A Letter to My Colleagues about My Mental Illness

By Danei Edelen | Jul. 22, 2016

 

I still remember my first day of work after my psychotic break. I was so scared. I laid out all my clothes and took a shower the night before to be as ready as possible. I woke up extra early to have time to “just be ready.” My mental illness caused the psychotic break two years earlier. Since then, I have been rebuilding myself, overcoming a gauntlet of “first” fears.

Back then, my psychologist explained to me that having a psychotic break is like having a house with a cracked foundation. In addition, there’s a pit underneath your house. So when the foundation breaks, your entire house falls down into the pit and breaks into a thousand pieces. Well, my house fell into that pit, and it shattered my whole world. It felt as if I was picking up the pieces of an abstract puzzle and it was my job to put everything back together again.

After my break, working full-time again was my goal. I was so afraid that my brain had turned into French blue cheese, filled with striated blue mold, completely useless. I was afraid that I had lost my intellect, my creativity, my ability to write and the power to communicate with others.

But my puzzle was nowhere near being complete.

Driving to work that first day, I was thinking, “What am I going to say to these people? ‘Hi! I just had a psychotic break, what’s going on in your life?’” And when I found myself standing around the water cooler later that day, I found that I had very little to say at all. I was petrified that some strong wind of fate would decimate the fragile house of cards of normalcy I had built. I desperately wanted to share my life with my colleagues, but I feared their reaction. For most of the population, they would think of me as one of the patients from One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I knew the stigma I was up against.

What I wish I could have said to them is this:

“I have had a long and difficult journey, rebuilding myself so that I can work with you. And working alongside you has proven to me that my psychotic break took nothing from me. I still have my intellect, my creativity and my ability to write and collaborate with others. My entire brain is not crumbled blue cheese. If I take my medication, maintain my diet and exercise, and my mental coping skills, I am no different than a diabetic. A diabetic’s pancreas produces little or no insulin. Once they take their insulin, and maintain their diet and exercise they can live a relatively normal life. I am no different—except my medical condition is located in my brain.”

That’s what I wish I could have said. And as my confidence grew, I did open up more. But never enough to say those words. And, you know, I am tired of not being myself around the people I work with. Silence does not aid understanding. That is why I have come “out of the closet” about my mental illness. That is why I am a presenter for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. I am committed to ending the silence.

And if stigma is running rampant in your workplace, please talk to your boss about joining the Stigmafree Company movement, a partnership opportunity with NAMI. Learn more here.

 

** A variation of this blog was first published on the Challenge the Storm website.

 

Danei Edelen is married and lives with her husband and son in Cincinnati, Ohio. Danei owns Instant Marketing LLC. Danei has a bachelor's degree and over 20 years in marketing. She is also a NAMI presenter for the Southwestern Ohio chapter speaking to groups of all ages to help end the stigma. She blogs for the Challenge the Storm. Danei enjoys, reading, writing, exercise and learning about nutrition.

Comments
Danei Edelen
Dear Posters,
My apologies on being so tardy in responding! (This was my first NAMI post.) Thank you. Your comments validate this burning desire I have to use writing as a vehicle to validate the feelings of people like me, as well as to educate and eradicate stigma. Yes, Jim, I am an IOOV NAMI presenter as well. I believe the positive experience of presenting gave me the courage to "come out of the closet" if you will. (Dan thanks so much for your support! I suspect we will be presenting together again soon!) Presenting, blogging for various websites, attending my NAMI Connections support group, and talking to people on NAMI air are all components of my own support network. I encourage everyone to do what they can to take care of themselves and their families first. With whatever time or resources you have left, support NAMI and I in eradicating the stigma. I am humbled when my words resonate, educate and comfort others. Thank you so much. #Stigmafree. Danei Edelen
8/12/2016 1:50:55 PM

Mary
I have been mentally ill for many years. Also in therapy since age 16 and on many psychiatric medications. I have been stigmatized by family, law enforcement, mental health hospitals and generally by society. I have hope in NAMI that people are educated about what these illnesses are ,also that we are Human Beings with thoughts and feelings some like other people, and different but not deranged. I have had interactions-with police, and some of them treated me like an animal, very ignorant about how to deal with me during my episodes of illness. I would like to be a part of this movement and go to a training on NAMI education and presentations. I am tired of hearing from my youngest son that I am delusional about everything, I want to stand-up and be heard. I am an educated, smart, persistent, capable, strong, loving person. This is my Declaration of Independence from accepting being treated as though I am my illness instead of a growing learning, intelligent individual! THANKYOU.
8/9/2016 3:30:34 PM

Michelle
I know someone who spoke in an inpatient ward who later got a job as a peer counselor. She has schizophrenia. Hope you can find a good position too and help people while you work.
8/1/2016 4:14:51 AM

Ginger
Thank you for publishing this! As a person that copes with Mental Illness myself I too struggle with, how do I tell people, or thoughts of: what are they thinking about me? The fear of judgment and blame/shame is sometimes unbearable. I have learned to tell people that they should not judge others because we are hard enough on ourselves. We fight an internal battle everyday, all day, that most people would not be able to tolerate for 10 seconds, I do not need more to work with.
To hear this letter to my co-workers I felt a bit more empowered to be me and not feel that I have to hide from my illness! I loved the comments about how her break did not take anything from her intellect and ability to work alongside her co-workers. Often times people judge based on false beliefs that someone who had a moment of illness (not Weakness!) is unable to perform at the same level again. Education, understanding, and compassion will change the world!
7/29/2016 3:38:21 PM

Barbara Wells
Thank you. I live with depression. It ebbs and flows depending on how involved I am in things around me. But basically I am pretty anti-social, afraid that I will say the wrong thing to hurt someone or appear stupid. My boss has been callous about mental illness, a colleague has had several breakdowns. He knows I take an anti-depressant, so I feel he must include me in his derogatory remarks to his friends.
7/28/2016 11:07:38 PM

Dan Scott
Danei you are such an inspiration. It was an honor to partner with you to present IOOV. Your willingness to stand up and speak out will help us break down the walls of Stigma. Thank you for taking the time to share your story in your blog.
7/28/2016 10:58:11 PM

Nikki W.
I admire your humble approach. I think this made it easier for you. I feel quite the opposite and see working with mental illness as risky. My enivornment has been one of mean spirited ness that is not obvious, and an opportunity for some to create a stressful observational atmosphere for people working with mental disabilities. Making it undesirable and less beneficial for increased morale and incentive to achieve goals and do good work. In short people want to do well, not be a test dummy.
7/28/2016 6:39:38 PM

Holly
Thank you for sharing. My son who is now 20, diognosed @ 15yrs old with a mental illness.
Your story will helped me to better explain his situation in a way I had not looked at before. I'm also going to have him read your story so it will help him to better explain himself and also knowing there's others out in this world like him.
Maybe someday when he's ready he'll speak for NAMI
good luck to you and everyone else with this challenging illness.
7/28/2016 2:59:26 PM

Jim Buchanan
Hi,

It's very brave to come out at work. I did that about 14 years ago. At first it went really well, but as management changed it got bad. I'm glad I came out though, I helped those who accepted my illness to learn about t and I think it did good for the world as a whole, even though in the end it didn't work out for me.

I liked doing this, so I became a NAMI In Our Own Voice presenter about 9 years ago, and have been speaking since. I spoke in an inpatient ward yesterday, I feel it helped some newly diagnosed people who had had their own breaks recently understand that life was not over and that like me and the other speaker (my wife), they could live full lives even with a mental illness.

Are you speaking in the IOOV program or in a different capacity?

Thanks for being brave and combating stigma and discrimination!
7/25/2016 1:21:12 PM