Bipolar Disorder Community
Can bipolar disorder be a legitimate disability?
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Can bipolar disorder be a legitimate disability?

An aquaintance asked me what I did for a living. I explained that I had been a nurse, but I don't do that anymore. I am disabled, mainly due to bipolar disorder. I also explained that I take care of myeslf, do everything I am supposed to do to stay healthy and out of the hospital. This is the email I got back -

I am very much in tune with bi-polar disorder. I know several people who have it. Some of them do what they're supposed to do...take the medicine, exercise, eat healthy, don't drink alcohol and they do GREAT. They even hold down a full time job and manage their life very well. Others...they DON'T take care of themselves, don't take their medicine, don't eat right,  they don't excercise, and they DO drink alcohol. Their lives are full of chaos, but, still manage to work. So, I'm a little confused with the fact of being on disability for it. It isn't really a disability. You just have to know your limits and what to do to take care of yourself. I understand bi-polar disorder very well and am definately not negative about it.

Here I had just spent many months on the bipolar merry go round and was finally getting my mood in the normal range with a med change.Now I was finally able to feel good about the big steps I am making toward independence and self-sufficiency - moving into an apartment this weekend, volunteering to help with puppy/obedience training. I'm not lazy, sitting around in front of the tv. I work around the house. I pay room and board while living with my mom and stepdad. I cried when I sat in the social securities office to apply for disability. I was ashamed, embarrassed, and knew everyone would judge me. But my therapist, dr, and family had been telling me for a year it was what I needed to do, because I wasn't able to work at even simple jobs. I DO know my limits and that is why I applied for disability - I know my triggers are stress and sleep. The stress of responsibility that goes with a job was too much and I kept ending up in the hospital with worse and worse symptoms. I have rapid cycling, mixed episodes, and psychotic symptoms during both manic and depressive episodes. I don't drink, do drugs, smoke. I exercise, journal, make all my appts, take meds as prescribed, walk, yoga. And my goal has ALWAYS been to strive toward a point where I was stable enough, long enough to maybe find something low stress part time. I just keep running into episodes. I've been on all the meds out there, so it isnt' a matter of not having the right one.

It just ticks me off that this person judged me without knowing me, my story, or my experiences. It also ticks me off that she acts like she can teach me something about a disorder I know inside and out.
This email made me cry and sent me back to that place of feeling worthless and lazy and I must be a faker since nothing is physically wrong with me, when thinking wise I know I have problems retaining new information, organizing information, thanks to past ECT, Topomax (topamax), and other meds I'm on now. Now I can't feel good about my little success because this email spoiled it.

Do you think bipolar can in some cases qualify a person as disabled?
Do you think this remark was insensitive, ignorant, or rude?

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17 Comments Post a Comment
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585414_tn?1288944902
Bipolar disorder is a legitimate disability in terms of society, under the Americans with Disabilities Act and in Social Security terms (depending on how it affects your ability to work for the last one only). There is nothing shameful about being on Social Security if you can't work. Most people acquire a disability at some point in their life. Disability discrimination is rampant and one key to ending it is to see it as such. Its just another form of ignorance. Don't accept any of it directed to you. The other person was completely wrong. Having a disability is part of life. Ideology is another matter and can be changed.
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952564_tn?1268372247
It amazes me how ignorant people can be! Don't let this person squash your successes. You are not a failure in any way. From all the things you say you do, you are doing a great job. This person how no idea what they're talking about. Many, many people with bipolar disorder do require disability. I work but I know I struggle, especially when I'm having episodes. Right now I am okay enough to work, but who knows what is in the future for me. We all just have to do our best with what we have.

You had to do what was right for you, and your family supported you in that. They could see you needed it. Some people just need it. And yes, even bipolar people who take care of themselves are on disability. And, bipolar is a physical illness as well because it is biochemical. Our brains are different. That isn't our fault, we didn't ask for it, and we're not fakers.
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Avatar_m_tn
You'll also run into the people who say you don't look disabled which is really ignorant.  To them you say not every disability is a visible one.  Then I've also ran into the people who flat out tell me I don't have the mental illness I was diagnosed with.  If they'd only been around when I was jumping at specters and **** that isn't really there and literally screaming at people over conspiracy theories they'd think otherwise.  I still can't believe I got that bad to this day.  Just because the worst aspects of it are under control doesn't mean it's not there.  Mental illness can also cause a wide variety of physical problems as well so it's not just limited to the mental plane of existence.  Anyway, to answer your questions Bipolar Disorder is in fact considered a disability as ILADVOCATE said and the remark was indeed insensitive, ignorant and rude.
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654560_tn?1331858181
I think for me the devastation of possible disability was the straw that broke the camel's back . I have always been successful even as I lived with BP 1 rapid cycler sudicial ideations and dulusions.UNMEDICATED. How ? ? ?  I don't know.
It is hard enough for someone to come to term with the devastation of this illness, much less to have recieved an e-mail so insitive ( she sounds borderline to me) LOL
   I went two years only able to work a few hours a day.........I hated myself for being so weak. I don't need people in my life making comments on what OTHERS do with bp
As we all know ....we each have our own personal make-up as to how our illness manifest itself.  There said.

I have kinda watched you on this site for the last year or so and you have made great changes for your mental health.I know you rapid cycle and I am so proud of you for stepping out to gain more independence

I for one believe in you ...............................Debra
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Avatar_f_tn
Hi Penelope,
I am also a nurse.  I am also on Disability.  Also due to having Bipolar Disorder.

You may feel better to educate that person some facts about Bipolar Disorder and the diability that it can and does bring to those who suffer with it.  It is not a flaw in your personality or character.  You didn't ask to have this.  Just like people don't ask to have cancer, diabetes, or depression or epilepsy.  Nobody enjoys the suffering that goes with Bipolar disorder.  It is not fun and games and a way to "get out of working in the world".  Not only is this person ignorant about Bipolar Disorder, she is totally insensitive to other people's feelings to make such rediculous comparisons of people which she obviouly knows little about.  There are people who are Bipolar and do work alright with it.  But everybody is not in one neat little box, as this person implies.  Plus she may be exposed to people who use the "Oh i guess I am just being Bipolar today" very flippant.  She owes you an apology.  She next owes it to herself to learn about this illness and how it affects the lives of its victims.  She also needs to educate herself about the Social Security Disability System, what it is for and who is elegible etc.  This person really shows her ignorance and insensivities.  She should feel totally ashamed for what she did to you.  That is the last thing anybody with Bipolar and on Disability needs to have thrown in her face.
You are very intelligent and you understand and do what you need to do to take care of yourself the best way you and your doctor know how at this point.  Stress is one of the bad things that Bipolar folks need to manage, and like I said, we all are not in one neat package.  We all encounter stress in our lives, some more than others, some able to deal with it in different degrees than others.  The environment plays a big part in this stress level.  When we are exposed to more than our personal self can deal with we have breakdowns.  Thus we need to manage the stress level we personally are able to deal with.  Nobody can dictate to others what level of stress they must be able to handle.
I have to leave right now, but I will be back, because I am not finished.    Kathy
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605458_tn?1265086851
Thanks everyone, and thank you freebird for acknowledging my efforts as someone who has been aware of my struggles for a while. That's what I mean, how could anyone begin to make such a blanket statement before knowing anything about the individual?

Your support definitely makes me feel better. Move in date to the new apartment is this coming Sunday and Monday! :-)
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Avatar_f_tn
You need to feel good about who you are.  It takes a great deal of strength and courage to go to the SS Disability Office and admit you need help.  But it was not your first choice.
This person has no idea just how much many or most of us want to be healthy enough to be able to work and have our successful careers.  Would she judge a patient with cancer on chemo who is sick, fatigued, in pain, nauseated and weak, that she should be out there working rather than sitting at home feeling sorry for herself?  I would hope not.  She has some knowledge about cancer.  She now needs to expand her horizons and learn about bp.

I have experienced rapid cycling.  It is so exhausting and frightening and I thought it was going to kill me.  I was totally out of control with it.  All my husband could do at the moment was put his arms around me tightly and give me some sense of grounding.  It was like going through a bad case of Vertigo, only emotionally.
Other times I tried to work and go to college and the stress I encountered would land me right in the hospital, repeatedly.  I felt like such a failure in life and was so disappointed in myself.  I had dreams that became out of reach for me.  I felt so frustrated and depressed that I couldn't deal with the stress.  I didn't think it was all that much, really.  But my body said otherwise.
I tried to give myself better work, better pay, better security, more independence, but it was not to be.  Instead even the SS Disability saw the writing on the wall.
We have traveled abroad several times.  Eventhough I have enjoyed myself, I always start feeling anxiety a year in advance of the next trip, wondering how I would be, say, should I get lost.  Could I cope with that stress?  Would I be allright?  Getting lost when I was younger was welcomed new experiences I looked forward to.  Now I am unsure of myself.
     But I am amongst the survivors of BP Disorder.  I have managed to survive this long.  I am actually much better today than earlier.  I don't know if it is because my brain has had a chance to heal and recircuit itself in a healthy manner, or that I am only in a remission period right now.  I have read that this is a lifelong illness, with some remissions, but that I would have to take medication for the rest of my life.  My doctor has managed to scale back the meds to the point that I am free of them now.  I am feeling wonderful today.  But I am aware of the slight moodswings.  I can detect them ever so sneaky they are.  And I hope that I can manage them on my own without medication.
     So see, gal, there is still hope at the end of the tunnel, that maybe our brains do heal and we are whole again.  We'll watch and see.                Kathy
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739988_tn?1386676569
I am bp and on disability.  I felt so bad about it for a long time.  Asking myself why can't I work??  My husband has been very supportive though and I have realized that I cannot work.  Because I am disabled.  I am fortunate enough to have friends who understand (or who keep their opinions to themselves).  Anyway, I have finally learned that disability is out there to help those who cannot work and I cannot work.  They wouldn't have approved you if they thought you could work.

Just ignore the ignorant people out there who don't understand!

Keep us posted as to how the new apartment is working out.
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1011752_tn?1269245119
I am on the same bandwagon as the rest of the folks here.  I have been Bipolar I for about eight years (diagnosed), but probably had it most of my life.  My key to survival with this mental illness is surrounding myself with understanding people.  I consider myself fairly successful, with many accomplishments.  All of these accomplishments are probably due to extended manic episodes throughout my life.  I have been in sort of a rut since I was diagnosed, but I am working to get things back on track.

Bipolar Disorder is a recognized disability according to the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The key to this, since it is a mental disorder, is proving that it limits or impairs what is called a "major-life activity".

I think that the person's comment was off-base.  They only said that they were in-tune with Bipolar.  They probably don't know the half of it.
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Avatar_f_tn
Man, this woman has a lot of balls to send you a note like that!

DON'T LET THE LITTLE PEOPLE GET YOU DOWN.  By little people I mean the people that think just because they've known someone who has this or just because they've read about it that they're experts and can tell you what to do.  Everyone's illness is different and everyone responds to both the illness and the medication in different ways.

The thing that struck me the most about what you wrote was when you said "This email made me cry and sent me back to that place of feeling worthless and lazy and I must be a faker since nothing is physically wrong with me".  Don't EVER let anyone make you feel that way.  What you're feeling is real and the way your body is responding to your illness is real.  I've had BP2 for a majority of my life; looking back I can recognize symptoms that I showed when I was 6 years old but I wasn't treated for it until I was 16.  I had migraines, I had chronic pain, and of course the crying jags and depression along with the hypomania, the rapid cycling, the scary temper, the whole nine yards...and NO ONE believed me.  No one believed that I had a problem and it was driving me even more crazy thinking that this was all in my head.  It took me years of therapy to get over those words "you're just faking it, there's nothing wrong with you, don't be a drama queen, just get over it".

Anyway, long story short, we've all been through this and now you have people to reassure you that there are a lot of ignorant people out there who don't have any clue what they're talking about.  Never let them make you feel like less than you are.  You're taking your meds, you're treating your body right, you're taking steps in the right direction.  This woman wouldn't be able to last a day in your shoes and she has no clue what size they are.  If you're really interested in starting ****, just tell her that when she gets her degree in psychiatry and has treated a patient like you for a number of years then she can start doling out advice on how people are supposed to be reacting to their mental illness.
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285927_tn?1380802356
I have been bp for the last 25 years! Really, it is considered a disability? I sure wish I had known that earlier! However, in the business I am in, I am super active to the sweat running off the forhead active, so maybe I just got used to using being active to work thru it somewhat!  I just thought I was crazy! Been off and on meds most of my life with very little success.  When I start feeling that cloud coming down around me and pushing me into that dark hole, I cannot sit still or sleep so I work!  Im gonna have to check this out! Wow!
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605458_tn?1265086851
There are different kinds/types/severities of bipolar and it is sometimes severe enough to be considered a disability. I take care of myself, always take my meds, blah blah, and yet I have episodes and sometimes they include dangerous, life threatening delusions, paranoia, hallucinations, volatile outbursts. Mixed, rapid cycling. The meds I MUST take make it difficult for me to retain new information and organize new information. The ECT I had years ago fried my brain. Topomax (topamax) did a weird thing with word finding. Sometimes my depressions are of a catatonic nature. I'm not trying to compare myself to you, I'm trying to say maybe my situation is different than yours.
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285927_tn?1380802356
I too had ECT years ago and it fried my brain also. I have horrible memory, no long term. I have been hospitalized with what they called break downs, back then, but as I have gotten older the disease has mellowed somewhat. Still, I remember going thru all that and not able to work, function and this was never ever offered as an option for me. It sounds like some of you are very sensitive on this subject and I find that sad.  I think it is truly something that alot of us never realized was there for us.  If I had not been married with someone else paying the bills I dont know what would have happened to me. I can remember locking myself in my room for days and not getting out of bed, having fits to the point my children were scared of me, and afraid to be left alone with them, or to even go out to the grocery by myself. So yeah, I think I know first hand of that you speak!  What I did not know was it being classified as a disability and if I had I would surely have taken advantage of it. As this is a lifelong issue for me that info may even come in handy to me in my future, so for that I thank you for the awareness. They did not know as much back then as they do now I guess. I have learned to cope somewhat by having to I guess but still have times even now of feeling totally unable to cope, just not as often.
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614508_tn?1265285322
I am interested in this topic for a number of reasons but wanted to weigh in with the following.
1. The DSM IV recognizes Bipolar I and II as an illness that can be considered a disability.
2. Disabilities range in severity from minimal to catastrophic.  One person with diabetes may be able to continue full time employment, where another may only be able to work part time or not at all. One person with schizophrenia might live on his own independantly, the other may require full time constant care.  One person with BP may react favorably to medications and another may struggle for years to find the right combination, the right dosage to treat symptoms while minimizing side effects.
3. Definitions of total or partial disability vary depending on who wrote the legislation or insurance policy that benefits or coverage are being sought.  It is not the BP patient who makes this call but rather the diagnostic team (psychiatrist, social worker, psychologist, family physican, family) whether employment is still an option. All of this is subject to endless paperwork, tests etc.
There appears to be this "judgement" over "I continued to work", if I just "pull up my bootstraps" I can get over this.... quite frankly workaholics (like me) This was a sign of the mania or hypomania that would fuel my cycling up & down, This would result in poor exercise, meal planning, little recreation,etc.  How many mistakes, judgement errors did I make while in that position?
Why should we continue to be a martyr to please our families or society as a whole killing ourselves trying to work when it impedes our recovery?  Because we don't look "sick on the outside".  Perhaps society needs a different color of rose colored glasses.
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Avatar_f_tn
Last night I just went through something I haven't before experienced.
I felt certain that I was going to be visited by somebody who was out to kill me.  I felt so scared.
I locked my house up mega tight, set booby traps, turned off any sound items, and placed weapons and spray and my cell around me when I went to bed.

I awoke to noise that sounded like somebody walking inside my house, but it was now daylight.  I got one weapon and very quietly investigated the entire house before I could deside that nobody got in, and I don't know what I heard.

I don't know if this was the result of a mood shift or what.  But I now wonder what happened to me to feel that scared last night.  I have always listened to my "gut instinct" and it has kept me safe in life.  I listened to it again last night and hummmmm.  Was I going crazy?

I don't want to have to go back on medication again, but I will admit to the doctor tomorrow what happened last night.  And also the other day I had a firm urge to put out all my belongings and sell it all in a yard sell.  The house would be practically empty when I would be done.  It has passed, but that was a very strong urge too, I have not had this before like this.

I don't feel manic or depressed.  I feel fine right now.  But what happen earlier is unnerving to me.

Does anybody have ideas?  Were those mood swings, or was I plain ol' going crazy?

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585414_tn?1288944902
Detail what's going on in full to your psychiatrist. With bipolar with psychotic features a person only experiences psychosis during moodswings and with the period in between mania and depression things can seem stable. It would be best to go back on medication and explain exactly what happenned to your psychiatrist so they can diagnose exactly what form of bipolar you have. The thoughts may have been psychotic but only a psychiatrist would know for sure.
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