A Leap of Faith – Disclosing Mental Illness in the Workplace

Telling a potential new client that I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder 17 years ago was the farthest thought from my mind last Friday. We were sitting in their boardroom hammering out the final details of our contract. Our next step was to review and agree on what both parties had put forward and sign off on the 1-year agreement. Still not a done deal.

I’m not sure how this happened; we started talking about our personal lives, and suddenly my partner looked over at me and said “what’s your passion, Leslie?”

Time slowed down; my heart dropped to my stomach, I felt a tightening in my chest; my mind started racing from one thought to the next, and as I looked at the clock on the wall, I realized I had three minutes to share my commitment and passion in transforming the Mental Health system in Canada.

Usually, when I tell people about my commitment I like having more than three minutes. So now, I’m feeling my anxiety about sharing why I’m committed to transforming how Mental Health is dealt with in Canada and doing it quickly.

The universe was testing my ability to communicate effectively within a very short period. And giving me the opportunity to expand my capacity to manage my own anxiety and fear at the same time. Thank you universe!

All I wanted to do was tell them “I’m passionate about good tv” and leave it at that.

I said: “I’m committed to transforming how Mental Health illness is addressed in Canada, both through the medical system and by decreasing the stigma associated with it in society.”

I’m thinking: “Can I get away with just saying this? ”
My client turns to me and asks – “oh, do you have experience with this?”

I’m in my head at this point, trying to determine which piece of the story would be the most helpful and easy to accept.

Two minutes left of our meeting
I decide to share that I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder at age 27. The reason I’m so committed to sharing my story is it gives people hope and motivation. I’ve only had one episode in the past 17 years, have been on constant effective medication and am considered a success story.

Funny, I noticed I did that thing Dr. Brené Brown calls “the hustle” for their acceptance. The hustle was listing as quickly as I could all the reasons why they shouldn’t worry about being in a contract with us.

e.g. I’m medicated, successful, never go off my medication, own a home, am married, really all random things that don’t prove anything.

Their reaction from my point of view was pleasant, acceptable and surprised. I’m not sure if that is even accurate.

One of the last things I said to them was: I hope I haven’t scared you…….arhgggg!

Not my best work in disclosing my mental status with a potential client. I’m grateful for the courage I had to do it. It was the first time I shared about my diagnoses with a client without whom I didn’t already have a deeply connected relationship.

When I think about how many individuals are not getting the help they need, either because of lack of resources or self-imposed stigma, my heart breaks. I know what it’s like to live with this illness and to experience the stigma attached to it

inspiring-quotes-about-life-Take-a-leap-of-faith14What I went through last week, the fear, anxiety, uncertainty and risk was nothing compared to the impact that limited Mental Health resources has on individuals and families. It was nothing compared to the impact of the shame and the pervasive stigma we experience on a daily basis.

I’d do it again, and it was a milestone for me to be open about this in front of a potential client.

This past week, our contract was signed by all parties.
Whether the client had a concern about my mental health history or not did not seem to influence their decision to move forward. The experience of sharing with our new clients had a positive impact on my overall confidence. Something had been lifted off of me. When I stop trying to prove my worth and just be who I am, life becomes easy.

In the past week, I’ve experienced myself as very centered and grounded. I’ve noticed I am more effective, I’m connected with people at a deeper level, and I have an intense level of clarity that truly feels unfamiliar. It’s been easier to make all decisions, and there has been a dramatic decrease in the amount I normally procrastinate.

Disclosing your mental health status in your workplace is entirely your choice. And understanding the impacts is also your responsibility. There are many resources to learn and understand your rights and give you some good ideas in how you go about it if you chose.

Mental Health Works

Mental Health Works is a nationally available program of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) that builds capacity within Canadian workplaces to effectively address the many issues related to mental health in the workplace. This website has many resources for both employees and employers.

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