Cris Richardson is no pushover nor is she anyone's victim. That doesn't mean she wasn't pressured from her job because of her bipolar disorder.
Cris Richardson is a mental health advocate from Verdigis, Oklahoma–a rural community between Tulsa and Joplin, Missouri. She's somewhat of a Mental Health Justice (MHJ) legend. She was one of the first members to "Tell Her Story" on MHJ. Her candor and intelligence motivated many others to tell their story. Now, Cris wants to tell another important part of her mental health experience–her story about workplace/mental health discrimination.
I began my position in 2000 as Assistant Director of the Learning Resource Center at a local university.
I was responsible foe teaching 9 hours, starting online classes in basic writing to launch a tutoring program, and to hire the instructors for the basic classes some students require to prepare for regular college classes. It was a job for three people, but by myself I did it and did it well. I received a salary raise my first year for my success.
When the Fall 2001 semester began, I became overwhelmed and became more determined to complete all of the tasks assigned to me. I began to work longer and longer hours. I was only sleeping 2-3 hours a night. I was becoming manic.
Although I had never been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, I recognized what was happening and sought help from a psychiatrist in my health insurance network. She diagnosed me with both bipolar disorder and ADHD. She chose to begin treating my ADHD first with an anti-epilepsy drug called GABITREL® It didn't seem to work, I only got more manic.
My job was spinning out of control. I was open and honest with my supervisor. Suddenly, she isolated me from my staff in an office some distance from the others. Then, as problems arose, rather than working through them together, she began offering help: "Why don't we have so-and-so take over that so you can concentrate on teaching." I had no clue as to what was going on.
I felt paranoid, but you know it is not paranoia if it really is happening–people who worked for me were ignoring my requests, the tutors were ignoring me, and my coworkers were chewing me out like I worked for them. This was the beginning of the 2002 semester. I began to have mixed episodes.
Finally, in April 2002, I realized that I was no longer effective in my job. I called my supervisor's Assistant Vice President who happened to be a friend of mine. I told her that I needed to resign and why. She asked if that was what I wanted. I said no, but if I couldn't get the people who worked for me to come to a staff meeting, I had no choice. I did want to finish out the semester teaching my course. I was ignored and left alone until I left at the end of the semester.
I had an epiphany. They had not wanted to fire me for fear of a lawsuit, so I was forced out when my situation became so untenable that I had to resign. Rather than working with me, they were more concerned with getting sued. I was devastated. How could people I knew, trusted and performed quality work for treat me like this?
My work was everything. This situation was the precipitating event to my nearly successful suicide attempt.
I finally found a psychiatrist who understood bipolar and began treating me with the proper medications. We worked as a team to be sure I am mentally healthy. We made adjustments as needed. The worst adjustment was realizing I couldn't work because it led to mania.
I have been stable for over 10 years. But the thought of what happened to me still makes me sad and angry that educated people could kick a mentally ill person when she was down rather than helping her up.
I wonder how many others there are like me out there. My guess is a whole lot. I also wonder when our nation's policymakers will actually do something to address mental health reform including workplace discrimination. My hope is soon.