I was diagnosed with major recurrent depressive disorder when I was in my early 20s. But I’d had it since I was a kid. Looking back on it and knowing now what I know about inter generational trauma and the altering of parental brain chemistry during war which changes the DNA , probably means I was born with it.

I was diagnosed with ADD in my early 30s but had it all through school.

I was diagnosed with an eating disorder when I was 35. It started around age 10 or 11.

I was officially diagnosed with PTSD and Anxiety at age 39.

Growing up, I was taught to hide my therapy and to stifle what made me different from other people. In high school I began dabbling with active non conformity and attempting to assert my true personality which came out in creative writing classes and musical taste. I always had a healthy questioning of authority and the ability to challenge what didn’t feel right to me even if an adult insisted I do it and everyone else was doing it. “Everyone else had never been a motivating reason for me.

When I got to the working world and had skin in the game to pay rent and bills, I immediate stuffed that girl in a bag and shoved her into the back of the closet. I realized very quickly that people who say what they mean are ostracized and punished. They get nicknames and whispers. They never advance like the “yes” people do. When it came to financial independence, I became a trailblazing coward.

I had a mental illness. I knew I was lucky to get myself out of bed, into a shower and to work most days. I overdelivered by being extremely reliable and never calling out sick from work, even when I was hungover or didn’t sleep the night before. I once stopped at a gas station, stuck my fingers down my throat to get the booze out, ate half a tin of altoids and washed stripper debris from my skin and clothes and went to work at 6 am having only stopped at Denny’s at 3 am after the strip club. No one knew. I can keep some pretty deep secrets when I need to.

When I started working, you NEVER disclosed mental illness. To this day, job application or disclosure form has “no” marked for the disability question. For the first 10 or 15 years of my career, I didn’t know mental illness was a disability so I thought I was being honest. But I have filled out many a job application over the past 10 years intentionally marking that box as no figuring I had no chance of being hired if I said yes. So, on paper, I am not considered a “diverse” candidate during a time in which companies want to change the stigma and actively hire people with differences to prove their open mindedness and innovation.

While I have been publicly open about my mental health struggles for the past few years, I still have not truly disclosed at work other than a handful of people during 1:1 conversations. It’s not that I am ashamed of it now. It’s that I don’t want to be accused of sharing it for attention or as a way to make excuses for unusual or undesirable behavior. I don’t want to “steal the spotlight” from more important needs such as racial equity. I’d rather just be completely misunderstood , ridiculed and characterized as a crazy woman than to be thought of as a victim, a one upper, a scene stealer or someone who doesn’t want to take accountability for her actions. The things I am typically accused of are actually so far from who I am it’s almost comical to think how little anyone really knows of me and then that fact just gets kind of sad.

I have no problem defending others and helping others but I do not reserve those things for myself. I am no role model or hero. When I was sexually assaulted at age 21, I was perfectly good with telling no one for the rest of my life and trying to forget it ever happened. I valued my safety, my privacy and personal comfort over any other factors. But, he struck again a few months later to a woman I had just recently met and have become lifelong friends with. You see, my silence resulted in the torture of another person and I will go to my grave regretting that… that my inaction caused another pain. And what’s worse, I knew just how bad that pain was because I was marinating in it myself.

Once I found out about another victim, I did press charges. I couldn’t continue to let it happen without a fight. That’s how much I care for others above myself.

At times, the legal process can be more humiliating than the assault. Having to relive it, tell your story primarily to men repeatedly and to be constantly second guessed when you are still just trying to find your footing and some way forward without wanting die is a special kind of hell you can never understand if it hasn’t directly happened to you.

When in court, it came out that I was seeing a psychiatrist. Unfortunately, I didn’t have an official diagnosis at that time, just a bunch of appointment recaps from the doctor I had just started seeing. Not sure if an official diagnosis would have given me more or less credibility. I like to think it would have but this was 25 years ago when we still weren’t really supposed to talk about our therapy and any kind of diagnosis meant you were “crazy.” It was awful being slandered and mischaracterized as “nuts” because there was actual evidence I was being treated for mental problems. Therefore, I had to be making this story up for attention and could not be credible. Despite that, I won. Even though the evolution on mental illness has moved like molasses, I think there were enough jury members who just felt that was mean to do to a 21 year old in front of her father. But the embarrassment of being talked about like a crazy person was very damaging and shameful. In retrospect, going to therapy actually made me more self aware, clearer, more resolute than everyone around me. I just wasn’t as sure of that at the time as I am now.

That experience taught one thing for sure…absolutely never disclose the mental issues at work. Let people fill in their own blanks in their need to create a narrative of me. Get made fun of, get gossiped about, get cheated on, get left out…all of it perfectly more acceptable than just explaining there is a valid, medical reason for some of the things I think and do. No pity, no excuses. Let people think what they want. They will never truly know enough about you to be right in their negative assessment. Let that be good enough.

Fast forward a couple decades and millennials and Gen Z use the word anxiety as often as they check Instagram. It means everything from “ I chipped a nail to I am going to slit my wrists.” This is actually not criticism. While I think many of them overstate their issues and self diagnose a problem a doctor has ynever diagnosed just because the read some symptoms in college psych ( by the way, we all did that and for about an afternoon would consider ourselves bipolar or BPD and then realize if we truly had those things, we would have known it before psych class so we move on.). These newer generations love WebMD is all I’m saying. The fact is, whatever they are sharing is still sharing and it’s done without shame, self consciousness or embarrassment. I find that courageous and a behavior I want to learn. My militant “suck it up” approach isn’t actually the right one. I was protecting myself but I wasn’t creating a safe space to encourage others to come forward and share their mental health challenges.

Hadn’t I learned that self preservation is short sited and only protects me but can negatively impact people in the future I haven’t even met yet? Apparently not. I’m 18 years into my company not talking about my disability. Instead, I have suffered terrible years of gossip, slander, false narratives, unfair branding, lack of promotional opportunities and downright discrimination. All of which are my fault. I allowed myself to be judged incorrectly and it doesn’t suit who I am now at all. I am confident, self assured and incredibly proud of all my mental illnesses and the skills I have had to develop to work around them. I know no employee more adaptive or resilient as me. I don’t need coaching. I am already coaching myself the minute words start coming out of my mouth. I can’t tell you how many times Ive emailed bullet point “lessons I learned from that” to my boss when she doesn’t even think I did anything wrong. If you figure me out and what motivates me, I am the easiest person on earth to Manage.

The problem I discovered today is that what if I do stop hiding this stuff? When I do something “off” or behave abruptly, what’s the harm in apologizing, explain it’s not personal and they simply just witnessed a trigger of your disease? You’ll find your allies and identify your blockers, both of whom you need to be aware of. Plus, other people relate and feel more comfortable talking about their experiences which ultimately helps them and that’s who I am.

The issue is, I’ve worked With these people a very long time. Their narrative of me is from 2010 or embedded in an old gossip story…no interpretation of which could be accurate but was put forth and poisoned the well with great effort.

Someone said about mental health disability today that when someone shares their illness with you, “acknowledge it and then look past it for their portfolio of actual abilities.” You aren’t supposed to assume them unreliable, apathetic or sad all the time and then write them off at work. This made so much sense to me because all the things I thought to be diseased imperfections in myself have now created super powers I wouldn’t have ever had. I hate my “episodes” and need my tribe to be paying close attention to my patterns of speech and writing to know to reach out and help me take the needle of the record for a second so I can get help. But I don’t regret who I have become and what my capabilities are in spite of my obstacles. I have gone from hiding my illnesses and deep shame to a point where I can hold myself in higher esteem than some of my peers because I know I am made of more than they are. The wind can’t blow my tree down anymore. I just don’t understand how to change the way coworkers see me. Will I always be “bad” or can we write a new chapter and see what I can actually do? How on earth do I figure out how to do this? I’m not afraid to disclose now. I’m just afraid it will simply be one more thing used to conveniently misunderstand me.