Guest Blogger Entry on Disclosure on the Job

Laurel House a nonprofit operates the Resources to Recover website to give peers information that can help us recover.

On October 6th I had my second Guest Blogger entry published there. I wrote about disclosure on the job in more detail.

This is going to be the last reference to disclosure for a while.

Coming up I will talk about Diversity Equity and Inclusion resources that can benefit peers with mental illnesses who want to find and retain a job and succeed at a job that gives them joy and a livable wage or salary.

Read here: Disclosure on the Job: 3 Persistent Drawbacks – 3 Surprising Benefits.

Advancing Trauma-Informed Career Counseling

In my job helping customers create resumes and conduct job searches I often find myself acting as a therapist. The library patrons have unique life stories they bring to the table. Their experiences impact their employment needs and choices.

Peers with mental illnesses as well as other clients have often experienced trauma in their lives. The job a person has should aid in healing not make us ill.

Especially when we are individuals who have historically have been treated in a subpar way. By the very mental health staff tasked with helping us. If you didn’t think we could recover were you happy to spin your wheels helping us knowing that what you did wouldn’t enable us to recover. Then why did you become shrinks and social workers to begin with?

I’m going to talk in here about the reality of having a mental illness. Not a fan of total honesty this is why I cannot advance a “let-it-all-hang-out” on your lips mentality on the job. Though I write about my experiences I choose carefully what I disclose and when and where.

So–here goes–this could’ve happened to me. Or you. It happens to everyone regardless of our race, creed, gender, socioeconomics, illness or whatever demographic we fit in.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Abuse is not confined to a house or apartment. Our jobs are our living quarters for 8 hours a day. A victim of abuse or trauma could be wary of a coworker taking advantage of them.

Having a mental illness–especially in the early stages of our recovery–can be a trauma. This shouldn’t prevent us from trying to get a job. The last thing we want is to experience a new trauma in the workplace.

Our jobs should not make us ill. Our coworkers and supervisors should not gaslight us. Issues of power and control exist in the workplace. Which is why I say tread carefully with what you tell others.

To begin with individuals with mental illnesses are at a greater risk of being victims of crimes than of committing a crime.

In fact other people with mental health issues are often our abusers. Trust–this has happened.

It’s no easy task finding a company to work for where our coworkers are healing allies not self-interested adversaries.

Pain and trauma are part of everyone’s life. “Everybody Hurts” to quote the 1990s REM song title.

How to transform our pain into creative energy? How to get a job where working there can be an act of healing from illness?

I’m keen to give readers specific strategies for finding these needle-in-a-haystack positions.

The next blog entry here will be a hyperlink to a guest blogger entry that I had published at the Resources to Recover website on October 6. That entry will be my parting shot in focusing on disclosure on the job. After this I will start to talk about DEI initiatives–how Diversity Equity and Inclusion measures can help peers with mental illnesses on the job too.

Acting Vulnerable on the Job

No other expert has talked about risking becoming vulnerable at our jobs. There’s scant research into and advocating for bringing “All of You” into the workplace.

What’s written does point to the economic advantage companies have when employees are treated right and feel like we belong. Hello–where is that business and how can we apply?

My goal is to help peers with mental illnesses find jobs with employers who recognize, accept, value, and celebrate the differentness of every human being.

We should not shy away from using the word differentness. It has nothing to do with not being normal. Not that being normal is such a great prize to begin with.

Our differentness is a competitive advantage.

We are not robots. We are not machines. Though we will break down under the unrealistic pressure to be someone we’re not.

I’m thinking long and hard about the solution to this dilemma. How it hasn’t been okay to cry at the office. Or show other emotion. It’s said that in the workplace forced positivity has been expected.

In the coming blog entry I will talk about how trauma can influence what we do and say at our jobs.

Should we make ourselves vulnerable with coworkers?

On Not Revealing Everything

In my just-published book Working Assets: A Career Guide for Peers I wrote what I did from the perspective of an individual who has been employed at jobs for over 30 years.

Quite frankly coworkers don’t always want to hear about everything that’s going on in your life. A simple confession like: “I forgot to use deodorant this morning. I must get some at the drugstore now” doesn’t need to be brought to life.

IWDs–Individuals With Disabilities–aren’t given a free pass to have anything less than an acceptable demeanor on the job and elsewhere.

The remedy should be to flaunt our identity.

Yet I’m realistic that as persons who have been shut out of employment we have to work twice as hard to get half as far once we’re on the job.

Grateful to be given the job we’re often loyal and dedicated employees who outperform coworkers who don’t have disabilities.

This should give us a halo around our job performance that enables coworkers to view us favorably.

Not so fast. Seeking justice on one job I was denied a promotion.

Being a hard worker doesn’t guarantee you’ll get a stellar performance review and top-notch pay raise either. Something I will talk about in a future blog entry.

The playing field isn’t level. Which is why though on one job I could talk with coworkers about everything I chose not to.

In the coming blog entry I’ll talk about one surprise suggestion I offered in The World of Work chapter in Working Assets.

Bringing Your Identity to the Workplace

I help people create resumes. My BIPOC clients are getting jobs in the fields they went to school for. The tide is turning. It’s the time when real progress is happening.

Telling someone to refer to their race in a cover letter was a risky thing I did. It’s not that I would recommend this for everyone. The person got a job in their field.

In terms of an invisible disability would I be so quick to tell a job hunter to lead right off with this part of their identity in a cover letter?

My real-life work experience informed the perspective with which I wrote Working Assets: A Career Guide for Peers.

Every interaction we have with another person involves selling ourselves. In a cover letter and in a resume and on a job interview and on the job this is no different.

How can we turn whatever challenges we have into “working assets” that help us interact with our coworkers and get our jobs done effectively?

This starts with changing our perception. We can “be the change” we want to see in the workplace.

Daisy Auger-Dominguez published the book Inclusion Revolution. She has had a long career as a DEI officer at different companies. In her book she wrote about how a Latina coworker approached her after a meeting. To say that she was proud because Auger-Dominguez wore a white dress that reflected their Latina heritage.

We should not be afraid to bring our identity into the workplace. How can we do this if having a mental illness is part of our life experience?

There are pros and cons to disclosure that I often touch on. I will publish a guest blog entry on disclosure on the Resources to Recover mental health website expected to post on October 6.

The difference is that I think finding the job that is the right fit comes down to researching the companies that have a track record of putting people before profits.

Though not all public libraries are great places to work I do recommend working in one of the better public library systems for those of us who would not thrive in an office setting.

This comes down to researching your target job environment which I talk about in Working Assets. I’ll detail this further in a coming blog entry.

At one of my jobs coworkers left no topic off the table when gathering to talk about our lives. Finding this kind of atmosphere is possible if you do your due diligence when searching for a job.

Sometimes finding this perfect-for-you job is a “happy accident.”

I know from firsthand experience that I couldn’t thrive in a corporate office job. My friend Robin who had schizophrenia rose up to be the CEO of a company. He disclosed only once, and it backfired on him. He was denied a promotion.

What you reveal and what you conceal on the job I’ll talk in more detail about in the next blog entry.

I say: wear that white dress and hoop earrings if you want.

Disclosing Without Realizing You Have

I’ve published Working Assets: A Career Guide for Peers. My target market is individuals living with mental health issues who have the desire and ability to work at a job.

Those of us with bipolar or schizophrenia or other illnesses have unique needs. In my new book I devote a whole chapter to Managing Your Mental Health on the Job.

The fact is that those of us with emotional issues who are employed often “disclose” without being aware that we’ve done this.

The host of a podcast (a woman living with schizophrenia) revealed that she can appear “spaced out” and this can make others think she’s on street drugs.

The woman jokes to the person she’s with that most likely they’d like her “to share” (the drugs) yet she is straight not high.

The fact is an impression is formed of a person within 7 seconds (yes!).

It’s a dual-edged reality: we want coworkers to have empathy for us when we appear “a little off” on the job. But will saying you have schizophrenia thus momentarily draw a blank elicit a favorable response from a coworker?

My guess is that we’re still not “there” yet in society. As a high numbers of peers with mental illnesses are unemployed to begin with.

How can we get “there” to where talking about our experiences helps us perform better on the job?

In my view disclosing on the job can make it harder to do our jobs when we then need to spend time navigating the after-effect of how coworkers responded.

The bottom line is: employers are concerned with their bottom line and how doing our jobs helps them earn money or whatever they’re in business to do.

How can we start to have an easier time at work while also fulfilling the duty we have to satisfy our company’s mission? Will being open and honest make it easier for us to do our jobs?

In coming blog entries I will talk about this in more detail. I take guidance from the 2022 DEI business books I’m checking out of the library and reading.

Working at a Professional Job

In the 1990s I worked in corporate and legal offices. That’s why I don’t think a person should feel like their goal should be to get an office job. How can a person thrive in a 5′ x 7′ beige box with no color light and sound?

In July 2000 I fled my last office job to work in a public library. This new job was in a “pink ghetto” with low pay (even with a Master’s degree). I had the ability to wear hot pink Converse on the job. And no one raised an eyebrow.

Like I’ve said before the corporate world isn’t often appreciative of workers that think outside the narrow boxes we’re supposed to fit in

What if employees with disabilities like mental illness were routinely hired, sponsored (not just mentored), promoted, and so on. The GDP would skyrocket.

I was denied a promotion because I spoke out against harassment on one of my jobs. Management turned a blind eye to what was going on. Fearing I would be retaliated against I didn’t go to HR. That was a big mistake. The first route should’ve been to go to HR.

My disability was a matter of record at that job among people who found out. Was there a connection between this and the fact that I wasn’t promoted?

For those of us with mental health issues that work in a professional office job I still don’t think random full-on disclosure of your medical condition is the way to go on the job. This was my approach that I talked about in Working Assets: A Career Guide for Peers.

In a coming blog entry for Resources to Recover website I’m going to offer three cons and three pros of disclosure.

In the next blog entry here I will talk about different types of “disclosure” on the job.

Disclosure Revisited

In my book Working Assets: A Career Guide for Peers I give clear-cut pros and cons of disclosing on the job.

In a podcast I viewed today titled Inside Schizophrenia the person talking said you most likely would not disclose to your coworkers on your first day on the job. Nor would you have to disclose at all given how the workplace is.

In the Inside Schizophrenia podcast the woman who was hosting the topic on dating with a mental illness told listeners point-blank that your personal style can elevate what people think of you.

I’ve been attacked for focusing on fashion and how dressing in style helped me recover in my memoir Left of the Dial.

The Inside Schizophrenia host was clear that how you dress can impress others. It can also help you feel great when you dress in stylish outfits.

For her she couldn’t wear prints or patterns because they set her off.

Fashion and style have long been ridiculed when women talk about these topics.

I urge you to reconsider using how you style yourself in clothes to help you come across as poised and professional on a job.

In the coming blog entries I’m going to talk more about disclosure and creating outfits to help you perform better on the job.

I will also talk in detail about something I wrote in one chapter in Working Assets about what to wear to work.

In my life I was the victim of an accidental disclosure on one of my jobs. Coworkers congratulated me when they found out I won a Volunteer of the Year award for my Mental Health Advocate work.

Not only that they discovered exactly why I won the award. This wasn’t my intent.

I still don’t think random disclosure to everyone everywhere is the way to go. And I stand by my assertion that the clothes I’ve worn have enabled me to get where I am today.

Coming up: What to wear on the job when you want to make a positive impression. And exactly how this can help you when you’re having a hard time on the job.

Covering Versus Being Candid

The concept of “covering” is one I will examine in detail in my second career book I’d like to publish within two years.

The question is whether someone with an “invisible” disability should be okay hiding in plain sight.

In Working Assets I examine the emotional cost of “living in a closet”–whatever it is you’re closeted in.

My story is out there in my memoir Left of the Dial, in my blogs, and on my author website.

I find it’s less of an issue to have people find out on their own. Rather than telling them outright.

My diagnosis in fact is an open secret. And I’m OK with this because “what you can’t see you can’t be.” My aim is to give others hope for healing.

All along since 2002 when I started my Advocate career I’ve believed that recovery is possible. In the face of being told that no one can recover at all.

What do you think? Have you disclosed and where and when and to whom?