IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Was Discriminated Against at Work, Lost My Job, and There's Nothing I Can Do About It

I received the formal letter in the mail at the end of the week. I read it over, and as I did, I had to bite my lip from screaming out loud.

Oct 28, 2013 at 2:00pm | Leave a comment

I have had recurrent major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder since I was eight. By the time I entered college, my mental health had deteriorated. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder were added to my list of diagnoses. I was suicidal often, and between the winter I entered college in 2006, to present, I have been hospitalized for suicidal ideation over twenty times. Functioning in the “real world” constantly becomes more of a challenge.  
 
In March of 2012, a functional medicine doctor –- also a psychiatrist -– I started seeing offered to do neurointegration therapy with me. Please visit this site for more information. I had been referred to her by a relative who is a holistic psychiatrist and is well respected in her field. My regular psychiatrist also highly recommended her.  
 
I researched the treatment and talked to this new doctor about it. There have never been any negative reactions to the treatment.  She also told me I would need less medication afterward, which was very appealing. I went for it.
 
After the first couple of weeks, I felt great. I had a lot more energy. Then, I began becoming increasingly anxious. At my next appointment I reported this, and we tried to counteract it with a different protocol. This process of creating anxiety and then trying to calm it down went on for a couple of weeks, until I was so nervous I couldn't function. I was also on more medication, instead of less.
 
I felt trapped: I did not want to undergo more treatments, but at the same time, it seemed that to get rid of the anxiety I needed to keep going back. Finally, I had enough and pulled the plug. I canceled my appointment and got a appointment with my old psychiatrist for that same day. He direct admitted me to the hospital's psychiatric unit.  
 
Over the next 45 days, I was in and out of the hospital three times. Nothing helped my anxiety or the thought that I had ruined my life. Finally, during my third hospital stay, psychiatric residential treatment was recommended.
 
I was fortunate that I worked for a small business that was understanding and supportive. Several other employees had mental health issues, and the company was good at accommodation. After a hospitalization in the Fall of 2012, and a talk with the owner, I did decide to share with them that I had severe depression and anxiety. They were wonderful, and I felt like I might be able to hold a job despite my illnesses.
 
They were no different when I started having problems following the neurointegration. I reduced my hours and worked in between hospital stays. When I found out I would need to be gone at least a month at residential treatment, I set up a phone call with the owner –- she picked the time. When I called her cell phone at the scheduled time, one of the managers answered and said the owner was in a meeting and had asked him to take my call.
 
To my knowledge, he did not know about my health problems. I felt uncomfortable talking with him, but I felt I had no choice. When I finished explaining that I would be gone at least a month, and I wasn't sure what kind of access I would have to phone or e-mail, he said that it was fine. He told me to, “take the time [I] need,” and to “call [them] when I was ready to start working again.” He even told me what the game plan would be for my first day back.  
 
I asked if there was anything I needed to do, and he said no. I was still uncomfortable, so I asked if I could call the owner back later, and he said no. I figured I was just uneasy because of all the anxiety I was experiencing, so I thanked him and hung up.
 
Residential treatment was a wonderful opportunity. However, I had to self-pay the $24,000 per month out of pocket. The facility wanted me there for two months, but I could not afford more than the initial month. When my month was up, I returned home.
 
A few days later, I decided I should e-mail the owner of the company I worked for and let her know I was back in town to see when she would like me to get the medical leave forms from the hospitals to her. I received an email back stating that because I had not submitted any formal paper work nor been in contact for over a month, I no longer had a position there; I would receive my formal letter in the mail later that week.
 
I immediately sent a concise, polite e-mail to the manager who had spoken to me on the phone before I left and CC-ed the owner.  The owner got back to me saying that it was not a mistake. I was beyond devastated. That job was not just a paycheck for me; it represented moving beyond illness and into a functioning adult life. It was a job where I was frequently told how well I was doing, how much they liked me, and how they could see me there, "long term."  Losing all that was painful and confusing.
 
I received the formal letter in the mail at the end of the week. I read it over, and as I did, I had to bite my lip from screaming out loud, ripping out my hair, or getting on my computer and doing something I might later regret.  
 
Then, I gained control and took out a pen. Every reason they listed for letting me go for “job abandonment” was the direct opposite of all verbal communication I had ever had with them over the 12 months I had worked there. There were a couple exceptions, and those reasons were quality control issues (I was an apprentice and a technician was supposed to check all of my work, and they said that they had things returned that I had not done properly. Yet, all of my work had been checked by their technicians, so really they had missed it).  
 
Looking at my letter with blue ink scribbled in every available corner helped me see how messed up the situation was. Unfortunately, up until this point, the company had been so supportive and cooperative, that I did not even think to get anything in writing.
 
When I told family and friends, many people wanted to give me advice, but the way my company had worded their letter, there was nothing I could do. I had nothing on my side in writing, so I could not sue them. I could not file for unemployment, because I had "left" my job due to "job abandonment," which disqualifies me from receiving unemployment. They had also taken phrases like “undue hardship” directly from the Americans with Disabilities Act list of reasons when a company can legally dismiss a disabled employee.  It was over.
 
For the first six weeks I was home from treatment, I was too mentally unstable to do much or look for a job. I was hurting financially; Because I am a recent college graduate, I had no savings. Right now I am living with my Mom and she is helping to support me.  But what really concerns me is just how much of an impact this experience is going to have when I apply for another job.
 
I worry that future employers will ask me why I left my last job, and then what do I say? I have been brainstorming this issue for a of couple weeks now and still cannot decide what my best option is.  If I choose not mention this job, I do not have much experience to draw on, and my recent job history dwindles.  
 
In my last year of college, I had a previous job for a month. At that time, I had a severe depressive episode, was hospitalized for several weeks, and decided I should not work and just concentrate on school.
 
There is so much up in the air for me right now, and not all of it is due to the discrimination I faced at work. The one thing I do know is that I am much happier post residential treatment and everyone -– myself included -– notices the improvements.  
 
Am I happy this happened?  No, but I am working on accepting it. I am, for the first time in a long time, happy with my life, despite how many terrible things have been thrown my way.  I smile, I laugh, and I enjoy family and friends. The job will come.
 
For today, I am trying to be grateful for what I do have, what is going well in my life, and keep faith that things will work out how and when they are meant to.
 
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