In an effort to keep my part-time job, and to keep things harmonious at work, I let my doctor and a friend explain the situation and my mental illnesses. Until they did, all I had told work – from the beginning – was that I had a brain disorder. I was open about this and shared the ways it affected my life: memory and finding words, concentration and focus, functioning well in relationships. All the things that bipolar, anxiety and OCD affect when I’m in a high-functioning phase of the illnesses. In a high-functioning phase, my mood is stable, my anxiety and OCD managed (not gone, but managed), and I can work and have healthier relationships.
Now, after nearly 2 months off work, I’m back at work. And as dreaded, we had the what-are-we-going-to-do-about-this-situation meeting. I knew that they knew my diagnoses now, including that my doctor said relapse is possible. In that meeting, I felt exposed. All my secrets of the last year and a half were laid bare. Yes, I had a brain disorder, and it is mental illness. They are one and the same. I felt more stigma that I was putting on myself than came from them, which is a huge testament to their conversations with my friend and my doctor and with each other before they talked with me.
I do feel they see me differently now. I still feel curiosity and questions unasked and unanswered in the air. I am unsure how much is – again – stigma I’m putting on myself, and how much is them treating me differently.
I feel shame. I tell myself I have nothing to be ashamed of, but I feel the shame nonetheless. It’s not that I didn’t feel shame before they knew. But the shame is on the surface now that my diagnoses are known by my work supervisors.
I had thought of work as a place where I was dabbling back in “the real world” or “the normal world” where I used to live. I desired to live in that world full-time again. Each time I’m hospitalized or go though crises that don’t end in hospitalizations I feel set back. The dream of full-time work and full-time me is put off. It’s the realization again that I’m on disability and it could still be awhile.
I can’t keep secrets from myself either, it seems.