This is another question that came to mind this morning (too much coffee mixed with Adderall :) ) How much of a person’s disability are either mental disorders or developmental disorders, and how much of it is because society has told a person that they are “disabled”?
This weekend I had the privilege of meeting a young woman who has certain physical challenges, and, I think also some mental challenges. She just graduated from a private school here, and intends to start college this Fall semester with the goal of becoming a 5th grade teacher. She is clearly “disabled” or “challenged,” if you prefer, but she has a strength of will and a determination to become a teacher that I have not seen before in a “disabled” or “challenged” person.
I was thinking of her as I looked into the mirror while drying my hair, and it occurred to me that “disabled” is a social construct, and maybe, not so much a reality. I do not look disabled as all of my challenges come in the form of Affective disorders, Anxiety disorders, and one learning disorder (Adult ADD). I do not have developmental disabilities. I do not have anything that makes me look different than anyone else. If you were to meet me on the street, or in a class, the only way you would know that I struggle daily with a host of mental problems would be to talk to me at length. Then, I may come across as different or weird due to A) being wired “backwards” (ADD ~ Can mimic a manic phase) and B) I am insatiably curious about everything or C) if I am waiting at a bus stop, I generally have ear plugs in to deter people from talking to me, but it also cuts down on the stimulation I get. I am an introverted personality, and I do not really need the adulation of the crowd. That overwhelms me.
So, does Bipolar Type I with psychotic tendencies, PTSD, Panic disorder with Agoraphobia, ADD, and having an avoidant personality make me disabled? I know to a certain extent that the lability of my emotional state can cause problems with friends, co-workers, bosses, etc. If you don’t like my mood, wait a few minutes, and it will change. I know that PTSD interferes with my life in that I am hyper-vigilant, overly aware of who is near me (I can “feel” a person behind me up to 70 feet even when plugged in), I have recurring nightmares though not so much anymore, I can relive the event that led to the diagnosis in both the third and the first person, and I have fear reactions to people who resemble my attacker (I was 16 and about 3 months). The Panic disorder with Agoraphobia thankfully seems to have abated somewhat, but I still periodically can’t mentally make myself leave my apartment, and if I try, bad things happen. ADD is just added fun to the mania of Bipolar. Mania makes my brain bounce, and the ADD joins in just for fun. So, yes, based on those diagnoses and symptoms make life very challenging, and since I am usually in a “mixed” episode ~ equally manic and depressed at the same time, I frequently get “stuck” as I am the most motivated depressed person, and the most depressed manic person. Nothing gets completely done; does that make me disabled in the workforce? I think so due to the fact I have a hard time accomplishing anything completely and on-time. Agoraphobia is just like icing on the cake as is the avoidant personality problem.
However, every time I visit my psychiatrist, I am noted to be “well groomed”, which is opposed to disheveled, I suppose. I have to be really deep down the Rabbit Hole to go out without at least clean hair, and screw the rest. But, I am a girly girl, and I like my nail polish, jewelry and make-up. So, even when I do not feel well, it is very hard to tell unless you know me intimately, or I tell you, or I just break down for no reason. So, we have visited the physiological and the psychological aspects of being “disabled” (another word i dislike). Moving along to the social notions of disability.
Here’s where I get a little bit confused. Yes, I do have markedly impaired social and functioning skills. But, how much have I bought into being told by doctors and other mental health worker’s and society (including family and friends) that I am disabled? How much of my personality has become tied up in what Sociologists call the “sick role”? In other words, am I disabled because I have some very challenging metal problems, or is it because I have these mental issues that society itself has labeled me disabled? These are questions I just do not have the answers to. When interacting with people especially over a long period of time, they come to the conclusion that I am weird, that my thoughts are not “normal” (whatever that is; although daily thoughts of suicide probably are not normal), that I am somehow different than they are.
I guess it is because I am up for medical review of my disability benefits that these questions have popped up. I have not been reviewed in more than 7 years which according to the Social Security Administration is the cycle for people not expected to improve past a certain point, or the duration of the illness is greater than 12 months or can be expected to end in death. Bipolar disorder is one of the deadliest of the “severe” psychiatric disorders probably for it’s high rate of completed suicides. Therefore, I wonder if I am disabled because I have several different types of mental disorders, or because the doctors, the government, and society tells me that I am. Because I am damn good at hiding it :)
And here’s an interesting story that aired on 60 minutes regarding the Social Security Disability program: http://www.pogo.org/blog/2013/10/60-minutes-takes-down-disability-benefits-did-they-get-the-story-right.html
What do you think: truly disabled, or disabled because our society tells people they are?