I started a new job this summer in the midst of struggles with mania which got worse as the months between then and December passed. Not a bad episode really, but bad enough to be uncomfortable. That’s what mania is for me now: uncomfortable. I no longer enjoy it. I associate it with bad times in my life and fear of a return of them.
In previous jobs, I had a tremendous amount of flexibility. I could break when I wanted to and as often as I needed to. I could also surf the net as much as I wanted to as long as I did my job. But that is not the case at my new job. We’re allowed a 15 minute break at 9:30, a 45 minute lunch at 11:30, and another 15 minute break at 2:30. And sometimes I have meetings or have to work through those break times so I don’t get a break time at all.
Before I came, there was a notorious boss who monitored everybody’s breaks and internet usage and put cameras everywhere. The staff still hasn’t recovered and the most wounded of them was my boss. One day, though, I needed a quick 5 minute walk around the parking lot. Afterwards, she called me up to her office to tell me she saw me walking outside of a break time and that the general manager personally monitors people’s breaks from his office overlooking the parking lot. I’m sorry, but this is fucked up. I’m a grown-ass man, a professional, who does his job no matter when he takes a break. This really pissed me off. I really have to take breaks, and sometimes more frequently than that, so I decided to invoke the Americans with Disabilities Act.
I went into the HR director’s office and gave full disclosure of my illness and asked for three accommodations:
- Breaks whenever I need them
- Use of the psychcentral.com website
- Unscheduled medical leave
She really hopped to. I could tell that she had never encountered this situation before. She likely had never even sat face-to-face to someone she knew was mentally ill. She avoided eye contact, became flustered, and most importantly, became very accommodating toward me. It was clear to me that she understood the legal ramifications of this and wanted to get it right and wanted me to know that she was cool with it even though she was having a hard to showing it.
I’m not at all self-conscious about my illness. I’ll tell anyone I have it, but I think people worry that I might be, so they handle me very carefully as if they didn’t want me to feel embarrassed. It’s very considerate, and very unnecessary.
I posted about this on the Psych Central forum and person after person shared stories of getting fired after disclosing. I said that I just don’t see that happening to me. I do a good job. They like me here. Yes, I can be a little disruptive once in awhile, but people are pretty forgiving of it.
I just don’t understand how all of these people could have been fired because they have bipolar. Because they need time off to be in the hospital or to go to the doctor. Or because they have a meltdown at work. These are all things covered under the ADA, and I don’t care if I live in a right to work state where I can be fired without cause, I just don’t believe that they can fire me because of a disability. People get fired because they’re bad at their job. ADA doesn’t cover that. I’m not saying that there aren’t tons of abuses and legitimate stigmas, but if you do a bad job, they will find a way to get around it.
Time will tell. I haven’t used any of my accommodations yet, I rarely will, but it’s nice to know that someone has my back and that my boss understands my needs now.