Twenty-two years ago I was diagnosed as having manic depression. Twenty-two years later I think I’ve beaten the disease. At the very least, with the help of medications and therapy, I’ve managed to lock it away someplace it’d have a hard time coming back from.
No more debilitating depressions, no more manic insanity. If I were an addict I’d be a year, maybe even eighteen months clean.
I’m not cured, but I’m not sick either.
I am, however, still disabled from the behaviours that come with sixteen to eighteen years of untreated manic depression. I smoked for almost eighteen years, for example, and when I quit it took me six months to stop reaching for the phantom pack of cigarettes.
It’s the legacy of being untreated and unmedicated for so long that I’m living with now — it’s the charred lungs, the still increased chances for heart disease, the nicotine stains on my fingers, the pinhole burns in my silk shirt.
There are things people are supposed to learn, that I never had a chance to learn because the disease had me so blinded for so long. Which brings me to the point of this post…
My psychiatrist recently had to fill out a form which, if successful, would have a huge financial debt forgiven. Basically in two pages he laid out in brief where I was in my recovery, and the slim chances I’ll ever be able to repay the loan.
I didn’t have a bank account until I was twenty-four. I’ve been either homeless, on social assistance or disability for sixteen of the past twenty years. I’ve been a little preoccupied over my adult life with trying to simply survive to learn how to manage money.
But when I was twenty-four — in the middle of an intense eight-month depression — I did manage to enroll in a journalism program. To pay for it I took out a series of loans from the Ontario government, and by the time I graduated I owed close to $18,000.
Which I’ve never repaid. I made a few attempts at repayment, but the credit agencies have been after me for ten years. When I was on welfare they’d occasionally take $100 out of my account, leaving me with less than $50 for the month.
But once I was in the Ontario Disability Support Program they had no recourse. No one on Disability in Ontario can be forced to pay off a debt.
So now there are no more threatening phone calls, they just send mail. Specifically a “Medical Loan Forgiveness Program” form. If I can prove I’ll be disabled for a long, long time, the government “forgives” the loan and everyone goes home happy.
“The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities may forgive an individual’s Ontario student loans if the Minister is satisfied that the individual has a permanent disability / medical condition that will substantially reduce his or her earning capacity for the individual’s expected lifetime, and the individual is unable to repay his or her student loans without incurring exceptional financial hardship.”
So this is what my psychiatrist wrote in the form as an evaluation of my disability status, but if you look for the words he doesn’t use it’s also an insight into my recovery.
See if you can tell which specific word is missing.
Diagnosis and history of the disability:
Raised on a commune by a disturbed bipolar father. Unstable childhood attachments [with my parents]. Onset of bipolar disorder approx. 1985. First diagnosed and treated 1988. Hospitalized 1989 Ottawa General Hospital. Had ups & downs many years at various jobs and school. Consulted at the Royal Ottawa Hospital in 1997. Mostly untreated until November 2002 when he settled down in [my village] and started stabilizing on Lithium.
Despite therapy, recovery is slow and so far insufficient to consider work in the near future. There are many life issues to be resolved. Physically he suffers from diabetes, which has not been sufficiently controlled. Fair to poor.
How does this restrict work related activities?
Inability to maintain a regular motivated life schedule, including activities of daily living, because of lack of motivation, trouble concentrating, variable energy.
…cannot work at all.
Incapacitating disability likely to be life long.
If you picked ‘pumpkin’ as the missing word you’d be right, but if you picked ‘suicide’, or ‘suicidal’ then you’re even righter.
It took sixteen years from diagnosis until treatment, and six years of treatment to get here, and I may still have a long way to go to become less disabled, but the symptoms of the disease that crippled me for so long are gone.
…I think this is a major step. I also hope the Forgiveness Program buys it, because getting that loan off my back would be freaking awesome.