Losing Credibility Because of Your Mental Illness
Natasha Tracy is not, in fact, my real name. It’s a nom de plume. Writers have a long history of writing under pen names for a whole variety of reasons but one of them has always been judgement. People will judge you, as a person, by what you write. Write erotica, for example, and get yourself a reputation as a slut.
And as a mental health writer, I face similar stigma. True, people aren’t likely to make inferences about my sexual nature (although it has happened) but they will make judgements about me as a person and certainly as an employee.
Because no matter how much I write about stigma and no matter how open people appear to be, a person with a mental illness is simply always assumed to be unequal to someone without a mental illness. Their point of view is always considered to be tainted by their illness. Their thoughts are never considered to be their own.
Getting a Job with a Mental Illness
I am a fairly educated person with a university degree and a great resume. In fact, looking at my resume, you would be shocked to learn I have a life-threatening illness. But many people with a mental illness are like that. We’re just like everyone else.
But you can bet your bottom dollar that if I applied for a fancy tech job and my employer Googled me and found all my writings, that I immediately would be put out of the running for the job. Why? Because my mental illness would have destroyed my credibility in the mind of the employer. It’s not fair, it’s not right, and, in fact, it’s not even legal, but it’s what happens in the real world.
Oh Don’t Listen to Her, She’s Crazy
And this doesn’t just happen in the workplace, this happens in everyday life as well. Simply asserting an unpopular opinion can show how people ignore you just because you’re “crazy.” Suddenly, your thoughts have no meaning or weight because they are assumed to be tainted by an illness. No one would accuse a person with epilepsy of not having an opinion simply because their brain errantly causes seizures, but someone with bipolar, well, that’s different.
Yup, I’m Crazy
Yes, it’s true, I’m crazy. I know that sometimes my thoughts are colored by my mental illness. But most of them aren’t. Most of them are my usual, logical, well-thought-out, arguable points of view that make more sense than your average (sane) Joe.
And unless a person actively has a thought disorder (such as psychosis), most of us are in exactly the same position – we think exactly the same way as everyone else; we have opinions; we have thoughts; we have ideas. They are ours. We take ownership of them. They are no more or less meaningful than anyone else’s thoughts and opinions just because of a label, time in a hospital or medication.
Much as people of different ethnicities have fought to be judged on their own merits and not the color of their skin, we, too, deserve to be judged by who we are and not simply what we are.
Author: Natasha Tracy
When I explained the complicated hack (by the way I was in the computer networking, programming software business after graduating from business school), - I received the same facile and cheap response. Your hack did not happen. It is because you are mentally ill.
The lack of credibility is horrible, and degrading. It dehumanizes. It makes me "The Other", Less-Than, and it makes me sad.
Just imagine if someone had experienced the theft of a credit card. Reports would be filled out and everyone would commiserate. I was treated badly - very badly - I was not believed.
Thank goodness I kept contemporaneous notes of what was going on and had some witnesses. Or else, I may have been put under guardianship forcibly by a Judge. Had to stay in hospital for 8 days - against my will. The hospital charged my private insurance company 50K. So, my insurance rates are likely to go up.
My attorney said I was targeted because I am vulnerable because of my ADHD, and depression.
Fortunately I am lucky enough to have been financially successful in life, and had the resources to fight.
Never give up if you know you are right. Trust yourself.
Blessings to you.
I spent a year on Maternity and then engaged with full time, intensive, group therapy. It is now time for me to leave and get on with my life and get back into work but I have no idea how to put this section of my life down on paper withoutit sounding negative or potentially discrediting.
Can anyone help advise?
Thanks you Natasha for all of the work you have been doing to help reduce stigma, increase knowledge and generally help others. I doff my hat to you.
My original blogging for years was under a pseudonym, due to working for AOL prior to Y2K and the Time Warner merger...many geeks needing to network with others were always under fear of being targetted, most people had signed two year non-disclosure agreements.
Years later when I began 'reality' blogging, I kept it to my first name only. I'd picked up the habit after numerous years involved with Parents-Anonymous and advocating grass roots. My blogging/advocacy turned evolved into a period of whistle-blowing, like other local bloggers doing so I had to make the choice of going public the more vocal and known I became in the public eye.
Events from late 2007 to present evolved from being solicited to direct two non-profits due to my displayed position on issues, to becoming a Certified Recovery Peer Specialist for Adults.
After finding you first following me on Twitter, I read through your various writings on different sites. What and how you go about using a pseudonym is an example of ethical use of it. Many people hide behind one, which is different from one developing into a valued brand.
Different people have different levels of functioning, regarding both intellectual level as well as where they're at any given time regarding symptoms. From what I've seen you've been able to strike a good balance between rhetoric/content, layout, and engagement.
Heck, I'm prone to grandiosity...watched blogging communities come and go...and enjoy seeing someone relating their experiences and perspective regarding living with some of the similar symptoms I often experience...it's another moment I can both check myself and see I'm not alone.
I respect your opinion and it sounds like you work in a place where there is more understanding of your illness. I can certainly attest to the fact that the general population doesn't have such understanding. You are lucky that way. And that there are safeguards in place is really a blessing for everyone for the reasons you mentioned.
Regarding feeling more empathy - yes, I would say that's nonsense too. It's like saying whatever doesn't kill you makes your strong - I was strong enough without this, thanks.
1. If I make a decision at work that affects someone's life, I need to be sure I'm not in the middle of a mood swing. That means being monitored by the registration board (and if I don't disclose this, I could lose registration). In an ideal world my employer would know, so they can monitor my early warning signs. There's a reason why people with epilepsy don't drive, don't work in the kitchen - I don't trust myself with my own money, let alone other people's. Why should anyone trust me with their life, unless there's a fallproof back-up system?
2)If my colleagues will stigmatize me, then they will see their patients as less than human too. Can I possibly work in such an environment, such a culture?
3)people who stigmatize are either ignorant or bullies, or both, and the best way to deal with them in general is to educate or stand up to them.
4)Being at the top of your game is a scary place to be. There is less room for everyone and farther to fall. Sooner or later, the good people fall. If you don't give them a reason, they will create one. You can hide your illness, but grow ever more scared that it will come out eventually - and you can bet that it will.
Also, Natasha, I'd like to correct you - it is the stimga that is the cause of the bad things happening, not the disclosure. Bad things can and do happen every day because of stigma. I wonder how long non-disclosure will protect someone from stigma? And what is the trade-off? These things also need to be taken into consideration when making decisions. Though, again, in your situation and in Jack's, I would probably opt for non-disclosure.
One more thing - when talking to psychologists about the impact of this mental illness on my career, one or two of them tried to turn it around and say that I would develop more empathy as a result of having the illness. Personally I think this is bollocks. I had plenty of understanding prior to having the illness. The lived experience has given me an experience, but the thing is having to go through pain doesn't really improve your understanding that it's a bad thing. I already had an imagination I could use to understand the pain of others and help them. Now I'm in a situation where I have my own problems, and other people's problems simply remind me of my own problems, and I focus on myself more than I focus on them.
Thank-you for illustrating my point so well. People's stigma can get you no matter how much credibility you have built and no matter how well you handle things. And I think it's important that people truly understand those as _real_ risks and that bad things can and do happen everyday because of disclosure.
- Natasha Tracy
As for me, well, my career was, and may be again, in the health professions. What I fought for, and will fight for again, will be on the line if I don't disclose. I will lose credibility if I don't disclose. It's a small town I live in, and an even smaller profession. Once someone knows, everybody knows.
I surely understand each person has their own mechanism to manage their condition. I personally now choose to not disclose to anyone who does not already know, as I feel the disclosing is an admission of weakness and promotion of stigma.
The analogy continues to fall on deaf ears, but bipolar is no different than someone treating a heart condition or diabetes. Would you arbitrarily disclose that to your employer? My managed bipolar condition is not relevant in that context. Disclosing makes the statement that it is.
Parallel to the 10+ years of successfully managing my condition was managing my credibility as a professional. Every category of discrimination I noted in my previous post occurred within the last 6 months, after 10 years of no relapses and career success.
I did my part, in what I thought was a no-fail situation after building credibility to a very successful career as a sought out individual in my industry. And many others in my industry already knew/know of the condition. But when someone squawks to someone else, that 'squawkee' person starts from zero on their journey to rid themselves of their bias for which I have no control.
Sarah, If you can afford to put yourself on the line like that, being entirely public, please go for it.
I am sharing my story to illustrate that you can have all the right factors in place, including a legacy of over 10 years of success, and still immediately lose credibility. Relaying to your example, if you are a female in this situation, you could likely multiply every negative consequence times two.
As the breadwinner in my family and due to conditions out of my control disclosure or not, I cannot afford to start from scratch every 2, 5, or 10 years.
Thanks for listening.
I have officially posted a response as to why I choose to write under a nom de plume here: http://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2012/03/why-i-choose-to-write-about-mental-illness-under-a-pen-name/
I would just like to take this opportunity to apologize to you for my first comment which I believe came across more aggressive than I intended. I admit I was feeling a bit attacked and a bit too impassioned at that moment and didn't respond in an appropriate manner.
I hope you'll accept my apology and know that I didn't mean to attack you personally and that is not my normal way of behaving.
- Natasha Tracy
Well, Jack, two quotes for you. The first I have no idea who said it, but, "No man is an island". Is it not true that there are only six degrees of separation between all of us?
The second quote is from Lord of the Rings - The Fellowship of the Ring - movie Directed by Peter Jackson. Yes, I know it's fantasy, not the real world. But I like it anyway. "Even the smallest person can change the course of the future"
Now think of the suffragettes - those radicals who put themseleves out there for the sake of women's rights. Most women who might sympathise with them at the time still had to behave themselves and stay in the kitchen or suffer the consequences. But if it wasn't for those putting themselves on the line in the first place, I wouldn't be educated enough to put this post together. Many lifetimes later women are still fighting. Perceptions have not changed across the world. But, it is a start.
Now back to mental illness - hiding it may be deemed necessary by you, for your own sake. But keep in mind that you are reinforcing their perception that mental illness is something to be ashamed of.
As for me - well, my armour is made of Mithril and my sword glows blue when bullies are near...
Reducing and eliminating the stigma of bipolar is not going to happen by each person, one-by-one, disclosing their condition.
Being individual islands is not going to cure the world of pre-conceived notions about mental illness.
If I am expected, personally, to disclose my bipolar condition to help in reducing societal stigma, what is the return on my investment as the martyr?
Discrimination, that's what. Rejected for interviews, layoffs x2, harassment, company 1 HR squawking to company 2 HR, chit chat gossip, tests, audio and video surveillance, constructive discharge activities, that about covers it..
Though, the upside is that after several rounds of discrimination throughout your career, you may get rather adept at separating yourself from the stereotype imposed upon you by others. That separation, confidence, a 'highly functioning' mindset and status, plus adequate documentation----and your employer will write their own ticket to the court room.
However, it's going to take a much larger scale effort, i.e. the NIMH to state "Houston, We have a Problem" for any paradigm shift to happen. All the research in the world will do no good, if the perception is not modified.
Perception is the reality when it comes to the general public stereotyping mental illness. All major media is in this game, too.
However, perception is not the reality if someone knows you are bipolar, their reality automatically trumps yours. The point of Natasha's post is Spot on.
I, too feel I must refrain from disclosing my mental illness (bipolar 2) to my employers. I am a substitute teacher and work at the pleasure of teachers who might object for the same reasons you list.
Appallingly, my identity as a person with a mental illness might be in jeopardy now because last year while I was in the mental hospital, the case worker laid my file down on the hood of her car on a windy day- you guessed it, the entire file went sailing into the air, with ALL my medical and personal information flying down the street, including my work history, diagnosis, doctor's notes, et.al.
I was notified of this once I was released, six weeks after the fact, and advised to check my credit history since all my financial history was literally "on the street". None of the file was ever recovered.
I haven't worked this year: it's been a long recovery, but I anticipate putting myself back on the active list for the Fall. I live in terror that in this small community that I live in resides someone or more than one someone who stumbled upon some of the papers in my file and might tell another someone who happens to either work for the school district (there's only one!) or knows someone who does. There are plenty of subs now days, despite the low pay, that want to work for the school district. You have to re-apply annually to be placed on the list. I fear my re-application will be rejected. Of course the reason won't be that I'm mentally ill! It will be some other, Legal, reason I'm sure.
Well, I suspect you know my take on disclosing to an employer - and I suspect you would see a high degree of stigma in your situation because you have all the parents to deal with who will excuse their own prejudice under the guise of "just trying to protect their kids."
But you would know better than I would about what's right for you, just be careful and think it through carefully. It's one time that thinking of the worst case scenario now can save you a lot of possible heartache later.
I agree that the internet can be a very unsafe place sometimes. We all feel "protected" in front of our own little computer screens, but the fact is real bad things happen from what goes on online every day.
Dealing with criticism and hate mail can be difficult. Recently someone erected a hate site aimed at me and that was very challenging.
But I think you have to consider the source. It's like everything in life. If I, a stranger, say your earrings are ugly that comment probably doesn't mean anything after all, who am I but a stranger, possibly having a very bad day. But if you best friend says your earrings don't look good on you, that probably means more.
The people who are hurling insults and threats don't know me. They know my writing, which is something completely different. And maybe there's in a very bad place personally. I don't know. I don't know what's driving them. Best to leave them to their opinion, whatever it is, and get on with what I do.
And always remember that for every piece of hate mail there are three pieces of love mail and those are the things to concentrate on. Concentrate on doing good no deflecting bad.
This is a hard thing but I will tell you that you get better at it with practice. Things may still hurt, after all, you're human, but you will be able to deal with them better.
- Natasha Tracy
Of course I want to sell books. My former career is over--I got too crazy for my boss to deal with, neither of us knew what was up in my head, despite attempts to get help. I can't work right now, so I have to have something, but I'm not thrilled with the prospect of notoriety. I have come out to my friends, and I really don't mind people knowing my brain is atypical. However, I'm not wild about a barrage of poorly spelled threats.
I am not upset that Natasha uses a pen name. We all live in different life circumstances. I have assessed the personal risk I'm taking very carefully and feel I'm in a position to use my name. I'm guessing she arrived at her decision thoughtfully and that it suits her needs.
What I would like to know is this: Natasha, how do you cope with criticism and hate mail while managing your Bipolar?
Whether people choose to disclose their mental illness online or elsewhere is a person decision and involves personal risk, and that has nothing to do with what I say.
And, more specifically, I said, _I_ said I couldn't get hired and this may be in part due to my profession.
Feel free to be disheartened and angry but your anger is not with HealthyPlace it is with society at large. HealthyPlace (and I do not speak for them) does not increase stigma, they decrease it by giving everyone a place to learn and talk about their perspectives on mental illness. They are taking steps forward, not backward. Whether society can keep up with them has to do with society and not HealthyPlace.
I believe in protecting yourself over some pie-in-the-sky ideal. Personally, I would be find with telling people I have bipolar disorder - it's others that would have a problem with it and it's others who would treat me differently. And I need to protect myself from them. That is my right. Others may choose to take a different path.
And while it is true that _some_ people might hire a person with a mental illness, I'm not sure that people want to decrease their job pool to that number of people, not when the economy is in the toilet and people can't find jobs as it is.
And no, employers can't ask about your mental health status, but they sure can Google.
A good friend of mine writes on sensitive topics and became quite prolific on the matter. He did what many people do, it didn't hide his identity, and talked about where he lived and his family. And he got death threats, as many of us writers do.
And if that wasn't enough, someone make a death threat towards his children. They found out where they went to school and said they would kill them.
That is the kind of behavior that that we see online and as an online personality, it's the kind of thing that happens on a regular basis.
The things people have said they would like to do to me are incredibly horrific and torturous. So, no, I don't feel bad about hiding my real identity from those who would do me harm and no self-righteous anonymous person on the internet will make me feel differently.
If you wish to judge, which so many of you seem to want to do, then I recommend being in a shoes for a while.
I don't dismiss some of your points, but many people with bi-polar need to work on taming and normalizing their sexuality, and not hearing about it,talking about it and reinforcing it....perpetuating it, especially in a forum where they seek refuge from their own suffering....the last thing they need to hear about is something that is sexually charged and distracting. The most healing thing for people with bi-polar is unlearning impulsive and craving habituations and learning wholesome,grounded views and actions in sexuality, devoid of the subjectivity of erotica and guilded by unimpeachable,reliable salutary values of compassion, unconditional love and loyalty.
I challenege you to ask yourself if you used the forum to make sexually charged remarks to draw attention to yourself, or that reflect your own insecurities. I challenge you to consider if others would benefit more from more restraint in yours/their own speach. For me, coming the first time, this was not a good impression. You can call me old school,or " puritanical" but I'm hardly Christian, and normalization and dethroning sexually charged thinking freed me from the bonds of ignorance to begin my own recovery.....
This comment above broke my heart. To think that this person came out based on "Natasha" given her the false impression on this blog for years that "Natasha" herself was an "inspiring" coming out story.
Like a gay activist who is still in the closet who "inspires" people to come out by giving the false impression for years on this blog that she is out.
You're messing with lives. You've lost my respect I won't be coming back to this disaster of a blog.
I also came out on my blog, which was a bit scary But I figure if I don't write about life with bipolar I'm being untrue to myself.
... who does not conform to the NorM
... your mad you are ...
those poor unfortunates who suffer but do not make it through
are the ones society creates ... and then labels
Everyone in my workplace knows I have bipolar disorder because I had a dramatic mania that ended up in an eight day hospitalization. When I got out of the hospital they threw a party for me (a little overwhelming coming off of a mania, but they didn't know that). I have a lot of responsibility at work and I feel that my coworkers treat me really well, but still, I don't know what they're thinking. They may discount some of my opinions that they don't agree with because they don't trust my thinking.
But honestly, it is a relief that they know because they don't mind when I have to go to my various appointments related to treating my bipolar disorder and they do want me to stay well.
If I ever have to look for another job, however, I will not be open about my bipolar disorder and I might hide my blog that I've been writing.
You've left another beautifully worded and hopelessly inspiring comment. Thank-you. You're a writer; I can tell.
I didn't grow up with the kind of abuse you did but I did grow up in the environment of secrets. The big one in my family was my father's alcoholism. And yes, it was all about protecting _image_ and _what_other_people_thought_ and today, I couldn't care less about either one of those things, but as a child the silence is forced whether you want it or not.
So I understand completely the desire to speak out. For me, it's lying. I hate lying. Lying reminds me of my childhood. It reminds me of all the hateful, black secrets that we all lied to protect for no good reason at all. It just reminds me of suffering.
And you are to be commended for coming out of your silence. Silence and abuse go hand-in-hand because, as they say, sunlight is a great disinfectant and abuse care rarely exist alongside the truth.
Thank-you for speaking, thank-you for sharing and thank-you for doing so so eloquently.
(Oh, and it's Natasha. :)
- Natasha Tracy
You're absolutely right. I only meant to comment about the irony of feeling the dare of using my name publicly only to see your post come up so soon after about your using a nom de plume, but then I went further and after I posted I realized I'd been off the cuff in a way not usual for me. I was feeling a bit uncomfortable about it actually. It's not my way to careless with words in the way that leave a message of 'either-or' on such important issues. My apologies to anyone who felt a pressure in those brief words of mine. I meant what I said, but I don't elaborate enough to add my understanding that - yes, food on the table and a roof over our heads it utmost, especially when we are dealing with the extra issue of mental health issues.
I was working on my art this evening after my post about leaving my mother for my own sake when I realized what it was about the issue of divulging the truth of our bipolar issues triggered me so oddly.
The depth of my mother's illness and abusive behaviour was a family secret that just about killed me and did, in the end, contribute to my mother's early death. My parents fought hard to "protect my mother's reputation" as it was put to me, and to protect my father's reputation as well. It was all about image and reputation, and the price my mother and I both paid was phenomenal. And not worth it.
Even in death the family fights me to keep the secret. When it was found out I spoke to some extended family and family friends about the truth of mother's suffering and her behaviour my sister came to my house and physically attacked me. She was enraged. And when I found out her own daughter had become an addict and suicidal and eventually went onto methadone the young girl confided she was ashamed that she was the only one in the whole family who was afflicted that way, "a total failure...the black sheep", I was shocked that no one had told her it was a family disease. I told her that both I and her grandmother - my mother - were addicted to drugs in our attempts to deal with the affects of bipolarism. At least until I got properly diagnosed and medicated. Again, my sister became enraged that I'd told the secret.
She would let her own child suffer in shame and ignorance before telling the truth about mom.
Yes, I'm talking about being within families and with doctors, but I also believed my family when they said I was just lazy and selfish and weak until I finally talked openly with other people about the way I felt and thought. In a rush, it seemed, I received compassion and proper guidance to get all the help I needed.
Finally daring to say "This is what it's like to be me" was like jumping off a cliff, but if I didn't, I was going to fall off anyway. All I knew for sure-for-sure was that silence was a disaster, and in the case of the child abuse I endured, also a crime. Today, I know longer have to be a party to that crime. And when I hide my bipolarism, I feel in a way that I'm being a party to the crime I grew up with. It's just a creepy feeling inside me personally, you understand.
I just wanted to say this...all this...to say there is a lot to this issue. It's a no-brainer that we need to talk to people about the issue, and I totally understand how important keeping our paying jobs is, but just writing about this issue of secrecy chokes me up right now. I have been bipolar since childhood, and I hid not only my mother's illness but my own wildness that I couldn't act out on for fear of further abuse. Exponential madness.
If there is anything I wish for anyone suffering anything, it is for the freedom to go anywhere, at any time, and be free to say and be who they are, fearlessly. I'm 42 now and I go to bed every night and think to myself, "The doors are locked. You have a big, soft, warm bed. You're warm, you're safe, you're lucky, you're fine." It wasn't always true.
I've been stigmatised all my life - for being an above average student, for being a woman. I'm not going to hide either of those things and I'm not going to hide my illness.
Margaret Thatcher was ridiculed by her colleagues for being a woman and for being a grocer's daughter.
Speak your truth with confidence - there is nothing to be ashamed of, nothing at all. If you show the slightest bit of guilt, shame, hesitation or doubt, then the bullies will swoop in just as they swoop upon any vulnerable target.
High-functioning is hard to define but I've written about it twice: http://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2011/06/how-to-be-bipolar-and-high-functioning/
BTW how do you define high functioning?
Sorry to disappoint. We writers are a tricky bunch. If it makes you feel better I do show my face on camera so it's not so much a place to hide as it is safety from Google.
For my part, I do live very openly except when it comes to employment. Unfortunately, as eating and paying rent are priorities, I just can't afford to gamble with preconceived notions of those who write my paychecks and I advise others to do the same as our own individual well-being is general more important than standing up for an ideal and ending up homeless. At least, that's my take on it. And I don't consider that part of the problem, I consider that part of the reality.
I think people need to disclose as much as they are comfortable with and each tiny step is part of the solution - you don't have to jump the whole chasm to help, just take a baby step. Ideals are great but they're not very realistic or liveable for most people.
Thank-you for writing and representing all those people who cannot speak for themselves. That is a true advocate. I applaud you for that.
Hopefully the more people that are "out" the more we can change the stereotypes. You're doing good work by doing that.
And yes, if one day my advocacy became obsolete, I suppose I would be grateful for that too. Although I don't know what I would do all day.