Friday, December 14, 2018

Unsafe Safe Spaces

There are a lot of ways to describe various mental illnesses. But for me, I could spend hours just talking about the shame, guilt and self-loathing.

I recently attended some sensitivity training at work. It's not a bad thing, though it's pretty predictable.

Out of the entire presentation, mental health was mentioned once, as an after thought, on one slide. It was the slide defining "protected categories". I believe the line was "physical or mental disability".

Physical disability is something I remember being a very big deal when I was younger. There was a lot of change, a lot of new regulation. Something called the Americans with Disabilities Act was kind of a big deal. When the dust settled, pretty much everyone agreed it was a good thing and we had all become a lot more sensible.

Then I remember, at another point during my childhood, a similar episode of public awakening around "sexual harrassment". Again, it seemed like some were upset, but generally it seemed like we had collectively come to our senses.

Generally these days, I believe we vaguely agree simply on "don't be a dick", though there are plenty of disagreements on some of the finer points and boundaries. I don't have a problem with this at all. I think most decent human beings are fine with being nice and respectful to each other. Of course, not everyone is decent, nice or respectful.

And sometimes, that person is me. No really, sometimes I am a real jerk. And it's not even hard for me to see. We're not even talking about splitting hairs or grey areas. Sometimes I am a massive jerk, and I should probably be fired, publicly, as an example of what happens to assholes at safe workplaces. My actions and their consequences should be clear. Nobody could possibly fault anyone for ridding themselves of such a toxic creature. And I hate myself for it. I live with crushing shame. Often times I do and say things I later cannot possibly fathom. I used to find myself completely out of control.

Recently this impulsive behavior was explained to me, then to an employer, by a doctor, in a letter, as a disability, protected by law.

And frankly, I don't feel one bit better about it. In fact, in a lot of ways, I feel worse. Not only am I an absolutely miserable piece of shit, I'm also "disabled", and I somehow get to make some kind of excuse about how I'm an absolutely miserable piece of shit. Furthermore, the disability isn't that I don't know, AND THIS IS THE IMPORTANT BIT, and am incapable of self-reflection or indentifying just how miserable I am. I am fully capable of that. The disability is that *sometimes I can't control myself despite this*. So yes, I am fully self-aware, and I get to spend my waking hours under the weight of a completely functional and healthy conscience.

If you can imagine this existence, you can easily see how suicide is not only an option, but a very attractive one. Tangental to this, my latest medication carries a small risk of sudden death while tapering up on it. Risk of death. That "side-effect" was not even a consideration for me, as the alternative is sure death.

Futhermore, what you are reading, right now, at this moment, is from someone who, thanks to medication, no longer suffers as described. And only because of that, even has the awareness to describe it. In the past, there was a time when I was not only ill but also not even aware of it, let alone medicated or treated. I am able to live, today, thanks to combined therapies. Imagine who and what I was before, and how that led up to the breaking points where someone finally said, on the record, in terms that carry medical and legal significance, as I sit there devoid of shoelaces and belt, "this person has a pathological condition and needs our help."

Now, if you recall previously I had delivered such a written diagnosis to an employer. This was not done lightly or for academic purposes. This was done because I had been a gigantic, intolerable asshole during a hypomanic episode. And, looking at the real possibility of (totally deserved) disciplinary action from my employer, was convinced to accept protection as a disabled person.

I just want to restate, at this point, that I do not in any way feel less guilt, or feel at all mollified because a piece of paper from someone with a lot of schooling says I'm disabled. It just means I get to have a job. A combination of medication and therapy has me to the point where I am far less of a jerk than I used to be, and that maybe that's good enough to see the sunrise tomorrow. Also, these pieces of paper don't automagically smooth things over with the people you screamed at. In case you were wondering.

So where does that leave things? Well, I presented my doctor's note and diagnosis. I saved my own ass. What about the person who was treated poorly by me? Do they get any justice? Should they?

What happens when you have the ADA behind you and an offended employee in front of you? It's becoming increasingly common today for employees to "stand up" against their company when they perceive no disciplinary action. An employer cannot disclose a disability, they can only respond that they have acted appropriately under the law. Put these two together. Add in the increase of public shaming.

I don't like where this is going. It's not going to end well. In fact, I'm confident people will die before it is over.

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