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.
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Photo credit: Kate Black, kateblack.com