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High-Functioning Disabilities at Work: A Roadmap for Success


If you are a high-functioning individual suffering from a mental or behavioral health ailment (which may or may not be protected under the disabilities act for reasonable accommodation), your daily life at work is quite possibly a tough battle. A tougher one possibly than of those who are off-work on leave and therefore, although quite possibly much more debilitated, can have some level of control on the amount of uncertainties that will disrupt their wellbeing. Whether you are depressed but your severe phases come in cycles, or are a GAD (general anxiety disorder) sufferer who can pull through most of the days but not all, or suffer from a Psychosis that occasionally manifests at work but doesn’t completely impede your ability to be employed, you are someone who shows up to work and does great (either because or in-spite of your disorder) while pedaling like Stanford ducks underneath the surface. You either didn’t disclose your disability at work, or even if you have, will not avail (unless it’s the last option) the ‘reasonable accommodations’ available to you. But most challenging is the fact that no one talks about the likes of you. There are no career development articles, best known methods, behavioral guidelines, leadership skills, that will acknowledge you, let alone provide direction. No one wants to talk about us. We ourselves don’t want to deal with the not normal parts of our otherwise normal days. But we are the new normal. Mental health at work is becoming more and more a matter with work and life complexities skyrocketing. So, the counsellor’s couch toolsets need to come into the mainstream career conversations, not just tip toe-d around in chapter seven of self-help books.

This is an even bigger problem for women because of unhelpful gender stereo-typing and unfair labelling. Hormonal. Emotional. Un-professional. No, we are not, but men are in majority and therefore, ‘testosterone-ic’ behaviors are considered professionally more acceptable, and even downright desirable, even when they are outcomes of the same struggles that manifest as tears for women. Reactions are also grouped, and gender labelled, instead of categorization by mental health condition which could serve the helpful purpose of mental health awareness.

I have had to craft my own guidelines, success definitions, and daily steps. The first step is to address head on the fact that we, and others like us, exist. Note: this doesn’t suggest mandatory declaration or disclosure. In fact, my advice on that is to tread very carefully irrespective of what printed policies say. There’s a lot of progress still to be made on unconscious bias and mental health awareness. But we need to ruthlessly trash any of the shame we might feel within ourselves. And then, we need to be aware of signs in others that would require us to have higher self-control and greater compassion. Empathy is one gift out of this curse, and we should take advantage of that by being the higher EQ individuals in the room. We will need that to shield us against our behavioral ‘eccentricities’ which we will not be able to always control. We also have to take a social responsibility, if I may call it so, to be vocal in our own ways possible appropriately. Finding a tribe, an outlet, and working to help a cause that affect us daily is a great strength provider, and the base of this pyramid that I will try to build here for excellence at work for the likes of us.

There are two well-known principles I am going to base this roadmap on. One is the known concept of run the business, grow the business, transform the business (or you might have heard it as keep today secured, plan for tomorrow, transform the future – or similar – you get the theme). This is a familiar concept for business. Now think of this and apply this to what I’d like to call a ‘self-aware roadmap for career sustenance and development’. First, acknowledge that you have some limitations, know what they are, what your triggers are, and have foolproof, well-practiced plan for managing them. First for today, and then for tomorrow. Below are some tips on that.

Meditation and Mindfulness

This horse has probably been beaten to death, but not in a way that can work for high-functioning strugglers who need some tools while at work. Focusing on your breath while driving to work on your worst days and forcing yourself to continuously re-ground through tools like counting, concentrating on a sound, tapping is something you need to not only know of, but also have written down somewhere to be able to use regularly. It takes a bit of time and on our worse days, a lot of determination, but eventually the calming effect of focusing on the moment starts becoming more and more apparent.

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