AT the core of her profession, Clare Linane knows she is a complex conundrum for prospective employers.
The human resources manager in her feels it is often deemed inappropriate to mention in interviews she has a pre-disposition to mental illness. Drawing on her strong, authentic personal values, Clare feels it would be remiss to say nothing until hired.
Clare says there are highly-effective coping strategies that can work in an office environment for anyone like herself when feeling the inevitable lows of a depressive cycle starting to churn.
The tough part is in convincing an employer to take a chance.
Clare has contract work down to a fine-art, but there were only so many “omissions” Linane could make to avoid having to admit the real underlying cause preventing her from full-time, ongoing work. She would tell others all the good jobs were in Melbourne, she had family who needed her in Ballarat – including her husband, who is a child sexual abuse survivor – and Clare would say how much she liked changed, which she does.
Hiding mental health issues proved exhausting.
One year ago, Clare went public.
A raw, honest post about her long-time struggles with mental health went viral on a business social media platform. But the hardest part is now, as Clare seeks to reenter the workforce, no longer on a contract, determined to keep a promise in not quitting a job because it seemed the easiest way to cover up, and cope.
“I don’t think employers know how to have the conversation in interviews. I feel like they need a way to safely have a conversation about mental health without fear,” Clare said.
You’re really between a rock and a hard place – it’s not really appropriate to talk about these things but it’s also inappropriate for employers to judge someone on it, knowing they could be taking a huge risk.
“I don’t blame them. They might be scared of litigation or someone with mental health issues will do lots of stress claims, but really most employees with mental health issues are too embarrassed to say anything.
“For me, it’s all very well to blame everyone else but that gives other people power over what I am feeling. Work might contribute to my stress, but I have to learn to cope.”
Clare want people struggling with mental health to know there is hope, particularly those grappling with it for the first time.
It has taken Clare a long time to reach a point in which she better understands the brain and how she can best manage her condition.
Clare has a family history of depression. Her great-aunt was sent to Lakeside Mental Hospital aged 21 for what Clare believes was no different to her own struggles. For years, family were told the young woman had gone to live in Melbourne with nuns.
When Clare was about 16 years old, her academic grades started to slide and, as a bright student, she could not understand what was happening. It was not until Clare was 21 that she “broke” – instead of sitting a university exam, Clare curled up in bed, dropped out of studies, left her job and broke up with her boyfriend to sleep and watch television.
All I could think was I’m not like other people. I would tell myself I’m pathetic. Or worse, I’m lazy.
“When I felt better, I went back to university. I tell people now I’m like phone that needs time on a charger. I need time when I’m not thinking,” Clare said.
Clare got to know her warning signs, know the feelings and emotions that come in her depressive cycle.
But Clare could fake being happy to get through the day. She could avoid answering the phone or emails at work. She could often hide in a private office and keep functioning.
What she could not fake was the physical.
For Clare, depression makes her body feel heavy like concrete. Deplete.
There were periods of self-harm, often in a bid to make herself cry and try to move on.
The turning point came on a bus trip home from Sydney to Ballarat on which Clare bawled for hours but did not know why. A friend suggested a psychiatrist who gradually helped bring her emotions back into and more even and normal range.
Finally, Clare had a diagnosis to start making sense of her experience.
Medication helped, and Clare remains on a low-dose anti-depressant, but Clare did not change anything else at the time, particularly her work-life balance.
Depression crept back into her life. All the things she loved in life started to lose colour again. Clare stopped opening the curtains in her house once more.
Clare found a different psychologist in Ballarat who has effectively helped re-train her brain, not in stopping depression but in creating new strategies to better manage and stablise her condition.
Scientifically this has meant creating new pathways for brain neurons to follow in response. Clare likens this to forging a new pathway through the bush the past 17 years and said the process can be just as tough.
“This is not a one-way thing, I can affect how my brain functions too,” Clare said.
“I used to think I had to get to rock bottom before I started to feel better. Now, once I've started to realise the signs, or my husband starts to notice I’m not myself, I can start to get away from the bottom now but I’ve never got to that rock bottom point again.”
Most of Clare’s strategies have come through mindfully taking notice of what makes her feel good, others are from her extensive reading on the brain and mental health. For Clare, this includes the benefits of strong posture, getting her hands in the soil and gardening, and healthy, safe sunshine.
“People want there to be one solution, they want it to be their pill...really it’s about 100 small solutions you make everyday,” Clare said.
Clare’s business BrainSweet helps equip employers and employees in mental health awareness and strategies. But now Clare is preparing to tackle the job interview conundrum, no more omissions, but a key part of this will be testing mental health awareness and workplace culture.
This time, Clare is confident and hopeful in what is possible.
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