inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #0 of 109: Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 6 Mar 02 17:41
    

 Fawn Fitter is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in dozens of
 publications running the gamut from Marie Claire to Knowledge
 Management. She's also co-host of the WELL's Byline conference for
 freelance writers. WORKING IN THE DARK is her first book. 
 
 Beth Gulas is President of WorkForce Management, a management and
 organizational development consulting firm, and is also a licensed
 mental health counselor. A skilled corporate consultant, Gulas has
 particular interest and ability in anticipating, evaluating and
 managing critical issues such as strategic thinking and managing
 change, cross-functional teams, leadership development, and coaching
 for both small and large organizations. She lives in Wellesley,
 Massachusetts and Los Angeles, California. WORKING IN THE DARK is her
 first book.
 
 WORKING IN THE DARK: KEEPING YOUR JOB WHILE DEALING WITH DEPRESSION is
 the first book to help readers navigate the delicate process of
 protecting and managing their working lives while being treated for an
 illness that affects one in every 20 Americans in any given year. At
 once realistic and encouraging, WORKING IN THE DARK combines
 self-assessment, sensible advice, and step-by-step help in making
 decisions with stories of real people facing sensitive questions like these:
 - Can I be fired for being depressed?
 - What does my employer have the right to know about my mental health?
 - How can I explain poor performance caused by my depression?
 - Is my job literally driving me crazy?
 Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, a longtime mental health advocate,
 has commended WORKING IN THE DARK as "factual, practical, and easy to understand."

 Leading the discussion is Molly Wright Steenson, who has worked with the
 Internet since 1994 as a writer, editor, community host and user
 experience designer. Currently, she leads design and information
 architecture projects in Chicago for a variety of Fortune 1000 companies.
 Her daily blog and personal site, Girlwonder, resides at
 http://www.girlwonder.com. She was the co-founder of Maxi
 (http://www.maximag.com), a pop-culture feminist webzine in operation 
 from 1997-1999.

 Please join me in welcoming Fawn, Beth, and Molly to inkwell.vue!
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #1 of 109: Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Wed 6 Mar 02 22:26
    
I am extremely excited about this interview, not least because it was a
great excuse to get my fine co-author on the WELL! I should note from the
outset that we have a pretty good tag-team interview style going. Sometimes
she'll answer, sometimes I will, sometimes we both will. Hope that doesn't
confuse anyone.
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #2 of 109: Molly Wright Steenson (explode) Thu 7 Mar 02 18:01
    

I'm also very excited about the interview for a variety of reasons. Fawn and
Beth take the deep world of depression and discuss it clearly and
succinctly. Their book fills a need -- it's difficult to find information
about dealing with depression and your career. It's also a topic that's very
close to me -- I'm someone who battles depression on an ongoing basis, and I
know from experience how difficult the whole issue can be to navigate.

Fawn, Beth, what sparked you to write the book, and how did you come to work
together on it?
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #3 of 109: Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Thu 7 Mar 02 19:41
    
The book grew out of my own experience with major depression, which smacked
me down in the winter of 1994-95 and put me pretty much completely out of
commission for 3 months or so. I could barely think, never mind write. I did
eventually pull out of it, by dint of therapy and medication, and as I
started returning to normal, I found myself spending a lot of time online in
newsgroups and on websites dedicated to depression.

Over and over, people were asking the same questions and expressing the same
concerns: could they lose their jobs because of their depression? should
they tell someone at work what they were wrestling with? were they being
discriminated against? what kind of information about their mental health
were their employers entitled to? I sold a VERY short article about those
questions to the Boston Herald, which led to my being hired to put together
a website for Boston University's Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation
about "handling your mental illness at work and at school."

As I was slogging through this website gig, trying to turn reams of
complicated information into something the average person could understand,
it occurred to me that people with depression are in no shape to do the kind
of research I was doing. The information was out there, but it was hard to
find and even harder to make sense of. That's when I decided there was a
book in it. Not being a therapist or career counselor, though, I knew no
publisher would buy the book. So I asked Beth -- whom I'd known
professionally for a couple of years -- if she'd be interested in working on
it with me. She agreed, enthusiastically, and away we went.
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #4 of 109: Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Fri 8 Mar 02 10:36
    
Of course, Beth will have to tell us herself why she said yes! I will say
that we're still speaking to each other.
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #5 of 109: Molly Wright Steenson (explode) Fri 8 Mar 02 10:42
    

Good point on the "people with depression are in no shape to do the kind of
research I was doing" -- it's so debilitating. It's a great resource, and
I'm really glad you've put it together.

I've tended to work as a freelancer quite a bit over the last few years.
During my first debilitating bout with depression, I was freelancing and
really couldn't care less what happened. After getting on Paxil, my nose
dive gently straightened out -- I describe it as "having my lenses cleaned"
or "getting my windows cleaned." It made it so I could at the very least see
clearly.

But back to the freelance thing -- and to this economy. A lot of people seem
to be falling into depression, not surprisingly, because they've been laid
off, they're having problems making ends meet, they're trying to find a job
and discovering it's really difficult. It makes me wonder if more people
than usual are going to be encountering depressive episodes.

The paradox, of course, is that when you're depressed, you feel numb. You
don't feel like doing anything. You don't tend to feel motivated. And then
trying to do something like get up, get out of bed, go outside of yourself
and tell the world, "I'm great! Hire me!" isn't the easiest thing.
Similarly, if you're a freelancer, you're in a constant train of trying to
land the next gig (if you don't have a steady one). It requires the same
thing -- going outside of yourself and fending for yourself in an
unstructured situation.

What do you suggest for people finding themselves in these situations today?
Have you and Beth found mechanisms that help get people moving again when
they've had the wind knocked out of them?
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #6 of 109: Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Fri 8 Mar 02 11:48
    
Obviously, we had no way of knowing when we started writing the book that
the economy would tank right around the time we finished writing it! And
you're right: unemployment is inherently depressing.

We didn't specifically address what people can do if they're depressed
because they're out of work. The book assumes that readers are already
employed and are trying to keep from losing their jobs because of their
depression. That being said, chapters 2 and 3  deal with what
depression looks like in the workplace, how to cope with it, and how to
determine whether work itself is contributing to the problem -- and a lot of
that information certainly applies to people who are out of work at the
moment. I think I would probably sum it up as, "Get the help you need to get
out from under the depression, and then make sure you do something --
however small -- every day to get back on the horse." The big danger with
depression is allowing the overwhelming hopelessness and apathy to drag you
down. People who have been depressed know exactly what I mean. It's
imperative to do anything you can to fight that temptation to give in and do
nothing.
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #7 of 109: Eleanor Parker (wellelp) Fri 8 Mar 02 13:49
    
Fawn and Beth, congratulations on an outstanding book.  I really,
really enjoyed reading it.  One aspect of the book I found very
beneficial were the individual stories you included.  Where did you
find all the stories?  How did you select any given story to be
included?  Are you planning on compiling annecdotes from readers>
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #8 of 109: Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Fri 8 Mar 02 13:56
    

Since we had an extremely detailed outline, we chose anecdotes that
illustrated and supported the other content. Most of the really good
ones come directly from Beth's experience with various clients! We also
asked everyone we knew, and a lot of people we didn't. We sent out
e-mail. We had a form on the website that people could fill out if they
wanted to be interviewed about various things. We basically beat the
bushes to come up with people who were willing to discuss their own
experiences. There are even a few WELL folk in there, if you can find
them, although we deliberately fuzzed details to protect our
interviewees.

Compiling anecdotes from readers? Hmmmm! Hadn't thought of it,
but...what an interesting idea.
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #9 of 109: pooning tang; tanging the poon (viv) Fri 8 Mar 02 16:21
    


Hi Fawn and Beth.  Please post the website address is it's still up. {maybe
I missed it in previous posts?]

In the lowest part of my depression I don't think I could have read a book
that was going to help me.  I sure hope other sufferers have some glimmer of
sense I couldn't find in myself.  One of my more knotty (and I'm sure nowhere 
near unique) self-defeatisms was notouting my diagnosis to the enenemy-boss 
although that would have helped to get me into a minimal amount of 
workaday shape a little easier.  So, I signed the document admitting to
nodding off in the chair and not giving a fuck, reveling in my demented 
victory over HR.
It was easier for me to let them know me as untrustworty and undependable 
rather than as debilitated by too-long ignored clinical depression.

I still struggle and thrash with the judgement thing and I wonder if that's 
uniquely United Station.
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #10 of 109: Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Fri 8 Mar 02 17:50
    
The website is right here:

http://www.workinginthedark.com
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #11 of 109: Eleanor Parker (wellelp) Sat 9 Mar 02 02:23
    
Did you have any fascinating stories you weren't able to use?  If so,
can share with us (of course changing names and details to protect
identity)?
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #12 of 109: Molly Wright Steenson (explode) Sat 9 Mar 02 06:33
    

The judgment thing is scary. The first time I went through a major
depression, I waited a while to let my boss know (I was freelance) until I
had things under control. This last time, in the fall, my company was going
to shut down, but I was hellbent on NOT screwing up my job (which involved a
website launch for a major corporation and writing an article for a
magazine). So everything else went down the tubes (lost 13 pounds, stopped
sleeping) but I got the site launched and completed the article on schedule.
It was almost like I wanted to prove that I was sane -- if I could complete
those two gargantuan tasks, I was okay. Then, I really crashed, went on
Wellbutrin, evened out, and am doing much better now.

Viv, you bring up an interesting point -- there aren't always easy ways to
get help or even to know that you need it. Fawn, Beth, beyond Employee
Assistance Programs, how have you seen people get help within work? And
another question: what do you do when you notice someone at work is
depressed, and might do well with help?
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #13 of 109: Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Sat 9 Mar 02 11:09
    
If we didn't use a story, it's probably because it was insufficiently
fascinating!

As for whether or not it was a mistake not to tell your boss: that's a
decision for which there's no one-size-fits-all answer. In some situations,
it's the right thing to do. In others, it's the worst possible thing to do.
We've offered some suggestions on how to determine whether it's a good idea
for readers, but it's impossible to come up with a blanket solution.

Waiting until you're about to be fired before mentioning your depression is
probably a bad idea, though. It comes across less as an attempt to work with
your employer to accommodate your illness and more as a last-ditch desperate
ploy to save your job.

(P.S. Beth has been traveling on business the last 2 days and should be
along shortly.)
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #14 of 109: Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Sat 9 Mar 02 11:20
    
I want to leave the question of other ways to get help at work to Beth,
since that's something she's more qualified to handle.

Knowing how to be helpful to a co-worker -- now that's a tough one. Some
people would be grateful that someone noticed them struggling and tossed out
a lifeline, even something as small as, "Hey, you seem to be having a rough
time lately, how can I help?" Other people would be thoroughly insulted. I
suppose you could leave a copy of Working in the Dark on their desk! Okay,
I'm kidding. A little. I think it depends on how close you are to the co-
worker and how comfortable you feel about suggesting they need help.
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #15 of 109: Beth Gulas (bethgulas) Sat 9 Mar 02 12:07
    
Hi Everyone....I'm back.  I'd to respond to Viv's comment about not
being able to read a book while in the depths of her depression.  This
book is not only meant for the employee who is suffering, but will also
be a tremendous resource to those who are trying to help or work with
someone who is depressed.  Very often, co-workers, friends, and family
are at a total loss as to what to do or who to talk with.  Our book
serves this purpose quite well.  I've had many comments from folks
saying they're going to read it because their friend, spouse, whatever,
isn't quite up to it right now.  

In reference to Molly's question regarding what is there beyond the
Employee Assistance Program (EAP)...there are quite a few avenues to go
down.  First of all, many companies don't even have EAP's.  An
individual can go to Human Resources (if they have a "trusted"
reputation in the company), choose to speak with a confidante at work
or outside of work, speak to their manager (again, if a trusted and
"safe" person), or some other manager who they feel will be able to
listen and direct them appropriately.  Of course, I would always
recommend that an individual seeks an outside intervention (therapy,
medication if indicated) either as a stand alone option or in
conjuntion with what is available to them inside the company.  

To respond to the question of being laid off and as Fawn said, we
didn't factor that into our writing. However, having been a Director of
an Outplacement company many years ago, I can say that people ought to
seek out assistance with career planning & strategy as a way to
jumpstart their search as well as their mental state.  The other thing
I would suggest is for folks to seek out others (that's
right...network) who have been through this in the past (and/or
currently going through it) and just talk.  Ideas fly, your energy may
get ignited, and, if nothing else, you know you're not alone and can at
least get/give support.  There is some solace in that.  

Why did I want to write this book?  First, let me say that not only
are Fawn & I still talking....we are still laughing and enjoying each
other and our relationship immensely.  This has been, for me, an
entirely wonderful experience.  Fawn approached me with the idea and I
seriously needed to consider the topic, the time factor, and my desire.
 Throughout the many years of working with corporations (all sizes,
industries, for profit and nonprofit)it was a glaring topic.  So many
of the employees were depressed inside these companies.  It was
literally at epidemic levels. The need was most definitely there. I
thought the timing of this was right and that I could, indeed,
contribute enormously with the insights of the "insides"!  So, Fawn and
I launched ourselves and we haven't looked back.  I feel I have made a
lifelong friend through this process....so I'm already rewarded.  

Hope I covered most of the questions so far...
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #16 of 109: Anyone here a real writer? (lisa) Sat 9 Mar 02 12:31
    
Fawn and Beth, congratulations on a useful, readable and well-timed book! 
I hope it sells a million copies and helps a lot of people.

This is a topic that so many bosses and workers are just not comfortable 
addressing. It should be Just Another Fact of Life -- people get 
depressed, and it affects their productivity, just as heart trouble might. 
But it isn't.

In fact, I have advised people to stop talking about their personal lives
at work. With layoffs happening far and wide, it is just too easy for
employers to use them as a way to cull the "deadwood" -- the guy who's
going through a divorce, the woman whose kid with asthma has forced her to
miss work, the fellow undergoing those inconvenient radiation treatments.

Every time I hear of another case of "the universe piling on" -- so-and-so 
had a death in her family, and then her husband left, and then she got 
laid off -- I suspect the layoff was less than coincidental.

Any thoughts? Am I being too cynical?
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #17 of 109: Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Sat 9 Mar 02 12:41
    
No, I don't think you're being cynical. There's still a huge stigma
about depression -- that people who are depressed are lazy,
incompetent, or just plain crazy. People do lose their jobs as a result
of that stigma. But you know, depression is an illness just as heart
disease is. In fact, it's second (right after heart disease) on the
list of disabling illnesses that keep people out of work. And it's
illegal in the US to lay people off out of prejudice. 



I want to take a second to riff off something Beth just said about
depression in the workplace being at epidemic levels. Let me shoot a
few statistics at you:

+ In the United States alone, 1 person in 20 will have an episode of
depression in any given year, and 1 in 5 will be depressed at some
point in their lives. 

+ Most people affected by depression are adults -- in other words,
people who are likely to be in the workforce.

+ Depression sucks roughly $60 BILLION a year out of the American
economy alone in the form of treatment, absenteeism, and decreased
productivity. 

+ An international survey that came out 2 years ago indicated that
depression and anxiety affect 1 in 5 office workers in the US and
Europe. The survey put the blame pointedly on common trends in the
modern workplace.

Add those up, and in my opinion you get both a public health emergency
and a genuine international economic crisis. On the surface, this book
is about what individuals can do to safeguard their ability to support
themselves in the face of this pervasive illness. But on a deeper
level, I hope it starts getting people to ask themselves: What the hell
is going on? Why is work literally making us crazy? And what can we do
about it?
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #18 of 109: Beth Gulas (bethgulas) Sat 9 Mar 02 14:48
    
I'll chime in here as well regarding not being too cynical. In fact,
one needs to be quite careful who you tell what to!  I often advise
people to trust people mostly outside of the workplace.  I don't mean
you absolutely cannot trust anyone on the inside, but do so with some
reservation.  A great motto to live by inside a company (and there are
many other applications for this) is:  Always be wholly trustworthy,
but never wholly trusting.  Hope that helps.
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #19 of 109: Eleanor Parker (wellelp) Sat 9 Mar 02 15:29
    
Your book is directed at individuals.  Is there any sign thatemployers
are trying to address the workplace factors that actively contribute
to their employees' depression?
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #20 of 109: Beth Gulas (bethgulas) Sat 9 Mar 02 15:36
    
I believe that this is more on a case by case basis.  Some companies
are quite cognizant of the issue and are trying to create environments
that are healthier and safer for employees from physical and emotional
standpoints as well as to ultimately have successful business
practices.  Some companies don't, and perhaps never will, be concerned
about the overall "health" of their employee population.  I believe,
however, if more and more attention is paid not only to the problem but
the COST to employers of this problem (in time and money), there will
be some recognizable change in how business is being done.  Time will
tell.  
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #21 of 109: Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Sat 9 Mar 02 15:56
    
The book is directed at individuals -- and specifically employees --
but for the reasons Beth just mentioned, we'd like to see a copy of it
on the desk of every manager and HR person everywhere.

(And on a related note... The book reached warehouses last week and
I'm told it should be shipping to bookstores even as I type. Would the
first person who actually gets a copy, whether directly from Hazelden,
from Amazon, or at your local bookseller, kindly let me know? Thanks.)
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #22 of 109: bitch slapped by the universe (sd) Sun 10 Mar 02 02:44
    
how can a person tell if their depression is severe enough to be considered
a disabilty?
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #23 of 109: Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Sun 10 Mar 02 11:30
    
Oh, good good question! And one which we answer in detail in chapter 4
of Working in the Dark. I'll give you a quick summary, though:

The Americans with Disabilities Act is is extremely specific about the
definition of "disability." You must be able to prove that one of
these three categories applies:

1. Your depression substantially limits your ability to perform major
life activities. 

OR

2. Your depression has been substantially limiting in the past, even
if it isn't right now.

OR

3. Other people perceive you as being substantially limited by your
depression, even though you actually aren't. (This definition is
especially important! Let's face it, even if your depression isn't
affecting your performance much or at all, you may still find yourself
facing other people's misguided notions about your ability to work.)

The book explains all these terms -- for example, what a major life
activity is and what "substantial limitation" means -- and goes into
detail about what people need to do to invoke the ADA's protection and
their rights and responsibilities if the law applies to them. 
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #24 of 109: Molly Wright Steenson (explode) Sun 10 Mar 02 11:45
    
Great questions bouncing around here, and a ton of good information. 

Fawn & Beth, how do you educate a company about depression? Have you
encountered ways where people are able to change the culture around
depression within their companies? 
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #25 of 109: Beth Gulas (bethgulas) Sun 10 Mar 02 15:43
    
It is my experience so far, that companies have not yet focused on
changing/shifting culture purely because of depression (although I
firmly believe it is compelling enough of a reason on its own).  Thus
far, companies will commit to a culture change due to a
merger/acquisition, new management (new vision/mission), change in
marketplace demands/economy, etc.  But, I personally have not yet seen
a company come out and state that they are doing this because of
depression.  If you think about it, it could be misunderstood publicly
and the consequences could be enormous as well (hiring/retention issues
could arise, customers could look elsewhere for similar products,
etc).  I think it's a double-edged sword, but one that will take some
time for global acceptance of the problem.  And how do we do that, you
ask?  By educating people and companies with books like ours!  It's
certainly a good start.  
  

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