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Renee’s Story

“Together and in support we have power to heal and live.”

Share your stigma experience.

I am a staunch advocate for mental health having grown up with family and friends severely impacted. My own mental health had always been manageable and something I owned quietly. Then in an HR seasonal push for employee engagement, servant leadership, and reduction of veteran suicide to zero I decided to live the mantra “it starts with me”. Instead of looking for a new job I decided to seek reasonable accommodations for my own depression. I didn’t have a clue what I would face, the powerful and disabling levels of stigma and discrimination.

I always knew I struggled a bit more than most to regulate emotions and wellbeing, but I didn’t feel different. Until I switched to speaking about my own mental health, instead of speaking of others mental health.

It didn’t seem to me like much of a shift. Mental health had always been a platform and passion for me. However, there was a distinct shift. Palpable. Painful. Destructive.

I experience misunderstanding, increased scrutiny, and hyper-vigilance from management; withdrawal of coworker comradery, increasing awkwardness and even retaliation for EEO activity. The weight of it pressed down on me. In a counsel session with the head of HR, manager and a union rep, the head of HR said my speaking about my mental health was “totally inappropriate”. The union rep said the topic belonged in a therapy office not at work.

I pressed on approximately another year. Instead of making a tangible dent in culture or achieving any effective reasonable accommodations I became the disability I’d claimed. Instead of just having anxiety & depression as a disability, I became disabled in the face of intolerance, silence, withdrawal, shunning, and increased criticism. People saw me as the problem, I was the one bucking the system. A few brave people asked, “why are you doing this?” “Just stop talking and it will probably all go away and get better eventually”. “Nothing ever changes, the only thing you’re doing is hurting yourself”. This stigma and discrimination acutely exacerbated my anxiety & depression. When I realized despair and hopelessness were overcoming me, I resigned. It had sunk so deeply into my soul that I wanted to die, to cease to exist, to no longer risk being perceived as a problem, an inconvenience, or cause discomfort to anyone. It was unbearable. My mental health didn’t torment me, people’s reaction to my sharing it did.

How did you overcome this experience?

I quit working in that harsh environment, even though I loved my job. I am seeking out environments that are emotionally healthy, accepting and supportive.

I am seeking to be still and heal. I’m doing some arts & crafts, giving energy to the small positives and working to grow them. I believe that change is possible, it’s just going to take longer and a stronger effort than one person here and there can accomplish.

Help others by sharing a brief, positive message.

Don’t go it alone. Find support people. Give energy to the positive. We can change culture, we simply must do it together. Together and in support we have power to heal and live.

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