This past week I heard the most brilliant way to deflect answering personal questions about your mental health diagnosis, particularly at work. It’s genius, and I’m in awe of the dude who gave me this very useful advice, and now I’m going to give it to you.
The “you” in this instance is “you women.” Don’t worry. I’m not going all vigilante misogynist here. It’s good stuff. And useful.
Okay, so having a mental health diagnosis is a tricky balancing act at work. How much do you disclose? Detrimental stigmatization surrounding mental health peers is well-documented, whether here at STC or at work where often peers are fired for managing the symptoms of a mental health diagnosis. Take psych meds? Unstable. Seeing a therapist? Unstable. Been hospitalized? Unstable. And if unstable, unsuitable and undependable for work. Don’t even try to argue with me on this one. I’ve lived it.
In truth, it’s personal information and unless in the exceptionally marginal condition you’re going for super duper top secret security clearance to pilot the first starship built from alien technology in the new J.J. Abraham’s flick (those are all real spaceships, didn’t you know?), if your mental health issues don’t affect the quality of your work product or your business ethic, what’s the point of even bringing it up? I don’t bring up my chronic anal leakage and how I buy palates of adult diapers at Costco each week. Same thing.
Still, sometimes a peer has a standing mental health appointment, say for therapy each week. And each week this peer takes off for two hours, which means it’s got to be cleared through the boss first. A good boss will want to know, “Why are you asking for two hours off each week for a medical appointment?” And a nosy boss will ask, “Why are you asking for two hours off each week for a medical appointment?” Same thing.
He’s nosy because there is no professional authority for him to request this information. Your reason for the weekly medical appointment doesn’t affect your work product or business ethic. You do your job, you go to your weekly appointment, you come back to work, and you continue doing your job. It’s personal health treatment, and saying “It’s to see a therapist” is the same as “It’s a weekly doctor’s visit to renew my prescription for medical corks to treat my chronic anal leakage.” The boss doesn’t need to know anything more than you’re requesting two hours a week to visit with a medical provider.
The bummer part of this is not answering the boss seems squirrely and evasive, and that gets the boss more nosy and perhaps suspicious you’re hiding something significant, something more significant than the weird, rustic aroma from chronic anal leakage. How to handle this? I’ll tell you how, because it was told to me last week.
Ladies, state only this, while vaguely gesturing with your hands around your waist level:
Brilliant! A woman boss will be totally sympathetic and need no further explanation. A man boss will be totally uncomfortable and fear any further explanation. Either way, any additional questioning becomes unnecessary, and all is well. Brilliant!
So this is a good tool to have in the toolbox for deflecting inappropriate professional probing into your personal medical treatment, although it shouldn’t be required to come up with these sorts of tools to explain away medical treatment for a mental health diagnosis.
Stating “It’s not really any of your business because it doesn’t affect my work product or business ethic, but I’ll let you know I have bipolar and get therapy each week” shouldn’t be something that must be deflected or diverted from the conversation at work. It’s up to the peer if they want to talk about any medical diagnoses and related treatment (and not just mental health issues), and it’s unacceptable that professional stigmatization of mental health peers necessitates clever ways to sidestep the issue.
“It’s an ongoing woman thing” is definitely clever. It’s more than clever. It’s brilliant. And since we peers still have a lot of advocacy work ahead of us to diffuse the ramifications of mental health stigmatization at work, I’m going to continue sharing cool stuff like this because I know how hard it is and how uncomfortable it is to be probed at work by bosses and colleagues about your mental health treatment.
“It’s an ongoing woman thing.” If you end up trying this at work, let me know how it goes for you. Reports from the field! I’ll bet my bottom dollar your boss will be happier having an in depth academic conversation on the benefits medically corking chronic anal leakage, and the inevitable and unfortunate side effect of bloating. Bon chance, mes amies.