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When I Opened Up to My Employer About My Anxiety and Depression

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“Sorry to drop this heavy of a bomb on—”

“No,” he responded. “Don’t apologize for that. Never apologize for that. Thank you for having the courage to open up and share this with me. I don’t take that lightly.”

I didn’t take my employer’s response lightly either. It meant the world to me. I honestly wasn’t sure how he would respond to me. I decided early on I would open up to my employers about my generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and my persistent depressive disorder (PDD). I have the privilege of working at a private Christian university, whose faculty is devoted and loving toward their students. Even with that in mind, my anxiety and my experience don’t allow me to trust people often, no matter how good they seem to be. Yet, I took a chance. I wanted to open up to my employers for two reasons.

First, I needed to learn to trust people despite what my mind tells me and despite what my past tells me. Trust does not come easy, nor does it magically pop up. Trust must be extended through action. I had to actively trust people, even if it meant opening up myself to the possibility of harm, which is what my anxiety often tries to avoid.

Second, I think it was helpful for them to know of my condition. If I ever had bad days, then they were aware I was not just slacking off, but I am legitimately fighting a mental illness. It was best to front load and explain my condition at the outset. Even though I had good reason to open up to them, I was nervous. What if they viewed me as less than a person? What if they gave me what I call cheap pity?

Cheap pity is the kind of pity one experiences when someone “feels bad” for your experience without actually trying to get down on their knees and join you where you’re at. Instead, they offer a forced, fake and distant response devoid of empathy and relational connection. The anxiety began, but I continued with my plan to talk to them anyways.

The conversation above occurred with my employer at the Center of where I work as a research assistant. I came in to handle some work tasks when he asked me how I was doing, and, being the introvert who disdains small talk, I answered truthfully as opposed to responding with the ubiquitous “I’m fine!”

“Well,” I said, “It’s kind of heavy.”

He nodded and said, “Dude, go for it.”

I explained I had been diagnosed over the summer with GAD and PDD. I told him how this has probably been the hardest year of my life, and it’s been both a relief and a distress knowing about my condition. I continued to explain I was still working through it all, trying to understand it and seeking further help in the form of medication.

As I spoke to him, I noticed I was anxious. My hands were fidgeting. I spoke fast. I tried not to think so much about what I was saying. I tried to pass it off as if it were mild or OK because I was afraid of his reaction. Yet, his actual response helped me slow down.

I saw the empathy on his face. I saw the concern. I saw sobering and painful facial expressions, which revealed to me he was really emphasizing. It showed he was doing all he could to feel my struggle and meet me where I was. His tone was low and solemn. He spoke slowly, with words spaced out as if his words were limping from the pain they experienced.

I saw his care. I saw his empathy and that’s all I needed. I needed for someone to truly care. He told me that we, on the staff, are a team, and if there is anything the Center can do for me, to let them know. He wanted me to know I am valuable and I do not have to face this alone. This was a relief to hear, and although it was hard to fully accept at the time, I accept now that what he said was genuine and true.

My second job consists of being a teaching assistant for one of the professors in the undergraduate department. My boss, who is the professor of the class, knew I had been having a difficult time last semester. However, I had not been diagnosed at that time, nor did I open up fully about my struggle.

Today, I met with him and revealed the battle. He listened intently and responded graciously. He encouraged me to look at the beautiful things in life and that even though things are dark, things will get better. He offered me hope. He helped me see there is still good and beauty, even when my anxiety and depression causes the world around me to crack and crumble. Like the glistening of a coin beneath the ashes, beauty and goodness still exists in this world. Subtle, small, and still there amidst all the anguish and bleakness that seem to captivate our attention.

After having told my employers about my conditions, I had mixed feelings. It was still hard to hear their encouragement. It was still hard to accept they cared. Yet, I believe them, and I am choosing to believe them, even when my anxious thoughts flood my mind and harass what I have chosen to believe. As I look back at the events of this week, their words have finally sunk in. I feel their warmth, and I feel their truth. I’m glad I told them.

Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: August 26, 2016
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