8 Ways I Hide My Mental Illness at Work

When I switched jobs, I went from an environment where people knew I struggled with bipolar disorder to an environment where no one knew and I was afraid for them to find out. I was in an executive position and worried that until I had proved myself as competent and reliable, I could not be honest about my mental health struggles. Here’s what it took to get by:

1. Put on a brave face.

People at work say I’m incredibly calm toward others because I don’t overreact under stress. They have no idea that on the inside I’m a hot mess but have learned to manage myself extremely well under pressure.

2. Keep coping tools in a purse or desk.

I have a host of coping tools — journals, books, lotions, etc. — that stay out of sight. If I need them they are there, it’s just that no one knows what they are for.

3. Close the door.

I’ve been known in the past to kneel on the floor of my office and cry… behind a closed door. Closed doors give me permission to cry, hold my head in my hands, or just sit in silence.

4. Be careful who you confide in.

Once you find a safe person or people, it helps to have them on your side, giving encouragement and being there if you are starting to struggle.

5. Promote workplace mental health.

You don’t have to divulge your own issues to be an advocate for employee mental health and be understanding toward those with mental health issues who do come forward.

6. Take care of yourself.

I still see a psychiatrist and therapist and I ensure I keep on top of any issues that arise. I try to be a good role model for others in the area of self-care and work-life integration.

7. Use leave wisely.

I try to keep a little leave aside for the unexpected difficult day. Even better than that, I schedule off a Friday every now and then for good measure so I can have a day for me.

8. Remember you are valuable.

The bottom line is that not all workplaces can deal well with employees struggling with mental health issues. If your gut tells you that you might be in one of those places, trust your instincts and do what you think is right. You’re not under obligation to tell anyone anything. But you are not defective. You are valuable and you are OK just as you are. The struggle makes you stronger. Fight on.

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