I have bipolar disorder.
This is something I talk about regularly now, but for a long time I worked hard to keep this a secret in work.
My disorder is mild, but when it’s bad, it’s bad. However, I’ve Always worked hard and been very career focused. I always assumed that if I talked about my mental health, my seniors would assume I wouldn’t be able to handle my work load and that I wasn’t capable of taking on extra responsibility. I thought I’d be over looked for promotion because of this, or it would be assumed I’d need to take time off sick (I’ve not had a single sick day in 7 years). I actually found work a great distraction, almost a therapy, so working hard suited me fine!
I was proud to progress my career and get multiple promotions, but I often felt like I was living a lie. Some of my close colleagues would notice if I was going through a ‘down period’ but I wouldn’t really know what to say so I’d just continue to lie, saying I was fine.
After years of this and having secured a manager role, I was given an opportunity to express myself properly. As part of diversity week, we were encouraged to speak openly about our differences in the work place. At the time, I was in a ‘down period’ and I think I needed help, so I decided to speak out about my mental health, assuming there’d be no repercussions, it was diversity week after all!
Bringing my true self to work had other benefits as well. My obsessive and over analytical thought process made more sense now that I was more open about me. I felt able to utilise this as an advantage in the work place and be more creative. I really felt like I was heading towards my true potential now that I wasn’t hiding a big chunk of my personality.
The impact my confession had was unreal. I had numerous messages from people I knew and people I didn’t talking about their own mental health. If nothing else, I’d started a conversation, and had an impact on people bringing their true self to work and feeling comfortable speaking out about things which often had a stigma attached.
For me, the impact was much bigger. My team got to know the real me. I thought that they might see my disorder as a weakness to be taken advantage of, but they didn’t. They saw it as a strength and saw me as someone who they could look up too and aspire to be like. Someone who was authentic and had succeeded despite adversity. This allowed me to have open and honest conversations with my line reports, which they respected. I got more from them by being my true self and encouraging them to do the same.
In the few years since I spoke out, a lot has happened! I’ve been able to encourage other people, to bring their true selves to work and to embrace what makes them different. This was such a powerful message for me to receive that I feel passionate about giving the message to others.
I’ve learned a huge amount about myself by speaking publicly and having the opportunity to speak to others and hear their experiences. I feel its important for employers to support the diversity of their workforce and I feel confident that if others did the same, they would have stronger, more productive teams.