I was sitting in the office of a licensed clinical social worker, who is one of my current supervisors at my internship. She decided to check in with me since next week is my last week as a MSW intern and I will soon be graduating from graduate school. Towards the end of the conversation, we began discussing my work performance.

Her: To me, it seems like you started off strong and then your performance dropped. I don’t know why that is, maybe it’s because it’s the end of the semester.

Me: To be honest, I was recently diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder and it affects my work performance cyclically.

Her: You use mental illness as a crutch. Your boss in the real world is not going to allow you to reschedule meetings or miss a day just because you have mental illness. It isn’t an excuse.

Me: I’m not saying it is an excuse, but it’s a reason. Unfortunately, it affects my life. That’s why I will be starting off my career with part-time employment while I get medications figured out. 

I’m using my mental illness as a crutch? Let’s make a few things clear:

  • No, it’s not like I just feel like missing work and use mental illness as an excuse. What? Nobody would ever say “you’re using your cancer as a crutch.” I’m being open about my mental illness so that you know why my job performance shifts from time to time. Plenty of other people perform poorly at work and many times it is due to mental illness. They just aren’t talking about it; they’re just seen as “bad employees.”

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  • I disclosed my struggle with mental illness to you and how it affects my work performance from the very beginning of my internship so that you would be understanding and supportive; yet, you were judgmental this entire time. This is why people don’t talk about it.

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  • If it wasn’t okay for me to reschedule a (unimportant) meeting or miss a day of internship because I was feeling mentally ill, then something should have been said before my last week. Responses like this made me think I had your support:

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Unfortunately, she couldn’t see how great I am at my job or how my mental illnesses make me better at my job (as I discussed in a previous post). When it comes to disclosing mental illness in the workplace, you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.