As mentally ill people go, I’m lucky – I’m in full-time employment so I’m not reliant on the savage benefit system for cash. My job is a fairly dull admin-based role in an interesting, creative company. There are times when it’s stressful and exhausting, but generally I can cope with the workload with relatively few incidents of loo-crying.
This July marked my one year anniversary with the company. I’ve had 3 sick days in total, worked many extra hours for free and I’ve been expected to take on a lot of additional work outside of my remit. I’ve been fairly open about my struggles with anxiety and depression as I required a little bit of time off for appointments with my doctor and other mental health professionals. There was a point a few months ago when I was finding it difficult to keep on top of things, so I thought it best to be honest with my manager and director and ask for some support. Things have improved since then, and although my depression is still a dead weight which refuses to budge, my anxiety seems to have lessened.
So about 6 weeks ago it was time for my annual appraisal. I sat down with my bosses and a strong cup of tea, and we discussed my progress over the last year, as well as my goals for the year ahead. They praised my manner with clients, my work ethic and my productivity, and agreed to arrange the software training that I requested. All in all it was a glowing report and I left feeling newly confident. My director told me we’d meet soon to discuss my pay.
Surely I’d be getting a great pay-rise. I’d proved myself to be a good employee, and they were obviously willing to invest time and money into me over the next 12 months. They’d also told me that the company was thriving financially. So when I heard “We’d wanted to give you more, but we’re concerned about your health and can’t take the risk with you”, I went into tearful shock. I sat there nodding whilst being told that, because of my mental health problems, I wasn’t worth much to them as an employee. I felt my eyes filling with awful hot tears of shame and rage. I couldn’t say anything because I knew my voice would crack pathetically, which would only undermine me further. I ended up telling him that I understood. I mean, I tell myself everyday that I’m worthless so it felt right to be told I was actually worth less.
I was so embarrassed that I didn’t even tell my mum. I dragged myself into work the following Monday feel entirely demoralised and humiliated, thinking up desperate ways to prove to them that I deserved to be paid more than a poverty wage. But then I started to get angry. I’m fairly sure that what he said was illegal and he knows it. But he also knows that we’re a small company, nobody else heard what he told me and I that I need the job. Even aside from that, what he said also makes no sense, does it? Paying me peanuts and telling me that it’s my fault for having a mental health problem is hardly helpful.
And yet, I’m one of the lucky ones. I have a job to feel shitty about, and it’s my boss denying me a pay rise rather than ATOS cutting off my much-needed benefits. I also have a degree, I’m cis, my family are middle class, I’m white and I pass as straight – all of which means that if I lost my job because of my depression or anxiety, I’d be in an alright position when looking for work or signing on. So if it makes me feel as bad as this, this scared for my future, I can hardly imagine what it would feel like for others without that security blanket of privilege.