What follows is an article that was posted in my company’s newsletter. It was the first time I went public with my mental illness. At that time, I had been diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD.) In the interview, we didn’t talk about depression. I identify more with the label “depression” than I do OCD, but OCD is definitely part of the picture.
Florida Blue corporate newsletter article March 12, 2015:
Last April, Florida Blue’s #iCount campaign launched in the hopes that it would increase the number of employees self-identifying their veteran and disability statuses on Employee Central and to foster dialogue about ways to improve the employee experience and hiring of these and other diverse groups. More than 60 percent of employees have updated their statuses so far!
This latest article features Tracey Moore, business architect, who volunteered to share her experience as a person with a mental health disability; a topic many may shy away from discussing.
Will you tell us about your disability?
I’ve had clinical depression all of my life, but was additionally diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), an anxiety disorder, in September 2014. As a result, I took short-term disability leave and underwent extensive treatment before returning to work.
When people think of OCD, they typically envision examples like repeated hand-washing and/or cleaning because an individual is afraid of germs, or the excessive checking and then re-checking a door to ensure that it is locked; those are actually compulsions based on obsessions. What you’re able to see are the compulsions, but underlying them are obsessions that often can’t be seen. My OCD consists of mostly obsessions, and I do perform some compulsions, such as counting in my head, that help soothe but don’t eliminate, the obsessive thoughts.
Admitting to others that I have depression and OCD has not been easy. When I returned from short-term disability, I considered hiding my illness, but ultimately decided that I do not want to be ashamed. Mental illness has this stigma that it’s the person’s fault or something you can “snap out of” if you just had enough willpower. Since coming forward and embracing this, many others have confided to me about their mental illness. I’ve learned there are a host of reasons people don’t talk about their mental health.
I’ve personally experienced people dismissing my illness as something I should be able to control and others who do not accept it as an illness. I am using this platform to be a spokesperson. My goal is for people who are not afflicted to understand mental health disorders better and for people suffering to know that they’re not alone.
What adjustments do you make, if any, to offset your symptoms?
I’ve learned that taking care of my mental health is a daily job, not something I can push off until the weekend. It has to be my number one priority. I used to get up, eat, and rush out the door for work. I have introduced a calming routine to my mornings and evenings. I also take breaks throughout the day in order to manage my thoughts and get fresh air.
Exercise is not optional for me; it’s crucial to my state of mind. I know others can bury themselves in work, neglect their diet and exercise, ignore sleep and then go back to their routine and all is ok. I’ve learned that if I do that, I get sick and incapable of being productive. It can even land me in the hospital.
OCD is an example of an invisible disability, meaning, others can’t tell I have it simply by looking at me. This has created challenges because it’s not evident when I’m struggling. I’ve had to learn to ask for the support and accommodations I need both at home and work.
What does it mean to you to see the company actively asking veterans and employees with disabilities to come forward to self-identify their status?
Honestly, I hope the company can use this information to help our culture, employees and also our community and society. As more people understand what the statuses mean and demonstrate courage in sharing their status, I’m guessing the statistics will show that it’s not as rare as people think, it’s really pretty normal. I hope we can start an open dialogue about mental illness and other disabilities.
How would you describe our culture overall (judging from your peers and colleagues) on their acceptance of and sensitivity to veterans and employees with disabilities?
Back in September, I realized I was not going to be able to do my job. I had to disclose my disability to a lot of people in my life and I was afraid of being a burden. I had to learn how to be vulnerable and allow people to help me. It was scary, but being authentic has created much stronger relationships and given me more confidence.
Opening up to my boss, Angela Evans, has been a huge help. I can tell her when I am having a tough time and she listens and accommodates where she can. She allows me to work from home when I need to and she’s flexible with my start and finish times. If I have too many assignments, she actively works to address it rather than just add more work. She encourages a healthy work/life balance for herself and her team and it makes a big difference. I’ve learned that my friends and family can’t help and support me if I’m not being transparent about my needs and Angela is a great example of that.