Maybe about a year ago, I was in attendance at a Shabbat dinner held by a local Chabad center. This guy – I’m pretty sure he was the non-Jew in an interfaith couple – asked me what I did. I said I was on disability for my bipolar disorder. He said, “Oh, really? Me too!” I was excited for all of two seconds and responded with, “Seriously?” I was very excited that I met someone who got it.
“No, I was just kidding,” he said. My heart fell. He looked me up and down. “You don’t look disabled.”
And that’s why I normally tell people that I’m a housewife-in-training.
It’s easier. I explain that I’m engaged and that we have a needy rescue dog and that my fiancée wants to be a police officer, so someone needs to stay home with the kids while she’s working crazy hours and we want to get used to the financial crunch now instead of later and oh did I mention that I volunteer at the local church and lead a youth group and teach CCD classes. And I hold my breath and hope that they don’t put two and two together, or maybe they assume I lost my job in this shitty economy and I’m desperately trying to find one, or maybe they’re just old fashioned and they don’t have a problem with me being a homemaker. Then part of me wishes that I had been born in a different generation where a woman could quit her job after becoming engaged without being mercilessly questioned, even though that generation would put me in a place where I couldn’t marry a woman, let alone a Black woman.
I don’t tell them that I actually am working – working at therapy, which is hard, damnit, and which will hopefully give me the tools to not have to be on disability anymore. At the very least, it will hopefully give me the tools to not hate myself and to not want to die multiple times a week and not feel guilty for having those thoughts in the first place. I don’t tell them that I’m trying to find a therapist that I can do work with regarding childhood trauma so that once I conquer my own demons, I can help other people conquer theirs. I don’t tell them that I want to volunteer for BARCC once I feel ready and that I have this dream, this harebrained scheme where I go around and facilitate group therapy that helps childhood trauma survivors by combining it with music therapy and writing. I don’t tell them that I want to visit Christian colleges and parishes around Lent and talk about how it’s OK not to fast if you have a history with an eating disorder, that I have this whole seminar written up that I want to share with people so they are able to make choices that positively affect their health and their spirituality. I don’t tell people that once I’m settled and once I’m sure I can make volunteer commitments without having panic attacks and massive bouts of passively suicidal thoughts that interfere with my ability to do everything except weep, I want to become a CASA volunteer to get my foot in the door in regards to becoming a foster parent.
Instead, I tell them that I am a housewife-in-training. I pretend that I dropped out of college because it’s too expensive and I don’t want a wasted degree, not because I was struggling so much with my mental health that I just couldn’t cope with the workload and class schedules. I believe that there is something wrong with me for not working and not having an education and I sit there silently, hoping that I haven’t given away some clue that will embarrass my fiancée in front of her coworkers and friends.
Instead, I write about it on my blog that maybe less than ten people read. I debate telling people maybe that, yes, I’m on disability and that’s nothing to be ashamed of and you shouldn’t be judgmental of people with disabilities. Instead, I cower in fear when people post Facebook statuses lamenting the fact that so many people “take advantage of the system” and should go without, even though I know they’re talking about people on welfare, and people who don’t have jobs and people who can’t work because of a medical condition aren’t necessarily the same people. Instead, I cry because I feel so worthless and I am so ashamed that my income comes in the form of an SSI check that appears in my bank account every month on the third.
And that’s why I normally tell people I’m a housewife-in-training.
You, darling, have nothing to be ashamed of. The fact that a disability is “invisible” (though I dislike that term immensely; disabilities are always visible if you take the time to look and listen rather than judging) does not negate the fact that you are disabled right now. You are a beautiful, intelligent, compassionate woman who has not only every right but every responsibility to herself to take care of herself. Your wellness is no less important because the disability is based on chemical and neurological processes. And I know that saying this won’t make you feel it, because I’ve been there. Not where you are, but in situations where my disability is prevalent and I feel so ashamed for admitting its existence to myself and incapable of doing so to others. But I don’t care if it doesn’t help you feel it; it’s still important to say.
There’s so much I want to say but I can’t get my thoughts to coalesce around a central point enough (oh, mania, is there anything you CAN’T fsck up?) to say. But you KNOW you are better than you think you are, and better than what other people assume based off knowing nothing of you but a word. Hold on to that, hold on to that as hard as you can. Because there will come a day when you don’t just know it, but feel it. I promise you.
More than 10 of us read and WAY more than 10 of us care. Life is hard and complicated and difficult and painful. Yet, life is also brilliant and beautiful and thrilling and wonderful. Good luck and good thoughts on your journey to health and happiness. Thank you for sharing your thoughts along the way!