Losing Credibility Because of Your Mental Illness
Natasha Tracy is not, in fact, my real name. It’s a nom de plume. Writers have a long history of writing under pen names for a whole variety of reasons but one of them has always been judgement. People will judge you, as a person, by what you write. Write erotica, for example, and get yourself a reputation as a slut.
And as a mental health writer, I face similar stigma. True, people aren’t likely to make inferences about my sexual nature (although it has happened) but they will make judgements about me as a person and certainly as an employee.
Because no matter how much I write about stigma and no matter how open people appear to be, a person with a mental illness is simply always assumed to be unequal to someone without a mental illness. Their point of view is always considered to be tainted by their illness. Their thoughts are never considered to be their own.
Getting a Job with a Mental Illness
I am a fairly educated person with a university degree and a great resume. In fact, looking at my resume, you would be shocked to learn I have a life-threatening illness. But many people with a mental illness are like that. We’re just like everyone else.
But you can bet your bottom dollar that if I applied for a fancy tech job and my employer Googled me and found all my writings, that I immediately would be put out of the running for the job. Why? Because my mental illness would have destroyed my credibility in the mind of the employer. It’s not fair, it’s not right, and, in fact, it’s not even legal, but it’s what happens in the real world.
Oh Don’t Listen to Her, She’s Crazy
And this doesn’t just happen in the workplace, this happens in everyday life as well. Simply asserting an unpopular opinion can show how people ignore you just because you’re “crazy.” Suddenly, your thoughts have no meaning or weight because they are assumed to be tainted by an illness. No one would accuse a person with epilepsy of not having an opinion simply because their brain errantly causes seizures, but someone with bipolar, well, that’s different.
Yup, I’m Crazy
Yes, it’s true, I’m crazy. I know that sometimes my thoughts are colored by my mental illness. But most of them aren’t. Most of them are my usual, logical, well-thought-out, arguable points of view that make more sense than your average (sane) Joe.
And unless a person actively has a thought disorder (such as psychosis), most of us are in exactly the same position – we think exactly the same way as everyone else; we have opinions; we have thoughts; we have ideas. They are ours. We take ownership of them. They are no more or less meaningful than anyone else’s thoughts and opinions just because of a label, time in a hospital or medication.
Much as people of different ethnicities have fought to be judged on their own merits and not the color of their skin, we, too, deserve to be judged by who we are and not simply what we are.
Tracy, N. (2012, March 15). Losing Credibility Because of Your Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, August 15 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2012/03/loosing-credibility-because-of-your-mental-illness
Author: Natasha Tracy
I say I'm high-functioning and don't find it an insult because I think of all the people who can't function and I'm grateful. I talk to people everyday who want to have a job but aren't able to because of their illness so I don't think it's inappropriate to note the difference.
And you're right, people would be shocked to learn that the person they've been working with for years has a mental illness. But hopefully, over time, we can beat back that stereotype.
- Natasha Tracy
Jeez. Now you tell me. I have to think for a few moments each time before I post my full name whether I want to be 'out' but then I figure "If Natasha can do it, so can I!" LOL
The truth is that when people ask me why I'm on disability I tell them it's because of my epilepsy, and if they press the issue saying, "Oh...but I know lots of people who have epilepsy and they're not on disability and yada, yada...(argument)" I'll add some of the other reasons, but I don't tell them about the bipolar. For one thing they've proven they're jackasses who feel I owe them an explanation/proof of need for help and I don't want to talk with them anymore anyway and can see they're judgmental and don't want to hear what they think about mental health issues, thank you.
But obviously I just don't want to be judged, certainly not regarding my mental health issues. Period.
However, they had it right in the 60's: if you're not part of the solution then you're part of the problem. If you're not willing to live openly as though you have nothing to be ashamed of then people will always try to shame you. The only way to destroy stigmas are to talk openly and honestly about what it is like to be human in all areas of our lives. If I don't speak, then someone will be more than happy to speak for me, and I'm sure I won't like what is said.
I *am* writing under my real name, because in terms of this, I have nothing to lose. I'm already fully disabled by other factors, my mental illness did not become an issue in my workplace until very late in my career (in medicine).
I'm writing on behalf of the dozens of Veterans I personally know, who are a tiny fraction of the thousands who have been deployed over the past twenty years. I'm also writing for everyone who was on the Gulf Coast in August of 2005, everyone in Washington and New York and Pennsylvania in September 2001, and everyone in Oklahoma City in April 1995.
There is not a single soul among them who saw what they did and doesn't have some remaining mental health effect. I don't think it's possible to experience those things and not experience fundamental change. It may not be outright PTSD, but I bet in most cases it is.
In my personal experience - advocating for vets these days, Katrina survivors since '05 and helping out people in Oklahoma City in '95 the majority of these people won't get mental health care. There's strong denial of need based partly, I think, in the strength of survival. "Hey, I survived XYZ, nothing's gonna get me down now." Not a bad thought, but unfortunately, not a true one for too many, as well. The fear of looking weak among their fellows (who don't /seem/ to having trouble hacking it - but may have nightmares every night...) the fear of not fitting back in to society after fighting a war with few clear outcomes. The stigma isn't as bad as it was for Vets of Vietnam, but it's enough.
I don't know how to make it less stigmatizing. I hope by being openly *out* about it does some good, educates some of those who might have passed us over, and encourage those who are struggling to find resources that are useful to them. It may not be through a conventional mental health setting, and that doesn't matter, as long as they're getting useful tools for managing what's happening in their heads and lives. I hope those that need meds can get past the denial and get into some kind of care that can give them appropriate pharmaceutical support.
I hope one day my help as an advocate isn't needed any more because people are getting what they need when they need it. Please, make the need for people like me obsolete. I would not mind that kind of obsolescence a bit.
Thank you for this conversation Natasha. There are many 'highly functioning' bipolar professionals secretly or openly operating quite well.
In all my years of 'highly functioning', I had never actually been referred to, to my face, as 'highly functioning' until just recently and dare I say, I was offended. It's as if I was told, you're doing alright for being defective. Though quick to shake it off, it's a highly disappointing reinforcement that horrible miss-perceptions continue to be weaved into society at every turn.
It's no wonder we don't disclose. Mr/Ms general public would be appalled that the highly effective manager or colleague they've been working side by side with for so many years (who is also out performing them) is bipolar. Or they simply wouldn't believe you and instead, make a joke about some crazy they saw on 20/20. Others must have similar stories to tell..