I'm a single mother who lives in New York City. I have two wonderful school-aged children. If you met me on the street, you would not know that I live with three significant mental illnesses: PTSD, panic disorder and depression.
This is a secret that I don't reveal to employers. I do not disclose my mental illness to my place of work because I know that it will be used against me.
In 2015, I worked as a teacher's aide in a school. I decided to be transparent about my mental illness to my supervisor. He seemed like a reasonable person; he was empathetic and understanding. The reason that I told my boss about my mental illness is so that he could better understand who I am as a person.
My behavior differs from the average employee. As a person living with chronic anxiety, I ask more questions about my daily duties; I want to make sure that I am doing the job efficiently and correctly. Should this quirk come out, I wanted the staff to understand where it was coming from.
In hindsight, I'm glad that I told my boss about my mental illness. He wasn't the problem. It was the rest of the staff that began to treat me differently.
I was ostracized from the teaching community. One of the instructors was consistently annoyed with the amount of questions I asked him. This teacher tersely refused to answer my requests for clarification and told me to "figure it out." In asking for clarity, I didn't mean to irritate him; I simply wanted to ensure that I wasn't making a critical error. Ultimately, I felt ashamed of myself because I wasn't able to be self-sufficient the way that many of the staff demanded.
ADHD impacted my job performance. As someone with this diagnosis, I need to multitask in order to effectively manage my daily activities. I don't do one thing at a time because my brain works differently than other people's minds. I utilize the technique of hyperfocus in order to effectively complete tasks: I hone in on one task and tune out the people and things around me. I am aware of the other concurrent tasks that I am managing in the background as well.
Everything gets done, but from an outside perspective I may appear scattered. This atypical method of completing work confused the staff around me. Often one of the teachers would actively keep notes about the idiosyncrasies I displayed.
I wanted to do a good job. I'm a dedicated employee. I try in every work environment to conform to the standards required of me. However, I cannot ignore or suppress the fact that I have a disability. My mental illness makes me act differently. I am quirky, and it shows. I'm not going to change who I am; I love myself. But I will do the best job that I can with the skill set I have.
In this position, despite my fierce determination, I was fired. One of the reasons: I didn't conform to the standard of that workplace environment. The principal called me into his office and asked me to have a seat. I knew what was coming.
I asked him point blank: "Am I fired?"
He replied: "Yes, we're going to have to let you go."
I was devastated. I loved my students. I enjoyed inspiring them, listening to them, and nurturing their young minds. But, because of the misunderstanding regarding my mental health issues, and the inability of the staff to try to respect me as a human being, I was terminated.
Unfortunately, many workplaces don't possess the time or patience to deal with individuals who have mental illness like me. Each day that I entered that school I felt like I stuck out from the teachers around me. My differences were pointed out, and I was mocked by the community. And sadly, it was my differences that led to me being terminated from a job that I loved.
I'm ashamed to admit this happened to me. However, I know that being discriminated against due to having a mental illness is a stark and unfair reality, so I want to help shed light on the issue. It's by telling these stories that we can help to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental health.
This is a societal issue. It is by no means just about me. We need to start to empathize with people living with mental illness. If you don't understand why someone is behaving seemingly oddly, it doesn't make them a freak; it means they see the world differently from you, and there's nothing wrong with diversity. In fact, we can learn from other people's traits that differ from our own. Our differences should be cherished and valued.
If you don't understand a coworker's behavior in the workplace, don't mock them. That was the worst part of having a mental illness in the field of education. I was continually made to feel different. The best thing to do is to simply ask. Maybe they can shed some light on what it's like to be them.