Imagine yourself having a moment like this…the external world appears to be crumbling around you. The entire world is going through a global pandemic. Businesses are shutting down. Small businesses are failing and unable to survive. Your corporation is shifting into remote work. Job stability is uncertain as revenues decline. Your toddler’s daycare has closed so you’re managing working from home with a toddler.
Meanwhile your corporation NEEDS your A-game and innovative ideas to survive. Your kids need your A-game and unconditional love to be shielded from long-term effects of a world in crisis. Yet, somehow finding a way to not only stay above water…you are thriving. Managing the complexity of work and home has its challenges, but you’re figuring it out. Your past stores of resilience are serving you well. On the surface you are having a rock star moment.
But inside something else is brewing. Something that’s in your blind spot. You’re working in your bedroom and find yourself in a battle with insomnia as work consumes your thoughts. You feel responsible for solving every problem. Your mind churns all day long chewing on solutions and running worst-case scenarios. Your self care rituals are no longer available as gyms and spas have closed. Your nutrition has become an after-thought as other priorities keep taking away precious time. Exercise? No time for that.
Inside your body is in crisis. And then the unthinkable happens. You’re in a meeting with your boss and it ALL comes crashing down. An intense paranoia that started over the weekend is now completely unmanageable and you have a complete mental meltdown right in front of your boss. Meanwhile, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. System. Crash. <reboot> Terrifying words are coming out of your mouth that you can not stop.
How would you handle the unhandleable? The unmanageable? The unavoidable? This story is true. It’s the story of what happened to me on June 12, 2020 as I found myself in the middle of what I now know is called a bipolar episode. The pressure of the resulting impact of the pandemic and economic downturn had created a mental health crisis from a disorder I had been diagnosed with, but refused to accept a year prior. I could no longer run away from the truth about my mental health status. The risks outweighed the benefits.
Shortly thereafter, I found myself looking myself in the mirror repeating these words as I looked at my reflection, “I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.” I knew that to move forward in my career and my personal life I had to find a way to embrace my diagnosis while still finding a way to love and accept myself.
As I reflect back, the reason I wouldn’t accept my diagnosis sooner was purely because of social stigma. Bipolar disorder is a qualifying disability and when put on the spectrum of mental wellness it’s often considered far off center. As a woman who has been through two divorces where both of my ex-husbands resorted to extreme forms of gaslighting to attempt to keep my children from me, I felt like a mental health diagnosis could affect my custody of my children. I feared that it would ruin my reputation as a corporate executive and even affect my ability to attract my ability to find and maintain work, much less my previously successful corporate career. I felt like accepting this diagnosis could ruin my life. And yet, not accepting it already was.
I had a choice. I could let this diagnosis consume my success. Or it could become a launchpad into something even more meaningful. Then one day while running, a time when I allow my mind to run through whatever it needs to, these words entered my awareness, “I will NEVER hide anything again.” These simple words became my mantra, the mantra that got me here, writing this very post. I knew that hiding wasn’t an option. So instead of hiding my diagnosis in shame, I embraced it. I found the right medications to manage my symptoms. I prioritize my self care routines, first. I did what needed to be done.
And then I came out of the proverbial closet. I shared my diagnosis with my boss and team. I shared my diagnosis with my family. I shared my diagnosis with my friends. As a single woman I decided to share my diagnosis with any one I went on a date with, early. And when I shared it I stood IN my power, explained the disorder, how I manage it and why I am passionate about being a voice for others who have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder and refuse to let it define them.
I’ve chosen to step in front of my diagnosis and know that my voice can help remove the stigma around mental wellness in Corporate America. This is my newfound purpose. My diagnosis doesn’t define me. And if you have a diagnosis, yours doesn’t define you. Instead, my diagnosis is a launching off point for stepping even more deeply into my truth.
Because I’ve been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder I know I have a superpower for feeling and experiencing emotions of all sizes. And more importantly, I know how to hold space for the entire spectrum of emotions for others. As an executive leader in Corporate America my emotional intelligence has led to a depth of relationships with my team that goes beyond getting things done and achieving our objectives. Now my team knows that we can be open and honest about how we are feeling, how we are coping and where we are struggling emotionally, mentally and even physically. If the sh!t hits the fan, we know we have each other’s backs.
And here’s the truth, my story isn’t unique. According to Our World in Data 792 million have received a mental health diagnosis. That means probabilities demonstrate that there are people in your organization living with a mental health diagnosis who feel they can’t be open and honest about it. Who feel like they have to hide it for fear of a loss of respect and even a loss of their job. There are 792 million people in the world who could be feeling shame and broken because they couldn’t hold it all together during the largest global crisis of our lifetime.
And here’s the important part. There ARE people in your organization who are silently struggling mentally and emotionally with or without a mental health diagnosis. I’d argue that if we aren’t struggling right now, we are numb to what’s happening in the world around us.
I challenge every Executive and Entrepreneur to take stock of their own emotional and mental wellness. Create and use mental fitness practices. Then, create a safe judgement-free space for sharing about emotional and mental wellness at home and at work.
Lead the conversation. Share how you are feeling, how you are coping and where you are struggling. Learn how to listen without trying to fix someone else’s current state. Be strong enough to lead the charge for removing the stigma around mental health and inspire your team to bring their whole selves to work. Then watch as innovation and productivity skyrocket while a sense of emotional safety spreads throughout your organization.
We are in this together. Let us build a safety net for each other. Because we never know when or how our identity could fall apart in front of us. Creating a safe space for others also creates a safe space for ourselves. And that’s a win-win.