A couple of months ago, I quit my prestigious corporate job I held for years. At the same time, I also began to write and advocate for mental health awareness, this empowered step was years in the making. It was my first time going public with my bipolar disorder. I had been co-facilitating a support group at my local NAMI chapter. It felt so right.
From an early age, I worked tirelessly to prove myself equal to my peers. Bringing home all As, winning awards and scholarships. I went on to earn an MBA from a top program, all the while hiding the fact that I was also managing bipolar disorder. I refused to accept that it was harder for me.
Recently, I realized that if life was a swim meet, I was competing with one arm tied behind my back and sometimes with extra weights tied around my ankles. The fact that I was able to keep up and occasionally win races doesn't discount the fact that it was more challenging for me to succeed. But I continued to hide that extra challenge, especially from myself, because I did not want to appear less capable, less trustworthy or less lovable than my peers. There were many times in my life when I thought I would drown. I thought I had no choice but to give up. But instead, I picked myself up and kept going, doing the best I could.
I have been living well for two decades since my initial diagnosis. I have had successful careers, a wonderful marriage and a beautiful child. My proudest achievement is knowing I am a good mom.
All of my achievements gave me the courage to "come out." I needed to do my part in breaking the stigma. I wanted to believe I had proven myself enough over the years that moving forward my career would not be much different, despite my new openness and my advocacy work. I was optimistic.
Unfortunately, I soon found myself mysteriously passed over for jobs where I was well-qualified. I was repeatedly ghosted on opportunities where the recruiter initially sought me out because my skills and experience seemed perfectly aligned with the position. Hiring managers were suddenly silent after successful rounds of interviews and much momentum.
I couldn't shake my apprehension. I am now searchable online as an advocate for mental health. I wear my bipolar I diagnosis, past psychosis and all, publicly on my blog, Instagram and Facebook. Though I didn’t mention this in my interviews, it is very plausible that during intial background checks potential employers have come across this information.
Can I pinpoint the exact reason why I was being ghosted and passed over for opportunities? Of course not. Could it have been that they found a better candidate? Absolutely.
But as with any form of discrimination, I will most likely never find out the real reason. As it's been happening for decades to countless people of color and members of the LGBTQ community who did not receive a callback, I will never be sure of the cause. This fear was why I hid my diagnosis all these years. I did not want my mental health condition to ever come up as a possibility for discrimination. I am already female and Asian. Now I have another factor that employers may not look upon favorably.
Mental health advocates have long recognized what we're fighting is beyond stigma. It is discrimination. So here's what I want to say:
Dear Potential Employers:
I am the same dedicated, hardworking candidate I was before you found out about my mental health condition. Before writing me off, please review my qualifications, glowing references and work samples. If you pass on my candidacy prematurely, whether or not there is just cause, you will be missing out on an excellent, empathetic team member and contributor.
Michelle Yang was diagnosed with bipolar disorder I at age 20. She refused to let her mental health condition define her or stop her from pursuing her dreams. Michelle is writing a book to share her story to help remove stigma and discrimination around mental illness. Read more at livingwellhappily.com
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