What happened when one woman shared her deepest secret
October marks National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which honors employees with disabilities and encourages inclusiveness in the workplace. The month is an extension of "National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week" originally observed during the first week of October beginning in 1945 when Congress enacted Public Law 176. This week we are highlighting a TD colleague's journey with hidden disabilities.
Christine Rumpf, an account manager at TD Bank’s in-house creative agency, Studio 361, spent years vigilantly guarding a secret that she feared could thwart her career.
Diagnosed with bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder as a young adult, Christine worried that disclosing these invisible disabilities would change the way colleagues and managers viewed her.
“I was just super scared to tell anyone,” she said recently. Driving that feeling “was the assumption that if I tell them this I’m not going to get promoted, I’m going to get questioned in my abilities. People will think I can’t handle the things on my plate. … If I make a mistake people will judge me much more harshly.”
The secrecy and fear gave way about a year and a half ago – a decade into her TD career – as Christine struggled with her mental health and felt it was time to share her situation with manager Karyn DiMattia, who heads the bank’s in-house agency.
“She couldn’t have been more accepting, offering support and asking how she could help," Christine explained. “It was like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.”
Karyn asked whether Christine needed time off for therapy appointments, inquired about her stress levels and how she was feeling personally and professionally. The message from Karyn was clear, said Christine: “’Let me know whatever you need.’”
After disclosing her condition to her manager, Christine slowly started to talk about it with close TD colleagues and other marketing leaders at the bank before sharing her story more broadly. “The amount of support that everybody has offered has been tremendous and the exact opposite of what I had expected to happen,” she said.
Rather than assuming she couldn’t handle important projects, TD managers have tried to learn what sort of work causes stress so they can help guide her career path and she can “truly flourish,” Christine said.
TD offers significant support to employees with disabilities, although Karyn wasn’t aware of the formal steps to take until Christine reached out to her. The manager contacted her HR representative, who advised her to encourage Christine to call the confidential Employee Assistance Program hotline for help.
'The more you understand another human, the better you're going to get along'
Managers typically develop an “accommodation plan” for employees with disabilities, but Christine said she didn’t need one because Karyn and other managers “started accommodating immediately.”
Karyn added: “The truth is I really didn’t have to accommodate much, and that’s a message that I really want people to know. The disruption to her day-to-day accountabilities isn’t any more intrusive than what most team members need. Everyone has doctor appointments and everyone has bad days. The difference is that now I have a better understanding of why she occasionally needs time away or extra time to process and she doesn’t need to explain or worry about disappointing me because of it.”
Christine delivers exceptionally at work and has created greater understanding with her partners by revealing her condition, said Karyn.
“The more you understand another human, the better you’re going to get along and interact with them,” she said. “Her story is one of such beauty and power.” Getting rid of fear has allowed Christine to thrive, said Karyn. “It’s just been so inspiring.”
Christine agreed that revealing her mental health struggles has been liberating. “It’s made my life so much better in ways I never, never could have guessed,” she said.
“A lot of that keeping everything inside was making things a lot worse for me in many ways.” Even before Christine disclosed her condition, Karyn sensed she was spending a lot of energy trying to hide something and that it was holding her back – and told Christine as much. “Now that the cat’s out of the bag and people know, I now don’t have that fear.”
If Christine has a bad day, now, her managers know what’s happening in the background, she noted.
Karyn “is next-level caring about all of us” so her reaction was expected, but Christine was less sure about how colleagues and other TD leaders would respond. “I couldn’t believe how supportive people were being, how non-judgmental they were.”
Karyn encourages employees with mental illness to use the EAP hotline even if they feel uncomfortable confiding in their managers, and to find out there what sort of accommodation and resources may be available.
“You have to credit the fact that TD’s culture is super accepting about any diversity and inclusion,” said Karyn. “I do believe that TD is a safe space. That sets the stage for how I think about it and how I thought about it when Christine first came to me.”
Since unburdening herself, Christine has become passionate about supporting others with mental illness inside and outside TD. She volunteers with a local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in her Pennsylvania town, and while raising funds for the group recently wrote up her story and shared a link with TD colleagues.
“I have gotten such a tremendous response,” with some colleagues reaching out and sharing their own mental health challenges, she said. Christine would like to help create a safe space for TD colleagues with mental illness to talk with each other, and to inspire managers to be like Karyn and other marketing leaders in supporting employees with mental health difficulties.
“I hope I can encourage our TD colleagues to not be as scared as I was,” she said.