Discriminating Against Head Cases

by Bill Brenner on September 1, 2010

I’ve seen plenty of examples of failed justice in my day: A judge letting an abusive dirt-bag dad get unsupervised weekend visits just because he reappeared after a few years. A thrice convicted pedophile being let back out on the streets. I never expected to hear about the court discriminating against someone for having OCD.

Mood music:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PI3RneGO_ks&fs=1&hl=en_US]

I usually try not to write posts in response to comments that flow into this blog. I like to let readers’ statements stand on their own. But when someone flags something particularly insidious, I have to share.

The two examples that follow came my way by way of a couple mental health forums on LinkedIn where I post blog entries.

I’ll keep their names to myself to protect privacy.

But to help you appreciate the first person’s perspective, I’ll tell you she’s a certified mediator who provides psychotherapy for adults, children, couples and families. She also does group sessions for anger management, domestic violence and parenting.

I have a special respect for someone in this line of work. As a kid suffering from a particularly vicious form of Crohn’s Disease and, by extension, behavioral issues, I firmly believe I was saved by the children’s therapist assigned to me. That same person kept me on the sane side of the line when my parents’ marriage dissolved in hatred, abuse and mistrust.

In adulthood, my recovery from OCD would be nowhere without the three therapists who have helped me in the last six years.

I’ve had a couple really bad therapists along the way, too, so I never take someone’s word as Gospel just because of what they do for a living. But the person who contacted me yesterday seems solid and worth listening to. Here’s what she wrote to me in response to Monday’s post, “More Bullshit About Mental Illness“:

My clients just lost their kids in family court because the mom had OCD. She “counts” and so this was considered “traumatizing to the two older kids.” They are in their teens, however; the bureau allowed them to keep their two younger children. The Child and Family Services organizations are off their rocker. I see kids returned to abusers and drug addicts, I don’t get it.

There are elements about this that I have questions about. For starters, why take the teenagers but let the younger kids stay? I suspect it’s because the teenagers are at an age where seemingly abnormal behavior is going to freak them out more. Teens are almost always confused. But the larger suggestion that someone got a raw deal in the courts because of her OCD quirks is totally believable to me.

I’ve seen more than one fellow OCD sufferer scorned in the workplace for being a little different. Not in my workplace, but in other companies.

True or not, I think that when someone has OCD, they always need to be prepared to defend themselves against someone else’s stupidity. Of course, it’s not enough to say someone discriminated against you for having a mental illness. You need to be able to prove it. That shouldn’t be hard for obsessive people who are known to be painfully diligent at documenting things.

Breaking a stigma is hard. There’s no play book. There’s always the danger of coming across as delusional or whiney. Come to think of it, some of us ARE delusional and whiney.

Despite all I say about breaking stigmas and fighting back, I have to be honest and say that I’ve never experienced the kinds of things people write to me about. I’m very lucky. I’ve gotten nothing but support from every office I’ve ever worked in. If I was going through depression and needed time off, I got it. When I decided to write this blog, the folks at work were very supportive.

You might say that for an OCD patient, I’ve led a charmed life.

I do know this, though: When you take a skeleton like mental illness out of the closet and toss it to the middle of the street for all to see, the control it has over you lessens and the bones of the disorder turn to ash.

I’ve lived it. I know it. I used to live in mortal terror of speaking up for myself. Once I got over that initial hump, there was no turning back.

Another reader recently wrote to me about the injustices she has suffered for having a mental illness:

I have two very bad instances of discrimination based on mental illness. I worked for medical doctors for ten years, had all outstanding performance reviews, and received bonuses periodically. I began to have trouble functioning because of undiagnosed and untreated bipolar disorder. I had doctors working with me who told me I needed a leave of absence to get medical care. I went to my boss, the executive director and an MD, and told him what my therapist and neurologist recommended. His words were “I’m a doctor, I can’t have someone with a mental illness in a position of authority in a company I run!” Second case, my supervisor docked my pay for going to the doctor even though I was exempt. Also, she told me that I had to have therapy sessions via phone or email because she couldn’t afford to let me leave the office. She also told others about my illness without my permission. It was at that point I decided I have to try and find a way to work for myself even if I had to leave in a homeless shelter.  I will never be treated that way again.

Me neither, my friend.

I can’t tell someone how to fight back when a judge or employer screws them over their illness.

I only know what I do: Minimize the impact of my OCD by exposing it for all to see through my writing.

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