The Stigma of Having Mental Illness/Disabilities and A Job

(You can skip the first two paragraphs, I’m rambling.)

When I first entered college I was an English/pre-teaching then to speech therapy, and finally to women’s studies.  I’ve been through quite a few changes but I think it has been for the best.  I didn’t know that I wanted to work with at-risk youth until I went into therapy myself.  A counselor who made an impression on me was a LCSW and I began to question whether or not I could apply my own experiences to helping other people so I reached out to my advisor and switched my major.

I applied to several group homes and heard back from three.  Two were within the same non-profit and one was far too claustrophobic for me.  I knew as I arrived for my interview that this was not somewhere I wanted to work, it was far to formal and obtrusively clinical.  Even the secretary seemed miserable and that seemed like a cue to me that people who worked there were unhappy.  I attempted to reach out to one of the other group homes, but they never returned my calls.  Ultimately the second home reached out to me and I immediately jumped at the opportunity.

It took a bit of time to get established there but once I did, it was home.  Now, I work full-time with 10 to 15 hours of overtime a week.  I can’t be too specific due to HIPAA but what I will say is that the teens I work are inspirational.  They have good days and bad days, and when that isn’t the case they have reallllly bad days but I get it.  I really understand it.  I’ve been there, in fact, I am there now.

So let’s talk about the misconception that I was constantly made aware of during the pre-employment physical screening.  I went through a series of questions about my mental health, about how I deal with crisis, have I ever had thoughts of hurting myself/hurting others, or suicide.  We all know that I could not be honest or I would fail the screen.  Thankfully, he didn’t notice my scars but did make a point of harassing me about a wound on my calf from tripping over a rusted cooking grate while camping.  This started a new session of question, asking me if I self-inflicted the deep vertical cut along my tibia (something which I went to get a Tetanus shot for…would I really cut my calf of all places with something rusty and get a Tetanus shot?  No…).  But the interrogation continued.

We see it all the time as we apply to jobs, “Such & Such is an equal opportunity employer buuuuuuuuuut are you depressed, do you have an disabilities, do you have PTSD, are you a veteran.”  So, we know that most companies need to fill a quota of people with disabilities, and is followed by 80-100 more questions that are all the same 5 questions phrased differently.  We all lie on those things and say what the employer is looking for, “No I am normal” and go on to answer all the questions in ways that don’t reflect us correctly but there it is.  In this job market, we can’t afford to have any neuro-divergence or disabilities, just ask the very same doctor who gave me hell about my leg.

Apparently, the doctor was also put off by the fact that I had, had a total spinal fusion for Scoliosis when I was younger.  Now, I have had people tell me that this is a disability but I never believed it.  I still do not consider this to be a disability but the doctor tried to tell me that I would be unable to my job as a result of my job.  We argued about this quite a bit and I made sure to disprove him during the lifting portion of the physical.  Finally he dropped but continued to harass me over the phone about getting him a note from the orthopedic surgeon who fused my spine.  Needless to say, I did not contact the doctor who performed my surgery over ten years ago and told him to stuff it.  Surprisingly, he did.

The stigma attached to mental illness and disabilities is utterly ridiculous.  I am no less capable of completely the duties of my job.  I make a point to leave my issues behind me when I get out of my car in the driveway.  I dedicate myself to the teenagers I work with and apply my knowledge and experience in small ways.  When one of the girls here talks to me about how she feels lonely and abandoned or how she feels depressed because of a mean boy at school or any variation of hopelessness that she encounters I explain to her that I have been in a similar position.  She’ll ask me what happened and why I understand what she is going through and I will tell her that she does not need to worry about it, but that I know how she feels.  When I tell her this it seems like she finds some solace in this and this is how I do my job in light of (not despite) the trauma and depression I have experienced.

It’s a tough world out there when it comes to getting a job with a mental illness, and it is unfortunate that we must hide it as if we are ashamed.  But we need to just keep trying to raise awareness of the stigma and making other people think about it and question why they feel this way.

 

Be even louder than the stigma.

Love Carly

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Who Am I?

We see these types of questions everywhere, on job applications, in classes, and even on dating apps and we all answer it the same way.  Something like “College student who loves to have fun but also gets work done.  I like all music but country and rap and I love dogs.”  I think most of us are guilty of generic answer like that, I know I am.  But that’s just the mask we wear for the public to see, in reality, there is so much more to who we are.

I think that the number one thing people like to deny and forget about is that our experiences affect who we become.  I am a different person than I was in high school, almost three and a half years ago and sometimes I look a the person I have become and I feel remorseful.  I remember that girl, but that isn’t me anymore and to a certain extent that saddens me and to another, I feel a sense of accomplishment.

In high school I was an A/B student, the secretary for our National Honor Society, active in drama club, and I volunteered close to fifteen hours a week at a horse rescue, I had numerous friends and found that though I wasn’t “popular” I could fit in with most groups, I had a steady part-time job, and I had my license.  But I wasn’t happy then.  My family life was absolute hell and probably the only reason I forced myself to get out and volunteer/work/act/make new friends and always have something to do.  All that, for the sole reason of never wanting to be at home.

Am I happy now?  Yes and no.  My struggle with depression has made things difficult.  My trauma has resonated with me and I have never quite gotten over it.  Sometimes it prevents me from getting out of bed and completing my responsibilities.  Sometimes I get so stuck in my depression that I cannot see the joy in any aspect of my life.  Sometimes I feel so alone that I thoughts of cutting and causing severe harm to myself come swimming back (though I haven’t self-harmed since early April). Sometimes I stare in the mirror and I cannot stand what I see and I wish that someone else were standing there.  Sometimes I fill my tank up and considering driving 400 miles away in any direction and starting a new life where nobody knows me.

But I don’t do these things and the reason is simple, I have made it this far.  I know that I am capable finding a way to avoid hurting myself.  I know that when I cannot get myself out of bed, there are reasons to consider it again and if I just cannot get up I know that although I am taking steps back in my recovery, there is tomorrow.  Just because I failed to get things done one day does not mean I cannot try again.  Usually it helps to have something planned out that forces me to get up out of necessity like going to work or making plans with a friend.  Unfortunately there is little to help with not finding joy in my life.  Fortunately, I always find joy in hearing my boyfriend’s voice on the telephone and my visits with him.  I always find joy in my 9-month old cat even though she is a brat.  And I always find joy in reading, especially Harry Potter.  But currently I am not finding joy in simple things like eating or going for a nice walk.  And when it comes to self-esteem issues… all I can say is that I am still working on it.

And despite all this, I still think that I am better off than I was when I was in high school because at that point in my life I could not admit to myself that I had these issues.  And when you cannot admit to yourself that something is wrong you cannot do anything to make progress.  So it may feel like my life is a total mess at the moment, but I am still growing and things are going to get better.  It’s just going to take a lot of dedication as I try to get back on track from my recent triggers.

 

Be loud.

Love Carly

Triggers After Trauma

Two nights ago my roommate had her FWB over and the two of them had spent the night getting incredibly drunk.  At the time I didn’t have any issues with this because they were keeping to themselves, and I tend to be pretty introverted so all I wanted to do was binge-watch Netflix on my computer.

Things were quiet in my apartment, I was dozing off in my bed to the episode of Friends where Monica and Phoebe switch apartments with Joey and Chandler, and suddenly there is an intruder in my bedroom.  It is 1:30 in the morning and I feel like I am in a haze but I look over the door and get slapped in the face with the real life Ugly Naked Guy.  In this case, thankfully, UNG was wearing pants but there he was, in my room shirtless and blackout drunk.

I am beginning to panic because this has happened to me once before just before I was attacked in freshman year.  I was wide awake within seconds of his appearance and immediately began to question who he was and what his intentions were.  None of my questions were answered, and I received in response was a blank stare and he staggered a few steps further into my room.

My heart is pounding and I am immediately scanning my room for some sort of weapon to protect myself.  However, the unfortunate truth is that I likely would not have been able to defend myself against this man as he was much larger than I am.  I continue to ask him what he is doing and continue to get a blank stare in response.

I feel small compared to his stare, I don’t know what he intends by it and that terrifies me.  I am starting to have flashbacks of my mouth being covered and remembering the pain I had gone through.  I cannot help but conclude that this man is in my bedroom to do me harm.  At this point in the encounter it is difficult to breathe.

After what felt like a few years this man turned his head to look around my bedroom and when he finally realized that he was in the wrong room he stumbled out, bumping his head on my wall while he went.  The intruder is gone and I am able to climb from my bed and rush to my door to lock it but for the rest of the evening I feel unsafe in my own apartment.

I am left fighting off a panic attack and I am on the verge of tears.  All I want to do is reach out to hold my boyfriend, but this is not something I can do at the time.  I try to tune into my show again but I can’t seem to pay attention to it.  Not knowing what else to do I curl back up in my bed and hug a pillow while I text my boyfriend about what has just happened.  And over the course of the next hour I find myself going through a multitude of different emotions ranging from anger to fear to denial and even shame about what has happened to me in the past.

These are feelings I have been trying to move past ever since the initial trauma but they still affect me from time to time.  This incident in particular has completely hindered my progress and caused my panic attacks to come back.  Before the other day I had not had a panic attack since late April, but this event ended my longest run without hyperventilating.  Now I find myself staying up all night, paranoid about someone breaking in and constantly running through my own personal trauma in my head.  I feel that I am in desperate need of getting to a therapist because my thoughts of self harm and low-self esteem are plaguing me again but I cannot go to one because I am in-between insurance for the next few weeks… don’t get me started on how I feel about the fact that I know I need help and that I want help but I know I cannot go get it because I cannot pay for even one session out-of-pocket.

Luckily my boyfriend and my friends are incredibly supportive and constantly make sure that I know how much they love me.  I try to take this in, and it does help to know how much they care.  However, when I start to give into my depression and anxiety it is easy to fixate on all the other negative aspects of my life and I have found myself in those dark places and considering self-sabotage and not showing up to work.  It’s been hard to find joy in the small things lately, even food seems unappealing these last couple days.  I feel like I have taken several-hundred steps back in my journey to recovery.

To make matters worse, following this incident I reached out to roommate and explained how uncomfortable I had felt the night before and asked that this man never be allowed in our apartment again.  She agreed to my terms and the very same night invited him over again.  So there I was, two nights in a row feeling terrified and locked in my bedroom because of man I do not know and do not trust in my apartment.

I know how important it is for me to see the bright side and keep on moving.  I am trying to stay positive through all of this and I am making sure to stand my ground with my roommate on this matter because it is important to me.  I have even considered reaching out to the Dean of Students and explaining the situation and how uncomfortable I have felt the past few days.  I find it truly unfortunate that she does not respect my need to feel safe in my own apartment and cannot see how our relationship can be repaired after this incident.

If nothing else, I’m working on my coping skills and trying to find a way to focus on the important things in my life.  I am relying heavily on my friends and boyfriend as they have been wonderful advocates and confidants for me.  I truly am proud of myself for standing up for myself because there was a time in my life where I would have said nothing and just tried to convince everyone that nothing was wrong.  I remember how much energy I used to put into smiling at everyone and pretending that I was happy and healthy.  But feeling triggered and unsafe are perfectly valid emotions and I reserve the right to cause a stir about it because it truly isn’t okay and the fact that this man was drunk at the time and does not remember intruding is no excuse.

I have come a long way despite the fact that I have had this setback, I would not have been so vocal last year or even a few months ago.

 

Be loud, then be even louder.

Love Carly

 

 

 

The Night Before Oozeball: April 25, 2014

Hi, my name is Carly* and I am primarily starting this site as a place to write about the issues I have been facing for the last few years.  I am also hoping that someone might stumble across this and relate to it so that they can feel a little less alone in a time of need.  The experiences we have in life are different but incredibly similar at the same time and I think that it is important to open up about our stories and understand that the things we have been through are real to us and that the feelings we have as a result are valid.  Often we are faced with the impression that we must keep quiet about our issues and “buck up” but “bucking up” is a very small part of recovery in my opinion.  If you ask me, you can’t “buck up” if you don’t open up about what has been hurting you.  The scars on the inside are just as real as the one’s on the outside and many people who do not struggle with mental illness or trauma struggle understand this concept.

Officially, I am diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, and PTSD.  Unofficially, my general physician thinks I may have Bipolar Disorder but this has not been confirmed by a psychologist.  However, I have had some luck with medications that treat both anxiety/depression that people with bipolar have seen success with so I can’t be completely sure either way.

I suppose you can say that I have always struggled with these issues which were deeply affected by my home life as I was growing up, but these issues grew worse as my freshman year in college drew to a close.  I will not name names but at my university the infamous “Spring Weekend” serves as an excuse for college students and their friends to party and make reckless, life altering decisions.  It was during Spring Weekend that my life was forever changed and I was raped by someone I then considered to be my “best friend.”

When it happened I remember waking up from the fog and feeling pretty muddy about the circumstances.  I had been drunk, I had been what he and I jokingly considered “slutty” throughout the previous year and to make things more confusing the two of us had consensual sex in the past – in fact, I had lost my virginity to him.  To add insult to injury, the man who had raped me the night before was my best friend.  Someone who was my best friend could not hurt me like that; someone who I had enjoyed consensual intercourse with in the past could not have become my rapist, could he?

I struggled with this, and at times I still do.  Just today I found myself thinking of the memories we had formed together before this happened, memories I had once found to be happy.  But these memories feel tainted now, and if, on impulse I feel a slight feeling of happiness as I think of them I become overwhelmed with an intense wave of guilt that makes me feel horribly ill.  I do not know how to handle it when these emotions come up, but I do my very best to use a coping skill in the moment and let myself feel these negative emotions because they are real and need to be experienced despite the fact that it makes life seem like it is hard to live through.

It has taken me years, on-going therapy sessions, embracing feminism, and a wonderfully supportive boyfriend and friend to fully understand that what happened to me was not my fault.  No one has the right to violate your body. It does not matter who it is, what state you are in, what you are wearing, what kind of reputation others consider you to have, or the fact that you had given consent at a prior time. Your body is your body and rape is rape.

I will be the first to admit that trauma, society, and the media can affect how victims view themselves.  However, it is important to refrain from giving your abuser continuous power of you by saying that your life has been ruined.  I know it sounds ridiculous, but to say that your life is ruined is to admit defeat and throw in the towel.  Yes, my rapist made my life much harder than it should it been.  Yes, my rapist made my depression much worse than it ever would have been if he hadn’t abused me.  Yes, my rapist destroyed my sense of self worth which led to numerous suicide attempts.  Yes, he made everything in my life hard.  But my life isn’t ruined.  And sometimes it is hard to see that there is life after rape, abuse, or any kind of emotional and physical trauma but it is there.  It can be difficult to find, I know it has been for me.  But just try to keep going, even if it feels like the world is crushing you.  Keep trying, even if you have setbacks with your mental health and you hurt yourself or you want to.  We are worth more than your trauma.

 

Be loud, then be even louder.

Love Carly

*Name has been changed