Sunday, December 11, 2016

Harsh Experiences in the Workplace

Harsh Experiences in the Workplace
By Anne Percy
The Challenge of Returning to Work After a Setback

I am bipolar. This seems to threaten some people. In reality I am one of the gentlest, kindest-hearted people you could ever meet, someone who has never harmed anyone. I have had a variety of diagnoses in the past, including OCD, severe depression and schizoaffective disorder, until I was diagnosed as bipolar I.

I have tried a litany of psychiatric medications to manage my symptoms, some with terrible side-effects and others which worsened my symptoms. Stable on my current meds the majority of the time, I realize they are not a cure, nor am I symptom-free. I attend weekly group therapy, which helps, but individual therapy would help more. Unfortunately, right now, it is beyond my financial means.

I am currently unemployed, due to the effects of bipolar. A vocational rehabilitation counselor has been assisting in my search for a suitable job since April 2013, when I lost a job as a health insurance claims processor, which I held for seven months. My firing was due to a lack of concentration and attention to detail, resulting in too many financial errors when paying claims. I believe more accommodation could have been made on my behalf, since I had just completed six months of training when I was let go.

Prior to that job, I had been unemployed for nearly two years following my resignation from a previous position I held for nearly 11 years. The reason? A hostile work environment created by malicious coworkers. They were aware that I had mental health issues, and, in an effort to get me fired, were trying to cause a mental breakdown. Even though I had done nothing, they became convinced that I was a danger to them because of my mental illness. Eventually, the environment became so toxic, with my employer unwilling to intervene, that I had no choice but to resign and remove myself.

What was said to me would have been considered slander and harassment, but because of my mental illness, it was tolerated and apparently acceptable. Ironically, my employer at the time was a health insurance company that boasted the best health interests of its clients and claimed to promote diversity in the workplace. Apparently, that didn’t apply to those of us who suffer from mental illness. It took months before I could put the experience behind me. It still makes me question what kind of environment I will find at a new workplace. I did what was best for me mentally and emotionally, but at the expense of my finances and employment. In terms of finding work with the financial and other benefits of the job I left, I have never recovered.

When I apply for jobs now, I have been advised not to reveal I have mental illness, which makes explaining what occurred at my last two jobs difficult. I would prefer to honestly admit to having a disease, so as to explain when symptoms inevitably appear and not be such a surprise to my employer and coworkers. It would also be easier to ask for accommodation, if and when I need it, if my condition is known.

It makes me sad to think that if it were a physical disease, there would be no problem admitting to it. Also, I am worried about going through the same things with coworkers at another job should I find one.

In desperation, having had no income or health insurance since April 2013, I applied for Social Security Disability. My attorney filed for a hearing in June 2014, but we have heard nothing since then. Applying for disability was a last resort. I would gladly work, but no one will hire me. Even while waiting for a hearing, I still apply for jobs, hoping that someone will be interested in me and my attributes.

I was not eligible for a subsidy to help pay for health insurance due to having no income, and the state that I reside in did not expand Medicaid, so I am uninsured and pay for medical costs out of pocket. This limits my options for care. Fortunately, the medications I currently take are not as expensive as some I have used previously, which helps.

I am not sure what the future holds. I cannot go on indefinitely without income. I am not looking for a financial windfall, only a means to reach financial stability. Also, there is no guarantee that I will remain mentally stable. I already know that I am unsuited for jobs that I have held in the past. What I am unsure of is exactly what I would be suited for, which even vocational rehabilitation has been challenged to help me discover. I am not opposed to further education, but I would need financial assistance to pay for it, and since I already have one college degree, this seems unlikely. Realistically, several doors are closed to me when it comes to employment.

I hope reading about my experience helps others suffering the same things to realize that they are not alone in this.

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