A Letter to My Colleagues about My Mental Illness
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.