Monday, October 17, 2011

Full Disclosure?

During sensitivity training for my job, a psychologist that presented to us encouraged us to inform our employers any mental health issues we may have so that they can take those into account when assigning work or allotting time off.

I've been debating when to tell to my employer and professors my difficulties in managing my fibromyalgia.

A part time professor in the print program at my university recently took his own life.

What do all of these things have to do with each other?

With chronic health problems, the issue of disclosure can be a difficult one.  Where employment is concerned, there is a legitimate fear that the presence of a chronic health issue will negatively impact how an employer views you.  There is a fear that you will be seen as incapable of performing your assigned tasks, or may too much of  liability to the employer.

For me, I struggle with informing my professors of my health.  While I want them to understand I am not just skipping class, but physically can not function some days, I do not want them thinking me incapable of completing my work.  I also do not want them to lower their standards for me, thinking that somehow my quality of work will suffer due to my condition.

But what about third parties?  What role do they play, if any?  What role should they play?

My professor informed my class of Anthony's suicide.  However, he did so in graphic detail, describing precisely how he killed himself.  He also went so far as to speculate why Anthony did what he did.  A friend of mine in the class shared with me that our professor had crossed professional boundaries by disclosing Anthony's death the way he did.  I agreed with her.  While I enjoyed Anthony's presence in our shop, I did not feel it appropriate for the exact details of his personal life leading up to his suicide and the manner of his suicide to be shared with us; we are all relative strangers to him.  It was extremely uncomfortable being told things that I felt my classmates and I had no place knowing.

So what do we do?  When is disclosure appropriate?  How much do we disclose?  To whom?  I don't know the answers to these things.  But functioning in a society that values neurotypicality, it is undeniably a balancing act.  Luckily, some are openly discussing what it means to live with a not totally able body/mind at times.  I try to write about some of my own struggles with chronic pain and mental illness, as does JT Eberhard and Jen McCreight.  More and more people are working to normalize these things.

Disclosure is a question that will be placed before me the rest of my life.  My conclusion is that I can only judge on a case-by-case basis what information is pertinent to those around me.  It's the best I can do.

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