Saturday, 10 January 2015

When a Disability is Invisible: Living and working with a mental illness.


Living and working with a mental illness.

hope and despair sign from pixabay
hope and despair sign from
 Mental illness continues to be the hidden disability - it holds such stigma in society that it is seldom talked about especially as it so often makes other people uncomfortable. Here I'll share a little of my personal experience in the hope it will doors.

Classified Disabled

Several years ago I was finally classified as disabled.   I am not blind or deaf, nor do I have any physical disability – I have bipolar disorder, that mental illness that used to be called manic depression.  There are many points on the spectrum of bipolar disorder but for me it takes the form of chronic depression with episodes of agitation and hyperactivity and very occasionally psychotic episodes.  

I lost my job as a practice nurse after suffering a manic episode at work.  The episode was brought on by a stressful situation at work which went on for weeks during which the staff were not given any information far less support.  

The one place one would expect understanding and allowances to be made for a long term disease would be a health centre right?  Wrong!   Not only was I encouraged to resign I was also told to seek another GP for myself although I had been in that practice for over 20 years and the change involved moving to a practice some distance away.  In today’s society where medical practice is big business, the Practice Manager and accountant are in charge; the bottom line on the accounts is the imperative and the cost is ‘people’. 

The experience exacerbated my illness:  I no longer trust myself or trust the people around me.  I hardly leave the house. Until relatively recently doing so puts me in complete panic.  At that time I had an inner hall door then a door to the outside – that space in between was like an air-lock; when I opened that inner door to leave, the panic rose in my throat.  I did the tasks outside I need to do and scurried back to the security of those locked doors.

I tell this only to illustrate the problems people like me face everyday.  People do not understand how debilitating depression is.  I don’t mean just feeling down or sad, but true despair, with thoughts of suicide that completely takes over your life. Someone ones said if you can describe chronic depression you have never been there. 

People look at me, tell me I look wonderful, and wonder why I am not working.  My disability is invisible.  I can put on a wonderful show for short periods of time but can no longer sustain the pretence of normality for any length of time.  To work outside the home I would need an atmosphere where staff understood the flash shifts in moods and the effects they have on me and my ability to cope with situations at different times.  If I could not find that within a professional health environment what hope is there in a lay environment?

In today’s society it is illegal to discriminate against anyone on grounds of disability.  While that is very well on paper, in reality employers and team leaders can find ways around it.  I took advantage of one guaranteed interview for a job only to turn up on the day, walk into a hostile room where the interviewer obviously had no intention of considering me for the job and equally obviously resented the fact I had been 'forced' on her. 

I don’t think this experience is unusual nor do I know how to fix it.  Perhaps all one can do is write articles such as this in the hope that passing the message on will educate people to be more understanding.
caught in the chain from


I first wrote this about 5 years ago. After I lost my job I actually sold up my home with my beloved garden and moved away from the village I had lived in for 21 years. I think in part I was punishing myself for that psychotic episode.  I moved to a placed called Newport on Tay into a flat that had a wonderful view but was cold and barren otherwise. I knew no one. More self imposed punishment?

It was only when my dearest friends Carol and Geoff came to visit from Yorkshire that things started to change. Geoff admired the view then told me they probably said the same thing in Alcatraz. They persuaded me to move to be near them in Yorkshire and that is what I did.

It has taken all of those 5 years for me to heal from the latest episode. I am better than I was. Oh I still like my isolation but I am steadier. I cope with the ups and downs, work with those manic episodes that permit me to work like a Trojan and ride the troughs of depression.

If you like I MANAGE my condition. I have learned to accept what I am and work with it instead of against it.

Now I am officially at retirement age a lot of the pressure has been lifted which helps tremendously. I did briefly have to go through the humiliation of being questioned by unqualified assessors in the benefits system and that did nothing to help my condition. The forms are pages long and if you are ill almost impossible to deal with, the interview process is hostile and humiliating and the burden of proof is on you to prove you are unable to work.

 I know it is getting harder and harder to have mental illness recognised as a disability for anyone who is unable to work and I don't see that chaning under our present government. It brings up so many more issues and I know for a fact more and more people with mental illness are being thrown into homelessness and poverty. Until we can change society views on mental illness that will continue.

What can we each do about it?

  • Make people aware. 
  • Write to your MP about the unfairness of the system. 
  • Support those you know who have a mental illness. 
  • Protest benefit cuts. - check out associations like UK Uncut and Disabled People Against Cuts. 

Thank you for visiting and please share this to pass on the word. 

1 comment:

  1. That's a brave post! I have some physical issues which aren't readily visible ("you've put on weight") so I can sympathise with that aspect at least.

    I would say that surviving the problems and changes, however they've come about, is a mark of strength and you're to be congratulated there.