October 14, 2012

My experience of having been in the hospital in my late teens was that it permanently changes other people’s expectations of you.  I don’t know that the attitudes about people who have psychiatric histories have changed much since 1992, which is when I was in the hospital for the first time.  What has happened since then is that a lot more people have been put on psychiatric medication, and at horrifyingly young ages, so that they don’t even know what it feels like not to be on drugs.  Then there are all of the children being diagnosed with autism over nothing.  A lot of lives are being ruined because of it.  I think that what often happens in those situations is that the parents and others around those children don’t think that their children can be healthy and normal, so they don’t try to raise them to be that way or let them be in situations that would encourage them to be that way.

I don’t think that I’m alone as someone whose encapsulation in the identity of having a psychiatric history prevented me from developing a work history that makes a lot of people want to hire me.  Most of all, you don’t try to get or try to get trained for the jobs that you could do, because you don’t think that you can do them, and other people in your life are telling you that you can’t.  The jobs that you believe you can do, once you have lost your image as someone who is capable, don’t tend to be very interesting or rewarding, or to have a future of advancement.  Even in better jobs, you don’t expect to be the boss, and neither do a lot of the people who advise you about the planning that they think you should or shouldn’t do for your life.

Therapists and psychiatrists rarely, if ever, see their clients outside the settings of their offices and hospitals.  I don’t think that they usually know what their clients are really like, what their capabilities are, how they interact or could interact with people if they had or ever had the chance to be normal and healthy with normal, healthy people.   Yet, despite everything that mental health care workers don’t know about their clients, they think that they are qualified to tell them how to live their lives, and to tell other people what those clients are and are not capable of doing.

When that’s happening to you, you think that you can’t make something of your life, so you don’t.  You have pressure that’s so total that you and everyone you know accepts it as a fact of your life that you shouldn’t set your sights too high or take on too much.  You are encouraged to structure your life around trying not to be a burden to others, because that’s the assumption, too, that you are and always will be a burden to everyone around you.

You don’t stay at jobs for very long, because there’s always something going on there or in your life away from your life that ruins it for you.  If people in your personal life or at work know that you have a psychiatric history, they will often take advantage of that knowledge when they feel like bullying you or blaming things on you.  You think that your future is going to be more of the same, and you’re right.  You can’t help noticing that people who don’t have psychiatric histories don’t get treated the way that you do, and don’t think of themselves the way that you do.  They’re not afraid all of the time, of having their lives fall apart around them, and of the other people who are always waiting for that to happen so that they can take over.  While you live like this, you are in the midst of other people who don’t live like that.

Copyright L. Kochman, October 14, 2012 @ 2:43 p.m.