A big part of society’s identity of who we are is determined by what we do for a living and what our occupation is. When you meet someone for the very first time you usually greet them and introduce yourself by telling them what your name is. Then they will usually ask you what you do for a living and where you work. I feel that is an unfortunate, inaccurate, unfair and biased way to get a first impression of someone.
The type of work someone does or what type of job they have does not really show people what kind of a person they are. There is so much more to a person than what kind of job they have. Who are they? What kind of heart do they have? Are they kind to people of all ages? What do they do for others? Are they a Christian? Do they serve the Lord? A person’s job and occupation does not tell us that. However, to most people in our society it seems to be very important for their first impression of who a person is.
I used to be one of the lucky ones and made a great first impression to people by greeting them, introducing myself and telling them what my occupation was because I was a Special Education Teacher for over ten years. The reactions I got from my first impression responses was full of praises and compliments that I must be an amazing wonderful special person to do that kind of work. They liked me without knowing me. However, they did not know me at all. I always found it kind of strange and awkward getting so many unwarranted compliments just for telling people what I did for a living.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved teaching Special Education. But, it was just what I did and was part of who I was. I used to feel I got paid to give love. That was how much I loved teaching. So, the type of work I did and the nature of my work was just part of who I was and came naturally to me. I have never been good at taking compliments. That was probably another reason why it made me feel awkward and uncomfortable after hearing all of those first impression compliments I received. Plus, they didn’t even know me.
Even though I have lived with a mental Illness and Bipolar Disorder my entire life, I was never diagnosed until the age of about 32 years old. At that time I was diagnosed and given the lovely and very unwanted label of Bipolar Disorder 1 as well as a few other labels. I taught for a few more years after my diagnoses until my symptoms became too severe for me to teach anymore. In fact, my symptoms became too severe for me to work at any type of employment even on a part-time basis.
I lost my identity of being a teacher and my identity of who I was all together. In fact it took me a very long time to accept my diagnoses and to find a new identity for myself. That is a subject and story for another time. Besides my Bipolar Disorder and other labels I also got a brand new label of being disabled. Since I could no longer work I started receiving Social Security Disability Income.
Now, I do not make a great first impression to people by greeting them, introducing myself and telling them what my occupation is. I do not have an occupation anymore. When people first meet me they seem to like me until they ask me what I do. The situation becomes awkward because I am not sure how to respond. No matter what I tell them the look on their faces changes to an awkward, bewildered and unkind expression, because to them I no longer have a real identity as I do not work or have a career of any kind. Their look and body language becomes even worse if I tell them I became too sick to teach because I have Bipolar Disorder.
The reactions I got from my first impression responses in the past when I could tell them I was a Special Education Teacher were full of praises and compliments. They liked me without knowing me then. Now, they dislike me without knowing me. They still do not know me, but they have determined because I do not work and that I have Bipolar Disorder that I am nothing and that I am not a good person. This is stigma and stigma is a softened word for discrimination.
I am the same person I was before and I a good person. In fact, I think I am a better person now then I was in the past. I have learned so much more about life and have much more compassion, strength, courage, hope and perseverance through all of the many people I have been blessed to meet, the many valuable experiences I have encountered, lived through and have survived.
About 15 years later after my diagnosis, I am finally able to work again. This is a huge accomplishment for me even though I can only work very part-time. I am working as a Home Health Care Assistant and I actually love doing that type of work, because I love helping people in any capacity that I can. Also, it helps me when I introduce myself to others and can proudly say that I work and I work as Home Health Care Assistant. You would think that was just a small simple thing, but actually having to face the stigma of mental illness, it is a huge positive aspect in my life.
Most importantly, the many trials and struggles I have lived through and survived have helped me to become truly saved and born again. God has saved my life too many times to count and has healed me to a point that I can live my life. I have found true joy and love in my heart and soul from knowing and loving my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Praise God for He is good all the time. I praise Him for my life and the plan He has in store for me for the rest of my life. I will not look back on my past anymore, but I will live for this moment, today and tomorrow and I will serve my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ forever.
More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
This is my comfort and consolation in my affliction: that Your word has revived me and given me life.
1 John 1:5
God is light, in Him there is no darkness at all.
Please forgive me for making it sound like I was speaking negatively about everyone or anyone in society, because I wasn’t. I did not mean to make it sound like I was making a blanketed statement about people in general. I am writing about some of my past experiences to educate others and make people aware. I also know that there are many great people in the world that are very aware, knowledgeable and accepting of people with mental illness and people with disabilities.