I lost my job.

No, that’s a lie. It makes it sound softer than the reality. The reality is I was fired, again. I was fired because I missed too many days of work. You know, attendance policies and all. I had too many sick days. I don’t know what else to call them. They were days I had a panic attack over the thought of going to work. They were days when I was too depressed to leave the house. They were days I couldn’t stand the thought of doing my job, being on the phone all day, without getting short of breath and narrow vision. They were days when my illness was too strong, too present, too powerful for me to fight against it.

Now, under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), you can have days like these covered and they don’t affect your attendance. The problem was, I had to stay at my job for six months to be eligible for FMLA. It was three months in that the panic attacks started. For a little over a week, I couldn’t get my shit together and get to work. I couldn’t do something as simple as simply show up to my job.

My psychiatrist put me on another medication. I took six pills a day to try and combat bipolar and anxiety. Six pills to try and get me sane and capable enough to go to work. The good news is, this pill worked. My panic stopped. I was able to get to work on a regular basis. But I was treading on thin ice. The time I had already lost had stacked up against me. All it took was a three-day migraine that I needed a day off to combat, and that was that. I was let go. Terminated. I was fired.

I can’t blame them. I mean, they have a business to run and policies in place. I overstepped my boundaries and paid the price. It’s my fault I got fired. I should have just shown up to work. I should have pulled myself together. I should have white knuckled it out. I should have done what it took to keep my job.

Not the First Time

This wasn’t the first time I lost a job due to missing work. I have a string of jobs on my resume that are three months to six months in duration. I lost or quit each one due to “medical issues.” Even when I was covered under FMLA, I tended to miss more days than I went. It looks like I have a chronic issue with showing up for work. All because of my panic attacks.

Here are the concrete repercussions to missing work: you don’t get paid. Money makes the world go around, and without that paycheck, you’re fucked. So missing days from work, getting fired, being out of work for months at a time: all these things add up to not being able to pay rent, bills, or groceries.

(Thank God for food stamps.)

When I can’t pay rent, when my bills are stacking up, when my wallet is empty, when my anxiety is through the roof and depression is coming to get me for being such a loser, I must swallow my pride and beg for help. I have a history of GoFundMe campaigns, all asking friends, family, and followers for help financially because I missed work again because I got fired again, because I can’t find a job again. I’m sure people are sick of me asking for help. I’m positive people think I’m just looking for a handout. I’m convinced that people won’t help me again because this isn’t just a once or twice issue. This is habitual and cyclical.

Like right now, I need to come up with $2000 by May 11th to be able to pay rent. It’s so much because I have over drafted my bank to the point of no return. People are helping here and there, and I am unspeakably grateful. But the big bulk of the need remains. I just know that the need isn’t going to get met this time because I’ve used up all my chances. People have washed their hands of me and my reoccurring money problems.

Reality

This is the reality of living with a mental illness.

Sometimes you look functional like you’re able to hold down a job and live a normal life. Some people with mental illness can, whether because of the severity of the illness being light or because of treatment. I, however, can’t I might be “high functioning” but I can’t hold down a job. But I can work for a few months at a time, so I don’t qualify for disability.

It feels like I’m damned If I do get a job and fucked if I don’t.

But this is my life with mental illness. These financial problems and habitual job loss aren’t due to some defect in my character, no matter how much depression would tell me otherwise. Yeah, it’s ultimately my fault I lose jobs, but there is a reason, and that reason is mental illness.

So here I am, scrambling for income. I’m desperate for a job. McDonald’s is hiring and I’m throwing in my application. I know I won’t make enough to support my kids, but at least I’ll be making something. I’m looking at alternative income sources like freelance writing and editing. And I’m shamelessly asking for help of any kind. I’m doing all of this because I’m trying to figure out how to live life with a disability that I can’t control.

Mental illness is a disability, albeit invisible. And invisible disabilities are hard to live with, just like visible disabilities. It might be easier if I walked with a cane or was in a wheelchair because then people would know that I need accommodation. As it is now, the accommodation I need (when I can get it) results in financial situations that require me to ask for help over and over.

It’s hard to keep asking for help. It’s hard to not be able to take care of your family. Yesterday I broke down in the car because this is all too much, it’s not fair, and I can’t keep doing this. I’m constantly stressed and overwhelmed, which triggers my anxiety and bipolar, which then makes earning a paycheck hard to impossible, which adds to my stress… and the cycle continues.

I don’t know what else to say. Again, I’m not looking for pity. I didn’t write this for sympathy. I’m writing these words so you can know that living with mental illness isn’t just about what goes on in the head and the heart. It has real-world consequences. It has physical repercussions. People need to know that. Those of us surviving with mental illness deserve people to know how hard this is. It’s invisible so it’s easy to overlook. We may not be locked in a psych ward, but our disease is still real and still tough to manage in every day.

If you know someone with mental illness, please consider this an invitation to physically come alongside them and to help them in practical ways. Make them dinner. Take them shopping. Clean their house. Take them to appointments. Make phone calls for them. Help them start a fund to pay their rent when the income isn’t there.

Really be there and be real with them. This is hard shit, and no man is an island no matter how much our illness isolates us from other people.

Hands and feet my friend. You can be hands and feet to those of us stricken with mental illness. We need you.