Grace, June 6, 2019

"I feared ticking boxes on every declaration form and dreaded every occupational health assessment."

Why I’m quitting my job, again…

“What’s the rationale behind not letting me have the time off?” I asked, my voice noticeably less brave than my question.

“Just because. This is just how we operate with agency staff. You’re to be flexible to our needs, we can’t allow you flexible working or time off to make your therapy sessions. But put your health first”.

I keep replaying those words over and over in my head. Hoping I could unscramble the paradox. How can I put my health first if I have no structure, no stability, no financial independence? 

Here I was sitting, shaking, in the office of an incredibly successful global company. Its walls were plastered with posters, trophies of its corporate good deeds on mental health, fighting stigma and discrimination. I had just started CBT, and I felt like I was in a safe space to talk. My company encouraged a positive attitude to mental health, and that felt fantastic. Finally, I’m on the right track I thought. 

I had approached my manager asked to come in a few hours later on a Wednesday to attend therapy sessions and fit in my hours elsewhere. My manager, a trained mental health first aider, was acting like the company was at the brink of collapse if I was to do so. I felt powerless. Like it or lump it, but how could I work for someone who didn’t value my mental health? Self-preservation, I thought. Walk away.

This was an all-too-familiar feeling to someone with long term mental health struggles. Before making the move into the science industry, I was training to be a teacher. Teaching was so good for me, it gave me purpose, a sense of pride and I was confident. But I always felt like I was being looked under the microscope. Before going into teaching, I was given a working diagnosis of bipolar disorder. I feared ticking boxes on every declaration form and dreaded every occupational health assessment. 

Nevertheless, I remained resilient, held optimism for those conversations and convinced myself it was just self-stigma. It mostly was. I sailed through interviews and meetings. I got brilliant feedback, I was told I had a natural ability to teach. I was elated. But teaching was stressful, and inevitably a few of my fellow trainees had to take time off. I too, got to a place where I needed a few days off to nip some unpleasant feelings in the bud. I did what I’ve always done, spoke up and said how I was feeling. I’ll never stop saying how I feel, because it’s important for me to get it off my chest. 

After revealing I felt a bit stressed, my tutor suggested I take a year off. I was gobsmacked. Whilst other trainees were told to take a week off at time, I was told to take a year. For the same reason. I couldn’t help but think just because I had a diagnosis, I was treated differently. I walked out of the University and never went back.

These are stories of my strength in self-preservation and putting my needs first, but also stories about how mental health stigma and discrimination in the workplace still exist. To the point where we still get pushed into corners, we still feel forced out of jobs. 

It is so essential for me to hold onto hope. Hope that there are fantastic jobs out there, full of support and purpose. Hope that by continuing to talk openly, we can normalise mental health conversations. Hope that companies will recognise the true potential of having a diverse workforce, and that includes looking out for employee mental health. Hope for better. Hope for change.

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