Stigma of Invisible Disability

Stigma & Invisible Disability
Those of us living with invisible disabilities face stigma not only from others but sometimes from ourselves.

Recently read Work Ethic, a post by bpnurse, in which she discusses her life since she stopped working and went on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

People judge those of us with invisible disabilities. We even judge ourselves.

Someone once asked me if I questioned the ethics of receiving disability. I explained that my disability wasn’t visible. I ran down my history of hypomanic workaholism and subsequent crashing into depression, rapid cycling and mixed states which lead to my hospitalization.

Although I appear fine, traditional work and I do not mix well. My bipolar type II is well-controlled with medication and my careful avoidance of triggers to mood cycling.

Because my brain disorder is invisible and because my husband provides for our family, someone believe that I take advantage of a government program I do not need.

You see, I receive SSDI, which is based on my payment into Social Security taxes from past income combined with my current inability to work. I do not receive SSI, which is based on need (lack of resources).

Still, with this understanding, even I have felt guilty about being on disability (SSDI), about not being “productive.”

One of my psychologists (I’ve been in therapy since I was 18, so I’ve seen many psychotherapists over the decades) suggested I reframe being on disability (SSDI) as a long-term sabbatical. Reframing enabled me to accept my changed life circumstances.

Since then, I’ve further reframed my experience as God making me stay home to care for my high needs son (a migraineur who has struggled with co-occurring anxiety, depression, and health issues).

Of course, I don’t receive disability to be a stay-at-home mom. But, I didn’t want to be a stay-at-home mom. So, I’ve chosen to reframe my experience this way. I had to be broken to leave my ambitions behind, to accept a new lifestyle, to reprioritize my life.

Now, I do other work — I volunteer my writing, my time, and my knowledge and experience — while on my extended sabbatical from my former work.

What I can do, I do, and I do it well. No longer expect myself to work as I once did. It wasn’t good for me or for my family.

To Work or Not to Work

My past experience has been that in the workplace I become overstimulated, that I take on too many responsibilities, overwork, and burn out. Taking care of my husband and son, as well as myself, taxes me as it is. I need social contact, but still feel that it must be restrained, limited, flexible to my needs and the needs of my family. Group therapy as well as the writers’ workshops that I have begun attending give me needed structure and stimulation. They enable me to rejoin the world outside my home, away my family room couch where I sit in front of the TV until it’s once again time to pick up my son or go grocery shopping. These group activities provide me with a sense of accomplishment and competence. Unlike a job where there are multiple, competing priorities and deadlines, I am not asked to perform. Unlike taking a position as administrative assistant for which I am overqualified, I am learning from those more qualified and experienced than I.