I have never been quiet about my bipolar diagnosis. My family members know, my friends know, my coworkers (even my supervisor) know. The one area where I’ve kept it secret is with my employer’s HR department. Until last week.
I do a combination of inventory control and quality assurance for a fulfillment center contracted by a major national brand. I work 3-4 days per week, spending up to 12 hours per day at work. This was all well and good when I was manic and had boundless energy (and needed virtually no sleep so I was able to do fun things in the evening), but once I sank into depression it became torture. Actually, the job may have contributed to the depression. My manic episode ended and I wasn’t exactly depressed, but due to a series of unfortunate events I spent weeks working in extreme pain. Also, my blood pressure was ridiculously high, which was not helping my stress level.
At any rate, depression + long work days = bad. Depression + long work days where I don’t know exactly how long they’ll be and what I’ll be doing that day = extra bad. Depression plus long work days blahblahblah in which I sometimes have to spend all day on a task I loathe = unbearable. It actually got to the point that my therapist wrote my supervisor a letter recommending that I not do that particular type of task. I’ve done it much less since then, but recently it has been unavoidable.
Said therapist has highly encouraged me to find a new job, and by “encouraged” I mean “pressured to the point that I asked her to please stop”. Then I ended up in an unscheduled appointment with her the following day to tell her she was right. It’s been a few weeks since then, maybe about a month, and I have not made much progress in the job hunt. I managed to write my first resume though, and baby steps are better than nothing.
Last week, the secret came out when I went to the HR department to see if they could suggest an alternate position in the company that may be more suited to my skill set and scheduling needs. The HR rep I spoke with, who we’ll call “Kara”, came up with several possibilities. None of them were ideal, but I made a very rational decision to apply for an available job at our other local warehouse. The hours might actually be a bit worse in some ways, but it was the biggest change out of all the options and I figured if my life’s not working I should make a radical change.
A few days later my supervisor hunted me down where I was working (on that task that causes me so much emotional distress) and said Kara wanted to speak with me. I figured it was news about the job I applied for, but then he escorted me all the way to HR. I was anxious, but had no idea what was about to happen. Kara took me to the conference room, shut the door, and sat much closer to me than she did last time I was there. She told me that the job I applied for had been filled by someone else. I relaxed a little.
Then she dropped the bombshell. She said that she’d heard some rumors that may or may not be true about things I was doing at work. I knew exactly what she meant, but was terrified I was about to be fired and pretended I didn’t know what she was talking about. She said she wouldn’t pry if I wasn’t comfortable talking to her, and handed me a brochure for the Employee Assistance Program.
It took a few rounds of her saying she wasn’t sure if it was true, but it finally sunk in that I was not going to be fired and I admitted that it was true that I injure myself, sometimes while at work. She said she wished she knew how to help. She went over the possible job alternatives again, including a new suggestion for one that would be available in a few months. She told me I could come talk to her anytime.
Of course that meant I couldn’t do it. I have a tendency to drive people away somehow, and I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I couldn’t let that happen with her. There was something on my mind that she might be able to help with, but I kept it to myself for days. Then this happened:
It’s not as bad as it looks. Last time I made such a list (on paper) it was much longer and I actually felt what I was writing. Now I just feel blank. Like maybe writing this would make me feel something. Even if it was a bad feeling, it would be better than this inability to cry, to smile, to get angry. It only made me feel a detached sort of worry that I would take the next step in trying to feel and do it in a way that would leave a scar.
I wasn’t feeling that impulse yet, but knowing that I could led me to finally go see Kara. I told her that one of the techniques I had learned to avoid injuring myself was to put ice on my wrists, but the only place to do that at work is in the break room, where security will come yell at me and make me leave if I walk in there outside what they think should be my break time.
In reality, my particular department is so small that we are allowed to take our breaks whenever we feel like it, as long as we spend the appropriate amount of time on break. Also, the idea of me spending a few extra minutes “on break” is a lot better than spending those same minutes in the bathroom, crying or hurting myself.
Kara’s response to the statement that security would yell at me was, “It’s none of their business.” It may not be, but they’ve done it in the past and I told her as much. So we now have an agreement that if I feel a need to go ice my wrists I will come see her and she will tell security I have permission to be in the break room.
So writing all over my arm led somewhere positive in the end, and although I was terrified by the idea of HR finding out about all this I’m starting to be thankful that someone spread those “rumors” in their direction.