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Mental illness is something that’s not “supposed to” happen, and certainly not to someone who works in the mental health care field, right? Wrong.
I was 27 years old when major depressive disorder entered my life.
At that point, I’d been working as a mental health nurse on an inpatient psychiatry ward for just over two years. I was able to recognize that what I was experiencing were symptoms of depression, but I thought that because of my profession, I should be able to handle it on my own. So I told no one.
After my first suicide attempt, I lied through my teeth to the psychiatrist to avoid a diagnosis of depression and inpatient psychiatry stay.
Two months and another suicide attempt later, there was no faking it, and I ended up spending two months in hospital.
Conditions were placed on my nursing license because of my hospitalization, and because of this, I didn’t feel safe being open and honest with my community treatment. Instead, I omitted and I lied, staying mum about anything that was actually important.
It was only after the conditions were lifted that I disclosed to the treatment team that I hadn’t been taking my medications for almost a year.
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The pressure to be silent was also imposed at work and ended up being a pattern that would continue for years.
Although it might seem like there should be less stigma in the field of psychiatry, there is a firm divide between being a patient and being a professional; crossover is not looked upon favourably.
After my first hospitalization for depression, my nurse manager delayed my return to work as long as she could.
I, as a person with a mental illness, was not welcome there, and in particular, my voice was not welcome there.
She tried very hard to break me, but I held my ground. I chose to be open with my colleagues about my illness, thinking that fact was better than a rumour. Their positive response was a stark contrast to the icy chill from my manager.
Fast forward a few years to another work site and another hospitalization. This manager fought my return to work even harder, but when I tried to find out why, I was met with total silence.
Once I did eventually return to work, I was no longer treated as a competent responsible employee, and although nothing was voiced, the marginalization was very clear.
I applied for another job. The mental health care community is a small one, and behind the scenes whispers about me being “crazy” and unreliable meant more silent treatment for me.
I wasn’t hired, despite being well qualified and there being no other applicants. I was given only the flimsiest of excuses when I asked for answers. I filed a grievance and won it, which got me the job but also a lot more silence.
It was as though I was invisible.
Being mentally ill was bad enough, but then to raise my voice with a grievance was completely unacceptable.
Since then, I’ve also been through more overt workplace bullying, with person after person refusing to hear or even acknowledge my voice. I then moved to another job where I was repeatedly chastised for raising my voice in support of what I believed was best for the clients with mental illness whom I was caring for.
All of this has taken its toll; my depression has become treatment resistant, and wellness doesn’t seem like it will be within reach anytime soon.
What I have gained, though, is the freedom to use my voice.
I first started writing about my illness while I was in graduate school doing a Master of Psychiatric Nursing degree. My thesis committee was firmly behind me in my desire to focus my thesis work on the intersection between being a nurse and having a mental illness. That support was extremely important in freeing me to be loud and unashamed.
I started blogging a year and a half ago, and it ‘s been profoundly empowering to be able to get in touch with my own true voice and use it in a way that can help not only me but also my readers.
I’ve channelled the pain of repeatedly being silenced into something that’s both meaningful and powerful.
I have a mental illness, and I’m passionate about speaking up about it.
No more keeping quiet for me; I’m free from silence.
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The opinions and information shared in this article may not represent that of Libero Network Society. We hold no liability for any harm that may incur from reading content on our site. Please always consult your own medical professionals before making any changes to your medication, activities, or recovery process.