Mental Illness as a Disability
I don't have anything against people with a disability. Why would I? Being disabled means nothing about the individual, it simply indicates their situation. It would be like being against people with siblings. It would just be silly.
Nevertheless, when considering my own bipolar disorder, I bristled against the word "disability." I know; this is hypocritical of me and a double standard. It's OK for someone else to be disabled but not me? I'm embarrassed to even think it.
But bristle I have and think it I (mostly subconsciously) did. The truth is, though, I'm a person with a disability.
I Have a Mental Illness Disability
But then, one day when I was working at a fancy software company bigger than the town I grew up in, someone suggested I file person with a disability paperwork with human resources.
What? That's a ridiculous notion. Why would I do that?
My Own Misperceptions of Disability
Of course, what I failed to take into consideration is that people with a disability are just people. And lots of them work for fancy software companies. Why wouldn't they? I did. I think I always thought of a person with a disability as a person who couldn't walk or who had some other sort of physical handicap. I never considered that disabilities could be invisible. I didn't realize that my invisible disease was, in fact, a disability.
But let me be clear - mental illnesses are real illnesses and as such can be real disabilities just like anything else. Visibility isn't a prerequisite.
Yes, I Have a Mental Health Disability
But stating you have a mental illness disability is simply stating that you have an illness or handicap that affects how you interact with the world in comparison to everyone else. If you were in a wheelchair, this difference would be obvious. With a mental illness it is less so. But that doesn't mean it's not there.
People with a disability are legally allowed to ask for reasonable accommodation of their illness at work. And people with a mental illness may need that kind of accommodation. So running from the word "disability" is a silly thing to do and in the end, only hurts us.
I've learned that being disabled doesn't change a single thing about me. It doesn't change who I am or who I'm going to be just like it doesn't change how I think of anyone else. It's nonsense to be afraid of a word just because it makes us confront uncomfortable truths. I'm disabled. And it's OK.
Tracy, N. (2012, January 15). Mental Illness as a Disability, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 22 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2012/01/mental-illness-as-a-disability
Author: Natasha Tracy
I've always been committed to meeting my obligations no matter how hard things were going healthwise, and it hasn't always been easy. It was so demoralizing and affected me for a long time thereafter. But this happened when I was newly diagnosed and the idea of acceptance seemed like a pipe dream. It still does for the most part. I've also learned that an advanced degree doesn't mean squat.
“ I don’t have anything against people with a disability. Why would I? Being disabled means nothing about the individual, it simply indicates their situation. It would be like being against people with siblings. It would just be silly. Nevertheless, when considering my own bipolar disorder, I bristled against the word “disability.” I know; this is hypocritical of me and a double standard. It’s OK for someone else to be disabled but not me? I’m embarrassed to even think it.”
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Thank you for your comments. No matter who or what we are, we are human first and deserve all the support we can get from everyone around us. That's just the way I feel but know that some people are afraid to confront the issues they probably have themselves.
Well, choosing to tell an employer about a disability is an individual choice and it's not right in all cases. I suggest not doing it if possible - not because there's anything wrong with you, but because there _might_ be something wrong with them. They may show a prejudice against you if they know. It might be something you need to disclose regardless, but it deserves careful consideration either way.
I think positive reinforcement can help. In other words, if I tell you that you are _not_ less than anyone, perhaps one day you will internalize that truth for yourself.
It's really hard to come from a snazzy job and end up needing to acknowledge your limitations and do something else. But, as you've said, you can create an alternative life for yourself. One with every bit as much meaning as some high-powered job. It's not easy, but you can do it.
At my university we got four student counselors working with disability issues, and when I contacted them they was very helpful and nice but at the same time they admitted they had no training in bipolar disorder. (Even if they where very competent when it came to Adhd, aspergers syndrome, etc) They where very helpful and we managed to work out some accommodations that would fit me.
But when you do seek help for you disabilities be prepared that the people that you meet very likely isn't experts on mental illness.
Thank-you for your comment. I'm honoured that you've found my writings helpful. That is what I always hope for.
And yes, accepting bipolar can seem like you're accepting being somehow "damaged" or "lesser" but it really is just different - without an attached value judgement. I'm glad you've found that too.
I've always felt that it isn't a weakness to 'label' oneself in such a way, and it can be a very positive thing as it allows yourself protections that would cause life to be a huge struggle otherwise without them.
I've always embraced having a disability in my bipolar. Here in the UK, we are protected under the Disability Discrimination Act for many MH conditions, and me accepting that I was disabled meant that I was covering myself. It meant that my employer had to be very careful when I took extended sick leave due to my condition. It also challenges other people's preconceptions when I tell them I am disabled, as you can't 'see' that I have a problem physically, and I appear to be 'normal' on the outside, yet the fact that I am open and unashamed of the label.
Wilda - often so many people with bipolar are much more than 'the norm'. Many of my idols and heros are people who have bipolar. I find that the upside is that I am a very, very creative person, particularly in mania or hypomania, and a lot of people envy that. I think that to find the positives in it and will help one accept the whole package. Looks like you're doing that too :)
Thank you for this post, the message is a powerful one that resonates very deeply with me (and many others I suspect). Wilda Egger's post above very accurately describes the primary motivator feeding my denial for so many years: The perception/belief that I would be 'less than' the 'normal' people in this world if I accepted that I was Bipolar. My acceptance has been a slow and emotionally painful process but I am finally there... I now understand that I am different in some ways and that's OK because everyone is different on some level. I also know/believe that 'normal' is simply another label and it's generally a moving target. I no longer fret over whether or not I am meeting those norms, only that I am as healthy as possible, still able to work, and treating people well.
I only read two of the many BP bloggers out there Natasha and I rarely comment but... Your blogs have made a difference in my life and I am grateful. I have read your posts and smiled, cried, learned, and not felt alone. I have also shared some of your posts with my parents in an effort to help them understand (they do and are my greatest support). Thank you for your work and please know that so many of us out here appreciate you.
The process doesn't have to be fast, I reckon. I do think it's important to think about it though, challenge our own internal prejudices and mechanisms. Because there may come a time when you need the word.