Bipolar Disorder, Disability, & Stigma

Bipolar Disorder, Disability, & Stigma by

In a recent Newsletter I asked, “What is your biggest challenge right now?” Thank you to those of you who took the time to reply. It means more than you know. My intention in asking this question was to ensure I’m bringing you meaningful content. And I’m so glad I asked!

Here’s one courageous reader’s response:

My biggest challenge? Probably dealing with stigma. I was diagnosed bipolar 20 years ago, and I talk big on Facebook about being open about my diagnosis, but I often hide the fact that I get a disability payment. I am embarrassed to admit that I am “that sick” and I don’t want to defend myself or a bipolar diagnosis to those who think I’m taking advantage of the system. ~Laura Tolley Brown

I think all of us battling bipolar disorder can understand Laura’s hesitancy. For many of us, defending ourselves against stigma has become a normal part of our lives. Some people carry with them misguided ideas of what bipolar disorder looks like. And when we don’t fulfill their stereotypes, they punish us for their ignorances. This is especially true when it comes to disability benefits. Microscopes come out and wannabe detectives suddenly feel entitled to meddle into every detail of our lives.

I know, because I too receive a disability payment.

Judgment and criticism ensue when people find out that someone is, yes – “taking advantage” of the programs offered to us by our government. Programs that are set-up for this very reason. They become so obsessed with the few people receiving benefits who may not need them, that they make blanket generalizations and assumptions about the majority of people who legitimately qualify for and do need them.


One is required to have a minimum amount of covered work to qualify for each type of disability benefit. This is measured in “work credits.”

What some fail to realize is that, not only did we work up until we became disabled, but many of us floundered about like fish out of water trying like hell to work afterwards too. Well past what our capacities allowed. We added our hard-earned tax money to the system too! We had to, or we would never have qualified for disability benefits in the first place.

I make jokes about the fact that I’m still paying on my college degree that I was only able to use for four years, but in reality, it’s not funny at all. It’s heartbreaking and it pisses me off when I think about where I could be in my career by now. However, it proves not only that mental illness does not discriminate, but also that hard times do not discriminate.

I’ve fought bipolar disorder with all my might since the day I was diagnosed. Grasping to hang on to what’s left of the person I was before my diagnosis. Admitting to myself that I could no longer work felt as though I was losing yet another piece of my identity. I hate to say it, but I never thought I’d be “that person.” This person. Receiving assistance from our government. But no one ever does! Hence the whole point of it all.

We WANT to work! We don’t want to be disabled!

Bipolar Disorder, Disability, & Stigma by

Disability Application

I remember reading over the paperwork with a sense of humiliation. It hit me. I had to convince a complete stranger of all the things that I, myself, was struggling to accept.

The disability application process is so stringent that it likely eliminates many people who desperately need it. Certainly, someone in the midst of a severe mental health crisis may have difficulties filling out the paperwork and gathering the required documents without the help of a caregiver. Add to that the fact that most people get denied their first time, and many their second. And many have to hire an attorney. All of this weeds people out along the way. Thank goodness my husband and psych professionals were available to help me through the process. I was a hot mess. And frankly, the pendulum still swings that way from time-to-time.

Pull-Out Your Microscopes!

Which takes me back to a previous point. If someone were to put me under a microscope today, they might see what looks like a healthy, “normal” human being. But one, you cannot see what’s going on inside my mind. And believe me, you don’t want to. Two, tomorrow, depression and anxiety may prevent me from getting out of bed altogether. Call me crazy, it won’t be the first or the last time, but I don’t think any employer would be okay with that kind of unreliability.

I’m stable enough now that I’m typically able to hide those days from the general public. Only the people who live in my house are aware of those days as they’re happening. And they happen weekly. Even though I currently consider myself stable and in good health, I’ve had to come to accept this version of good health as my “normal” – mildly to moderately depressed. So when you see me in front of you smiling with a touch of mascara on, maybe it’s one of my good days. Or maybe it’s not, and inside I’m fighting like hell to stand before you in such a way.

Look, I’m not {that} naive. I know there are people who take advantage of the system in inappropriate ways. But honestly, the percentage is so low that ordinary, microscope-wielding citizens should find other hobbies. They’re wasting their time and spreading stigma all along the way. Stigma is silencing. Stigma keeps people sick. It keeps people from seeking help, as it induces false shame.

What happened to compassion and empathy?

What happened to being there for one another in times of need? Everyone is fighting their own personal battles you know nothing about. Be respectful.

» Don’t Lose Hope

Bipolar Disorder, Disability, & Stigma by theSUNNYshadow.comI’ll never give up trying to work. So maybe I’m not capable of working outside the home just yet. But that’s not going to stop me from trying to find creative ways to work that won’t exacerbate my illness.

Bipolar disorder is a thief in the night. It riles you up and beats you down, while silently slipping away with your identity. One piece at a time it disrobes you. It can leave you feeling like you have nothing of value left to offer. But that’s not true. In time, and with reflective, self-growth work, we rediscover ourselves. We uncover new, amazing gifts within ourselves we didn’t even know existed. And so, our journeys take different paths than expected or originally planned. But it’s okay. Not only can we handle it, we can rock it!

*For more information on applying for disability benefits, take a look at the SSA’s Disability Planner.

Share your thoughts on Bipolar Disorder, Disability, & Stigma!

Stay Strong Friends.



  1. Tina

    As soon as I read the title of this article I knew that I would be nodding my head and as I read it I kept saying out loud “Yes!” “Mmm Hmm” and agreeing whole heartedly. I got my diagnosis in 2008 and lived in public housing since 2003 and before I got my diagnosis I worked but kept getting fired from one job after another and finally after losing the best job I ever had due to my behavior I had to go on disability in 2010 and had to stay in public housing for an additional 6 years but had it not been for disability my child and I would have been homeless. Sure,we didn’t have much but we had what we needed. I got judged by family and old classmates because of where I lived but I had a setback. Now I do home health care and I take care of someone who has CP and my check will be gone soon. Every day I worry that my illness could cost me my job in some sort of way but my desire to work and be a productive member of society has always been strong. Social Security has a work from home program called NTI and I will be starting part time next year. There is soooo much stigma attached to Bipolar and Disability but when people get to know me,they love me regardless of my situation.

    1. Wow Tina, amazing! Your story is incredibly inspiring. I’m so sorry you had to face the setback you did, but clearly, you didn’t allow it to break you. You are one strong lady. What a lucky girl your daughter is, to have you as a role model. I didn’t know about the work-at-home program, I really appreciate the heads up! I’ll have to do a little research and update this blog post to reflect it. If you’re interested, you’re welcome to share your story here on the blog anytime. You can either share it anonymously or attach a photo and your name. Your story will help others in multiple ways. If you’re interested, please take a minute to read over the Submission Guidelines.

      Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to leave a comment. Wishing you and your daughter the best! -Krista

  2. Nsapoo

    I have read this article over and over….At this current time I am working but fighting each day to make myself go. My anxieties are through the roof. I am scared of what I will do if I walk out my job. I am almost 39 and just completely at a loss of what to do where to start. My father just passed away and my mother is battling cancer and is sick right now. I need to be with her but my job doesn’t have FMLA. I am trying to get a leave of absence from my Pysch, but not sure its going to work. Oh my I could go on and on. I just want to thank you for your blog, it is very inspiring to me.

  3. Susan Vance

    I get SSI and have never worked. I am a welfare recipient the same as someone who has children to avoid working. I use food stamps and Medicaid and am humiliated at every level. I would give anything to be able to work and no one realizes that as I pull out my food stamp card. No one cares about my disability, just that I am using their tax dollars to live.

    1. I’m sorry to hear of your situation. You are right. People lack empathy for others (us) who receive government assistance. It’s beyond sad… it’s also ignorant. But they don’t care enough to learn the truth. They heard one story of someone abusing the system and now they apply it to everyone without further investigation. It’s unfair.

      The good thing is that the only approval that matters is our own. We don’t need their approval to be okay. Self-approval is enough. Stay strong. Thanks for stopping by. -Krista

  4. Great post, and quite timely, thank-you.

    I have struggled with depression all my teenage and adult life (now 49). Last year I was fired from a job of 18 years. Because the termination is ‘without cause’ I didnt have any warning.

    After 8 months with a crisis mental health team intervention I am now in a four month hospital day treatment program. Just got the diagnosis this week that what I thought was Major Depression was bipolar disorder. Of course when I am manic I dont think there is a problem so never connected those episodes with my depression.

    The change in diagnosis is like the difference between a headache and a brain tumor. Not that people with depression have it easy, not by any means, but bipolar is a bugger.

    Now I have to try and fight for the long term insurance I had when I was working, as the diagnosis predates the termination.

    Everyone struggles with this terrible disease, and my thoughts and wishes are with you all. Good luck, and don’t let the bastards grind you down.

  5. I know you probably don’t think this but I’m so envious you get to be on disability. I am floundering at work and will continue to do so until I am completely unable to function because I have so much debt including my student loan. My husband has Rheumatoid arthritis and he had to fight for 3 years for his disability. I don’t have a particularly compassionate psychiatrist I’m not sure if he’d even go to bat for me as far as filling the paper work out. This was one of the most informative and significant posts ever.

    1. Wow. Thank you for the kind words. But I’d much rather NOT be on disability. I was pleasingly surprised to read one of your blog posts say that working was actually cathartic for you (I’m paraphrasing). I thought to myself, “Yes! Someone else who is actually able to do it!” But I’m sorry to hear of your struggles. I admire your strength. Stay strong.

  6. This describes my life perfectly! I too act like I have it under control, I’m “out” most of the time, but I still dread people’s reaction to finding out that I’m on disability. When our house was being rebuilt after a tornado, one of our neighbors told the construction people that we were “gove’ment people” on disability and that Obama was paying them to do the work (actually, it was State Farm (who were great with us)). I don’t know how they found out, but now I know why our neighbors won’t associate with us.

    People just don’t get that I worked from the time I was a teenager until I was diagnosed at age 39, fighting bipolar all the while (my symptoms started around kindergarten) until it got bad enough that I sought help, and then an awful 5 years more before I gave up and applied for disability. I paid into social security for years! It’s not an “entitlement”, it’s using a government service that I paid for!

    1. Hope no one got hurt in the tornado! That must have been so scary!…

      I just don’t understand people… how they can change their tune so quickly and be so hateful when they find out this information about us. I’m continually disappointed in people I think highly of. It’s sad. But I like the way you put it. “It’s not an “entitlement, it’s using a government service that I paid for!” So true! Unfortunately, some people won’t get this unless they find themselves in similar situations. And truly hope they do not.

      Thanks for visiting & taking the time to leave a comment! -Krista

      1. We were on our way home from a nearby town when people started calling us to see if we were all right. We rushed home, and found that due to down trees and power lines, we could only get to within about 1/8 mile of our house. When we got there, we discovered that we were hit. Fortunately all of our dogs and cats were OK, and none had left through the openings in the house. Too scared, I imagine.A kitten we had just gotten was found shaking behind the dryer, poor thing. (He’s 2 years old and watching me type right now!) There was over $75,000 (or so, it’s hard to remember all the stuff that got damaged) damage, but that was less than starting over, so they rebuilt what was left. An awful experience all around, but fortunately no one in town was hurt, a miracle considering the devastation along a several mile path.Not so good for people in Illinois, one state over, where there were multiple deaths. Sad.

        BTW, thanks for the re-tweets on Twitter!

      2. Goodness! That sounds like a horrible nightmare! But thank goodness no one was hurt in your town. Including all of your precious fur babies. I dread Tornado season every year, even though we don’t technically live in “Tornado Alley” (KY). I used to be terribly afraid of storms and tornados, I’m talking full-on panic attacks. Now I just have a healthy fear. Glad everyone is okay!

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