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What Happened After I Told My Co-Workers About My Mental Illness and Addiction

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In a moment of what could of been self destruction, a few years back, I decided to tell my work peers about my mental illness and addiction problems. I have BPD (borderline personality disorder). I also work in the mental health field.

Here is what happened.

1. They asked me questions.

Of course they would. The natural thing to do when someone reveals such a huge truth about themselves is to ask questions. “When did you get diagnosed?” “Do you still struggle with it?” “How do you cope at work?” and many, many more…

The question that surprised me most was “How can I help?”

2. They shared their own stories.

Everyone on the planet has either experienced or knows someone who has experienced mental illness or addiction problems. But we don’t all talk about it. My small but courageous act of honesty helped us all push through the shame and fear of rejection. After all, we are supposed to be the helpers, not the ones being helped, right? (No. We can be both.)

3. They offered support (when needed).

I’ve missed a lot of therapist and doctor appointments in the past because I didn’t want to explain to my boss and co-workers why I have so many. Now that the truth is out there, I am able to take care of me! I can go to my appointments, go to my recovery meetings or even pull someone aside at work and let them know, “Hey, I’m struggling today… can I vent to you for a minute” with no judgments. It’s great! With this extra self-care, I am able to 100 percent concentrate on my work and effectively handle any situation that arises.

4. They encouraged me.

I wont lie. Even though I work in the mental health field and believe no one should feel ashamed about their struggles, I felt shame. (I know, it’s just how my brain works!) So in this moment of vulnerability, my peers at work encouraged me. Emphasizing that the reason I am good at my job, and that I am so passionate about what I do, is because I can relate. I can truly lead by example, and I’m living proof that with hard work, we (people who have a mental illness or addiction) can still live our lives to the fullest. Turning our struggles into strengths and new capabilities!

And most importantly…

5. They loved me anyway.

I can’t explain the fear I felt when the truth escaped my mouth. Will I lose my job? Will they judge me? How will they ever trust me to help people, knowing I still struggle sometimes? Because of the BPD, my brain overdramatizes things, and I instantly thought, what did I do? My career and life is over!

What I got was the complete opposite. They loved me anyway. No less than they had before. If anything, the trust I worked to build with my work peers had grown stronger than before. It was a learning experience and growing experience for all of us.

Note: This was my experience. I consider myself lucky; I know not everyone would get the same response because there is still such as huge stigma surrounding mental illness. I suggest weighing out all possible options and being fully prepared for any adverse reactions if you intend on sharing such personal things with your work mates. Sadly, not everyone will respond with such love, understanding and respect.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

Originally published: July 6, 2016
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