Posted by: rebeccajrobare | April 18, 2012

Coming Out

First, an update: I’m feeling better. My psychiatrist and I have made some adjustments to my medication, and it’s helping a lot.

However, my boss noticed that I was feeling better. Not a bad thing — she’s very supportive. I like working for her for a number of reasons. But she said, “what are you doing differently?” And all of a sudden I found myself telling her that I am now on an atypical antipsychotic, and have dopamine in my brain for the first time in a while. That the stress I’ve been under triggered a resurgence of my depressive symptoms, even though I had been in remission for quite some time.

Now, there’s not going to be any weird fallout from this (thank goodness!). My boss knows how to keep things confidential. But — and this is what I didn’t know ahead of time, and why I wasn’t particularly planning on telling her these things, she also knows how not to treat me strangely despite knowing that I have a history (hell, a currency) of mental illness. That’s not always an easy thing. People can be very strange about it, especially in a work environment, even when people have behavioral health backgrounds and we’re all working against stigma, etc. And I know my boss has a background in clinical psychology, and I have encountered many people in the past who don’t know how not to be psychologists. Thankfully, my boss knows how to be a boss, which because we work for a subcontractor with the city of Philadelphia, means she knows how to be a scientist and an educator and a politician as well. (No, nobody from work reads my blog as far as I know. I actually work for people I like and respect. I recommend it, rather.)

What is interesting to me is that I had a lot of anxiety about being “out” as a person with mental illness in my work environment. My other colleagues don’t know, at this point, but that’s probably less important. I knew that my symptoms were affecting my performance, and I wasn’t really sure about the ethics and propriety of keeping it a secret. The question is not only about how I am treated at work, but how other people perceive my illness. Do they look on it as though I am making an excuse for doing less than I had in the past, or less than my coworkers? Can they afford to be concerned about my well-being when they have bottom lines and deadlines? I’d have a little less anxiety about it if I’d been in my job longer, because after a year there are FMLA protections that can entitle one to medical leave on a continuous (like being in a hospital) or intermittent (like getting some sort of regular treatment) basis. Right now, I have sick time, but I don’t have a lot of it, because as you know, I get sick a lot. I’ve been seeing my psychiatrist on my lunch break, and making good use of my flex time. But if I needed TMS every day for two weeks, for example, that kind of thing could become a problem.

(TMS is awesome, by the way. Very strong magnetic fields can lessen depressive symptoms without the side effects of medication. I’ve been following this research for years and I’m looking forward to the day when it’s no longer too experimental for insurance to cover. Also it could well be better than drugs during pregnancy/nursing, and as a woman who wants children, the idea of not risking those side effects is really exciting.)

For now, I’m out in a limited way, and it doesn’t feel bad.

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