The first time I heard someone discriminate against someone with depression was in my last semester of nursing school. I was following the director of a small Labor and Delivery unit for my Leadership and Management clinical. She was talking about all the absences the department had had recently, and she mentioned one nurse specifically: “Well, she has depression. You don’t want to hire people with depression. They call in a lot.”
I was 26. I had been diagnosed with depression the previous year, after a harrowing first semester with a hypercritical, power-hungry clinical instructor named Heddy (and no, I know this isn’t an anonymous blog and yes, I’m naming names—she was that bad). Back in that small office in that dinky little hospital, my guard went up. Renee, the director, was speaking matter-of-factly, but I could feel myself shrinking inward as she talked, embarrassed. And scared. Scared that she would find out that I was depressed too, that I was someone she would never want to hire. And then I realized—I had stopped wanting a job in her unit the minute she uttered those hateful words.
The second time I experienced depression discrimination firsthand was today, at lunch with our Insurance Guy. I will preface this by saying I am a complete baby about grownup things like the fact that we’re all going to die someday, and I’m grateful to my husband for taking the initiative and planning for our future. However, I had no idea that within minutes of meeting this person that I would be disclosing the intimate details of my mental heath history. But there I was, admitting to having had depression for the past ten years; admitting that no, it wasn’t just postpartum depression, and yes, I was currently in treatment and no, I’d never been hospitalized for it.
Now people, here’s where I’m going to lay it all out for you. My dream is to be a nursing professor. I’d like to start teaching online courses, and then maybe one day, when the kids are a little bigger, I’d like to teach on a college campus. Now for whatever reason, I disclosed my dream to the Insurance Guy and, never one to be presumptuous, said, “I’d love a job teaching online, if I can get it.” What I meant was, if they hire me. What I meant was, if they think I’m a good enough candidate for a teaching position. I expected him to say something encouraging, something like, “I’m sure you will, you’ll be fine.” What he said was, “Oh, well I actually have a lawyer client who’s bipolar. You’d never know it from talking to him. He’s very successful, doing great.” In spite of his mental illness, were his unspoken words. I could hear him thinking it, it was so loud.
I have never felt like I couldn’t get a job I wanted because of my depression until today. Until that Insurance Guy looked at me over my turkey and Swiss and told me that even though I was sick, even though I had this mental illness, I could be successful anyway. Never mind my qualifications, never mind my college degrees—depression was a stamp marked forever on my forehead and I would be LUCKY to get a job with the Big D fighting against me everywhere I went, factoring itself into every choice I’ll ever make.
I should have said something, but I was paralyzed. He made me feel small, as if me and my little disease were beneath him. And as he looked at me, eyes bright as he passed me yet another form to sign, I could feel myself curling up inside myself again, ashamed.