Thursday, January 15, 2015

We Are Not Our Diagnosis

I originally started this blog back in 2012 as a way to process and cope with my diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder I. I felt the need to be candid, as at the time, I couldn't really find people talking openly about their disease. I explored my struggles with being unemployed, tracked mood swings, sometimes talked about what I was reading or watching. The blog, in turn, became a reflection of my day-to-day life. I haven't kept up with it as well as I would like in the past couple of years. I wanted to write last night, but I was too emotional and hadn't had the time to process my feelings or form coherent thoughts on the matter.

Recently, a man was shot by a (relatively new) police officer at the outpatient offices of the state psychiatric hospital. A few days later, he was identified as someone I had worked with, who I had recently trained at work. The article listed off all of his mental health disorders, which left a sick feeling in my stomach; I couldn't help but feel his privacy was being violated. I felt incredibly heavy and sad as I read the dossier and the laundry list of suicide attempts. Why was that necessary to publish? He will be in the hospital for a while recovering from the use of deadly force (why was that necessary? Why? And why was a rookie cop sent alone to deal with an escalated situation like that?) but I couldn't help but wonder how he would be treated if he returned to work.

I know, deep down, how he would be treated: people will ostracize him, fear him, avoid him, and be cruel to him. I already know people are gossiping; I have made it a point to avoid interacting with anyone that worked around him and am focusing on the class I have. I really don't want to hear malicious gossip about it, hear people say "he sat right next to me! He could have snapped any time!" Stop. This isn't about you.

The person I know was enthusiastic and eager to learn in class. Even after graduating class, he would get excited about his sales and share them with me. The person I know laughs at his own horrible pun jokes. He will openly bum a Pepsi from you on Wednesday and buy you a replacement on Friday. He enjoys walking in crisp weather while listening to heavy metal. He is friendly and loquacious. He is not Coworker With Schizophrenia. He is not his diagnosis, no more than I am Melissa with Bipolar I.

Behind the gossip and whispered "OMG I worked with him," and the "did you hear?" we must realize that he is still a person, a person with real feelings, with a name. He is not his diagnosis. He is a man who met a breaking point in life, but also a man who realized he had an illness and was voluntarily seeking help.

So please, if my coworkers read this, I don't want to talk about this, not at work, not outside. I don't have time for the gossip. My mind is preoccupied with concern for his well-being, that he heals well and without complications. He was not my friend, per se, but he was my student, and good person.

And he is not his diagnosis.

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