I will start my story in August 2013 when I first approached my doctor to see what these moods and behaviours were in my mind. They were getting stronger and worse with each passing day and taking over in all parts of my life: driving my car, in my dreams, when day dreaming - even at times when I should have been happy like being with my family, I was even unable to focus on my hobbies. On top of this I could tell it was affecting my work as I was unable to get up early, I could not focus, remembering procedures and guidelines became difficult and I was just not performing to the standard I had set myself in my previous 15 years in the food industry.
I was worried about the stigma, the embarrassment of actually saying: “I have a mental health problem and I need help”
Whilst seeking help I did not disclose the illness to my employer due to embarrassment, stigma and the fact that I had just started the job. Upon seeing my psychiatrist, being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and being put medication to try and control the highs and lows, my treatment began. I was told for the first couple of weeks that this medication could affect my moods severely until my body got used to them and that is exactly what they did. I was tired. Rather than seeking help I carried on working whilst taking the medication which, when I look back, was a big mistake. I was pretty much like a zombie on auto pilot. But I was worried about the stigma, the embarrassment of actually saying: “I have a mental health problem and I need help”.
I was reprimanded for a mistake I made, but the support I receive afterwards was amazing
I carried on trying to maintain work and family life to which I failed miserably, firstly harming myself in an argument with a friend, then making a huge mistake at work and trying to cover my tracks which put the department and brand I work for in jeopardy. I had a meeting with my manager to discuss what was going on. At this point I decided to disclose my illness to my manager. When I attended the meeting I was aware of my mistake and knew what I did was wrong although totally out of character for me. I was nervous at the meeting for two reasons, firstly the mistake, secondly having to explain my illness: I was unsure of my future, my health and what the outcome would be of the meeting. I totally understood the company had a job and a procedure to follow.
Although I was deservedly reprimanded for my mistake, the support I got from my company afterwards was just amazing. Firstly, I was sent to see a company doctor just to confirm my illness. Then I had a meeting with my reporting manager in which we put in place a personal development plan, this plan was not just for my mistake, but also to help me with my illness. I have regular meetings and a team of people at work who are aware of my bipolar condition. Since making this plan and having support work has become a much better place for me, which is, in turn, making my home life better. Yes, I have had to take time off due to my bipolar and I have even been told not to work as my manager recognised I was going into hypomania.
My company has proved that people do understand about mental health
I have colleagues that do find time to talk to me on a weekly basis, so on top of my family support and my work support I am able to tackle my bipolar head on. I feel that my company has proved that people do understand about mental health and that the stigma is finally starting to get broken. I would like to thank my colleagues and I would say that, based on my experience, talking openly about mental health at work can really help.