ask the readers: when depression gets in the way of work

I’m throwing this one out to commenters to weigh in on. A reader writes:

What does one do when their depression is getting in the way of work, despite treatment? Should people like me just be fired?

There is unlimited sick leave at my current job, and I find myself needing to call off frequently (once a month or more) due to mental health issues. Without this policy, I’d be sunk. I have severe major depression, see a psychiatrist, take four different medications to manage my symptoms, and engage in a few activities aimed to reduce stress. Despite all of this, I still need to take many days off work. I do try to work through my symptoms, but often end up crying in the bathroom for hours, or needing to leave by noon because of uncontrollable crying and inability to focus or work.

I didn’t tell my manager myself that I have the problems, but he was able to figure me out over the years and asked by himself if I have depression. I didn’t lie when asked. He seemed understanding and accommodating, but I am still afraid of being unable to function at capacity and failing to perform. I don’t know what to do about my career or my life. If this is posted, I will read not only your response, but every single comment on this to try to find answers.

Readers, what advice do you have?

{ 348 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Just a reminder that the OP isn’t seeking medical advice (I removed one comment along those lines), but rather advice on how to navigate/cope with work right now. Thank you!

  2. Matilda Jefferies*

    No advice, but love and hugs if you want them, OP. I’m dealing with the same thing – not quite as severe as yours by the sound of it, but I definitely know the feeling of depression getting in the way of work. I’ll be following the thread with interest.

    1. Nea*

      Sounds like quite a few of us are doing that. If nothing else, OP is certainly not alone.

    2. Cathy*

      *Fist bump of solidarity*
      As Captain Awkward would say, Jedi hugs if you want them! I will also be following with interest.
      I’ve had issues with simply not being able to get out of the bed in the morning. I know that once I am in the shower the water flowing over me seems to give me enough energy to face the day. So I went out and splurged on super-plush towels, wonderfully scented handmade soaps, etc. so I can look forward to pampering myself in the morning. So far, it seems to have helped!

    3. Turquoise Cow*

      This was going to be my comment also. My depression has thankfully not been this bad, so I don’t think I can offer any help, but hugs and nice feelings.

    4. General Ginger*

      Awkward fistbump of solidarity here, too. OP — and Matilda — you are not alone. Hugs and good thoughts for you!

    5. princess paperwork*

      Ditto everyone else. Remember to be kind to yourself. In reading your letter you’re really working hard to manage your work and depression. Give yourself some credit for that.

    6. Chameleon*

      Not to “me too,” but…me too. Brainweasels are trixy beasts. Best of luck, LW.

  3. MegaMoose, Esq.*

    Ages ago, someone on this site recommended Captain Awkward’s post titled “How to tighten up your game at work when you’re depressed.” It’s been open on a tab on my phone for over a year now.

        1. Christian Troy*

          Thanks for posting this! The advice is pretty good and helpful even as someone not currently depressed.

        2. General Ginger*

          Captain Awkward is so good at this stuff. Thank you for posting the link, Alison!

        3. Not My Usual Name*

          Thank you, Alison. I’m going to read this. I think that MegaMoose, Esq.’s idea about keeping the tab open is a good one.

        4. Jesca*

          THIS! I suffer on and off from depression. Actually for years I suffered from morning depression. It seems to be worse when you *need* to get up for myself and a lot of others. If this is happening, I can only offer you what I did to make this calling out due to the morning depression stop. I literally just started to tell my stupid little monkey brain to literally stf. I would say it out loud if I had to. I would lace it with the most obscene angry language I could find. I would tell myself every time I thought “I need to call out” that those thoughts arent me. They are that stupid monkey brain. I then made a moring routine with alarms. I literally from doing this stopped myself from thinking about anything in the morning. I havent called out in 2 years! I do this now throughout the day too. Every time *those* thoughts creeped up, I cuss out that voice. Lol I know it sounds weird, but it worked. Also, I lay out my work clothes like uniforms so that I dont need to worry about that either. Both of those will get you to work calmly and dressed. Once there, id follow the advice in this article. The nice thing about all of this? Its amazingly complimentary to treatments people are on!

          1. E*

            I second preparing clothes or other things the night before. Any decisions that I don’t have to make at the beginning of each day mean that I am less stressed out by the time I have to start work tasks.

          2. JessaB*

            One of the things I’d do even if there’s unlimited leave, because even unlimited at some point has a limit (even if they have to make it post facto) and change it for next year. If you’re in a company large enough to qualify, and you’ve been there long enough that you’re eligible, get your medical team together and make an intermittent FMLA thing out of it, or an ADA accommodation. It’ll help cover your bosses if someone complains.

            I worked for a company where the HR rep knew me for years, when she left, someone who didn’t know complained about all the unofficial accommodations I had, and since there was nothing in the file, HR came back with I had to do it myself00000000 . One of mine was not lifting more than x and we had work boxes that were over x, and the guy the supervisor had doing it for me complained. The boss was really happy that I had lined up my Vocational Rehab team to get him paperwork to cover that.

            This of course supposes you’re working in a company with regularly reasonable people. If they’re the type that are going to be rotten about it, that’s different.

            Also I know when I am badly depressed, my work quality suffers, and THAT with or without accommodation, with or without unlimited leave, can get you dismissed. So having advance paperwork that covers you when you say “today I need to work from home,” or “today I need to do filing because data entry is going to be a disaster.” Whatever your job description is.

            Zen hugs and virtual cocoa and cookys if that helps.

        5. Not So NewReader*

          What a great step-by-step article.

          When my father passed and I was overloaded with estate work on top of everything else, I felt like I had been run over by a steam roller. I used a few of these tips myself and found them helpful. I started by calling it “fake it until you make it”, but a while later I decided, “I want to be a happy, smiling person so I am going to start today whether I feel it or not. At some point it will come to me more easily than it does now.” I invested a lot in self-care and tightening up sloppy/unthinking habits I had managed to accrue.
          This article is good life advice.

    1. Trix*

      Yep, that one is invaluable. I’m not always the biggest Captain Awkward fan, but that one in particular has been so helpful. I’ve gone back to it several times over the last two or so years.

      1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

        People here recommend her all the time and she’s just never quite caught on with me either (I tend to like the more practical, solution-focused advice columns rather than the longer-form philosophical/personal essay style columns). That said, that one post is golden.

    2. Oryx*

      I hadn’t read that post before but reading it now makes me realize how far I’ve come in the past six months with regard to managing my own depression.

    3. MegaMoose, Esq.*

      Well, I hit post too early! Anyhow, I feel you, OP. I’ve struggled with depression and social anxiety on and off for years. My last major hit coincided with my last year of law school, and although I’ve been constantly employed, I haven’t been able to land a permanent job. I’m doing fairly well right now (5-6 years later), but I struggle with feeling like I sabotaged my chanced during that year and the couple of years following my graduation (when I had a fairly prestigious, term-limited job) by not being at my best. Just yesterday I had the “but you have such a great resume, I can’t believe you haven’t found something!” conversation yet again. Fun times.

      For now, you say that you’re struggling at work, but the examples you list don’t mention your actual work product. Clearly if you’re leaving early and dealing with major depression you’re not going to be putting in the same amount of work than you might otherwise, but I wonder if it might not be useful for you to try and focus on the work you are doing. Other than time spent in your seat, what are the signs of success in your job? Can you work with your boss to set practical goals that you can manage while taking into account your time off? There’s nothing at all wrong with taking more time off than is considered “normal” so long as your boss is okay with it, which it sounds like he is.

      Try and remember that you have a serious illness and be gentle with yourself (I’ll learn to take my own advice one day). Employers work around serious illnesses all the time. It sounds like your manager is willing to work with you here, which is fantastic. I wish you all the luck in the world.

      1. SarahTheEntwife*

        +1 to definable goals! Since depression can really affect your own perception of your performance, if your goals are normally more long-term it could really help to be able to go home at the end of each day with a concrete idea of how you’re actually doing.

        1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

          Moving from the work to home sphere, it’s kind of bonkers how much “making the bed every morning” and “doing the dishes and wiping down the kitchen every time my spouse cooks a meal” have turned into these amazing accomplishments that genuinely do keep my spirits just a tiny bit higher. I wonder if even small work goals like that might help provide some structure and motivation. It can even be things you’re already doing, you just have to remind yourself that those little things totally count.

          1. Bigglesworth*

            I don’t have depression, but my spouse has been diagnosed with moderate anxiety and depression combo. Goals like “Doing the dishes” or “Brushing my teeth” or “making the bed” are definitely part of his strategy to help his depression. On days when he doesn’t have goals or doesn’t complete those goals, it’s going to be a rough day.

            1. Chinook*

              These little goals also have the perk of being part of a routine, which can be comforting. I know that, when I am at my worst, knowing that I can accomplish simple goals just by muscle memory and rote memory makes me feel like I have accomplished something.

              For example, if I get out of bed, I have to get changed, feed the cat and eat something. Sure, that may mean I stay in bed until I have the energy to do all that, but once I am out my body automatically does these things and *boom* I have accomplished something. Heck, the last time this happened I got out of bed with only the goal of “I must eat oranges” and, once I did that, I had my first accomplishment.

              In a work environment, setting up a recurring Tasks list in something like Outlook can be quite satisfying because you get to cross stuff off AND there is an easy way to keep track of what needs to be done for those unpredictable times when my brain doesn’t want to focus.

            2. Jaydee*

              It’s also a good canary in the coal mine for identifying slides in your mental health. If I can’t manage to make the bed, brush my teeth, pack lunch (or have a solid plan for why a packed lunch isn’t needed), etc. then I know it’s going to be a rough day and can plan accordingly.

          2. General Ginger*

            Hah, for me, on really bad days, it’s even “ate lunch today”. Nevermind that lunch was a protein drink I forced myself to ingest — it absolutely counts as “look at that, you did a good thing, excellent!”

            1. Saturnalia*

              100% agree with this. Anything in the “you took care of the meat machine that you might care more about when you feel better” category is such an important accomplishment to celebrate

      2. Turquoise Cow*

        Yes to all of this. Day-by-day goals are so much more manageable than long term goals. I tend to get hung up on them, like “oh, I haven’t yet been promoted/gotten in shape/remodeled my home/etc,” and then as each day goes by without that happening I feel crappier for that.

        If you focus more on short/term things, like daily or weekly or even shorter terms (“I’m going to buy groceries this afternoon/I’m going to take a shower this evening/I’m going to do x work task by x time”) those small victories do a little (I don’t want to say a lot, but something!) for your ability to feel accomplished. Others may disagree, but I feel better when I’ve accomplished something. Ok, so I haven’t become a millionaire yet. But I got out of bed, drove to work, sent a few emails, and ate a healthy lunch. Focusing on the accomplishments helps me feel more like a productive human being instead of a person who hasn’t achieved major life goals.

        1. Saturnalia*

          I think this is what they mean when they talk about focusing on the journey not the destination. I’m barely making that connection this moment.

      3. AllTheFiles*

        I will second this note that employers work around things like this plenty. It is easy to forget because typically you don’t see it or know it unless you’re involved in some way.

        My dad has bipolar and he worked 20+years at the same company with good success & great coworker relationships. This went from him not knowing, through diagnoses, through countless medicine/dosage changes, and through a suicidal episode ending in temporary hospitalization.

        He would have to miss weeks sometimes but he built up plenty of vacation time to use, he would communicate with them, and he would meet the requirements when he was there (ala Capt Awkward article). All this to say, you do need to communicate and try to meet basic requirements but it also helps to tell them what is going on. It is really hard as an outsider to understand, deal with, and communicate with someone when you have no idea what is happening. People are far more oblivious than you may realize, so laying it all out there helps everyone.

      4. Competent Commenter*

        My contribution is less advice and more commiseration and validation on one aspect of this: lots of people will say to be gentle/kind to yourself. For me, I’m not really hard on myself about the fact that I have mental illnesses that sometimes interfere with my ability to work. I know I really do have an illness and that I’m doing the best I can. But…I worry that other people won’t see it that way, like my boss, or the friends I let down when I can’t attend something, or my family members who wonder why I don’t reciprocate all of the thoughtful things they do. That’s the real stressor: will others forgive me? will they lose respect for me? will I lose my job? I feel like that real stressor—and it is real, sometimes we do lose jobs or friends because of our illness—gets swept away by well-meaning people who think we’re just “being hard on ourselves.”

        Sure, if we’re saying things like, “I can’t believe I’m depressed again, I’m so stupid,” yeah, that’s being hard on yourself. But if it’s, “If I’m afraid if I take another sick day my boss will put me on a PIP,” that seriously might be real. I actually feel better when people acknowledge what’s real: “That must be scary for you, and hard. It’s bad enough coping with your mental illness and now you have this concern to deal with when you should just be doing self-care.”

        Also, once you identify it like that instead of labeling it “being hard on oneself,” it does help you turn your mind to more possible practical strategies. Maybe that’s talking to one’s supervisor and asking for a regular check-in to make sure they’re still ok with your level of productivity. Maybe it’s coming up with an alternate like life changes that would allow for working three-quarters time, or using opportunities when you feel good to get in some extra work (and good will) that you can bank.

        I am very grateful that my mental illnesses were diagnosed when I was in my late forties and that my quality of life has vastly increased since then. I wish you all the best on your search for mental health solutions.

        1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

          That is a very interesting point. I think I get what you’re getting at but it’s not something that had occurred to me before and is good to keep in mind. Personally, I am quite prone to self-flagellation of the “I’m a stupid waste of space” variety, thus the old “be kind to yourself” gem is generally welcome.

        2. EmKay*

          “That’s the real stressor: will others forgive me? will they lose respect for me? will I lose my job?”

          It’s like you read my mind.

      5. Not Rebee*

        Great comment. As employment norms seem to trend more towards “treat people like adults”, and especially when your manager is in the loop and understanding, you may actually be doing better than you think despite not sitting in your chair as often as you think you should. In particular, companies with unlimited PTO seem to be huge fans of “get your work done and otherwise do what you want”.

        So what I would do is think about what success would look like in your position (like MegaMoose said). Really think about all the different benchmarks and achievements that would let you know you were doing the job right (and not just occupying the chair the correct number of hours per day), and then think about how you have or have not been meeting those benchmarks. Consider how your depression and office absences may have impacted those places where you fall short (for example, if you’re an unorganized person ordinarily and one of the benchmarks of success is being organized, you probably can’t say that it’s the depression that is causing you to fall short here, so file that thought away for later) AND THEN maybe consider having a discussion with your manager. Since he’s in the know and you’ve had conversations with him in the past, you can be pretty frank. “I feel like I am not meeting certain job standards and am concerned about the status of my employment here. As you know i suffer from depression and I worry that it is impacting my performance in these areas/specific ways.” and work with him to find out if a) you’re correct in your analysis of your own performance, b) if those areas have the importance that you have assigned to them, and maybe c) how you might be able to work out a plan with your manager to work on them.

      6. JessaB*

        Also besides definable goals, have a list in your head of what you LIKE to do most, and if you’re able, pick those tasks when you’re really down. If you’re the kind of person who likes to zone out when you’re blah, then pick the rote tasks you don’t have to think about. If you’re the kind that would rather fill your brain with something complicated in order to drown out the blah, then order your workday like that. Sometimes you have not a lot of control over WHAT you get done, but you can often decide which tasks to do WHEN.

  4. Hills to Die on*

    I have no advice but I wish you all the best. I’m sorry you are going through this. Love to you.

    1. Whoopsy*

      OT AF, but please tell me your handle is a reference to that comment in the “Office Change Meltdowns” thread where the dude brought in a script to read from called Hills To Die On

  5. Summerisle*

    Sending positive vibes your way, OP. I don’t have any specific advice or expertise I’m afraid. Just, be kind to yourself – don’t feel guilty about doing whatever you need to do to keep going – and give yourself credit for holding down a job. That’s not an easy thing when you have severe depression and it’s a huge achievement. Stay strong.

    1. Kim*

      I agree. You are awesome, OP. Not only are you holding down a job and managing your treatment, you’re also reflecting on what’s working and what’s not and reaching out for support to improve at work. To me, that’s admirable and shows that improvement will come.

      Perhaps your boss feels the same- have you considered an open conversation with her about how things are going and asking for her feedback? Maybe you could come up with a plan to accommodate your needs for right now, so you don’t feel so upset about the impact of your illness.

      I wonder if there are specific things going on at work that are triggering you or if this is generally overwhelming. If it’s a specific part of your role that’s causing an issue, perhaps your treatment team or colleagues could help with ideas to overcome that.

      If it’s work in general, I think acknowledging that you’re doing the best you can may be a good first step. Sometimes I’ve also found it helpful to plan my day according to my personal rhythm. So, I’ll do the hardest thing first, then feel really good about having accomplished it, which makes it easier to get through the hard parts of the day. If you have this kind of flexibility, this might be an option for you.

      Good luck OP! Wishing you all the best!

    2. Sins & Needles*

      My friend told me, “Be as kind to yourself as you would a dear friend.” That phrasing is what gets through to me. Good luck, OP.

  6. Detective Amy Santiago*

    As someone who suffers from severe panic disorder and depression, it sounds like your treatment plan isn’t working effectively and you should probably discuss switching things up with your doctor. If you’ve been on the same meds for a long time, they can lose their efficacy.

    That being said, is it possible your job is somehow contributing to your depression? Do you *like* your job? What do you like about it? What don’t you like? How long have you been there? It might be time to think about moving on. Alternately, if there are specific things you really enjoy, can you talk to your boss about shifting your priorities to focus on those things?

    1. anonosaur*

      Agree 100% about the treatment plan. I have bipolar disorder and have been in treatment for 10 years. Stuff slipping at work is a sign that something is going on and I either need to adjust my medication a bit or have more frequently counseling appointments. OP, you didn’t mention it but are you in counseling? Managing depression or any other disorder is hard, stressful work that can wear on you, and counseling can give you a space to talk about your fears and worries with a non-judgmental person. My advice would be to tweak your treatment plan. Good luck, OP, and you can do this!

    2. Observer*

      I don’t suffer from depression, but I do have some experience with it. And, I have to agree with you.

      OP my heart goes out to you- I know that this is terribly difficult. I hope you find effective help.

    3. RabbitRabbit*

      All of this. In addition to medication, other treatments are out there, including transcranial magnetic stimulation which is showing great promise, and esketamine (may just be in clinical trials at this point, but look into it). Plus if you haven’t looked into it, consider adding cognitive behavioral therapy, which is very good at stopping ‘spiraling’ thoughts for many people. There are even self-guided workbooks out there.

      But yes, strongly consider whether the job is causing your depression – you may love the unlimited time off and the sympathetic boss, but it may be drowning you without you realizing. I left a job and I thought I would regret losing various direct and indirect benefits, and years later am still discovering how it was so dysfunctional, career-killing, and generally messed-up in ways I couldn’t see at the time.

    4. BRR*

      I thought about that but forgot to mention it in mine comment. All hypothetical, but if the job stinks and the unlimited sick leave is compelling you to stay you should think about leaving. I also know adding on a job hunt during a time like this seems feels impossible, but if your job is causing your depression to flare up I would consider finding a new job.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I have seen how toxic workplaces can bring down the happiest of people. OP, if your workplace is pulling you down lower, then getting out might be a life-saving option. (Or at least a quality of life consideration, which means it’s a serious consideration.)

    5. Lemon Zinger*

      I agree wholeheartedly with this. When I moved to my current location, I went through several months of DEEP depression. At first I thought it was because I was living in a new place with no friends or acquaintances, and tried to work through it. Then I was in a serious accident and realized that my depression actually stemmed from working for a company that did not care about me at all; I was just a number to them, and I was easily replaceable. The work was unfulfilling and sometimes unethical.

      I quit as soon as I got a job offer elsewhere. The hiring process took a long time, so I was unemployed for a month, but that month was critical for me! I spent it taking care of myself and getting back on track, mentally.

      OP, I really encourage you to think about whether your job is impacting your mental health in a negative way. If it is, you need to start looking elsewhere. If you can afford to be unemployed for a while, that might be a good thing to do as well.

      Sending you internet hugs and positive vibes. Hang in there! <3

    6. Prefer to remain nameless*

      I agree with this comment completely.

      Different meds and different therapy approaches have worked for me at different times. This has allowed me to cope with balancing my depression and its symptoms (from severe to mild) with my work for almost 40 years.

      I think it is important to have the right work and working environment. Even with an understanding manager, the work duties can be at odds with one’s mental health. It helped–and helps–that I decided very early in my working life to seek a career that allows me to use only my strongest skills and allows for flexible hours. The pay and prestige aren’t great, but my thinking and emotions don’t get derailed because of my work. And my work helps build my sense of self and sense of purpose. (I work in a creative industry.)

      Maybe you need a new workplace or new duties–it might be helpful to talk about this with your psychiatrist or a therapist who specializes in workplace mental health. (I found this useful.) You can have fulfilling work without sacrificing your mental health.

      I hope you can find the path through your struggle. I know it is possible.

    7. Turquoise Cow*

      I agree with the job aspect. Even though your boss sounds awesome ,at least in this respect, are there other things bring you down about it, OP? Maybe things you haven’t even realized. Not just the work, but are your coworkers nice and friendly? Do you feel like you can trust them? Is your building dark and cold/hot? Is your commute horrible? Are you overworked or overwhelmed with the job, like you have too much on your plate, or you’re constantly working extra hours, or your contributions aren’t being recognized appropriately? Sometimes it’s not any big thing, but little dents that make you feel like going there is just the most horrible, energy draining thing in the world.

      1. Chinook*

        The thing is, once you have found other triggers that bring you down, you need to find ways to counteract them if you can’t remove them. Little rewards can be a big thing. Boring and long commute – get something to read/do that you can only do on the commute (I discovered Arrow fan fiction for mine). Building dark – bring in a new light. Overworked – ask your boss for what they would like to prioritize. Etc.

        Remember that identifying the problem is only the first step. You need to come up with doable actions to help solve them.

    8. Biscuit!*

      I agree with pretty much everything here. My only thing would be about liking the job. Sometimes, you can like or love a career or activity that is a major player in your depression. I found that out when I was in theatre. I loved everything about it, but it wreaked havoc with my mental health. Something about it triggers my depression and brings out bad habits and coping methods. So I’d say definitely question your job and its role in your depression. You don’t have to dislike something for it to be a bad match.

    9. Routie*

      This is the best advice. You need to be working very closely with your treatment provider on this. It sounds like your depression is significantly affecting your ability to function effectively at work, and it also sounds like you are miserable and really suffering. If you haven’t conveyed to your psych. how dire things feel to you, you need to. If you have and things aren’t getting better, you need to look for additional help.

      You said you take one or more days off a month, so that’s at least 12 sick days a year for depression. Plus the hours crying in the bathroom and the days you leave early. That’s a significant chunk of time to lose, and that is something your doctor should be aware of, if they aren’t already.

      It’s great that your manager seems supportive, but I wouldn’t let that stop you from acknowledging that you need treatment that better addresses your current state.

      I wish you the best. I have depression and panic attack/social anixiety, both of which impact my work life, though not to the extent you’re having to deal with.

  7. Anonymous Poster*

    I’m writing this as someone that hasn’t struggled with depression and does not know what you’re going through. But, I hope it’s helpful, because it sounds like you’re in a good company.

    Your manager sounds very caring, which is great. They’re also clued in, and I’m guessing HR might be also?

    Either way, maybe this is a great opportunity for you and your manager to talk through what you’re going through and make sure you’re on the same page. Given your manager’s caring nature, it sounds like they’d understand and might even just reassure you with a, “This is exactly what this leave policy is for.”

    It’s good you’re conscientious enough about your work to not want to let that slip through the cracks. Perhaps you should bring that up in this conversation, “I’m concerned about the impact my condition is having on my work quality. I think it may be slipping, but do you have more insights to share?” Sometimes people are too hard on themselves even though their work is just fine, which might be happening, or your manager may say that there has been a quality drop, but then you can work from there on how to properly address it given the circumstances. Maybe a solution would be to step back from some responsibilities for your health’s sake. This is reasonable and normal, like when people start families or are developing side businesses or no longer desire career growth going forward in lieu of growth in their personal lives or other interests.

    Best of luck, we’re rooting for you.

    1. Trix*

      I think that talking to your manager specifically about your work quality is definitely something to consider. I know that I’ve been way too hard on myself for some things, thinking that I’m awful and that I’ll be fired as soon as they wise up to the fact that they put me (me? really, me?) in charge of any sort of actual responsibility. In a similar way, I’ve also let myself slide on things that actually were important and being noticed (okay, so at this office, arriving 5-10 minutes after the official start time is no big deal, but I can’t let it slide to 15, 20, 30 minutes), so finding out if there are any mismatches between how you feel you’re doing and how your manager thinks you’re doing can be a huge help, either way.

    2. WG*

      In addition to the suggestions here about talking with your supervisor, is there any flexibility to your job? For example, if you’re having a bad day mid-week and leave early, can the work be made up either from home or during the weekend? This is easier if you’re exempt, but there could be some options with non-exempt too.

      I’m currently in an exempt role where I do need to be in the office a fair amount of the week, but have some flexibility to get some of the work completed nights or weekends. And some of the can be done remotely. I don’t have depression, but this flexibility is helpful for other reason for me.

      If you have a good track record at work, your supervisor may be willing to provide flexibility so you can balance work performance with taking care of your health.

      1. Holly Gen*

        It’s worth remembering that depression lies. It will tell you you’re doing a poor job. It will tell you people are unhappy with you and your performance/behaviour/etc, but depression lies.

        Talking to your manager, as mentioned by others here, will definitely help highlight some of these lies, and allow you to understand where you stand. It sounds like you have a great employer, and an understanding manager, who will work to assuage your doubts, and work with you to find the best for you

        1. DivineMissL*

          ^+1. I went through a long, deep depression; at the annual performance review after I had come out of it, I told my boss that I had been depressed and I apologized if I had not been quite myself; turns out he hadn’t noticed anything amiss, and I received a stellar review. I agree with Holly Gen that it would be a good idea to talk to your manager.

        2. Code Monkey, the SQL*

          Yes, I wanted to say exactly this!

          I have struggled intermittently with depression. My brain, on my bad days, insists that I am a terrible employee and deserve to be fired, and maybe I should do them all the favor of quitting so they don’t have to bother.

          I hear echoes of my brain-weasels in your letter. So, on that, I would suggest that you treat your concern that you are not a good employee as another manifestation of the sickness you are fighting. It sounds like your manager would be a good place to start with getting some objective feedback. You need to be able to hear and see objectively, “yes, you are doing fine,” and not immediately start assuming it’s lies.

          Good luck to you LW, I hope that you keep on persisting with this and getting better.

        3. Birdbrain*

          YES. I was coming here to say the same thing. OP, it’s likely that your Depression Brain is exaggerating or even fabricating how much of a problem your absences cause. Talk to your manager and get some perspective: if I’m wrong and the manager admits that it’s an issue, then you can see if there is an accommodation that could help, like the flexibility arrangements that WG mentions above.

          (Also, I’m rooting for you!)

        4. Ramona Flowers*


          Asking my manager for regular feedback helped me a lot with my own ‘stuff’.

        5. Anon Town*

          My heart goes out to you, OP! I’m also going through some health issues that affect both my schedule and my focus/memory.

          1. Ask your manager if he/she has any concerns about your performance. Ask if he/she could help you set reasonable daily or weekly goals.

          2. Consider going on intermittent FMLA. It is designed to help you keep your job while you have occasional health-related or family-related absences.

          3. Consider asking if you could transition your role to part-time, contract or freelance–whatever might make sense.

        6. Not My Usual Name*

          “It’s worth remembering that depression lies. It will tell you you’re doing a poor job. It will tell you people are unhappy with you and your performance/behaviour/etc, but depression lies.”

          This. I’m suffering from severe depression and have been struggling with work like the OP. I often find myself convinced I’m on the verge of being fired, yet I received a raise and bonus this year. The Depression Monster tells me I don’t deserve them, but I keep trying to fight back the “You’re going to be fired and lose your house” demons.

        7. Jenna*

          One of the things I need is someone outside to give me a dose of reality. I tend to end up in therapy because I end up so down on myself, and my therapist can tell me, “no, you are doing fine. Your accomplishments are fine. Look at all the things you are doing!” A reality reset can be really useful, because depression does lie.

        8. JessaB*

          This steen million times. Depression makes you think you’re failing at things you’re totally not. It lies like a rug. Your inner voice often needs outside information.

          I once had to go to a boss and ask “You’re giving me zero feedback, and I need to hear once in awhile if I’m doing this right.” This was at a temp job where they gave statistics and feedback to the permanent people but not the temps. I spent a lot of my depression-brain on trying to figure out if this was my last day, because temps are even more at will than regular at will people.

          We know the assignment won’t last and they often ditch people with absolutely zero notice and we’d never been told “Oh you need to file Smitty in the BLUE files not the green ones.” Then they tell the temp company we were screwups and we wonder why we’re not getting a follow on job somewhere else.

          So yes if you’re in a reasonably decent place, I’d touch base about how you’re doing when you’re there. If it’s NOT a decent place, I add my voice to the “find a new job” people.

        9. Jiya*

          Just to add to the anecdata – I’ve been severely depressed since last October, and in that time I’ve gotten my two best performance reviews in the four years I’ve worked at my company. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Depression brain tells me I’m The Worst, but apparently that’s not what my supervisor thinks.

          Every time you do get something done, try writing it down – you can email it to yourself and keep those emails in a folder called “Performance” or something. Every time someone else emails you a thanks or says you did a good job, put it in that folder, too. Then look over it sometimes. Reality is full of good and bad bits – when you’re depressed you just have to force yourself to remember the former.

      2. Blue*

        This is a situation where you have to know how your condition affects you. Taking away my consistent work schedule and thus my clear delineation between work and life is guaranteed to send me into a major depressive cycle. I was working a lot of extra hours at home during the first part of the year, and I haven’t recovered. My boss and I will having a conversation in the near future about how I will need to leave if that continues.

  8. Dani X*

    I also suffer from depression – not as bad as you. I am on one med, and talk to someone and things seem to be working very well for me. Different things work for different people so I will throw out a few suggestions – toss the ones that one work for you or you already tried. First – is your therapist working for you? Or still working for you? I had to try 3 different ones before I found one that really worked. And then after a few years I needed to switch because we pretty much had come to the end of how she could help. (I am now in maintenance mode – I go once a month or when something happens – I have brain chemistry issues so my depression is mostly helped with drugs).

    I did go to my boss and discuss what was needed. And that helped a LOT. I noticed that people are willing to cut you some slack if they know you are having problems and trying to solve them. I don’t know if this falls under ada but I would consider going to HR for a accommodation if that is possible. Or to have it on file. Unless your place is very toxic – but you would know that more then I.

    I’m sorry – depression sucks. Not being able to treat it properly sucks. *hugs* sometimes you have to go through a few meds and therapists to find one that works for you…. and sometimes it stops working and you have to start over. Please keep in mind that there are people who love you and care for you and want the best for you – even if you don’t feel it at the time. (that was the hardest part for me – feeling so alone, even though I know that I really am not). And feel free to pm me if you want to talk about it.

    1. Blue Anne*

      I believe it does fall under the ADA.

      I purchased a small book called “Working in the Dark” about dealing with depression in the workplace. I didn’t like the book – it was almost entirely about deciding whether to tell your manager, and your rights under the ADA, where I was looking for strategies on how to cope and not cry in my cubicle. But! The information on depression and the ADA in it was very good and I would recommend the book for that purpose.

      1. Anon for this one*

        It does fall under ADA. I’ve been filling out online applications which include a voluntary declarations page for disabilities, listing several conditions that qualify, and major depression is among those listed.

        I did further research and found that there was a court decision around 2008 which meant that conditions are still considered a disability even if symptoms are currently controlled with treatment, which grants broader protections to workers. Your employer can’t say that you’re not disabled because today your medication is working and you’re having a good day; the disability is defined by what your health condition would be *without* mitigating treatment.

        So: if you think it will help, you can ask for reasonable accommodation under ADA. Maybe work from home on bad days. Maybe see about a flexible or reduced work schedule. Job sharing is mentioned specifically as a suggested accommodation in the ADA documentation I’ve looked at. (You’d obviously be paid for part-time if you’re working part-time, but it’s an option.)

        I know there are some days when I just can’t deal with people. But I could still do the work and communicate via email, if I could stay home and cocoon instead of having to maintain the public (and exhausting) everything-is-fine face for 10 hours a day.

    2. Sara*

      One of my coworkers was able to take FMLA time last year for depression as part of her accommodation for ADA and I know it helped her a lot.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      This one is huge: People will cut you slack if they know you are working at things. Notice I do not say successfully working at things. Success takes time and we all know that. Sometimes it takes a while just to have even a small amount of success, most people have their own version of that and they so understand that, too.

      It can be helpful to let a few well chosen people around you to give you random helps. And this is just a tidbit of advice that can help with many of life’s challenges not just depression. Be on the alert for problems that cause you to fall into isolation. Isolation can be a killer, a soul killer. So even if all you can think of is one good friend or one trusted family member, then start there. Let this person help you in the ways they know how and when they can. You can pay it forward later.

  9. Jabes*

    It’s a medical problem. For these situations (NOT for considerations of how to treat it or how to address the specific problems that come with it) it is useful to compare depression to a different medical problem like a broken leg. Is there a world where your medical problem will prevent you from performing the necessary duties of the job? Possibly. Are you in that position? Only you and your boss know that. Otherwise it’s a reasonable accommodation. The more this is “officially” dealt with – a medical diagnosis, for example – the more clear-cut, legally, the response from your workplace needs to be.

    I’m a high school teacher. There are some required duties and expectations of my job that would become impossible with clinical depression, and it would be reasonable for me to leave my work. But that might not be your case. Work has to accommodate you.

    Good luck. You will get better.

    1. fposte*

      Just because I think the phrase “work has to accommodate you” could be misleading–as your own example suggests, work has to work with you on accommodations, but that doesn’t mean that the accommodation they can offer is the one you seek.

      However, the OP’s workplace seems very helpful so far. OP, I really think it would help if you talked about this more explicitly with your manager, because the uncertainty is a torture all its own. “Bob, I appreciate your flexibility with my health problems. I’d love to say that I see this changing in the near future, but I can’t; is the level I’m working at supportable for you, and if not, can you see any options for us?”

      You also haven’t talked about intermittent FMLA. Maybe your workplace isn’t covered by FMLA, but if it is, that kind of job protection is exactly what it’s for. Would having @480 hours per year leave legally protected cover you? If so, it’s worth opening up that conversation.

      Good luck to you; illness sucks.

      1. FlibbertyG*

        +1 that was my first thought, would intermittent FLMA be the right choice for this OP. Depression is a medical condition and that’s literally what this benefit is there for.

  10. neeko*

    1. Talk to your psychiatrist about your meds. Clearly, your current cocktail isn’t really managing your symptoms.
    2. Can you take a chunk of time off – like a week – to do some extended care? Like an IOP or something?

    Best wishes to you. I struggle with depression and anxiety and it’s just that. A struggle. :-/

    1. Chinook*

      “Talk to your psychiatrist about your meds. Clearly, your current cocktail isn’t really managing your symptoms.”

      Just remember that this isn’t an easy fix and may even make it worse before it gets better (which you may already know, OP). For example, I started hallucinating for the first time ever (that was fun, actually. Everybody should see cartoon bunnies hiding behind cartoon rocks) on meds I had been on for years. It has been over a year with 5 different meds and even retrying some old ones and I still am not back to where I was two years ago. In the meantime, I have learned the difference between suicidal ideation and suicidal behavior (it is subtle but real) and been all over the map with my reactions.

      I knew this was going to happen (I have dealt with this for over 20 years), so I gave my boss a heads up about needing to work with my doctor through various side effects without going into details. I asked her what she needed from me when I called out sick and told her not to worry if I did it often. And then I kept up my strong work ethic when I had good days, made sure others could cover for me when I wasn’t available through cross training and then acted like life was normal when I am here. It is hard at times but a sense of normalcy does help me cope.

      1. Junior Dev*

        Ugh yes. I’ve had all kinds of awful experiences on meds, including several that made my mental health noticably worse. In addition, often finding the right meds doesn’t mean you’re no longer depressed, but that you’re doing better enough to take other steps towards recovery. OP should absolutely work with their care team to find a treatment plan that works better for them, but also keep in mind for some people that means “less bad,” not “100% better.”

        1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

          My previous cocktail of 2 years pushed me into manic state. I’ve adjusted meds and treatment and I’m still adjusting 6 months later, trying to get back to myself. Sometimes it’s hard to be optimistic on a bad day. Celebrating the small victories helps me stay focused on the progress but doesn’t always keep the dogs at bay.

  11. Leah*

    I’m going through this now too. I’ve been fine but two years of huge changes (including a birth, cross country move, loss of a beloved activity, and new job) have really messed with me. I’ve been at my new job for appx. 6 months. My boss understands *some* of what’s going on, and that’s helped. As it is, I’m missing time due to panic attacks, therapy and dr appointments for medication adjustments.

    The good news is that your manager knows you! He knows your work ethic and that you’re having a tough time right now. That’s going to give you lengths of time to get better and back to full capacity. Keep up with everything you’re doing. Depression is a liar – this WILL get better.

  12. KatieKate*

    First off, once a month is not a lot of time off. Even folks not dealing with major depressive episodes take that time off.

    Second, I would treat this as I would any chronic medical condition. It seems your manager is a good person and is comfortable with your current capacity, which means you have the time to continue working on helping yourself. You should not be fired.

    Take a look at your job. Does it provide more structure or stressors? Do you dread getting up in the morning because you have to go to this job, or because you have to get up at all? Do you work with negative people? Would you be more stressed and depressed by not having an income?

    When I am dealing with a depression “flare up” (as I like to call them), going into work can be incredible difficult. However, in the same way that taking showers or walking around my neighborhood can be part of self-care, going into work, where I can get small wins, (wrote an email! finished an assignment! went to a birthday party and ate a cupcake and made small talk!!) can be an incredible step in managing your depression. I don’t know if your therapist has you journaling, but psychically tracking these wins can be very soothing to look at at the end of the day.

    Have you brought these fears up with your therapist? I would discuss strategies with them about keeping yourself in the workplace. I would hate for you to lose what seems like a supportive environment.

    Lots of hugs for you, OP. You are not alone.

    1. Zip Silver*

      True, it’s like taking 2 work weeks of vacation, but spreading it throughout the year. I get far more PTO than that in a year, and if the company grants unlimited leave time, then it shouldn’t be too big of a deal from a company perspective.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Possibly, but also possibly not — depends on the job. In some jobs, two weeks planned in advance will be less of an issue than 12 separate days that aren’t planned ahead of time. It’s the planned vs. unplanned difference that matters, but it’s also a know-your-office, know-your-job kind of thing.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Yeah, there are a lot of jobs where that would not be OK, especially low-wage and temp ones (and if you’ve been on the job less than a year, which many people in those circumstances have, you’re ineligible for FMLA). I’m glad OP’s job seems not to be like this, but it’s overall a systemic problem that needs systemic solutions.

    2. Manders*

      That’s a great list of questions. There are times when having a set schedule, a steady income, reliable health insurance, and measurable goals at work is exactly what you need to get through a period of lousy mental health. But there are also times when work is so stressful or toxic that it can really mess with your ability to take care of yourself when you’re already feeling low.

      It’s not always easy to tell whether you should stay or go, especially because toxic workplaces are great at convincing employees they’ll never find a better job. A good therapist can help you work through your feelings about that.

      1. KatieKate*

        That’s a great point–but from the little information we got from OP it sounded like OP has a manager who is understanding and accommodating, which is tough to recreate. But OP should absolutely work through those feelings with their therapist.

    3. TootsNYC*

      Agree, once a month is not a huge amount of time. So don’t worry about that.

      But…crying for hours in the bathroom -is- a lot. It interferes with productivity, and it is suffering (i.e., bad for you).

      Have you considered setting a timer for crying jags, and giving yourself mental points when you honor it and go back to your desk?
      Can you discuss with your therapist, or try on your own, some OTHER way to deal with the crying jags? Go do jumping jacks, or jog in place, in the stairwell, or something? Anything that gets you solitude and some other way to direct intense emotion.

      I just soldiered through by fiercely directing my attention to my tasks. It actually was HARDER because I wasn’t as busy, I didn’t have things that absolutely had to be done. And, true progress wasn’t quite so obvious, or it depended on other people getting back to me, so I didn’t have the feeling of having accomlished a task.

      I found it so much easier to still be productive when I had fierce to-do lists of things that were really achievable and clearly defined.

      Can you put together a list of easily-defined, highly-visible tasks like that, even if it’s just “cleaning off this desk” or “clearing out the supplies closet”? Even if you have to ask your boss to allow you to take on some (like the supplies closet if it isn’t your job). And put them on the wall so you can easily find them when you’re in a rough patch. So you can switch over to them instead of going to the bathroom to cry.

      Then you’ll have “goal: met” to bolster you?

      1. Saturnalia*

        This comment reminded me – when my emotions were at their most uncontrollable, what did the trick was going through a DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) workbook. I developed some good distraction and soothing techniques and it remains my favorite tool for dealing with overwhelming emotions, acute anxiety, and unwanted thoughts. YMMV of course, but as a fellow depressed person I wanted to make sure that DBT got mentioned in addition to CBT (also good! Just different!)

  13. MuseumChick*

    Having depression is (strictly from the how-to-deal-with-it-at-work perspective) no different than any other physical ailment that can interfere with work. It sounds like you have been in your current position for a long time. That means that even with the need to call off once a month or more you are doing work such that your boss has kept you around. You should be massively proud of yourself for that! It’s an indication that your work quality is very high.

    Also, I am so happy you are taking so many steps to manage your medical condition. Sending you a big mental hug and a gold star!

  14. KR*

    Hi OP. Your letter resonated with me because I have had major problems getting to work due to anxiety. I would stall and stall and then get to work very late in the morning. Also compounding this was intermittent depression that made it incredibly difficult to wake up in the morning because I was just so tired and lethargic. I was always worried my manager wasn’t pleased with how late I was coming in and how unreliable anxiety and depression can make a person. He knew I was an anxious and shy person in general but one day I told him how sometimes it was so hard for me to just get in my car and go to work and he told me he figured I was having issues, but he was perfectly willing to be flexible.
    Even though flexible schedules were not the norm at my organization, he fought for me to essentially be able to come and go as I needed both because the job benefitted from someone who could stay late and come in on off hours, and because he valued my work. He told me that he knew other people who had anxiety and depression and he would rather have me here when I can be than not at all.
    It sounds like your boss is super understanding. One thing I found helps for my peace of mind is if I had​ to come in late I would apologize even if I didn’t need to like, “Wow, I’m sorry this morning was so rough. But I’m here now and ready to go!” Also, I would stay late or work from home whenever I had an energetic/motivated streak to compensate. Can your boss allow this so if you have some downtime at home where you feel okay, you can log on or come in on the weekends and get some work done? It might not even be needed if you aren’t in a very fast paced job, keep in mind. Also, on stressful days where I didn’t have many mental spoons I would prioritize things like “If I can get this important thing done today, I’ll give myself permission to go home if I feel like I need to or take a break or work slowly for the day or whatever. ”
    Also, he seems very nice. Can you ask him what he thinks about how much time you’re taking off? How are your performance evals?
    Last but not least, and sorry I’ve​ been talking a lot, is to give yourself some credit. You’re dealing with a lot right now and it sounds like you’re doing everything you can to manage your mental health. We’re with you.

  15. Zip Silver*

    If you’ve been around for a few years and your manager knows what the deal is, I don’t necessarily think that you have to do anything different than what you’re currently doing. Don’t necessarily let it become your go-to excuse for underperforming, but take time off if you need time off, and keep your boss looped in.

  16. Fictional Butt*

    I’m sorry you are going through this, OP, and as a non-depressed person I don’t have much to add. But one thing I wanted to ask (and I hope this isn’t too obvious): have you discussed this issue specifically with your psychiatrist (and therapist, if you have one)? I think they will be best suited to give you guidance that works for you. You might want to ask them for strategies to deal with the specific situations you’re encountering, like when you find yourself leaving early because you are unable to focus on work and crying too much. Just like with any other medical issue, you should make sure your treatment provider knows what’s happening, how often it is happening, what might be triggering it, etc.

    1. JulieBulie*

      I had trouble similar to the OP’s. I told my doctor about my attendance problems. It was surprisingly difficult. I don’t mean that it was embarrassing – I mean that it was literally difficult to put into words why I couldn’t seem to go to work sometimes. In fact, for a long time I hadn’t even realized there was a problem. With depression, these things are not always clear.

      My doctor offered to do the paperwork for FMLA. That was helpful. However, what he did not do was offer to revisit my treatment plan. It never even occurred to me that this was an option. Frankly, that would have been much more helpful.

      Couple of years later I was in a different job, different town, different insurance, different doctor. He re-diagnosed me and adjusted my treatment. Now I no longer have an attendance problem.

      Meanwhile, for OP to deal with the job – it actually sounds as though you’re doing a lot better than you think. Your boss doesn’t think you are abusing the sick time policy, so it’s clear that you are a valuable member of the team. Let your boss know that you don’t take his support for granted, and do what you need to do (and do it guilt-free) to take good care of yourself.

  17. BRR*

    I’m sorry you’re going through this. It sounds like you’ve been at this employer for a while, are you eligible for FMLA? A solid chunk of time off might be good to focus on recharging and figure out what treatment works best for you without having work get in the way. Or maybe taking intermittent FMLA? What about asking to work from home? Although the isolation can be difficult for some people as well as staying motivated. In addition to medication and therapy, I use the headspace app for meditation every morning.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I didn’t go to HR about my depression, to talk about FMLA, accommodations, etc.

      I wish I had.

      Unless your company is totally dysfunctional, I suggest you do.

    2. Hapless Bureaucrat*

      Yes to this. Apart from the time off, FMLA gives you some protection from being disciplined for things directly related to your qualifying condition. It sounds like your boss is understanding, but having that paperwork can provide you with a little background reassurance. It also helps you set expectations with your organization.
      Otherwise, I echo what people have said about having a talk with your boss to ask for feedback.

      1. Jessen*

        You could even frame it as helping the boss as well. If OP has a documented medical condition, that gives the boss more freedom to accommodate her without having to deal with higher-ups or with coworkers. There’s also the fact that people do move on and you don’t know when it’s coming – if OP’s boss finds a new job and a new boss comes in, having documentation will keep OP safer.

  18. Purplesaurus*

    I have several thoughts and questions.

    * Has your manager or anyone else said anything about your performance and/or time off? If not, it seems like you could be stressing yourself out over something that isn’t a problem in your employer’s mind. You said he seems very understanding, so while it’s likely this all in your own mind, it couldn’t hurt to have a conversation about it. I’m not good with scripts, but something like I make use of the unlimited leave, and I want to make sure I’m not abusing it. I also want to make sure my work isn’t suffering, and I hope you’ll let me know if I start slipping in those areas.

    * A day or two off once per month does not seem excessive to me, especially considering your unlimited leave and depending on how long you’ve been there.

    * When you are at work and not in the bathroom crying (which you have all my sympathies for), are you able to complete your work? Are you otherwise producing quality work and being efficient? Because that can make up for a couple lost afternoons.

    * Because you seem so conscientious about this, I doubt your employer has any problem at all with you. You are making use of a leave policy created for just this kind of thing, and your work is probably fine and your boss is not unhappy with you.

    1. BRR*

      Yeah I didn’t get any indication of the LW’s performance and I’m curious about that. Depression could mess with one’s perception of their work so hopefully the LW is getting feedback. If their performance is good, I would take solace in that.

    2. j*

      I make use of the unlimited leave, and I want to make sure I’m not abusing it. I also want to make sure my work isn’t suffering, and I hope you’ll let me know if I start slipping in those areas.”

      I really like this script. It might be scary to face the question head on, but eliminating the unknown can go a long way. Yes, there is a chance that your boss will say that it is a problem. But at least then you know, and you can take steps to fix it. Even if you can’t fix it, it may be a big help just for your boss to know that you’re aware of the problem and are trying to do something about it.

  19. Nisie*

    My advice is to find a rehabilitation counselor to work out a way to accommodate some of your duties at work. Or, try having your treating psy to talk to your place of work about what are reasonable accomodations.

    1. fposte*

      Speaking as a manager, I would be weirded out by getting a call from somebody’s psychiatrist rather than having a conversation initiated by the worker herself. I’d have to check with HR to see if that was even within protocol here.

      1. Trix*

        Yeah, as someone who has been a manager, and someone who sees a psychiatrist and a therapist, this seems odd to me. Almost like a parent calling their kid’s teacher? I’d definitely suggest the OP talk to their psychiatrist (actually, I’d suggest talking to your therapist, if you have one) about what kind of accommodations could help and could be reasonable, but then OP should talk to their employer directly.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yes, I agree. It also creates a weird dynamic where the employer/psych take on a quasi-parental role, which is no bueno. If you want/need accommodation, you have to ask for it and not refer your employer to your care provider to make that ask. A provider can of course recommend accommodations, but that should be in a letter or other document, not in a series of conversations between the employer and psych. The employee, for better or worse, has to be willing to be the intermediary between the employer and the care provider.

      3. Managing to get by*

        At my organization, all ADA accommodations and FMLA requests are handled by a team in HR and/or are outsourced. We keep employees’ medical information as far from the manager as possible. I have one employee with multiple open FMLA claims and ADA accommodations who keeps trying to tell me detail about his conditions and I have to ask him to stop, and to stop sending me letters from his doctor.

        This is partially for privacy reasons, and partially to protect the organization from claims that an employee was discriminated against due to a health condition.

        It is inappropriate for a care provider to reach out to someone’s manager.

        For the OP – have you looked at filing an FMLA claim for your depression? If your condition does qualify for FMLA, this could protect you from losing your job due to taking days off when your depression is severe enough that you cannot work. An intermittent-leave FMLA claim, if approved, could allow you to take a day or two here and there or even partial days. The employee I mentioned above has an intermittent claim that allows partial days for him to come in early or late for “flare-ups”.

      4. Anon for this one*

        Yeah, all the ADA documentation I’ve seen, your healthcare provider should only get involved if it’s necessary to document that you have a disability (that is, because it’s an “invisible” one); and even then, they should do no more than to write a letter confirming that you have a disability, without details regarding symptoms/diagnosis. The provider may also suggest options for reasonable accommodations in the letter.

        But said letter is definitely not the first step of the process.

  20. NoMoreMrFixit*

    I could have written this letter. Severe depression and 3 meds to control it. You already overcame two of the biggest hurdles – getting help for your condition and having an understanding manager. My boss had an open door policy and went out of his way to be supportive.

    In my situation they ended up moving around job responsibilities so I could focus on things I was both good at and could handle on an ongoing basis. The stuff that could trigger anxiety attacks got moved to someone whose job focused on that area which actually resulted in better service from our department overall.

    Yes you will need to take time off. At one stage I was off work for a couple of months. My working hours were adjusted so I could come in earlier. Beat rush hour that way plus gave me quiet time first thing to take care of maintenance type issues with nobody around to distract me. During the day I would often step out for a tea as we had a coffee shop in the lobby of the building. Breaking up the day with more short breaks helped keep stress manageable. I’m pretty open about my condition so most of my coworkers were aware of my problems and were pretty supportive. My desk in the cubicle farm was located in a back corner against the window so I got lots of sunshine and it kept me away from the traffic going through the office.

    It’s so easy to fall into a trap of thinking you can’t succeed or don’t deserve to. You didn’t mention seeing a therapist. If that isn’t currently part of your treatment regimen then please find a good one asap. A good therapist is at least as crucial to your wellbeing as the medications and can do so much more for you long term. They can help you find ways to get out of those negative mindsets and see what a wonderful person you are. The one thing you can’t do is deal with this all on your own. Let others help you. Professionals, friends, coworkers. There are a lot of incredibly generous folks out there and it sounds like your manager is one of them. They’re helping because they respect and like you.

    I’ll wrap up with a book recommendation: Feeling Good, The New Mood Therapy by Dr David Burns. There’s also a companion workbook. I bought it and worked my way through it. Then gave it to someone who needed it more. Bought another copy and ended up giving it to yet another person dealing with depression who needed a starting point.

    Good luck and God bless you. Depression is not easy to live with but you can and will overcome it.

  21. Anon Accountant*

    Are you a “list person”? I’m going through some depression and anxiety issues now but love making lists. So I’ll do “today I will do these 5 things”. It’s taken a while from a mild panic attack to “okay so we will start with Teapots payroll. Follow the payroll instructions sheet”. Mark that item off the list and move to the next.

    If it’s a high anxiety day I’ll say to myself “okay work on this financial statement for 20 minutes. If you need to walk away from it then post checks for a break”.

    Telling yourself “it’s just 20 minutes” and just starting on a task has gotten me through a lot. And I usually get wrapped up in it because the trick is to push your thoughts to your task at hand.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      When my anxiety starts spiraling out of control, I find that working on something mundane and tedious like entering data on a spreadsheet will help me find focus and stop the spiral.

      1. Anon Accountant*

        Me too! I could post checks and deposits (from bank statements) in my sleep and do a lot of data entry when it’s a bad time. The auto pilot mode and seeing “ooh I finished something” motivates me often.

    2. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

      Lists and mundane tasks are a lifesaver. If I find myself in a spiral, I stop and make a list. The first one is something easy and quick (if possible) and it really helps. Once I can check something off the list and start to see that I’m making progress, it helps me calm down in general.

    3. JAM*

      This is my approach. Some days my list is small and broad (Create monthly financial report and email team) while other times I break it down to pull report, finish full report tab, edit yearly tab, edit monthly tab, draft and send email because I need that breakdown. Maybe I can do it all in one hit, maybe I can’t but I need the items separate so I don’t view not completing the final project as a fail which I am likely to do when I’m in a feedback loop.

    4. Anon for this*

      I totally agree. I deal with intense anxiety which often spirals into depression.

      What I do is keep a notebook at my desk where each day I make a list of 3 things I’m grateful for and 3 things I appreciate about myself. I write these items down within the first 15-30 minutes of sitting at my desk. It helps me start the day off intentionally and gives me something to check off my list.
      Writing out a list of what is critical for the day helps ensure that I don’t let something fall through the cracks. Although on high anxiety days I often will do assigned training or work on something low key for part of the day to save up my energy for one of the bigger, more urgent tasks.

      I also have a weekly check-in with my manager where I review what I think are the priorities and ask for feedback on a variety of things. I sincerely echo others comments that depression can lie can to you—it can make you think that you suck at your job and that everyone hates you and that you don’t deserve anything. Using a lot of AAM’s techniques, I have learned to be more direct and ask for specific feedback. This has helped me combat some of my incorrect thoughts.

      However, I still have days where I cry in the bathroom, take a nap during lunch in my car, or take off an hour early (with my manager’s approval of course). I think it’s all about just being self-aware and working with stakeholders to make sure you’re meeting their expectations. It’s taken me years to not freak out and think “I’m going to be fired! I’m the worst!” when a manager pulls me in a conference room.

    5. Risha*

      I keep a running spreadsheet of absolutely everything I do in a day, big or small. In general, it helps me fill out my timesheet correctly, and makes it easier look back to find when a particular issue happened or to which client, and to remember everything I worked on during performance review and planning time at the end of the year. But on a bad day or in a bad week, it’s also a tool I use to remind myself that I actually accomplished something, even if it was just reviewing a coworkers queries for them, or incrementing Big Project from 15% done to 20% done.

  22. Andraste*

    As others have suggested, I’d recommend following up with your care professionals about re-evaluating your current meds and treatment plan. They don’t seem to be working that great for you right now, so changing things up might help.

    One thing that does help me is prioritizing tasks depending on how I feel. I’m an attorney, so I always have a lot of things needing my attention and the work I need to do differs in intensity. Days I’m feeling good are days I can handle more intensive tasks–drafting important documents, negotiating with insurers or other attorneys, client calls and meetings, etc. Days that I’m not doing so great are days I focus on low level tasks. I might not have the brain power to write a memo, but I can do some basic research, review my calendar and task list, draft basic documents like record requests, etc.–low level work. It’s easier to get out of bed if I tell myself I can take it easy at work today and focus on the little tasks that pile up.

    There are also going to be days I have to be “on” no matter how I’m feeling, like if I have a court appearance scheduled. I’m really careful about self-care in the day before those big days so that I can stave off downward spirals. That means leaving work at a reasonable time the day before, meditating and/or exercising the night before, getting a good nights sleep, and eating a good breakfast the day of. I try to really make sure I’m taking care of myself those days so that mental illness doesn’t effect my performance.

    tldr version: good mental health days = do hard work, bad mental health days = do easy work, Very Important work days = be very stringent about self-care in the lead up to avoid unnecessary stressors

    1. Former freelancer*

      “Very Important work days = be very stringent about self-care in the lead up to avoid unnecessary stressors”
      This is very helpful to me, thank you! I’m good at adjusting my work to my mental health state, but not the other way around. Food for thought!

      1. Chinook*

        And if those bad days crop up unannounced, it may help to have a copy of your work schedule available at home. If I feel like calling in, it helps to know if there is a meeting that day that I can’t miss (because I am the one doing presenting) or if it is a day where everything is flexible. That way, I can know I making a responsible decision about going in. When I didn’t see my calendar, I would spend all day worrying if I missed a meeting or if someone was waiting for me, which just made me feel even worse.

  23. Jill of All Trades*

    I’ve dealt with this at work, though I don’t believe my mental health disorders are as severe as yours.

    I treated it like a chronic health issue, to the extent of discussing FMLA with my doctor. It sounds like intermittent FMLA, if you qualify for it, may be an option you can exercise. I never disclosed my actual conditions to my supervisor, but in treating it like a health issue, I was able to work with my employer to reach accommodations that negated my need for intermittent FMLA that would have otherwise been required.

    As far as your manager goes, it sounds like you have some anxiety about being let go for performance issues despite being told that you’re doing fine. Is your manager typically up front with you about whether or not there are concerns about your work? If he is, I think it’s fine to trust him and talk to him about accommodations that could maximize your ability to be productive (e.g. working from home 1 day a week, giving you flex hours so you can spend more time in an empty office, allowing you to bring in a blanket so you are more comfortable at your desk, etc). If your manager is reasonable, they will likely try to work with you so that you can perform to the best of your ability.

    You’re only human, and we all have problems. Any *reasonable* employer will react well to a conversation that goes like, “I’m currently facing this personal obstacle and I recognize that it is affecting my work. I have x, y, and z ideas for mitigating this and would really appreciate your thoughts on how to proceed from here.”

  24. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    18 months ago when my dad died unexpectedly, I was thrust into grief. Which while not depression, can function much the same way. I made a deal with myself. In the morning, the only thing I had to accomplish was getting out of bed. If I could do that, the day was a success. Once I did that, then all I had to accomplish was putting on socks. Again, no pressure beyond that. Each baby step was an accomplishment in and of itself. I found I could make it through the day not by viewing the day as a whole, but merely the next few minutes.

    I also would like to recommend reading Boggle the Owl. He’s been inordinately helpful for me.

    1. fposte*

      I love Boggle the Owl so much. As far as I know it’s been on hiatus for a couple of years, but the archives are well worth reading. It’s like if Mr. Rogers had a Tumblr.

      1. Wannabe Disney Princess*

        If you Google Boggle the Owl stick, that one’s my favorite. I’ve sent it to everyone I know and when one of us is having a hard time (regardless of severity because hard times are hard times regardless) we just text or call “I need a stick”. It’s not always easy to say the word “help” so for those of us who can’t, this is a lifesaver.

    2. Aunt Vixen*

      Ditto four and a half years dad died after a year-long illness. I recall one day I was dressed and ready to go to work and had my hand on the knob of my front door when I realized I couldn’t possibly leave the house. So I called in Can’t. I also had my co-workers basically cutting my assignments up into bite-sized pieces for me; I still did more or less a full share of the work, but it was given to me in discrete segments to accommodate my brain fog. All of which is to say I agree with WDP about baby steps. And that there are times when you can be marching in place and consider it progress because dude, holding the ground you’ve got is totally a thing.

  25. Bend & Snap*

    I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder. My boss has known from the minute I was diagnosed, almost 2 years ago, because I had to leave work one day and get urgent treatment, and he was there for that trigger moment. He’s been nothing but supportive but nobody else knows. I don’t want to use intermittent FMLA because I don’t want this on the record at my company. He actually gave me last week off because I was having a hard time bouncing back from a week-long, commitment-filled business trip.

    Do you know what your triggers are? If you do, maybe we can help you mitigate them at work.

    Two of my big ones are noise and people so if I’m having a hard time, I just let my boss know (or sometimes not) and work from home. Being quiet and safe in my own space helps me stay focused and productive without feeling like I’ve run a marathon just by being in the office. If I have to be in i use noise cancelling ear buds and book conference rooms to work so I can just be a misanthrope by myself.

    Hugs OP. It’s a hard journey.

  26. AnonABonbon*

    I had debilitating PTSD for 2 1/2 years. All I did was go to work and go home. It’s not exactly the same situation, but I hope my experience can help.
    I mentally tried to make my work a safe place. While I was there, I only thought about work. If my thoughts wandered, I’d remind myself that I was at work and I could have my troubling thoughts when I got home, but at the moment I needed to type this memo, check the reports, or do whatever I needed to do for my job.
    It helped me to help other people. There were a few people in my office that were going through personal crisis issues, and I would go out of my way to check on them and talk about how they were doing.
    I had to see 6 therapists before I found one that was actually able to treat me…hence why it took 2.5 years to get better. It’s difficult, but you need to take your health into your hands and keep trying different therapists or trials until you find one that will work.
    The only thing that got me through was the barely audible whisper of hope. Even though I couldn’t see it or even believe that I had a chance at a normal future, I still had a bit of hope that drove me on. That was what saved me.

    1. #WearAllTheHats*

      Kudos for really digging in to find the best care for you. I appreciate your sensible guidelines that you set for yourself. I worked through something similarly and I had a personal mental rule that if I got through my 3 MITs (most important things) for the day on my work agenda, I could feel free to read something edifying, journal, take a walk, etc. I also combined that on days I couldn’t focus with the Pomodoro (tomato timer) technique – for me it was 20 minutes on, 5 minutes off until the 3rd cycle and then I would take a 15m break. If you have some autonomy with how your work gets done, this seems really doable. Then at home it was another ballgame, but for many people no work = no leisure time/no insurance/no home to go to, so work has to factor in. Thanks for sharing and very good luck to OP. Sometimes it seems like you’re the only “weird one” in a sea of “normal,” but there these conditions are pretty normal. Good luck, all.

  27. Kelly*

    It sounds like your manager is understanding, so just be honest with him about what you need. Is there a way that you can work from home a couple days a month?
    Also, remember that mental health problems are still health problems. Think about it like this…would you think that someone who had to miss work once a month to go get iron infusions was taking too much sick time? They are doing what they need to be healthy and so are you. It doesn’t sound like you are abusing your sick time and only taking it when you cannot work. Which is what sick time is for. So try to give yourself a bit of a break on worrying about it. As someone with anxiety (which I know is very different from depression), I know that when I start having anxiety, worrying about how the anxiety is affecting work/personal life/etc makes the anxiety worse. If you can convince yourself to not panic about the sick time, it might help some (easier said than done, I know!).

  28. Newbie Librarian*

    I’m sending all the good feelings your way, OP. I suffer from both anxiety and depression, and work seems to trigger the worst of it for me as well.
    First of all, if you haven’t already, I suggest that you talk to your doctor/therapist about these feelings. I don’t think once a month is too much of an issue in most environments, but if you are concerned about this frequency its something they should know about. There may be other methods you can try in order to better manage your symptoms.
    If you feel comfortable doing so, you could also talk to your boss. You don’t have to go into too much detail about your illness, but just something along the lines of “I’m worried my absences are impacting my job performance, do you also see that as being an issue?” This could likely be phrased better, but it would give you another perspective on the issue.
    Stay strong, OP. I know its hard, believe me I know. But don’t loose any hope.

  29. michelenyc*

    I battled a severe depression for a little over a year. The one thing that helped me professionally is I took a step back and did freelance/contract work with my previous company. What was great about this is I still had a decent income and the company that managed the contract employee’s had great benefits. What was extremely helpful for me is expectations were lower than with full-time regular employee’s. I wasn’t allowed to work more than 40 hours a week, made my own schedule for the most part, and with less responsibility I was able to get myself healthy and am now back on track with my career. I know this may not be an option for you or even helpful but you may want to look into it!

  30. Ssbb*

    Hugs, OP, this is rough, and I know your feels.

    Assuming you’ve looked at the medical stuff you can change up (meds, therapist, etc.), it’s worth sitting down and really thinking about how much badness your job is injecting into your life. Maybe it’s great and it’s just your clinical depression slowing you down! Maybe your job is exacerbating you depression.

    For me, I hated my job but because it paid good money and I liked my coworkers, I spent several years pretending I liked it. It was also a job that came home with me and sometimes required 50+ hour work weeks. It nearly destroyed me. I ended up taking a new job for significantly less money that was way less stressful, and it has helped a lot. I’m still frequently depressed, but because my job is, frankly! easier, I can bring myself to work through it.

    It’s definitely worth examining whether there are changes in your life you could make (budget, etc.) that would allow you to take a job with less responsibility. Or if there are any life obligations you an ease up on for a while. And don’t forget: depression lies. There’s nothing wrong with you taking time off of work to deal with a chronic medical issue. You deserve to take care of yourself.

  31. Ginny*

    So sorry you’re going through this. It sounds like you are working hard to take care of yourself and make use of every strategy available — that is something to be proud of!

    It is great that your manager is supportive and understanding, and apparently hasn’t expressed any objections to your work. Because of that, and because of how depression lies, I strongly suspect that you are undervaluing your work accomplishments and giving too much weight to the things you aren’t able to do. That doesn’t mean your illness isn’t affecting your work: it just means you are probably accomplishing more and providing more value to your team than you feel like you are. (Because depression loves to tell us we’re worthless in every respect.)

    If the time comes when it’s best for you to take some time off work, or move into a different kind of job, that’s okay and there’s no shame in it. But I’d let your manager be the one to decide whether you aren’t performing adequately: first, because that’s part of their job in any case, and second, because your manager doesn’t have depression-voice all up in their head lying to them about your worth.

  32. Bevina del Rey*

    Strategies that’ve worked for me:
    1. Support Squad on Call: Do you have a best pal (or 1-2 super close pals you really trust) that you can tip off to how much you’re struggling and ask them to be your on-call support team? You could tell them, after they know more context about how/why you’re struggling:

    “For this week/x number of weeks, I would be so grateful to have you “on-call” if I have a freakout at work (e.g., can’t stop crying, whatever it is) so you can help me A. Calm down B. give me a dose of reality C. Help me decide if I can push through or need to go home. Can you help me do that? Are you able to take emergency calls?” Then you’ve got your squad to tell you, “Don’t worry, the fact that you e-mailed the wrong thing to the wrong person is totally something I’ve done, it’s no biggie, just correct it by doing X, and then call me back and we can talk while you go for a ten minute walk.” Or whatever it is that your pal(s) can do to help you move away from catastrophizing.

    2. Treat Yo’Self: Schedule something therapeutic 2-3 times/week that’s nearby to your office, too. Like a massage (even a chair massage, foot massage, manicure, 10 minutes at a nearby animal shelter to look at kittens or dogs) or something that make you feel really alive (e.g. slowly eating a good meal, drinking a delicious beverage, smelling lotions or essential oils, whatever! etc.) so that you have a ‘built-in’ reward for going to work, and something to look forward to, and somewhere you can be where coworkers and bosses aren’t hanging around, so you can cry (while you get a massage, or whatever you choose.) Sometimes it’s nice to just be somewhere where you’re anonymous, like a beautiful church, a museum, a quiet shop, etc. It helps, and yes, you do deserve it.

  33. Winifred Sanderson*

    I went through some epic depression that really affected my quality of work. (It was a post-partum situation after a traumatic second-term pregnancy loss).

    I’d always been taught to leave the baggage at the door and do your job, fake it till you make it right? But it got to the point where I was like you–crying in the parking lot before work, sneaking to my car over lunch to cry, hiding out in conference rooms for days so I could work with puffy eyes and sniffles and hope nobody would notice.

    The worst part was, I’ve always been an over-achiever and I knew I was not performing at the level I expected of myself. I KNEW I could do better, but the depression wouldn’t let me, and the resulting embarrassment and self-consciousness and fear of being called out for not performing compounded those terrible feelings.

    The BEST thing I ever did was ask for help. I came clean to my boss (who is a truly amazing individual), issued an apology to a coworker who I had placed in awkward situations a time or two due to my lack of productivity, and we came up with a plan that set reasonable expectations for all of us while reducing some pressure and giving me the time I needed to heal.

    Truth–admitting I needed help because I couldn’t cope with life was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. At that point I hadn’t even told my family how bad I was suffering. But to hear my respected colleagues say, “It’s okay, we want you to work here, so let’s come up with a plan,” was an absolute game-changer. This might not work for you, and it really requires a level of trust and willingness to let down some personal boundaries in the workplace, but it worked for me.

  34. SometimesALurker*

    You don’t deserve to be fired. There are some jobs in which your health might legitimately prevent you from doing what they need of an employee in your role, beyond what they can accommodate, and in that case it might make sense for them to put you in another role if possible, or eventually to fire you. BUT, there are many more jobs where this should be okay, and a very common symptom of depression is believing that the situation is worse than it is, and believing that you’re causing more problems for others than you are (I am not a medical professional, but I am someone who has depression), so it’s likely that you would have a hard time being sure that you’re doing okay at work. I feel for you.

    If you haven’t already, you might want to check out whether your area has resources like advocacy organizations, support groups, etc., for people with disabilities or chronic illness, especially resources that are good about mental health. For some people, depression is a disability and/or chronic illness, but not everyone recognizes that. If your area has a center for independent living, for example, they may be or be able to point you towards resources towards managing your depression and your work life, and resources towards what to do if your employers are unreasonable about it. Best of luck.

    1. fposte*

      “You don’t deserve to be fired. There are some jobs in which your health might legitimately prevent you from doing what they need of an employee in your role…”

      I want to grab this out because I think it’s a really important differentiation. Even if a job does need more attendance from you than you can give, it’s not an indication of substandard worth that you’re deservedly punished for; it’s just a situation that couldn’t work out. It’s hard not to let depression drive the blamey bus, but it’s always better if you can just hold on to the keys.

      1. Chinook*

        ““You don’t deserve to be fired. There are some jobs in which your health might legitimately prevent you from doing what they need of an employee in your role…””

        I want to echo this. I don’t think I could go back to teaching full-time until I get my mental health under control, but that is only because I would be responsible for teenagers (who are not the most mentally stable group to begin with, what with hormones and growing). But, my job is dealing with paperwork and no permanent damage will be done if it is delayed a day.

        Not knowing what you do, OP, you are the only one who can answer whether or not your job is one where you will harm others if you aren’t 100% mentally. If it is, you can start looking for more mundane work. If it isn’t, congratulate yourself on being lucky enough to have a boss who supports you and a job where no one is harmed when you have a bad day. This is a good thing. Embrace it.

        1. BananaKarenina*

          Chinook – this + 1,000. High school teacher here, who’s struggled mightily with depression/anxiety. Black moods and horrid crying spells for hours. Being in a classroom with five full classes of obnoxious (and sometimes dangerous) teenagers will seriously derail one’s mental health. I ended up taking a job this year as a librarian for two (!) elementary schools, found a therapist in my insurance network, and started meds. Now, a bazillion kids’ hugs and and smiles later (“You’re the best li-berry-ian! Can I check out a ‘Captain Underpants’ book?”), I am slowly climbing out of the abyss. I needed that change; now, I feel like I can go back to teaching for another year and not totally lose it.

          OP, you are not alone, and I am sorry you are dealing with this. You certainly do not deserve to be fired! Depression is scary, and we’re prone to go into morbid introspection – “heart spelunking”. Everyone here has posted great strategies and helpful tips to try at work. I would also definitely check to see if DBSA (Depression Bipolar Support Alliance) has a group in your area. No doubt there are other people who face difficult work situations, and may have some strategies to share with you. Do keep us posted!

      2. Turtle Candle*

        Right, this is very well said. Some limitations are both very real and nobody’s fault. I have no depth perception, so I cannot fly commercial aircraft. This is a very real thing and not at all my fault–it’s due to a congenital birth defect, basically. But if I wanted to fly airplanes, there would be no way for airlines to accommodate me, no matter how much I aced every other qualification.

        Sometimes it’s nobody’s fault. It’s just that that is really hard for depression-brain to grasp that, I think.

  35. SarahTheEntwife*

    Nthing the recommendations to talk to your boss since he seems sympathetic. Just getting it out there can make the conversation so much less awkward than waiting until there’s no choice but to deal with the problem (which yeah, good managers should be more proactive about). I also agree that one day a week, while more than some people take, is definitely not what I’d call “frequent”. Though that said, is it possible that it would help more to just take a solid week off sometime soon, or even just an extra-long weekend? It’s not what I would do, since inevitably I just sit on the couch and mope rather than taking care of myself or getting caught up on chores and therapy, but it helps a lot of people so I figured I’d throw it out there.

    This may be more or less feasible depending on what your job is and how much redundancy there is for other people to pick up slack, but are there parts of your job that are particularly manageable or unmanageable right now? One thing I’ve done in the past is offer to take on more stuff that I’m doing relatively well at in exchange for dropping things I’m struggling with.

  36. Nea*

    Should people like me just be fired?

    I read that and an alarm went off in my head shrieking “That’s the depression talking! That’s the depression talking!” The cruelest weapon depression has is that it convinces you that YOU are the problem, not IT.

    For what it is worth, I try quantifying things to make sure that depression and anxiety are not pulling things out of proportion. For instance – how many is “many” days off? Because “once a month” over a year is 12 – less time than most people take on a 2-week vacation. If you leave one day at noon can you or can’t you take extra time other days to make up? (In other words, depression is telling you that you are ghosting on your own job. But what do the *numbers* say? Numbers aren’t emotional and numbers don’t lie.)

    Operating at capacity and failing to perform are two separate concepts; don’t confuse the first for the second. For instance, very few people are operating at capacity when they’re distracted by the news or have a bout of vacation brain before planned leave or just have a case of spring fever. That doesn’t mean they are failing to perform, and more than that, it doesn’t mean that YOU are doing any worse than anyone else around you. Depression lies, depression lies, depression lies. (I highly recommend Jenny Lawson, The Bloggess, for frank discussion of mental illness and its effects. “Depression lies” is one of her mantras.)

    Your manager sounds supportive – so much so that you’re recognizing it even through the depression. Ask him for a neutral, official opinion on your productivity. (Hint: I notice you’re not on a PIP, which is a huge clue.) Solid statistics might work for you here, too, if you want to try that – if you want to try, you could ask your manager to give you a specific list of tasks and deadlines. Then no matter what depression *tells* you about how you don’t belong there, the list itself won’t lie – is it completed? Were the deadlines met? If a deadline was missed, was it due to circumstances beyond your control?

    Depression liiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeeeesssssssssss. Lies, lies, lies. Look for things – numbers, statistics, your manager, your coworkers – that will tell you the truth.

    Good luck, OP. We’re in your corner.

    1. Adam*

      This. I’ve struggled with anxiety and the single most clarifying piece of advice I ever received was:

      “Anxiety is your brain using black magic to make you believe you’re a terrible person.”

      After realizing that, it definitely changed how I viewed and entertained negative thoughts.

      1. Chinook*

        There is a reason Bruce Lee called his depression “the dragon” and Winston Churchill “the black dog.” It is an animal with a mind of its own that will do everything it can to control you, including brainwashing.

        So, whenever you feel like “I deserve something bad,” find a trusted friend to run the idea by first. It sucks but sometimes your own brain cannot be trusted.

        1. Jaydee*

          I envision my anxiety as looking sort of like the mucus guy in the Mucinex commercials. Basically a big green blob in a shady-used-car-salesman suit. It is a helpful reminder that nothing he says should be taken as the truth.

    2. Bend & Snap*

      Captain Awkward’s term “jerkbrain” is such a good term for when depression speaks.

    3. Project Manager*

      Yes, that is absolutely the depression talking. I started to think, “Well, as a manager, it sounds like I wouldn’t give this person time-sensitive tasks,” but then I reread and said, “Wait a minute. This person sounds like ME when I’m in a depressive funk. When in that situation, I could easily say all of these things about myself AND THEY WOULD ALL BE UNTRUE.”

      So, OP, I’d be surprised if the things your brain is telling you are true. It sounds to me like you are soldiering forward.

      To me, depression feels like being Frodo carrying the Ring across the plains of Mordor – a near-hopeless task in a bleak, even poisonous landscape bearing a terrible burden that gets heavier with each step. But he did eventually get there, and hopefully so can we all.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Oh, I like the Frodo analogy—it is so true (particularly because the Ring warps your brain, which depression is pretty good at doing, too).

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      So much this. Depression is a real P.O.S. It’s like the witches in MacBeth whispering in your ear nonstop.

    5. LizB*

      This this this this this. Exactly what I was coming here to say.

      Also, the phrase “people like me” is a red flag for me as well. You are not your depression. You are not broken. You will not always feel this way. You will find treatment options that help you better than your current ones do.
      “People like [you]” is “people with chronic health conditions,” not “people who are inevitably terrible.” I think if you were talking to a friend struggling with migraines or mobility issues or something else chronic, you wouldn’t say “You should just be fired because your condition is impacting your work,” right?

  37. Miles Teg*

    Take whatever time off you need to be well. You wouldn’t hold it against someone who had to take a day or two off a month because of debilitating back pain. If you work for a large employer in the US depression can be covered under the FMLA just like any other serious health condition. Up to 12 weeks a year either as a block of time or intermittently.

  38. Oryx*

    This will matter a lot on what you do and how you feel on days off work, but is working from home an option? As someone who also suffers from depression I know that on really bad days, working in any capacity is impossible because I can’t get out of bed. But on other days — days when I can get out of bed but can’t take a shower or put on clothes — working from home is a balance that lets me still feel productive from the comfort and safety of my own house.

    Optics matter, unfortunately, so sometimes it’s a matter of figuring out the bare minimum I can get away with in the looks department and still look presentable. “Bathing” with baby wipes and dry shampoo are my best friend on days when a shower is too much. I work in a super casual office which is great in that I can wear jeans everyday but on bad days it means I show up slouched in a hoodie with the hood pulled up over my head and very disheveled. My trick was to find clothes that look professional but feel like pajamas (I’m looking at you LuLaRoe, despite your MLM techniques) get me out the door and to the office so I can fake looking put together.

    1. Sir Edmund*

      If you can afford it, Betabrand is similar. And they don’t look wrinkled no matter how much you try to curl into a ball.

    2. Chameleon*

      OMG I have never heard of dry shampoo and I think you just changed my life.

      I have a hard time remembering/having the energy to shower but that greasy hair really feeds into my self loathing.

  39. Manders*

    What are people’s strategies for not crying at work? I’m a crier my mental health issues get bad, and I always appreciate hearing about how to stop it.

    My current coping methods:
    * Bringing a notebook into difficult meetings and writing in it. It makes me look attentive, and my boss has no idea what I’m actually writing (it could be my grocery list, or even a reminder to myself to apply for other jobs)
    * As soon as I can get away from the upsetting thing, going to the bathroom and putting a cold wet towel over my eyes and nose so they don’t get red and puffy

    1. fposte*

      Are these meetings where you could bring water? Drinking water in the moment can be a helpful physiological redirect sometimes.

    2. Amber Rose*

      I pick something funny to remember, like my cat trying to grab a belt and running away with it, or the time one of my dog’s puppies got stuck upstairs because it didn’t know how to go back down. If I can trigger some kind of amusement in myself, it pulls back the urge to cry quite a bit.

    3. LizB*

      Drinking water and yawning both help me push back tears. They can be hard to deploy in a work setting sometimes, but they’re very effective.

    4. Robbenmel*

      I put myself mentally in a garage…an auto mechanic’s place, I mean. The smells of tires and oil are completely neutral to my brain, for some reason, and if I can hold that image, it calms me right down. (Yeah, weird.)

    5. Freezing Librarian*

      Drinking cold water is my coping method, too. fposte’s idea to bring it to meetings is good.
      It also helps me to go outside and take a walk around the building whenever I’m feeling the tears building up. The exercise and the fresh air even just for a couple of minutes usually takes the edge off.

  40. Gov Worker*

    OP, hugs and more hugs if you will accept them.

    FMLA, and a formal reasonable accommodation arrangement, could help you stop worrying about needing a day a month off (not that much in my opinion). There is paperwork involved, and you may not be comfortable with the level of disclosure that may be required to use these programs, but they could be valuable options for you.

    Take good care of yourself.

  41. Anlyn*

    I struggle with depression at work too, though it’s not as major as yours, and here’s what I do. (I am not a psychiatrist or therapist, these are just the strategies I use.)

    -First and foremost, I give myself permission to cut myself slack.. If I slip on some days, if I’m not as productive last week, if I didn’t contribute much to the call this time—it’s okay. It happens. It happens to everyone.

    -When I have tedious or boring tasks, I put on music. Sometimes documentaries, though I run the risk of getting too interested in them. This may not work for you. But for me, it drowns out my chatterbox mind and lets me focus on what I’m doing. My tasks fall into a kind of rhythm and before I know it, I’ve completed the work. Or made a good size chunk in it.

    -If I feel hurt or stung by someone’s comments or rudeness, I go to the bathroom and have a good cry for a couple of minutes. I take my phone to keep an eye on time and try very hard not to let it go longer. 2 minutes max. Then I take a few deep breaths, splash my face, and go back to work.

    -If I start worrying what others think of me, I repeat to myself, “I’m not worthless, I’m not stupid, others don’t automatically hate me simply for existing”. Adjust as needed for whatever your particular triggers are.

    -I ask for general feedback from my manager. I treat it as if I didn’t have depression. How am I doing? What can I do better? How can I grow?

    -On days when I just flat can’t deal, I take the day off or leave early

    I don’t know if these things will work for you. They don’t always work for me. But hopefully it gives you something to consider. And talk to your therapist; ask her for her recommendations on dealing with work.

    You are worth it.

    Good luck. Know that all of us are pulling for you.

    1. Fictional Butt*

      +1 to your second point, although I find music too emotional– I use podcasts (generally funny ones). I have not struggled with depression, so I can’t say whether or not this would apply, but when I am having a difficult day emotionally and I need to work I find podcasts very useful. They distract the part of my brain that gets stressed/anxious/sad and let the part of my brain that just does my job take over. It’s like plopping a kid in front of the TV so Mom can get work done :)

      1. mhp*

        agreed – I recently started listening to “no such thing as a fish” while walking to/ from work. I used to spend the whole walk back stressing about something I had/not said or replaying scripts about how bad I was at everything; now I actually find myself smiling as I walk along while learning super weird facts!

  42. Temperance*

    LW, not knowing how unlimited PTO works in practice, I would recommend that you seek out intermittent FMLA for your depression.

    Captain Awkward’s post on this has been incredibly helpful to me in keeping it together at work. The advice she gives on that post (and, well, IMO just about every other thing ever, I am a huge fangirl) has helped me immensely in this craptastic year.

  43. Anony Mouse*

    First of all, I’m so sorry you’re going through this.
    Lots of helpful comments have been posted already, so I’ll just add one thing. As someone who has struggled with depression, anxiety and crippling perfectionism, I’ve often fallen into the trap of beating myself up for not doing what I “should” be doing: “I should be over this by now, I should’ve been able to get a grip, I should be doing better by now.” These kinds of thoughts add additional guilt and shame, which lower my overall ability to function. Because of this, I’ve found it essential to get a regular dose of external perspective. Your counselor is one source, of course, but it seems your boss ought to be involved at some level. This doesn’t have to be an in-depth discussion of your depression, but rather some basic, honest feedback about your job performance. Ask him to identify what he sees to be your strengths and weaknesses. He probably sees more strengths than you do. As for the weaknesses, once you know what he sees, you’ll be able to know where to go from there. Maybe pick one area and identify a few concrete tasks that will help you to address this weakness and improve in the long run. Take it one step at a time, and don’t punish yourself when you stumble. Make a note of it and start again.

    Again, really sorry you’re in pain right now. Hang in there.

  44. Adam*

    Of course, treatment is going to be different for each person so what works for one may be terrible advice for another. When it comes to medication you want to actively be working with your doctor about what you take as it may not be getting your desired results or the side-effects may not be worth the positive ones. You don’t have to stick with any one thing if after an appreciable amount of time your condition is not improving.

    When I was seriously depressed, I made it a point to go to work because the alternative was being stuck home alone with my horrible thoughts all day. For me, work was a bit of a reprieve because since the job had nothing to do with me focusing on the job meant I could get out of my own head for a few hours every day.

    But in your case, your symptoms may be so strong that sometimes working just isn’t possible. It’s ok to acknowledge this. You’ll want to address that with your medical care practitioners for possible solutions. It sounds like your manager is at least aware that you are struggling with something and is sympathetic. If you can, set up a meeting with him to discuss your current difficulties and see if you can find any accommodations or workarounds that may make work more manageable. Maybe you need a lighter work load or some less stressful duties for right now. If you have a good HR department they have access to resources that may benefit you as well.

    And if you need to take leave and the company has provisions for this, take some leave. Benefits exist for a reason. If they offer them, you should use them.

    I hope the other commentors have more useful things to say. And I hope you feel better soon.

    Best of luck.

  45. Backyard Butterfly*

    If you have a job where you can spend a decent amount of time listening to your headphones, maybe you could load some funny shows onto your phone that you could listen to when you feel yourself welling up? Like, “oh no, I’m about to cry, better go listen to some Friends/Futurama/my favorite stand-up comedian.” (I have found this works best with shows that you have watched so many times that you don’t really have to *see* the screen to know exactly what’s going on.) I found the distraction really helpful with lightening my mood and making me think about something other than what was making me cry.

    1. Nea*

      God bless the Brits for continuing the tradition of radio comedy. I highly recommend the available-in-America “Cabin Pressure” (about a small charter airline) and “John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme” (variety) in particular, or back episodes of Just a Minute (game show). Half an hour a pop and no visuals needed.

      John Finnemore (of both the SP and Cabin Pressure) have gotten me through many a dreaded day.

        1. Manders*

          My Brother, My Brother And Me is another good one for giving you something distracting and lighthearted to focus on. I also try to keep something on my phone or at my desk that reminds me of stuff I like, like a fan-made playlist for my favorite video game or an action figure of a character from my favorite movie.

        2. Lauren*

          I’ve never struggled with depression, but my last job was absolutely terrible and there were definitely some days where I felt overwhelmed and lost and just totally beaten down and just wanted to sit in my cube and cry. I also found funny/lighthearted podcasts were a huge help. Even when you feel like you are so NOT in the mood for anything funny or light, just putting it on and playing it in the background helps. I found that forcing myself to listen to something funny would result in me basically smiling and laughing against my will. I think just the act of smiling or laughing something will make you feel better (if only temporarily). Here are some recommendations, I know these got me through quite a few days:
          My Dad Wrote a Porno, How Did This Get Made, James Bonding, Pop Culture Happy Hour (more light than funny)

          Bets of luck to you, and sending good thoughts your way.

    2. Fictional Butt*

      “The Flop House” is an awesome comedy podcast (and also the source of my username).

  46. Rachel B*

    I commend you for 1. seeking treatment and 2. seeking work-specific advice.

    It is all to easy to fall into the “nothing I can do will make things better for me so why even try trap,” particularly when you’re suffering from prolonged depression. As someone who has dealt with major depression and OCD, I would suggest:

    – Keeping a ‘to do’ list for interacting with your coworkers and your past coworkers. When you feel worthless, it is hard to motivate yourself to linger over cake at a company party or send a ‘thinking of you email.’ But these relationships can make you feel better and help with your career stability and trajectory. People will have your back when they know you better. Commit to doing 2 to 3 a week to start and be sure to write down those interactions that felt good so you have something positive to hold on to.
    – Keeping up your office and personal appearance is important to. People associate ‘slob’ with ‘doesn’t care’ when there are so many personal and mental health issues that can contribute to this. Commit to 2 to 3 ‘reasonable’ items and add to the list once you’ve mastered them as habits. I would start with a few from this list: cleaning off your desk every Friday, showering daily, getting a hair cut every 4 to 8 weeks, and buying at least 1 new clothing item per month (if you’re wardrobe is beaten up or stained or doesn’t fit).
    – Challenge your thinking. Even if your illness causes you to ‘fail’ at work, you still have value as a human being. Plenty of capable people have breaks in their employment history for personal reasons. I’m not saying that dealing with unemployment on top of your illness would be ideal. Unemployment is terrible. But counter thoughts like ‘I will never find a job that offers me the flexibility I need for treatment’ or ‘I am constantly screwing up and will get fired at any moment and be ruined forever’ and ‘I’m terrible because everyone else can manage work and their personal stuff’ with ‘more realistic’ thoughts like ‘there are flexible jobs out there (and it may take a while but I will get another one if I need to’).

    Good luck!

  47. Amber Rose*

    I want to answer your second question first. You are a singularly unique and wonderful person, you are conscientious and want to work hard, you are smart and strong and brave and the only thing you deserve is to find a route to happiness. You do not deserve to be fired because you’re struggling. That is a lie that your depression is whispering in your ear. Depression only knows how to tell lies. People like you are warriors who didn’t ask to be, but are facing the fight every day anyway. People like you are fighting a war with a stick, and what you deserve is help and a better stick.

    So the first part. Your boss knows now. Can you work with him to determine what kind of work load you can reasonably complete given the time off you need? The most important thing for succeeding in your job is going to be communication. If you can’t get some work done, then your boss needs to know so it can be re-assigned.

    Are there parts of your job you like more than others, things that make work a little more enjoyable? Can you ask to take on more of those kinds of tasks, and maybe reduce ones that cause extra stress?

    Can you take regular breaks during the day? Like every couple hours, just stop working for ten minutes and relax?

    Please consult with your healthcare team as well about your treatment plan and how it’s progressing. It’s possible parts of it aren’t working and can be switched up.

  48. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    Oh, OP, my heart aches for you. I’ve been in this position, before. Please forgive the length of my reply, but I hope it’s somewhat helpful.

    I’m a pretty high functioning depressive, but when I go through a bad spell it is BAD. Like months of deep depression where I feel like I’m in a never-ending freefall in a bottomless abyss, and it will never ever end. And then I start shutting down and worrying about what the bottom will be, if a bottom exists, and what I will do if I never hit the bottom, which just feeds into the death spiral.

    Thankfully, I had a supportive boss, and it sounds like you might, too. If that’s the case, then it might be helpful to share what I did when it was super super bad:

    1. I cashed out all my vacation and PTO and took a month of paid administrative leave (my employer was too small to be covered by FMLA, but I would have taken it if I could have). We triaged my work so it would be covered while I was gone, which was not that bad because I’d been so unproductive, anyway. That lack of productivity had been really stressing me out and undermining my personal sense of self with respect to what it means to be a professional, etc., so taking it off my plate was important, and it was important that we made the decision together.

    2. I spent that leave reevaluating and stepping up my treatment plan with my care providers. I had been on medication and talk therapy, but my medication’s efficacy was wearing off. I increased my dosage, which was a huge help, and went to therapy more frequently. I also ended up integrating bodywork (acupuncture, chiropractic, massage). I know it sounds crunchy, but the bodywork was actually really helpful/important. I was not making a lot of money at the time (think ~$28K/year in the Bay Area), but I was lucky because I had really robust health insurance that covered the medicine and most of the talk therapy and bodywork. I also pillaged my six-month emergency savings account.

    3. I scrutinized whether work was making me feel more depressed or was triggering me. It was, and I realized it was because of how my boss was managing me. I came up with a Feelings Plan with my therapist for how to draw an emotional boundary between her management style—which was not going to change—and my reactions to that style.

    4. I told my friends/fam I was going off the grid and proceeded to spend two weeks in my room, in bed, in the dark (blinds closed), staring at the ceiling and not leaving my house. I asked them not to call me or visit during that time. I had food and groceries delivered when I realized I hadn’t eaten in three days. I did not check email, return phone calls, or see other human life outside of therapy. Basic hygiene was essentially the only task I could force myself to do. I know that sounds like a bad thing, but it ended up being really important to me to unplug that way.

    5. Once #1–4 stabilized, I slowly started coming back online. My first week back was at 50% time, the following week was 75%, and the last week was 100%. My coworkers were exceptionally gracious and did not pry, they just told me they were glad I was feeling better and was back. My boss was heroic.

    It sounds like you may be going through something a little less severe. If that’s the case, and if your employer is covered by the ADA and FMLA, I would apply to take intermittent FMLA leave to cover the one day/month you need as mental health days. I would ask for accommodation to go see my therapist more frequently (until two years ago, I saw mine weekly). I would scrutinize my treatment plan. I would try to identify my support network outside of work/medical care. I would read the Captain Awkward post that MegaMoose/Alison provided upthread.

    I’m wishing you support, warmth, and stability.

  49. Junior Dev*

    I haven’t read all the comments so forgive me if this has been suggested, but are you able to work from home, on a flexible schedule, or in some other way that would accommodate your difficulty showing up consistently? Or is there any task that most people consider boring or unglamorous but that’s good for your brain when it’s depressed?

    I say this as someone who dealt with physical pain while working from home and often did so in bed when I couldn’t sit without pain, and whose anxiety coping strategies often involves reading dry technical materials to distract myself. My topic of choice right now is weight lifting, but when I first started learning to code I was struggling pretty hard with PTSD and would often ride out a panic attack by reading some programming tutorial or computer science text.

    I know there’s maybe a fear that giving yourself such leeway will lead to your depression getting worse, but in my experience getting *something* done on a given day is better than nothing, and gives me counter-evidence to my brain’s campaign to tell me I’m terrible.

    Also, I hope this doesn’t cross the line into medical advice, but exercise has helped me so much. Again, it’s a matter of getting something done instead of nothing–if you just have energy to walk to the end of the block and back, or do a couple of pushups, that can be better than doing nothing at all. No pressure if there’s a reason that doesn’t work for you, but it’s something to consider.

    1. Junior Dev*

      So to be clear, when I say working from home, I mean doing that on days when coming in to the office is too much, not every day. I think getting out of the house when you can is important. But when you can’t, a non-zero amount of work is better than none.

    2. Tuckerman*

      Working 1 day a week from home has done wonders for my overall well-being. If OP could schedule 1 day a week from home regularly (in the middle in the week especially) it would give her/him a breather from having to “pretend” to be on. That might make it easier to get work done.

  50. Ladybird*

    Before anything else, I offer hugs if you would like them.

    For your questions, I think it depends a lot on what type of work you do (how time-sensitive it is or group-dependent, for example). Some workplaces will have an easier time accommodating you, and since yours offers unlimited time off, I would guess that they can accommodate you more readily.

    Do keep in mind, that it is stressful for you to come to work on bad days, but could also be stressful to those around you. And I wonder if that also stresses you out. (The fact that you didn’t tell your boss about your depression, signals that you’re more of a private person.) I mention this because your boss might have an alternative suggestion for those days.

    In general, I would talk to your boss. Your boss already knows about your depression and will be able to tell you how you are doing work-wise. Ask them if you are getting things done in a way they’d like, or if they would prefer a different plan. Maybe a different work schedule works better for you, and helps you manage everything better. Just ask your employer what they think, are tasks getting done as they would like.
    Honestly, just check in with them on a regular basis: “Hey, I know I’ve been out these days/times, but I handled this and this, and am now working on this project. Does that sound good or do you need me to do something different?”

    I’m sure the stress of feeling like you’re not performing well doesn’t help things any. Remember that it is possible that you are being harder on yourself than you ought to, and that you might be doing just fine. And even if you aren’t, you are being proactive and taking steps to get there. You are handling something that is very difficult and asking for help is hard, but you’re doing it.

    You mentioned that you aren’t sure about your career. Right now, ask yourself what you can handle. Do you want to just be able to go home, having completed your work for the day, or do you like working at something over time? How much interaction with others can you handle? Is there another role at your company that you might be better suited for? Has there been a change in your work, for better or worse? You have been working there for a few years, your boss likely has some idea about you and the work you do. Schedule a meeting and talk with your boss.

    (Please let me know if this is overstepping.) I don’t pretend to know anything, but check your treatment plan. A plan that worked before, might have stopped being as effective or there is new information about something. Please don’t be afraid to bring that up with your professionals if you feel it would help. If you aren’t already, talk with them about what you’re feeling, your fears and worries. They may have some perspective, especially if you have been seeing them for a number of years. Ask them about your progress so far. Sometimes it helps to check in.

    Hope any of this helps you. Good luck.

  51. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    I feel this letter hard. I have anxiety and it can be hard to work sometimes, especially now since my wife is basically bed bound with multiple broken leg bones; so I am lucky to get an hour to myself each day and don’t sleep much/well.

    But, my anxiety often surrounds money, and I don’t have PTO so I am usually “must go to work must go to work must go to work neeeeeeed moneeeeeeeey.” We were really hard up when I was studying for the bar exam. And I am never eating less so my employed spouse can have the lion’s share, or skipping breakfast to save on groceries for us so as to help free up money for food for our cats, or not being able to afford tampons or a proper mid-exam lunch again. Add that experience to being bad at math, and of course it’s a bad time.

    However, my focus on work means I can be wiped out, burnt out, and short tempered at home. So I will watch this thread for ideas on how to apply “be good at work” to “be a good partner/caregiver/cat parent.”

    1. Princess Carolyn*

      I feel you here. So many of the tough things about my life could be mitigated with a bit more money — grocery delivery, takeout meals, cleaning services, the freedom to go a few weeks without checking my bank balance.

      Obviously your wife needs you to do a lot of things for her right now, but is there anything she can do for you? Can she handle things like making phone calls, scheduling appointments, balancing your checkbook? In the past, I’ve felt huge relief in having my partner request my prescription refills or deal with customer service.

      1. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

        Well, she is dealing alone with all her insurance/work/liability stuff (she broke her leg through an accident on rented property), and sends any nonperishables items other than the weekly shopping either to our mailbox or the much less busy in store pickup. I can tell you I don’t feel much like walking through all of Target!

  52. Tasha*

    Not to put a damper on all the great suggestions so far, but . . . employers are not actually required to keep people employed who can’t do their jobs. I have two relatives (one with cancer, one with a broken pelvis–acquired on the job, no less) who were let go after six months and 12 months because they couldn’t be at work (i.e., perform their jobs). FMLA is great, but once the required leave time is exhausted, so are the employer’s (legal) responsibilities. I think companies that keep employees who are too disabled to work are saints . . . but they shouldn’t be cursed if they don’t/can’t keep absent or nonperforming employees on the payroll.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s not entirely accurate. The ADA often offers some protections, long after FMLA is used up. It’s true that employers aren’t required to keep people who can’t perform the essential functions of the job, but in many jobs occasional days off can end up being the required accommodation.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      We don’t really know if OP can’t do their job or if their performance is suffering. It doesn’t sound like OP’s situation is analogous to your relatives, who were unable to return to work or perform any of their duties during that time (and should have probably received short-term disability).

      But most employers are required, under the ADA, to accommodate an employee in a situation like OP’s. If OP is capable of performing their essential work duties, even with intermittent leave or accommodation, and if the employer is covered under the ADA and FMLA, then the employer cannot fire OP for taking leave or seeking treatment. I don’t think anyone is suggesting otherwise.

      1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

        And jumping off of that, moving to a part-time or reduced schedule is a really common ADA accommodation for a lot of jobs. In the US in particular we’ve got this overly strict sense that certain types of jobs must stick to the 40hrs a week schedule, when other countries working less than that or job sharing is much more common for all kinds of reasons.

        1. Tuckerman*

          I think that part of that though, is that most people need to work full time to have employer sponsored health insurance. It’s not necessarily that the job requires one person working 40 hrs per week, it’s that people cannot afford to work just part time, or rely on full time benefits.

          1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

            You’re right of course, although the point I was getting at was the impression that the *employer* needs people working full time, not that the employee needs to be working full time. Maintaining employer-based insurance is a concern for many people with disabilities (just one of the lovely issues with the US insurance system), but plenty of others could be getting insurance via medicare, from a spouse or parent, or through the ACA.

    3. Stellaaaaa*

      I’m normally the first to walk these lines of thought, but OP hasn’t indicated that anyone feels her performance is slipping. She’s struggling with the rigamarole of going into the office and spending 8-9 hours a day there when her illness is making it impossible for her to feel remotely content with this daily routine.

    4. Gazebo Slayer*

      As I mentioned above, it’s a systemic problem that needs systemic solutions ensuring that anyone unable to work due to disability is financially supported. Unfortunately, the government is currently cutting such support, criminally stingy as it is, because the people who run our country are evil.

  53. Shellebelle*

    Sending so many hugs your way! This is something that is very difficult to manage, so kudos for all that you’re doing already to handle it. I deal with both depression and anxiety, including some pretty serious brain fog associated with it. A few things that have helped me:

    – Making a list of tasks and rating them based on difficulty (1 = easiest, 3 = hardest). Then, when I am having a bad day , I stick to level 1 tasks. Seeing the check marks piling up can help me feel more accomplished and able to carve out time for level 2 or 3 tasks.
    – When my list has a million 3s, I bring it up with my manager. Sometimes I’ve overcomplicated a task or made it loom too large. Sometimes getting clarity helps reduce the task’s rating. Sometimes the workload is just unrealistic and we can shuffle things around. Being proactive like this is often the best thing.
    – Setting timers for prolonged tasks (20 – 40 minutes to work on “major teapot report”). I do what I can in that time and then move on to another task. Doing this for a couple days in a row means that the work gets done, but with less stress.
    – Schedule little micro breaks for myself throughout the day (5 minutes max) to stretch my legs, go to the bathroom, or get a drink of water. Having a bit of mental space can help me refocus on work.
    – Take a proper lunch break. Seriously. Get away from your desk and go outside. Eat a proper meal. When I eat at my desk while trying to work, or try to push through the day without eating, I pay for it later.
    – Realize that bad days are going to happen. There are going to be days when you just can’t deal. Be communicative with your manager (as appropriate) and be kind to yourself. A sick day once a month is not unreasonable for a chronic condition.
    – Remember that this is a chronic, documented health condition. There is such a stigma around mental illness. It’s seen as your fault, or that you’re “crazy” or “making it up.” No. This is the same as any other illness and a reasonable workplace should accommodate you.

    You’re already doing an amazing job of dealing with this and being communicative with your boss. I wish you all the best on your road to recovery.

  54. bunniferous*

    One thought: if you had cancer or another medical issue, would you be asking this question?

    Clinical depression is a real illness. I will assume your medical care providers are working on getting your illness under control, but you need to realize that this is an illness, not a personal failing.

    Been there, done that, well now, there is hope for better days! Sending you internet hugs!

    1. fposte*

      I think lots of people with chronic physical problems face the same questions. Even if the illness has a different cultural place, there’s still the “am I really wussing out when it’s something most people could work with” and “are there other people who should be doing this job” and “OMG the folly of having gone to a movie/eaten a sandwich and therefore brought subsequent problems upon myself when I had to go to work in two days.”

      1. The OG Anonsie*

        Absolutely. My disability is physical and hereditary and there is no comfort in “oh well, I guess my body is just worse than everyone else’s and it will just limit my ability to live normally and do what I want to do and perform well forever!”

        1. The OG Anonsie*

          Ugh I deleted the rest of my comment and didn’t re-read before posting to see if it still made sense.

          I meant to also add this is something we all struggle with. Being able to accept (or at least tolerate) that you have limits and need to stay within them is a hurdle everyone has to go over when dealing with chronic health problems of any kind. I can’t say I’ve wholly accepted mine but I’m comfortable enough in it now that I don’t feel so guilty or stressed when I ask for what I need.

  55. Dee*

    I’m sorry you’re having a hard time, OP. Like so many others who have commented, I have depression and anxiety, but it’s generally well controlled with medication. And as time goes on, I’m getting better at identifying behaviors and thoughts that come from the depression. It helps, if only to know that it’s not something *real*. It’s not true that my friends actually hate or pity me. It’s not true that some activity will be a disaster. It’s not true that I’m useless or hopeless.

    As far as work and depression goes, it’s usually feeling like I’m not accomplishing anything, that I’m a terrible employee, that someone will eventually catch on. But it’s not true, and I’m sure it’s not true for you either.

    One tactic: Break things down into small tasks. Even ridiculously small tasks. When you feel like you haven’t gotten anything done, you can look back at those tasks as something you completed. Do enough of those tasks, and something’s finished.

    I also like the Pomodoro technique, where you work for 25 minutes and then take a break for 5. The variation I actually use is 20/10, and I use the Unf*ck Your Habitat app. Chances are, you can do anything for 20 minutes.

    Good luck. You’ll be okay.

    1. Sir Edmund*

      Seconding the rec for Unf*ck Your Habitat – I don’t have the app but do have the book. It is SO helpful for feeling like you’ve done something, anything.

    2. Nea*

      When you feel like you haven’t gotten anything done, you can look back at those tasks as something you completed.

      Oh! Oh! That reminded me of one of my Best Ideas EVER. What I started doing was dedicating a page in my daytimer to Really Great Things I Accomplished. Some of them were goals achieved, some of them were hard tasks done, and a few were just ideas that really made a difference in my life. (Like dry erase markers and a fuzzy sock in the bathroom. I never forget something written on the bathroom mirror.)

      Then, at the end of the year or when I’m having a really bad “I suck” day, I look at that list and have to admit that sometimes, no matter how bad it’s been, I can be pretty kick-ass.

      1. N*

        Related: my doctor gave me homework to write down 2-3 positive things about myself every day, and the majority of mine are related to work. I will usually take a quick break and write down some of the things I’ve accomplished or the positive comments I’ve received from supervisors and coworkers, like, “My manager told a new board member that I am known for being able to take on any project and to do it well” or “My coworker said I seemed so put together because I was the first one to be ready for our staff meeting.” Things like that can help as well.

    3. Djuna*

      Thirding the Unf*ck your Habitat recommendation, it just works.

      OP, I had a wonderful doc 20 years ago who managed to teach me how to weaponize the smallest things against depression: Got up? Win! Had shower? Win! Got dressed? Win! Others have mentioned this too, but the effects of it (long term, even) cannot be understated. I’ve been battling depression (I’m bipolar, so it’s part of the package) for over 20 years and this is honestly one of the most powerful tools I have, apart from my meds.

      When it comes to work, sometimes you need more time than you’re willing to give yourself. I know how it works, you take a day, you feel bad for taking a day, you resolve not to take another day, your resolve falters and you feel like you’re compounding failure with more failure. But you’re not. And it doesn’t really work, not least because a lot of those days are taken up with berating yourself for taking the day in the first place.

      Sometimes you need a stretch of time – a week, two weeks, whatever works, just to be completely separated from work, think of it like you’ve been prescribed time away to take care of yourself.

      Depression is horrible, and sneaks up on us in the weirdest ways – like others in the thread I’ve dreaded performance reviews where I was convinced I’d be “found out” for some vague, unspecified, terribleness, only to be shocked by a promotion. You can’t trust what you think about your own work, and your boss sounds caring so please do check in with him . No matter what he has to say, it can’t be worse than what a part of your brain is saying to you on the regular.

      Sending support and warm wishes your way, plus a virtual airhorn for you to sound in the general direction of your jerkbrain’s jerkishness.

  56. Brogrammer*

    OP, you’ve already been through what, to me, is the hardest part – talking to your supervisor. He knows and it sounds like he’s treating this like any other chronic medical issue.

    My depression isn’t quite as severe as yours (only on one med) but I’m still stuck in the stage of expending a ton of energy to pass as “normal.” It’s hard.

    I don’t have much advice at the moment, just commiseration, but I wish you all the best. You’re doing better than you think you are.

  57. Watching TV Today*

    I have struggled with depression for most of my life. I was even hospitalized at one point. So, I feel that I can empathize. At the moment my symptoms are not as severe as the OP’s, however, I have been there. I would not resign because it sounds like your manger is understanding and accommodating. That is invaluable and should not be taken for granted. I would take as many mental health days as you need. Try not to feel guilty, this is a disease. I also found this article which I think has excellent advice

  58. Anon for this one*

    If your depression is anything like mine, there are Good Days (meds are working, things going OK, no major stressors, let’s go out and conquer a tiny little piece of the world!) Bad Days (uggggggh I can only do routine smallish things, executive function, learning new things and complex problem solving is off the table) and Little Moments (I’m staying in bed forever and ever, fk off world I hate everything).

    What has helped immensely, both personally AND professionally, because organizations are made of humans and we all have Bad Days for whatever reason, is to make procedures for things so that on those days when you don’t have much executive function going on, you just step through the process which you put together and practiced on Good Days.

    When I’m dealing with a confrontation of some sort, or a problem that is basically a human factors type of problem, I have a Procedure, and I focus on the procedure, not the person. This is super helpful in managing interactions with difficult personalities and folks who like to yell a lot and that sort of thing. X happened, so is the problem that 1) the procedure doesn’t take X into account and needs revised 2) the procedure isn’t feasible 3) the procedure is too hard to follow repeatedly 4) the person doing the procedure wasn’t trained to it or needs more training 5) the person doing the procedure needs more stuff (resources or whatever)? This tends to address the sort of finger-pointing blame-assigning nonsense that people do instinctively when confronted and focus on solving the problem rather than a bunch of toxic behavior that can easily wreck a professional relationship. Having a Process for things is great even on a good day, then.

    New person onboarding? Great, here are the procedures I use, why don’t you read through them and let me know if you have questions, and then I’ll walk you through them until you are comfortable with the procedure.

    Horrible bad day? Get out the procedure and follow each little step bit by bit – what seems like a huge insurmountable task is now broken down into bite-size pieces that you can do with only a little energy and don’t have to think about. I may not have been able to choose any clothes other than the pants I wore yesterday and a random blouse and my crappy old boots, but I can do little bits of things here and there in between cups of tea and brief walks outdoors.

    Also, I reward myself a lot. One of my colleagues remarked that “you do more for yourself than any woman I know” and he meant it like, good for you for being independent and strong (ha!) but it’s also true that I do a lot of self-care: bike rides, going out dancing, beers with friends every week who can listen to me whine, gardening, playing with my dog and snuggling my cats, buying fancy laundry soap to make my clothes smell just-so, cooking gourmet food, having ice cream for dinner, and if things are extra-terrible, massage therapy and soaking in a friend’s hot tub. It helps to think, “when I get through this stupid TPS report, I am going to go get beer with my friend who loves me and tell her all about my crummy day and have a nerf gun war with her kids before I go home”. Lean on your friends when you need to – it is 100% normal to be in a vile mood, pour your heart out to your friends over beer, and be reminded that there are people in the world who care about you. Don’t feel that you are a burden to them in doing this, it is completely normal. (sings) That’s what friends are foooor… (/sings)

    For Little Moments, call in a sick day. Text in a sick day, email in a sick day. I have an unholy terror of the phone and don’t want to be choking out “I can’t come in today because I am the worst person on earth” between sobs to my boss, so I text/email.

    Also consider what KatieKate said: is your job contributing to the problem? I had a job for one year that was THE WORST, and it definitely contributed to my misery. I cried on the way to work, on the way home, in the middle of the day. I hated the work, I hated my (horrible, eventually fired but in the meantime SO BAD) boss, I hated the commute, I hated the building (literally, the building should have been razed), I hated the restaurants that were available for lunch around it. It paid well, but oh god I hated going there every day. I realized it wasn’t just me when a couple of my colleagues quit and told me why – which made me feel slightly better (like, OK, it’s not just me). Not a lot, but at least I knew it wasn’t all me.

  59. Always Thinking*

    I think a helpful way to look at this is to replace “depression” with “cancer” all the way through the post and proceed with decision making in that context. Mental health issues are health issues, period.

  60. N*

    I also suffer from depression and anxiety. I agree first with the other commenters that it sounds like your treatment plan may not be working and you may need to try a different medication/treatment/therapist/form of therapy. [Not here to give medical advice but there ARE alternatives to what you’re doing now, I promise].

    I will also say that one of the side effects of your illness is that you may be overestimating how much this effects your work. It sounds like you are struggling personally, but your employer seems caring and would probably let you know if the quality of work was starting to slip. Another commenter mentioned that it may have to do with the nature of your work itself, and I agree–I had a very stressful sales-type job a few years back and my anxiety was through the roof, to the point where I had anxiety attacks and was vomiting every day before work. Know that you don’t have to be in that environment, and you can work with your therapist and perhaps even your employer to develop a plan to transition out and find another position. If that’s NOT the case and you like your work but find yourself overwhelmed and upset (been there also–I used to just take my lunch break to cry) I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you utilizing the unlimited sick time as long as you don’t leave major, time sensitive tasks behind as you recover.

    Stay strong OP and know that you’re not alone! With the right treatment and time you can get better!

  61. OfficeWitch*

    First and foremost – Big Hugs OP! As someone who is currently experiencing something similar I’ve found that planning and daily walks have become the best coping mechanism for dealing with depression at work. Even though it sometimes can seem monumental, I’ve began to pack my lunches and choose out my clothes the night before – doing this ensures that I have one less stress to think about when I wake up and barely want to leave bed in the morning. The second and most helpful has been committing to actually taking a lunch break and going for a walk. This has become so helpful in allowing me to reset halfway through the day and is the time I truly allow myself to be as sad or anxious as I want to be without being under the prying eyes of coworkers. Taking these steps has helped me so much although I still do need the occasional mental health day!

  62. Matilda*

    Hugs and props for being so proactive about this in so many different ways, I know being proactive isn’t the easiest thing to do in the midst of depression. I’m sorry you’re going through this. Are you covered by FMLA (and I know even if you’re covered the getting paid still options vary by employer)? If so, maybe an extended leave with more intense treatment might be beneficial? Also remember that you’re using sick leave for it’s intended purpose. Be kind to yourself when possible.

  63. IsobelDeBrujah*

    Don’t borrow trouble. In other words, it is possible that the only person who perceives your depression as a problem is you as a direct result of the skewed impression depression gives you of yourself and your abilities.

    I too function in the world through depression and one of the most insidious aspects of depression is the constant negative self talk. Your manager is aware of the issue and unless that person is expressing a problem with the quality of your work, do your best to assume that there isn’t a problem. I have found that my perception of my own work is regularly far lower than the perception that my bosses and coworkers have of my work as a direct result of my depressive brain telling me that I do not have ANY value in any forum, personal or professional.

  64. Gelliebean*

    I also have long-term depression (dysthymia) and for me personally, what helps is to keep a pile of important but non-urgent tasks on hand. Something like records retention – it’s important to clean out the filing cabinets because you’ll run out of space, but it’s not urgent in the same way that an error correction or emergency client request would be. On days when I just can’t handle the big things, it really helps to have some procedural, rote responsibilities that don’t require a lot of independent or circumstantial processing, but still results in “yes I DID SOMETHING today.”

    Other days, it might help to schedule every last little thing. Respond to an email? Goes on the list. Shred a file? Goes on the list. Scan a document? Goes on the list. The list might be three pages long, but I find it comforting to have every single task laid out – and no matter how small the task is, it results in something on the list getting marked off which also contributes to a feeling of accomplishment. Sometimes letting myself have a three-year-old’s pride in putting her own shoes on really does help, as silly as it sounds.

  65. MD*

    Speaking as someone with depression (though not as severe as OP’s), here are a few things that work for me.
    1. Take a break as soon as i feel something starting to trigger my depression (in my case, an overly demanding, rude and nasty client who sends snark emails). In those breaks, I try to focus my attention away from work, to something that makes me happy (usually I read a little). Then I can go back and respond to the client in a good frame of mind.
    2. Those times when I *am* able to function at full capacity, put in *extra* effort – i think it makes me look good to my bosses
    3. I try very hard (sometimes successfully, sometimes not) to live by the credo “don’t sweat the small stuff – and it’s all small stuff”. Easier said than done, I admit.

  66. NXM*

    Dear OP, I go in and out of mild depression, but seem to constantly have to fight my inability to focus. When I’m at work, or at home and have a list of things to do, I used to get super overwhelmed, give up and take a nap. For maybe, 3 hours. Now, I actually use a mantra “one thing at a time…one thing at a time” I literally have to say that in my head over and over again. Sometimes I get saucy and mix it up “You are doing this right now. Do this. When it is finished move on.” Rinse. Repeat.

    Also, I looked at the Captain Awesome post, it’s really dead on. More often than not, we are our worst critics, and our biggest enemy.

    Hope you find the answers you need.

  67. Alton*

    Like a few others have said, I think it’s important to approach this like any other chronic medical condition. Sometimes people with depression are prone to being very down on themselves, and stigma about depression being something you should just be able to snap out of contributes to that.

    You shouldn’t “just be fired.” But it is possible sometimes that a person’s disability interferes too much with their ability to perform a job, even with accommodations. In a case like that, it might be better to move on or look into options such as disability benefits. But I think you should consider talking to your boss to get a sense of whether your work is really being affected to the extent that you fear it is. If he’s satisfied with your work and doesn’t find the time you take off to be too excessive for you to be able to perform your job, I would try to trust him on that. If there’s a problem, you might have to be prepared to move on if there aren’t other accommodation options.

    Try to be aware of how your job may be triggering or contributing to your symptoms. Do certain aspects of your job trigger drops in your mood? Do you feel stressed about work in particular? If your job is contributing, that doesn’t automatically mean that your job is the source of the problem (one annoying thing about depression is that it can make it harder to cope with things that might not be a big deal if you didn’t have depression), but it does mean that it may not be helping.

    I think coping skills depend somewhat on how your depression manifests itself. I haven’t been through something as severe as what you’re describing, so I’m not sure if I have any valuable advice. But when I was going through a rough time, it helped me to be aware of my thought processes. If I was putting off doing things that needed to be done, I tried to acknowledge any fears I might have had that were making it hard to act. If I was sobbing in the bathroom over a mild disagreement with a co-worker, I would acknowledge that the disagreement was annoying but remind myself that my reaction was probably disproportionate and not just caused by the co-worker. This didn’t make everything better, but it helped me keep some perspective when it was hard to do so.

  68. super anon*

    I think there’s been a lot of really good advice covered here, so I’ll give you the advice my therapist gave me: “Be kind to yourself”. It’s really easy to get into what I like to think of as a shame spiral, and to see yourself negatively and say all kinds of untrue things about yourself, to yourself. My therapist told me I have a tyrant living in my head, and when the tyrant takes over to try drowning the tyrant with kindness. It’s really hard, but when I can manage to pull it off, it makes dealing with everything else in life so much easier.

  69. LittleJ*

    OP, I don’t have any advice to offer but want to let you know I’ll be praying for you and encourage you to hang in there! +1 to all those commenters who point out that mental health issues ARE health issues, so remember that and be kind to yourself, give yourself some grace and take it one day at a time. You sound stronger than you know :)

    AAM community + Alison, thanks for being one of the few places on the internet where a question about mental health would generate hundred of positive, thoughtful comments and advice instead of judgement and lack of empathy (as you’d find everywhere else). I read this site every day because it offers great insight in a positive environment!

  70. Jeanne*

    I have been at a place where depression interferes with work. There will be days you are sunk. My advice is to be an above excellent performer on the days you are feeling better. Do your best work. Stay late on a regular basis. Try to do the amount of work you would have done if you were at work those days. Then your boss isn’t losing anything from your depression. Keep doing all you’ve been doing for your depression. I bet it helps more than you know. Good luck!

  71. Commander Banana*

    Hi OP,

    I’m so sorry – I also have severe chronic depression and have had the issues you describe here (being unable to focus, crying at work, having to take a lot of time off, etc.) and it sucks. I still struggle with it.

    First of all you are doing a lot of things right – focusing on self-care, seeing a psychiatrist, and prioritizing treating your depression. That’s great! It might be worth talking to your psychiatrist about some additional treatment options, like another therapist or CBT or exploring a different combo of meds, because it sounds like even with following this treatment plan, it’s still really hard.

    I ended up being institutionalized for a while, being I realized I couldn’t DO anything about my career or life until I prioritized managing my depression. It’s okay to make that your priority!

    In the meantime, I highly recommend you check out Captain Awkward’s post on tightening up your game at work while depressed. She’s a great advice columnist/blogger (who often cites AAM) and has helped me immensely in strategies for managing my depression.

    Depression is a chronic medical condition. It’s not any different than needing time to manage any other chronic condition, like diabetes or lupus. It sounds like your manager is pretty supportive, which is great. I am pretty open about my diagnosis and I treat taking time off for it or having difficulty because of depressive episodes like I would any other illness at work.

  72. Falling Diphthong*

    A hallmark of depression is to feel immobilized by helplessness, even over things that are tiny and easy to deal with when your brain chemicals are working correctly. So my one bit of advice is to have occasional check-ins with people you trust–it sounds like your manager might qualify–on how your work is going. Sometimes our ability to autopilot–to sort of muscle memory through our routine tasks–is astonishing, and an outside person wouldn’t notice there was a problem because we are hitting our usual marks.

    I have seen both examples at AAM: Writer is struggling with a huge thing that they have compartmentalized so it isn’t affecting work… follow-up they were let go because it actually was. And writer is struggling with this huge thing that they can’t believe their manager hasn’t yet raised, so brightly flashing is the neon… follow-up they talked to their manager who was really surprised and hadn’t noticed a thing.

  73. My 2 cents*

    I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this. I went through the same thing last year. My advice would be to take short term disability or FMLA if you can. That’s what I did and it was definitely the right call. I struggled with the decision because I felt like I was being lazy or looking for an excuse to get out of work. But it really allowed me the time to focus on myself and getting better.

    You’re doing all the right things. Keep at it.

  74. The OG Anonsie*

    I really just want to say that being out one day a month isn’t very much for someone dealing with a health problem. It’s not cumulatively a lot for someone who isn’t, even, just the distribution is different.

    You say you’re afraid of failing to perform. Have you received any feedback that this is the case / see it happening clearly, or are you afraid it will start to happen because of the time you’re away from work?

    It sounds like maybe the absences are creating a compounding stress, where every time you’re away you have this pressure of feeling that you are failing in your job and will be judged or punished on top of the way you already feel that’s making you miss work. When I was working somewhere I had this compounding stress about absences (because the company was very disapproving of it), that made me miss more time because the panic of every sick day kept me from actually getting better… And my condition is all in my connective tissues. It created insecurity in my mental health intense enough to affect my whole body and make that condition dramatically worse.

    I don’t know what the best choice is for you because I don’t really know your work situation, but if you can make an arrangement with your manager so that there is a plan for when you’re gone and they are supportive of it that will help immensely. Them being supportive of it is key to taking a lot of that pressure off. If you haven’t already, see about having this set up under intermittent FMLA so you can feel secure in those additional layers of protection.

    1. Marisol*

      agreed about the sick time. 1 day/mo seems totally reasonable to me. at my company, that’s exactly how much we are given, one paid sick day per month, and sometimes I go for stretches without needing any and the time accrues, and other times I find I get sick a lot and burn through it fast. On average though, it’s 1 day each month. I don’t think it’s an unreasonable amount.

  75. Shadow*

    If your depression is interrupting your work to the point that you are not able to get your job done (and it sounds like it is) then you need to take extended time off to take care of yourself. Your employer will also likely prefer that you take extended time off rather than wondering whether they can count on you while you try to deal with your issues at work.

  76. Technical Writer*

    I, too, have major depression. Although it’s hard (and may sound ridiculous), something that works for me is to pretend I’m an actor, acting the part of a professional worker for the day (and that I’m getting paid for the role, so I have to do a good job or I won’t be rehired to do it again in the future). It gets harder the longer the day goes on, but I find that it does get easier over the long-term with practice. If I can pretend I’m someone else, it helps me keep my depression compartmentalized, at least for a little while. It’s important for me to have a reason why I need to do a good job acting (i.e., getting paid for it), however, or else I can’t do it very well. Good luck, and I wish you well on your journey through this!

  77. Jadelyn*

    I’m sure someone has suggested this by now, but just in case – are you in the U.S., and is your employer covered by FMLA laws? A private company, with 50 or more employees? And have you worked there for at least a year? Because if so, you need to get on intermittent FMLA, *now*. Your boss is being helpful and your work has unlimited sick leave, which has worked for you *so far*, but FMLA protects you if either of those things changes.

    Talk to your manager and HR about starting the process to get on intermittent FMLA leave. Your doctor will have to provide certification that you are dealing with a serious health condition requiring periodic absences from work, but shouldn’t have to get more specific than that. It will give you 60 days that you can take in whole or partial day increments, and the thing with FMLA time off is that your employer cannot do anything to you over it. It might help ease your worry to know that even though you are taking a lot of time off (relatively speaking, anyway), your job is protected. Your employer can’t fire or discipline you for it.

  78. Jessesgirl72*

    I think a person’s health (mental or physical) should always be the top priority.

    In the end, an employer is going to do what it thinks is best, and it doesn’t pay to worry about that on their behalf.

    Instead of focusing on whether or not the OP should be fired, I think the OP should focus on her health. Instead of asking herself if she is good for the company/job, I’d like her to consider whether or not the job is good for her and her health. I’d also suggest that she explore this topic with her therapist.

  79. Brian*

    Someone said it up-thread somewhere, but it’s important to remember that depression can trick you into thinking things are true when they aren’t. It’s the nature of the medical condition – at least it is for me – and remembering that is super helpful. I always have to remind myself:
    – my depression tells me i shouldn’t exercise. I most definitely should and i always feel better when i do.
    – my depression tells me i am not a good person. I am, and I have good friends I can call who help me remember.
    – my depression tells me to stay at home by myself. I always feel better when I reach out to my support circle.

    So I wonder if it is your depression is telling you to that you deserve to be fired OP? I would fight back not only by doing all the things you’re already doing – medication & therapy – but looking for work feedback from external sources – people your depression can’t bully or lie to. Do they say you are doing a good job? Do they say that your absences aren’t that big of a deal? Try to trust them, and when your depression serves up with negative self talk try to hang on to the perspectives from the people around you.

  80. Yas Queen*

    Fellow owner of a Jerk Brain that is helped by one medication. Two things that help me:

    – as I think of things that I need to do outside of work, I set reminders on my iPhone to do even the ridiculously simple but necessary tasks at optimal times. Siri is extremely helpful for this. The immediate sense of, “Oh crap, I need to do this,” is quieted, and when my phone does remind me about it, it is more likely to be at a time when I can actually accomplish it with minimal effort. At home, I can do the same for work tasks.

    – thinking about depression and anxiety in terms of the Forks Model of Disability:

  81. CS*

    You’re already doing the things you should (seeking therapy & disclosing to your boss since it does cause call outs). I don’t think anyone with depression should be fired for needing a day or two out of the month to be unavailable: we all have things that cause us to be out of the office (kids, taking care of parents, etc), and this should be nothing different. You trying to take care of yourself is most important. If your job itself is causing you stress, it may be time to consider a less taxing position if that’s a factor. If you see a pattern when you call out, you could plan your mental health days in advance if you being out unexpectedly affects others. (There are so many comments so I don’t have time to weed through them, so apologies if any of this is repetitive.) Wishing you the best!

  82. TheRealMcGaughey*

    I have depression too, and it comes in the way of work often. I think it sounds like your case is severe enough that it might be worthwhile to take FMLA leave, and consider treatment your full-time job. Depression and demanding jobs put together create a sense of being overwhelmed, in my experience. A good long break where your focus is undivided may help you. Good luck!

  83. Argh!*

    If you haven’t been fired and don’t need more than a day or two per month, then you’re doing okay. Intermittent FML in workplaces with limited PTO can be arranged for 1-2 days per month, which sounds like your level. It didn’t sound from the letter as if things are getting worse, so going on permanent disability probably isn’t an option.

    Researchers are constantly coming up with new drugs & new treatments. One may turn out to be the magic elixir for you. Meanwhile, keep up the acceptably good work!

  84. asfjkl*

    Hey OP. I also deal with depression that gratefully is mostly managed. I have occasional “flare-ups” that get in the way of my life, so it is currently much less severe. My depression manifests physically, so I require time away from work because it absolutely inhibits my ability to do my job. I feel for you and the severity of your illness. I consider myself quite lucky how far I’ve come in the last 10 years.

    That being said, everyone’s depression is different and methods of self-care and management have varying results. Personally, I make small (or sometimes kind of big) changes to try and jump start or motivate me to keep pushing through to the other side. I recently went through a rather bad spell and decided to enroll in a part time education program online to continue to push my career and my skills. I get a lot of personal gratification out of certifications and education, so this is something that I know will make me feel productive and happy. It doesn’t solve every issue, but I do best when I have something to concentrate on and, in a phrase, to live for.

  85. Ramona Flowers*

    I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I have anxiety and OCD, I go through bouts of really deep, complicated sadness due to some post-trauma stuff and there are times when everything just feels way too hard.

    I don’t know if any of this will help, but here are some things that I’ve found useful.

    First off, try to be kind to yourself at work. Especially if you have a tendency to beat yourself up. For me, this means taking the time to celebrate small successes when they happen. That can be something as simple as coping with reading and replying to an email. It can be getting into work in the first place. If it was hard and you did it, give yourself a mental gold star. Or an actual gold star.

    I also keep things around that make me feel happier than I do without them (even if I don’t feel happy) and that help me look after myself. Nice hot chocolate. Hand warmers. Pens in my favourite colour. Cute sticky notes to write down my tasks. A squishy stress ball. A cuddly Pusheen the cat. Anything that adds even the tiniest bit of brightness to a dark day. Some people make a self-care box, but that didn’t work for me because I just wouldn’t let myself use it as it was The Special Box and I kind of held it over my own head? So now I just leave this stuff around with everything else.

    Prioritise. I found the important/urgent matrix really helpful for this. In the morning I work out which things are most important to do and focus on those. I feel better if I have absolutely everything in one to-do list, and then I pull out a few priority tasks in the morning. It can help to talk to your line manager about priorities – what do they want you to focus on? Would it help for them to go through your to-do list with you? And are there any other simple changes that would help you at work, like taking lunch at a different time when the break room is a bit quieter for example?

    It has also helped to think what to do before and after work e.g. I feel a lot more in control if I look through my calendar on the way to work.

    I wish you peace and strength. Hang in there.

    1. mhp*

      Yes to the power of stationery! I have a coloured calendar, coloured sticky notes, nice coloured pens, a big colourful scarf on my chair. A few brightly coloured pictures on wall next to my desk. A beautiful bright red moleskin notepad for tasks. A bright red fruit bowl and a small plant in an orange pot. Even keep my tea bags in a brightly coloured tin.

      I sometimes worry that one day I will read AAM and see a headline “Dear Alison, my co-worker insists that everything on her desk is multicoloured and it’s giving my a migraine”, but these are all small things that can help charge my batteries so I have more reserve/ strength left for when the depression hits the fan.

      1. Bess*

        It really is the “little” things, isn’t it? I knit with pretty colors and it’s such a basic pleasure, but one that really helps.

  86. ArtK*

    Lots of sympathy from me, OP. I’ve struggled with depression for nearly 40 years and there have been times when getting anything accomplished has felt impossible. There’s some good advice in this discussion and I’ll emphasize a bit of it:

    1) Talk to your care team about what’s going on. Meds may need adjusting. Ask your therapist for specific coping strategies.
    2) Consider changing your care team. It’s not a failure on either person’s part if therapy isn’t working. At times there are just disconnects between the therapy approach and what the patient needs. Someone I know was having motivation issues due to depression. The therapist essentially said “you have to find the motivation inside yourself.” Not a good approach by any means.
    3) Coping strategies like setting definable goals are essential. Prioritize! I’ve found that setting time frames for tasks helps a lot — having a specific “due date” makes it harder to put things off. Remember this: It’s the depression that is whispering “you can’t” in your ear.

  87. AFRC*

    I hope it’s okay that I don’t have specific advice, just wanted to give the OP some encouragement – it’s great that you’re asking for help! Best wishes to you!

  88. Not My Usual Name*

    I normally post under a different name, but I’m not comfortable using it since I’m going through a similar situation. And I hate that depression is so stigmatized that I don’t even feel safe posting under my usual alias and am instead choosing another one specifically for this thread. I’ve always been a little paranoid that my manager and/or my coworkers read this blog anyway.

    I have treatment resistant depression in addition to anxiety disorder, OCD, and PTSD. This latest round of depression started in 2015 and has been unrelenting. My psychiatrist has had me on drug after drug after drug, to no avail. My employer follows a standard model of PTO and sick leave in that employees accrue a certain number of hours per month. Regardless of whether you have a limited or unlimited amount of time you can take off, it’s horribly stressful because of the worry about what your manager will say. While I haven’t been written up or officially reprimanded, I have been called into my manager’s office several times to discuss my absences (generally 1 day at a time, but I’ve been out at least 1 day a month almost every month for awhile now).

    There are days I cannot get out of bed. There are days I cannot muster the will to shower or eat properly or get dressed. On those days, I haven’t been able to work. But staying home is almost as bad because I worry at what point my manager–who I don’t have a great relationship with–will decide to fire me. I’m single and own a home. I must work to bring in a sufficient income to meet my expenses. For nearly a year, my mother has been coming to stay with me a few days every couple of weeks (she lives out of town) to shop for groceries and cook for me because otherwise, I wasn’t doing it myself. I had started subsisting on protein shakes because I couldn’t eat.

    I’m currently on disability leave, actually, to get more intensive treatment since the medications aren’t helping. I’m not trying to suggest this is what you should do or offer medical advice. But I want you to know I understand how horrifying it is to have this illness and try and hold down a job and maintain your professional reputation. I don’t cry, but there have been days I’ve had to hide in a bathroom stall or go out to the parking deck to sit in my car for a bit. I found that I withdrew from my coworkers and couldn’t eat lunch with them anymore, even though I was always invited to join them. I started eating at my desk and reading blogs like AAM instead.

    But you’re asking how to cope at work. My work is similar to project management and entails a lot of deadlines and details. I’m constantly afraid I’ll screw up. Because I was getting overwhelmed with even simple things like e-mail, I created an Outlook folder specifically for important e-mails that had to be answered/dealt with immediately and moved items from my inbox to that folder so that my inbox wouldn’t look so cluttered and feel insurmountable. I’m a big believer in checklists (electronic and paper). For specific deliverables on my projects, I create Outlook tasks with reminders (build yourself a buffer before the actual due date). I make the tasks small so they are more manageable to me. That means I have a giant list of tasks, but it helps me enormously to be able to do 1 thing at a time and be able to mark it complete. I also bought a pretty paper notebook and made a daily to-do list. I would literally put things like “answer June 8 e-mail from Fergus” or “call Hortense by 5 p.m.” Before the depression, I didn’t have to get that specific with my lists–but the depression has diminished my coping skills to the point where I have to do things in tiny chunks in order to keep from falling behind. And once I complete an item, I mark it out. It’s satisfying to see things crossed out because it’s visual proof I’m doing something, even if it’s a simple e-mail or phone call. The checklists and task reminders have been able to keep me on track to get my job done and not miss any of my deadlines, but the depression has obliterated my ability to do anything extra. Like a lot of companies, HR makes us all set annual goals where we outline extra things we will accomplish. I won’t lie–I didn’t complete any of my 2016 goals (I worked on them, but they’re multi-faceted and I didn’t get all the pieces done). This was reflected in my 2016 performance review. I don’t know how much my manager knows about what’s going on with me. She knows I’m battling a serious illness, but I don’t trust her one bit and would never divulge my diagnoses.

    People like us are sick. We are not weak. Our brain chemistries aren’t functioning properly. We should not be fired and tossed away. Please, please, don’t think like that. Try to work on things in little chunks so it’s not as overwhelming. Go to work as much as you possibly can. Does your company allow people to work from home, even if it’s just 1 day a week? That can be helpful. Continue with the medical side of things and consider talking with your doctor about alternatives.

    What is your relationship like with your manager? From your post, it sounds like you have a decent relationship with him. Could you set up a meeting to get feedback on your performance? You don’t even have to reference the depression. You could frame it as wanting to check in to get his feedback.

    Your post hit really close to home for me. I wish you the very best of luck and hope you get some relief.

  89. mhp*

    So sorry to hear this OP. If you feel able, it might be worth reading through the comments with a friend or someone you trust? When I’m reading through advice I sometimes fall into the depression trap of “oh that’s alright for them but I REALLY am a terrible person etc etc”. Perhaps going through the comments advice with someone else might help you formulate a clearer plan of what is/ not realistic?

    If you feel able, it might even be worth noting down all the suggestions and discussing with your boss whether there are any that stand out to her/him as reasonable suggestions to try?

    Things that help me:
    Start (and finish) 30 mins later. Getting out of bed can be HARD. Having that extra 30 mins makes a huge difference and means I can turn up on time (or even 5 min early!) rather than always feeling like I’m running late.

    Similar to Gelliebean above, I have a list of what I call “spreadsheet day” tasks. There are days when I can’t face doing anything other than data entry. And that’s okay! I save up the non-urgent data entry and it means I can accomplish important things even on my worse days.

    On spreadsheet days I also turn off my email with an auto reply that I’m working on a project and not on email that day. I find that relaxing though I know not everyone is able to do that.

    Sometimes on a bad day, a change of scenery can really help. I don’t know if it’s possible for you, but I will occasionally take my laptop and work somewhere else (e.g. library, unused meeting room). It’s important for me not to do that at home though, as I know I struggle to get the motivation to work from home, and this trick is about changing the scenary to somewhere different.

    I know that if I have a plan that I don’t stick to then I beat myself up and feel worse, so I have a list of actions that I know will make me feel better even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time. Many are non-work related (leave the house, do some yoga etc) but others can be part of a working day (shower before work, speak to someone, do a small but annoying bit of admin, go for a walk at lunchtime). I have about 25 things on the list and my job is to just do 3 each day. Sometimes I manage 10 or more! Other days I barely manage 3. But giving myself that flexibility is really helpful so that I don’t get into a spiral of thinking I’ve failed, I’m a failure, I will always fail etc etc.

  90. Buffy Summers*

    I deal with all the same things you do, OP. In fact, honestly this letter could have been written by me.
    I opted to file for FMLA, so I have the peace of mind that I won’t be fired due to this illness. I guess there are definitely ways they could get rid of me, or push me out, but it does serve to offer some protection and makes me feel better.
    As for how to handle it on a day-to-day basis…. the only thing I can say is hang in there. Keep taking care of yourself by visiting your psychiatrist and working with him/her on your meds and remember, that you’re not alone at all. Many of us are right there with you and it’s a struggle every single day. I hope you get better soon.

  91. Yetanother Jennifer*

    OP you have my sympathy. This is a tough road you’re walking. Honestly, once a month doesn’t sound that bad. It sounds like you’re holding it together pretty well for what you’re dealing with. You may not be high functioning, but you’re up there. Go you! I could see where worrying about your job performance could be a negative influence on your actual job performance. Or at least certainly make the process unpleasant. Can you trust your manager to behave respectfully towards you in this regard? Maybe you don’t want to have an actual conversation, but can you see from his behavior that he’s addressing mistakes and issues when appropriate and timely? Does he make reasonable requests? Has he behaved reasonably towards others? If these things are true, then you could try trusting him to tell you when something is wrong. Any one of us could get fired any day, just like we could get hit by a bus. But you can’t live with the sword of Damocles hanging over your head. You do have to just trust that things will be ok unless and until you have reason to believe they won’t. I know that’s tough for someone in your situation. You could also try to identify specific signs that your job would be in jeopardy and identify specific actions that you will take if you see those signs. If you don’t see any signs then things must be fine and you don’t need to spend any more energy on that. You could also keep an accomplishment record. Make a note of any compliments, days you got the TPS report in on time, projects completed. Etc. You could look at it on low days and see that you’re accomplishing good things. Oh, and what about money? Can you organize your finances such that you’d be ok if you did get fired? Or at least set up a financial plan for what you would do if that happened. And what steps would you take to find another job? I always feel better when I have a plan. Write these things up so you can reassure yourself that if you did get let go you would know what to do.

    I hope you’re able to work through this.

    1. Yetanother Jennifer*

      Hey, OP, I thought of something else. These worries you’re having about your job performance aren’t your problem. It’s what you’re doing with them that’s the problem. These thoughts are neutral. Getting fired is neutral. There are at least 10 people reading this thread who would be happy to get fired. Or at least relieved. The event is neutral, then comes your thoughts which identify the event as positive or negative and that leads to your emotions about your thoughts. You can’t control the event but you can control your thoughts. Labeling could be helpful here. “What if I lose my job?” “That would be unfortunate, but I have a plan for if that happens so I can focus on other things right now.” “That would be a great opportunity to try a career as a teapot artist.” “I can’t control that but I can make sure this TPS report gets updated.” Repeat every time you have that worry. Bore your inner worrier with your answers.

  92. Sara*

    Here’s a few little things that help me in the moment:

    A book that my therapist recommended was “Feeling Good” by David Burns. It’s on cognitive behavior therapy. When I am in a period of depression, I will write out the list of cognitive distortions (see chapter 3), keep it on me, and name what I’m feeling/thinking when I catch myself in a negative thought spiral. Just being able to put a label on what’s going on helps it seem less awful.

    Also, sometimes making a “to-done” list helps too. I get into the mindset of being overwhelmed by everything I have to do and forget that I’m actually making progress, so if I stop and think about what I’ve done already it’s reassuring.

  93. SirTechSpec*

    Seconding Brian above – an external reality check can be helpful. If your boss *does* think your calling out is a problem, at least you’ll know. And if part of your stress is coming from work, think about which parts of your job exacerbate your symptoms the most, and talk to your boss to see if you could maybe adjust your workload to have fewer of those things, at least temporarily. Your description of your situation, while it sounds really rough, also sounds like the sort that does change over time with careful medical management. And if it turns out you really can’t do this particular job right now, that’s probably not the end of the world either, as shocking as it may seem – sometimes people do quit, change their life circumstances, and get back on their feet.

    Also, 1-2 days off per month doesn’t sound that bad; 18 sick days a year may be a little above average, but it’s not outrageous. For perspective, the standard that we’ve set as a society in the US (harsh though we generally are about such things) is that you can take up to 60 days of FMLA leave in a year for medical conditions, including chronic depression, and they can’t fire you for it – and individual companies are free to go above that, as it sounds like yours has.

    My best advice would be to give yourself a break – as long as you are contributing *something* when you’re there (and not even necessarily every hour of every day, but over the course of a week or so), you’re still benefiting the org and doing your job. Set excruciatingly realistic standards for yourself to start, and then once you’re able to reliably achieve those, try to bump it up a bit. The point is to reinforce that you are able to do some things, even if your capacity doesn’t match some hypothetical version of yourself that has a different capacity.

    Best of luck and many Jedi Hugs to you, LW!

  94. sheila_cpa*

    I think everyone else has covered what I might. To second, one thing that worked for me was an IOP (intensive outpatient program) – I took about six weeks of FMLA/short-term disability and my job for those six weeks was to take care of myself and learn new coping mechanisms. It made all the difference – and made it easier to transition out of a job that wasn’t working for me, illness aside.

    Please know that you have a lot of people who think you’re doing well and hoping for you to feel better.

  95. Asile*

    I haven’t read all the comments, and I’m sure others have mentioned this, but I want to make sure it’s out there.

    You MUST have an open, honest conversation with your manager, and possibly your HR. If you are able to perform the essential duties of your position, with or without accommodation, you may be eligible for accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). But you need to talk to people to determine what’s essential and how they can help you.

    They do NOT need to know all the details. But they do need to know that you have a disability and what you are and are not able to do, with and without reasonable accommodation. Reasonable accommodations can include a leave of absence (and you’ll also want to check to see if you’re entitled to protected leave under FMLA), adjusted work hours, shifting non-essential duties away from you, or working at home, to name a few.

    Your manager and/or HR should provide you with a copy of your job description, which you can then review with your doctor(s) to see what you can and cannot do and what would help you work. Your company doesn’t have to grant your requests: the requirement is reasonable accommodation, and they may have another option, even if you don’t particularly like it. But the idea is to communicate, as hard as it is for you (trust me, I know!).

    It sounds like you have a wonderfully understanding boss. Work with him! I’m sure you’re overwhelmed: tell him, and ask for his suggestions on how to make things more manageable. He may be able to take a project off your plate, or help you clarify deadlines and how to break down large tasks into smaller, less overwhelming bits.

    Also, I want you to feel really, really proud of yourself for writing in for help. You don’t have to let depression rule your life.

    1. Chatterby*

      I second this. A lot of people are advising FMLA leave, but I think registering for ADA would be more helpful in the long run since this is a recurrent condition for the LW.
      They can’t offer the LW protection based on guessing what’s wrong; LW needs to inform them and get the documentation in order.
      It will suck and be hard, but it needs to be done.

  96. Tema*

    A lot of people are suggesting making lists and sometimes when I’m depressed that helps, but other times it just becomes a list of things I haven’t accomplished that I feel guilty about. At those times I don’t write any to do lists and instead I write a Done! list. I write every single thing I get done on the list – arrive at work, check email, return call, etc. I also try and come up with one very easy task I can do right when I arrive at work so I have something on my done list to start the day. Good luck and remember you aren’t alone!

  97. NJ Anon*

    Just a few thoughts\suggestions:
    Intermittent FMLA?
    Disability? You don’t have to get fired or quit. You may qualify for short term or even long term disability.
    Also, one day a month is not a lot.

    Best of luck to you.

  98. Bess*

    OP, truly sorry you’re struggling with this.

    I write from the perspective of someone high-functioning (whatever that actually means) with anxiety and depression. In terms of work (and other areas of life involving commitment, follow-through, and relationships) what tends to dominate is the anxiety, which the depression deepens/prolongs because the negative feelings just feed on themselves and it’s hard to get off the train, so-to-speak.

    What has helped me is truly “fake it till you make it,” I guess. Which is not to deny your feelings, or stuff them as if they’re shameful, but to truly put on the most professional face you possibly can, in spite of what you’re struggling with, and just mechanically do the tasks you can do–and break the big stuff down into “next step 1” and then do that step, any little bit you can. But I’m an “NF” in Meyers-Briggs so I need that mechanical view to help put distance between feelings and reality, so that might not work for you.

    When I’m getting down about anxiety leading me off-track, I think about everything I HAVE accomplished–and given what you’re dealing with, showing up is an achievement, and it can be helpful to remind yourself of all the small things you’re managing to do, because they add up to something really big.

    So, mechanizing everything and squeaking out whatever tiny thing I can do if I’m in a bad spot, and relying on detached routine if something is really tough–then, if the bad spot leads to shameful feelings, going over one good thing I managed to do that week or day, puts the brakes on some of that.

    Because of the “or my life” line, I’d also just mention that my biggest struggle (and epiphany) has been simply accepting that this is a part of me, that there is likely no “grail” that can FIX me or SOLVE the problem. It’s due to both how I’m wired on a biological level, and how I was raised. There’s no standard of “happy” or “finally emotionally free” that I can or have to meet, ever. The work I can do is learn to cope, learn to scaffold, learn workarounds.

    I also think it’s really, really great that your manager is paying attention to this part of you and seems to be understanding about it. I think accepting that this unlimited sick leave is there just for this purpose might help. You have a medical issue and using sick leave for that purpose is not abusing it.

    Since your manager has been so understanding, you might consider a conversation about “thank you for your understanding, I take sick leave when I really need it, please let me know if there are concerns or if there are work issues I need to attend to,” since I think being clear and transparent might be helpful to make you feel less of a burden about this.

    Obviously disregard this if none of this resonates, but wanted to offer what has worked for me.

  99. Neely O'Hara*

    I was in a very similar position two years ago – I was crushingly depressed and spent SO much time sobbing in the bathroom and couldn’t focus on a thing and my work was really slipping. I wound up speaking to my supervisor and letting her know that I was having difficulty with my work due to mental health issues that I was receiving treatment for and I wanted to see if we could set up some accommodations to allow me to improve my work in the midst of my symptoms (I found this list from the Department of Labor’s Job Accommodation Network helpful for ideas:

    In my case, even with the accommodations and regular treatment, my symptoms continued to deteriorate and I wound up needing to be hospitalized and go through mental health rehab and had to take three weeks of leave to recover. (It turned out that my decades of depression had been misdiagnosed and I had bipolar disorder that was exacerbated by taking SSRIs. Getting the correct diagnosis and medication cleared up virtually all the issues I was having at work.) I was SO worried that taking that much time off from work would jeopardize my job, but it wound up being completely necessary.

    I guess my biggest takeaway from my experience is that once I was in a place where I couldn’t work well and couldn’t stop crying even while receiving treatment, it was a sign that my illness was very serious. Had I been that symptomatic with a physical illness I would have recognized it, but like everyone says, depression lies. So if it’s possible, I would suggest seeing what kind of options your job has for things like perhaps short-term disability so you can focus on recovery. I know not everyone can, but taking that time to temporarily prioritize your health over your job can help in the long term.

  100. Amy*

    It honestly sounds like you’re doing a lot better than you’re giving yourself credit for. You’re out sick more often than most of your coworkers, and you fear that your depression keeps you from functioning at full capacity…but you’re meeting all company policy, and your manager hasn’t given you any sign that they’re concerned about your work. It’s possible that your manager is bad at their job and isn’t giving you reliable feedback, but it seems more likely that even with your outages and depression, you’re performing at a good level.

    There are jobs where being sick a lot would be a problem, or where maybe your current level of performance wouldn’t be enough. But there are also lots of jobs where it just doesn’t matter whether you do the work on Wednesday or whether you’re out sick on Wednesday and finish it on Thursday. I know from personal experience that brains dealing with mental illness are assholes, and like to lie to us about how if we’re not perfect then we’re failing and everyone hates us. But that is a lie–it isn’t true. Pretty often, doing the best you can do–even if it’s not everything you’d ideally like to do–is enough.

  101. Sir Edmund*

    Oh, man. Been there, done that, would not want the t-shirt because it would be evident that I’d worn it for four days straight.

    One of the worst parts is beating yourself up, because it doesn’t seem like a real illness. But no one would blame you if you struggled to work due to, say, a flare-up of lupus. It’s a lot easier to cope with this when you say to yourself, “My circumstances are different, and they affect my ability to work in this way.”

    Because your circumstances are different. But: in a weird way, they can also help. You probably have a different perspective on mental health issues than others, and might be able to empathize more easily. None of which is to say that anyone would choose this. But owning the experience in that way is something I’ve found helpful.

  102. HR Hopeful*

    Hi OP,

    The first thing I want to do is to give you about a million internet hugs. I have had PTSD and depression for over five years now and I completely understand what you are going through. The following techniques have helped me when my depression comes back , though I would like to note that I still have days where I can’t function and have to call out as well.

    1. Set your self up for success- when I am motivated, I will do things like meal prep for the week, set out all of my work clothes for the week and make sure to get anything done that I usually cannot bring myself to do when my depression gets bad during the weeks (folding laundry, scrubbing the bathroom,cleaning out my car ). Even just one hour or even thirty minutes of motivation helps my depressed self when things get hard. Setting out my clothes helps me b/c i have to make less decisions when I get out of bed and meal prepping helps me make sure I eat even when I don’t want to go through the effort of cooking. Cleaning helps me feel better about myself and helps the week go by easier.

    2. Think of tasks one at a time- If i am depressed and I try to think about everything under the sun that needs to get done. I will want to hide b/c I already feel exhausted. What I suggest, Is setting up tasks in your outlook one at a time. This helps me stay on track on the hard days since I get reminders of the next task I have to do and I only have to think about one thing during those time periods. I also feel like in general, this helps me make sure all of my things get done and it also tends to get done faster as well.

    3.Reward yourself- If you get out of bed on a day you felt you couldn’t, then you deserve to treat yourself with something. For me, it is a pint of halo top ice cream while watching Legally blonde (this movie always makes me feel better). If you get a task done when you felt like you couldn’t you deserve a treat. I know it is hard to feel like you deserve a reward when you are depressed, but I promise it does make a difference when you have something to look forward to.

    4. Have a support work buddy- I have a friend at work who also suffers from Anxiety and we will IM each other when times are hard and let each other know. If I am motivated and she is having a hard time then I will make sure to check in on her and do what I can to make things better by offering a piece of chocolate or sending her dad jokes throughout the day. If I am depressed she does things she knows that make me feel better as well. I can’t tell you how much this alone has helped both of us. Feeling like you are not alone in your illness is probably the best advise I can give. Find someone who also has similar issues that you can talk to that understands and knows what it takes to help someone when they are in the darkness.

    I hope that these things will help you as they have helped me. I know that the road to recovery with depression is a long and hard one and I wish you the best of luck in your journey.

  103. deesse877*

    I endorse Gelliebean’s tactic of having low-stakes, housekeeping-type things to do when higher-value or unique tasks seem too daunting. I also find that there’s a particular time of day that really gets me down (3-5 PM; a physiological low for many people, and also a part of the day with bad associations for me). Therefore I make certain I’m fully occupied through that block of time. It seems to prevent or lessen spiraling self-hatred, so that I maintain at “functional melancholy” for weeks on end, instead of lurching from overperformance to an abyss of tears and dissociation every 3-4 days.

  104. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

    I don’t know if I have anything to add that hasn’t already been said, but you have my support OP. I had a pretty major issue that lasted a couple of years. I had the best boss, which helped a lot. I was able to work from home at any time, which allowed me to work even on days where I was crying or on the verge of bursting into tears the whole day. I was also able to scale back on some of my non-critical tasks. I find that I do better if I schedule down time too. Instead of waiting until I’m forced to take a day off due to my mental state, I just schedule a day every so often that the entire plan is to lay at home and disconnect. Sometimes I watch cheesy movies, but usually I just sleep the day away, with no human contact unless I order pizza at some point.

  105. Case of the Mondays*

    I haven’t read every comment so this may have been suggested but it may be worth looking into what disability options you have should your condition get worse. You want to know now, not when it impossible to get out of bed. Does your employer have short or long term private disability? If not, figure out the criteria for SSDI. Have that in your back pocket if you aren’t able to find a way to work with your employer to stay employed. SSDI requires one to be out of work 6 months before benefits kick in so you can start saving for that if necessary. You are doing great doing what you can do!

  106. Just Me and My $0.02*

    I have also struggled with depression and anxiety. Lots of my advice will be more effective if you’re working with a therapist, so start there if you’re not.

    How much of your work is predictable? Periodic? Urgent? What’s the impact of being out unexpectedly for one day? See if you can shift away from urgent deadline work to stuff that’s assigned with a longer turnaround and is known in advance. That would take the pressure of “what’s going to be disastrously late or undone when I suddenly leave?” off so you can engage in self-care without guilt. Also, how should that work be addressed while you’re out? Work from home or just shifting the priority list may be enough to cover it, or you may want to arrange to delegate your work so someone gets a chance for something they don’t usually work on. This could be a great opportunity to give someone junior to you a chance to stretch professionally.

    It sounds like you have intermittent, brief, and unpredictable absences. I would focus on understanding your triggers as well as the patterns that precede your flare-ups. This would let you give your management a heads up that you may need to lean on your contingency plan, which also reduces the feeling that your care plan leaves them in the lurch.

    Finally identify some unimportant busy work to focus on for when you’re functioning well enough to come into the office but not to focus on your priority tasking. This way, stuff still gets done but you’re preserving your overall well-being.

    Take care and good luck. You are valuable to your boss, even if the depression has you convinced that you don’t deserve his respect and appreciation.

  107. Eljay*

    Hi OP,

    I’m so sorry to hear you are struggling, but hope that your takeaway from the comments, if nothing else, is the knowledge that you aren’t alone. I’m not sure where you are writing from, but in Canada we have short-term and long-term disability. (I’m not sure if this is the same as FMLA in the US, so please excuse my ignorance!) I was severely struggling with a mental health issue a few years ago and made the decision to go on short-term disability to complete a treatment program and get well. It was terrifying to make that choice and I worried a lot about judgment from co-workers, but in the end it was the best decision I could have made. I didn’t have to tell anyone about the nature of my medical situation, even HR (I filed my paperwork confidentially through my employer’s insurer) and when people asked, I simply told them it was upsetting and I didn’t want to talk about the details. I think most people assumed I had surgery or something, as I’m a young-ish woman who appears “fine” on the outside – like so many of us with mental illness! By going on short-term disability I received two-thirds of my pay during my leave, which was enough to meet my needs (if not all my wants) and I could focus completely on getting well. When I came back, I just told everyone I was doing much better and everything went well – no one pushed me too hard for details and I kept things vague, but honest.

    Trying to deal with mental health issues on top of work is a real challenge – it can absolutely be done, but if you have the option to take a leave, I would recommend it based on my own personal experience. I am aware that this option is not available to everyone and I’m truly grateful for the opportunity I was given to get well.

    And for what it’s worth, since coming back a few years ago, I’ve been promoted twice and absolutely rockin’ it at work!! :) I had to take care of myself first, but I’ve maintained my health and came back better than ever. There is hope, OP!

    1. Neely O'Hara*

      This happened to me too! My career had stagnated for 20 years but after I look leave and did my comprehensive treatment program, I was promoted twice in two years. There is definitely hope!

  108. Stellaaaaa*

    I once read that the modern standard for mental and physical health is whether or not you’re able to go to work. You’re doing a lot better than you think. 12 days off a year isn’t a lot. Many of us burn through 12 days a year on hair appointments plus a week of vacation.

    Two years ago I took a significant pay cut in order to accept a remote job. It made all the difference in the world to be able to work from home, and to know that my new employer trusts me to do a good job without being in the office. I have an easier time tending to my social and family life when work isn’t stressing me out. Before, I was bummed out about my job and so drained after work that I didn’t have the energy to do the things that might have helped my mental state. If funds and your employer allow, could you go part-time or remote?

  109. Nefret Emerson*

    I am so sorry, OP. That sounds exactly like what I went through about 10 years ago. I was so depressed, I missed so many days of work and would have to pull over and cry before I could continue. I ended up losing my job after I attempted suicide and couldn’t bring myself to even call them to let them know I was quiting so I ghosted them. I ended up changing my therapy, changing my life circumstances, and changing jobs. And, honestly, that helped more than anything. The new job didn’t pay as much and wasn’t anything you would want to brag about but it made me happy. The people I worked with were friendly and genuinely cared for me. Can you find a new job that has less stress? Sometimes that is enough to jumpstart our healing. Good luck and best wishes.

  110. Carla*

    I, too, am here in solidarity, LW. Everyone has given the thoughts that I would, so I just wanted to say–you’re not alone.

  111. DaniCalifornia*

    I am struggling with this exact same issue right now. 100%. I cried this morning getting ready for work and I cried earlier in the bathroom at work just because. Work is the last place I want to be and I have a harder time accepting that these days. I just want to let you know two things:
    1. You are not alone.
    2. You are doing the best you physically, mentally, and emotionally can at the moment and in the moment. That is what matters.

    For what it’s worth it sounds like you have an understanding boss. He sounds like he’s caring and your company policy re: sick leave sounds good. At a moment when you don’t feel as vulnerable would it be worth speaking with him about it? To allay some of your fears about performance? To come up with strategies of how to make sure you don’t fall behind? And then if you take off sick days can you work through the days you feel better (i.e. perhaps on a better day you stay a little later and get some extra things done or work on a weekend) That might help with you feeling like you take too much sick leave. FWIW I think you’re doing all that you can to make your situation work.

  112. tiny temping teapot*

    You know, you’re doing an amazing job. Depression is trying to stomp you down, but you have reached out for help (so hard), you’ve talked to your boss, you get up and show up. I think it’s hard for people people who have less experience with depression to know the effort and exhaustion in just showing up and doing it. I admire you. I would never disclose (not even to my family whom I live with) so I was just half an hour ago near tears as my sorta boss told me I was using a website wrong and then added on the omg let me be professional so I don’t get fired pressure. You’re doing better than me! :)

    You’re kicking ass, for real.

  113. Stephanie (HR Manager)*

    Hi OP – I wanted to write in the HR perspective here and encourage you to bring your HR into the conversation. What you are describing will most likely fall under ADA and FMLA. You are most likely protected under the law to have that time off. I’m sensing some guilt from your post, and I want to be very clear; it is most likely your legal right to take the time off that you need to be healthy and functional.

    Where you stop having legal protection is when you are unable to perform the essential functions of your job with our without reasonable accommodation. If you are taking off no more than about 12 weeks/year (as a full-time employee) you are probably well within your rights. (There are more qualifying factors, but your HR can help.)

    Tell your HR that you have a disability and that you would like to request a formal accommodation. They should work with you in what is called the interactive process (they should request a medical certificate of your disability with the provider’s recommendations for accommodations, like having time off for appointments or flareup, etc.) and then work with you and your manager to formally allow you to have that time off and come up with what will and won’t be reasonable. This will allow your manager to plan contingencies around your absences and formalize your protection under their policy and the law. Hopefully, this will also help you feel more justified and at ease taking the time that you need.

    I wish you the best in your health needs and your employment!

  114. dogs and mice*

    Hugs, hugs, hugs! The Capt Awk piece was good, but I kept waiting for some encouragement in terms of establishing what time in the day is the best/most focused. I can get many things done between 9-noon even on the worst days. My mood is so much brighter then so part of my strategy is maximizing those three hours to do the tasks that are most needed to move my work forward. I tend to save meetings and fun things for the afternoon.

  115. The Artist Formerly Known as AdminAnon*

    I started reading the comments, but I’m finding them hard to get through, so I’m just going to say this:

    You are not alone (as evidenced by the many, many comments). I have struggled with depression on and off for years, but the postpartum depression and anxiety following the birth of my daughter was, and continues to be, the worst thing I have ever experienced. Some days it truly is a struggle to get out of bed, much less go to work and do all the things that need to be done. I commend you for taking the steps necessary for you to function as well as you are. It sounds like your boss and your company’s culture are supportive, which is fantastic.

    I find that, on my worst days, even accomplishing one thing can help. So I’ll set the bar so low that a drunk hedgehog could step right over it. I’ll tell myself that all I have to do is look at every new email and write a list of action items. I don’t have to respond to them or do anything other than read them (unless it’s an emergency; rare, in my job). Just that one step. A lot of times, by the time I have them all read and written out, I’ll decide that I can do one more thing. And then maybe one more. Sometimes I can creep through an entire day that way. Other times, all I do is read my emails and make a to do list before taking a personal day. But that’s ok too.

    Good luck to you, OP. Keep on keepin’ on.

  116. Claudia M.*

    This letter could have been written by me…holy crap,

    I am in the exact same boat – except I do not have unlimited sick leave, and had to take FMLA. I’ve been on dock time once already.

    This thread is so relevant and helpful you have no idea. I had to keep from crying in my cube when I read this.

    Thank you for asking, and thank you for those who respond!

  117. paul*

    When it’s bad for me I make just getting through the day my goal. Tell myself that yeah it might be a crappy day (sometimes it’s hour by hour) but that I can manage one damn crappy day; I’ve managed a lot of them over the last 15+ years.

    I try to accomplish one or two basic task at least, and make some progress on one longer term task. If that’s all I get done that day…well, I’ll live and over the course of a year I’ve never not managed to fulfill my job requirements fairly well in my current job.

    What general type of work is it you do? Like is this a job where butt in seat matters and coverage counts or are you dealing more with long term stuff where so long as the work’s done more or less on time? It may legitimately not be a huge issue with your particular field in your particular place of employment. There’s jobs this ok for and jobs it isn’t; you might have gotten a job where it is (and so far it sounds like they’re good working with you on it, positive sign).

    I’d also encourage looking at other treatment plans; I can’t offer specifics (I am not a psychiatrist or psychologist ) but try to discuss this with your doctor. Maybe try to find another doctor if all else fails; god knows the first one I went to and I did not mesh/agree/however you want to put it.

  118. Torrance*

    While working with your care team to find a more effective treatment and your employer to explore possible accommodations will hopefully provide better outcomes, it might be wise to contact a disability lawyer, just to be aware of your options in the event of a worst-case-scenario kind of situation.

  119. The Rat-Catcher*

    I don’t have time to read all comments, so I apologize if this is a repeat, but: Is there a measurable impact to your work quality? I ask because you say in your letter that you are afraid of the impact to your work, but you only specifically mention absences. Do you have a job where your presence is vital to your work function? If not, it’s possible this isn’t as big an issue as you think.
    Also, hugs if you like those, and good Internet vibes and thoughts!

  120. H.C.*

    Sorry you’re going through this, LW; as for anxiety about not meeting performance expectations, look over your job description/performance goals/project timelines/etc. and see if you’re satisfying those requirements (and if these requirements are vague, ask your manager for clarification). If you’re not meeting them, have a frank discussion with your manager about how they can be adjusted to accommodate your mental health needs, such as FlexTime/work-from-home arrangements, shifting/trading responsibilities with colleagues, modifying performance expectations or transitioning to a less stressful role within the organization.

  121. Major Depression*

    I’ve been there! (Major depression for over a year when a job layoff and miscarriage happened within a week of each other.)

    Please know you are not alone.

    My advice would be to talk to your psychiatrist and get their perspective.

    Even though you have unlimited sick time, you may want to look into ADA accommodation.

  122. Feotakahari*

    I follow several writers and artists who chose their careers because of physical or mental disabilities that crop up unpredictably and make it hard for them to work a consistent schedule. Instead, they have deadlines by which their work has to be completed, and they do more or less work according to how well they’re doing, with an eye towards building up a buffer to meet the deadlines. I don’t know your exact skillset and training, but I’m sure there are other careers where working a rigid nine-to-five schedule isn’t as important as doing your work well within the deadline.

  123. AtomicCowgirl*

    OP, you don’t mention that your manager has complained about your performance or the quality of your work. It sounds like you are feeling that you aren’t holding up your end of things – and I wonder how much of that is your depression talking to you. Depression is a big fat liar and it distorts the truth to the point that sometimes you can’t rely on your own impressions and thoughts about a situation. If I were in your shoes I would think about having a conversation with my manager to determine if there were, indeed, any performance issues that he thinks need to be addressed, and then if there are, work out a plan with him to address them. However, you might find out that your manager thinks you’re doing great considering the fact that you struggle with such a heavy illness. Sending you big squishy internet hugs and all the love…

  124. LS*

    I’ve never been diagnosed with depression, but I do have a condition which affects my ability to focus, manage my time and follow a process. What helps me is to schedule time in my work calendar. For example when I start on something new, I schedule blocks of time for each task in the correct order, working backwards from the deadline. I also set up time with people who I need to consult with or have review my work. When I get to the office I can see right away what I’m supposed to do that day. The reminders give me a nudge to get started as well. By breaking things down into manageable tasks you also get a sense of accomplishment when you complete something. I hope this helps!

  125. Lluviata*

    OP, my sympathies on your struggle. I want to put in a perspective I haven’t seen in skimming through, and that’s: each person, even doing the same job, will bring a different set of skills to the job. It sounds like productivity won’t be your to skill. That is absolutely and completely ok. One of my mentors, a man I greatly admire who has had a fast tracked career, told me once that he is excellent in only one or two parts of the job (no more!). He is mediocre at the rest.

    I think you’ll​ have to look to other strengths that you bring to the job to see how much you are doing well. The first thing I would think of: have you been in the job for several years? Then you bring experience and history and you can use your past work to provide context for problems now. You also are faster at doing things you’ve done many times before, compared to someone new ish. In my company, someone with longevity could be​ suited for a Subject Matter Expert position, where they are in charge of know a particular topic really well and bring a resource for others on that topic. In my company, you may want to get into one of those positions and then plan on a nice long stay of ten years or more. There may be some other strength that you’d rather focus on, but time on the job seems like it might be something that would make sense.

    Please go easy on yourself if your work rate is what’s bothering you. That may be hard for you to control. You need sick time when you need it. It’s ok to be mediocre at that and great at something else.

  126. Clodia*

    I have depression, am on two medications for it, see a therapist monthly, and have had (and continue to have) work suffer for it. I can only advise two things.

    1) Do something. If you can only answer that one email, that’s something you’ve accomplished. That’s good. For me, just accomplishing one tiny task can help me feel better and keep me from submerging completely in my depression.

    2) Be kind to yourself. You can’t operate at 100% of your capacity all the time. You can’t be perfect. This is hard, and will always be hard. You deserve to give yourself love and understanding for trying. It’s okay that it sucks, that you’re sick, that it’s hard, and that you can’t always work to your own standards. You’re still going.

  127. Katie Fay*

    LW, despite the absences, are you largely doing your job? Are your absences inhibiting others from doing their jobs? If the answers are YES and NO respectively, you are OK.
    If the answers are NO and Yes, please talk to your manager about alternatives. Is an intern or temp a possibility? Can you job (and your pay unfortunately) be scaled back? Can you move to a role that is standalone and doesn’t have interdependencies with others so you can work at your own pace when you’re feeling good and not hold others up when you are not?
    But talking to your manager is key. Good luck.

  128. Lee*

    Interesting post. Most people I know that suffer from clinical depression don’t really care if they get fired or not. Apathy tends to be a common trait they share. Anywho, as far as I know there’s no real cure for depression, and anti-depressants may cause unintended side effects.
    I get “the blues” every now and then, and weirdly enough, it affects the way I view light of any kind (it tends to look duller when I’m sad). It goes away if I start exercising daily (just runs in the morning) and philosophically tell myself that we are a toxic flawed species that’s created an equally toxic flawed society and anyone who could be well-adjusted or function happily in this society must be crazy, naive, or in denial. ::shrugs:: I dunno why but it makes me feel better…good luck.

    1. tiny temping teapot*

      I’m sure the OP is aware that depression doesn’t have one simple cure and your comment seems to dismiss medication because it might have unintended side effects. Every time I’ve been prescribed medication for anxiety and/or depression, my prescribing physician took time to describe the most common side effects, the ones that could come up and make sure I knew to check in if certain side effects did happen. Medication doesn’t work for everyone, and for many people it can take a few tries to find a combination that works, but there are so many negative messages about psychiatric medications out there, I just have to push back a little. My meds make the difference between me being able to work or being unable to get out of bed. They haven’t robbed me of my creative impulses or made me less cool or whatever. (I was never cool.) I’ve been very lucky to avoid side effects for the most part, but there is a lot I would put up with so I can work and do more with my day than watch endless reruns of L&O SVU.

      1. Lee*

        I did say “may cause”…but I’m sorry it’s coming across as dismissive. I tend to speak online without a politeness filter and without tone to infer my meaning, I can come across as….well, dismissive is nice way to say it.
        I’m glad your meds work for you, but I do want to caution that psychiatric drugs are not a cure for depression, even if it alleviates some side effects. You even said you’re lucky and it doesn’t “work for everyone”.
        And I hear ya, some days I can’t get out of bed and a SVU marathon is the only thing keeping me awake!

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Those of us who’ve dealt with depression know perfectly well medications aren’t a “cure” and aren’t perfect. We’ve lived it. You don’t need to explain it to us; that still comes off pretty condescending.

          There’s a long-standing idea in some circles – hippie, punkish, “alternative,” left-wing, intellectual, or artsy (or maybe just pretentious) ones that happiness is conformist and intellectually, politically, and morally objectionable, that “normal” or “healthy” people are sheeple. That suffering with a mental illness makes you special and better than the naive and unenlightened masses, and that treatment and especially medication are a craven capitulation to the mainstream and that we have some sort of duty to ~be ourselves~ and be some kind of noble prophetic oracle even if living that way is agony. That any medication will automatically make you a drone. Or that virtuous and enlightened people can always just pull themselves out of mental illness through exercise, philosophical thought, healthy eating, yoga, meditation, or the latest fad diet. These ideas are hurtful; they hurt me when I was at my worst and thinking I was a bad person because I didn’t just accept and agree with the voice telling me everything was terrible, and they’re especially harmful to people who are new to seeking treatment. And, while you may not have intended to come off that way, your comments definitely had a whiff of these attitudes.

          I’m not trying to be harsh or mean, and I don’t think you’re a bad person; it’s admittedly something I’m a bit oversensitive about, but I get the sense you’ve learned some pretty stereotypical and distorted things about psych meds and mental health.

          (Now if you were saying “lol quit whining you triggered snowflake” or some such, you WOULD be a bad person. But I know you’re not saying anything like that! :-))

  129. Z*

    So sorry OP! That sucks. Went through a period of several months with anxiety that made it very difficult to function at work. Something that really helped me was switching my attitude and making my health, not work or any other obligations the main priority (I luckily had savings and a plan for living off unemployment in the event I was fired).

    Just shifting work from being your main focus that your mental health needs to adapt to, to vice-versa, might help you.

  130. RB*

    I’m so sorry. I don’t have experience with this but I don’t think once a month is a lot. In our office it wouldn’t be out of the norm. There are people who miss a lot of work because of kid-related things. I don’t think this is any different. If you need to be away from work, you need to be away from work. It’s not really people’s business what’s going on in your personal life, except maybe your manager’s. Hang in there and don’t be too hard on yourself.

  131. A Magician Named GOB*

    Oh, OP! My heart goes out to you. I have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, and it has caused me problems at work, too. I don’t have any advice for you, but I just wanted to comment to express my solidarity with you. You are not alone. You are loved and cared about. I hope that you are able to find some peace of mind, and some relief of your symptoms. Much love to you!

  132. politikitty*

    I made a lot of progress when I switched from psychiatrist to psychiatrist/therapist. (I have a big spiel about how this should be a more common model for people with treatment resistant depression. Not only is the emotional support invaluable, but med adjustments get made well before I hit a crisis)

    Beyond being more effective treatment, it carved out self-care and incorporated my well-being into my work life. Twice a week, I head out for a long lunch. It took a long time to get used to reminding my boss that I was going to leave and I wouldn’t be back for 90-120 min. Not because it’s an issue, it was just the guilt of failing to be a normal employee. I’ve now gotten better about scheduling mental health days ahead of time. “I’m getting ground down. So I know X and Y need to be a priority, but it should be quiet enough that I don’t have to be here on Thursday” The language is also helpful because it signals that I realize my work isn’t 100%, but that I’m doing something to address that.

    We haven’t officially discussed the nature of my frequent appointments. But I’m sure he’s put it together. At first he was surprised because my ‘burnout’ wouldn’t align with obvious work loads. So there’s a tricky negotiation because he wants to be sure the issue isn’t my work load, and we’ve developed euphemisms. Sometimes I’ll acknowledge that some project was more demanding than I expected, and other times it’s a vague “I don’t know why, my head just isn’t in the game”.

  133. Former freelancer*

    Hi LW, all my sympathy! I’ve been struggling with depression in various forms all my life, so here’s what’s worked for me to keep me gainfully employed (in various forms) throughout: rituals, structure, rewards, and constantly reminding myself to go easy on myself. In detail:
    – Getting out of bed and to work: rituals! I need a lot of time to gear up to face the world, so I set my alarm early. I’m very groggy and grumpy when I get up, but I don’t have to deal with anyone or anything yet! I make it as easy as possible for myself to make and drink coffee, read a bit, take a shower and get dressed. When I was in boarding school, I even had a list of the steps to take every morning that I attached to the bottom of the bunk bed above me. That may sound weird, but it really helps me if I don’t have to think or decide anything in the morning. Now, I have everything set out along a sort of path in my apartment: instant coffee on the counter, cup set out right next to it, water in the kettle. I go through the exact same motions every morning. Clothing options (well, slacks and shirts, mostly) are set out on hangers, because rummaging in my closet is overwhelming in the morning. (So what if my bedroom looks cluttered, it works for me.) Also, rewards: I always buy a breakfast pastry at the bakery downstairs on my way to public transport (and I always buy the same thing – I don’t want to have to make choices in the morning).
    – Appearing to have it together at work: I keep my two good blazers and two good pairs of shoes and a couple of scarves at the office (I have closet space there, fortunately), so no matter what slacks and shirt I’ve thrown on in the morning, I always have something to wear with them. Doesn’t matter that I pretty much wear the same few things all the time, at least I look professional. I’m not employed for the way I dress, after all! Fancy outfits are for when I have the energy to put them together.
    – Keeping up with work: structure. I break down my work into reasonably sized chunks and keep track of them. At a previous job, I had a lovely, bound book complete with bookmarks, where I would enter all tasks as they came in (phone calls, inquiries, letters dictated by the boss, other to-do-stuff) and cross them out when I was done (very satisfying). As a freelancer, I used post-its in different colors on which I would write the tasks needed to complete each project. Important: have a place to put and arrange them, e.g. a whiteboard (crumpling up post-its once the task was done was also very satisfying, and friends/family got into the habit of gifting me fancy post-its). At my current job, I have a calendar list in a Word document. Every time a new assignment lands on my desk, I take a couple of minutes to enter the tasks it entails into the list, for the day I will likely be able to do it, considering deadlines and priorities. When I’m done with a task, I enter the time it took and other parameters. The advantage of this is that I also have documentation of everything I’ve done, when I did it and how long it took – this was especially helpful when I was starting out last year. It also serves as advance notice if I have too much on my plate, so I can talk to my supervisor and my colleagues to redistribute or push back some of the work, if necessary. And every morning, I open the list and see what I should be starting with, and what’s next, and every afternoon, I have a record of what I’ve achieved.
    – Keeping it together at work: rituals, again, and spaced regularly throughout the day – I do these things preemptively, so to speak, before I start to feel really bad. Every two hours (or more often if I need to), I get up and do a few simple stretches, or make a cup of tea (I keep a selection of fancy teabags at the office, a habit that has improved my mood so much), or eat lunch (almost always at the same time, it helps me structure my day), or go out on the balcony and stand in the sun for a couple of minutes, close my eyes and just concentrate on breathing.
    – After work: rewards, i.e. having something to look forward to at the end of the day. For me, at the moment, it’s walking home from work – currently the only exercise I get, but I get it every day, because it’s built into my day. (This is also where keeping shoes at the office comes in handy, since I can just wear walking shoes to and from work. Plus, it saves money for transport.) I live in a very walkable European city, though, so this might not be feasible for you, but perhaps there’s something else you could do on your way home (I find that once I’m home, I can’t get myself to do much when I’m depressed).
    I hope some of this is helpful to you! Importantly, here’s the “going easy on yourself” part: I did not start doing these things all at the same time. Just start with one thing at a time, do that for a while to see if it works for you, and if it does, try and add something else. Or stop doing things if they’re not working for you. For instance, I’ve had to stop cooking lunch for the next day at home when I just haven’t been able to handle it, and bought ready-made meals instead (on the way home) or gone to the salad bar around the corner for lunch. And don’t hold yourself to having to do everything every day. Sometimes I don’t walk home. Sometimes I don’t do stretches. Sometimes I don’t get a lot of tasks done. Sometimes I feel like I haven’t managed to do anything at all. It’s okay, I don’t have to be perfect, tomorrow is another day.
    Best wishes to you, LW!

  134. Hairy HR Guy*

    I know alot of this is pretty similar to what others are writing:
    I can relate to what you’re going through. I’ve experienced times where I felt that my depression and anxiety interfered with being effective at work, and wondered how long my employer could or would accommodate this. My experience was that I was way too hard on myself and assumed everyone else thought I was not contributing enough – and I suspect you’re feeling the same way. My first piece of advice is something that it appears has already happened – find an employer who is understanding and supportive of your situation. And since it sounds like your manager has made accommodations for you, I would interpret that this also means your work when you are there is of high enough quality and quantity to make it “worth it” for them. Secondly, keep the lines of communication open. This doesn’t mean “overshare”, but do your best to keep him informed and to engage in a dialogue that shows you care and want to be productive.
    I know its tough – but you’ve shown courage in being honest with your manager and by writing for advice. I believe you can do it!

  135. Didi*

    Sorry you are going through this. In my experience, communication is key here.
    I once managed a person who was dealing with depression. I worked with her for a year, and gave her less time-sensitive and less-important assignmnents, but ultimately I fired her because she became so unreliable that clients did not want to work with her anymore. She would promise to do things and not do them. She would not show up for work and would not contact me if she needed the day off. She would not show up for meetings. She lied about having done work that she did not do.
    It wasn’t the time off that was the problem. It was the fact that she did not communicate what was going on and she lied. I couldn’t tolerate that.

  136. Winger*

    It’s GREAT that you’re making an effort to deal with this, and it’s great that your workplace can accommodate it. For what it’s worth, I don’t think taking off once or even twice a month is outlandish for mental health care if you’re dealing with a serious issue. It’s also great your boss is relatively accommodating; I’ve dealt with a depressive episode that lasted over two previous jobs, and both of my bosses were kind of jerks about it and did not make the situation any easier.

  137. 574Girl*

    Confession: I have not read every comment before this one. So, hopefully what I am about to say isn’t a repeat of what others have said.

    First off, I am so sorry you are going throgh this. I would encourage you, as I think a few other people have done, to talk to your support team about treatment. Depression is a nasty slipepry slope and has a way of sneaking up on us.

    It also has a way of making us percieve things to be true that are not true.

    So, I would sit down with your manager and say something like, “Manger, I am concerned about how much sick leave I have been using and the following projects and deadlines. Can we talk about where I am and where these projects are and how to plan for them in the future?”

    What can you shift off your plate? What isn’t really critical? Speak to your manager about this as well. See what can be done to make things smoother for you.

    This last piece I am a little hesitant to mention, because I hate to give depression brain fuel for self hate, but you might also think about how this could be impacting those you work with.

    When one of my coworkers went through a crisis time with her mental health, she told none of us (though we figured it out, because it lasted six months) and never offered any suggestion that she knew her unexpect absences were directly impacting our work loads. Our manager wanted to be supportive for her and tried to balance things, but week long unplanned absences have an impact, even when only critical tasks are being completed.

    At first, I tried to be sympathetic, but eventually resentment began to bubble up, even though I myself have depression and anxiety.

    It would have made a huge difference to me if she had just said, just once, “I know my absences are rough on you, my team, and I am trying to deal. And I hope you all know how much I appreciate the extra work you are doing because of my absences.”

    Get better, OP. I am rooting for you.

  138. Channel Z*

    One thing I learned was a hindrance was using caffeine and sugar to get me through the work day (coffee and donuts, cola, chocolate ) When I started journaling my moods, diet, and activities, I discovered my mood tanked 1,5-2 h after having it, with chocolate being worst offender. More recently, with my mood stabilized, I tried an experiment by eating a square of unsweetened chocolate to see if sugar or chocolate was culprit. Two hours later I was having suicidal thoughts. The severity of the reaction was shocking. It might be too much to try and journal right now, but there may be something in your diet or physical work environment (fumes,allergies, screen glare, noise) that is triggering or worsening the crying spells. Eating healthy food goes a long way toward stabilizing my mood, though it’s not a cure and I do require medicine at times.

  139. hankypanky*

    As someone who has struggled from severe depression and panic attacks I know where you are coming from and hope you can find a workable solution for your situation. I totally get the fear that depression leaves you in as far as work is concerned. I’ve gone home crying too and its hard not to feel inadequate at those times. However, I think with some knowledge and tools you might be able to request workable accommodations that allow you to minimize the impact of depression on your workplace and thereby help you to feel better as well. Consider looking at for some excellent suggestions of reasonable accommodations for depression (including a service animal!). Lots of good ideas here that might help you at work.

    Good luck! You are most definitely not alone and it – can – get better.

  140. Chinook*

    I haven’t read the other replies but, OP, I could have written this letter. I thank the good Lord that I currently have a job that pays me enough that I can survive taking so many non-paid sick days (because as a contractor, I don’t get those) and a boss that is okay with me giving zero notice for random days off where I just can’t function normally. She has never questioned me why nor made comments about all those days off. (though, if she did, I would point out that me calling in sick saves her money because she doesn’t pay me those days). And I say this as someone who did just that on Tuesday.

    So my best piece of advice is be lucky enough to have a kind and considerate boss. And repay said kindness by being super reliable and hard working when you can. “Not my job” is not in my vocabulary and she knows I am willing to do anything given to me.

    I also set myself up for success by telling her ahead of time that I have a chronic issue that had become unstable, that I am working with my doctor to re-control it and that it isn’t life threatening (which are all true). She may suspect (especially since her daughter is dealing with mental health issues) but has never pushed. But, by telling her that I may have bad days and what I will do to notify her and others that need to know I am not in as well as giving them my phone number (in case they need urgent information from me, which has been known to happen), then I can notify her the morning of and then go back to bed to sleep.

    The most important thing is to remember that no one will care as much about your health as you. Take the time for self-care in whatever form it takes and learn to recognize the times you can “white knuckle through” a day of work vs. the times where you know you will be useless or that it will cause long term damage. Unfortunately, that only comes with trial and error. Remember that no one judges a diabetic who is working hard to get their blood sugars under control, and those people have blood tests and scientific technology on their side. Until someone can come up with a blood test that can tell someone like me which brain chemicals are currently out of whack, trial and error are all we have.

  141. Turtle Candle*

    LW, I know exactly where you’re coming from. (I’ve had anxiety and depression my entire adult life; it has tick-tocked between ‘mild and largely ignorable’ all the way to ‘frighteningly severe’ and back again.) All the good thoughts and support heading your way.

    (This got long, sorry!)

    It’s always hard to make suggestions, because it’s very, very common that one person’s “empowering” is another person’s “victim blaming,” and depression is inherently individual because people’s brains are inherently individual. (If your depression causes you to lose focus and feel scattered all day, you’ll need different strategies than someone whose depression causes them to hyperfocus obsessively. And complicating matters further, you–like me–might alternate scatteredness with hyperfocus, meaning one strategy might work now but you might need a different one in a month.)

    One of my therapists said that, because of this, it can be helpful to give yourself permission to experiment with strategies–something like UFYH might work for you, if breaking problems down into small parts and doing them in small chunks helps you, but if that doesn’t work, you can try the opposite–blocking out as big a piece of time as you can and working steadily throughout. But what she did suggest was that you commit to trying any given strategy for at least a week, ideally two, before you give up on it (unless it makes your depression dangerously worse, of course), just because it’s very common with depression to try something once or twice, not get immediate results, and have the brain weasels announce ‘this isn’t working, it’s pointless, quit now.’ But most strategies won’t start working instantaneously and need to be put into practice for at least a few days.

    A few strategies that have worked for me, that you might want to play with:

    – Various pieces of advice suggest breaking your work into chunks that are manageable enough that you can focus for that period of time without being overwhelmed. Unfuck Your Habitat suggests that, FlyLady suggests that, the Pomodoro Technique is more or less built on that, on and on–and for a lot of people it seems to work regardless of the task (whether it’s work or chores or whatever). This works very well for some people–for others it’s a terrible idea because it breaks your flow, but if you haven’t tried it, you might consider it. It isn’t a cure for depression, but if it makes you more productive when you are capable of working (and for a lot of people it does), it can help you keep on top of things. One thing that I wanted to note is that it may be fruitful to play with the timing. Some people, especially those who have attention issues, start with a very short period of time to set themselves up for success: they may not be able to focus for an hour or twenty minutes but they can focus for ten minutes. Or five. Other people find that the interruptions are distracting and give themselves longer periods (I’m working up to longer periods because they’re better for me). If you do very short periods, the ‘break’ in between them can be correspondingly very short, just enough time to rest your eyes and take a sip of water or etc. If you prefer longer periods of work (if you do better with long uninterrupted time than short sprints) it might be helpful to put in some kind of reminder to drink some water and occasionally stretch, just so you don’t get to the end of a work period feeling physically awful. Sometimes marathoners end a work shift feeling crappy simply because they spent hours dehydrated in the same hunched position, but you can totally marathon while staying hydrated and occasionally stretching.

    – Here’s something I got from the book “Get It Done When You’re Depressed:” experiment with structuring your day. (Side note: be aware, while I really liked the book and found it very helpful during a period of severe depression, opinions on this one vary widely; read the sample pages first if you’re interested in it to see where you’ll fall.) I found that when depressed I tend to go all scattered-y; having to choose something to do was really difficult if I have multiple projects going on at the same time, and any little thing (even an IM from a coworker asking if I wanted to get lunch) could throw me completely off. So I started structuring my day, blocking off time for handling emails and IMs, and time for concentrated work(, and of course time for meetings…), and not mixing them except in extremis. (Like, if my boss said, “High-priority thing needs to be done right now,” I’d do it, but otherwise things that popped up randomly during the day totally could wait an hour.)

    – Something I got from both “Get It Done When You’re Depressed” and “Do the Work” (which is a bit woo-woo and aimed at artists, but I found useful) and the FlyLady website: a concept that “Get It Done” described as “don’t wait until you feel like it,” that FlyLady calls “jump in where you are,” and that “Do the Work” described as “start before you’re ready.” I like the “start before you’re ready” phrasing a lot and actually have it on a post-it note stuck to my monitor. What they both mean is that it’s both extremely easy and often self-sabotaging to wait until you’re ready to start something, whether that something is a work project, answering email, or like, cleaning the fridge. When I’m depressed it’s really easy for my particular set of brain weasels to say “oh there’s no point in starting, you have a meeting in an hour, you could theoretically do more research, you can’t really clean the fridge until you get more tupperware, shouldn’t you review everything you’ve done up to this point first, and also are you sure you even can do this?” and it was overwhelming and discouraging and I just… didn’t start. The idea of explicitly giving myself permission to start before I felt ready was a huge, huge help, and putting it on a sticky note was, too.

    – This one is maybe a little more, hm, idiosyncratic, and it might be a bad idea for some people. It worked great for me, though. Unfuck Your Habitat has a post that runs every day, that says just “Make your bed. Excuses are boring.” The reason the blog runner added “excuses are boring” is that she (I think it’s a she?) previously just had a “Make your bed” reminder, and every day her inbox got a lot of messages from people explaining why they couldn’t. I suspect she just meant it in a “dude, do it or don’t, but you don’t need to tell me that you can’t make your bed because your husband is still in it, I’m not the boss of you.” But I found it useful in another context: I realized that when I was depressed or anxious I was spending, like, half my days attempting to rationalize myself to myself. When a task came up that I couldn’t do or didn’t want to do or didn’t have the energy to do, I’d go through this huge litany of reasons why it was impossible. And the thing is, that was exhausting. And depressing. And repetitive. And also, yes, boring. And I was wasting a lot of my time and attention on rationalizing myself to myself, and even if I wasn’t going to Do The Thing, I could at least use the energy for something vaguely more beneficial than justifying myself to an invisible jury–it would be better for me and for everyone else if I just took a shower or made a cup of tea rather than looping. So I made an “excuses are boring” sticky note and stuck that to my monitor too, not to shame myself but to remind myself that I can either Do The Thing, or Not Do The Thing, but I should do my damndest to avoid looping endlessly on why I was Not Doing The Thing. I guess “Do or do not, there is no try” would work equally well, but I like the tongue-in-cheek nature of “excuses are boring.”

    – Okay, this one is REALLY weird and deeply idiosyncratic, but I mention it because it helped me and might help you. Sometimes, when I think I’m going to have a breakdown in the middle of the day, it helps if I have one of the following: sips from a very, very hot cup of water (not hot enough to burn, but just at the top end of my heat tolerance); sips from a very, very cold cup of water; a very strong mint (think Altoids or etc.); a taste of lemon juice. (Hey, I said it was weird.) Something spicy might have worked too. Something about the intensity of the sensation or taste seems to help temporarily… distract my brain? I guess? And sometimes that can stop the spiraling in its tracks. For a period of time I was carrying one of those little lemon juice squeezy bottles, because then if I could feel the ‘need to go cry for three hours’ coming on I could duck out and squirt a little in my mouth. Very strange, and I have no idea why on earth it worked, but it did. (Obviously don’t do this if you have a medical reason why hot water or cold water or mint or lemon juice might hurt you.)

    That’s all I can think of for now. It seems inadequate to your pain, but I hope it’s at least some help.

    1. Neely O'Hara*

      This makes me think of distress tolerance techniques from DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) – they suggest trying sensations that will snap you out of your current experience. I can totally see lemon juice fitting into that! I’ve heard of sticking your face in a bowl of ice water as well but it’s not always practical and I’m chicken so I’ve never tried it.

  142. Junior Dev*

    OP, I read this article today and it made me think of you.

    (There’s some brief stuff about healthcare policy and how it’s affected the writer–im going to ask that everyone respect site rules about discussing politics and not comment on that aspect of the article.)

    The writer of that article describes feeling anxious after she treated many of the chronic physical and mental health problems she experiences, because she feels a pressure to be “better” and no longer limited by her health, to be “cured” now that she has access to healthcare.

    The bad news is that for many people, myself and that author included, we will probably never function at the same level as “healthy,” “normal” people. I will never be able to handle loud crowded spaces the way someone without an disorder anxiety would. I will never be able to trust people the way someone who does not live with PTSD could. I will never be totally free from days where I’d like to do something exciting or productive but instead spend most of my day in bed, too depressed to deal with the world.

    I’m seeing a lot of comments about how depression makes it hard to evaluate your own capabilities and things probably aren’t as bad as you think. While there is certainly truth to that, it’s also true that if you’re regularly unable to go to work, have to leave early, or spend hours unable to concentrate, that is causing real problems in your life. I don’t want to put this in a moralistic way or make it sound like you don’t deserve to have a job, but the problems are real.

    The good news is that struggling with mental health problems does not need to condemn you to a meaningless or miserable life. One thing about depression that’s a little more subtle than “it makes you see everything as worse than it is” is the way it makes it hard to see nuance or degrees of badness. “I will have to overcome challenges and make compromises on getting what’s most important to me” is not the same as “I will never get anything that matters to me.” “I will have to work hard to do things that other people can do with less difficulty” is not the same as “everyone else does this perfectly and I’ll never do it at all.” You’re probably going to be dealing with the issues you have right now on some level for the rest of your life; that doesn’t mean they’ll never get easier or you’ll never find better ways to cope with them.

    I do get the fear that you won’t be able to hold down a job. I struggle with this because being unemployed is maybe the worst thing for my mental health, but of course being depressed makes getting a job harder. I don’t have an easy solution to that. But I encourage you to do several things:

    * Explore the worst case scenarios, maybe with the help of your therapist. What if you did lose your job? What would that be like? What parts of it would be hard because of practical consequences, versus what you feel it would say about you as a person? What would you do next if that happened and what resources would be available to help you?

    * Try, if you can, to have other things in your life besides work and depression treatment. Do you have hobbies? Maybe start something low-pressure like learning to knit or reading a new book series. I know depression makes it hard but try to keep in touch with friends and family of the extent possible, even if it’s just emailing a cute cat video to that a friend from college or calling a family member once a week. This means that when things get hard at work you’ll have other things to think about and people to support you.

    * As hard as it may be: keep in mind that your ability to keep a job does not determine your worth as a person. Do whatever makes sense for you to help remember that.

    I’m not saying “resign yourself to being unemployed because you’ll never be able to keep a job,” I’m saying try to find ways to take some of the pressure off that particular measure of Doing It Right.

  143. formerly truant currently thriving*

    Hi! I have been in your same position and it actually ended in me losing my job. Since then, I have undergone intensive outpatient programs that have been infinitely more helpful to me, keeping my MDD under much better control than a therapist or a psych ever did. It was a very intense two weeks for me, but I find myself constantly using the coping skills I picked up there in my every day life. I hope this is not construed as medical advice, but could you possibly use a week or two to undergo more intensive therapy with the hopes it might cut down on more regular absences.

    Also, when discussing your depression with anyone else, which may be helpful to prevent resentment or whispers… I tend to phrase my MDD as a neurological disorder. This is technically lying, but many of the outward symptoms can be the same, including certain cognitive issues, but with less stigma. Alison may not agree with the lying, but when youre emotionally vulnerable/unstable i think a little fibbing can be very helpful .

  144. Marisol*

    I don’t know very much about depression, but I will share the impression that I get from reading this question. OP, the question “should I be fired” doesn’t sound like it’s coming from a rational place (your adult self), but rather a place of panic and desperation (your child self). That is not a criticism! Just an observation. Everyone has moments like that, especially when it comes to employment. We all have a child self that feels powerless, unable to provide for ourselves, fearful of the future etc. and I doubt there is a single commenter on this forum who has not, at one point or another, felt the sinking dread of “oh God, what if I am fired, how will I survive…?” and then succumbed to the dogpile of fearful thoughts that come after that (e.g., I’ll become homeless, then I’ll become a social outcast, etc.). Survival fear is endemic to the human condition, and it’s easy to get sucked into that kind of thinking sometimes, depression or no depression.

    The reason I mention this is that it is good news when we realize that what is scaring the hell out of us is actually just a misapprehension, which it often is. Is there any chance that you are giving a fear of being fired more weight than it actually deserves?

    You mention you have been at your job for “years.” That makes it sound like your job situation is pretty stable. Moreover, your boss “seemed understanding and accommodating.” That, too, is…actually really encouraging. You mention a *fear* of being able to perform—but you don’t tell us that you have actually had any performance issues. Either you are leaving out some pertinent details, or you are not defining the problem properly, and I get the sense that it’s the latter. I think you are positing something like, “if I take x number of days away from work, then it will result in being fired, so I just need to find out what that x number is” when in actuality the number of absences may not be the criteria by which job performance is measured (and the fact that your company doesn’t limit sick leave lends credence to that idea.) So where are you getting this idea?

    I am not suggesting that your instincts are completely off; however I suspect you’re seeing your job through the filter of your depression. (In that vein, I wonder why is it that your boss only “seemed” understanding? Is there any reason to doubt his sincerity? Usually, when people seem understanding, it’s because they are! Which is a good thing. If he is a good manager who is concerned about your wellbeing, then he may be a good resource for you.)

    I don’t think anyone here on this forum can tell you whether or not you “should” be fired. It is up to your company to determine if you are still bringing value as an employee. And since you have concerns, instead of remaining in the dark about it, the thing to do is to have a frank, mature conversation with your boss. I see no downside to doing this, since you are not trying to keep your condition a secret from him, and if your job is actually in jeopardy (which I kinda doubt), well then it’s better to find out sooner rather than later in order to course-correct. Communication, and accurate information gathering, will only help you. You want to know what is true, not what your depression is telling you.

    So you go to the boss and ask something like, “am I performing up the level that you need me to in this position, and if not, how can I address that, given that I am also working through my personal emotional difficulties and need some accommodation in that respect” (ok, so you’ll probably want to word it a little less clunkily than that but that’s the essence of the query.)

    Action conquers fear, and speaking to your boss is, I believe, the better action to take, compared to say, stewing silently or seeking reassurance from others who aren’t in a position to evaluate. You don’t want to merely stave off a bad feeling—you want to confront a problem, in part to determine if there even is a problem! Which there may not be. Have a frank discussion with your boss about the kind of accommodation you’ve been needing, i.e., your sick leave, and what else if anything you may need, what the impact on the company is, whether or not your time off is truly a problem, what sort of metrics you will use to measure performance, what sort of check-in schedule should there be to assess performance, what his priorities are for your position if you are not able to perform all your duties, etc. etc. etc. Find out what you need to find out, and come up with a plan so that you will have a sense of structure that will help you feel supported, rather than untethered, which is how I think you might be feeling. Doing this will bring you back into your adult self—the self who confronts her problems and takes steps to manage them. You can be deeply depressed, and in need of work accommodation and psychiatric help, and yet still access your high-functioning adult self.

    If you find yourself getting emotional in your conversation with your boss, that’s ok. Just “contain” it with some adult, professional, “conversational brackets” by acknowledging your feelings: “I apologize if my crying seems unprofessional. It’s the nature of what I am going through that I sometimes cry. I still want to have this conversation though, if you don’t mind” and then say what you need to say. Or, you can choose to stop the meeting and circle back with him after you regain your composure: “sorry, I need a moment to collect myself. I will come see you again when I feel better.” But no matter how you approach it, do not burden yourself with the idea that you must be perfectly poised to have a productive meeting. If being a little weepy or scattered is the best you can do, so be it—we have to deal with situations they are, not as they should be, and right now, you’re dealing with some intrusive emotions—that’s just what’s so. Acknowledging awkward social situations openly is a very effective way to diffuse the awkwardness, so if something comes up, just acknowledge it and move on. Have you ever met someone who had a cold, who wouldn’t shake your hand, who said something like, “I apologize for not shaking your hand, but I have a cold”? Their calm explanation turned something potentially rude into something unremarkable. You can handle any emotional moments similarly. “I’m having an emotional moment, I just need to pause for a minute.” “I’m feeling overwhelmed, I need to be left alone for a little while, excuse me.” “I’m starting to cry and it’s embarrassing, but I need you to hear me out because this is important.” These are all examples of things you could say that are both true to the speaker’s emotional needs, and socially graceful. Above all, do not let shame prevent you from getting your needs met—have the conversation you need to have.

    One important caveat, however, is that you will want to avoid going into great detail about your emotional landscape. I want to make a distinction between demonstrating *behavior* that’s a little “off”, versus sharing inappropriate *information*. Showing some emotion while discussing work issues is ok—you’re not a robot. I don’t mean a hysterical crying fit—if that happens, then you should excuse yourself–but if a tear rolls down your cheek or if your voice shakes, if you cry and blow your nose, if your brow is furrowed from worry and you have a weird look in your eye–it’s not the end of the world. It’s not the gold standard of professionalism, certainly, but no reasonable person would hold it against you for displaying human vulnerability. Conversely, sharing intimate details such as your medicine regimen, the childhood traumas you are processing, your battle with low self-esteem, that sort of thing can call your judgement into question and make it hard to maintain professional boundaries, and should therefore be avoided. (Some offices are more touchy-feely than others, and you probably have a sense of what is appropriate in your office, but if not, I would default to those guidelines.) People will forget the time you acted out emotionally but they cannot “un-know” the facts they learn about you. So with your behavior, you have some latitude; you don’t have to work too hard on your “presentation of self” and you can instead just come as you are, whereas with your information, you need to be more vigilant about not oversharing.

    If your boss is not helpful, for example, if he answers you vaguely or dismissively, and you are left feeling unsatisfied, it may feel like a bigger setback than it actually is. In the moments when we are vulnerable and seeking help, we want to be heard and understood perfectly, and yet we often don’t have the emotional resources to express ourselves clearly (if we did, we wouldn’t need help), and what’s worse, the person we’re trying to recruit to help us is likely wrapped up in their own little world, focused on their own concerns, and may lack the emotional resources to even *hear* what it is we need, let alone give it to us, even if they do care about us. So the whole endeavor has the potential to be discouraging if your expectations are too high. If you and your boss have a conversational mismatch in this way, know that it isn’t necessarily indicative of anything–you didn’t fail, your requests are not unreasonable, your boss isn’t mean, this situation isn’t hopeless, etc. It’s just something that happens, and it means you will need to revisit the conversation again. Think of this as a process, not a one-time thing.

    As you navigate the depression/work challenge, I think it might help to keep asking yourself, “what is it that I need?” and “what will meet that need?” and if you don’t know the answer to those questions, then brainstorm with a friend or therapist to get some ideas. I would say that as a general rule, at least as far as work goes and probably in your life in general right now, you want to focus on identifying needs, goals, and solutions that are specific, concrete, and verifiable, rather than vague, theoretical, and emotion-driven. A vague, theoretical, emotion-driven mindset can send us into fearful, unproductive tailspin of worry and paralysis, (because how successfully can any of us “solve” the problem of a vague sense of dread about our future? There’s not much we can “do” to combat a mood—it will lift when it lifts), whereas specific facts can lead us into productive analysis, problem-solving, goal achievement, and empowerment.

    So if you need your office to, say, “be more understanding” of your mental health needs, that’s not specific enough—keep brainstorming until you come up with an actionable thing. Do you need an office with a window to get some sunlight? Do you need a mid-morning break to stretch your legs? More time to meet deadlines? (And what is “more time”? Two weeks?) And perhaps, as I mentioned, what you need is to have someone help you identify needs! That too is actionable—you definitely don’t have to have all the answers, you just have to identify the next step to take. It may also be that what you really need in a given moment is a kind of emotional connection or reassurance that is actually outside the purview of your worklife, and so you’ll want to keep that need relatively separate from work and address that it in a different setting such as therapy.

    Likewise, if your boss does express concerns about your job performance, then you will need to know what specific actions to take to improve. Not “do your job better” but, “come to work on time” or “meet deadlines” or “be friendlier with customers” or whatever. Big, vague goals like “do better” are overwhelming and anxiety producing. If you find yourself confronted with something like that, whether from an external source like your boss, or an internal source, like your mind, break that goal into concrete steps. If you can’t do that, then the issue at hand may well be a figment of your imagination.

    Along with asking yourself what your needs are, you might consider making a habit of questioning your perceptions—not in a paranoid, doubting-your-sanity kind of way, but in a pragmatic, “are things really as bad as I think they are, or is this the depression talking?” kind of way. Do not let vague fears about work, or being fired, capture your imagination and concretize into something you mistake for being real. If you have a fear that you might be in trouble at work, investigate that fear so you can either take corrective action or let it go. And even if you are not successful in letting the fear go, just the act of questioning it will diminish its power and strengthen your ability to perceive reality accurately. Note that I am not saying don’t feel fear, or any emotion. Feel whatever emotion comes up–just don’t make an irrational decision where emotion substitutes as fact, and your assumptions are not challenged. Challenge your assumptions.

    Do not try to figure out what to do about your career or your life right now. Wait until you have more clarity generally before you tackle that. The “what am I going to do with my life” question often raises its head in moments of crisis and my guess is that it’s part of the same anxiety mindset that makes you fear you will lose your job. Questions like that compound in our heads–first it’s job anxiety, then it’s “what should I do with my entire life” and these questions hijack our attention and seem like they need to be answered urgently. But they don’t. It’s an illusion. They can wait for a bit. (In fact, that question doesn’t have to be answered at all—it’s just an ego trick we play on ourselves. But you can work on it if you want to, just not right now).

    You might want to revisit your therapeutic strategies. Do you like your psychiatrist? Do they help? Can you look at other treatment plans, other drugs, other psychiatrists to get more help, better help? Do you have someone for counseling in addition to medicine? And also, do you have anything that’s actually FUN for you to do? Something that isn’t therapy or treatment, just something you enjoy? If so, do more of that thing, and if not, find something. If you’re not sure what to do, then try different things until you find something that brings you pleasure. (And if you try something and realize you don’t like it, don’t fixate on your disappointment, just let it go and try something else at another time). If you can do one little thing every day that brings you pleasure, you will have more emotional resources to give to work and to everything else in your life.

    I will recommend Hay House Radio, which you can find online at, as a great source of personal growth information that is also entertaining. I’ve learned a lot from the authors on that podcast channel—they have a diverse bunch of authors who lecture and take calls, and since it’s just listening to the radio, it’s passive and not a demanding activity at all—you can listen while you’re in bed, totally inert. My faves are Michael Neill, Robert Holden, and Alan Cohen; the last two were clinical psychologists before moving into the life coach arena and it is very satisfying to hear how skillfully and compassionately they help their callers. You can listen to shows for free as they air, or pay a small subscription fee to get them as podcasts on-demand.

    I hope there is something in the above that you find useful, OP, and I wish you the best.

  145. bbop*

    I’ve been a a similar position! Couple things I figured out (that helped me out):
    1. My job was actually contributing to the depression. Partly because management was terrible, and partly because when you’re so used to being depressed in an environment it’s hard to change without the environment also changing. So I changed job, and even though the new one had its own struggles, it pulled me out of the spiral.
    2. I find that certain types of work are better or worse for my depression. Sitting in an office, where I’m basically thinking all day…. bad. Standing up and interacting with people (serving, retail work etc.)…. good!
    I’m back in office work now, but the time I took to give myself a break, get a job that just paid the bills but didn’t cause stress, and travel really helped me.

  146. Viks*

    I think you are doing everything you can. If you had a non-mental health concern (ex. Cancer, heart condition etc.), I don’t believe you would feel like you are “abusing” your employer. For example, you wouldn’t critize a fellow employee who needed to take a day off a month for chemo. Your employer has fantastic benefits and you should use them when you need them. Keep going. You are doing a great job under the situation you have!!

  147. Julie Noted*

    OP, lots of other people above who know better than I do have advice on managing depression and work, so I don’t have anything new to add to that. As a manager, I want to address your opening question–should people like you just be fired?


    Many, many people have serious, ongoing health conditions that mean they are unable to work every scheduled day. Many of those conditions are episodic in nature so it’s not possible to predict ahead of time when a day off will be needed, or how many will be needed in a given month, or whether a day that starts OK will need to be cut short to go home. People with chronic health conditions are better off working as and when they are able than being consigned to unemployment; and society as a whole is better off when millions of its members are not pushed out to the margins. This is so important that mandatory minimum standards of paid sick leave are legislated in many countries. (In mine it’s 10 days per year that roll over indefinitely, but 20 per year is commonplace).

    Also, as someone else said above, once a month or a bit more is not at all excessive given a serious, ongoing medical condition.

    You have a right to take leave when you need it, and we all have a vested interest in creating/keeping the sort of society that enables you to do so. By all means look into the good advice about possible ways to manage or reduce the effect of your illness on your job, but in the meantime please know that you aren’t doing anything wrong and you have nothing to be ashamed of or apologetic about.

    (Jedi hugs)

  148. Not My Usual Name*

    I just want to say I’m surprised by all of the people who have said they don’t think 1 or more sick days a month is excessive. I’m dealing with treatment resistant depression that has caused me to miss work virtually every month for awhile now, but my manager does consider my absences to be excessive. I haven’t disclosed my diagnosis, but she knows I’m being treated for a serious health condition (and in my case, I consider it life-threatening because I struggle with suicidal ideation more days than not).

    It makes me feel better to read that so many people don’t view this amount as excessive. I think, though, that it really depends on the company culture and what type of work you do. My job has a lot of deadlines, and I can see where my manager is coming from. I guess what upsets me is that I’m not faking this. I’m not playing hooky. When I call in sick, I spend the day curled up in the fetal position on my bed, unable to get dressed or fix a meal. I don’t get the feeling that my manager thinks I’m lying, but I can sense that she’s frustrated by month after month of me juggling doctors’ appointments and being out sick. She has commented–in a rather kind way, which is unusual for her–that she can see in my face that I don’t feel well so I don’t think it’s a matter of being believed when I say I’m too sick to work. I think she just wants this to be over. So do I.

    1. Asile*

      If I were a manager, with no idea of what’s going on, I would think 1 sick day a month to be excessive, especially if it’s been going on for a few months.

      This is why it’s SO IMPORTANT to have the “I have a disability and I need accommodation that may mean some time off” discussion, either with your manager or with HR. As much as these conversations should go straight to HR, in my company, the supervisor is usually the one to get it. And that’s ok, so long as it’s then taken to those of us who can then work with it. Besides, your supervisor needs to know, on a high level, what’s going on: how is this affecting your work, your ability to be at work, what adjustments need to be made. If a leave of absence is the accommodation, how long will it last? And, actually, how long will ANY accommodation last?

      I also want to comment that invoking ADA and FMLA won’t protect your job 100%, especially if your core work is slacking or you don’t follow proper procedures (ie, if your company has a call-out policy, follow it TO THE LETTER). But as long as you’re maintaining open communication, it helps.

  149. Personal Best in Consecutive Days Lived*

    What worked for me is talking to my boss
    Y boss is very supportive around my illness (depression and anxiety) and we worked out over a few meetings what would work for both of us.
    I ended up having to cut my hours way down but I was just too tired and anxious to work full time anymore. This caused difficulties for my boss who now has to find someone else to do what I do along with me. I’m the mean time we juggle staff around to make sure my (now our) work still gets done.
    It was messy when I was doing really badly and calling out a lot unpredictably but now that my hours are manageable I hardly ever need to call out.
    Best of luck to you LW!

  150. stevenz*

    A couple of things: As for a mental illness being like any other chronic physical illness, well, it is and it isn’t. Workplace policies and systems may purportedly treat an employee the same whether they have a mental or physical illness, but it may not happen in a practical sense. The problem arises because mental illness is very hard to relate to unless you’ve been there. People can relate to a physical malady like, say for example, Crohn’s Disease. We can all imagine the symptoms and the misery of it recurring, etc, and the need for medical attention. But for those of you – us – who have struggled with depression, how many times have you heard “why don’t you just cheer up?” (My mother used that one a lot.) “Don’t be so hard on yourself” is another good one. In other words, *you* fix it.

    That being the case, it is very hard for a person with depression to help themselves, leading to a sense of vast loneliness. With a physical malady you take your medication, you avoid gluten, you alter your lifestyle, or whatever, but someone helps. But when you’re depressed, it can be hard to just get yourself to the medicine cabinet and open the pill bottle. So I think that expecting an employer to react the same way to mental illness as they would a physical condition might be wishful thinking. In the case of the OP, it sounds like she’s lucky to have an understanding and generous boss.

    But what a lot of people believe about mental illness, and I think this is the case particularly with depression, is that “it will pass.” She had an argument with her husband. She’ll get over it. Well no, she didn’t, and no, she won’t. Everybody gets depressed about something sometime, and mercifully it usually does pass. That can set up the possibility that they will lose patience with you when they see it isn’t passing, because it passed for them. So I caution OP to not *count on* others, especially a bureaucracy, to respond to a mental illness the way it would respond to a chronic condition. Great if they do. But response to mental issues usually requires a great deal more flexibility because there are a lot of variables: quality of life, events, physical condition, economic conditions, effectiveness of meds, fatigue, stress, etc. many of which are unavoidable and unpredictable. So, OP, the big thing is Take Care Of Yourself. *You* are the one who knows what is best for you. Do what you can, get support from wherever it’s available, talk to friends about your condition and how you feel about it, consider all the good comments here, and don’t force yourself to feel “normal”. You’re entitled to your own feelings, even the painful ones, and it is exhausting to constantly battle to keep them at bay. And yes, time off of work is very helpful as long as being at home isn’t more depressing! And pets are great for helping. I have had three cats in my adult life who have literally been lifesavers. I don’t mean to trivialize depression, but if you’re an animal person, they’re brilliant therapists. I wish you lots of contentment and love.

  151. Serendipity*

    I am not depressed, but I do have complicated pregnancy that involves many, many medical appointments that are getting in the way of my work.
    I have regular appointments with endocrinologist, obstetrician, diabetes nurse, physio, midwife, GP – all averaging about 4 hours a week.
    I am struggling with fatigue and being unwell, and most days need to go home at lunch for a sleep to get through the rest of the afternoon.
    I am entitled to take stick leave, but I’m in a grey area where I’m well enough to work, but only ‘firing on only three cylinders’, and I’m unsure whether it’s better to work at 60% capacity or not be working at all. I worry how this reflects on me, particularly when I’ve got performance reviews end of this month.
    I am trying to manage this by:
    * Working from home on really ‘off’ days when I’m too tired/ill to leave the house.
    * Being candid with my direct manager about what’s going on. He’s been my boss for 6 years and I trust him
    * Reassuring myself constantly that I have track record of good week ethic over my last 10 years here
    * Making sure to catch up time spent out of the office in the evenings, or a few hours on weekends. I’m still not performing anywhere near 100%, but I make sure that it’s obvious I’m trying my best.

    OP I feel for you. Depression is no less real than any physical disability, but you have to deal with it being ‘invisible’, on top of the stigma and misunderstanding that is out there.
    Be kind to yourself, as much as you can, because in my opinion if you’re worrying about your work then you’re a conscientious person.
    You are not lazy. You are not taking your employer for a ride. You are not malingering or using depression as an excuse to avoid work. This is NOT your fault.

  152. CS*

    I too take many medications and they can make getting up on time for work challenging. So, I bought a sunrise alarm clock. In desperation I picked the expensive $130 one and it is wonderful! Recommend! I have no first hand knowledge if the less expensive ones are as effective.

  153. Stellar*

    I wrote you a book, apparently. Maybe something here will work for you, maybe not. Sorry if I’m repeating— haven’t been able to read all the comments yet! Thanks for asking this question and thanks to everyone who is responding.

    – Regular check-ins with your manager. These would keep your manager up to date with your work, give you a pre-determined time to ask questions that your depression tells you should already know the answer to, and provide a reality-check on how you’re doing at work, even if you have trouble believing what you hear.

    – Don’t think, as much as possible. Can you wear headphones? Outside stimuli like music and podcasts keep the wandering part my brain occupied and help stave off depression spirals. Some parts of my work require more brain power than others. I like to have mindless tasks to turn to when depression-thoughts interrupt the higher level work and make me vulnerable to a spiral. Then I can switch tasks, blast a podcast in my ears, and hopefully won’t be able to hear myself think over the funny people chatting away.

    – Don’t think at home. There’s so much that goes into getting yourself out of bed, out the door, and to your job that it can be a major obstacle in the morning. But you’ve done it before and you’ll do it again. Make this as easy as possible by establishing a routine and keeping things in the same place so that you don’t have to think about where things are or what you have to do next. You will sometimes mess up this routine, misplace things, and cry. I do! All the time. But I get to work more than I used to.
    The outside stimuli come into play here at home, too. I wake up to people talking on the radio. I play a podcast while feeding animals, showering, and getting dressed. I only pause the podcast when I walk out on to street. I listen on my way in to the office. All this is to avoid thinking as much as possible.

    – Speaking of waking up, is there something that you can enjoy every day? For me, this is coffee. Even when I have no appetite and food feels like garbage in my mouth, I still want coffee. I remind myself that if I get out bed, then I can have coffee. Was I unable to pull myself together and set up the Timed Brew the night before? That’s ok, because there’s a coffee shop on my route to work (I usually end up at the coffee shop, see how I tricked myself into leaving the house). I’ve given myself permission to do whatever it takes to get a cup of good, tasty coffee in exchange for getting out of bed and going to work. Find your coffee- whether it’s a different warm beverage, a piece of food you can enjoy, a daily comic to read, a youtube channel to watch, or whatever- and tie it to getting out of bed and getting to work. It doesn’t have to make you happy or look forward to the day, it just has to be out of bed.

    – Are there specific job-related things you berate yourself for? If it’s a job duty, your manager may be open to assigning you less of that work and more of something you don’t berate yourself for. You may think that’s not even possible and you’d be selfish/naive/crazy to ask, but that thought you’re hearing may be a lie! It’s true that in some jobs, that kind of shuffling wouldn’t be feasible. But it’s actually a normal thing that happens in all kinds of work environments.
    If it’s something at home, like not getting your lunch ready the night before or not doing that load of laundry and you hope no one notices how rumply your Febreezed shirt is, consider that you don’t actually have to do that thing. Maybe you can relieve yourself of that responsibility by adjusting your budget or expectations because some people do buy their lunch every day. Or own a lot of shirts. Or whatever it is. Maybe there’s a person in your life who can do that thing and will be happy to do that thing because they love you and you’re not a burden. People help each other and choose convenience and do all sorts of things without becoming monsters in the eyes of colleagues, loved ones, and society at large.
    If there’s something that you’re struggling to strategize around, talk to: your loved ones, your care team, your manager/co-workers, the AAM open threads on Fridays and Sundays.

    – Can you work from home at all? If I’m in Uncontrollable bouts of crying Territory, but not in Can’t get out of bed/communicate with humans Territory, then I can cry in front of my computer at home. No need to hide during a breakdown and less shame hovering over me, bringing on yet more crying for being the person who’s crying. In between, I get my work done.

    – Know that you’re going to take some sick days. Everybody does (or should) and you’re a somebody. Prepare by being very transparent about your projects and their status. Keep your boss in the loop. Keep orderly records of what you’ve done and why. Make sure key information is accessible to others. This is a good strategy whether you have depression or not, but the bonus for you is that you’ll have less ammo for the guilt gun when you take a day off.

    I wish you the best OP, I really truly do.

  154. nnn*

    Reading between the lines, I get the impression that OP is considering quitting their job, so that’s what I’m addressing in this post. OP, if I’m way off on this, you can skip reading this comment and I apologize for misinterpreting.

    OP, unless you are independently wealthy, the money and the credibility and the experience (and, if applicable, the insurance) provided by your job enables the rest of your life. So hold onto this job for as long as you can, even if you feel that you’re taking advantage of their sick leave policy or otherwise unworthy.

    All you have to do to earn this excellent leeway your job provides is follow the directives of your medical team, and report to your medical team any impact that your depression or your treatment is having on your work.

    As we know, treatments for depression take some time to work, and some trial and error to determine the optimal approach. By following your treatment plan and reporting any issues, you are doing your due diligence. If your employer were to question your medical situation and you were inclined to give them specific answers (which I don’t think you’re obligated to, but if you were to do so for whatever reason), you could legitimately say “We’ve tried X and Y, then eliminated X and added Z, and we’ve just adjusted the dose of Y so the results of that should be apparent within the next couple of weeks.”

    Some people in the thread have talked about the possibility that your job might be exacerbating your health issues, and if it is you are of course free to look for a new job – or even leave your current job without a new job lines up if your medical team so advises.

    But, whatever you do, don’t leave your current job pre-emptively because you think you might be being unfair to them. That’s depression lying to you.

  155. nnn*

    Also, I have a team member with an unspecified chronic illness who requires at lot of time off, often on short notice.

    The most valuable thing she can do – which often makes or breaks whether I adore her or resent her on a given day – is make it easy for me to pick up where she left off. If I come to work to an email in my inbox saying “I have to take sick leave today. My first draft of the teapot report is on the shared drive. It’s awkward in places and hilariously unspellchecked, but the content is complete.” I can work with that. But if I don’t know if she’s absent because no one has heard from her and I’m working from home today, and now the teapot report is overdue and the only copy is on her laptop that she took home with her and she’s not answering her phone, that makes her a liability.

    So, OP, what you could do (depending on the nature of your work) is think about how to make your absences as painless as possible for your co-workers. Can you leave work in progress in a predictable location at the end of the day so they can pick it up? Can you get in the habit of leaving detailed notes in the case management system? Can you email yourself notes at the end of the day about what has to be done tomorrow, so if you have to take a sick day at the end of tomorrow you can just copy-paste those notes into your email informing your manager you’re sick?

  156. Danielle*

    First of all, my sympathy. So many people don’t understand that mental illness can be just a debilitating as a physical illness. What I have found is that illness is illness, it doesn’t need to be more specifically defined by anyone other than the patient and the doctor. As a result, sometimes as a supervisor it helps to look at physical and mental illness in the same way.

    If I had an employee that, to paraphrase your words, is “calling in sick once a month or more, seeing a specialist, taking four different medications to manage their symptoms, and engaging in a few activities aimed to reduce symptoms. In spite of all of this, they often end up in the bathroom for hours, or needing to leave by noon because of their illness.” I would be concerned that your treatment plan, whether it was for a physical or mental illness, is proving to be ineffective.

    If I was your supervisor, and you and your doctor agreed, I would suggest that you consider taking an extended leave. This would have several benefits. First, it would allow you the time you needed to develop and modify your treatment plan with the goal of getting healthy and (hopefully) back to work. For the employer, it would allow them to temporarily move someone in to your position so as to make sure all of the demands of the job are being met. Once you and your doctor felt that your treatment was working well, I would encourage you to return to work on a modified hours plan so you could return slowly and ensure your treatment plan was still effective.

    I wish you the best of luck.

  157. Tessa*

    I am so sorry you feel this way, and can’t imagine how hard this is for you.

    What I will say is that this is an illness and you should try to use that framework. You are treating this as best you can but sometimes it isn’t that easy. If a person on your team/office had cancer would you begrudge them if they had to go home early because they felt sick from chemo? I really doubt anyone would. It is the same. I know it doesn’t feel the same because there is such a stigma around mental health, but I promise you it is the same.

    Honestly,I am really impressed with the steps you have taken to look after yourself, for continuing to not only to work but also to worry about performance and to discuss these issues head on. You should be proud!

  158. ..Kat..*

    Dear OP. You say you are worried about performing enough work and about coping because of your depression. Well, first of all, your boss is understanding and accommodating. This is great! You have a job with a boss that seems happy with your work. I am assuming this job gives you access to health insurance that allows you to get the treatment you need. Also great!
    Second, I am impressed that with major depression, you are only missing a day or two a month of work. This is a pretty great achievement.
    Third, you are working hard to manage your depression. Sadly, one of the symptoms of major depression is not having the energy to do this hard work. I am impressed that you push on and do this work.
    Lastly, a symptom of depression is to undervalue what you do – quantity and quality. You may be doing better than you think. But, even if you are correct, you ARE still working, and that has value.
    No suggestions for you, I just want to give you encouragement.

  159. Laura*

    I just want to say – remember that every employer ever has some staff who have long term health conditions, it’s just part of employing human beings. So don’t feel like you ought to be fired! If you weren’t in the position, it might be someone with chronic arthritis who needed a day or so off per month because of that. Just keep doing your best (your best is obviously great if your boss is happy) and take care of yourself.
    Also remember you’re not alone! There’s lots of us out there dealing with mental health issues. I’ve been a lot better in the last year (since I started having acupuncture) but I can relate to your worries :)

  160. Anon for this*

    One thing that helped me with social anxiety (not the same, I know) is being able to schedule my first half hour or so of work as email catch up and general office work. In other words, non first thing meetings. I had a wonderful boss at the time who authoriZed me to come in an hour early so no one else was there. I got to open heboffice and get my feet under me without feeling like I was being watched, etc. Finding a way to get comfortable and get your feet under you each day might help.

  161. Dr. Johnny Fever*

    This is me. I have bipolar depression and have had issues. It got bad enough last year that I did seek intense treatment.

    FWIW, this helps me at work – I hope something here is helpful for you. I know how much the guilt can eat at me when I am in a low period.

    – I take advantage of working from home and take one day every week. I find if I give myself permission to do that, the other days are a little easier to deal with. I also take PTO on mornings when it’s just not happening and I view those as sick days (if I woke up with stomach flu, I would call in; anxiety attacks are no different.
    – I use passphrases to remind myself of my goals. For example, if my recent issue is finding motivation, that becomes my passphrase – 533kth@tDr!v3 for example. Every time I use those passphrases, it reminds me of my treatment goals.
    – I use the self-parenting techniques to get to the bottom of what I fear, what causes my anxiety and depression, and identify my triggers. The inner dialogues can be quite helpful in finding what is bothering me and deciding on a course of action which helps me feel I’m in more control.

    Most helpful was taking FMLA earlier this year to concentrate of intense therapy and treatment without dealing with work issues. I highly recommend this- your manager knows your situation and FMLA gives you a record of medical leave, making it hard to counsel the absences. There’s even intermittant FMLA that can cover your sick days. Your continued salary payment vary by employer.

    I encourage you highly to learn how to forgive yourself. Shame is a liar. For me, coming to a place where I can take care of myself and feel OK about it has been the biggest challenge. I so hope you find a good space for you.

  162. Stephanie the Great*

    I honestly wish I had advice, OP, because I had this struggle as well, which culminated in a surprise 8-day stint in an in-patient behavioral health facility. It really sucks, because people just don’t understand mental illness. They get how cancer and autoimmune disorders and physical injuries affect how people are able to work (or at least, have a better understanding), but they view mental health as a mental issue, rather than a physical chemical imbalance, and they just don’t get it. Depression and anxiety and other mental health disorders are deadly. And the lack of support we receive in the “real world” is one of the major contributing factors. All I can tell you is, no matter the cost, take care of you. Put yourself first. You can’t take care of anyone if you’re not taking care of yourself. And if that does mean a facility, do it. Because honestly, as terrifying and demoralizing as it was for me, it was also the best thing I have ever done for myself.

    As for my story, I got screwed over. I went to my boss last spring when I knew I was having issues, let him know that I was under medical care, and that I would need some sort of accommodation for my therapy and doctor’s appointments. I specifically asked about filing a formal accommodation request, but he told me it wasn’t necessary, and we could work it out ourselves. I trusted him, and that was my mistake. Especially as a certified HR professional with four years of experience and six years of schooling on the subject. But I was so distraught and embarrassed by my mental health issues that I just didn’t want to essentially air my dirty laundry to people who are my colleagues and coworkers. My position is high-profile; I am regularly interacting with senior leadership not just in HR but across the firm. It was embarrassing to think that the same people I work with on ER issues and other HR-related matters would know that I was seeking formal accommodations for my mental illness. The end result of this is, in my year-end review, I was not awarded a raise despite making less than the 25th percentile for my job title, my bonus was the same as it was the year prior, when I hadn’t yet been promoted, and I was told the reason is that people found my work to be “erratic” and that I was often unavailable in the mornings or afternoons… you know, when I specifically scheduled my doctor’s appointments, so as to not interfere with most normal work activities. There were complaints that I seemed “out of it,” and that I wasn’t following up on emails until later in the evening…. which was because I had doctor’s appointments and I was working on flex time, as my boss had requested. I had told him I didn’t feel comfortable sharing with everyone why I was at the doctor so often, or sharing that I had appointments, and I needed him to be willing to provide air cover for me, but he didn’t. Instead, I got a shit review, a shit comp review, and put on a PIP. Luckily, since my medication and mental state has been under control, the PIP is not an issue at this point. But my trust in my manager, my team, and my organization is completely gone. Before anyone asks, I did think about going to my HRBP about it, but decided I didn’t really know what the point of going to her would be. I didn’t know what I would really be asking for, other than for someone to know what happened. I actually thought about writing in here about it, but decided since I didn’t really know what I wanted out of the conversation besides to tell my side, it just didn’t seem necessary.

    OP, I wish you well. Know that you have an entire commentariat behind you. You can do the thing <3

  163. alison*

    There are tons of helpful comments here but I wanted to throw this out there. Depending on how long this has been going on and how sure you are that this is a baseline for you, you might consider filing for disability (even on a temporary basis) and reducing or even temporarily eliminating your work hours. This would let your employer to adjust expectations about how much time you have available for work and let you focus on getting your symptoms under control and getting yourself to a healthier place. I also second others’ suggestions to see if working from home is a possibility in your role. Good luck, OP.

  164. Close Bracket*

    Having had some experience with this, I think I can be of help.

    The question is, are you fulfilling your job requirements? Depression counts as a disability that you can ask accommodations for, but you still have to be able to fulfill the job requirements. If your frequent absences or breaks don’t prevent you from getting your work done, you should be in the clear. Remember, though, that you have to ask for accommodation under the ADA to be covered by it.

    I know this will probably suck horribly for a depressed person, but you need to be meeting regularly with your boss regarding the job requirements. Tell them how committed you are to doing the job and to getting all the requirements done, and approach the conversation in a problem solving way. Record your accomplishments and go over them at the meeting, confirm that you are doing enough of the right things and meeting whatever milestones/goals you and your boss set together. Showing them that you can stay on track despite your absences will go a long way toward keeping your boss’s trust and your job.

    Good luck.

  165. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    Hi OP,

    I’m sorry you’ve been having such a difficult time of things. It sounds like you’ve been doing your absolute best and no, people like you should definitely not be fired. You have as much to offer as anyone else and deserve a good life. I have been thinking about your post for a few days, and what comes to mind is, what are you good at? What are your strengths? What does your employer value about you? What do your friends value about you? Your employer is keeping you there because they want you to be there. Perhaps having a handy list of good qualities at hand will help? That was something that helped me immensely: I could take it out and look at it, and remind myself that depression lies. If you can’t make the list yourself, ask someone to do it for you. Good luck, sending you all the good thoughts.

  166. Ally-son*

    I will read all the comments as well to seek advice. Approximately 4 years ago, I was fired from my job for things like showing up late and calling out sick frequently. In fact, it was the second job I was fired from for the same thing. Sigh. I still haven’t found a full time job since then. Depression sucks. Because when I’m depressed, the thought of being fired (as an incentive to get up and go to work) doesn’t matter to me … it only seems to matter once it has happened.

  167. Been There*

    Hi OP,

    I recently went through – and am still climbing out of – a horrific depressive episode brought on by the sudden end of a 15-year marriage. The only thing that helped was that I work from home, and have some flexibility in my schedule, so I could do things like go cry for an hour and just make up the time. I definitely noticed the depression had an impact on some of the more detailed (and luckily less critical) parts of my job. I was upfront with my manager about the entire thing (since I needed time off for looking for a new place to live, packing and moving, all within a month) and also told her that I had observed these issues with my work and was trying to be mindful of it. I had discussed with my therapist about asking for a formal accommodation if things didn’t improve, and also mentioned it to my manager, but luckily we were able to find an anti-depressant for me that had real benefit.

    I will also say that out of all the places I have worked in my career, there are probably only two or three where I could have had a meaningful discussion with a manager and felt as comfortable as one could expect to feel in that situation.

    I know how hard it is to advocate for yourself with medical professionals — I have one where the office staff is rude and curt and I have to spend time psyching myself up before calling them — but it might be worth trying to have a conversation with someone about what your work experience is like, specifically. I would also talk to your manager and be upfront about things. I was able to say to my manager, “This is impacting things like making sure I put the team’s vacation in the special vacation calendar” but she could also see that it wasn’t impacting my client work. I also told her that I would occasionally go lie down for an hour but that I had my phone so I could see if anything urgent came up. I also, many times, expressed my gratitude that the company was supporting me through this.

    Close Bracket above already made the suggestion I was going to make abut meeting regular for 1:1’s with your manager and making sure he is apprised of your productivity and challenges. I think you would be surprised how many other coworkers struggle with personal issues (children, relationships, elderly parents, other family issues) and while it’s not the same as depression it can impact their work similarly.

    You deserve to have a good job and a supportive employer. Strength to you. The fact that you see this means that you are that much closer to figuring out how to work through it. You can do this.

  168. s. foster*

    I have the same problem. Severe depression is considered a disability under the ADA, and you can talk with the HR department about reasonable accommodations. This really helped relieve me of some serious shame and allowed me to put my health first, as we all should.

  169. Needed this*

    Just want to say I’m skimming through this and sobbing right now. I’m finally pushing the projects off my plate that I haven’t been able to pull it together to do, and my brain keeps telling me what a horrible failure I am both professionally and as a person. I’m so embarrassed and ashamed, and I desperately needed this reminder that I don’t need to feel either.

    Thank you for this thread, everyone, and especially OP for asking for help and AAM for creating such an insightful, compassionate community.

  170. Vancouver*

    It’s amazing to see how many people have dealt with depression, or similar conditions, at one point or another in their life. One of the things I was amazed by when I was first diagnosed was how many people (my dad, one of my bosses, and one of my professors) all had similar stories and almost everyone was understanding and glad we could be open about it.

    As for actual advice, I have a few suggestions. I hope at least one of them is helpful.

    It seems like your boss is understanding and pleasant, so if you feel comfortable you could trying being explicit with him/her as you were here. Tell him/her you’re struggling to manage and you want assistance to make sure you continue to contribute. (As several people mentioned, in the unlikely event your boss decides to be totally unreasonable, you could ask for accommodations required by law on recommendation of your medical care provider, if that’s something you need.) But assuming your boss is generally kind and reasonable, they want you to succeed! Plus, the fact that you want to succeed and are wanting to make sure you continue to contribute will likely go a long way. It might help if you had one or two suggestions for how your boss could help (even something as simple as helping you find a space where you could take a break that’s more comfortable than the bathroom?), but who knows? Maybe your boss will have some insight too.

    In terms of dealing with stress and depression at work, one thing I’ve found helpful is to shift my expectations. Don’t try to force yourself to make it through the day without crying; I generally accept that I might cry, lose focus, or need to take a break… And that’s ok. Give yourself permission to be less than perfect and that might help change your perspective. You may also want to chat to your psychologist/psychiatrist/counsellor about identifying some strategies for interrupting those times when your thoughts seem to spiral downwards at work. You may have already done this, but if not see if you can get some advice/practice getting your brain out of crying-mode that might help you feel comfortable getting back to work after you take a break.

    Does your workplace have an employee assistance plan, or some similar service through HR that offer counseling? Even if you’re already seeing a professional, and that professional is helping you, someone who specializes in workplace counseling might have some specific advice or insight that would help. Check with HR or your boss. If that isn’t an option, you might be able to get a recommendation from your psychiatrist or from your family physician or from somewhere else in your community.

    I know other people have said it, but I want to add my voice of general optimism too: You can do this! It might feel bad right now, but you will find a path that works for you. Give yourself permission to be depressed – there is absolutely nothing wrong with that – and remember that if you have touched all the dozens (hundreds?) of people posting on this forum who want to help you succeed.

  171. Momofpeanut*

    I hope this isn’t too late, but the Family Medical Leave Act can be incredibly helpful if your employer is required to comply with its terms. Leave can be taken intermittently and legally it means that your employer can’t hold that time off against you. Having that protection may allow you to feel this is a normal part of managing your condition and reduce anxiety about changes at your office (changes in managers, changes in policy, or just changes in attitude regarding time off.)

    Also, if you feel you are able to work but not able to leave the house due to your medical issues, is working remotely occasionally an option? Perhaps your employer would consider it, but you could also discuss with your doctor requesting it as a reasonable accomodation as part of your treatment plan. I have a chronic pain condition and incorporated working remotely one day a week and found it helped. It’s unclear whether your condition would be helped by managed breaks from the office environment, but it might be a positive move for you.

    Finally, ease up on yourself. You have a medical issue – you didn’t ask for it and you aren’t hurting anyone by taking the time you need. Remember the strengths you offer and focus on those. You owe no one an apology. Good luck!

  172. K. Rentschler*

    First, get a comprehensive blood panel and your zinc and magnesium levels checked. Your depression could be an endogenous problem fixed by dietary supplementation, or be a secondary pathology to a larger problem, such as a malabsorption disorder, anemia, metabolic disorder, or nutrient deficiency.

    Second, one way to combat this from a psychological perspective is to find peace in your work, and use it as your stress relief, and by doing this you need to change the way you think about your job and attaining financial stability, by making positive associations concerning your work. I have suffered from depression for a number of years, and sometimes I find it tough to be around many stable minded and quick witted people at work, because ironically, I am a neuroscientist. This often makes me feel less than adequate at times, like I have to try harder because of my moody and fatigued demeanor which can sometimes rub people the wrong way or make them feel like I am less than attentive. However, depression will lie to you and skew your perception, yet this somehow makes me feel closer to my work, and by immersing myself in productivity and creative thought processes, I not only give my mind a positive workout, but also increase my work productivity, because I am involved in the fight. Sometimes at work when I feel like I’m going to have a panic attack, I just go outside for a couple of minutes or drink a glass of water slowly. The sunlight and calm helps a lot. Also, it is easy to become overwhelmed in your work and neglect other responsibilities, so take an hour or two out of your day to take care of you, whether it’s working out, an activity you enjoy, eating a nice healthy meal, etc. But ultimately, you need to figure out how to manipulate your negative feelings and make them work for you, so you can give yourself the life you deserve. Give your depression the kick in the ass it needs!

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