What It's Like to Be a Health Care Professional With Mental Illness


I find myself juggling between the therapist’s chair and the patient’s chair. I know, it may seem odd. I’ve always heard if you lived with any kind of mental illness you wouldn’t be suitable to be a health care professional. That’s what I was told in college when I was studying to be an occupational therapist. Truth be told, I only realized I was sick when I was already in college (the change of environment was actually the main reason why my anxiety had gotten worse). Maybe if I had known how sick I was back then, I never would have kept on studying to become a therapist.

How could I? How could someone who struggles with agoraphobia with panic disorder and depression help someone else with their own problems and disabilities? How could someone in my position think they were suited to help anyone else? How could I not think about my future patients and their well-being? Well, I did think about them, and about each one of these questions. They were partially the reason why I kept on studying. I wasn’t going to let my disability define who I am. Do you know how I could do this? Because it is only an illness — a horrible, debilitating illness, but still, an illness. And I think sometimes we forget about that. We think it’s us. Because it can drain you in a way that can prevent you from even recognizing yourself anymore, making it really hard to find what’s still left of you in the ashes.

I honestly feel like I don’t have any value all the time. Sometimes I don’t want to leave my house, but I do it anyway. I don’t want to meet a patient because I get too anxious. I don’t want to sit on that chair because it’s too far from the door, and what would happen if I felt bad and needed to leave? What would happen if I made a fool of myself in front of them? Why am I still doing this?

This is my illness; it’s not me. And it doesn’t stop me from working and pushing on. Well, sometimes it can stop me, but not for long. I’ll never allow that.

I always find my own strategies to keep going even if my body feels it can’t. I always prove myself wrong.

If anything, I have a whole different view from my co-workers about depression and anxiety: a patient’s view. I’ll never truly know how someone else feels, even if they have the exact same type of disorders I do. But I can understand the despair and the pain. I can understand how they feel the stigma, the lack of understanding and empathy from others. I can see them beyond their illnesses — and not just the mental illness patients, but every patient. And that is something I feel is missing in our health care system, where many times patients appear to be seen as a diagnosis.

You don’t need to have a disability to help someone in need; it’s obviously not a necessary condition. But you don’t have to be “perfect” either. That’s why I kept on studying and why I still do it everyday.

And don’t get me wrong, I understand I have my limitations. As all of us have. If I feel I can’t work with a specific case, I have the responsibility to pass it over to a co-worker. But that is something transversal to everybody, because everyone has their own issues and limits. And I’m no different.

Yes, I juggle between the role of the professional and the role of patient, and I think that’s so important. To make people realize there’s not a real wall separating us. I believe there are no “ill people” and “well people.” There are just people, and we’re all a big mix of everything and we try our best. That’s all we can do.

Image via Thinkstock.

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