I had a job interview today.
For the first time in my life, I mentioned my mental health history in an interview.
I clung to the past participles:
‘I have struggled with mental health,’
‘I was depressed.’
But I couldn’t get those harder words past my lips:
‘I am depressed. I have depression. This is me.’
Recently, as I have struggled through my period of ‘funemployment,’ (as my friend calls it) job applications have been a big part of my life. I’ve become expert at them. Seriously, if you need a hand, talk to me, I can draft you an excellent cover letter in a couple of hours. I am well practised at selling myself for any job, a skill I am grateful for but sort of loathe at the same time. But there is a point in all of the application forms where I stop, afraid. Unsure.
Do you have any health issues or disabilities that would effect your ability to carry out your duties?
Or something of the same.
Often it’s on a monitoring form, an equal opps form, but it’s always there, somewhere. The question.
I usually say no.
I say no because even though I know an employer can’t use it to discriminate against me in an interview, I am scared they will. I say no because of how difficult it has been in the past to hear colleagues at the coffee machine talking about how someone has ‘something really wrong with them,’ if they are mentally ill. I say no because of the time my tutor told me that anorexics were ‘self-involved, vain, and selfish.’ I say no because my experience of the way people at work talk about health has been overburdeningly negative. I say no because I think they will see me as weak.
It might be a coincidence, but all the job applications where I have self-identified as mentally ill, I have had no success. I don’t put it on anymore. It makes me feel like I might have more of a chance.
But does it effect my abilities?
Yes, when I have a panic attack at work and have to hide in the conference room, on the phone to my husband, sobbing silently into the reciever.
Yes, when my stomach is so bad that I constantly have to dash the bathrooms the whole morning.
But also no.
No, it doesn’t make me less qualified. No, it doesn’t make me unstable. No, it doesn’t make me unreliable.
And would it help to have an employer who knows about my mental health, and was okay with it?
Of course. It would be helpful to have a boss who didn’t see it is a sign that I am a slacker when I have to run to the bathroom multiple times in a morning.
It would be helpful to have a boss who knows not to comment on my food intake or what I eat, or discuss their drastic diet plans with me.
It would be helpful to have a boss who saw me as someone with an illness, not a weakness.
So maybe I need to be less afraid of what might happen, and fight a little for what I might need from my workplace, too. So today I took a step, all be it a small one. I was honest about a potential employer about my mental health past. Maybe, in the future I can be honest about my mental health present.
In an effort to fight more for what I need, and what other people might need too, I have started a tiny letter. Every few days you could get little bites of encouragement and support dropped into your inbox, something to help you through the day, or help you encourage others to get through theirs.
I promise it will be fun, with lots of gifs. Let’s be encouraged together. As Meredith says…
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