This is a story about practicing what you preach...
Friday and Monday were bad days for me. I got sick and I didn't handle things as well as I could have done. I haven't been looking after myself and I haven't been doing the things I need to do, to prevent burnout and breakdown. A crisis was inevitable and a disaster was probable.
My struggles with mental health problems, suicide attempts, self-harm, alcohol and substance abuse are an open secret. I have a tattoo quite plainly visible behind my ear, which symbolises those struggles, and its meaning is widely known and easily looked up on Google. In fact, I myself am quite easily looked up on Google, where all my struggles are documented with unflinching honesty.
I include for the reader, a heavily redacted photograph of one of the walls of my office, which is plastered with eye-catching posters declaring that it's OK to talk about mental health problems.
In my early twenties, by chance both my boss and I were meticulous record-keepers, gathering weird and wonderful data; we both had a kind of geeky love for statistics and the wonderful ability of statistical analysis to tease out interesting facts from the numbers. When I was leaving that job after 4 years, my boss and I compared notes. On all the days that he had thought I arrived late to the office because I was hungover, I was actually depressed. On all the days he thought I was productive and most valuable, I was actually hungover. My boss was correct in guessing that I have a mood disorder, but completely unable to understand how it affected my performance in my job. The effects of alcohol were mostly unpredictable. As it turned out, both my boss and I would be considered to have bipolar disorder, alcohol abuse problems and to excessively consume coffee, by all objective measures. We never discussed any of this until my final few days in that job.
I'm fortunate enough to have never been compelled to comply with any strict routine, perhaps because bosses are well aware that I would simply not abide. Despite a complete lack of communication on the subject, an unspoken agreement is reached: the boss understands that they have a valuable asset in somebody who can work incredibly hard in short bursts, when required, at the expense of daily plodding predictability.
Unfortunately, the predisposition towards making negative assumptions is quite pervasive. There is a tendency towards the assumption that any irksome, undesirable, unpredictable or unreliable behaviour is due to bad choices. It's automatically assumed that any lateness or sickness absence is due to alcohol or drug abuse, as opposed to the more kind, concerned and sympathetic assumption that it's due to so-called legitimate reasons, such as physical illness.
Advertising my prior problems with unflattering problems such as drug and alcohol abuse, leads to the presumption that all my struggles must be related to my own "poor choices".
Having a visible tattoo makes me very exposed; prone to becoming a victim of prejudice and discrimination.
Having a public blog makes me doubly exposed.
It's been an exhausting journey, sticking with my bold decision to write publicly using my real name, but I feel as though I'm getting closer to the day when I'll be able to fully unify my identity, and not suffer adversely. My skills, experience and professional contribution have always been highly valued even though my mood disorder has caused me to be late or absent on many days; on balance it's better to have me on your team than to discriminate against me because of my mental health problem. Now we are reaching the point where my prior issues with suicide attempts, self-harm, alcohol and drug abuse, are clearly not preventing me from being a highly productive and very appreciated member of the teams I'm a member of. We're almost at the point where I can go public (although I already did).
Ultimately, this is my little joke on the corporate world. It amuses me that I can write about all the things which you're not supposed to - because we're all supposed to be protecting our professional reputation and defending our identities - but if you're good at your job, you're honest and you're not an asshole, the world can be surprisingly accommodating.
Your parents will tell you not to get any visible tattoos or an outrageous haircut, because you'll never get a job. I don't suggest that anybody dabble with dangerous drugs, but if you do go astray, don't hide in anonymous shame. If your perfect attendance record is being affected by mental health problems, your legal entitlement to medical confidentiality is worthless, because bosses will always assume the worst. In short: anybody who's lucky enough to have you has to take the complete package, warts 'n' all.
I am obliged, by my code of conduct, to keep any employer, client, colleague, project, customer, connected party or any other identifiable detail, completely confidential, which of course I do. I spend a great deal of time considering my words very carefully, and I redact anything I photograph or quote, such that nobody knows who I am, where I work, who I work for, what I work on, what precisely I do or indeed anything about me and those around me, unless you already know me, of course - that's the joke. The story, names, characters, and incidents portrayed are anonymised. No identification of actual persons (living or deceased), places, buildings, and products can be made or could be inferred, except by those who are already privy to highly restricted information.
Of course, my face connects my professional identity with this one, and my tattoo is the clue that there's more to me than meets the eye.
I really can't wait for the day that it's OK to be myself, wherever, whenever. It will be a big relief.