And Then, Square One

Kendell Geers, Master Mistress of My Passion VII, 2010, Jesomite and glass, Courtesy Gallery Rodolphe Janssen, Bruxelles.
Kendell Geers, Master Mistress of My Passion VII, 2010, Jesomite and glass, Courtesy Gallery Rodolphe Janssen, Bruxelles.

This…is part weird announcement, part rant. 

I wrote this piece a few months ago, the week I terminated therapy. I didn’t really expect to keep writing full posts about the experience of mental illness. And it’s true. I’ve been managing my eating well. I haven’t been panicky at the prospect of getting dressed in the morning. Grocery aisles aren’t overwhelming. It’s summer, and I’ve worn shorts.

And then there was the other shoe.

The other shoe dropped a few weeks ago…in which I developed an entirely new set of symptoms and related behaviors, which very nearly prevented me from doing important things like working and getting out of bed. I briefly reconnected with my old therapist to attempt to get a handle, or at least someone to tell me I wasn’t as crazy as my brain said. She’s recommended I see a specialist over the next school year, a decision I’ll be following. The university, quite luckily, happens to have several. I’ve no doubt I’ll be comparing the relative coziness of their couches.

It’s entirely possible that the whole of May was an isolated occurrence. I’d like it to be.

It also might be that what happened was indicative of a larger problem underlying the patterns of eating disordered behavior I’ve had. Or those two might coexist in the three pounds of brain matter I run around with. Mostly, I can find out more by waiting to see what happens next. Which means I don’t have answers. You may have noticed that I like having answers about mental illness.

You’ll noticed too that I haven’t explained what my brain is doing… And I don’t know that I will be any time soon.

And this, right here, is the rant, and the part that’s far more important.

I wrote about anorexia under my online identity quite easily. It isn’t my real name, sure, but it’s the name you’ll find on my Twitter, my Facebook, a name my employer could probably turn up with little digging. And I don’t mind that, because talking about an eating disorder isn’t all that risky, as a college-aged woman wanting to go into social work. We’ve got, in our society, this list of mental illnesses that are considered more acceptable. Safer.

And I used to fall neatly into one of those safer disorders.

But tell somebody you have schizophrenia, a personality disorder, substance abuse issues….and suddenly people respond differently. There’s this setting apart you can almost see, like people who occasionally handle weird brain shit cannot also enjoy things like pizza and small talk.

This is not how it works, y'all
This is not how it works, y’all



And that makes me angry.

It’s not okay that some disorders sounds like an answer and some sound like a life sentence. That parents avoid seeking assessment for their children because they worry the damage a label could do–that an accurate, descriptive word could be more dangerous than targeted help for the future of their child. It makes me angry that the decision comes down to whether my resume could outweigh the results of a quick google. And it infuriates me that this is a question that people face over and over and over again.

So let’s fix that, shall we?

Edit: Ashley rightly pointed out that risk is verrrry relative. It’s fine and good for me to think that I take little to no career risk when contemplating social work as someone with an ED. Were I contemplating politics, the stakes would be different. The first iteration of this post was unnecessarily missing nuance. 

And Then, Square One

16 thoughts on “And Then, Square One

  1. 1

    I don’t write about mine because I’m not convinced that it is terribly acceptable professionally to be known to be a person who suffers from depression. Or ED or anxiety for that matter. I find it interesting that you think that they aren’t risky to talk about.

    1. 1.1

      That was poorly written. It’s not that I think they’re not risky overall. In general, in therapy (where there’s this known-but-not-discussed idea that a large proportion of them have some issue in their past or present).

      Will edit to reflect this in a sec.

      1. I guess it’s more like if you’re depressed or ED or anxiety you have like a normal-self there beneath the disordered thinking, but if you’re bipolar or schizophrenic you’re just broken beyond ability to return to normal person status?

        1. Yeah, I think that’s it. Also, w/r/t depression/social anxiety/etc, I think we view them as fixable (not always true, of course, but the assumption) and more like a medical condition like a cold. So we can look at people with depression, et al, and imagine that they will take their medication or go to their therapy, and then go back to the person we knew before. Which means we can relate to them more.

        2. I have various diagnoses including one in the category Kate is talking about. While I have no issue talking openly about my alcoholism/sobriety, my ADHD or my mood in general, I am extremely careful about saying what my specific major diagnosis is to anyone (even close friends), because of the stigma of chronic mental illnesses (I guess that’s the best way I can describe them as a group?). My mom is incredibly worried about what could happen if the diagnosis winds up on my medical records or insurance and I get frustrated with people’s assumptions about these diagnoses but feel like I can’t say a lot without admitting what’s wrong with me. It’s also true at work, which is an even less sensitive environment. All in all, blurgh, I guess. It’s so weird to me that people are so supportive of my getting and staying sober and so standoffish of my other diagnosis based solely on stereotypes. I think no matter what the diagnosis, people are not what you need them to be, but my frustration with this diagnosis has definitely been with people trying to talk me out of a diagnosis that fits because they don’t like what the stigma means for them.

    1. 2.1

      I’ve gotta say that this appears to be a much more accurate chart.


      On a side note, I’m glad that several of the bloggers on this site are discussing mental health issues. – It’s not something I’m very well educated on, but for quite a while I’ve suspected that such issues are much more pervasive than society lets on. And I tend to be in favor of de-stigmatizing things and helping people. I think that discussion and raising awareness is probably one of the first steps. Plus, I’m learning a lot, so thanks all.

      1. hey, I totally endorse this chart. Deep dish is weird. I’m glad you’re liking the mental health stuff! (Cuz seriously, I dunno if I could write about anything else).

  2. 3

    Kate, I’m sorry you’re having to deal with weird brain shit. I hope it’s temporary.

    And yeah, the stigma sucks. I’m sure it’s better than it used to be, but it still sucks.

  3. 4

    A few years back, I hired a woman who had a schizophrenia diagnosis. She was nice enough. Maybe a little weird — but we were an office of weird back then. Thing is, it didn’t matter because she was clearly the most-experienced and best-qualified candidate to do the job.

    And everything went along swimmingly until she decided to go off her meds. She starting accusing other staffers of conspiring against her and saying mean things about her. Her performance suffered terribly and she became a great source of internal strife and conflict. Almost to the point of physical violence.

    But because she had a medical diagnosis, she was protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act. It was not OK just to kick her to the curb — which would have happened with similarly non-performing employees without a medical diagnosis. We worked long and hard with her — mainly to get her to go back on her meds.

    It was only after her refusal to do so AND a months long demonstration that she could not do her job without being on her meds that we finally laid her off. Frankly, we were quite reluctant to do this; but she voted with her feet, as it were.

    The point is, a mental health diagnosis CAN be protective under those circumstances. And it’s important for people with a mental health diagnosis to know what those rights are under the ADA. It’s not a “get out of jail free” card; but it does provide protections against job termination solely due to the medical diagnosis.

    As far as hiring goes; you do not have to declare a medical diagnosis of any kind during job interviews. It’s a forbidden question; just like age is. But if someone finds out through Google that one candidate has been blogging about his mental health issues and there’s a similarly qualified person who is also available without a mental health “signal”, then I think anyone can see what the outcome is going to be.

    I know that sucks as far as mental health advocacy goes. It also sucks if blogging or other mental health advocacy is part-and-parcel of how someone deals with their mental health issues. But in this economy and political climate, that’s the reality of it. So, my point is that one should protect their identities and sequester their advocacy work from other aspects of their lives if they’re going to talk directly about their own diagnoses. Especially if they’re just getting started in a professional milieu that is replete with multiple candidates for the same position.

    1. 4.1

      You are extremely misinformed about the ADA.

      “Myth: Under the ADA, an employer cannot fire an employee who has a disability.
      Fact: Employers can fire workers with disabilities under three conditions:
      The termination is unrelated to the disability or
      The employee does not meet legitimate requirements for the job, such as performance or production standards, with or without a reasonable accommodation or
      Because of the employee’s disability, he or she poses a direct threat to health or safety in the workplace.

  4. 5

    You reminded me of something I discovered this past weekend. My sister works for the Autism Society of Edmonton and I spent Sunday volunteering at their big fundraiser event (which was, btw, an incredible and eye opening experience).

    There was a team there, led by the family matriarch, in support of her granddaughter who had been diagnosed with autism recently.

    The granddaughter had always been high needs, but loved, and she was going through a bunch of tests to see what was going on. Grandma spent many, many days happily babysitting her lovely grandchild until, one day, she couldn’t get ahold of her son. For a week, she either couldn’t get anyone to answer the phone or was dismissed quickly with a “Now’s not a good time”.

    Finally, she cornered him and his wife and demanded to know what was going on, and why couldn’t she see her granddaughter? They, very ashamedly, sat her down and said “There’s something you need to know. We got the test results back: our daughter has autism.”

    Grandma sat there stunned for a minute, while the parents hung their heads in shame (and I’m not even exaggerating – this is how it was described to me), until she asked “So, is she ok? Is she changed? Is she still the little girl that I was baby sitting last week or has something happened?”

    In the end, the stigma of the autism diagnosis caused the child’s own parents to hide her from the world. Apparently, even long time family friends suddenly won’t invite them over for their kids’ birthdays anymore. The only person who stood up and said “This is unacceptable” was Grandma, who then proceeded to rally the family into a highly successful, supportive and inspiring team to raise money and awareness for this child’s condition: A child who was exactly the same person the day before the diagnosis as she was after.

  5. 6

    Going into nursing (and in particular into mental health nursing) I have a great deal of fear about my previous diagnosis (one in the schizophrenia category) but I prefer to wear it to break down some of the barriers and honestly, I am not sure it would be safe for me to work for an employeer who is going to have issues with my mental health history considering it may come up again.

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