I’m currently job-hunting.
Job hunting is a kind of soul-crushing experience for everyone. It’s weeks, maybe months, maybe years of having to go out into the universe and pleadingly attempt to convince other people – most of whom you’ve never met – that you’re worth providing with the means to acquire the representational units that allow you to get the necessities of life.
Aka give you a job so you can earn money.
And mostly you’re going to get ignored. You’re going to apply to postings that say “sorry we’re too busy to let everyone know when they’re rejected, so send your application into the void and wait.” (Except in nicer language.) Sometimes, you will get an apologetic form-letter – obviously sent to everyone – that lets you know that someone else got picked, but you are “encouraged” to apply for more jobs at this institution (whenever they materialise).
It’s a kind of grinding gauntlet and nobody enjoys it.
People around me generally know that I’m job-hunting. And the other day I got a very well-meaning Concerned note from someone I know.
Your LinkedIn connects to your Twitter and blog, they said.
Yeah, I know, I said.
Well, they said. On both of those platforms, you talk about, well. Mental illness and disability issues a lot.
Yeah, I said. I know. I consider my awareness of these issues a selling point.
Well yes, they said. But you talk about you having chronic depression and your experience with neurodivergence and that’s really the kind of thing you shouldn’t mention around possible employers until after you get the job. You don’t have any protection until after you get the job, after all. That’s the kind of thing that means you don’t get hired.
Nobody wants to hire someone with a chronic mental illness.
It’s not the first time I’ve heard this wisdom, by any means. I’ve even given it out, in some circumstances, and I’ve hated it every single time I’ve given it out.
I’ve also told people not to let on that they’re queer, in many cases, for the same reasons. And of course we’ve all seen the articles on making your name more “white” (or more male) to get a job.
The fact is, that concerned person is possibly even dead right: it’s not like I haven’t also lived through direct, applied, targeted stigma in similar areas because of being open about my mental illness, or my neuroatypicality.
Or the fact that I’m a queer woman.
But I tried living closeted as a queer woman for a few years when I was much younger and it was, in fact, absolute miserable poison. And I also know that my ability to live openly on that score inasmuch as I am able to do so is in no small part thanks to the amazing number of incredibly brave, often long-suffering queer people – men, women, both and genderless – who came before me.
They also saved me from thinking I was alone, that I was sick, that I was tainted, that I was wrong, that I was evil, and any number of other things that I would very, very easily have thought of myself had I not been able to see them, when I was figuring out that part of myself.
So when I draw that across to issues of mental illness and neurotype, I am doing it directly and deliberately. And I’m also doing it because I’ve lived it. I continue to live it.
I am very open about living with depression, with disordered anxiety, with neurodivergence. I am perfectly willing to say in casual conversation “I was dealing with a depressive downswing at the time”, or “that’s when I was first medicated” or any number of other things.
And I can’t tell you how often someone nearby, part of the conversation or sometimes even just listening to it, suddenly wants to talk. Needs to talk. How often, when we’re done, or sometimes when we’re halfway through, says I’ve never been able to talk about this before or nobody around me in my life really gets it or I thought I was just broken.
How often they say, I thought I was alone.
Often there’s qualifiers: often someone says my spouse is really supportive, they try hard, I just – where the “I just” means “I still feel like a freak, I still feel alone and Wrong and isolated.”
My family helps a lot, it’s just –
It’s not like anyone’s horrible about it, just that –
Just that. Just.
Just actually, don’t talk about it until after you have the job, because nobody wants to knowingly hire a ~*mentally ill*~ person, that’s a black mark. Just don’t actually mention anything on a date, because that’s ~*private*~, a secret, a piece of dirty laundry that you’d never just out and tell someone before they even know you’re worth knowing anyway.
Just don’t actually force people to know this secret about you, because well of course we’re not saying it’s something to be ashamed of or anything, but it’s just you don’t want people to see your bad side before they know you have so much to offer!
It’s quite possible, maybe even probable, that making it easy to find where I talk about mental illness, about my mental illness, under my own name and in some depth, is sometimes very much like putting a sticker on myself that says “do not hire, will not be worth it, will only be a problem.”
Fifteen years ago, being open about being queer would have been the same way, even here in Openminded Vancouver. Thirty years ago, definitely.
And sometimes, you just can’t afford that sticker. Believe me I understand that, and I will vehemently defend people who make the choices they need to in order to get where they need to go in a society that is incredibly messed up about this stuff.
The thing is, I’m lucky enough that if I really have to, there are things I can do to get a job. (And it is luck: luck in my family, luck in my friends, luck in other skills and abilities I’ve had the precious opportunities to require). Other people might not be. I am.
There’s tracks I can abandon, alternatives I can pursue.
I don’t want to: if I didn’t want to work in this field, I wouldn’t’ve worked so hard to train for it, to get the MLIS in all its expense in time, energy, money and – yes! – mental health.
If I didn’t think I could be good at it I wouldn’t be here.
But if I have to, I can look elsewhere, and I can survive. Whereas I don’t survive very well being ashamed of myself at all. I don’t survive very well in closets. Any kind of closet.
So yes: I talk about mental illness. I talk about my mental illness. I talk about my experiences as a member of this population, as someone on the Autism spectrum, as someone with chronic depressive disorder, with anxiety disorders, with disabilities that impact my life.
And actually this makes me a better librarian. It makes me better at the services I want to provide. It makes me understand the needs and the challenges of underserved parts of the population of library users better than I might otherwise do, starting with “because I’m part of it” and then moving onto “well if people can misunderstand what my kind of person needs so much, they must get other kinds of people wrong all the time too” and inspiring me to find out what those populations say they need, ask for, say is a problem, say about how those problems can be ameliorated.
I am better at understanding how I can help other people because I had to throw out so much “wisdom” about how to help myself and figure it out.
It’s entirely possible that’s not how that sticker will look for other people.
But that’s the way it goes. And I’ll deal with that. I’ve dealt with everything else.
My brain’s been trying to kill me since I was twelve. I’ll be fine.