‘Coming Out’ as Mentally Ill in the Corporate World

It’s been almost 15 months since I decided my
life had to end. There had been many times when I felt I might want to end it
eventually, but on Nov. 30, I had the sudden realization that every breath was
more painful than the last. I was in the darkest place I have ever been, and I
saw no way out. The pain was physical, mental and emotional, and it shook my
body and soul. Nothing was comparable, and I’ve been through some painful
moments. I’ve survived cancer and Lupus. I’ve given birth without pain medicine or epidurals. I’ve been hurt emotionally and mentally and never felt anything like this before. The pain had to stop. So when my children left for school for the day, I called in sick to work then said what I thought would be a final prayer for peace.

Now, all these months later, I understand what I could have and should have done differently. I should have reached out sooner. I could have asked for help. I might have recognized that what I was feeling was biological and not my fault. This was not a weakness or a character flaw. Now I know it has a name. I have since been diagnosed as having Generalized Anxiety Disorder, OCD, PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder. I have been depressed the majority of my life, and most likely it is a result of both biological factors and issues from my past. I suffered abuse as a child from a neighbor, from a significant other as an adult, and most horribly from myself throughout my life. If I had
loved myself, maybe the others could have been overcome.

I also learned that depression runs in my family. I have a great-grandmother who attempted suicide, as I was told in hushed tones. She was known to have “taken to her bed” for days at a time. At the end of her life, she told me that she had to “sing her dark feelings away”. We used to sing together when I was a child, and I loved that we had our strong alto voices in common. Now I know we share much more.

My greatest coping mechanism has been overachievement. I am one of those odd personalities that loves to be tested. It’s as though the less I thought of
myself, the more I had to prove. I was the first in my family to go to college.
I worked the whole time I was in school, often two or three jobs at once, while
being a single mom. The controlled chaos was invigorating. If I wasn’t under
pressure, I was miserable and had to find a new challenge. This is why I also
got into boxing, karate, marathon running and raising money for charities. I
had to find something to make me feel like I belonged with all of the amazing
people around me. Someone my children could look up to.

Eventually, after earning an MPA and a name in my industry, I was offered a
position as a VP of a new multi-million dollar project in an affluent area of
town. I was known as someone who could get things done, even when other people said it wasn’t possible. I loved my job. I could achieve there.

That’s what has made these last few weeks so damn difficult for me.

My illness has been kept a secret from all but a handful of people who had to know. But now I have started to tell others.

I have been torn by my sense of obligation and my need to preserve my status in my profession. I am somewhat respected, and I know how people who have done what I did are perceived. I’m starting to learn that I am not my illness, but a year ago I didn’t feel this way. How can I expect people who’ve never been touched by depression, let alone suicide, to understand that I’m still very capable of being trusted with sensitive, meaningful projects?

After my attempt, I was diagnosed. My hospital therapist told my family that my attempt was gravely serious and to not let me pretend it was not a big deal.

I was in the ICU and then the Behavioral Health Hospital for a combined two weeks, and yet, my clients never knew I was gone. I went back to work like nothing had happened. My boss at the time said that as long as I brought in the corporate business, it didn’t bother her that I was sick. I felt that was good at the time, but being that there had been no corporate business there yet as it was a primarily ‘special event venue’, I was set up for failure. This boss was kind to me, given the situation. Those who knew I was gone for a short time assumed I was sick because of a flare-up of lupus. I went back to being a workhorse because I felt it was all I had left to offer. I continued to book several events. I still was let go from that position a couple months later due to a “client complaint” which may have been the case (although I thought my clients loved me) as well as my not having booked another corporate client in the two weeks since I was asked to book 1 a quarter. I feel no ill will and still consider that person a friend. She gave me a generous seperation package which actually gave me the few weeks I should have taken to recover. But I think stigma might have trumped compassion at that time. If I had been recovering from a severe car accident that almost took my life, would I have been let go? I won’t ever know. And things have come out well for me in the end, so I still feel everything happens for a reason. But it was yet another blow at that moment, none the less. This was the first and only time I was released from a position and I felt it was the ultimate failure.

There were several times I wondered why I survived. I really shouldn’t have, and I was told this many times. I was so angry and devastated when I woke up. But that quickly passed when I saw the look on my best friend’s face and realized that I was really sick. Maybe there was a purpose for my being here. Or at least, I had to feel like there was one.

I felt compelled to make what I did wrong right.

I absorbed anything and everything I could about suicide, mental illness, anxiety, depression and OCD. I had to understand it. What I learned was that suicide kills more people than cancer and war combined. I know people like me die from it all the time. Dozens have died in the time it took me to type this, and I type 90 words a minute.

I have an overwhelming sense that I survived for a reason. I want to tell my story to help people, so no one else feels like I did. I want to help the people left behind, so they don’t feel responsible for their loved one’s death. I want to speak for those who completed suicide and let people know how much pain they were in. The pain and the disease were to blame.

But talking about it means people will know who and what I am.

Since telling my former boss, I have just again decided to “come out” to some people I know through the running community. We have spent a lot of time together, and they know most everything else about me. I have a picture of myself with them, smiling, celebrating one of their birthdays on November 27, 2012. It was the evening before my attempt. I can only imagine their reaction if that had been the last picture I had ever taken. I hope they realize that no one knew how badly I was hurting that night. I am finally in a place where I can be glad I’m still here.

Most of them have responded supportively, though I could tell some didn’t
understand. Some didn’t respond at all, which I get, because if this is something you haven’t been exposed to, it is very shocking.

But it is exactly these people I need to hear me. What if, one day, it is their
child who is afraid to seek help? Or their grandchild?

Luckily, no one has been unkind. I know I need to prepare myself for that to happen. And I realize this could affect me professionally again. After telling my running friends, I posted my story on my main Facebook page, blocking it from only a few friends I wasn’t ready to tell yet. I received a number of private messages filled with encouragement and understanding. Some thanked me for speaking out, and some shared their own stories.

I feel ready to take on the corporate world again now. I am prepared to fight the stigma and know that every pain has a purpose. I pray I don’t lose my career and everything I have worked for. But I can’t forget that because of this disease, my children almost lost their mother; I almost lost my life. Hopefully, everything I have done in that life, and the respect I have earned, will allow me some understanding and open minds.

lastdinner1112

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About Christine O.

A single Mom to two little girls until March 9, 2014 when I married my soul-mate, full time executive in a demanding field, marathon runner, daughter to the perfect parents, oldest sister of a younger brother and sister, coach, boss, girlfriend, best friend, member of the church choir, volunteer in the local Lion's Club and CASA organization, and becoming newly acclimated to the world of mental illness after a life changing event. My goal in blogging and learning as much as I can about this subject is to defeat stigma associated with brain disease and preventing suicide in the future.
This entry was posted in Anxiety, Coming Out, Corporate, depression, friends, major depressive disorder, marathon, mental illness, OCD, stigma, suicide, suicide attempt survivor, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to ‘Coming Out’ as Mentally Ill in the Corporate World

  1. Tim says:

    Wow, what a story. You have been through so much and I hope it is all behind you. I’ve found, in life, that by being open about my anxiety and my ADHD that people are very accepting or just don’t say much or care at all. On the other hand, there are those who have come forward to tell me “I suffer from the same things as you” and we keep an open dialog about it. I’m not ashamed and by being so open I’ve helped not only myself but others, which is very rewarding. You’ll find relationships that never would have developed otherwise and they’ll be such meaningful relationships that you’ll wonder why you didn’t open up earlier.

    I’ve told my boss about it and while I can’t speak for everyone, she’s been amazing. She asks me how I’m doing from time to time but it hasn’t affected anything in my career. Be strong and stay amazing!

  2. gatito2 says:

    As you well know, I wish my daughter had told someone and had gotten help. By you comimg out like this, it will help others to do the same thing and then hopefully one day people will not be ashamed of this illness and less people will die from it.

  3. April says:

    I’m so happy you lived. Your purpose is to be here for your children, as well as letting other people know that depression is an illness, but it isn’t contagious. We need to talk about it more so that people don’t feel so alone and feel the only way out is suicide. But suicide doesn’t have to be the answer because there is always someone to help. If we keep talking about it, maybe, some day those of us will know where to turn–especially the young people. I always called myself a functioning depressed person. I pushed myself to the brink just so that I didn’t have to think about anything except the task at hand. I also abused alcohol to numb the torture.

    I’m not sure if this was why I kept trudging along, but when my kids were young, my boss’ wife sent her young children off to school, and succeeded in her suicide attempt. I went to her funeral. Her two children stood with their dad and he spoke about his wife. The look on the faces of those two young people inspired me to work on my metal stability for my kids. Every time things got bad, I got some medication that would get me through. To mechanically survive. It wasn’t until all that I have been through the last 6 months, with therapy and the proper medications, where I finally feel the ability to cope with my disease. I kick myself for not recognizing this 30 years ago. Maybe the help and understanding today is not the same as it was 30 years ago.

    However, I’m not in the corporate world, and I’m sure it is hard to expose oneself. I remember panicking when I received antidepressants that my boss would find out. I have given up trying to make those who have never experienced depression understand what it’s like. However, it is a disease just like diabetes, multiple sclerosis, or any other such disease. A disease which may not be cured, but can be managed.

    Keep fighting!

  4. july4th2013 says:

    Reblogged this on july4th2013 and commented:

  5. nikkisth0ughts says:

    Your story is amazing and inspiring. Unfortunately there will always be those who never understand. But like you I think we have to keep fighting and coming out..it takes a lot of guts but it’s really the best thing to do. Keep staying strong!! I look forward to hearing more as you share your story!
    Xoxo

  6. Pingback: Being Open To Create Dialog | Confronting Giants

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