Thursday, 16 April 2015

If your boss finds out you have a mental health problem (revisited)

I wanted to revisit this issue following yesterday's post because that post only gave half the story. In 2003 I did, as I said in the blogpost, find a job in Sydney. It was with one of Australia's premier education providers. I was asked to provide web development and technical writing services on contract. There were three technical writers working there when I started. By the end of 2005, when my contract was changed from "contract" to "continuing", there was only me remaining. I was doing a good job it appears and with the illness in abeyance everything was going well. In early 2006, furthermore, I started a postgraduate degree with the University of Sydney.

My first boss with the new institution was very supportive when I told him that I had a mental health issue and he was generous about letting me go home if I felt unwell. But he left after a few years and then there was an organisational hiatus before the new manager arrived to take over the IT training function in early 2008. In that year I had a major relapse, partly because of poor treatment by the new manager, who clearly did not like me. Under these conditions my illness flared up - it was fortunate that I had finished my studies at the end of 2007, so that particular project was not affected by the relapse - and I had a major episode.

On one occasion when I had been asked to undergo additional training in the city I found it impossible to complete the day's activities and left the training classroom early pleading illness. When I got home I called my manager and told her that I had this illness. Things changed in the workplace after this admission because it became clear from the way she spoke that she was more concerned about how the illness would affect my performance than about how I was faring. I felt immediately that I had made a mistake telling this manager about the illness.

"I need someone who can do the job," she said. She suggested that the incident was due to “stress” and implied that I had told her the incident was stress-related. This was not true but with this manager it did not matter what I said as she had made up her mind about me a long time before. I was to be gotten rid of and that is what happened. The admission of illness was just another reason in her mind to get rid of me.

Meanwhile, the delusions proliferated and I became very sick indeed. The delusions endured for about three months, during which time I continued to go to work as usual and complete the tasks assigned to me. Under the new regime this was especially difficult because there was no support from my manager. I started to exercise excessively. I swam every day. By swimming regularly I gradually got the illness under control because I was substituting good chemicals in the brain for the bad ones produced by the illness. I managed to control the illness and return to a state of normalcy.

At the end of the year, by which time the illness had receded, my technical writer position was made redundant. I was invited to reapply for a new position in the same team but my experience with the manager made that unpalatable so I left the organisation and became a freelance journalist. A few months after leaving the organisation I moved north to Queensland to look after my elderly mother.

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