Mental illness can also be classified as a disability. The dictionary defines a disability as “a condition (such as an illness or an injury) that damages or limits a person’s physical or mental abilities.” Mental illness does affect a person’s physical and mental abilities. It can be debilitating at times, and it can affect your ability to focus, make decisions, and think clearly. For some, their illness is so bad they are unable to work or function in society. Some need extra help. There are many who fall in a rut. They let their illness take over and they don’t even try to work or function. They just let the word “disability” define them as incapable to do anything when they are more than capable.
I never considered my mental illness a disability. I saw it as another obstacle I had to work around. Even though I could barely get myself out of bed, I felt exhausted all day, I couldn’t keep much food down, and I struggled to concentrate, I never thought that my abilities were hindered. Despite my illness, I continued to go to my college classes and pass with good grades. It wasn’t easy, but I forced myself to keep going.
However, once my illness did become overwhelming and I had to take time off from college. During my time off, I could have given up and lay in bed all day. I did feel like my life was over and I was a failure, but something in me pushed me to keep going. I hit the bottom of the hole. I was injuring, suicidal, depressed, and unable to sleep at night. My thoughts were out of control and my soul was blanketed in darkness. I needed time off from school to take care of my illness, but staying home and doing nothing would have only made things worse. So I started looking for a job. First I started working at a fast food restaurant, and when they wouldn’t give me enough hours, I got a job at a grocery store. I had to make myself go to work despite the anguish that burned so deeply in my soul. I was sick, but was not unable to do anything. I had to keep going.
I made mistakes with my schedule. One day, I thought I was off when I was supposed to work. I couldn’t remember the prices in the bakery department, and I was too depressed to talk to other employees. I could have easily given up and collected social security disability, but I refused to. I had to work around my illness and keep myself going. I started therapy and moved to the front end of the grocery store as a bagger. In time I made friends, started going out, and started to feel some relief from my illness. Once I reached recovery, I returned to college and got my degree.
Years later, when I fell back down the hole, I was hospitalized after being in an abusive relationship. I was determined I was not going to stay in the hospital long. I knew I had a long road to recovery, but nothing was going to stop me. I left the hospital within a week. I took time off from work. My therapist insisted I go on social security disability, but I told her, “No.” I said, “I want to work and I’m not disabled.” My therapist was upset. She was sure I could no longer handle my job, but I didn’t agree.
I didn’t want to give up. I knew the road to recovery was hard, but I had to fight for it. My illness never made anything easy for me, nor did my learning disability, but I have always been up for a challenge. I could have easily taken the SSD and sat home and wallowed in my misery, but that wasn’t me. I had to work. I had to get out of the house and be around people. I had to keep going. To me, staying home and letting myself be labeled as disabled was giving up. I was never a quitter and never will be. I fought to graduate from school despite my learning disability, and I sure wasn’t going to stop fighting to keep working and being a productive part of society.
Even though you have an illness that affects your abilities physically and mentally, it doesn’t mean you are unable to do anything. Don’t let your illness stop you from doing what you want to. It’s not easy to work around your sickness, but it is possible. Don’t look at your illness as just a disability, but also as a challenge. You can work, you can become a part of society, and you can function. It will be hard, but you can do it. Don’t give up on yourself. Fight for recovery, fight to keep going, fight to finish college, fight to work a job, and fight to get up each morning. You can do it.
Having a mental illness didn’t stop me from graduating from college, it didn’t stop me from keeping the same job for twenty-two years, it didn’t stop me from making friends, it didn’t stop me from writing my memoir, and it didn’t stop me from reaching recovery. Because I view my illness as an obstacle instead of a disability, nothing stands in my way. I’m reaching for the stars with my writing. Since I let nothing stand in my way, I feel as if I am floating within the light.