Money and Depression: Telling Your Boss, Or Not

Martha Kaplan and I are both depressed.

This is the second in a series of conversations about depression and money.

Logan Sachon: You said something in our first conversation that I keep thinking about.

Martha Kaplan: I’m pretty depressed, so it’s a good day for it. Go on.

LS: You were explaining why you’ve chosen not to use your real name for these chats, and you said: “It is hard to be respected in your place of employment when it is known that you sometimes cannot get out of bed.” (basically)

MK: Ah yes.

LS: And I’m wondering: Does your employer know about your mental health adventures? Past employers? Who gets to know, and who doesn’t?

MK: This is an interesting question. I have an office job now, but I used to be in a job that required me to supervise children. I was very young, and I didn’t have a particularly strong backbone (this was a thing that my supervisor told me once) (she was not trying to be mean). And what ended up happening was I would cry in front of the children. It happened more than once. A handful of times, I think? But it made it so, so, *so* much harder to go back the next day and command respect. Not that I was getting much before. Hence the crying.

But that was a lesson. Obviously, if they see you’re weak, they’ll respect you less, but children are just more honest humans. If you cry at work, you will get less respect. Or if you talk openly about being depressed, you will be seen as weak. Unreliable. (It’s a particularly fine line for a woman to walk) (because if you’re too aggressive, you’re seen as a bitch) (competent, strong, but not too strong, and not too threatening—please be all of those things). 

Anyway, this is not to say that I haven’t cried at my desk. I have, and I’ve told my co-workers, the ones I’m close with, some details about my mental state. There is one coworker in particular whose office I would sit in sometimes when I was freaking out, but this person was supposed to be mentoring me, so it felt okay to be vulnerable (or rather I felt like I had no choice). I honestly kind of regret that now. I had a panic attack at work once, and I joke about being in therapy because I feel like you’re allowed to do that in New York. But no one who’s actually in charge of me knows that I’m fifteen minutes from totally losing my shit at any given moment. Because honestly, if they did know, why would they give me anything to be in charge of?

LS: Do you think that person who is your mentor “gets” it?

MK: I think there’s an age difference that makes it hard. Part of me feels that, as a youngish woman, there’s no way that my “depression” will be taken seriously. I don’t think my mentor thinks my problems are a joke, but I also think that it’s easy to dismiss a twenty-something having panic attacks as, you know, just a girl going through a phase.

LS: This is something that I struggle with, even myself. Because even though I know that I have a Disease, that depression is a Disease, that I cannot Snap Out of It, that it’s not that I’m just not trying hard enough, that there are actual chemicals in my brain that are keeping me from being The Best Possible Me All The Time …. I still think sometimes (all the time?) that my inability to snap out of it is a personal weakness.

So if I can’t believe there is something physically or chemically happening that is making basic tasks so hard, or if I don’t, why should anyone else?

That said, I have been very open with most of my employers about the fact that I have been diagnosed and sometimes have to deal with being Clinically Depressed, mostly because I am very open with everyone about everything, and lying about that particular thing seemed harder and more stressful than just being out with it.

But I’ve never disclosed it preemptively—it’s always been when I’m basically already in crisis, or getting there, and feel I need to somehow justify my behavior (like, looking very morose) (or being late) (or subpar performance, or what I perceive as subpar performance).

MK: So what do you say?

LS: Well it’s hard. There isn’t really standard accepted language for what is happening. Depressed means so much more than whatever is in the DSM-IV. And I certainly am not precious about it. “Ugh, I’ve watched all of Game of Thrones , I’m so depressed” is just as legit a use of the word as “I’m sorry that I have been letting you down in every way lately, I’m depressed.” But they don’t mean the same thing. And I don’t love to use that word, really maybe because I do feel like it discounts what’s going on. I don’t know. When I’m in a bad place, that is, a depressed place, I describe it as “a dark place” or “a low place.” That language feels pretty apt to me. But that’s also very casual language.

Which is why it’s good, I think, to have a diagnosis and to medicalize it as much as possible. When I’ve felt the need to disclose it, I try to say, “I’m clinically depressed. I’ve had it under control but my meds have stopped working. I’m seeing a new therapist, I’m looking for a doctor to regulate my meds, this is what’s happening.” Using that language also helps me deal with self-loathing—it’s not me, it’s my disease.

MK: Interesting. I think one of the things I have been good at is faking it when necessary. I was talking to a friend today about how I feel like I have enough energy to do one of two things: either work or take care of myself. And I always choose work, no matter how awful I feel. Even if it makes me feel awful. I do enough to make sure I’m not insanely worried about getting fired. Or rather, I do enough so that when I tell people I’m insanely worried about getting fired, they tell me I’m crazy. I think work is a coping mechanism almost, like a way of avoiding the problem. Which is why it’s important that no one know that I actually have serious issues at work.

LS: The jobs that have been best for me, as far as being able to separate what is going on in my head and getting a job done, have been retail jobs. The jobs have been with larger companies, the policies are set by corporate, you clock in, you clock out, if you’re late three times, you’re fired. These are the jobs where I have not disclosed anything, because it doesn’t matter. Rules are rules and if you break the rules then you’re out. That kind of structure was good for me, I think.

The other jobs I’ve had—writing jobs, editing jobs—have not been so stringent. There is a bare minimum of things to be done, yes, but then also almost infinite possibilities of what Could be done. And when I’m struggling and when I’m just making it through doing the bare minimum, I feel the need to disclose what’s going on. I want to be an A+ amazing worker. And sometimes I can’t be. And it’s not because I’m lazy. Or maybe it is because I’m lazy. But it’s chemical imbalance-induced laziness.

When I’ve been in a bad place, and disclosed my depression, I’ve always encountered really understanding and lovely coworkers and bosses. And I think part of that is also that I have mostly worked at small companies, so these people have all been my friends, too, so they’ve been sympathetic and understanding and wanting to help and cut me a break.

But now I wonder if disclosing this to these people and accepting their help didn’t …. lower the stakes for me. Like, at the retail jobs, I’m going to show up no matter what because I know that if I don’t I will get fired and there is no recourse. But once people know, even if I don’t want it to be like this, once they know that I’m having a hard time, it makes this thing that I Had to get out of bed for, less of a Had? If that makes sense.

MK: It does. I mean, I do think depression is a real disease. I don’t think this is “in your head,” but I do think that you can lean into it or fight it. Or actually, you can be lucky enough to have the resources and support be able to actually take the time to try to fight it. Like, you can be financially stable and part of some miraculous supportive family that will pay for you to go to therapy and yoga all the time or something. Which is a small number of people. Or you can use all of your energy fighting to stay afloat. But when you’re using all of your energy fighting to stay afloat, you get tired, and eventually you just want to give up.

I think maybe telling your employers about your issues made it easier to allow yourself to give up. Which is not the same as saying you’re lazy. It’s more like, a regular person will take advantage of having flexible deadlines to a certain extent, but for a person who has depression, that’s almost like a trigger. You don’t want to take advantage, but you do because you’re normal, and then you feel awful about it, and then you do it more and more, because that makes you feel more depressed and you’re fighting harder just to keep yourself, like, not in a huge amount of pain and you can’t do the thing you were supposed to do ages ago.

LS: The Spiral.

MK: I think the idea is: Can work be a place that forces you to be healthy? And is that a good thing? I think it can be, but also, I feel a lot of the time like I’m choosing work over myself. Because being competent at work makes me feel baseline competent, even though my entire body is screaming that I’m not okay.

Doing your job while also having depression or mania or whatever is hard enough. Doing your job while also worrying about judgment, is too hard, is my feeling. But that’s also a product of how there is a stigma around mental illness. And it’s not well understood. It’s like, would I try to hide the fact that I had diabetes from my employer because of concerns that I would “take advantage” of that for more sick days? No.

LS: Right, or hide behind that diagnosis somehow. Do you take sick days?

MK: Not frequently. Once because I was extremely sad. That was awful.

LS: And did you say, “I’m extremely sad”?

MK: No I said I had the flu. One of these things is definitely not your fault (the flu). One of them seems like it might be (being sad).

LS: Another good thing about the retail jobs I’ve had is that, just like there are rules for being late and getting fired, there are also clear rules for calling out and for covering shifts. And, if I needed to, I did call out sick from those jobs—I knew the number of days I had, and I used them. Never more than was allowed, and never when I knew it was going to really mess anyone up.

But it was really a no judgment system. You didn’t have to fake it. You just called and talked to a manager and said, “I’m calling out today.” And something about that let me take some much-needed “mental health days” without the guilt—I hadn’t done that before. If it was really bad, I had lied and said I was sick, or worse, I wouldn’t take a day at all when I really, really needed one because I’d felt that I should be able to talk myself out of bed or whip myself into shape.

And I hate lying. But yes, I’d say the flu. Or a fever. Or terrible menstrual cramps. All of that is easier than saying, “I just can’t make it out of bed today.”

Of course a lot of that had to do not just with the policies but with nature of the work—other people could do my job at the stores. Most of the jobs I’ve had, that hasn’t been the case. A sick day just meant no one was doing what needed to be done, or someone was having to do my job on top of their job.

MK: So the system that was in place at the store allowed you to take care of yourself without taking advantage. That’s insane. That sounds like a dream

LS: It was a good place. Good for me. Are you aware of anyone else at your office with mental unhealth? Are there people that talk about it?

MK: I know several people here are in therapy, but I doubt anyone else has a diagnosed thing. Is my feeling. But maybe that’s just me wanting to feel special.

LS: Ha, yes. We are so special. Magical butterflies of sadness. Superheroes of hating ourselves. Would we just had, like, different colored eyes, or photographic memories. I thought we were going to end up deciding that it would be better to be More Open About Our Depression at Work, but it seems like maybe we’re thinking … no. Keep it secret, keep it safe. But that seems wrong. I mean, one of the hard things about being depressed is that it’s not something that a lot of people accept as even a valid disease, so maybe we should be talking about it more (hence these conversations). But what if everyone at your work is also miserable and you’re all suffering silently? You could have a support group … of depressed people. Do we owe it to each other to talk about this openly at work?

MK: I think the key is that I am healthy enough to get my shit together and come to work and pretend to be fine, so no, I wouldn’t want to be reminded of how hard that is and how close I am to not being able to do that by having a support group at work. But also, there are people who are not healthy enough to have regular jobs, and maybe support groups would help get them to a place where they could.

LS: I’m very interested to read about other people’s experiences with telling or not telling at work. And I’d love to talk to some people who don’t Suffer From Depression about what it’s like to work with people who do Suffer From Depression. And as for you and me, we’re both going to keep doing the best we can. I’m going to do that by eating an apple. I am guessing that you are going to continue to work on your work. Thanks for chatting. I’m sorry you’re feeling bad today.

MK: It will be fine. It will pass. It always does.

 

Previously: Depression and Money: Some Real Talk

See also: How to Lose Four Months to a Depression/Spending Death Spiral

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57 Comments / Post A Comment

Like, you can be financially stable and part of some miraculous supportive family that will pay for you to go to therapy and yoga all the time or something. Which is a small number of people. Or you can use all of your energy fighting to stay afloat. But when you’re using all of your energy fighting to stay afloat, you get tired, and eventually you just want to give up.

This is a false distinction. I think we often want to fantasize that the people who manage their depression most aggressively and responsibly have resources we don’t have, but I’m here to tell you, as one of the people who has sometimes managed to, that it is not true.

I think one of the real difficulties of depression–and I have a pretty intense set of bona fides on this subject–is that it does, in some ways, require to you do the seemingly impossible, which is to take radical responsibility for your illness, for the ways you allow it to work in your life, and for the ways in which you retain the capacity to make choices that it is easy to pretend you “can’t” make. No one wants to do that in their lives, least of all depressed people, but it is a major impediment to wellness to fail to do so. Thinking about my responsibility for my “mood-dependent behavior is one of the most painful things I do every day.

None of that is to say that we shouldn’t be able to find more support, or that you shouldn’t be able to talk about it at work. But there’s more to it than the culture.

sally (#917)

@mean terry gross body shamer Thank you.

laluchita (#2,195)

@mean terry gross body shamer Yes and no. I have both a physical disability (chronic pain from a bike crash) and depression and anxiety, and it’s only when I got my physical injury that I realized that I couldn’t blame myself for the limitations placed on me by my depression any more than I could for the limitations placed on me by my injury. I never wanted to use my depression as an excuse for not being a super employee and a super activist and I threw myself into things 110% regardless of my emotional state. And I was a wreck a lot of the time and I blamed myself for that. But these days in the same way I have to say on a daily basis, look I can’t walk a picket line without crippling myself, and that’s ok. I can also say, look, I can’t do all the things (work/social/or otherwise) that I want to do without being a panicky moody overwhelmed wreck, and it’s not my fault. It’s just that my brain has an injury in the same way that my ankle does, and it just means that I need to sit on my couch more than I might like to. If that makes sense. But it’s been a struggle to feel like I’m not letting myself/other people down because of it.

@laluchita It does make sense, and I am not speaking about you, but: depressed people often walk around with the ankle broken indefinitely, rather than having it set, and to some degree no one can help us with that but ourselves. And sometimes we have to choose to honor boundaries that we don’t WANT to honor–to give up social shit first.

@mean terry gross body shamer I’m not a psychology expert, but there’s an interesting social psychology concept that’s now being talked about behavioral economists called “ego depletion.” Basically the idea that humans have a limited reserve of willpower, and the more difficult decisions you have to make in a day, the harder it gets to make further decisions, and the more likely you are to just do the easiest thing. It’s mooted as an explanation for why poor people make “bad choices” when it comes to things like savings or health care — they are so stressed out and have so many struggles just in their day-to-day lives that the cognitive burdens of longer-term planning are just too much to handle.

In the context of depression, I do think that having more financial or social resources to draw on would make it easier to deal with, in the sense that the less “everyday” stuff you have to struggle with just to survive, the more cognitive energy you have to devote to managing your condition. Even if there were free, wonderful mental health care available to everybody, just dealing with the paperwork and getting too and from appointments and such might be too much to cope with for someone who is depressed AND significantly resource constrained in their day-to-day life.

@mean terry gross body shamer I have to agree with you that this is a false distinction. What I want to add here, in what I hope will be helpful advice is that maybe it’s possible to view work as one’s means to a cure.

So for example the mental line you would say to yourself each morning would go something like this ‘I feel tired and disconnected and I really really really just want to stay in bed today, but if I got to work I can distract myself with my to-do list and interact with co-workers who may just make me smile. Furthermore, if I can continue to do good work over the course of this year I can ask my boss for a raise which will help me to better afford my medication and therapy.’

I guess what I’m thinking is that if Logan and Martha can incentivise going to work as a ‘road towards health’ rather than ‘a drain on my mental state’ they will begin to see work (and by extension engaging with others) as the means to achieving happiness. While I recognize that this is easier said than done I feel like it could be worth a try.

UnabashedVixen (#3,175)

@stuffisthings

The other thing is: depression talks to me. It tells me all day long not to try, not to bother because things are never, ever getting better. So don’t sleep, don’t eat well, don’t do the things that will help you feel better because nothing will make you feel better and it’s too hard anyway. It’s the only disease I know of that makes it so you don’t want to get better.

ladyshiv (#3,190)

@UnabashedVixen not the only disease, addiction does the same.

When I call in sick, I just make it vague. I’m not feeling well enough to come in to work today. I don’t think any more than that is anybody’s business.

Also, I work in mental health, with a group of psychiatrists who constantly talk up reducing mental health stigma and I still wouldn’t feel comfortable calling in to work saying I’m feeling too anxious or depressed. So, that’s going really well.

ThatJenn (#916)

@redheaded&crazy Question: does your boss/whoever you call in to ever ask you what’s up? My boss always wants to know lots of details and though I really don’t think it’s her business, it’s hard to say “none of your business, thanks” when asked a direct question like that. I do think she means well – she wants to give advice on how to deal with whatever it is – but sometimes I just want to say “I’m sick and can’t come in today.” Even when it’s not the depression!

We have these conversations mostly by text message, which you would think would make it easier to evade but doesn’t seem to, for me.

navigateher (#555)

@ThatJenn & @redheaded&crazy How does this work in the US (I’m assuming that’s where you both work)? How long can you stay home with just “I’m sick” or whatever? In here, in general you can only get a sick leave for 1-3 days without a medical certificate (a document signed by a doctor stating your inability to work during a certain period of time), because we get paid sick leave. The reason / diagnose has to be stated in the medical certificate, so if you’re ever absent for longer than a couple of days (and in some places you need this from the first day), at least someone in your company will know for sure. It can get weird in a small company, like mine, where I am responsible for collecting these documents. I try not to look at the diagnose because I don’t need to know, but sometimes people also assume that I AM GOING TO KNOW ANYWAY and give an unsolicited explanation for their absence, which can be horribly awkward.

ThatJenn (#916)

@navigateher It depends heavily on the company. Some places you basically can’t take sick time. Some places (whether or not they have paid sick time – that varies by where you work too) have a set policy: after [1, 3, whatever] days out, you need a doctor’s note. Some places have a policy like that but only enforce it when it seems like a problem – my employer, which has generous paid sick time, has such a policy but I’ve never seen it enforced.

@navigateher good questions that I don’t know the answers to. I’ve never had to take more than two days off work either for physical or mental illness.

Actually I did have to take some time off when I had mono, but I did get a doctor’s note. That was also a long time ago when I worked a unionized job. I wonder if you could get a generic doctor’s note that doesn’t actually specify.

As for my current situation, I am technically self-employed and under contract, so I don’t get paid sick leave. My boss generally won’t ask except for “are you feeling better?” when you return. And to be honest, he probably would be understanding in the moment if I told him I was depressed and needed to take time off. But I also fear that it would negatively impact his view of me in the future, especially since he does so much work on how depression impacts workplace productivity (and what can be done to improve those functional outcomes).

I should also add that I don’t have a clinical diagnosis of depression or anxiety, nor do I think I would qualify for either. But I still think that people should take mental health days if they need to, and that is something that should be accepted and promoted even as better for functioning. (I think some companies now allow for personal days, not sure if they are paid or not)

@redheaded&crazy my boyfriend is standing in line right now because he was RUN OVER BY A CAR yesterday night* and he has to get the certificate nor from ANY doctor but from a social security doctor. So in México it works this crazy stupid way: when you are super sick, you have to stand in line all day.
*It just kinda hit him and he fell and now it hurts all over, but I’m dramatic.

Lily Rowan (#70)

@redheaded&crazy Yeah, I know I’ve generally worked for good places/had good bosses, but I try to just say “I’m not coming in because I don’t feel well,” more or less on principle. Because it isn’t there business if I feel sick in the stomach, or the uterus, or the head, or the brain.

navigateher (#555)

@ThatJenn Thanks for the answers! It’s pretty sweet that you get paid sick time without a doctor’s note. It’s somewhat frustrating to go see a doctor just to get a note. Not to mention expensive (in our case to the employer usually). I think part of why they’re so anal about the medical certificates here is because employers get reimbursement from the social insurance institution for paid sick leave after it’s been two weeks and they absolutely can’t get their money without it.

notpollyanna (#2,841)

@redheaded&crazy
I don’t know if the people you work with are like this, but in all of my experience as a mental patient, I have felt far more stigmatized by the mental health care professionals than from people in general. Like, no one else blames me for not getting better because I didn’t try hard enough or ridiculously abuses their power of authority over me. But 90% of the mental health care I got was emotionally abusive and maybe that is not normal? I can’t figure that one out.

@navigateher at my temp job, which is terrible, I do not get any paid sick leave, and I just found out that I also functionally do not get any unpaid sick leave either, because I found out yesterday that a family member will be having a major surgery and my boss told me that if I took more than one day off I would be replaced. I already committed to taking my SO for a minor procedure he can’t go to alone, and there is literally no one else to do it, so I have zero days left.

I’ve basically just decided that if the surgery goes poorly I’ll quit on the spot to go help. I am in a financial situation such that quitting the last few weeks of my shitty temp job is possible, which is very fortunate or I’d be more on the rack about it than I already am.

Basically my point is sick leave policies are inconsistent and sometimes awful in the US.

Myrtle (#116)

@notpollyanna I’m so sorry that you had this experience. You deserve to be well treated. I have had this abuse by mental health professionals, too. The field is a great place for sociopaths to hide, as doctors won’t “tell” on each other, even at the expense of patient health and safety.

I’ve called my County watchdog agency to report what I saw in a hospital’s treatment program. They have not called me back, but I will call again. I had enough therapy that I don’t keep secrets about abuse anymore.

olivia (#1,618)

I don’t think an employee should ever disclose his or her mental illness to a supervisor. There is too much stigma attached to mental illness. I’m open about my depression and anxiety with my good friends, but I would never tell my employees unless I was completely unable to function at work. There are absolutely times when my performance has been worse due to my anxiety or depression, but I would rather my supervisors think it’s just an off day than think it’s because I’m in the midst of a depressive episode.

And also: NEVER CRY AT WORK. Go hide in the bathroom if you must, but nothing makes people lose respect for a coworker more than seeing them cry. I’ve never cried at work but a coworker cries regularly and no one respects her.

ThatJenn (#916)

@olivia You know, I’ve been told to never cry at work but it’s funny how tears don’t like to wait until I can get to the bathroom. If I could wait it out like that, I wouldn’t have to cry at all. (Edited to note that this shouldn’t sound as defensive as it kind of does, it’s just a thought. Tone via text is hard.)

I haven’t cried in front of anyone at my current job, but my coworker, at least, knows I suffer from depression & anxiety (she does too). My boss knows I used to, in a past tense way, and I wouldn’t tell her more ONLY because she doesn’t seem to really believe in mental illness despite it being a real force in her family life, and she also has sort of a weird bootstrapping mentality (“I have problems like that and I just come to work anyway because I am a Hard Worker!”).

sockhopbop (#764)

@ThatJenn Also! Sometimes people cry and it’s fine. I mean, yes, there is the risk that coworkers will think less of you, but sometimes they are empathetic and understanding too.

It actually really bugs me that there’s so much stigma attached to crying as weak and unprofessional, whereas it’s considered acceptable–a sign of power–in many modern workplaces to yell and express anger. I think it’s largely because crying is associated with women, and yelling is associated with men.

ThatJenn (#916)

@sockhopbop Yes, this. The bit about crying vs. yelling, I mean. I work at a university and often attend meetings where professors basically yell at each other, and I think, wow, this profession really rewards traits I do not have, and what a shame – there are a lot of people like me who could be awesome at it. (I left my PhD program for this reason, among a few others.) Being assertive is a totally cool professional trait, but yelling or getting angry always seems really unprofessional to me, but somehow the professional world at large doesn’t agree. (Noting, of course, that sometimes people are angry and that’s OK, too.)

aeroaeroaero (#1,422)

@ThatJenn @sockhopbop I am guilty of both losing my temper AND crying at work. It’s been a while since I’ve done either, but I have a short fuse, which causes me frustration when I lose my shit, and nothing brings on the waterworks for me like frustration. Ugh. It’s the worst.

@olivia You’re not really supposed to (or required to) disclose ANY health problems to your employer, except perhaps confidentially to HR in the form of a doctor’s note or whatever. I mean, sometimes it can be useful for your boss to know you’re struggling, but you’re under no obligation to do anything other than suffer in silence.

olivia (#1,618)

@ThatJenn No I completely understand that tears just happen, and didn’t mean to make you or anyone else feel defensive! And I’m not a robot-I once got terrible news at work so grabbed my things, told my boss I gotten terrible news with tears in my eyes, and then started crying the second I walked out the door. I agree that it’s sexist and wrong, but it doesn’t change the fact that most of the time, a woman is going to be judged negatively for crying, and given less respect.

jr (#3,151)

I have depression as well as a pretty bad anxiety disorder. My boss is aware and is very sympathetic to it (as he suffers from similar things). I am lucky enough to work in a very open environment that provides a lot of flexibility in work schedule. I am able to make my therapist/doctor appointments whenever is needed with no hassle. It can definitely be a tough choice depending on your job situation but my boss was very open about his problems when he had to take some time off so that made things very easy for me.

I should note that I have known my boss for quite awhile and we worked together previously and were friends before he was my boss.

aeroaeroaero (#1,422)

I’m trying to figure out a way to say this without coming across as a total blowhard. I don’t think I am depressed. I’ve definitely felt awful for periods of time, but could manage to make it to work and more or less function as I usually would, albeit with less showers. I’ve never been to therapy nor taken medication, and I am pretty sure I do not Suffer From Depression.

I would really like to see the point of view from a depressed person’s coworker as Logan suggested. I don’t know any of my coworker’s mental states, but I have had to cover for others who were out frequently for other, more tangible/less stigmatized health problems and it has been extremely frustrating to say the least. I hope I don’t come across as unsympathetic, but when coworkers consistently cannot do their job, it can become a point of contention and resentment. It would be great to see how other people have dealt with this issue.

ThatJenn (#916)

@aeroaeroaero I’d like to see that too, and I think you make a good point that a coworker’s or boss’s frustration can have nothing to do with the illness and everything to do with the job not getting done. (And not that my opinion is more important than anyone else’s, but I don’t think you sound like a blowhard.)

@aeroaeroaero I think that’s a hard one that is way bigger than depression or even mental illness in general. It came up for me a few months ago when I was talking to another coworker and we realized that as of next year we will be the only two in our team of 12 who do not have children or are pregnant. We work a travel-intensive job and the company standard is that people with children don’t have to travel as much and pregnant women don’t travel at all, so us two will be handling the majority of the work. Even though I support the policy in theory, it’s definitely hard not to be a bit resentful.

aeroaeroaero (#1,422)

@MilesofMountains Very well said. Essentially I agree with these policies, too, which I why I never say anything and eventually get over it. I just wish there was a solution that seemed more fair to the employees that get stuck picking up the slack.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@aeroaeroaero In theory, the employees who pick up the slack are more likely to be promoted/favored. Isn’t that why women are still paid 23 cents less than men in America, because we are expected to stay home and have babies at some point? As someone who chooses to not have children, that makes me so mad.
I work in a small office and we have a few parents. But we all help each other out. If a mom needs to go to her kid’s play, we cover. If I have something to do, like work from home for a few weeks while recovering from surgery, they cover. I know that doesn’t work everywhere but I think sometimes the healthier/non-parents/slack picker uppers need to speak up and not play the martyr.

AitchBee (#3,001)

I think that I tend to falsely equate self-indulgence (triaging my work day, skipping the gym, drinking too much on my couch) with self-care. When everything is difficult and exhausting and painful, it’s easy to feel like I’ve earned these things–probably under the same umbrella as the “sad-pants” purchase from the first Depression/Money post–which, while not “true” or “untrue” in any demonstrable sense, is certainly not a useful or healthy way of thinking about my various mental ills.

MuffyStJohn (#280)

@AitchBee

1) I hope you’re feeling OK today; depression is a terrible bitch.

2) Tell me more about these sad pants. Are they special pants you wear when you’re feeling down? Because if so I want a pair.

AitchBee (#3,001)

@MuffyStJohn 1)Ugh, the bitchiest of all the bitches, and I include all former lovers in that designation.
2) Unfortunately, sad pants are, in this case, a stand-in for the purchases one makes when one is, like, too depressed not to buy something? Others will/have put it better, but: you’re depressed and you want, nay, need, to feel better and capitalism has taught us that buying things are the same as happiness so you buy a thing. And you are still depressed. A more specific/amusing example: I once checked out of Target with a packet of Dino Chicken Nuggets, a bottle of gin, box of lime popsicles, and pair of fleece pants. That entire puchase = sad pants.

hopelessshade (#580)

That bit about flexible deadlines was the most true anyone has ever spoken.

I kinda “got” depression all of a sudden two years ago thanks to an exciting illness, and while it’s never been as bad as it was initially, and I’m medicated for it presently, it’s still weird having to learn how to re-navigate life.

selenana (#673)

I think this is a great post and I’m really glad you’re talking about it because Decreasing the Stigma is a really good thing.

But I just want to point out that things are not all that easy for people with a so-called “more valid” disease – the example you used about you wouldn’t have to hide your diabetes. My sister has diabetes and she doesn’t disclose it because Discrimination. At one point at university she finally had to go to the Disability Resource Center to get people to fight on her behalf because certain professors were being such dicks about her needing (very) occasional allowances for her disease.

Not to minimize what you’re saying in any way, just, many people who are sick or have some kind of disease hide it because of discrimination and perceived weakness and I second the need someone stated above for more flexibility in taking personal days and other no-blame systems in place so people can take care of themselves.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@selenana Yeah, I have some relatively mild physical problems that I pointedly avoid talking about with anyone at work, because it’s definitely not their business at all. In my anecdotal experience, although it’s not comparable to people’s complex reactions to others being depressed, people are jackholes about all kinds of problems people have that they just can’t relate to, you know? If you’re unquestioningly physically and mentally well, then you have nooo basis for comparison. “That sounds awful!” is a thing I hear a lot about a fairly average daily experience for myself.

VintageGirl29 (#723)

I think disclosing to a boss is a very case by case thing based on where you work, the culture, how close you are to your co-workers/bosses. When I was going through a depressive episode once, I told my boss because at that point, what did I have to lose? Either I chose to trust it would be OK and reach out and tell her, or feel even more anxious, ashamed and overwhelmed by keeping it a secret. That time it turned out fine. I’m a bit older now, so I don’t know that I would at this point, probably if I needed too. However, sometimes knowing I can open to someone and be vulnerable is enough to keep me going. Knowing that I have someone nearby to trust is really key (at work, this can be really important.)

Also, I do think growing up and older helps settle anxiety and depression a bit… or maybe you just learn to trust yourself more to get through it, find people in your life to love you, learn to love yourself, etc. And maybe meds, maybe not, but more just learning how to be in it, without letting it take over your whole damn life.

Structure and boundaries help immensely with depression. It’s all good and fine to take time and heal but do something within that that is going to hold you accountable, whether that’s having a stable job, going to therapy every week, owning a pet you have to show up for even when you’re sick– something to make you show up for your life even when it sucks.

cherrispryte (#19)

“I feel like I have enough energy to do one of two things: either work or take care of myself. And I always choose work, no matter how awful I feel. Even if it makes me feel awful.”

THIS. SO MUCH OF THIS. THIS AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE.

meatcat (#81)

@cherrispryte Yes, this is exactly how I have been feeling. Such a relief that others feel the same way. I’m doing well at work, but taking care of myself is too much to do on top of that.

UnabashedVixen (#3,175)

@cherrispryte

Me too, only I find that I go back and forth between doing well at my job or doing well at being healthy. I keep it together at work for a while and then the wheels fall off the wagon, health-wise, and I can’t do my job for a while. Then I get better and go back to work, and the cycle continues. I struggle a lot with the idea that staying alive is a full-time job, and I sure as hell don’t have the energy for two full-time jobs.

On a different note, you guys (Americans) need to get your healthcare situation in order. I live in Canada and I have a GP, a psychiatrist and a counselor, and I don’t pay a red cent for any of them. If I can’t afford to pay for any of my meds, the government will pay for them for me, indefinitely (right now I have a job that has benefits, so I only pay for a bit of my prescription costs). And we spend less, as a percentage of our GNP, on health care than the US. (off my soapbox now)

Myrtle (#116)

@UnabashedVixen PREACH. We spend all our money on wars related to controlling fossil fuel resources worldwide. There’s such a disconnect between the rank and file and the millionaires who govern us that it will probably take a revolution to overturn it, but we’re too busy sitting on our collective Barcalounger digging out the remote, to be bothered.

I’m a whistleblower but I’m usually alone as no one will risk their safety, even when they see I’m fighting for them.

Rickers (#3,160)

could you maybe do one of these with anxiety? i have generalized anxiety disorder (for me, it results in constantly beating myself up about things i should be doing better when in reality i am doing them right, or irrational thoughts/stories i make up in my mind about how i did something horrible that i actually didn’t do), which sometimes can provoke depression when I can’t manage the anxiety, often i feel so anxious that i HAVE to find ways to manage it or i just can’t do my work while trusting myself. ps i am very fortunate and have a therapist and a set of skills that i used to manage it, plus some emergency xanax

@Rickers emergency Xanax is the best, and I find just having it makes me need it less? Like, knowing that if my anxiety gets way out of control I can shut that shit down and take a nap actually keeps it under control.

Rickers (#3,160)

@every tomorrow@twitter — totally! using it only as a last-ditch backup is really effective for me. it makes me want to try to manage things without it first, and if i can’t, then i’m just so grateful to have it on hand. you’re right…in case of emergency, you just gotta shut the shit down and take a nap.

eliza (#3,161)

I only disclosed the fact that I Suffer From Depression to one employer, and not intentionally… it only came up because I was starting a new medication, and had a severe adverse reaction to it that caused me to pass out at my desk. In the ensuing chaos/paramedics/etc., I had to be very candid with everyone (and everyone within earshot) about what had happened and why. I thought it was better for people to know the incident was caused by prescribed psychiatric drugs than recreational ones. I ended up leaving on short-term disability for a few weeks while undergoing tests to try to uncover possible other causes of the adverse reaction. The official diagnosis on my disability claim was depression, but the actual reason I had to leave work was the possibility of a more “serious” physical condition.

Though people were sensitive at the time, things were never the same for the two more years I was at that company. I feel like people accommodated and protected me, but had less respect for me. I was viewed as less stable, less reliable and less ambitious. Things that would have gone unnoticed by a normal person (e.g. arriving at 9:15 in a casual office with no official start time) were viewed as my taking advantage of my condition or expecting special treatment. In other cases, I found that people were just more distant and less friendly than before my absence. They acted awkward… like maybe they thought mental illness was contagious?

If it could have gone any differently, I would not have “come out” as a person with depression. I’m in the closet at my current job and plan to stay that way.

olivia (#1,618)

@eliza Yes, this is exactly why I don’t think people should disclose their depression unless they’re forced to, like the emergency situation you dealt with. It’s shitty and just not right, because depression is a medical condition, but people really treat you differently once they know. Anyway, I’m glad you’re out of there!

caber (#3,163)

Logan (& Martha), I registered just to ask you the question – have you read The Noonday Demon, by Andrew Solomon? Noonday Demon changed how I think about depression, and is an amazing resource, since Solomon tries just every therapy that was available in 2000, and interviews depressed people from all different countries, races, income levels, etc…just wondering, because I only read it recently and wish I had known about it years ago.

@caber i have not read or heard of it but i’m looking it up nowwwwwww. THANK YOU.

notpollyanna (#2,841)

My entire adolescence and early adulthood was lost to depression, so a lot of normal social anecdotes of mine take place within that context. (What is your favorite book? being a particularly sticky one because I work in libraries.) I’m also pretty open about it generally. I don’t go around shouting it from the rooftops, but I get a bit of a feel for people and then stop bothering to hide it. It being my history of mental illness.

In the moment I hide things always. My depression tends to come with a side dish of intense shame and an eating disorder. That it is pretty visible when I dramatically lose weight in a short period of time and then go to the hospital for three weeks. That time my boss knew and HR knew from the FMLA paperwork, but it never got mentioned around me, so I never knew if my coworkers knew and they were clueless enough to have not figured it out. It had to have been discussed among certain people for FMLA, but I never asked about it. I didn’t want to know.

MalPal (#1,200)

I feel that telling your boss about your depression or mental problems is generally a bad idea. This is because most of the time your boss, while they may want to be a sympathetic person, is at that point going to have to evaluate your illness as a potential liability within their business.

Another thing – when you are someone who is 15 minutes away from a breakdown at any point, everyone knows. No one that works with you or has ever worked with you has not noticed how fragile you seem to be. And guess what? It’s pretty common.

My tone here seems harsh but that’s just how I am. The truth is that I feel disabled by my own mental problems too. I am very classic Borderline, every typical symptom is a huge debilitating part of my life.

My best advice for you both is to focus on coping methods.

SnarlFurillo (#2,538)

Man, reading this really bums me out because depression is a recognized mental health disability that qualifies employees for certain protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act. But many people with depression or other common mental health problems don’t identify as disabled and/or don’t realize that there are many potential accommodations (JOB-SAVING accommodations) out there. Or because of the stigma around mental illness, people don’t want to identify (like many commenters here). But I think if you are having symptoms, it’s usually better to self-identify and come to your boss or HR with a plan (for many reasons, but also because once people hear the word “disability” they are often VERY RELUCTANT to discipline you. So. Keep that in mind.) But your employer can’t GIVE you accommodations and you can’t exercise those protections if you don’t identify yourself to them as a person who is disabled. Plus, if you are, say, coming in an hour late for a month because you need twice as much time to get out of bed, and your employer doesn’t know you have depression, they are going to fire you. But if you are proactive and say, “I am working with my doctor to resolve this, but right now my mental health impairment is affecting my sleep, so I will call or email when I am going to be more than 15 minutes late and I will make up the time each evening,” well, now you have a ballgame.

EVERYONE with a mental health disability of ANY kind should read the Job Accommodation Network’s documents on accommodations for employees with mental health disabilities: http://askjan.org/media/psyc.htm It is really useful.

Myrtle (#116)

@SnarlFurillo Reading your post from the future/today and so glad I saw it. Thank you for posting!!

Myrtle (#116)

For Americans, being employed means having health insurance. I poured myself into my work at the expense of taking care of myself, (an “overused skill” my manager said) and still lost my job due to too many days out. I have/had physical problems and complications from major surgery that contributed to my depression.
Hindsight says I should have pushed the “Accomodations” button, as SnarlFurillo’s excellent post points out, but I kept thinking I was going to magically fully recover. I did not. I got physical accommodations, but not mental ones, as I didn’t know I could ask. I lost a family member to suicide where depression was a factor, so I feel I should have known better.
I’ve been forced to disclose my treating doctor’s notes in order to get Long-Term Disability Insurance, so there went confidentiality. But at the same time, I’ve decided I’m not ashamed to be ill, and I’ll share information if it will help others.

Myrtle (#116)

Because Online is Forever, I also want to add the importance of getting a physical workup and a blood panel from your MD before having a Psych doctor sit in their office on their French antiques and prescribe something. I was helped more by my Ob/Gyn catching my low thyroid condition (I mean, the thyroid supplement feels like a miracle) than my bs Psych telling me to “just keep taking it” when I complained of the debilitating side effects of the drugs she’d prescribed. Don’t let them to this to you. YMMV

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