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Ms. Opinionated: All the Advice You Asked For, and Some You Didn't

image of Megan Carpentier

Welcome to the latest installment of Ms. Opinionated, in which readers have questions about the pesky day-to-day choices we all face, and I give advice about how to make ones that (hopefully) best reflect our shared commitment to feminist values—as well as advice on what to do when they don't.

 

Dear Ms. Opinionated,  

I know this is probably a silly question, but here it goes. I fucked up big-time at work in the midst of an emotional crisis last year, but immediately realized, told my boss and made it right, which luckily kept me from being fired despite some severe consequences anyway. My boss, who's known me for ages, suggested I consider going to therapy (the company offers this as part of our health care), and several of my friends agreed because it's just so not like me to do anything so fucked up, let alone something job- and career-risking.

So I went yesterday, and I get that it's important that I go, but my new therapist only has 3:00 appointments. And while I have a flexible lunch -- which I hardly ever take except at my desk -- all of my immediate co-workers commented on my first absence and one of them made me feel guilty because a client stopped by for me unannounced. So do I have to tell them? I lied this week that I had some work to do elsewhere and don't want them to know about the therapy, but I'm a terrible liar so I doubt I can keep it up, but I also don't want to quit therapy just because of some nosy Nellies/Nelsons. What do I do?


I should preface this by saying that I am hugely in favor of therapy. Therapy helped me get my anger under control and it helped me find the strength to get out of a relationship that felt like it was destroying me—and which, in moments of crisis (like yours) made me do things that were totally out of character and really destructive. Good therapy—and there's bad therapy, and incompatible therapists—is basically the best thing ever. I say that because I know there's a huge stigma attached to "being in therapy" and that so many people have and create internal hurdles—I did, and I built them out of mountains of wine bottles—to taking the first step to getting into therapy.

I also know that that any little tiny bump in the therapy road can make a newbie go all opossum, so don't let this bump do that to you! If you've already gotten over all of that stigma and the hurdles, self-created and otherwise, to get yourself into a therapist's office the first time, you've come so far and that's really great.

Meanwhile, some boring legal things: It's illegal for your supervisor (or anyone at the company) to discuss your medical conditions or history with your coworkers—and being in need of therapy is a medical condition like any other. It's illegal for them to force you to tell people. Your medical status and medical appointments are between you and your medical provider and, while your boss could ask you to prove that your weekly absences are medically-related for HR reasons, s/he can't go much beyond that. Though, since s/he suggested therapy, it stands to reason that s/he isn't going to get upset about a late lunch hour once a week.

As for the Nosy Nellies and Nelsons in your office, you have a couple of choices. The first, of course, is to tell them to mind their own businesses, albeit politely, but I've yet to see that stop a truly nosy person's efforts to ascertain information—it'll make the casually curious stop, if you're firm and concrete enough ("Our boss knows where I'm at, but I'm afraid that is all I can say about it right now."), but it'll never assuage the kind of cat-killing curiosity that an office Nosy Nelson or Nellie nurses in his or her belly.

In my opinion, the best option here is something that is shaded with the truth without the specificity you are unwilling to get into at the office. For instance, since it's just after New Year's, make it about a resolution: "Well, Nelson, as you know, I almost always eat lunch at my desk, and I'm here early and stay late—especially during our upcoming busy season when we're all just so stressed. So I made a resolution that, once a week, I would actually take my full lunch break away from the office, and I'm just making sure it's a habit before the really stressful times come. Our boss thinks it's a great idea for me to help with my stress levels, don't you?"

Or, if that's not your speed, you can say it's a yoga class, or a meditation session, or a continuing ed/training class on a nearby campus (though you may want to run that one by your boss) or that you've started a home eBay/Etsy business and that's when the post office is least crowded. As you said, it's not any of their business, and if you're not comfortable sharing that you're in therapy, especially because of the ongoing stigma against it, there's absolutely no reason that you should. It's not your job to combat the anti-therapy stigma in society one co-worker at a time, it's your job to focus on your therapy so that you can get and be healthy and understand why you make the decisions you make (good and bad) and how to make the best ones for you.

Have a question? Email us with "advice" in the subject line. Anonymity guaranteed.

Photo credit: Kate Black, kateblack.com

 


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Comments

6 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Very useful

As a psychologist who has both received and provided therapy, I think this is great advice both legally and practically. I plan on keeping this information handy for when my own clients express concern about others' curiosity regarding their absences. Keep up the great work!

Great advice + one addition

I really like your point about how it's not any individual's responsibility to single-handedly combat anti-therapy attitudes.

That said, I've found myself encountering enough unanticipated what-are-you-doing-here's (my therapist works out of a multi-use building) and what-are-you-up-to's at the precise time I go to therapy, that at some point it just became way more comfortable and empowering to look the nosy person square in the eye and be all "I'm going to therapy. It's so awesome. Everyone should do it." with the same level of emotion in my voice that I use when talking about peanut butter sandwiches. No one ever gives me crap about it, and more often than not they open up that they're in therapy, too, or used to be. It might not work in all cases, and for some the office environment can be precisely that case, but I'm a big fan of the DGAF method.

One thought...add it to your

One thought...add it to your calendar. Then tell them you have a meeting or a personal commitment. Let your boss (or whomever is around) know that you are heading out and will be back so that if anyone does drop by, they can say when you will be back. You don't have to tell them what you are doing to let them know your schedule.

You can also try to downplay outright questions by giving ludicrious answers. "Hey, where you headed?" "Oh you know, time to go wrestle some tigers." and breeze out the door....

Good luck!

I had to deal with this last

I had to deal with this last year. I was seeing a psychologist every fortnight, and the appointments were at 3pm on a Monday. Due to the nature of my work, my team is always coming and going, so I don't think my colleagues noticed much. My boss was great and didn't even ask the specifics. I said it was a 'specialist appointment'.

You could use that: tell them that you're ok (they might be genuinely concerned for you), but that you need to see a specialist for a few weeks. They don't need to know.

Opossum

Please refrain from using an animal as a verb. Just try and think: "Dont go all female", "dont go all giraffe" "dont go all human" "dont go all squirrel"

Its just dufus to do, so to speak. Also inhumane.

When people ask me things

When people ask me things that are none of their business, I lie so outrageously that it blows my mind when some of them believe me.