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I am a 29 year old woman diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 1 and also suffer from general anxiety and panic attacks. I have only been recently diagnosed but have been ill since I was a teenager. I tend to have mixed-manic episodes, hence the name of my blog. I am a regular guest blogger for Black Dog Tribe. I am not a mental health professional. I am just writing from my own experiences with mental illness. If you wish to use any of my blog content please contact me at lababup@gmail.com. Visit me on twitter @lababup

Monday, 17 February 2014

Mental health, unemployment and guilt

So I am sitting around on a Monday afternoon at my parent’s house. Lucky me, I am not having to work like everyone else. Instead I am reading, watching tv and blogging. Sounds good to most people I am sure.

The problem is that this isn’t what I want to do at all. More than anything else I want to be able to say that I have a job or am studying or something else that sounds as worthwhile. I know I shouldn’t be so focused on this. It is just that I feel so worthless and pathetic. I feel like other people will view me in this way too when they find out I am not in work.

Technically I am a PhD student. I am enrolled at my university but I have been off sick since April. This was when I had my second severe manic/mixed episode and I had no option but to go off sick. It took about 4 months for me to start coming down from this episode but them there was the inevitable crash down to depression. Then about a month ago I had a manic episode that lasted about two weeks and then I crashed back in to the depression I am now in. So basically I am rapid cycling from one to the other.

I am unable to study or work when I am depressed or manic. When I am manic, I am pacing around in circles, speaking gibberish, laughing wildly and become paranoid and strange. There is no way I could return to university or work whilst I am like this. When I am depressed, I have no motivation, no energy, I can’t focus or concentrate and I feel like life is a massive burden. If I had to go to work or study I think I would probably just cry and collapse in a corner somewhere, rocking back and forth. I wouldn’t last a day.

Although I have just described in brief why I cannot work when my mental health is like this, I still feel very strong feelings of guilt and shame surrounding this. Everyone else is able to work. Why can’t I just get myself together? Why can’t I just be like everyone else? Am I lazy? In addition, I feel like I have no purpose in life and am a drain on society. This feeds back in to feelings of guilt and worthlessness. I know logically that you don’t have to have a job to have a meaningful life or to be a valued person. However I can’t help but feel this way.

My feelings of guilt are compounded by the weight of society’s expectations. One of the first things people ask you when they meet you is ‘what do you do for a living?’ or if they know you, ‘how is work?’. You feel awful when you have to say that you don’t work. What will they be thinking of you? What will we talk about now? Are they judging me?

Money obviously becomes an issue too. I have received a scholarship to study my PhD but whilst I am off sick, I don’t receive anything. I am also too scared to apply for any kind of sickness benefits because I don’t want to go to an assessment with someone from the DWP who knows nothing about me or mental illness in general. It is too much pressure and I feel like I won’t be able to talk to this stranger about something so personal. I am lucky enough to have some financial support from my family, but things are still tight.

I think that, rightly or wrongly, a large part of your identity becomes tied in to the job you do. It is where you achieve things, make friends and conduct a lot of your social life. If you don’t work due to mental illness, you lose all of this together with a lot of feelings of confidence which you gain from work or study. In addition you don’t have any kind of routine to keep you steady and you feel like you don’t have a purpose.

I desperately want to be accepted by society and feel valued. I worry that the only way to do this is work. However, when I think about it more I know that it is the illness, not a lack of will, which prevents me from work. I just hope that other people understand this and try to be sympathetic. If I could I would. The reality of not working is not as great as people think. It is an isolating and lonely existence.

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