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The Parts of My Mental Health My Boss Doesn’t See on Our Zoom Calls

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

To my boss,

Work has always been something I’ve been able to separate my mental illnesses from — to some extent, at least. It has rarely ever affected my quality of work, my attendance, my effort or my devotion. However, I never realized how much that had to do with physically going into work. Working from home full-time due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has made the boundary between work and the rest of my life incredibly blurry. Some people are great at setting those boundaries and managing both; however, I have quickly learned I am not.

Working from home gives my mental illnesses much more room to invade my work life. I started this job shortly after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I’ve struggled with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and other mental illnesses for years, but this diagnosis was new. I’m still trying to wrap my head around all of it. Working remotely has opened the door to a host of new triggers I have to try to manage.

I know it’s not fair I let it affect my work, sometimes. I can only imagine what you see from your end, without knowing the context behind these things.

You see someone who stumbles over her words, mumbles and asks what seems like common-sense questions. You see someone who is not nearly as assertive as you wish she’d be and doesn’t take enough initiative. You see someone who frequently has her camera off in meetings. You see someone who, when she does have her camera on, is always drinking coffee. You see someone who always seems tired. You see someone who gets nervous when presenting and you can hear her anxiously fidgeting under the table. You see someone who isn’t the person she made herself out to be in her interview. You see someone who is inexperienced, young and knows the least of anyone there.

Maybe you see someone you wish you never even hired. Maybe she’s more of a burden than an asset. Maybe she does more harm than good; just another thing you have to check off your to-do list. Maybe you see a hindrance.

At the end of the day, I don’t know what you see. My anxiety convinces me you hate me and wish I was never hired. My depression convinces me I am an awful person and your life would be much better if I wasn’t here. My PTSD convinces me I am not safe and I need to escape. I don’t know what you actually see, though.

But I do know what you don’t see.

You don’t see how hard I try to speak up when I talk in meetings, even though I know I still mumble sometimes. Depression, anxiety and childhood trauma stole my voice years ago, and I’m still trying to find it again.

You don’t see how much I struggle to just get out of bed every day because my depression is so heavy.

You don’t see me wake up every night in a panic, sweating and terrified, unable to fall back asleep — which is why I’m so tired so often.

You don’t see how many hours I spend preparing when I have a meeting with you because I am so scared of failing.

You don’t see how much I hold back tears during our meetings because I am so easily triggered by so many things I can’t control.

You don’t see the panic attacks that come without fail every time I hang up after a call. You don’t see how long it takes me to come back from that.

You don’t see how often I get flashbacks throughout my workday and how hard it is for me to recuperate from such traumatic memories just to get back to work.

You don’t see how hard it is for me to stare at a screen for eight hours when my medication causes chronic headaches.

You don’t see how much my mind wanders throughout the day. How much I think about ending my life. How I truly believe at times that is the best thing for everyone.

You don’t see that I’m in recovery from an eating disorder. I truly am proud of you and your weight loss journey, but you don’t see how triggering it is for me to hear about diets, exercise and numbers on a scale.

You don’t see the reason I am so scared and intimidated by you has absolutely nothing to do with you as a person — truly. There are just things you say or do that cause physiological reaction in me that I can’t control because of my PTSD. A certain tone or word can take me right back to a place where I felt I had no escape. It’s not your fault. It’s no one’s fault. It just … is.

More than all of that, though, you don’t see how hard I am fighting all of these things. I am in therapy, I am on medication, I am doing the work, I promise. Every day, I try to be better than I was the day before. I try to keep my work separate as much as my brain and body allow me to. I promise I’m trying.

I know there’s a lot I don’t see about you, either. I’m not ignorant to that. I try to always be kinder than I feel (though I’m not perfect) because I know everyone is fighting something I know nothing about. This isn’t an accusatory or self-pity thing — not at all. This is a reminder to everyone, myself included, that there’s always more to the story. We don’t know what people are going through, especially right now. So, before we judge someone or make a snappy comment, can we just take a second to consider what else might be going on? Let’s start showing each other a little more empathy, a little more kindness and a little more grace.

And let’s see what happens.

A struggling employee who’s trying her best.

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

Originally published: September 20, 2020
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