Wednesday, 15 April 2015

If your boss finds out you have a mental health problem ...

A story in the Fairfax press today about mental health problems and work made me remember what happened to me about 15 years ago when I first became ill. The story is about whether you should tell your boss that you have a mental health problem. In the story we are discouraged from doing so in cases where we are unsure about what kind of reception the news will receive from the boss. Which is what would happen in most cases, I guess.

In my case, I was getting sicker and sicker and still going to work. This was in Japan when I was living there. I had separated from my family about 9 months earlier and it was winter. (The mental illness when it gets unstable it's always during the cold weather.) My employer, Yamatake Corporation (now named Azbil Corp) had moved me around a bit in the previous few years and I was a bit unhappy about how things had turned out. I had been telling people at work how unhappy I was about the employment situation. Then gradually the mental health problem became acute and I was having delusions. I told a trusted coworker about it and a few days later when it was clear I was in some considerable distress he took me to a clinic. I was given a brain scan. They took me to the psychiatric ward of a major city hospital, Jikei Idai, and I stayed there for six weeks.

I was a model patient. Even when the hospital released me back into the community to go live again with my previous family I did what I was told. I took my medications, which severely affected my physical self; I could barely walk, small tasks like washing dishes and cleaning teeth became very difficult. I went to the hospital to see the doctor at the time of my appointments. I lived peacefully at home. Then one day I was asked to come in to the office to meet with some people from HR. I knew what it would be about. It took them just a few minutes, with me sitting in the chair wishing they would say something different, to dismiss me from the company and to outline the pecuniary compensation package. I had no option but to agree. I didn't want to agree but I did. They sent me back home in the company limousine on the motorway.

Things returned to some normality except that I was in most respects a zombie. But eventually my wife and my father back in Australia decided that I should return to my home country and so I was put on a plane and shipped home via Qantas. I had four seats together. They put me on the plane on a wheelchair. When I got off the plane at the other end my uncle picked me up and he took me back to his place. I lived there for a month until he found me a share house through the regional health service.

In 2003, a few years after my repatriation I got in touch with Yamatake Corp again and they agreed to meet with me. I wanted to go back to my old job. I traveled to Japan and met with a Yamatake worker in one of their offices, in Yokohama. We talked for a few hours and then they took me upstairs to meet with the company doctor. We talked for five minutes and I went back downstairs. I came back to Australia. They did not employ me.

Later in that year I got a job locally doing web development and technical writing. I started with a new employer and stayed there for about six years. I forgot about Yamatake. But I still dream about working with Yamatake, at least the way it was in the early years, between 1992 and 1997. In those years we had a lot of fun and we did a lot of good work. Those dreams visit me regularly.

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