Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Out Of The Closet

My boss just passed by my office, popped his head in, and asked if I was "feeling strong". Sometimes he can be so vague and hard to read, but I think he may have been asking if I was doing well emotionally, handling the infertility stuff OK. See, I finally broke down and told him last week.

I've spent a lot of time writing about how open I should be with people and much more time thinking about it. Over the past several weeks, the positive aspects of keeping silent began to be overshadowed by the complications. First there were the awkward conversations. Then there was me being less reliable than my usual-worker-bee-self. Finally, with the advent of injectable medications, was the need to change around my work schedule to accommodate the vastly increased medical appointments.

My concerns were many. I didn't want people to look at be different or pitty me. I didn't want to seem broken or damaged or somehow less capable as a psychologist because I'm going through a personal issue. I am not invincible, despite how much I try to convince myself of this. I didn't want awkward conversations and inappropriate questions. I surely didn't want advice. Once you get past all this fortune telling, the pragmatic issue of "how" and "when" were also concerns. This isn't usually something that just comes up in conversation. When people ask how I'm doing, my initial response is the obligatory "good, and you?" rather than seizing that moment to explain how I really am. I still remember in my Russian class in high school, the teacher told us that in Russia, when people ask how you are, they are not just doing it as a form of greeting but are truly interested in the response. But we're not in Russia.

First I told two co-workers. It happened during a day that I was trying to figure out how to rearrange my patients to fit in an appointment of my own. They asked how I was doing, really asked, and I told them I was exasperated. Then I told them why. I talked about it in a matter-of-fact, scheduling issue, sort of way. They asked about which doctor I was seeing and this lead to insurance coverage. Then they both said they hoped for the best and we changed the subject. Very nonchalant.

Then I told a different co-worker and one of my mentors at work. This happened on the day of a very stressful patient issue. I was emotional anyways because of the medicine and then this catalyst resulted in a complete emotional breakdown, the kind that hurts your chest and makes it hard to breathe. My co-worker "caught" me in the middle of this and I explained that my emotions were probably heightened because of the medicine but also that something very upsetting was happening. She gave me a lot of guidance and support on the work situation and then she asked about the medicine. Her first response was, "But you're so young!" to which I replied, "Yeah, but my body still doesn't work." After that, she asked about what medications I was on and who I was seeing for care and if I was happy with him*. She was pretty knowledgeable about different medications and the process overall, which was nice. I think this conversation ended by returning to talk about the patient issue again.

So that leads up to the boss. Personally, I love him as a boss but it's sometimes difficult to imagine him as a fellow psychologist. He's very abrupt and goal-oriented and not-warm-and-fuzzy. The first two years I worked here I was downright terrified of him, but less so now. We just don't have many heart-to-hearts. I knew that I would have to have some type of "excuse" to bring it up, and needing to change around my schedule provided just that. Now the silly thing is that I've changed my schedule around for other reasons on numerous occasions and have never gotten his permission. He's basically said not to waste his time with these types of things as long as I continue to have the same level of productivity. But this was the best excuse I could come up with so it took it. He called me into his office to give me support for the patient issue that he heard about from my other colleagues and I told him there was something else I wanted to talk to him about. I fumbled with my words. It was awkward. In the end I said something to the effect that due to increasing infertility treatments and appointments I will need to change around my schedule and maybe cancel an occasionally patient, but I will try to have make a minimal impact on work and patient care.

He responded, "No worries. Take care of yourself. That's the first priority. If you're not healthy then you're no good to the patients anyway."

On the one hand, this was his way of being supportive. I don't have to worry about infertility impacting my job anymore. Despite this, I left his office wondering if he actually heard the word infertility or if he thought I was getting treatment for some other, life-threatening disease. It was definitely an odd response in my opinion, but probably what I should have expected from him. At least now it's over. I'm outed and it feels good. At this point, there is no one else that I feel a burning need to open up to, no one that I feel like I'm hiding anything from. I haven't shouted it from the rooftops (or more realistically, FaceBook) but that's not my thing. Then again, I feel more confident that the next time someone genuinely asks how I am, how life is going, that I will be able to answer honestly.

Coming Out of Your Closet: Ash Beckman at TEDxBoulder

*I think this is a common question because I work at a hospital so everyone assumes they know everyone. 


  1. So glad to hear that coming out to your boss was anti-climactic and that you're being supported at work.

  2. I work in mental health as well....specifically handling crisis intervention. Makes it hard to take time off or adjust the work schedule. But I just ended up coming out to my boss as well because I wanted to be honest knowing that it's out of character for me to be less reliable. It felt good to get that out in the open.