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Do You Tell Your Boss? 13/11/2011

If you have a mental illness do you tell your boss?

Are you obliged to tell your boss?  Why or why not?

With discrimination rife in society and difficulty getting friends and family to understand what you are going through, what are your greatest fears in the workplace? Or the study environment?  Or wherever it is you spend most of your productive time?

Does your illness affect your ability to do your job at times?  In what ways?

Does your boss know?  Do any of your colleagues? What led to them finding out?

Whether you are studying or working always consider ahead of time whether you are prepared to disclose your illness.  If your current position is non-disclosure, consider carefully any occasions which might arise which might make it more necessary and under what circumstances you may disclose if at all.

Disclosure is always best done in a planned manner.  You should have some idea what you are going to say, how you want to say it and how you are going to explain its relevance to your work.  If you need some adjustments to your work conditions or some time off, it is best for you to come to your boss with some options that you have considered and reasons for your request.  You need your boss to understand that you wish to be healthy and productive as possible and are trusting them so that they are able to best support you to reach a goal that is in both of your best interests.  A large proportion of ‘Western’ countries, including Australia, provide legislation to support your right to this.

When you plan what to disclose think in terms of how you are affected by your mental illness more than your diagnosis.  You may, in fact decide to disclose only the effects of your illness and not your diagnosis, stating that you have “a condition that affects …”.  You may identify symptoms or you may simply describe what it does to you and how that affects your work eg my condition means that I have less energy than I used to have.  This means that I have to be careful how I plan my time and that I have to take holidays at regular intervals throughout the year to maintain stable health.  I need to be careful to use my meal breaks and leave on time so that I don’t become over-tired.  Or my condition means that I need to take medication.  When I change medications, sometimes I am more sleepy than usual and over-sleep or become very drowsy in the afternoons.  Sometimes my speech even gets slurred and I sound a little intoxicated.  So if I’m changing medications I need to take a week off, otherwise I find that I’m coming to work late all week and I sound as though I’m tipsy for half the afternoon and I don’t get much done and am at risk of making faulty decisions or overlooking things because my head is all foggy – especially in the first few days.  After that I will be fine at work again, but might over-sleep a couple of times in the 2-3 weeks afterwards while my body gets used to the new meds.  It doesn’t happen very often.  I’ve only needed to do it 2 or 3 times, but each time I’ve been glad that I did.

You do not need to disclose specify personal or medical information if you tell them about anything at all.

You should also think about when to disclose.  That is – when you are applying for a job, before a job interview, during the interview, after you have been offered the job and before starting, during the time you are employed after you have worked there for a while, if you become unwell and need to or never.  There are pros and cons of disclosing at each point of the way.  Sometimes your circumstances will have presented you with little choice to prevent awkwardness – you may have become unwell at work and have it become obvious that something was wrong or you may have symptoms that you are aware will soon become obvious if arrangements aren’t made to cater for your needs.  Again, despite prejudice and stigma in some places you have legal rights to have your needs and confidentiality met and protected within your workplace in most western countries.  Further, in Australia at least, if you become unwell because the employer failed to attend to your needs having been made aware of them, you are entitled to compensation under work cover.  It is however, worth serious consideration whether or not you are going to disclose because unfortunately discrimination does still happen and there are people who do fail to respect privacy and you never know where they are until you find them.

Some helpful things to consider at each stage of the employment continuum.

Prior to interview

Why you might …

  • You are able to to discuss the organisations policies and support resources when exploring the prospective position
  • You are able to get an idea about your employer’s predisposition to your needs from the word go.
  • If you have restrictions on any key job criteria due to temporary limitations because of recent relapse/graded hours return to work plans.

Examples of Why you might not …

  • Risk of discrimination influencing whether or not you get an interview.
  • No work related needs arising from your mental illness.
  • You don’t believe that they need to know/believe it irrelevant to job.

At the job interview

Why you might …

  • You are able to address people after creating a positive impression of yourself and demonstrating your capability.
  • You can gauge their understanding of your meaning and clarify appropriate questions about your needs.
  • You are able to discuss with the employer positive traits that you bring to the team that you have learned through your journey of recovery.
  • You are able to discuss your needs and what your potential employer would be able to accommodate or explore during the interview process.
  • You can brief them as to whether your referees are aware of your condition and how it affects your work and offer consent to discuss previous workplace arrangements with other employers if they have gone well.

Why you might not …

  • Risk of discrimination in job selection.
  • You don’t feel that you have needs that require accommodating or can manage them without support from your employer.
  • You might worry about where information gathered by panel members will go and whether people are trustworthy to maintain your privacy.
  • Concern that even if you get this job, opportunities for advancement could be limited by poor understanding of your illness.
  • You might be well and consider it unnecessary at this point in time.
  • You might not want to distract the panel from thinking about your abilities by talking about areas of need.

When contacted with an offer of employment

Why you might …

  • You are able to discuss your needs without risk of missing out on the job due to discrimination.
  • You can arrange to enter the work place with a plan in place that accommodates your employment needs and commence as you mean to continue.
  • If required and with your consent, the employer can arrange appropriate mental health sensitivity workshops for managers or staff by organisations such as Beyond Blue or circulate general anti-stigma/population health information among routine organisation circulars, yet not make it obvious that it was for your benefit.
  • Allow development of appropriate support and mentoring systems.

Why you might not …

  • Fear of stigma, gossip and/or discrimination.
  • Currently well and don’t feel that you are affected at work.
  • Work does not need to know.
  • Protection of positive image and opportunity for advancement.

During the course of your employment

Why you might …

  • You decide that your employer is trustworthy.
  • You become unwell.
  • You encounter difficulties or are not performing to standard because of symptoms or medication side effects and need to offer reasonable explanation or require support, alternate work arrangements or time off for medication reviews etc.
  • You are being harassed or bullied.

Why you might not …

  • It might not be necessary.
  • Protection of positive image and opportunities for advancement.
  • It might result in harassment and discrimination.
  • You are able to manage your needs without workplace support.

Never disclosing

Why you might …

  • Protection from gossip and discrimination.
  • Protection of positive image and opportunity
  • Privacy
  • Stable health
  • Lack of necessity

Why you might not …

  • Difficult to prove entitlement to compensation in case of illness, relapse or deterioration due to failure of workplace to meet needs for psychological health if they were not disclosed.
  • Relapse or need for hospitalisation might put your job at risk.
  • Might discover a positive attitude to mental health issues within workplace.
  • Legal obligations under occupational health and safety act where specific work related tasks are affected resulting in serious risk issues.

What did I do about disclosure to my employer with my job?

For me it was simple.  I told mine.  I disclosed at interview.  I felt that this was necessary because I had taken my previous job without learning to manage my mental health well and my references would have reflected that in the answers to some of the standard questions that interviewers ask referees no matter how careful the referees were.  I chose to take control of this situation at the time of my interview because having reached interview I could present myself as a competent individual in person, demonstrate that I was healthy and create a positive impression before and whilst disclosing.  I also needed to disclose because I wanted to work less hours than the position entailed and needed to offer a good explanation.  I told them that I had depression, how it affected me in terms of energy levels, concentration, seasonal patterns, medication changes and how I managed these things to be able to work.  I spoke of arrangements that I had previously made with my former employer that had been helpful and asked if they would be amenable to such strategies.  I also used the opportunity to tell them things that I had learned and accomplished through the experience of working, the determination and dedication that it entailed and the commitment to my job that resulted so that I could achieve personal satisfaction through working.  In my case this had a positive effect and outcome, although it doesn’t always.  I don’t disclose before I have the chance at interview to sit down and talk with the employer so that I can get a gauge on how they are reading what I am telling them and to avoid preconceived assumptions about what I will be like that are difficult to shift.  There are always risks associated with disclosure, but my reasoning is that if they are going to discriminate when I am well, I would rather not have to deal with them if I were to relapse.

When I am in the workplace I lay low for a while and watch what goes on around me.  As long as they are not untrustworthy, I tell someone if they are closely and directly affected by my health so that they are not left in the dark if I have to take leave at short notice.  That’s usually only one or two people.  Often they are among the first to notice that I am off my game,  so it can work in my favour because when someone who I work closely with starts asking if I’m okay and comments that I’m not myself before I notice anything, it gives me a cue to step back and check my early warning signs and triggers.  Over the course of years there have been a couple of people who have learned how to pick my good and bad days at least as well as I do myself and also to support and accommodate me through the bad ones and to lean on me in return when I’m good.  I’m pretty limited in what I disclose to start with, but with proof of worthiness comes more trust.

My current situation in my new workplace is new to me.  I have always had employers who were fiercely protective of my privacy before.  I have little in the way of evidence about my current manager, only the report of one other worker about two specific occasions of breached privacy.  I have, however worked in a place where it has been possible to work with my information kept private and so I am prepared to stand for my rights in both privacy and in workplace accommodation now.  If I expect the respect of others, there may be times that I need to stand up and remind them what it entails.  This is however new to me and the workplace is one with strange dynamics.

I have included in the Fact Sheets menu this week a document called “Choosing Your Path.  Disclosure: It’s a Personal Decision“.  It’s about disclosure of ‘disability’ (or illness) in education and training after High School and employment and the processes of application, entry and engaging in the roles.  The booklet discusses legal issues, reasons why one may or may not disclose at various stages of training or employment, responsibilities and some of the considerations to ponder in making your decision.  Also have a look around the Beyond Blue website as they have a number of resources for work sites and managers as well as fact sheets about telling your employer about your illness and maintaining good mental health for tertiary education students.  Lastly, I have listed a book called “Tackling Depression at Work” in the Books menu.  I’ve not yet read this one, but it was written by reliable people and has been well reviewed so should be worth a read.  I have listed the book at the publisher’s site, you may or may not be able to find it cheaper elsewhere if it interests you greatly.

 

Nominated 10/11/2011

By the way …

Someone has nominated this blog for Bloggers Choice Awards under ‘Best Health Blog’

See?

http://bloggerschoiceawards.com/blogs/show/177188

If you want to vote you need to register though  😦

Pretty cool though, hey?


ps Curiosity was too much – I’ve registered  …. and put in a vote (so was temptation)

 

Always a New Day 08/11/2011

Always a new day

Ever a hope

Dog on a chain now

No time to mope.

Look to the future

Too far to see –

Look to the past

Learn, go, move on, be.

Live in the moment.

Breathe in.  Breathe out.

Take hold of hope

No place for doubt.

The path isn’t cast;

Life is to live.

Strive for your hearts goals.

You get what you give.

Nov 2011

 

Black Thumb 06/11/2011

Habits.  My life is full of them.  Good ones.  Bad ones.  Helpful ones.  Ones that I have resolved to end a hundred times over, yet continue with.  I have things that I do because I like to.  Things that I do because I have to.  Things that I do because that’s just what I’ve always done.  Some I maintain consciously, some unconsciously; and some are maintained by failing to maintain others.  Habits.

I spent yesterday afternoon pottering in the garden.  Among my many little chores I spent lifted bulbs from some pots.

Now, I am very new to gardening.  My once black thumbs are currently oscillating between a brown and occasionally get a very slight hint of green (until I forget to water the garden for a few days in a row).  There is no science going on – it’s all experimentation … almost.  I do occasionally look things up on the net.  After I write this post I will be looking up what you do with bulbs after you lift them.

Which brings me to the some of the reflections that I had yesterday as I waxed poetical in my head and got very grotty at the same time.

I have never grown plants that were bulbs before.  So this year was certainly an experiment.  Some grew and some did not.  I believe that I probably planted some upside down, but can’t confirm that.  I probably over-watered some … they rotted in the soil.  Others grew and didn’t bloom.  I am not keeping bulbs of plants that did not bloom.  Some grew and missed a few days water and got hot wind and died while others did quite well.  Some even made it to bouquets for friends.

Yesterday came to the beginning of stage two of my experiment with bulbs.  I went to the pots that held the plants that had bloomed that I had liked and decided to lift the bulbs.  Not quite sure of the correct procedure I began to burrow.  Now the first pot was not so difficult.  They were tulips.  The second pot I did just to get rid of the bulbs because I still wanted to keep the pot, but needed to get the bulbs out.  They too, were easy to find.  The daffodils gave me no trouble.  And then I came to these other plants – whose name I do not recall – but the bulbs were in little nests that were distributed unevenly around the planter box and while the upper couple of bulbs in the nest were of reasonable size there were also bundles of little balls – I assume new bulbs – that would often fall free and needed fishing for.  It took a lot of work to sift through this pot to lift the bulbs.

While I was doing this it struck me that If I were this thorough with everything, much of my life would be a lot simpler.  I would not have forgotten to take my medication yesterday morning had I refilled my dosette box when I emptied it.  I would not get weary looking at the mess in the kitchen as often if I were in the habit of cleaning up after myself as I went  more regularly.  I would be exercising regularly by now instead of simply planning to start within the next month.  I would not grow weary from lack of sleep.  In short, I would be more scrupulous about my habits.  Certainly it’s laborious.  Yet, there is a purpose to these habits the same as there is a purpose to my clearing the pot.  I am seeking to be in the best of health so that I can get on with living and doing other things.  Just as I was clearing the pot so that I could plant something new in it that would grow over the summer months.  There is a purpose to maintaining habits that are mundane that is anything but.

The second reflection came to me while I was battling one-handed with my bush rose whilst watering it.  I was attempting to remove the spent blooms – I’ve been taught to do that, but don’t do it regularly enough so there are lots at present.  They’re all over the bush.  Some of them were impossible to get to without doing battle with thorns while working one-handed.  Others, within reach while able to be grasped and eventually detached, were not easy to remove.  I also managed to get spiked by the tree regardless.  Ouch.  How different the bush rose was from the geraniums which simply slip off the plant with the slightest pull.

I am much more like the bush rose than the geranium when it comes to surrendering my bad habits.  How much simpler life would be if when I noticed that I needed to change I were able to simply let go of the old ways like my geraniums.  But, no.  For me it is work.  It requires effort and often shakes up the petals of some of the other flowers during the process.  Occasionally, not just the dead rose came off with the pulling, but some of the good ones beside as well.  I think my roses are very much like my habits.  They grow without effort and bloom.  Often they serve a good purpose, but then are no longer needed.  Other times they just are.  But when they are past their usefulness and deadweight, burdensome – they do need removing.  Sometimes it can be done while I’m doing other maintenance like the watering, but I think that I am going to have to go out soon and pull them off myself deliberately.  One at a time.  Not a job that I see as stimulating, but to encourage the bush to be productive and to keep it looking healthy it needs to be done.  Now I just need to take the same path with my troublesome habits and learn to tackle them one at a time and replace them with helpful ones.

Will I be as meticulous in dealing with my dead habits that are no longer blooming as I work at being with my flowers?  Will I dig and sift as thoroughly as I looked for my bulbs when it comes to removing them?

Again I set my resolve to commit to tackle my environment and not let it get out of control  (The kitchen, living area and study are cluttered again and the floors are past cleaning time).  My dosette box should never be left empty – I used to be good with that.  There are a number of other things that I need to sit down and map out.

Which plant holds the flowers that are hardest to remove in your garden?  Just how carefully are you prepared to dig out your bulbs?

I think I still have black thumbs in the habit garden and it’s time to green up.  What colour are your thumbs?

It's loaded now!

 

Forgetfulness

This morning I forgot to take my pills

which wouldn’t be so bad –

Except that I forgot yesterday as well.

And so today I’m spacey cos I don’t

forget to take them as a rule

And my senses feel estranged – they ebb and swell.

My mind is hard to focus

I need to find some gum

When I chew I can organise my thoughts

I could crunch to concentrate

or just sleep to rejuvenate

And tomorrow take my meds just as I ought.

ps I usually use a Dosette box, but got slack about refilling it this week.  Bad move.

 

Making Sense of It All 04/11/2011

A while ago I spent some time blogging about how we can talk to people about Depression – or about mental health issues in general.  But I left out a very important group of people.  Kids.

How do you talk to kids about mental illness?  How am I going to explain my Depression to the important children in my life?  How do you explain it to those in your own?  While people often worry about upsetting kids or frightening them by talking about mental illness – and I’m talking about the kids in your family or very close to you here; the facts indicate that most of the time children worry less about something if they understand it.  Providing them with opportunities to talk and to find out what they think is happening is important.  So is clearly and simply explaining what is actually happening in a way that they can understand.

But finding the right words to explain what needs to be said in kid language is a tough business.  Plus, adults struggle to share their feelings.  Again, accurate and age appropriate information are the best way to go – and this usually goes down best coming from a parent or another adult family member or close friend of the family.

So – how do you know when and how to do it?

If they ask questions about your or  the other person’s health – this is a good opportunity.  A number of resources suggest strategies like asking the child how they are feeling at the moment, if there has been an incident recently then perhaps ask them how they felt when such-and-such did this-or-that; or even if they thought you or the person were acting differently lately – depending on the age of the child.  But whenever you do – pick a time and place where you’re all most likely to be comfortable and feel safe and where you won’t be interrupted.

It’s suggested that you explore the child’s understanding of what’s going on – not just accept their first reply because they could easily just repeat someone’s words without clearly them.  Plus it’s important to know how they learned what they do know.  Also, make sure that you’ve understood properly what they have told you.

Ask questions that are open – that is, they require the child to do more than say ‘yes’ or ‘no’.  Try to get them to say what they think in their own words.

Be ready to reassure them.  They might feel awkward.  They might feel distressed or disloyal or angry or be afraid of causing worry or getting into trouble.  Make sure they know that this is okay.

Now when you come to the explaining part:

There are lots of good resources take a look through some of them to prepare yourself for the talk or use them with the child.  (Please see links at end of post).

Keep some coloured pencils or pens and paper or some play dough handy.  Something that you can use to illustrate what you are telling them about or that you can ask them to draw something to help illustrate a point or  a feeling.  You may also write down thoughts or questions or plans together later (or draw their understanding of things for you when you are exploring what they know).

Think about examples of illnesses that children are familiar with that could be helpful in your explanation eg asthma, diabetes, broken bones, colds, chicken pox (some will depend on what they or their friends/family have had).  Be specific in the comparison that you make  eg asthma and depression both have triggers and physical signs even though they happen in parts of the body, both can seem to come out of nowhere … ; it is not like a cold because you can’t ‘catch’ it.

Or a common example is to compare the body to a car with different parts – different things work together to make the whole car work, but if something goes wrong then it can make the whole car run badly or not start.  In the case of Depression … (a good example of such an explanation can be found in Talking to Children and Young People )

The big ideas to communicate no matter what are:

  • Mental illness is nobody’s fault
  • It’s not YOUR (the kid’s) fault
  • It doesn’t mean that the person doesn’t love you or care about you anymore
  • It is not your responsibility to make the person better.
  • You can’t “catch” it
  • Just because someone else in your family has it doesn’t mean you’ll get it
  • It happens to lots of people, in lots of families – not just this person
  • The person won’t be like this all the time
  • There are treatments like medicine and people to go to for special conversations and doctors who know about this illness
  • It’s not just about the person thinking or feeling differently.  What is happening to the chemicals in their brain is different.

Here is a summary of an outline that I found about how to explain Depression to a child in an Australian COPMI program booklet.

Children can sometimes understand the impact of your illness more easily than they can its cause.  This means that it may be best to describe what the depression does to you rather than what depression is.

So you might tell them that Depression can cause:

  • no energy (making it harder to play)
  • difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much (making it harder to get out of bed or keeping you up late at night)
  • crying a lot (sometimes when there is no apparent reason)
  • losing or gaining weight (because you don’t feel like eating or you eat too much)
  • not enjoying the things that you used to (means that sport or dancing or cooking or whatever it is doesn’t make you smile anymore)
  • make you tired and cranky (can make you get grumpy at the children for no real reason)

What does your depression make you do?

Depression is an illness.  It’s like having a cold or having asthma except it affects your brain.  Your brain controls the things you feel, think and do.

Everybody feels sad sometimes.

Everybody thinks bad things sometimes.

Everybody has things that they wish they could do, but can’t.

What makes your/this child(ren) sad?

What sort of things do they think about?

What do they wish they could do but can’t?

When someone has the illness called Depression, they can feel sad for a long time and not know how to feel better.

Depression can stop people being able to do things that they used to do and enjoy.

I hope that this gives you some ideas for some starting off points.  Seriously – do take the time to check out some of these links.  The first three have really informative and detailed guidelines in them.  The resource lists include children’s storybooks, links and all kinds of things and the other links have some wonderful things in them too.

I have found some other FANTASTIC resources for parents, siblings, extended family and close friends of children who have parents (or family members) with a mental illness.  Even one about babies for those with bubs or planning pregnancy.  There are more out there just waiting to be discovered.

COPMI stands for Children Of Parents with a Mental Illness.  It’s Australia’s national project over this area.

Piecing the Puzzle Together: Raising a Family When Mental Illness is Part of Your Life

Family Talk

Best for Me & My Baby

Talking to Children and Young People

 

 

Resources for Children aged up to 6yrs

Resources for Children aged 7 – 12 yrs

Resources for young people aged 13-18 yrs

Resources for Parents

Care Planning for a Family

Links for young people

 

Australian programmes offering support for children and young people with a parent or sibling with Mental Illness

Family to Family project booklets

When Things Are Sad And Gloomy : Understanding Mental Illness in your Family

 

Arch-Enemies 02/11/2011

Do you have arch-enemies?

I do.  Mine haunts me.  I can never seem to beat it.

There are the odd occasions when I do really well against it and I win.  It feels great.  I could walk on air.

Sometimes they last for a short stretch of time – a few days, a week – two if I’m lucky.  I could fly.

And then

it all comes

crashing

down

in

a

great

big

thud.

OUCH!

And it’s not just me who is affected.

It’s not a small thing with small consequences.

What happens, you ask?

Okay I’ll ‘fess up.

I don’t wake up.  Or if I do – I drop right off back to sleep before I can haul by backside out of bed.

Then I am late for anything that I have on for the day – visits, appointments, ….work.

And we’re talking regularly 30 – 40 mins late during the mid spring and autumn – and every now and then it’s a couple of hours.  It affects other people when that happens – workers, patients … if I don’t get my work done it slows down the process of referrals going through, information getting to people in hospital and their treating teams for planning, people going home.  It means groups can’t run or other people have to cover me.  I nearly lost my last job over it.  Even when well I’m often 10 – 20 mins behind my start time.  I survive because I start before my boss and I always work back – but I can’t keep it up.

And it doesn’t seem to matter what time I ‘m supposed to start – I’ve adjusted starting times.  It’s simply the process of getting out of bed and waking up in the morning.

Once I’m up, my sensory routines are helpful.  I’ve started to experiment with some mindfulness exercises when I get time – which help a lot.  But actually waking up and getting out of bed is jolly hard work.

The other thing that happens to me is that I lose time in the mornings.  I do.  Even when I’ve gotten up on time and have been running on time something happens – I space out in the shower or getting myself a drink and meds and time just vanishes.

I started a new experiment earlier this week that I think holds promise for the latter issue – I’ve started using a mindfulness breathing meditation exercise as soon as I get up that goes for about 10 mins to raise my level of alertness.  If it keeps working at keeping me focused, I’ll be writing about that in a couple of weeks.  But for it to work – I need to get up in time to have time to do it.  It doesn’t need to be earlier – because I’ve worked out that I do everything else more efficiently when I do it.  But I need to get up.

Sleepy-head

At present I use two alarm clocks set 5 mins apart – one to arouse my attention if I am in deep sleep so that by the time the second goes off I won’t sleep through it even if I sleep through the first.  Part of me wonders whether it’s worth investing in a bed vibrating alarm clock – they make them for deaf people.  It might be uncomfortable enough to help me move out of bed more easily.  Has anybody ever used one?

I know the rules – go to bed early and get up and the same time every day.  I’m awfully undisciplined at doing that.

Take your meds at the same time every day.  I tend to get lazy and just take them on the way to bed – which admittedly is probably half of the problem.  There are some very sleepy meds among my cocktail.

Every day is a new day with no mistakes in it – yet.  Thank you, Anne Shirley – but other people remember and I need to work out the best way to deal with their memories and keep myself focused on the present so that I don’t drown in fright.

So here it is.  My arch-enemy.  The alarm clock.  That moment in time that I’m supposed to get up.  To get moving.  To get started with the day.

Please – anybody with your own ghouls – what helps you haul yourself out of bed every morning?

 

 
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