Not Lazy but Sick


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Please allow me to introduce myself — I’m a man of wealth and taste.

But actually, The Rolling Stones aside, I am a middle-aged woman without wealth but I think I have some taste in clothes, food and friends. I’ve been lucky to go to university, work at good jobs with benefits, and to have a supportive family and a circle of close friends.

Overall, for someone looking in from the outside, my life looks pretty decent.

Life continued on.

I have been living with mental illness since I was a teen. At that time it was probably a year before my family doctor finally clued in and gave me my first prescription of antidepressants. I was relieved to know what was wrong with me, and also when the medication did its job.

Life continued on. I saw therapist after therapist, changed medications often and went through cognitive behavioural therapy several times. But depression would always come back.

It led to feelings of utter self-hatred for my inability to just suck it up and stop being such a failure. I changed jobs and moved across continents in hopes of finding happiness. But inevitably, depression would find me.

Forward more years. My bouts of depression became more serious. I missed days of work and lied to cover the real reason. It started with a few days but the episodes began to get longer and the lies harder to believe. Shame and self-hatred built up inside me.

Finally, a few years ago, I experienced a mixed episode of being manic and depressed at the same time and got a new diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Great. Another — and in my mind — more serious mental illness.

Inevitably, depression would find me.

In 2019, I landed my dream job with an organization I had long admired and in a senior position. I was so proud and felt absolutely invincible! Although I was hired on a contract, I was told that I was being groomed to take over the leadership of the organization in the coming years. I essentially moved into the office, bringing all my personal comforts and office supplies with me because I believed this would be my last job — my final workplace where I would be content and capable. 

The year started off well. Then old patterns showed up. Once again I was unable to get out of bed and I began making up illnesses that weren’t real. I tried to fight the depression and manic states. I really did. I wanted to get back to the good feelings I had about working with a fabulous team. I finally admitted to my boss I had bipolar after she threatened to call the police to do a wellness check — I simply hadn’t shown up for work two days in a row.

I was admitted to the hospital for the third time. My first admission was scary as hell, but by the third admission, I was used to the routines and craziness that comes with being in a locked psych ward. Yes, me in a psych ward. How did I get here again? This time I was in the hospital for five weeks and had two weeks of electroconvulsive therapy or ECT.

Yep, ECT. Like the treatment from One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest if you are old enough to know the movie.

Happily, ECT treatment is now more humane. It worked enough to pull me out of a very dark place to where I could see hope on the distant horizon. Recovery began to seem possible.

I wasn’t a horse to bet on. 

Then came bad news. Devastating news. My contract at work wasn’t going to be renewed. I was told it was because I was on a leave with no definite return date and my position was no longer needed because of COVID-19. But I knew the real reason. Within a 12-month contract, I had been out sick with a chronic condition for five weeks. I wasn’t a horse to bet on.  Just as I was clawing my way back, I wasn’t wanted anymore because of a condition I couldn’t control. I felt like I was being kicked, no; absolutely pummeled while I was down. Even though other contract staff hired after me were not let go, a lawyer told me there was really nothing I could do.

I was utterly defeated.

So here I am. A middle-aged woman looking for work and feeling incredibly vulnerable. I need to work to pay the bills but I don’t know if the bipolar will relent long enough for me to do that.

But life goes on.

I will find a job and I will carry on; if for no other reason than to spite the fuckers.

How did this story make you feel?


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Thank you so much for your courage in sharing your story. It’s so powerful to read the words. I’m so frustrated that your organization could not see through the temporary situation to the long term gains of having you leading on. Who better to lead, than one who can demonstrate being able to cope, and come out well at the other end? That’s true leadership. Wishing you the best of luck and optimism as your journey continues.

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An update: I start a new job on Monday. It’s a part-time contract, not the prestigious job I left, but it’s a start. Maybe I will never get back to the high-power, high stress of my dreams and maybe that’s okay. Kindness to oneself has been a hard but important lesson learned.

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