(This article originally appeared in New York City Voices, Winter, 2007.)
The more one works for a living, the more the question becomes, “Should I, for whatever reason, disclose at work that I have a hidden disability?” I myself have bipolar disorder.
I teach college, and I make it a practice not to disclose any information about my illness. But once, at a Pennsylvanian college, the news accidentally got out, and I got harassed, particularly by students. My life was, frankly, a living hell. At another school where I taught, I didn’t say anything about my mental condition for years, but one day, I finally did. My boss and I had a great relationship and I felt that I could confide in him. I told him, and it must not have mattered in a negative way because shortly afterward, I was promoted.
As a rule and as a woman who has taught in American colleges and universities for 20 years, I would say don’t disclose your hidden disability in the job environment or at least be very wary about disclosing. Like anything else, there are pros and cons to disclosing a hidden disability on the job.
Disclosing your disability can empower you. You can gain a feeling of self acceptance, knowing that the disability is not something to be ashamed of or something to hide. You may even feel proud that you have the disability and manage to live with it quite well.
Disclosing your disability can help others. You can be a source of inspiration for people, or you can actually help others in the workplace with the same or similarly hidden disability. Disclosing will allow your co-workers to see someone with that disability in living color and may help to overturn prejudices about that disability.
Disclosing your disability could be seen as the honest thing to do. For a person who values complete honesty, talking about herself fully and completely might be very personally necessary. Not disclosing this information can make you feel isolated and lonely.
Disclosing your disability puts all your cards on the table. If you do this, you won’t have to worry about people finding out your “secret.”