Today is my last day in my job. I’m a contractor, and the contract ends today. The reason I was given for the cut was that the workload has dropped to the point that they don’t need me anymore, but if I had to bet, it’s due to my decreased production due to my depression. I really haven’t seen a decrease in the work at all and no reason for my job to end.
One way or another I’ve lost every job I’ve ever had as a result of my illness. I quit my first job at 16 because I was too depressed to work. I resigned from my first ‘real’ job after I graduated because I was so manic I believed I was too good to work for the pay I was getting. I was so brilliant they should have been paying me twice as much as they were. That’s been the pattern my whole life. I’ve only actually been fired a couple of times; almost always it was my choice to leave. But it’s always my illness that drove the decision. With only one exception I’ve never been in a job more than a couple of years; the longest job was only five years.
Being bipolar can make a normal career impossible. When I had my first appointment with my new Doctor, after going through my history and symptoms she was shocked that I was able to work at all. She asked me several times if I’d considered going on disability; she was sure I’d qualify. I have no doubt that she’s correct. With all the lost jobs I’ve had, the hospitalizations too numerous to count, how long I’ve been in treatment without any significant remissions, all the medications over the years and the severity of symptoms, I don’t think it would be difficult at all to qualify for disability. There are just two problems. The first is practical. It can take a year or more to go through the process and there’s no way I can survive financially without any money coming in. I live one paycheck from disaster as it is, if the income stopped it would only be a matter of months before I was homeless and starving. The second is stubbornness. I refuse to give up. If I were to quit trying to maintain a career I would be giving into my disease and accepting defeat. I just can’t… no, I just won’t do that. There may come a day when it’s just too much to try to fight it anymore, but as long as I can I’m going to keep trying.
Not that there’s anything against anyone being on disability; quite the contrary. I’m very fortunate that I’m able to keep working in spite of my illness. But there are those who aren’t as lucky, and those whose illness is so much worse than what I have to deal with. On the one hand we do live in a society that recognizes that there are illnesses so severe that it’s impossible to live without help. It’s also a great shame that the amount of help is so limited. I’m not going to get into a political rant; there’s enough of that going on with the upcoming election. I believe that blame can’t be given to any particular political party or individual politician. But it’s my opinion that as a country we give away billions and billions of dollars to help other countries and Peoples, when we aren’t taking care of those who need it at home. Our mental health systems are woefully underfunded. Several years ago my State drastically reduced mental health funding with the idea that services would be picked up in the private sector. Needless to say, that didn’t happen and the result was that thousands of people stopped receiving any care at all. State funded mental health hospitals were never good places but now they’re being closed down completely. Even people like myself are neglected. I cannot afford health insurance. I’m greatly limited to the types of medications I can take because I can’t pay for the newest (and most expensive) drugs. But I make too much money to qualify for any help. And if you’re ‘lucky’ enough to actually get disability, the amount of money available only provides the barest of survival. I know too many people on disability who are living in near hovels and reduced to eating nothing but the cheapest of foods because they just don’t have the resources for anything more. I’m not saying that the government is responsible for keeping the disabled in the lap of luxury, but it does seem like with all the wasted resources and foreign aid that our country provides we could do a lot better than we do. It’s bad enough that we have to live with such a horrible disease; we have to live like paupers too.
I didn’t intend this to turn into an indictment of our society. But it’s so frustrating to have to deal with the same day to day problems as everyone else, and have to go through such an overwhelming illness at the same time. And I’m so much better off then so many others who are cursed with this devastating disease. I’m extremely grateful that I’m able to continue working in spite of everything, even with all the job changes and lost opportunities. There may very come a day when I’m not able to cope anymore and find myself struggling for the barest of survival. Who knows? With the end of this contract I may already be on the verge of catastrophe.
And it’s not just the mentally ill who have been left behind. There are many other illnesses that keep people from working that have to depend on the meager existence that is available. Multiple sclerosis, arthritis, cystic fibrosis, fibromyalgia, cancers; there are so many disabling conditions it’s impossible to list them all. I believe that we, as a people, have failed the ones who need it the most. We live in the richest country in the world, yet too many of us are reduced to the barest of survival. As I move into the next phase of my life I need to remember that as bad as it seems, it can always be a lot worse. I still have the ability, the strength and the will to keep fighting this beast that can so easily destroy me. There are so many others who are dependent on the limited government support and the charity of others.
And there, but for the grace of God, go I.