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What I Really Want to Ask Hiring Managers as Someone With Anxiety

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I, like millions of other Americans, have lost my job due to industry layoffs during COVID-19. I, like millions of other Americans, battle daily with anxiety and depression. And while it mostly feels like I am dealing with this on my own, I assume, like millions of other Americans want to know the answer to this; Hiring Manager, how will you protect my mental health?

This question isn’t new to me as I look for jobs. In my career I have gone from one extreme to another. On one extreme, I was talking about my pride of my advocacy for mental health awareness and getting rid of the stigma in interviews, to then trying so hard to hide a panic attack from my manager, that I get scolded for being late to yet another meeting. As we find ourselves in the uncharted territory of Zoom interviews, sanitation procedures and once in a lifetime stressors, how do I approach a stressful process for anyone, let alone someone who is prone to panic?

I work in the nonprofit sector, and while the industry can be so progressive about so many things, it is not immune to the stigmatizing language and assumptions about people with mental illness. Some examples: I am sitting in a staff meeting, with the air conditioning blasting during the winter, due to the invisible illness my organization is working to end. Heat exacerbates symptoms of patients, many of which are my colleagues. “If I get another call from so and so about this, I am going to kill myself,” says my regional president. Pause. Deep breath. Don’t show you are uncomfortable.

I am in the lunchroom, enjoying a break with my colleagues. “Oh my God, just pass me a bottle of Xanax.” Pause. Deep breath. Don’t show you are upset. Work trip, middle of the night, sharing a hotel room with a colleague. Full blown panic attack comes on. I rush out of the door without anything but my phone and room key, and have an emergency call with my psychologist while crouched in the parking lot so no one hears me. Sneak back into the room. Deep breath. Don’t show you are upset.

So, hiring manager, when you ask for me to tell you about myself: do you really want to know? When you ask me my biggest weakness, should I tell you I might leave a meeting in the middle of it to catch my breath and hide my shaking hands? Or do you want to hear that I am so passionate about my work that I “care too much”?

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When I ask you about your office culture, and you say you pride yourself on having a trusting and diverse team, do you really mean that? Are my new coworkers going to threaten to walk off a bridge when they forget to save their Excel file? Hiring manager, I know how much I can offer to this organization, and that I will be a value to your team. But will you be a value to me?

Will you call out stigmatizing language and phrases from the staff? Will you hold them accountable? Will you create an environment where I can share feedback anonymously, and not be outed for questioning the culture? Will you walk on eggshells around me, and fear giving me challenging assignments because you think I am too weak to handle them?

Dear Hiring Manager; How will you protect my mental health?

Getty image by Vasyl Dolmatov

Originally published: November 20, 2020
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