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Sunday, April 17, 2011

My Life Ended

My normal life ended in 2011. Approaching the end of my 27th year of teaching in a public high school, I found myself burnt out. The State of Ohio labeled me "mentally incapacitated from regular duty" after I had taught sixteen years while handling the effects of clinical depression. During that period, I had extensive psychological treatment that included counseling and taking a variety of prescription medications.

For over two years after my termination, I knew nothing but shame because I felt I had caused my own teaching career to be cut short . I felt like a quitter and a user. As my contemporaries continued their careers, I was trying to put my life back together and salvage some semblance of my old self from whom I had become. I never regretted my teaching days; however, they seemed greatly diminished because I had become too weak of mind to stand the stress and to manage my professional life. I hated the circumstances and I felt extremely embarrassed.

After a couple of years on disability, I decided to go off medication and attempt to live a life free of chemical manipulation. After suffering the expected withdrawal, I soon found myself happily working a job managing a car wash. For almost three years, all was well. Then, disaster stuck. OCD entered my life and gripped my brain. Different problems suddenly arose that strangled the new me. I plummeted out of control.

So, back to the doctors and the prescriptions I crawled. As anyone who suffers from mental disability knows, adjustments and bouts of bad episodes occupied much of my time. Fiddling with this and adjusting that, doctors began more treatment in an attempt to get the correct chemical balance. I felt as much a guinea pig as a patient.

But, in a couple of years my keel felt even again, and I once more stopped taking any medication. This is where I am today - happy to be free of the meds and the doctor visits but leery of anything close to feeling completely "cured." I live my life day to day and try to find happiness in the recesses.

I am and always will be "damaged goods." I am separated from the thing I do best by law: I am not allowed to do anything related to the field of education and continue to receive my disability benefits. Everyone around me knows about my life and my struggles, and to them, a "mental" person like me is a scarred individual. That is not to say that labeling or judging is wrong. I probably take similar attitudes about others who show permanent problems. I only say that I am "damaged goods" because I feel life within the "factory reconditioned" circle is very different.

People take precautions around those they perceive to be reconditioned. Many "talk around" these individuals. They think mental disability renders the subject feeble and incapable of making any rational decisions. Some of these people judge every miscue of a damaged person as directly related to his/her diminished mental condition. Relationships change from friendships to merely "putting up with" contacts.

The reconditioned person is held in mistrust. People realize at any time that such a person can snap and become that very thing they detest - a freeloading, dependent mess. Nothing can ever change this because it represents the true nature of the reconditioned beast. One or two short circuits and it's back to the permanently damaged status.

I feel this has nothing to do with receiving pity or empathy. Instead, I think it has more to do with being a person in good standing. Personally, I do not want any pity from anyone. Just the opposite. I merely want a fighting chance to prove myself worthy of being viewed as whole again. As I age, accepting all of the small belittling conditions of getting older seem tough enough. Add to that the label of "reconditioned" and the future seems to be an increasingly difficult struggle of convincing people I can function.

Any illness robs one of character. That is inevitable. Even the bold person who valiantly fights a terminal physical disease is sure to suffer some character assassination. But mental illness is particularly detrimental to character. Since a mental problem can hold its victim in its grips for a long lifetime, it weakens the person first in the head, then devours all social standing. After all, how many folks would even chance trusting a reconditioned product, much less completely accept it as brand new?

Please avoid the customary "you're feeling sorry for yourself" replies. I know it and I accept your charge. This post is an attempt to display an exposed nerve. I don't want to change the world or even change opinions about disability recipients. All I want to do today is put this understanding out, purge myself of my pitiful thoughts, and continue to swing for some distant fence.

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