I was just visiting my favorite nursing website this evening where a fellow member posted about the possibility of losing her license for using narcotics at work. She’s apparently had addiction issues for years but had never been caught, and when she finally was, it was reported to her state board of nursing. Now she was facing at minimum a license suspension, and it got me to thinking about the price mental illness exacts from its victims in terms of lost quality of life.
I know what it’s cost me thus far.
Mental illness has cost me my livelihood. For years before I got really sick, I was a successful nurse who moved swiftly up the so-called corporate ladder, even with only an associate’s degree. Inevitably, however, I would get to where I couldn’t handle the day-to-day bullshit anymore, become restless, and move on after a couple of years or so. I also became over-stressed and anxious and prone to freaking out, and if I didn’t quit the job first, sooner or later I’d be shown the door. I had no idea that I had a medical condition that was contributing to my problems at work. But by the time I understood that I was ill, not just quixotic, it was too late to salvage my career, though I bumped along for another miserable year after that.
Mental illness has cost me dearly financially, and not just for my treatment. It’s ridiculous that a 55-year-old woman cannot get an auto loan or a credit card, take her grandkids to Disneyland, visit her daughter in Kentucky. But I can’t, and that’s because I spent the family into bankruptcy twice and racked up so much debt that it will never be paid off in my natural lifetime. (That yellow toucan shirt ring a bell?) My credit score must be in the negative 500s. The irony is, I’m a lousy money manager until I don’t have any to manage, which is why we’re still in our house and the lights are on. Why couldn’t I have figured this out while we still had something to work with?
Mental illness has cost me friendships. Although I’ve actually gained some supporters and kindred spirits during my battle, others have quietly slipped away and out of my life, and I feel their absence acutely. How I wish I could let them know that I’m so much better now that I know what was wrong with me all those years and have accepted help!
Mental illness has also cost me in terms of dignity, which as far as I’m concerned is my most precious possession. There’s nothing like walking into a medical facility where they don’t know me and getting “the look” when they bring up my medical history on the computer screen. Diabetes does not inspire that expression, nor does high blood pressure or asthma or any of the other 11 conditions I’ve been diagnosed with over the years. But throw the words bipolar affective disorder into the mix, and suddenly it’s like I’ve sprouted three heads.
There are those who scoff at the idea of stigma. A few of them—none of whom carries a mental health diagnosis of their own—have told me “Oh, you’re just imagining it” or that it’s just a coincidence. Yeah, well, it’s happened too many times for it to be a coincidence, and when I enter a new healthcare center and they treat me like a normal person—even though they’ve got my med list and can see it takes five medications to make me that way—I’m grateful beyond words.
Yes, mental illness carries a high price. What have you had to give up because of it?