D is for Disability

4 years ago

Cross-posted on Living off Script on 12/13/12

NOTE: A slightly different version of this post appeared on my old blog in November 2009. Three years later, it's still relevant, in that my current depressive episode has left me dis-abled, so I thought I'd share it here.

Recent family events have brought acceptance, being accepting, of others, of facts, into light. I won't go into details because they aren't relevant to what I have to say, but acceptance has been an underlying theme in my life for some time now. That is, I have trouble accepting, not others so much as myself: my life, the facts of my life. 

Fact: I have bipolar disorder. Fine. I learned that in 1994 and have had plenty of time to accept it. If anything, it was a relief knowing why I led the life I did at the time. 

Fact: Since December 2006, I have been on disability for bipolar disorder. Not so fine. I am reasonably intelligent, I have a graduate degree, my budding teaching career was promising as was my writing career. People "like me" aren't on disability; people "like me" lead successful lives. People on disability are physically disabled; those who are mentally disabled are unable to hold down jobs, let alone take care of their own basic needs like hygiene and feeding themselves, and are uneducated.

Fact: On most days, I have to force myself into the shower and feel overwhelmed by toasting a bagel or tossing a frozen entree into the microwave. This is the third sixth season in a row that I have been unable to play on a hockey team, not so much because I'm out of shape, but, as a goaltender, I can't commit to 20 or so games over 6 months because I don't know how I'm going to feel from day to day -- never mind having a job -- I don't know for sure that I could show up when I'm supposed to. I can't even commit to a workout schedule that I set up myself. Yet I am educated and physically able, but I am also disabled.

Disability has many faces. Accepting this is hard because one of those faces is my own, and that my disability is what's referred to as invisible. It's especially difficult to accept because my affect, what in psychiatry is referred to as "an expressed or observed emotional response," is not that of someone suffering from severe bipolar depression: both in my online and in-person interactions with others, I come off as someone able to laugh and have fun, all of it genuine. Sometimes even my psychiatrist is baffled and relies more on my behavior (inability to do this or that; disinterest in things that normally interest me; lack of concentration, sleep, etc.) rather than my affect to gauge the severity of the depression. Fortunately, Hubs and I are observant in this regard, and although I may be laughing about something while sitting in my psychiatrist's office, I can describe the behavioral aspects of my life that aren't -- not "normal" -- but more accurately, at baseline. Then again, my depression, at its severest, includes withdrawing from people, both online and in person, so they wouldn't see me at my worst, anyway. 

I don't understand why it's so difficult for me to accept the fact that I'm on disability -- clearly, I am dis-abled: I know this and understand this. I don't like it, but who would? I've described the picture of what I think people on disability are "supposed" to be like. I'm unable to hold down a job and often have trouble taking care of my basic needs. In this, I'm accurate; but I am wrong, very wrong, in that "these" people are uneducated.

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