Speech I gave to a crowd of about 75 people at work in November 2015:
On my 47th birthday, I admitted myself to a mental hospital. Crazy birthday present, huh? But I had come to the end of my rope. I was having suicidal thoughts and visual hallucinations. It had gotten so bad I was afraid to drive or go out in public.
Friends and family were shocked. A former boss of mine said “you’re the sanest person I know!” But that’s the thing – I’m very good at hiding it. Bucking up and carrying on. I’ve been keeping my depression under the radar my entire life. I was so good at hiding it that sometimes I even hid it from myself, deluding myself into thinking I was cured. Then it would return.
Depression is something you can overcome if you’re just strong enough, if you just have enough willpower and backbone. At least that’s what I believed. Not being able to cure myself constituted personal failure on my part.
That fantasy came crashing down with the hallucinations. I had to face it – I simply could not work. But get this, I didn’t feel worthy of short-term disability benefits. After all, I had a made up disease, one that is really just a lack of character.
Over the course of the 90 days I was out on short-term disability, I met a lot of people. It changed my thinking. No one, including me, deserved the discrimination I was heaping on myself. As I prepared to return to work, I had to make a decision. People were bound to ask why I was out. How do I answer that? Ultimately I decided I would be up front about my illness. I did not want to be ashamed anymore.
But I was scared. Would coworkers think I’m incompetent or unreliable? Would they think I was demanding special treatment I didn’t deserve? My fears were unfounded. I never received a negative response, and actually made a lot of new friends who appreciated my authenticity.
Because of my openness, I was approached to do an interview for the company newsletter. Disclosing to people I work closely with is one thing, but disclosing to the entire organization is quite another. Again I felt fear and doubt. A little voice was still telling me that what I had wasn’t a “real” disability. Would it be insulting to people who have “real” disabilities? I talked with my boss and my husband, who both encouraged me to do what was in my heart.
The response I got to the interview was wonderful. It got many supportive comments – not one single negative response. I had several people reach out to me for help with their depression. I felt so empowered, I participated on several disability focus groups and went after a yoga certification. Now I get to do what was in my heart all along. I get to help people. Thank you.