A flower may “recover” from a long drought or an insect infestation, but she doesn’t live “in recovery” thereafter: she just lives. Likewise, I just live with Type II Bipolar disorder.
“You can’t recover from a chronic health condition,” I say. “You live with it. You manage it. It’s like diabetes. If I had diabetes and lost enough weight to stop using insulin, no one would say I had ‘recovered’ from it. I would have just managed it really well.”
A few years back, I interviewed for a 20-hour job at a mental health nonprofit. The part-time, benefit-free position offered a paycheck comparable to what a hospital in the same city paid its part-time switchboard operators, but since everyone seemed to consider me overqualified to run a switchboard, I kept applying for positions in line with my experience.
I made it to the second interview and found the team quite concerned about whether I would be able to consistently represent their views about mental health at all times, in all places. Even though I was being considered for a part-time role outside the community where I lived.
This wasn’t the first time that an organization expected my paycheck to buy round-the-clock commitment. I started my career in news media at a time when they were expected to be politically “impartial” and so prohibited staff from any public engagement in causes. I later worked for a large civil engineering company that was often the presenting consultant at local meetings. I therefore could only participate as a citizen in public hearings when I agreed with the view the firm propounded.
In the case of the engineering firm, the paycheck was big enough to buy almost anything. In the case of the news operation, the honor of the profession (at that time) allowed me to walk proud even under constraints on my citizenship.
But the idea that I should never express a view about mental illness different from that of my part-time employer in exchange for less than $15,000 a year — I found that staggering. I didn’t think it would be a problem to present their program to potential funders, but it would definitely be a problem to limit myself to their perspectives during the remaining 7,696 hours per year.
Earlier today, I was at a meeting where the team planning a mental health conference excitedly reported that one of the speakers was bringing his son to the event. “He has bipolar but he’s very successful professionally,” the conference team member said of the younger man. Did that raise your hackles, too? Let’s try a few similar sentences and see how well they work: “She uses a wheelchair BUT she’s a really good graphic designer.”“He has Lyme disease BUT he’s an excellent father.”Continue reading →