Living through the Pandemic with a Mental Health Disability | The COVID-19 Experience from the NOD Team

Jun 10, 2020

Felicia Nurmsen

June 10, 2020 | Blog by Felicia M. Nurmsen, Managing Director of Employer Services, NOD

While working from home is new for a lot of people these days, it is something I have done from my house in Massachusetts for years. However, I traveled extensively and was able to see my colleagues and clients regularly. Feeling connected has become more difficult as I sit in my home office day after day now.

The pandemic has altered everything. For me, it exasperates my anxiety and depression. I have had to find ways to work through these new challenges and stay healthy both mentally and physically.  But this is the reality of my situation, and while I may appear to be “living” with my disability in the light, I am struggling in the darkness.

Here are a few of my thoughts right now:

  • Will I lose my job? I have a career I love, and yet I know, it is a very real possibility, working for a non-profit reliant on philanthropic funding and corporate sponsorships, that cuts could occur.
  • If I do lose my job, will sharing my personal information, here and now, be a detriment to finding my next leadership role? Many will view my disclosure as a deficit and treat me differently largely due to the disability, and let’s face it, my gender combined with my mental health disclosure could be a real threat to my future success.
  • The last (and only time) I was laid off from a job I was married. Recently divorced, I am carrying the majority of the responsibility for home, my daughter, two dogs, horse, etc.
  • Will my daughter be prepared for her junior year in high school? (She is home with me now.)
  • Will my 78-year-old, lung-cancer-survivor, compromised mother stay away from her friends in her housing complex?
  • Some days I am so tired; I can’t focus and need to nap in the afternoon and go to bed by 9 p.m. to shut the world out. (I usually fall asleep earlier, while I am supposed to be spending time with my daughter.)

I use telemedicine to keep things in check as much as possible. I walk the dogs three times per day, regardless of the weather, to get outside and reset. I know this is something many of us are dealing with and may not understand the signs or how to mitigate the symptoms. I am not alone in the fear, anger, sadness, frustration.

Roughly 1 in 5 U.S. adults, nearly 47.6 million people, experience serious mental illness each year. And more than 50 percent of Americans will manage a mental health condition at some point in their lives.

We know it is increasing. A recent poll by the Kaiser Foundation showed that about half of adults feel the pandemic is impacting their mental health. Almost one in five says it’s had a major impact.

I am fortunate to work for the National Organization on Disability and to have the full support of my employer where I can be open about my mental health disability.

However, being vulnerable and sharing information about my mental health, does not come easily to me. I grew up in a family with mental illness, but you never shared the details of your “lunatic” grandmother with anyone. I have friends, who to this day, do not know my paternal grandmother was in and out of institutions for most of her life until they gave her a lobotomy and sent her home as “cured”.

Considering all my grandmother endured – being a Puerto Rican widowed mother of three children, living in abject poverty, speaking little English with severe mental health illness – she didn’t have a choice to have the lobotomy. She didn’t have a voice – I must find the courage to use mine.

After this unprecedented time ends, and life settles back into a new normal for all of us, more businesses must work to understand the importance of allowing people to be vulnerable. We all need to feel comfortable sharing details that allow us to receive the appropriate productivity tools we need to be successful.

We contribute a great deal to the workforce, and as I have taught in many trainings on disclosure, we all must operate from a place of power! We are the experts in being adaptable, resilient and have had to work on coping skills many times over. Now is the time to connect with others and share our stories as humans, free of stigma.

Felicia M. Nurmsen serves as Managing Director of Employer Services, where she oversees NOD’s suite of Professional Services, which brings disability employment initiatives to leading companies, and our innovative program. Felicia brings over 20 years of experience making the connection for business to the untapped talent pool of people with disabilities.

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