What is a disability? Wikipedia defines a disability as any condition that makes it more difficult for a person to do certain activities or interact with the world around him or her. These conditions or impairments may be cognitive, developmental, intellectual, mental, physical, sensory, or a combination of multiple factors. Does this describe someone with mental illness? Some say mental illness is only a disease and others say it’s a disability. How would you categorize it? Does mental illness make it hard for you to interact in the world or do your normal activities?
There is a wide variety of types of mental illnesses. Some mental illnesses can be treated with medication and some cannot. Some are too severe to treat with just medication and therapy. In any form this sickness can be debilitating, and it does impact your life and how you function. If your illness is severe enough you may never be able to have a normal life or function in society. There are illnesses that people can rise above and live normal lives.
When I was in the mental health hospital, I saw people suffering from different kinds of this sickness. My hospital roommate walked the halls in a daze, like a barely functioning zombie. I felt bad for her. A while after I left the hospital, I joined a mental health support group. It was there I saw my roommate again. She was still unable to function fully. Her illness was so severe she could barely exist in the world. She told how she was in and out of the hospital and no matter what she did she couldn’t feel better. She lived with her parents, and she had no friends, no job, and no life. I felt for her.
When my mental illness was at its worst, I cried a lot over small things, I couldn’t sleep, many of my relationships were unhealthy, I spent a lot of time alone, and I had to force myself out of bed. My mind was riddled with racing thoughts, negativity, suicidal thoughts, and self-hate. I couldn’t even make a simple decision like what kind of shoes to buy. I buried myself in my college work while I self-injured. My illness soon became so overwhelming I had to take time away a year off from college. I went to work while I was off.
While working I called in sick because I couldn’t get out of bed. One day I got in trouble for a no-show. I forgot I had to work, and I slept all day. I struggled to interact in society and to do regular activities. It took all my strength to get up each day and put a fake smile on my face.
Many at their worse struggle to function in their daily lives, but there are many who work their way through these stages and live normal lives. How do you define a normal life? Is it living life without any signs of sickness? Is it a life where you must work to face each day? Can you really define normal? To me a normal life is being able to work a job, have healthy relationships, be able to smile and laugh, and live life to the fullest. I do that each day while still managing my mental illness.
There is no cure for the illness of the mind. There will always be bad days. I must use many coping techniques to continue to live my life. If I don’t take my medication, I fall down that dark hole. If I don’t have my support system and my coping techniques, I will slip into darkness. Is having to manage my illness daily make me disabled? I have my limits and I must set boundaries. I need to say no to things and people who trigger my illness. I can’t work fulltime because the stress is too much for my anxiety and mental wellbeing. Does that fit under the definition of a disability?
I have a happy life. I am married to the love of my life, I have healthy relationships, I do fun things, and I’ve worked the same job for early 25 years. Does this sound like someone who is disabled? You decide.
Not everyone can have a normal life while struggling with mental illness. Some are confined to a hospital, some are struggling just to survive, and some live in group homes or on the streets because they can’t get past their illness. There are people with this sickness who have had several kinds of treatments and cannot find relief from and they spend their time in and out of hospitals. Does this define them as disabled?
For me, my illness is a challenge I had and have to face and fight to overcome. It is just one of those things life threw in my way to see if I had the strength and courage to fight and rise above it. We all face challenges in our lives. We all have things we have to work through. That is what mental illness is to me. Something I had to work through to live a better and more enriching life and something I must manage to keep living in the light. Managing my illness is just a part of my daily activities and doesn’t keep me from living life to the fullest.
Now that you have read this, what is your opinion? Do you think mental illness is a disability? Do you think it’s just a challenge you have to overcome? Do you think it’s a disease? Does mental illness keep a person from doing activities or interacting with the world around her or him? Or does it depend on how bad the illness is to make it a disability? Does having to manage this sickness make it a disability? Leave me your opinion in the comments.
Seeing my illness as a challenge helps me strive in the light of recovery.