A couple of years ago I was offered inpatient treatment. It was strongly advised that I admit myself into an eating disorder unit and when I refused I was almost sectioned. I don’t quite know how I avoided it. The papers were as good as signed but I talked the talk and escaped that route. That’s not important, what was was my reason for not wanting the treatment. I think a lot of people will be thinking and feeling the same.
I had a good job that I enjoyed. It wasn’t where I wanted to be long-term but it was a full time, stable job. Knowing I would need hospitalisation scared me anyway but I wasn’t willing to leave work. Ironic as it was I was still signed off for 2 months. But the job was still waiting for me. I got a little better, or my weight increased anyway but I never dealt with anything, I was eating as a means to an end.
I should have known a relapse was inevitable.
As career progression I decided to leave my job and pursue my first HR role. This was where I wanted my career to go and it felt like a fresh start. It wasn’t a fresh start at all, I was running away. 6 months in and anorexia showed her face with a vengeance. I had never recovered, I wasn’t better and it wasn’t going to just go away. In my mind a change in surroundings was the answer and would allow me to have that fresh start. In my head and heart I knew I needed treatment but I was terrified of leaving work. I was worried what my family would think, how my boyfriend would react, how the bills would get paid and throughout my treatment I was scared to death about having a career gap on my Cv, especially a 12 month gap.
I was faced with so many questions
– How would I explain it to anyone
– Who would employ someone with a break in their cv that lasted a whole year and because of medical reasons?
– How could I answer questions in an interview around illness affecting my work performance, because it did.
– What would happen when a reference was requested and my old employee said I had time off due to illness
– How would I ever get back to a normal life working full time?
I know I did the strong thing. I took the situation into my own hands, I wanted to recover so that I could pursue a successful career. I couldn’t carry on starting to recover and then relapsing worse than before. I couldn’t put my already fragile body and mind through that.
There will be challenges and your CV will be challenged, you have nothing to hide. I recently had an interview with a company I instantly felt passionate towards, a job that will be rewarding and challenging but a really great job that I can continue to build my career in. The application process involved a medical disclosure. I could have lied and ticked all the ‘no’ boxes. But did I want that? The eating disorder made me into a different person, a secretive person who would lie and manipulate. Did I really want to potentially start a new job with this huge lie hanging over me? Obviously the answer is no. I’ve spent a lot of years trying to hide the illness but not anymore. I’m no longer ashamed and embarrassed that I was ill. I know it wasn’t my fault and can happen to anyone. Needless to say by being honest and writing what I had been through on my application, I was so surprised when I received a call offering me an interview.
During my interview I brought up the subject of my health because I wanted to be open and honest from the start. I felt so much better for being truthful and I know that it was appreciated. Recovering from an eating disorder requires huge strength, will power, dedication and hard work.
It is a full time job.
Whether I was successful in the interview is irrelevant. What is important is that you are brave enough to put yourself out there, admit you were unwell but owning that part of your life.
Whether you are successful or not, just tell yourself what I did. If I am being turned down because I suffered from an eating disorder then I wouldn’t want to work for a company like that anyway.
My tips to interviews and career gaps:
1. Be honest
2. Be proud of how far your have come
3. Don’t hold back from a job because you don’t think you are good enough
4. Don’t try and justify your illness – you don’t have to explain yourself, you haven’t done anything wrong
5. Don’t try and second guess what the employer is thinking
6. Be yourself – let your personality show
7. Practice answering a difficult question such as ‘why were you out of work’ so you don’t get flustered
8. Remember the interviewer is human to
9. Believe in yourself
10. Be positive!
For the record I was successful and I was offered the job. I can’t wait to start with my new company. This is a chance for me, a chance to move on. This truly is a fresh start. I’m not running away from anything this time or trying to change my surroundings to make me better. I faced my demons head on and I’m so excited to see where this journey leads me.
Be brave, you will surprise yourself.