Saturday, July 4, 2009

Destroying Lives

In this post I want to talk to you about stigma and discrimination. These are just words, but they carry the power to destroy lives.

Stigma is a negative attitude toward any given characteristic of a person. This is often a broad and community issue fueled by discriminatory behavior of even a few and belief in untruths about those characteristics. Stigma is considered to be a negative portion of discrimination.

Discrimination is the treatment or consideration of a group by way of class or category rather than individual merit. It is the assumption that all persons of a particular class or condition are the same whether a negative or positive idea. Discrimination follows the ideas of stereotypes created by stigma in society.

There is an assumption that all people with bipolar disorder are dangerous or "crazy". The key to recognizing discrimination for what it is, is the broad and all encompassing assumption. The key is the word "all". It could be substituted with "every" or other similar words. This is how you recognize the falsehood that is discrimination. It is an unrealistic idea and belief in it hurts innocent people.

It just isn't possible for every individual with a medical condition to be the absolute same. Just like we have had to learn for race, religion, sex and age. So when are we going to learn?

I am going to use myself as my own best example once again. I worked in a career I loved dearly. I was an Animal Control officer and I was looked to with great trust and appreciation of my work for five years, until I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Suddenly, I could do nothing right. I was written up and threatened constantly with disciplinary actions. They were even taking steps to have me put before a comittee to have me even more punished and stripped of my rank. They even decided who they were giving that rank too, long before they got there. If you don't think that's ridiculous yet, try this; on my last review, a reason for me not to get a raise was that I was suddenly afraid of dogs. Never mind the hundreds of them that I had taken in regardless of their attitude or demeanor. Never mind that I handled some of the most dangerous animals the city had to offer. Suddenly and out of the blue, being afraid of dogs (which was not any part of city policy) meant I should not get a merit raise.

They lurked over my shoulder on the job and even took complaints they never would have given a thought of, to use against me. They accused me of being sneaky and trying to cover my tracks. Tracks from what? Oh they came up with all kinds of fantastic things. Things that you might take for granted on any given day, but may have been "construable" to appear against the rules.

I went to the Equal Opportunity Commission and it took them a full year past the time I had to give up my job. Why did I quit? Because my Union attorney said I was going to be fired if I didn't. The EOC did very little to actually investigate, they barely considered any paperwork I offered and didn't question a single one of my witnessess. They gave me a right to sue letter though. Very flimsy and gave me little chance of justice. After a year of searching, I found an attorney. We filed suit and after a great deal of paperwork a judge decided he just "didn't like it" so threw it out of court. See how they all line up for the same belief? Don't think so? How about the assumption that all city offices must be honest?

Yep, every single one worked in and lived in the same city and had practically the same beliefs. I was sunk before I even began. Now it's too late. I will never see justice. I suffered an immense breakdown before the discovery that I actually had Asperger's Syndrome which quickly explained everything they thought about me. Not that they cared, they didn't want a crazy person working for them. One of my therapists called what I suffered as "loss of identity". Now, because of them making all of my conditions worse with traumatic levels of stress, I will never work a normal job again.

Did I deserve that? Maybe I deserved a write up here or there, but not permanent disability. No one deserves that. So here I am, at my home in Wisconsin because I couldn't stay in Nebraska. And I can tell you that there are plenty who are treated this way for no justifiable reason who take their own lives. I almost did.

They are in my nightmares, to this day. Do you know that the laws on discrimination for mental disabilities do not accurately cover anyone who has them? You have to show that your condition actually disables you. Otherwise it is considered perfectly legal to discriminate against you and that is what they told me directly and word for word in Nebraska.

It's a good thing they don't do it like that for any of the other categories, otherwise you might have to prove that you are black enough or jewish enough to be discriminated against. Just an example folks. Think about it.

Education, it's the answer.

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