Two or three times last night I considered dropping out of school. I’m not going to, but I can see there are going to be some difficult times for me.
Given the nature of the work it’s only natural that mental illness comes up. I haven’t shared that I have bipolar disorder, or that I’m an alcoholic. Actually that’s not exactly true. I did share that I’m a recovering alkie in my personal essay for one of my classes, but the professor was the only one to see that. Even then I struggled about whether I should reveal that. I haven’t even shared that mental illness and addiction run in my family, largely for fear that it will beg the question of my own status.
This is because more than once it’s been said or hinted that if you have a diagnosis, you shouldn’t be in this field. Now, keep in mind that all of my previous advisors knew these things about me and think I’ll be a wonderful counselor. My own therapist urges me to continue because she believes I have a lot to offer. Still, sitting in class, I begin to doubt. Am I too screwed up? All joking aside, am I going to screw up others? Will I be competent? Yes, I take my medication religiously. I see a therapist every week. Yes, I function perfectly well. But, you know, I have bipolar disorder.
I am less than. I’m not good enough.
Those old tapes start to play in my head until I manage to turn them off again.
It was a bit ironic last night. We were talking about prejudice and discrimination, and the subject of mental illness came up. People started talking about people with schizophrenia and bipolar, but especially bipolar. They started making these generalizations, including the professor. I held still and silent, but was squirming inside. All of these objections rose to my lips but I didn’t speak any of them. Not all of us act out on manic highs or depressed lows, making life miserable for those around us. There are quite a few of us out in the world functioning just fine, thank-you very much. A large number of famous people from all walks of life have bipolar disorder. They have contributed amazing things to the world.
But it was all “they” and “them” in the discussion. I am a potentially dangerous “other.” It hurt.
To be fair this was meant to be a shallow discussion, not an in-depth look at mental illness, so generalizations were perhaps more appropriate. Even though I understand that, it didn’t change the way I felt. I was stigmatized, and the object of prejudice. It was just so odd to have been talking about discrimination and prejudice, and how wrong it is, only to turn around and do it to people with mental illness. My therapist was fascinated by that when I talked to her about it today. She told me that they were the ones who needed to reconsider their attitudes; I’m going to be a terrific counselor. I have so much to offer.
I’ve decided that if I’m going to listen to any tapes in my head, I’ll make them of her, not those old “you’re not good enough” standbys.
And I’m not going to quit.