My Mental Illness Got Me Fired

I was going into my sophomore year in college and had just finished an amazing summer-long internship in a field that I was passionate about when I got a job offer to continue working in that same office for another year. I was ecstatic thinking about how I would finally be able to pursue something that I loved while being surrounded by people that I had formed close relationships with. I accepted and started immediately and loved every second of it. All was well until about my 8th week on the job. 

In May of 2018, I was diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder. BPD2 is not necessarily as severe as Bipolar I Disorder, in that I never reach the peak manic state. BPD2 is categorized as hitting the lowest of the low, similar to that of Major Depressive Disorder, while also reaching manic heights that are categorized as hypomania. 

The main difference between the two diagnoses is the duration of symptoms. Mania lasts about a week whereas hypomania lasts about 4 days, with both enduring 2 weeks of a major depressive episode (MDE). Typically, I cycle through every 3-ish weeks, but it’s never perfect. Some days in a hypomanic state are hard as well as having good days in a depressed mood state. Sometimes the cycles are longer, such as a 2 or 3-month long MDE, which is exactly what happened this fall. 

Shortly after I began working, roughly the last week in August, I noticed that I wasn’t feeling quite me. It’s hard to make judgment calls quickly when you’re medicated for mental illness, as the ways that everyone's bodies react to the medications are different. I decided that it wasn’t anything that I should be worried about and keep going- big mistake. 

About a week after that my grades started dropping, I couldn’t get out of bed, my roommates and friends were worried about my wellbeing, and I couldn’t go into work. “It’s no big deal,” I thought, “most of my work can be done from my room anyway,” which technically was true. The majority of my work was on an internal server that I could access from anywhere, so I decided to cut down my time in the office to 5 hours a week instead of 10 (which was clearly outlined as “legal” in the contract I signed). That’s when I got an email from my supervisor. 

Looking back on it, she wasn’t mean or condescending in the email at all. She simply stated that she wanted to speak with me about my work performance. So, I walked into the office that day not expecting to hear what I heard at all. 

She briefly and shallowly asked me how I was doing, and I was honest with her. I explained that I suffered from BPD2 and how this particular MDE has been affecting me much differently than in the past. Without hesitating, she looked me dead in the eyes and said a string of words I will never forget: “I don’t think that this is the best thing for either of us, your moods are quite unpredictable, and we can’t have you acting out in a professional setting when you get ‘sad’. I believe it’s best for you to go,” and motioned to her door. 

I was heartbroken, shaken, and felt more than invalidated. The air quotes she put around the word “sad”, the demonization of something I simply cannot control, the dismissal based in nothing other than lack of understanding. I was broken, which only added to the depressive state I was in. I didn’t have anywhere to turn, and I felt alone. I didn’t tell my friends or family that I was let go, I told them I quit. I couldn’t bear to face the shame that I had wrapped myself in.

Finally, I decided to tell a close friend about what had happened, and they advised me to go to her boss. So, I reached out and explained the situation detail by detail, hoping to get some closure. At this point, I just wanted to be heard; I didn’t want my job back, I didn’t want my supervisor to be fired, I just wanted someone to tell me that it was wrong of her to treat me the way that she did. 

However, I got the exact opposite of that. I was told that legally, there was nothing pointing to a discriminatory fire and that it all seemed “kosher” in his opinion. Because my mental illness was never explicitly stated in her termination, it could not be used as grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit. I left feeling even more defeated than before, and I didn’t know where to go, so I didn’t. 

Sorry to disappoint, but no, this isn’t some triumphant story of how I stuck it to the man and showed them who really was in the wrong here. I left that day feeling horrible about myself and my lack of morals. Needless to say, the rest of that semester didn’t go as smoothly as initially planned. 

So, what was even the point in sharing this story then if it didn’t have a Diehard-esque ending? Well, I wanted all of you to know that no matter how many people may tell you that you can’t do something because of your invisible illness does not mean that is the truth. Having a mental illness is not something that defines you, it makes up one of a million different pieces of who you are. For me, it took me a while to understand that, and I let BPD2 control my life. Now, I understand that it’s just a card that life dealt me that I can either hold close and hide it from play or utilize it to my advantage to help others. Do not let anyone, personal or professional, take away what makes you, you.