Tag Archives: discrimination

Sunday; Coming Out in the Workplace

The continuing saga of being employed while having bipolar disorder.

I have been working for two days per week for the last 4 months or so now as something of a glorified secretary slash hostess slash personal assistant aiding in  selling real estate. In that time I have been told constantly that the position is really below my abilities (particularly by my boss) but I have avoided glomming on to any additional responsibility because the low stress level I have at my current job has been key in keeping me at least half-sane.

I’ve been living as openly as possible in regard to having bipolar disorder since October now and I meant to talk with my boss about it right away, but things keep popping up. Little things that would divert my intentional conversation, like customers or having a particularly bad day. Somehow I’ve been working 4 months without talking about it, and it was filed in the back of my mind’s “do this eventually” folder. I knew it would come up eventually, but I had actively stopped trying to have that conversation.

In the meantime, I’ve talked with a lot of other people about this.

At what point do you make something, like having bipolar disorder, known to your employer?

Do you ever? Is it safe?

Do you wait until you have a problem or need accommodations? Or do you start by laying it out the first day?

Should you wait for your co-workers or boss to get to know you a little first?

The general consensus of bipolarites in my life have expressed that they are in firm belief that:

Loose lips sink ships.

But how much of that is just fear, really?

I admit I am young, and I have seen my fair share of discrimination in the workplace, but maybe it is because I am young that it has been like water rolling off my back.

You see, I really believe that if I am meant to be somewhere, hiding my needs makes me feel more weak than strong.

I have stopped feeling like there is only one job or one setting that is more than willing to take what I have to offer them, so if I don’t fit in a job because my peers don’t get along with me or they don’t like me, I’m not meant to be there. Just the same, if they are going to persecute me for having bipolar disorder, then I’m not meant to be there either.

When I look back on jobs that I lost, I genuinely feel that if I had asked for more help, or been more open with people about what was going on, things might have turned out better. If co-workers don’t know that discrimination is happening, they can’t always see it, which means they can’t say anything about it either.

Anyway, I refuse to work somewhere where I am treated like shit.

And if that means self employment, fine. I am willing to go that far.

Heck, I’m self employed now.

Anyway, my boss now is a really remarkable woman who I find to be a rockin’ female role model. I’ve haven’t met too many strong, female career types, so I think this made me think twice, in a way, before opening up about having bipolar disorder.

What finally pushed me over the edge was being offered a 3rd day per week to work.

I’m an ambitious person by nature (though I’m working hard on getting my ambitions and realistic abilities lined up with each other) so my immediate thought was that I could take on a third day no problem.

But, enter the anxiety. Enter the fear. Enter the looming word that my therapist said to me over the phone last Wednesday, that word nobody with mental illness ever wants to hear;

hospital

I don’t think things have been overwhelmingly bad lately, just severe enough to cause some concern with my medical team I guess. Mania, or rather being conscious of mania is new territory for me to some degree, and the current hypothesis is that I am not fully aware with just how bad things were getting in that realm the week before last. I am the first to admit that, sure, I could be a little blind to the severity of potential mania, but when I had that “h” bomb dropped on me (hospital, not hydrogen) I had to take a step back from everything.

Are things as ok as I thought? Is more stress really what I need right now -adding a third day of work to my week?

Actually, I said to my boss on Saturday, can I have 24 hours to think about it?

Like a Guy Ritchie movie, those 24 hours passed in a flurried montage of mere seconds, and I was standing in front of her desk again, yesterday.

I might as well just tell the whole story then, I thought. It is probably time.

I asked her to consider all of the things she thinks about me, my intelligence, my common sense, and my accomplishments (because this woman seriously thinks I am really cool… through no fault of my own), and then I told her I have bipolar disorder. That one thing doesn’t make any of those other things untrue, does it?

No.

In my experience, the manner in which the subject of bipolar disorder is broached with someone for the first time will have a significant effect on how the aftermath of the conversation pans out.

A guilty, shameful admittance of mental illness is likely to be met with the recipient feeling as ashamed of the idea of mental illness as you’re acting.

Likewise, confidence is usually met with confidence.

When most people hear something serious, they gauge the level of seriousness based on how the storyteller is acting. Mirroring those actions and emotions are an easy way to know how to respond to something these folks may not otherwise know how to respond to.

She knew I was dealing with a serious medical problem, as I’ve talked in limited amounts about things like doctor’s appointments and medications very generally, and the fact that I have been working only two days per week was a pretty good tip off too. She’s not stupid, that’s for sure.

Overall the conversation went well, despite the fact that I got a little turned around in the end.

My intention was to tell her these were the reasons I couldn’t work a third day a week, but instead I felt so confident and comfortable by the end of our talk I told her I would take on that third day. I did, however, tell her that I am being very conscious about stress, so if things get too overwhelming I wont hesitate to let her know.

I did, after all, meet the stipulations I initially set for myself in regard to taking on more responsibility in the workplace. I made it past February before taking anything more on, and I am hoping the sort of low-stress environment I work in will be conducive to keeping a level head.

I am meeting with my therapist again today, and hopefully I can help put some of that fire out from last week. She isn’t quite desensitized to a lot of my ranting and raving yet, I may just need to be a touch more gentle with her.

And work? We’ll see. I’ve set a ping pong ball in motion in a room full of mouse traps, so I’ll be curious to see how things play out this time around. My part in the menagerie, however, is pretty much over. What my boss decides to do with the information I’ve given her will ultimately decide my fate.

At this point, I feel I’ve really got nothing left to fear.

Whatever happens is out of my hands, so I will continue to show up, do my job, fix the printer when it breaks, and make people laugh.

Really, there isn’t much more they’re asking of me.

Channeling the Debt Collector

Empathy is something I hear coupled with bipolar disorder time and time again, but lately the idea of “empathy” has taken on a whole new level of meaning for me.

A few years ago I was on my way to have a nice birthday dinner out with my mom, my grandma, and my sister. Italian food, I was stoked. At least, I was stoked until my cell phone rang, and I unwittingly answered it.

It was a debt collector, calling to tell me to pay up.

Now.

You know, I really try to be extremely careful, especially since I have such little money, but things happen. Outside forces beyond my control (bills being sent to the wrong address, by fault of the bank, for example) really were trying to take me down for a long time, and it was as if some kind of karmaic force had been unleashed upon me. Beyond that I have the fun bipolar beast breathing down my back, which has provided me with the wonderful pastime of racking up the debt, either by way of medical bills or… no, well, just the medical bills. I don’t do the traditional “reckless spending” for the most part, but I have had several expensive emergency room visits due to the delusional belief that I might die at any moment. So it is kind of a trade-off there.

I can’t imagine really calling a birthday while being harassed by debt collectors a good one, and it is probably the closest thing to a swift kick in the balls I have experienced on a birthday.

People want their money, I understand that, but I am a firm believer that bills have a tendency to show up on the desk of a debt collector long before they ought to, or at least that there should be some middle level of understanding. I’ve harped, time and time again, that those that work in debt collection must be the scum of the earth, since they are basically paid to harass people and try and get money out of them. Many of these people on the receiving end, like me, have literally nothing to give.

So at first, when one of my previous employers forgot to give me my final paycheck, I tried to be courteous. I tried to be compliant. I tried civilized conversations and phone calls and the like.

But now, months have passed, and still no paycheck. About a month ago I was told that it was going to be deposited in my account by Friday (ha) and lo and behold, of course. It wasn’t there.

Normally I wouldn’t care so much, but this is the same company I recently left because of the astounding discrimination I was met with by a new store manager. I initially wrote off what happened with her as being a singular incident (as in, just the actions of one employee alone, not the action of the company), but as soon as I spent a WEEK attempting to contact the HR department with no return call to the 12 calls I left, this has now become a problem I have with the company, not just an individual.

What blows my mind is that I whole-heartedly and truly believe the person who keeps failing to pay me isn’t trying to retaliate against me for what happened (as I’m sure she’s oblivious to it), this is just a separate incidence of total failure on the part of this company’s top employees.

Something inside me grows, something ruthless, something fierce. I have the overwhelming urge to screw with these people, to call them several times a day and leave the same message over and over and over again, only to suddenly want to employ 15 of my friends to do the same thing so the phone rings and rings and rings for days without relief.

And that’s when the needle slipped off the record. The maniacal music, stopping abruptly, leaves only silence.

You owe a debt. I am here to collect that debt.

Oh no.

Am I channeling debt collectors? Is this what it’s like?

And suddenly, yes. I feel empathy. Feeling helpless until all you can do is harass someone into submission, the plight of the debt collector.

I’ve always identified with the evil villain in stories. The hero was too shiny and perfect to be able to understand. But the villain, they are evil, sure, but they’re often also misunderstood.

I wish I could call it strictly business at this point, but it isn’t. It’s personal.

It became personal the moment I was told that they wouldn’t make any kind of accommodations for me, disability or not.

So I’m contemplating what steps to take next. I don’t want to do anything outlandish, but I need to make an impact. I can’t keep doing the same thing to get zero results. I might be able to reach a “superior” of some kind directly, but it is a long shot. Until then, the thinking cap is on.

100th Post; A Blog Origin Story

Before I started this blog I knew I wanted to write, but I didn’t know what to write about. In the past I’ve written about fashion, textile design, and costuming, I’ve written about celiac’s disease, and recipes I’ve tried, and I’ve written the usual free-form creative stuff, but I couldn’t find a topic that could hold my attention for very long.

That’s sort of the story with everything in my life though, my interest in things really waxes and wanes and it is hard for me to focus, both on just a single thing at a time and in general.

Someone I went to high school with has been writing a blog for a while now about her pregnancy, she has often linked it to her facebook account, inviting anyone to read it. The entries are cute and sometimes whimsical, she has a very rustic, yet feminine sense of style that I’ve always admired.

When I first thought about writing about bipolar disorder, there seemed to be an obvious rift between her blog and my (still imaginary) blog. After all, it wouldn’t be appropriate to post mine of facebook, right? Baby clothes are a socially acceptable topic of everyday conversation, but mental health is not.

But why the hell not?

This pregnancy will last nine months of her life. I will live with bipolar disorder for my entire life, so shouldn’t I get to talk about it? Just because people don’t understand it, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t, right?

So with a little manic fervor and some balls, the decision had been made. I would write a blog about something that is permanent in my life instead of something I could lose interest in, what seemed like a good solution to my problem with keeping focus. Not only that, I would make it readily available to people who actually know me, even the ones who didn’t know I have bipolar disorder.

When I was younger one of my biggest frustrations was that people didn’t seem to understand me. Hell, didn’t even understand me! The problem wasn’t that they were rejecting the information I gave them, just that I didn’t give them the chance to understand. For years I expected people to read my mind or just know how I felt, though some magical, mystical power, but I never just told anyone.

Now that I am being open about having bipolar disorder and what that means to me, the change has been life-altering. That isn’t even an exaggeration, I’m getting all teary-eyed just writing this!

People who I’d grow apart from have told me they feel closer to me than ever. Some of my friends with bipolar disorder and the community here in Seattle has been nothing but supportive and encouraging of what I’ve had to say. I’ve even had “normal” folks tell me that they could relate to some of the things I’ve written about, which they didn’t expect to happen! On top of the support from friends and bipolar peers, I’ve also discovered the support of the blogging community which has been really reassuring.

The apex so far for me was a couple weeks ago, literally every person I had made plans with over the course of the week made a comment to me about this blog. I got phone calls and emails about it. And, to top the cake, my dad called me to have an in-depth conversation about bipolar disorder with me for the first time ever.

It isn’t that my dad has ever ignored me or the issues I’ve been dealing with, I just never really told him what was going on. I was, admittedly, totally scared, because for the longest time I didn’t know how to talk about it. I’m still working on the talking out loud portion, but I’m extremely grateful to have this platform to express much of what I have to say.

If you don’t tell people who you are, they can’t reject you. But, they also can’t fully embrace you either. I expected some resistance, some level of rejection by putting myself out there, but instead I’ve found myself embraced by so many more people than I ever expected. Trust me, your support has not gone unappreciated!

I know it can be terrifying to be open about having bipolar disorder (trust me, I was physically ill for an entire week after writing my first post and linking it to facebook), but for me it has been far more rewarding than I ever could have expected.

Thanks folks, you all totally rock!

I also want to make a brief shout-out to a couple of the bloggers and websites that have acknowledged what I’ve been doing.

Thanks to Disorderly Chickadee, who tagged me with the Liebster Blog Award. She’s got a rockin’ blog herself, full of intellectual and insightful information. Check it out!

Thanks to Lulu at As the Pendulum Swings and Kevin at Voices of Glass for both tagging me with the Versatile Blogger Award. Lulu’s presence here in the online blogosphere is a marked one and she is both insightful and amazingly supportive. Kevin’s blog continues to push the envelope for me a little bit, challenging me to think about and consider things I haven’t considered before.

Lulu at As the Pendulum Swings started a project for 2012 called, “Blog for Mental Health 2012” which I am lucky to take part in, involving taking a pledge and committing to blogging for mental health, showing pride, dedication, and acceptance to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma. Props!

I also want to give a quick thanks to Bring Change 2 Mind for being an exceptional non-prophet dedicated to helping eradicate stigma, but also for publishing a brief short story about my own mental health experiences on their website. Thank you!

Finally, I just want to say, thank you for giving me hope. I imagine a future where people don’t have to live in fear of others finding out about their diagnoses and don’t feel like they have to hide parts of themselves from the rest of the world out of fear of discrimination and harassment. I know it is unrealistic to expect everyone on earth to be as accepting as the people around me have been for the last few months, but the truth of the matter is that I am witnessing something. I am living something I didn’t think would be possible for a long time.

It is possible to live openly with mental illness. 

And if that doesn’t give me hope, nothing will.

Pants on Fire

So I mentioned manipulation, but it’s a complicated matter.

When I was young I lied. A lot. It was almost a compulsive thing for me because I reached the point where I was constantly testing people to see if they could discern my lies from the truth.

For the most part, they couldn’t. And that’s where I begin to feel shame about the matter, because for a time it seemed that I could use this skill for good or for evil, and I didn’t exactly use it for good. I let myself run away for a little bit with the idea of being a con artist, and for a few moments it went flawlessly.

And that’s when I began to get nervous.

What fun is life if people just give you whatever you want?

The thrill came from the idea of being caught, but everything I did seemed too easy. It may seem bizarre, but I’m the sort of person that needs a challenge.

And on top of that, the relationships I was creating were completely fictitious. It was a game, and when I began to try to make real relationships I found that I was having trouble stopping myself from lying.

So I’ve instigated a “no lying” policy, I did so a long time ago. I don’t need to lie to get people’s attention or to get them to like me because I am a genuinely interesting person. That, and I don’t care if people like me anymore. With 7 billion people in the world, if a handful don’t like me I’m not going to lose sleep over it.

Every once in a while something will slip out though, a not-exactly lie that morphs into a lie later. Or maybe I’m trying to say one thing, but I’m feeling a little manic and something else comes out of my mouth.

It usually happens with therapists, that’s why I hadn’t had one in a while until recently. It is difficult for me to have a professional relationship built on trust because once one little lie happens, even if accidentally, I feel compelled to keep lying about it. Since this usually compromises my “no lying” policy I sever my ties and get a new therapist.

I need to be able to be honest with my therapist, so once I feel the need to compulsively lie I’m really bad at knowing how to stop. So much so that it has always seemed easier to find a new therapist than stop.

Back when I first met the man who is now my boyfriend I knew right away that he was going to be an important person in my life because I made some kind of comment (that may have been a lie) and he totally called me out on it, right then and there. Nobody has ever done that in my life, and the concept that this guy had just seen right through me felt like a miracle.

This creates an interesting dynamic between the two of us, and for every time he’s thwarted one of my lies my anxiety about lying to him increases ten-fold. Somehow this is positive anxiety though, it’s a beautiful buffer that keeps me from even thinking about lying to him, and it keeps the relationship honest.

Well the problem I’m facing now is that it happened again. Not with my therapist, but with a co-worker. I said something which was true one day, but then the next day it became a lie. When asked, I  continued talking about it, and it has rolled into a big snowball now that keeps chasing me around.

I talked to my therapist about it and obviously she wasn’t thrilled, and I know I need to kill this thing once and for all.

The biggest issue here is that I’m pretty sure I’m going to need to erase the first lie with a second lie, which just feels ridiculous. If I get found out, if I tell this person that I’ve been lying there could be serious consequences.

I should know better by now, and I can’t believe this is an issue again.

It is those moments when I finally feel like I break free from the stigma around mental illness that I get pinned down by it again. If I could have been open about my situation I wouldn’t be having this problem, but after the things I’ve heard this person say to me just “between the two of us” I know they wouldn’t respond well.

I’ve lost two jobs this year because of discrimination and stigma, after getting burned like that I’m not sure I’m ready to put myself out there to lose anything else. At the same time, I’ve dug a hole for myself and lined it with sharp, pointy sticks and I keep waiting for myself to fall inside.

I’m going to decide on my next move before going back to work in 2012. I’m sure I can make this work out, I just need to figure out the right thing to say.

November Remix

After a literal week of attempting to contact my HR representative (with no answer to my 7+ calls) I am happy to say I have been offered (and accepted) a job elsewhere.

I am extremely lucky it happened so fast, especially since I was chosen from around 400 applicants. Sometimes life amazes me, particularly since I was told they were looking for someone young and vibrant and many times I forget that I fit that bill.

So I am looking forward to my first day on Saturday as a showroom assistant for luxury condo sales downtown. Of course, I’m also having a birthday party for myself Saturday night (so I had anticipated not working that day) but I am so grateful at this point to have a new job that I will make it work.

I’ve been having a bit of trouble with my resignation letter, and though a friend of mine told me to just call the store and quit I told her that I would rather have the chance to articulate what happened (even if only one or two people get to see it). I suppose it doesn’t matter if the letter is too harsh (which I feel it is at this stage in the writing process), in my book they are the one that burned this bridge, and discrimination should be called out when it is happening, right?

Employmee Limbo

I am in limbo.

Past the point of being completely disrespected by my employer, but have not yet taken action.

On Wednesday evening a good friend of mine suggested that I sleep on it, because I was feeling outrageously offended and enraged. I stewed for the better part of a day imagining making a huge scene and storming out of my current place of business.

Thankfully the next morning I felt a little different. Still offended, but my rage had turned to cunning. I explored my options, considering transferring to another store, speaking with HR, waiting for the issue to become more of a problem, or quitting outright.

At this point I want to meet with my therapist before making a final decision, but I intend to work my shift tomorrow, if nothing else.

I am also in the process of contacting HR (because I want the final record to show that I at least did that much) and I’m almost curious to see what’ll happen. In my experience, HR has never solved one issue I’ve had with an employer (no matter how unlawful) but they are notorious for making waves in the workplace. If I am on the outs, I wont hesitate to walk away at the drop of the hat if my boss begins to retaliate against me. Unfortunately, so far this guy has been almost impossible to contact. He was out of the office today for veterans day, and yesterday I called 10 times (literally) and the phone was busy the entire day (even after business hours). Very sketchy.

If I feel threatened again at any point I might also print a copy or two of the Americans with Disabilities Act and attach it to my resignation letter when the time comes.

It is a hard situation, but I have dealt with it before. I feel past the point of putting my tail between my legs and running away, because I have nothing to lose. I went in to this job being completely honest with my employer and I don’t need these people. There are other jobs out there.

In my conversation Wednesday I was told:

  • the number of hours I am capable of working is too few and my boss refuses to schedule me for anything less than 10 hours more than the hours I am capable of (this wasn’t an issue until the new manager came).
  • accommodations could happen short term with a doctor’s note but could not be made for me for any prolonged period of time (again, this was not an issue until the new manager came).
  • my boss questions my ability to be able to complete the tasks necessary for the job (I’ve been completing them for the last few weeks haven’t I? How about the year before that at the same employer when I was being begged to be promoted?)
  • I was also challenged directly by my boss to choose between my health and my job. This Tuesday I have a doctor’s appointment but she scheduled me anyway, then told me that even though almost every employee in the store will be working that day she could not allow me to go to the doctor. I told her over the phone this week that I wont be there, and I dare her to berate me about it again.

I honestly believe that it isn’t worth the anxiety at this point. I’d rather have anxiety from being too poor to eat than have this kind of anxiety from work. Anxiety about work is my number one killer every time.

We’ll see what happens.

10% November

Well, here we are again.

As you may have guessed, the response to my particular health situation varies highly based on the person who is responding to it.

I met the new store manager yesterday, and just now (within 24 hours) I am being told that my needs at work cannot be met (scheduling and shift length) because she doesn’t know if I am capable of doing all the tasks related to this job.

The parameters in which I was hired are now null and void. The new manager will not accept an employee working simply 10 hours a week (which I am currently, and struggling somewhat) and asked me if she scheduled me for 15 hours if I could also do some “light work” in the back of house on other days.

This is not a good morning.

Last night I went to the emergency room, but not for what you’d think (a little ironic considering my last post). I apparently had an episode of vertigo, and then continued my evening by hyperventilating. Instead of just blacking out like any normal person, I topped it off by having the mother of all panic attacks.

I’ve had panic attacks before, in fact I’ve had two in the last 4 hours.

But this, this was beyond the realm of any manageable panic attack. My whole body froze up, but not just for a minute or two. It was as if every muscle in my body was flexed and I was stuck in these ridiculous poses (like some kind of life size Gumby doll). Not only was it excruciatingly painful, I couldn’t seem to get any of my body to do what I wanted.

Have you ever had moments where your brain told your hand to cover your yawn and your hand just laughed instead? It took two firemen to get me into the ambulance, and I decided to go to the hospital because the symptoms from the  combination of the vertigo/hyperventilation/panic attack (which I didn’t know at the time what it was) led me to believe I was in some kind of mortal jeopardy.

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. Just the most bizarre, frustrating onset of awkward symptoms I have ever had in my life.

Honestly I am a little proud of myself, because even when I thought I might be dying I kept a pretty good attitude. I appreciated the irony of every little moment and found myself cracking jokes between gritted teeth. For a moment I was worried I might be experiencing the most terrifying manic episode ever because there were little hints of delusions, a moment or two where I thought someone might kill me… but for the most part, my mind was fairly calm. It was very dream like.

I’m sure the statement I get in the mail from the hospital will be everything BUT dreamlike, but there’s nothing I can do about that now.

So, follow that up with my new boss this morning?

How frustrating. She allowed for zero negotiation, and that basically means I need to get out of there asap. I can’t allow myself to get to the point where I let her talk me into doing things I am uncomfortable with, which is basically what happened on the phone today, but I am equally as terrified to try and find another job I can actually do and will take me.

Oh, and my therapist cancelled our appointment tonight because she’s sick.

Happy November!