Homelessness Could Happen To YOU.

Let’s face it: I’m homeless.

Not “house-free,” as people joke. “A house is not a home,” after all. Yes, I am high-class homeless: I live in a Mercedes Sprinter van (the same kind FedEx uses to deliver stuff) that has a camper built into it. Posh, for a homeless person! But I don’t have a physical address. I don’t have a home to return to, when I’m weary of the road. I don’t have a family, a family doctor, a community, etc. Nevertheless I’m blessed to have shelter and transportation.

A month ago I was camped by a lovely high meadow in Sequoia National Forest, in Forest Service Dispersed Camping. This is where I live: I wander from forest to forest, camping for free in the thousands of informal campsites sprinkled all over the largely unpaved Forest Service roads. Most of the time I’m fortunate to find isolated spots with no one around for miles. This particular time I was fortunate that there was another camper, a few hundred yards off.

It was a Chevy van, obviously a DIY conversion. Pretty neat, really. One man, no dog. I wondered what his story was. I hoped he was benign, but I tucked my pistol into its concealed carry holster nonetheless. I was miles from help, and no cell service. Of course I have my Doggess, my personal Enforcer; but as my Marine K-9 trainer taught me, if they shoot your dog, that gives you an extra 15 seconds to get your weapon ready. But I was hoping not to have any truck whatsoever with my neighbor.

Turns out, I was the one to introduce myself to the guy I’ll call Bob.

This Mercedes van isn’t like a Mercedes car. It’s a truck. Bells and whistles, none.

For instance: If your car (any make at all) is less than 20 years old, it probably has a nifty little switch that automatically turns off your lights after you remove your key, so your battery doesn’t run down because the lights were on while you were asleep in your snug bed.

Even my old ’97 Dodge truck had that feature….but not this 2016 Mercedes truck. Nuh-uh. It has four wheel drive and a granny gear, which is why I bought it, but if you forget and leave your lights on, you’re S.O.L.

Which I was, the morning after I left my lights on all night.

Quite luckily, I had recently charged up my external jump charger. It was red hot and rarin’ to go. But my Mercedes van is made of solid metal and lots of it, which is the other reason I bought it. Only thing is, with my various infirmities, I often cannot lift the hood. That was the case this particular morning.

My neighbor looked like he was finishing up breakfast, but I did not see a sign of a coffee cup. Hmm, that means either he doesn’t drink coffee, or he doesn’t have any. I’ll take a gamble and see if I can offer him some. Then I’ll move in for the kill and ask him to help me jump the van.

Paydirt! He was fresh out of java. I fixed him a good strong one. We drank coffee and chatted. He seemed like a good sort, although I maintain clear boundaries at all times when interacting with characters I meet on the road.

He cheerfully lent me his arms and took over the jump start task with manly pride in being useful. I made him a second cup, and while we let the truck run to get good and charged up, he told me his story.

Bob was 64 years and 7 months old. Up until four weeks ago, he had been the IT guy at a medium-sized development company in Sacramento. He was the guy who kept all of the machines updated, virus-free, and running cleanly. He was the guy that did all the backups and made sure everybody’s data was safe and secure.

On the day he turned 64 1/2, he was laid off, along with a new hire that hadn’t worked out. Bob had been there for 12 years. If he had worked another 6 months, he would have been able to collect company pension.

“Wait a minute!” I cried. “Isn’t this a clear case of laying you off to avoid paying your pension?”

“Clearly it is,” he said. “But my lawyer pointed out that they were careful to let a younger person go at the same time, so it didn’t look like a pension avoidance. They claimed the company was downsizing.

Suddenly Bob was jobless.

In a state of shock, he reverted to his main competency: analysis.  What is the algorithm for sudden, unexpected unemployment?

You find a new job, of course.  Bob blasted out his resume, which includes a long stint at Apple, another with Microsoft.  Bob is a smart, talented, high level techie.

He’s also an old techie, and as he discovered, nobody wants to hire someone who’s 6 months away from their 65th birthday.

Bob put in for unemployment.

Gotta hand it to his former employer: at least they fixed it so he would get unemployment insurance up until he was eligible for Social Security, which was much less than his pension would have been, but at least it was something; and via COBRA, he would have his health insurance until he was eligible for Medicare.  Pretty slick.

Meanwhile the bills continued to roll in as usual.  Bob, like so many members of the Middle Class, had very little in the way of savings to fall back on.  He quickly saw that what funds he did have wouldn’t last long, paying $1,700/month for his tiny studio apartment.  He rented a storage building, put everything into it except his camping gear, and moved into his van.

He’s an organised person, so within a week he had his infrastructure in place: a membership at a gym franchise provided shower access; he developed a rotation for overnight parking so he wouldn’t become a target for thieves or police.  His portable kitchen was still a work in progress.  He was learning to live out of his van.  Learning to be a member of the high-class homeless.

I often hear and read self-satisfied, superior comments about homeless people.  The assumption is that homeless people are all alike: lazy and shiftless.  If they just got a job, they wouldn’t be homeless…right?  And they’re all on meth anyway, so why should I care? 

Uh, sure.  Just…only…that’s very often not the case.  Like Bob the IT guy, who got the hook because he’d been loyal enough to his company to happily stay until retirement.  Except he got laid off at age 64 1/2, with no warning at all, no time to prepare for the retirement he had every reason was waiting for him.

I used to joke that if all else failed, I could always be a greeter at Wal-Mart.  That used to be one of the only jobs available to the Medicare crowd.

Bob had that same idea.  He applied to every Walmart in the State of California.  He found out that most Wal-Marts have discontinued the greeters.  Too expensive.

He tried fast food places.  “Over qualified” for those, naturally.

He’s still sending out resumes.  Fortunately, he’s still able to afford to rent a mailbox that gives him a physical address, so he can receive his rejection letters.

He’s adjusting to van life.  He does love camping.  Of course there are challenges, like, how do you keep your possessions from being ruined when it’s 105 degrees?  You yourself can go walk around in the mall, but your “house” is still going to bake in the parking lot.  Your soap will melt, your shaving cream can will blow up….

And what about the future, that looked so comfortable with your pension, formerly adequate for your needs?  What will happen when you get sick, develop diabetes, have a stroke, get crippled up with arthritis….?  What if you need surgery: where will you go to recover?

Please remember, dear reader, this valuable adage applies to us all:

There but for the grace of God go I.

(And for you who are smirking because your 401k or your Keogh is coming along nicely….all it takes is another 2008 and you’ll be sitting right where Bob found himself.)

Voices of Mental Illness: Joe and Jess Speak Out

Every Wednesday on Bipolar For Life we have a special feature: Breaking the Silence of Stigma.  It’s an interview and/or personal essay format guest appearance from one of our brothers or sisters who suffer with a mental illness.  In addition to talking about the mental illness itself, we talk about how the stigma of having a mental illness affects our lives.

Today’s guest appearance turned out to be so different, and so compelling, that I decided to change the whole thing.

I first met Joe through his powerful piece on his blog ManicMedic about the recent rash of public figures openly mouthing discriminatory epithets against people with mental illness.  I recommend you go and read it right now, if you haven’t already.

We got to chatting a bit through the comments, as the topic was at the top of my consciousness just then:  two of our fellow bloggers and I have been slowly but surely building a social media (and soon to have its own blog!) platform called Faces of Mental Illness, which is meant specifically to counter the horrible images that public figures, news anchors, and random others have been spewing all over the media.  Don’t worry, a post will follow which will clarify all the mysterious things I have just said.

At any rate, I asked Joe if he would be interested in doing a Breaking the Silence interview with me, and he said he’d be delighted; and by the way his girlfriend has a few DSM diagnoses herself, and would I be interested in interviewing her too?  Of course!  Says I, all unknowing that I was about to enter a world of passionate intensity that I haven’t felt since I started taking Seroquel.

They sent their interviews right away, and I sat there reading them with flies flying in and out of my open mouth.  Here are two people, each with their own brands of internal pain, doing it all together.  They support each other, they actively participate in each other’s lives, and they are clearly well-developed individuals who think and feel for themselves.

Having a mental illness is hard enough; having a relationship with a person who has a mental illness is hard enough; combining the two, and managing to not only stay right-side-up but to thrive, is a labor of love.

So without further ado, please allow me to introduce first Joe, because I met him first, and then Jess.  It’s a bit of a long read, but worth every word.

Joe

BSS: How long have you known that you are living with a mental illness?

Joe: Ever since I can remember as a child something was not right, especially during high school I would get so depressed. I would let my feelings out in my writings for English class. I would also get “inspired” a lot as I liked to call it and got involved in as much as possible at school.

BSS: Can you share with us your diagnosis/diagnoses?

Joe: I am currently “officially” diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder II, I also show signs of anxiety disorder, especially in social situations.

BSS: When were you diagnosed with these?

Joe: I was diagnosed as depressed during college, it wasn’t until much later.. around 2009 if I remember correct that I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder.

BSS: How were they diagnosed?  Did you have any special testing?

Joe: It actually took a couple of hospitalizations to receive the bipolar diagnosis, no special testing… just observation of symptoms that I’ve reported and staff had seen on the unit during my hospitalizations.

BSS: Was your illness diagnosed correctly the first time, or did it take time before the right diagnosis was arrived at?  Do you feel that you do indeed have the correct diagnosis now?

Joe: No, as I mainly got depressed at the time of my initial diagnosis I was just simply diagnosed as “Depressed”. It wasn’t until after my second hospitalization in a month that I received the Bipolar diagnosis

BSS: Have you ever been hospitalized due to your illness?  How many times?  Do you think it helped?

Joe: If I remember correct I was hospitalized 7 times in 6 months, I wasn’t out of the hospital more than a month during that time. It helped me get to the diagnosis and treatment that is “somewhat” working now. I don’t think it will ever be 100% perfect.

BSS: Are you on medications for your illness?  Do they help?  What about side effects?

Joe: I am currently taking Abilify 15mg daily as well as Serquel XR 50mg as needed for sleep. With the Abilify I am currently experiencing muscle spasms, mainly at night when I’m in bed. I’m told they will most likely be perminate. As far as the Serquel, it takes me a little longer to get going in the morning when I take it the night before but other than that no issues.

BSS: Have you ever had ECT (Electroconvulsive therapy)?

Joe: No, I have not had ECT

BSS: What other things do you do to help with your illness?  Do you go to individual therapy?  Group? Other things?  What, if anything, seems to help?

Joe: I go to individual therapy once every two weeks as permitted by scheduling. I had been going to a peer support group but have lost track of them. Both somewhat helps.

BSS: How has your illness impacted your life (jobs, education, relationships, children, alcohol, drug abuse….._)

Joe: I have had to keep it from my jobs, I worked in the Emergency Medical Services field where we on a regular basis treated patients experiencing psychological emergencies. You would never believe how they are spoken about sometimes after they are dropped off at the hospital. I didn’t want people to think of me like that.

BSS: Have you ever felt discriminated against because of your illness, or had to deal with disparaging comments, denied a job or other opportunities?

Joe: I have recently lost my job, in my first job interview back searching I had mentioned my mental illness along with one of my weaknesses… it wasn’t planned, it kinda slipped out….. I don’t know if it mattered or not to them but I did not get the job.

BSS: If you could give advice to someone else struggling with mental illness, what would it be?

Joe: Don’t hide, get help!

BSS: Anything else you’d like to add?

Joe: Thank you for this opportunity!

Jess

BSS: How long have you known that you are living with a mental illness?

Jess: Really I have known since I was 13 when I started having suicidal thoughts. I kept it all to myself but would have days where I was moody and my parents thought I was just being a teenage girl. They sent me to a counselor where I lied and said what they wanted to hear because I was already dealing with epilepsy and refused to have another diagnoses.

BSS: Can you share with us your diagnosis/diagnoses?

Jess: Absolutely. I was originally diagnosed with depression and anxiety. As time went on I was diagnosed with bipolar, borderline personality disorder, PTSD, and anxiety. I also believe I have a social anxiety because I can’t be around a lot of people or else I have an anxiety attack.

BSS: When were you diagnosed with these?

Jess: I was originally diagnosed in February of 2010 but November of 2012 was when I got the updated diagnosis.

BSS: How were they diagnosed?  Did you have any special testing?

Jess: I was having suicidal thoughts and my fiancé Joe who also has bipolar said I needed to get to the hospital. Through a week of supervision and what seemed to be a year’s worth of questions regarding family history and such the hospital said I had major depression.

BSS: Was your illness diagnosed correctly the first time, or did it take time before the right diagnosis was arrived at?  Do you feel that you do indeed have the correct diagnosis now?

Jess: The original diagnoses was somewhat on the right track. After being in a group setting they figured out that my major depression was really the bipolar which I agree with and borderline personality disorder which I in all honesty am still trying to come to terms with. Is it a correct diagnosis? I believe with everything I am it is. Once the descriptions of each were read to me a lot of childhood memories came to mind and the “a-ha” moment came into play.

BSS: Have you ever been hospitalized due to your illness?  How many times?  Do you think it helped?

Jess: I have been hospitalized many times. In the year I was diagnosed I was in the hospitals probably three times. The year after I think two maybe three times I was hospitalized. Last year I think was two times and this year once in the hospital. It helped when I worked it and when I didn’t have distractions. There was one stay where a girl would cause fights with everyone and we would be on eggshells so treatment wasn’t really there. There were two other stays where all I wanted was to go home so I told them whatever it took to get me out.

BSS: Are you on medications for your illness?  Do they help?  What about side effects?

Jess: Currently I am on Lexapro. It did work for the longest time but now my body has adapted to it and it’s like I am taking flinstone vitamins. My last hospital stay I said I needed a change and they said I am already on the highest dose so I am stuck with it. Which kind of pissed me off because I know for sure there are other meds that I could have been put on. I have an appointment with my regular doctor soon to discuss a change.

BSS: Have you ever had ECT (Electroconvulsive therapy)?  How did it affect you?  Did it help?

Jess: I am actually scared to try it. It has never been offered to me.

BSS: What other things do you do to help with your illness?  Do you go to individual therapy?  Group? Other things?  What, if anything, seems to help?

Jess: Right now because I was raped by a fellow group member last year I am not in treatment. I left and now because I have no job or insurance it is very hard for me to find help. However I like to do mad libs, word searches, coloring, drawing and call me crazy but my fiancé will find me playing board games by myself. I have a love for board games and when no one will play I just play on my own for a distraction. I have recently applied to volunteer at a farm to work with horses, dogs and cats. I am a HUGE animal lover and would rather be around animals then humans. Animals are none judgmental and comforting.

BSS: How has your illness impacted your life (jobs, education, relationships, children, alcohol, drug abuse….._)

Jess: Oh jeez where to start. As far as education, I was going to Kutztown University and started having the lack of energy bursts as I call them. I didn’t want to get out of bed, take the 35 minute drive and sit in a class and hear what I always heard “blah blah blah”. Other factors played into me dropping out but I just couldn’t concentrate anymore. I was able to get my associates degree in Criminal Justice from a community college before I even attended K.U. I also went to school for my EMT which was easier for me because it was hands on. However, I couldn’t keep a job for more than six months. I couldn’t and still can’t take criticism and that is all I got. If a stranger walked up to me and said “you’re ugly” I would break down and say I am a horrible person and can’t do anything right and I am better off not around.  Being in a relationship with someone who is also bipolar is not the easiest thing. But if I were in one with someone who didn’t have a mental illness I don’t think I would still be here. He saved my life because he knew what to look for and saw it in me. When I feel lost and unsure of myself he knows what needs to get done. We really are each other’s support. I think either one of us would be lost without the other. We become codependent at times but we work through it together.

BSS: Have you ever felt discriminated against because of your illness, or had to deal with disparaging comments, denied a job or other opportunities?

Jess: Every day!! On a broad stand point every time I hear that someone who can’t take responsibility for a crime they committed so they claim insanity, I feel hurt and in a way discriminated. I went to get a gun recently so I can start hunting or just for shooting like I did when I was younger and I was told since I had a mental illness I wasn’t allowed to buy it. People call me crazy all the time. I was working for a company that let me go because I had said I needed off one day to go to therapy.

BSS: If you could give advice to someone else struggling with mental illness, what would it be?

Jess: Never give up. It is hard when struggling and you feel like you hit rock bottom. It is hard to believe in yourself and believe that you can get through this. But the one thing I have always done was think of two people I could hurt if I hurt myself. Giving up is always one of the best options for us. But you have to believe that no matter what is going on you can get through it. The second you give up is when you end up in the hospital. Also, never stop your meds. A big thing I have done was stop taking my meds because I “felt better” when in reality it was the meds working. People claim doctors are poisoning you by filling you up with meds. These people I hate. These meds can take up to 6 weeks to start to work and sometimes they don’t work at all. So the med has to be switched. It took almost a year to get on the right med and now I know I need another med change. It isn’t poison. Rat poison is poison. Meds are to help you. Give it time and give yourself a chance. Remember meds aren’t the only thing you should be doing. There are three parts to you getting better; medication, therapy and the most important you! Use positive coping skills. Treat yourself every once in a while and if you need it do not be afraid to take a time out from your daily life and take a couple days to get you back on track.

BSS: Anything else you’d like to add?

Jess: I must say up until now, I have fought back tears while going through this interview. Many people would never take the time to get to know someone with mental illness. I have been really lost because I push a lot of people including friends and family away. Are they disrespectful to me? No, I just feel the less people in my life, the less I hurt. Because of that I bottle stuff up and this interview has gotten me to open up about how I feel.  I am 26 years old, with a college degree, an EMT license and sadly on social security disability. I hate that I have to say that but I know I need it because I can’t work due to my illness right now. I get tossed in the system as I am told I am and then not eligible for Medicaid due to how much I make on ssd which is only $920 a month. I currently am fighting with the state to get something so I can get into treatment. Everywhere requires at least Medicaid or is $100 a visit. That alone is $400 a month. I have rent, phone, car insurance, a car payment and loads of bills. And truthfully if I could afford $100 a pop I really don’t think I would have issues right now.  At the moment I feel like giving up. I have felt that way for a while. If you aren’t suicidal you don’t get help. I think that is messed up. There is no way right now for me to get the help I need and am begging for and it bugs me that I know of people who caused their illnesses i.e. drug addicts and alcoholics who are in treatment and get right out and use again and don’t work the program. I didn’t cause this and I want treatment. They don’t make it easy for us to get the help we need. That is why most of us DO give up. Why should we care if no else cares enough to help us? But, this interview made me think that someone actually cared and that is why I now have tears. For the first time in a year someone other than my fiancé and family, I actually feel like someone cares enough to really get to know what it is like to suffer from these illnesses and for that I thank you greatly!

Jess can be reached through her blog, The Flip Flop Girl

Thank you to Joe and Jess, from the bottom of my heart, for your candor and openness.  I have a feeling your generosity in sharing yourselves here is going to help a lot of people!

Donut Hole? Black Hole!

So after a two-year long low-grade struggle with the  American Social Security system, which ground through the process of initial rejection, denial of my appeal, and then finally a cameo appearance before a federal judge, I am Officially Disabled.  I was Disabled before that, according to my “Own Occupation” disability insurance policy (which was the only good financial decision I have ever made;  it has literally saved my life), but that applies only to the practice of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine and does not apply, say, to “Greeter At Walmart.”  Coincidentally, the Walmarts in my area have fired their greeters.  Perhaps the sales of Ol’ Roy Dog Food was flagging, and they needed to create a few more desperately poor elderly who might be able to spring for the 33 cent cans.  (Damn it, why does the “cent” sign no longer show up on keyboards?  Another of my conspiracy theories: the government is going to melt down all the pennies for the copper.  Think about it: we are walking around with FORTUNES worth of precious metals in our pockets and don’t even think about it!  N.B. it is a federal crime to melt down pennies, in case the idea should enter your head, as it did mine.

Where was I?  Oh yes. Normally when one gets Social Security Disability, there is a two-year waiting period before you can get Medicare health insurance.  So if you are trying to live on the approximately $1000 per month that most people are rolling in on SSD, what are you supposed to do in the meantime?  Medicaid, I guess, if you qualify.  But if you don’t qualify because your spouse had the good fortune to land a part-time job at McDonald’s with no benefits, well, you are just shit out of luck.  There is a very hole-y network of nonprofits that try to help people in this situation, but the need far exceeds the demand; thus we have an increasingly sick population, growing sicker all the time.

Should you happen to live through two years of being uninsured, then you get Medicare!  Yay!  I was extra lucky: because the Social Security system denied my claim automatically instead of looking at it, the judge ruled that my Medicare eligibility was up for “time served,” to begin not only immediately, but retroactively.  I got my hearing in December, and my benefits started ticking the previous October.  Confused?  Me too.

Strangely enough, the Social Security system does not give you a choice about federal insurance plans.  Previous to becoming Officially Disabled, I had a fairly expensive but pretty darn good plan through the Federal High Risk Pool, which is YES, PART OF OBAMACARE, which made it possible for me to get insurance after I had been denied by private insurers.  It was a standard choose-your-own deductible, then copays for doctor visits and 80-20 for hospital stuff up to a reasonably low out-of-pocket, which I found quite livable.  The drug plan was good, rarely demanded precerts, and had pretty standard copays.

And then.  And then….I am suddenly catapulted into the murky and confusing world of Medicare, because if you’re on SSD you have to be on Medicare. So at first gasp it doesn’t look too daunting:  there’s only part A, B, C, and D to worry about finding providers for.  I said to my therapist, whose idea this whole rat’s nest was in the first place (thank you, B__), um, don’t you think I should go and see a social worker to help guide me through the system?  Oh, no, she chirps, just call up the AARP.  They’ll walk you through it.  They have the best supplemental plans.  Oh. Er, what’s a “supplemental plan”?  That’s Part C, which pays for doctor visits, and Part D, which is your drug plan.  Parts A and B have to do with hospital care.

OK.  So I get my Medicare card, which automatically means my Federal Risk Pool insurance is cancelled.  So now I have to QUICKLY do something about transferring pharmacies, because I have my brand-new Part D card for medicines, and they have a mail-order pharmacy through which you can get three months’ worth of medicine with only one copay instead of three.  YEE-HAH!  So, off I go on the merry-go-round of chasing down doctors’ assistants and nurses to call my prescriptions in to the new pharmacy, because no, you CAN’T just transfer them from the one you already have.

One of my meds, the one I use to digest all my food with because for some reason my body doesn’t make those enzymes, took FIVE phone calls from the long-suffering physician assistant to get it right.  Ay-ay-ay, I’m having visions of chimpanzees in puffy white caps pouring pills into bottles.  Not encouraging.  So finally they managed to get everything right, and in the meantime I’m surviving on my hoard of meds that I brought back from Israel in October.  Had it not been for them, I would have been up shit creek without a paddle.

So the nice lady calls from the pharmacy and we go over the Rx’s one last time to make sure she’s got them right, and then we place the order, putting all the copays on my American Express Card that gets the mileage points for every dollar you spend, and…”Oh dear, are you sure you want this entire order?  It puts you into the Donut Hole right away.”  The what?  Donut Hole?  Isn’t that something you get with coffee?

Oh no.  That’s what you get with Medicare when the retail (I repeat, RETAIL, because that’s the part they don’t explain to you up front) expenditure hits $1950 (plus or minus a bit, I don’t have it in front of me.)  So here’s how it works:  You pay a premium of about $40 per month for prescription drug coverage.  When you buy a prescription, you pay a pretty normal copay based on a tiered system, anywhere from $3 to 1/3 of the actual cost of the drug if it is a specialty drug.  After the plan has bought you $1950 worth of drug, then the plan pays NOTHING until you have paid $4,750 out of your pocket (if you have one), at which point the plan goes into hyperdrive (“Catastrophic,” they call it, just for drama) and you pay almost nothing until the whole sonofabitching thing resets itself at the top of the year.

So what, I ask in my innocence, do you do if you do not happen to have nearly $5000 kicking around?  Oh, Medicare has a program for “Assistance,” but almost nobody qualifies for it.

There are community programs (in some communities) that help.   If you are indigent according to the Medicaid standards, you can just get Medicaid.

Otherwise you’re screwed.  Many disabled and elderly persons find themselves with too much money to qualify for assistance programs but not enough money to buy their medicines.  So let’s see, what happens when someone can’t afford their expensive blood pressure medicine and (G-d forbid) have a stroke?  Well then, Medicare Parts A and B kick in then.  No worries there, got you covered.  So if you can’t afford to take your medicine, don’t fret, because Big Government is gonna take care of you in the hospital after the heart attack you get when you can’t afford your Plavix (very expensive anti-platelet drug that sounds like a kind of mouthwash).

So what am I going to do about this?  Luckily, I just got one of those packets of checks from the credit card company where I can write myself an interest-free loan for a year.  That’s what I’ll do, because I don’t have any other choice.  And I’ll pay it off in installments over the year.  I’m damned grateful to have opened that packet instead of chucking it directly in the paper recycle like I usually do.  Must have been that guardian angel again.

And speaking of guardian angels, the one that convinced me back in 1992 when I was hale and healthy except for the occasional skiing wreck, and making what was for me a freakin’ lot of money, THAT guardian angel who convinced me to sign on the bottom line of a very expensive, very comprehensive private disability plan….THAT guardian angel gets a set of gilded wings from me, today and every day, because if not for that policy I would be, well, to tell you the truth I would probably be dead, because I would not have been able to support both my life and my diseases.

My blessings are many, many, many.  This whole SSD process has opened my eyes to the heinous and disgusting devaluation of the disabled and elderly that has become a legacy of shame in this country.  I want to do something, but don’t have a clue where to begin.  I can’t even go to Washington and set myself on fire on the White House steps because I’m terrified of fire.  But one thing is certain: with the aging of our population, if Medicare doesn’t get fixed, there will be many of our ill and elderly going not only into the donut hole, but into the black hole, never to emerge.

Judge Rules In Favor of Fired Employee With Bipolar Disorder – ABC News

Judge Rules In Favor of Fired Employee With Bipolar Disorder – ABC News.

This is great.  Guy gets fired because he needs a few days off to get himself back on track, takes his employer to court for ADA violation, wins.  In the meantime he goes back to college and gets a degree in physical sciences.  No dummy, and quite functional.

I love this.  On the other hand, there are so many people with bipolar disease and other mental illnesses who are too sick to advocate for themselves the way this guy did.  Most of us would not have the focus, orientation, drive, or even enough positive self image to search out a proper lawyer and sue the bastards.

Lawyers usually want to be paid for their services.  Some will take a case on contingency, so that they get paid a percentage of the settlement if they win the case.  Therefore they will only take the case if they are very sure they will win.

I am not aware of any advocacy organization that helps people with mental illness who have lost their jobs or been denied employment due to their disabilities.  If any of you, dear readers, know of such a thing, please educate me and everybody else who reads this blog.  What we need is a one-phone-call hotline that can match people who have been discriminated against with appropriate legal resources.

I’m sure that if this were the case, employers would be much more careful about discriminating against people with mental illness, especially when the people in question are perfectly capable of doing the job in question.  Yes, we may need some accommodation, such as sick day allowances, but this certainly does not differ from the needs of anyone with a chronic illness of any kind.

It’s true that there is discrimination against people with chronic diseases of the “physical” kind.  I know of people with kidney disease who need to go to dialysis two or three times a week, who have been terminated from their jobs.  True, they are physically incapable of holding down a 40 hour a week job, but there are many cases where part time positions have been available yet the persons were denied.  Of course the reasons for denial are trumped up, because it is officially illegal to deny someone employment strictly on the basis of a disability, as long as they are capable of performing the tasks of the job.

The result of the denial of employment to people with mental and physical illness is the staggering epidemic of people on disability.  As a person who relies on disability payments for my livelihood, one would think that I would be the last person to complain.  However, if my work environment and the culture of my profession were tolerant of my needs to attend therapy, observe regular working hours rather than shift work and an 80 hour work week, and take a day or two off every once in a while (and by this I mean every 6 or 8 months) to get my center of balance back under me, I would still be working.

However, the world of medical doctors is built upon a mythology of superiority:  physical, intellectual, and psychological.  Thus, medical residents are subjected to the hazing ritual of 36 hour shifts and 120 hour work weeks.  If you survive that, you are welcomed into the hallowed halls of the elite.

I will never forget running into one of my former teachers at a medical conference, long after I had graduated and was running a large pediatric emergency center.  She asked me how I was doing.  I replied, “To tell you the truth, I’ve been suffering a bit from depression.”  Her face closed up as if a curtain had come down.  She turned on her heel and walked off without saying a word.  From that moment I knew that having a mental illness was taboo in “our world,” and I never mentioned it again, to my great detriment.

A few years later, a colleague who worked alongside me came up to me and whispered that he was feeling a bit depressed, and could I write him a prescription?  This was a man who was an Air Force veteran of the first Gulf War.  He had headed up a commando unit that had rescued premature babies from a hospital in Kuwait that had been occupied and all the doctors and nurses killed.  He was a hero of the highest order.

I told him I would give him a week’s worth of Prozac on the strict condition that he see a psychiatrist.  He said he was afraid that the administration would find out and fire him.  I told him he had no choice but to see a psychiatrist, and that I would keep an eye on him and make sure he did.

The following week I was called in to work early, to cover this young doctor’s shift.  He had locked himself in a motel room and shot himself, because he was depressed and felt helpless and hopeless, and he was afraid of losing his job because of his condition.  It was a senseless tragedy, a loss of a wonderful human being and a brilliant doctor, because of a hostile professional culture.

I’m looking forward to seeing an article in the paper about a physician successfully suing their employer for discrimination against them due to mental illness.