I cannot deny my education; I can’t hide the BA in Philosophy or the BS in Mathematics and Applied Mathematics that I have earned over my 9 semesters as an undergraduate in college. I can’t deny that I was a mere 3 credits from adding a minor in physics to that list were it not for the government telling me I had “too many” credits toward a degree and my grants would be cut. I also can’t deny that I spent two years in a graduate programme studying mathematics, even if I didn’t complete the requirements to obtain that Master’s degree before my financial assistance was, again, cut off. I did well in school, but that being said, school is the only life I’ve ever known.
I am essentially an educated but unemployable person, both on the autism spectrum and a member of the LGBTQ+ community living in the reddest of red states. Most regular retail or call centre jobs would, I know for a fact, drive me to a mental hospital if not a successful suicide attempt within 2-3 weeks – I know this because I have tried to work in those environments and something inside me knew that if I went back for one more day, I was just asking for my third admission, my fourth admission, to the mental hospital which is so broken in its system of operations that it thinks treating suicidal patients as prisoners and cutting them off from any support system or coping mechanism they have found in ordinary life is somehow going to help them. (I’m sorry, but denying me regular contact with my own mother was not helpful in dealing with my internal struggles.)
I have lived my entire life with the belief that I, as a person, am worthless. I still believe this, despite the progress I have made with weekly therapy appointments in acknowledging that my skills might be unique or valuable in their own right. I still maintain the fundamental belief that I, as a human being, am worthless. This is a fact that has been drilled into my skull from birth by both my parents and the society in which I was raised.
Yet, most people look at my CV and see academic success alone. The lack of reliable work history concerns potential employers but the presence of significant education is enough to convince socially funded programmes that I don’t need their assistance. Even if I have a disability, I’m not disabled enough. I don’t deserve healthcare benefits because, even though my income is less than $500/mo most of the year as I struggle to get on my feet as a freelancer with zero self confidence, I don’t qualify for healthcare assistance because I don’t have a child and the social security office probably won’t grant me disability benefits based on the argument that “I can work some, but my mental health would not allow me to function in a full time job with benefits.”
I just want to be able to afford regular check-ups with my primary care physician to keep my mental disorders in check and monitor treatment. I shouldn’t have to pay hundreds of dollars for a 20 minute visit consisting of “Is your medication still working?” “Well, yeah pretty much,” “Okay, here’s a refill.”
I certainly shouldn’t be hit with over two thousand dollars worth of bills because I was forced into a mental institution against my will over a misunderstanding by ignorant cops who see old self-harm scars and decide that those are enough to warrant an involuntary mental health hold in which I end up handcuffed, treated as a prisoner thrown into an ER where I am denied my basic right to use a fucking toilet; even if I willingly surrender my right to pee in privacy, I can’t even leave the room with supervision to use the proper facilities. All of this because I have old scars on my legs which indicate a history of self-harming behaviour.
The very fact that I had success in university is a curse when it comes to finding employment that I am mentally capable of handling, and it is also a barrier preventing me from gaining access to healthcare that, from my understanding, was intended to help those (like myself) in a position of poverty that feels impossible to escape from.
Granted, this is addressed in the debate over health care to a very limited extent, or at least I have to believe that these issues are covered in the lofty ideas Democrats propose for reform – I haven’t heard anything specifically dealing with mental health and the marginalization of those of us who have a record of being diagnosed with any form of “crazy”. Be it trauma, depression, autism, schizophrenia, they don’t care. We’re all labelled as second-class the moment that someone from the system steps in to intervene and make everything exponentially worse by claiming to “help” us.
I want so, so badly to see someone in a position of relative power, someone who the people are listening to and who has even a modicum of influence over the issues that common Americans think about, speak out against this broken system and declare their support toward those of us who need legitimate help to tackle these battles – not prison sentences that the court arbitrarily decides they’re only going to foot half the bill for.
Maybe we’re a minority, maybe we’re not a group that’s going to show up to the polls en masse and make a substantial difference, but we are sentient human beings with legitimate thoughts and feelings, and we should not be treated like second class citizens or criminals simply because we have been labelled with some form of mental illness.
We still matter. We’re still here, and we are suffering, and we deserve every basic human right just as much as anyone else.