I came out to my instructors this morning.
I didn’t have much of a choice. I simply cannot abide being thought of as old and slow, even though my work performance thus far sure makes me look that way. I hadn’t planned on doing it, but given the grim tone of today’s meeting, it was an act of sheer desperation: I’d rather have people think I’m crazy than stupid.
Which, as I explained to the two of them, I am not. I reassured them that I’m doing all the right things to be as healthy as I can be and my illness is reasonably well-managed, but it also makes learning new things more difficult and I have to do them over and over again until I get it. Unfortunately, there are only so many do-overs built into the training program, and I’m reaching the end of the line. So if I wind up being forced to drop out, I’m going to need something I can show the Employment Division as a reason for quitting.
It was interesting to note the surprised expressions on their faces. They clearly weren’t expecting that announcement. But they both remained professional, and I give them credit for hearing me out and not reacting with horror and revulsion. I don’t want special treatment, I just wanted them to know that there’s a reason why I’m so inept at this.
I haven’t decided whether or not to share my not-so-secret secret with my managers. I asked the trainers to keep what I told them in confidence, and they promised me they would; it’s my story to tell or not tell, after all, and my co-workers certainly don’t need to know. The trainers work with me every day, though, so if anyone deserves to know, it’s them. But I’ll be meeting with the managers on Thursday, and I may or may not say anything about the bipolar; they are both very nice people, but so was my last boss, and we all know how well THAT worked out for me.
At this point, however, I don’t think I have much to lose. I’m very well-acquainted with being in a precarious position on the job, and I recognize when I’m getting close to crashing and burning. I’ve already had several people say “I told you so”, and it’s true, they did; but no matter how this all turns out, I don’t regret for a minute my decision to take the job in the first place. I knew I was taking the chance that I’d fall on my face, but I’d have kicked myself forever if I hadn’t at least tried.
It’s hard not to let the constant negative energy get to me, but I can’t get too down on myself over this one. As disappointed as I am that things have turned out the way they have, life is way too short to be this miserable at the place where I spend a good portion of my waking hours: I dread the 40-mile commute, hate the cold, sterile building I’m in, and don’t even like the actual work. What on earth would make me think it’s going to get better even if I COULD learn it?
But like Scarlett O’Hara, I’ll think about that tomorrow. After all…..tomorrow is another day. :-)
Wow, it’s hard to believe that this is already my 300th post on this blog. I started it last June at the suggestion of a fellow writer and friend to enter a blogging contest, and while she bugged out within the first few days, I got hooked…..and the rest, as they say, is history.
It’s amazing to be able to reach people all over the United States and Canada. But some of my readers hail from the Czech Republic…..South Africa…..Egypt…..the United Kingdom…..Germany……even Brazil. I mean, how cool is THAT?!? Whatever the disadvantages of the Internet, it’s brought people together who would otherwise have never met—or read each other’s blogs—and it’s gratifying to know that someone, somewhere, is reading what I write and saying “Oh HELL yeah, that’s me!!”
But now a number of those readers, as well as friends and family, have brought up a subject that I think deserves some discussion, even though I have no intention of pursuing it: applying for disability benefits. I’m against it on principle, and so is Dr. Awesomesauce, who is ex-military and believes that the vast majority of mentally ill people do better when they have the structure provided by useful work. Still, I seem to come undone rather easily when I’m under pressure, and I’m positively allergic to job stress.
Does that make me disabled? Perhaps, if you listen to the growing number of friends, readers, and even family who have raised the topic in recent months. I know they have my best interests at heart, and most of them have mentioned something along the lines of “just think, you could finally focus on your writing!” But I think there’s a big difference between being disabled and having a disability; and of course, I put myself in the latter category. I don’t see myself as needing to be taken care of (except when I’m going through a bad mood episode) and as long as I CAN work, I believe I should.
Now, there’s no denying that I have a great deal of difficulty maintaining steady employment. I prefer to think it’s because I simply haven’t found my “forever” job yet. I’ve had some that I stuck with for as long as 2 1/2 years, and almost made it to three years at my last hospital job; being an older worker, I yearn for a position that I can retire from one day, but I’m beginning to think I may never find it. And maybe that’s the way it was always meant to be.
At any rate, having bipolar disorder isn’t terribly compatible with long-term job stability. However, it does not make me “disabled”…..at least, not enough for an SSDI claim. The fact that I find some ordinary tasks extraordinarily difficult—like using a multi-line telephone—doesn’t mean I can’t do them; it just means it’s harder for me than it might be for someone else. Yes, I get tired of throwing myself against a wall every day; yes, if I had my druthers I’d stay home and make my living as a writer. Seriously. I don’t particularly enjoy commuting, and if I could earn enough money at the keyboard to keep Will and me from having to live in a cardboard box behind a strip mall, I’d drop out of the rat race tomorrow.
But I won’t ask society to take care of me. Not unless I become so incapacitated that I’m of no use whatsoever, or until Dr. A says he’ll sign off on my paperwork. I’m not there yet. I pray I never will be.
I used to be a fun person.
Once upon a time, I enjoyed going out and spending a day with friends, shopping, seeing movies, even attending parties and other gatherings. I loved having big holiday get-togethers at home and making sure everything that wasn’t red hot or running for the hills was decorated in seasonally appropriate twinkle-lights. I even used to get a kick out of hosting birthday parties for the kids.
Now I’m quite possibly THE lamest person on the planet. I don’t go to parties because the experience of being in a crowded room is excruciating for me—there are too many people, too much light and noise, and I am so easily overstimulated it’s not even funny. I still do a couple of the major holidays because a) it’s tradition, and b) I don’t want to have to drive on a holiday if I can avoid it. But after working all week and using the vast majority of my energies to keep a roof over our heads, all I want is a day where I don’t have to go anywhere and I can lounge in my jammies, work in the yard, or hang out on the computer.
This is the price I pay for being what’s called a “high-functioning” bipolar. I can do what needs to be done to make the rent and put food on the table; I can even manage to go to the store for groceries on a Saturday afternoon and to Mass on most Sundays. But ask me to drive 30 miles one way for a visit or God forbid, participate in a social activity, and I’m apt to break out in a sweat and come up with a hundred excuses for why I can’t make it.
It’s not that I don’t want to go places and do things. Well, okay, it IS because I don’t want to, but I want to want to. Does that make sense?
Being high-functioning means that I can fake ‘normal’ really well. To look at me, to listen to me, you would never suspect that I am mentally ill. I can carry on a conversation and deal articulately with complex ideas. I know a little about a lot of things, and a lot about a few other things. I’m able to teach people how to do tasks, like giving themselves insulin injections or checking their blood pressure; I can discuss the issues of the day with intelligence; and I’m damn good at assessing both the physical and psychosocial aspects of peoples’ lives. It’s just that being a bipolar woman with a career means there’s not enough of me left over for much of anything else.
I’ve tried explaining this to a few folks without much success. But the fact that I am able to have a career doesn’t make the rest of my life work; if anything, it sucks the life right out of me and renders me too exhausted for play.
I’m not sure what the answer to this dilemma is, or even if there is one. It seems almost as though I’m issued a finite amount of energy at the beginning of each week, and by the time I get to Friday, ninety percent of it is gone. That leaves a mere 10 percent for the most important people in my life……including me. Something is very wrong with that picture. And high-functioning or not, I owe it to all of us to figure out a healthier balance between life and work; after all, when I’m on my deathbed I am NOT going to wish I’d spent more time at the office. Or in traffic. Or at war with myself.
Get this: I just found out last night that there’s going to be a new TV drama series called Black Box, about a famed neuroscientist who has a magic touch with out-of-control patients and a big, bad secret: she suffers from bipolar disorder.
Naturally, I’m looking forward to the premier because I want to see how the producers handle bipolar as part of the story line. I know a little about the show Homeland with Claire Danes, but not being a subscriber to Showtime, I’ve never seen it. Black Box will run on Thursday night at 10 PM.
I hope this series will portray the character of Dr. Catherine Black as realistically as possible. I’ve seen a few previews, and from what I can tell, her manic episodes are pretty extreme. She has a very maternal psychiatrist (Vanessa Redgrave) who warns her in one clip that if her disease were to become known, she could lose her job; while I hope that scene doesn’t reinforce the stigma that’s already out there, it’s certainly not an unusual occurrence in the working world.
Basically, I hope the show won’t be a rewarming of old stereotypes of bipolar individuals as fragile people who are apt to spin out of control at any time. I remember when Sally Field played Maura Tierney’s mom in a recurrent guest role on ER a number of years back; her character was also bipolar and she was always weeping, threatening suicide, running away, or slobbering all over her daughter and begging her to forgive the latest bad behavior. I think Ms. Field did a great job with the material she was given to work with, but the overall picture left a lot to be desired.
Then there was a character on the spin-off of Gray’s Anatomy, called Private Practice, who was violent and completely unpredictable whenever she was manic. Again, this did nothing to help ease the judgmentalism attached to mental health diagnoses, and I was relieved when they finally carted the poor woman off to the hospital for the last time. (And that was before I knew I was bipolar myself.)
Now, I know it’s got to be difficult to portray a serious mental illness sensitively while making it authentic and even gritty, like it is out here in the real world. Bipolar disorder is hard to fathom even for those of us who live with it; for those who don’t, it’s impossible, so producing a TV show whose lead character has it must be extremely challenging. I do hope the people in charge of this one have done their homework, for it could literally help lead the way to social acceptance of mental illness as a legitimate medical problem and give hope to millions of sufferers.
That’s a tall order, even for a drama series dealing with some pretty serious issues aside from the lead character’s mental health challenges. The show starts April 24th on ABC. I’ll be there. :-)