how our bodies and minds actually feel — whether that is through our sexual desires or a Facebook post on mental health. My decision to publicly acknowledge that I am an emotional being who can be hurt, a person with feelings, felt like an emotional release because of all the stigma associated with being an emotional and expressive person.

I grew up being told that I am “oversensitive” and “too emotional” because I cried easily and my choices were often motivated by emotion. I was made to believe that this was a bad thing — that I needed to “grow a tougher skin.” Emotionality is often not considered a valid type of intelligence. It is my belief that in order to detach the stigma associated with mental illness and seeking help for mental illness, we need to normalize the ability to express, understand and find comfort in emotions.

I know that in order to heal from my childhood past of bullying and cope with my depression and anxiety better, I must accept my emotions and their intensity. I intend on spending the rest of 2017 being as dramatic as possible in order to break down the gendered stereotypes associated with women being emotional. I will cry openly in a public places, like the cafeteria in college, without feeling any embarrassment. Insecurities are beautiful. They do not make us weak. To express emotion is not weakness, it’s just part of being human.

This post was originally published on Feminism in India.

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What I Learned in the Psych Ward

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In my experience, being in the psych ward is like being in a different world. In this universe, there are way more rules — but also more freedom.

In the mental health ward, wearing your own clothes is a privilege you have to earn. Things like makeup and jewelry — accessories I take for granted every day — are a rarity.

In the mental health ward, there are plastic utensils and no locks on the bathroom doors.

In the mental health ward, I have found people to be genuine, more like themselves. They don’t have to hide the scars on their arms or the ones inside them. They can be vulnerable and open and fragile and strong all at once.

When I was in a psychiatric unit, I made friends with people who brought me chocolate shakes and McDonald’s French fries while I wasn’t allowed outside.

These same people huddled around me and told me I was worthy of love and belonging. They drew me pictures with smiley faces on them, and hugged me every night before going to bed. These people, they told me I was special and different than others.

They looked at me in the eyes and told me life was worth living even when all I wanted was to die. They called me “sweetheart” and told me I had the most beautiful smile.

When I was in a psychiatric unit, I met a mother who flew across the ocean to comfort her daughter, and I saw siblings bring games and snacks to distract their loved ones.

In the psych ward, there was no social media, and therefore no endless comparison games or meaningless connections. Sometimes, there are no computers or cell phones — for privacy reasons — but it can allow you to get a break from the outside world. In the psych ward, I got to explore music and art and pet therapy. I colored and painted and sang and played. I did puzzles — tons of them. I ate terrible hospital food, but discovered you can order vanilla ice cream even if it’s not on the menu.

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I met so many people in the psych ward, and each of them touched my life in a way that’s impossible to describe. Through these people, I saw the power of love and connection. I saw compassion in their eyes and kindness as they spoke. I saw courage and vulnerability and fearlessness. I was surrounded by nurses who believed in me and my recovery. I met with doctors who listened patiently and who honored my story.

In the psych ward, there are narrow quiet hallways and tight-fitted bed sheets, and it can be a scary, distressing experience. But it can also be one filled with joyful moments and unexpected surprises.

I may not have had the freedom to leave the building, but in the psych ward, I did gain the freedom to be myself, as broken as I may have felt. In the mental health ward, small day-to-day things aren’t considered small. In the mental health ward, a cold container of apple juice can make your day.

Psychiatric hospitals aren’t scary like in the movies. They are safe havens and life-saving and everything in between. They are there for people who need a safe space, for people like you and me.

During my latest stay on a psychiatric unit, I made friends with another patient, a tall girl with blonde hair and a thick Irish accent. Every morning her room would turn into a hair salon. She would braid the girls’ hair while we sat on her bed, laughing and gossiping. I remember her soft fingers running through my hair, and how it struck me then: life is really about cherishing the ordinary moments.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

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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