ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Surviving is hard when living independently

Jack Bragen
Friday March 03, 2017 - 05:04:00 PM

Being disabled and at the same time, through employment, earning enough money to live on, is very difficult--one must deal with the effects of the medication, the effects of the illness, and, at the same time, the difficulties of the job.  

I have been collecting disability since I was in my mid-twenties, having thrown in the towel in the realm of working for a living. Had I been able to face the difficulties of employment, things would probably look very different for me. Had I stayed with some kind of decent career job, at this point I might have a lot less uncertainty.  

It is probably less work in the long term to initially face and conquer the difficulties of employment (if at all practicable), in comparison to getting older and having harshly limited choices, and other constraints of living in the poverty of being a SSDI and SSI recipient.  

Some of us are forced into institutional housing. This is not very good, as far as I am concerned. I don't like the baggage of living in mental health housing, which includes supervision and restrictions (sometimes implemented by fools), and includes living alongside other mentally ill people, some of whom are impaired and lack boundaries. But in some respects, this is a much easier situation than the alternatives.  

My path has been meandrous and all over the map (speaking metaphorically, not geographically). The consistent part of it includes never quite reaching success by my then current definition.  

For someone with a severe psychiatric illness who is compliant and even proactive in his or her treatment, who desires to live under decent conditions, there are obstacles. For one thing, the government isn't necessarily your friend.  

Let me begin by saying I am grateful for the fact that the government makes it possible for me to survive, as they provide income, medical care, and subsidized housing.  

However, I've been harassed by police a number of times over the years. And, various government agencies, such as Social Security and Housing, have been of significant pain.  

Aside from the government, criminals have created a lot of problems in my life. Men have been assaultive toward me, and I am not clear as to why I have been targeted.  

I feel that there is much I have been up against. I don't know how much of it to attribute to me being my own saboteur, the effects of karma, or some conspiracy having been plotted because I am an embarrassment to someone powerful. The last of those three is likely to be a paranoid delusion. Maybe I should replace that one with something like "random chance."  

Regardless of any of the above, surviving is hard when you are not the same as everyone else.  

Disabled people are targeted by predatory type people. A decent housing situation can be very difficult to find among the rare property owners who accept subsidies. Often, disabled people are forced to live in substandard housing, much of which is in drug, vermin, and crime infested neighborhoods.  

Some of the more naive disabled people are suckered into borrowing from predatory so-called "lenders." In fact, if you bother to read the disclosures, the fees involved are equal to or in excess of what you're borrowing, meaning that your annual percentage rate could be above 100 percent, and in some cases 200 percent. These are not legitimate loans.  

Then, your credit rating is ruined, and this makes it unlikely that you can ever move out of the drug and crime infested neighborhood where you live.  

In order to survive and live independently, if you are mentally ill, competence is necessary and so is courage. There exist numerous pitfalls and booby-traps that you must learn to circumnavigate. You may need to defend yourself against violent people, some of whom are mentally ill, some of whom are criminals, and some of whom might just be angry.  

You need to learn the ropes of government bureaucracy, at least to the extent that you can furnish paperwork that is demanded.  

My father once said, "Life is a game in which the object is to learn the rules; as soon as you learn the rules, it's over."  

Jack Bragen is author of "Schizophrenia: My 35-Year Battle," and, "Instructions for Dealing with Schizophrenia, a Self-Help Manual."