inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #26 of 109: Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Sun 10 Mar 02 16:23
    
I don't know that you'll ever see a company making changes in its corporate
culture solely to combat depression in the workforce. On the other hand,
American corporate culture as a whole does seem to be changing -- at a
glacial pace, yes, but changing nonetheless -- toward recognizing that
employees aren't just interchangeable cogs whose personal lives stop at the
moment the work day begins. Twenty years ago, who would have predicted
academic research centers and consulting firms focusing on work/family
issues? So I do believe -- or at least I hope -- that the average workplace
will become increasingly more humane.
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #27 of 109: Molly Wright Steenson (explode) Mon 11 Mar 02 11:10
    

I'd like to hear you both talk more about telling your boss or employer
about being depression -- in the book, you discuss some strategies for doing
just this. I imagine it would be a really frightening thing. What do you do
if it goes awry?
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #28 of 109: David S. Greene (dsg) Mon 11 Mar 02 11:14
    

What Molly asked.
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #29 of 109: Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Mon 11 Mar 02 11:28
    
Before either of us addresses that, I want to be very clear that we
don't recommend telling your employer, nor do we recommend *not*
telling your employer. I'm going to say this over and over, because
it's at the very heart of the book: there is no one-size-fits-all
answer. Your individual situation needs to determine your actions,
whether you're trying to decide whether to disclose your depression or
you're considering suing your employer for discrimination. What we've
done is provided the relevant questions readers should ask themselves
in order to make those decisions.

Ideally, if you've spent some time carefully thinking about what you
need and how receptive your employer will be to your disclosure, you'll
have a sense of who to tell, how much to tell, and how to do it.
Sometimes you'll decide that you want to send a low-key letter to HR
alerting them to the fact that you have a disability and will want an
accommodation for it under the law. Sometimes you'll go to your boss
and say, "I'm struggling with major depression and I need X, Y, and Z
in order to continue doing my job well." And sometimes the answer will
be "I'm not saying anything to anyone." 

Molly, I'm not sure how to answer "what do you do when it goes awry,"
because I'm not sure how to define "going awry." In the worst-case
scenario, of course, your employer comes up with some trumped-up reason
to let you go when it's clear the real reason is that you're depressed
-- at which point you may arguably have cause to sue. 
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #30 of 109: Linda Castellani (castle) Mon 11 Mar 02 13:29
    

I would think that would be nearly impossible to prove in court, though, 
unless your boss specifically said that's why you were being let go.

Because I have been depressed virtually my entire life, I often forget
that, to people who have never been depressed, I could be viewed as odd,
or weird, or even mentally ill.  I haven't taken great pains to cover it
up, or hide it, and I have never felt ashamed of being that way.  Just 
depressed about it.  %^)

Until I read your book, I didn't even know that it was a condition that 
fell under the ADA, or that it was something that should be handled 
carefully in communication with the boss.  I mean, I wouldn't normally be 
sharing personal aspects of my life with the boss, so it was not something 
I would normally mention to him or any of my co-workers with whom I did 
not have an intimate relationship.

Since it wasn't high on my list of things to be cautious about, I 
accidentally blurted it out to my boss one day.  I was taking an 
antidepressant for the first time, and the side effects were so strange 
and outrageous that during a relatively casual conversation with my boss I 
said something like, please excuse me if I'm not completely myself for a 
few days, I just started taking an antidepressant and the side effects are 
really odd.  I've been told, though, that either I will be switching to 
something else, or that the side effects will wane after a few days.  

He looked so startled and shocked that it shocked me.  It worked 
out well, but it was a wake-up call to me.  Which I actually resent.  I 
wish I weren't depressed, but I am.  Why add to the angst by having to 
pretend I'm not?
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #31 of 109: Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Mon 11 Mar 02 15:00
    
It isn't easy to prove discrimination, but it can be done. We are not
employment lawyers, though, so anyone who thinks s/he's lost a job due to
discrimination should probably contact either a qualified attorney or the
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (which enforces most of the
provisions of the ADA), or both.

Here's a nifty little tidbit we learned in our research: the EEOC has a
special phone number you can call for advice about workplace discrimination
and the ADA, and it'll only cost you whatever you pay for long distance.
It's 202-663-4691. You'll be referred to an EEOC lawyer. How's that for a
bargain?
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #32 of 109: Beth Gulas (bethgulas) Mon 11 Mar 02 17:58
    
Sorry I was unavailable all day today (in NYC with a client).  In
reviewing today's conversation, my advice about whether or not to tell
is entirely on a case by case basis (as Fawn indicated).  One needs to
first evaluate the receptivity of the environment and the people within
it...especially those you may be considering confiding in.  You may
want to check it out with other employees who have told their bosses
(or your specific boss) something personal and/or sensitive and hear
how it went for them--and then make your own determination.  

Our society is very insensitive to things they can't see...depression
is one of them.  On the outside you like fine, but on the inside it's a
whole different story.  Talking about it openly works just fine in
some situations...and people will be supportive and helpful.  Other
situations aren't as understanding.  It's so subjective that we
couldn't possibly determine comfort levels for every person.  It will
vary from person to person. 

I often counsel people to "test" it out with friends, family or
trusted co-workers to "try it on for size" before going public with it.
 This will, in the very least, help you to become more comfortable
talking about it.  
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #33 of 109: Eleanor Parker (wellelp) Mon 11 Mar 02 20:39
    
Here's a scenario that is outside the scope of your book, but I've
encountered it, and suspect many others have as well.

What can you do if your boss is depressed, and it's affecting your
ability to get your work done (boss non-responsive, absent, or dumping
work on you, or otherwise making it difficult to perform)?
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #34 of 109: Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 12 Mar 02 10:07
    
E-mail from Bonnie Dee:

I wanted to respond to the topic and say: I'm glad someone thought to 
write a book about this, and I hope to pick up a copy soon!

In my own experience, I've been fired once (as a work-study student 
employee) from a job for depression and its consequences.  A lot of sleep-
related problems accompany my depression -- and like depression, people 
are seen as lazy or worthless if they can't control it.

My current job is in a business with < 10 employees, so perhaps it's easier 
to talk to a boss that way.  I finally talked to him when it became clear that 
my physical symptoms were getting in the way -- but well before it got 
worse.  The only thing I could think to do was discreetly tell him about it 
like a physical disability --

-the specific problems he was noticing, and my symptoms
-the underlying problem behind all of it
-the steps I had taken/was taking to correct the situation as best I could
-the assurance I didn't like it any more than he did (!)

I was sure he'd fire me if he didn't know the reasons for my performance.  
Luckily he was understanding and I haven't had major problems since.  I 
guess my only advice to others is to, if you feel up to it, talk to your boss 
before it becomes an issue -- then you're telling him the worst-case 
scenario but delivering more positive results.  :)
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #35 of 109: Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Tue 12 Mar 02 10:19
    
Eleanor, your question is right up Beth's alley and I think she'll
have a lot to say about it.

Bonnie, thank you for your comment! It sounds like you headed off
problems in your current situation about as well as anyone could. I'm
curious: when you told your boss "the underlying problem behind all of
it," did you say specifically that you were dealing with depression, or
did you call it an illness that affected your sleep patterns, or did
you just say you had a health problem that was causing the symptoms
he'd noticed? (All of those are perfectly valid ways to address it, by
the way. An employer doesn't need chapter and verse of the DSM.)
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #36 of 109: Beth Gulas (bethgulas) Tue 12 Mar 02 19:50
    
Eleanor...the situation you've raised is an excellent one and it is
outside the scope of our book.  However, if your boss is depressed and
it's getting in the way of your ability to perform, then I would
suggest you go to HR to discuss the situation.  If that's not an
option, then I might speak directly with the boss if it falls somewhere
remotely in your comfort zone to do so.  

The last resort might be to go to his/her boss.  Someone, other than
you, ought to be aware of what's going on.  You should not have to
handle this issue by yourself, nor absorb the pressure surrounding it. 
Or....better yet, hand him/her one of our books!!  
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #37 of 109: Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Wed 13 Mar 02 15:00
    
I have a question for the gallery, if anyone cares to answer it. Have any of
you been discriminated against, or suspect you have been, as a result of
your depression? What happened, and how did you handle it?
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #38 of 109: Anyone here a real writer? (lisa) Wed 13 Mar 02 16:26
    
I was about to ask a variant on <wellelp>'s question: What a person can do 
when s/he sees someone at work who really seems to be in need of help for 
depression. Amateur diagnoses were a specialty at my last couple of 
workplaces -- of course, they were all daily newsrooms, full of the gloomy 
and morose, but still.

My boss used to hand out St. John's Wort. "Here: you look like you need
one of these." Then I told him for real about the crap I was facing in my
personal life, which had me very down (he had yelled at me for something,
and I had burst into tears). He said he'd benefited from some counseling
through the EAP when his wife left, and suggested I look into it. He said
he wouldn't have yelled, had he known.

And I was a problem employee to him from that day forward. Life was never 
the same again, he trusted me with nothing and I wound up leaving.
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #39 of 109: Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Wed 13 Mar 02 16:57
    
Ugh. That's awful -- especially since he presented himself as being so
understanding.
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #40 of 109: Marla (marla) Wed 13 Mar 02 19:28
    
I'm not telling my boss no way no how!  It's a new job I've had for
only four months.  In fact, my insurance JUST kicked in. 

 I was on wellbutrin five years ago for severe depression (eating off
of dirty dishes, bolting awake in the wee hours every night, didn't
care about anything)---you know, one of those nasty bouts.  

 The wellbutrin was like magic within a couple of weeks, I'll never
forget the day I woke up and it was LIGHT outside. HEAVEN! I got SO
much better. 

 The insurance quit paying for it after six months.  My doctor wanted
to see how I'd do without it, maybe I had just needed an adjustment.  I
was fine for awhile but my symptoms returned after I had moved across
the country and had no job or new insurance.   

I'm back home now and started my new job four months ago.   

My boss is one of those people who fires people constantly, five since
I've been there and there's only 27 people in the whole company (she
owns it) BUT she thinks I'm great and tells me that often AND I like
the job.  

The job takes all my energy right now and I have nothing left, but
that's OKAY because my three-month wait for insurance to kick in ended
and I've been to the doctor and he put me on paxil (he doesn't like
wellbutrin, he wouldn't give it to me).

Tell my boss????    NO!   UH-UH!  Waaay too scary.  Pretty soon my new
meds will start to work (I hope) and I'll be a normal person again
with room for work AND friends, etc...
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #41 of 109: Molly Wright Steenson (explode) Wed 13 Mar 02 19:45
    
Beth, your point about society being insensitive about things that
they can't see is well taken. Also, depression is difficult to
understand, I think, if you don't suffer from it. Maybe that's where
some of the issues lie with depression in the workplace -- just not
having any clue at all what it's about. 
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #42 of 109: Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Wed 13 Mar 02 20:52
    
Marla, if you know treatment works for you and you're doing well at
work, there's probably no reason for you to tell your boss -- which is
fantastic! 
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #43 of 109: Molly Wright Steenson (explode) Thu 14 Mar 02 09:35
    
Marla, I'm in your shoes too -- the Wellbutrin is a night-and-day
difference. It was really effective very quickly, and now I don't have
to choose between my sanity and getting my work done. 

I've begun to be open about depression, which is an odd thing, since I
don't manifest a lot of outward symptoms of it right now -- the
Wellbutrin is really effective. But I figure it's okay to talk about it
in the right circumstances and let people I'm close to know about it. 

Fawn, Beth, would you talk a bit about coping mechanisms in the
workplace? How do you handle getting through the day when depression is
making it hard to see straight?
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #44 of 109: Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Thu 14 Mar 02 10:21
    
We've put a bunch of tips addressing that exact question on our website at
http://www.workinginthedark.com/sample.html.

In my personal experience, the trick is to think small. Figure out a way to
get through five minutes at a time, if you have to break it down that far.
Make lists of things you have to do, and make lists of what you have to do
to do those things. Promise yourself a treat -- a short walk, a cup of tea,
one song on your Walkman -- when you've managed to finish something.

Depression is like any other illness: you can't push yourself too hard when
you're not feeling well. Don't try to be a workplace hero when you're down
in the pit. Just focus on doing what needs to be done.
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #45 of 109: pooning tang; tanging the poon (viv) Thu 14 Mar 02 15:49
    

An inch is a cinch.
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #46 of 109: Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Thu 14 Mar 02 15:53
    
Nicely put, vivly!
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #47 of 109: Marla (marla) Thu 14 Mar 02 17:04
    
Molly, I am so glad you're so much better.  I'm hoping Paxil will be
as effective for me as the wellbutrin was.

Fawn, that is such good advice.  I work pretty well at my new job but
I have been doing exactly that on bad days.  "I just need to get to the
end of this paragraph, that's all I'm reading right now."  It works,
even though I may have 250 pages to follow. I think the universe is
looking out for me in terms of how much I can and can't handle.  
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #48 of 109: Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Fri 15 Mar 02 08:40
    
I'm wishing I had talked about it at my last job. In the same month, I
had been laid off from my dot-com job, my husband and I officially
separated, and my father-in-law died. I took a new job that was a big
stretch and I was really struggling with it, then September 11
happened. Between that and the Jewish holidays, I don't think I really
got *any* work done between September and being laid off at the end of
October. 

The consequence of NOT talking: the people I worked with think I am
not good at my work, and the Boston unix community is a small town. I
am *still* debating whether I should say something in a public forum
that I know they read.

I was very fortunate to get a new job that was a huge confidence
booster - and then got laid off after five weeks as part of a big
political thing that had nothing at all to do with me. I am not
feeling depressed now but wondering if I'll be in for another round if
the job market is still as bad as it was. 

I guess my question is about separating unhealthy depression from what
sometimes seems like a reasonable response to some very real events,
like 9/11 and the collapse of the job market in this area. I worked
with a bunch of very young people and the week following 9/11 was
*extremely* disorienting to me; 9/11 was a Tuesday, by Thursday
everyone was back at work (but in a distracted way, reading news
websites and such) but by the following Monday it was almost as if it
had never happened. It almost seems unhealthy to me to be *too*
oblivious to events. 

Or maybe this is about the difference between depression and grieving? 
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #49 of 109: Molly Wright Steenson (explode) Fri 15 Mar 02 09:12
    
Betsy, it sounds like a when-it-rains-it-pours situation. That sounds
like a tremendous amount to cope with at once. 

Beth and Fawn, how do you think employers will take the events of 9/11
into consideration? How has that affected people suffering from
depression at work, not just in NYC but all over the country?
  
inkwell.vue.142 : Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas - Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing With Depression
permalink #50 of 109: Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Fri 15 Mar 02 11:32
    
Betsy, it doesn't matter if your depression is caused by your brain
chemistry or brought on by an outside event. Asking whether depression is
more or less "reasonable" depending on the cause is like asking whether a
broken leg should hurt less if it was caused by a hit-and-run accident than
if it was caused by falling down the stairs. It's perfectly normal to mourn
-- even for several months -- if you've experienced a significant loss.

If you feel sad, irritable, tense, or hopeless for most of the day
AND
you've lost interest in things you used to enjoy
AND
you've felt that way continuously for more than two weeks,
you may be depressed, and it would be worth your while to see someone about
it.

Obviously, the events of last September affected people in New York more
than anywhere else. I can't quote statistics, but I've certainly read that
calls to mental health clinics and hotlines have been climbing steadily ever
since. It seems that lots of people who weren't depressed before have
certainly become depressed since -- whether because they were directly
affected by the terrorist attacks or because they got caught in the ensuing
economic nosedive. But as for how employers will take that into account, I
think that depends on the employer.
  

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