When I'm Judged for Being on Disability Benefits
I think in late 2018 it is no longer an embarrassing admission that yes, I am on online dating sites attempting to meet people. But it is difficult for me to deal with the stigma attached to mental illness and being on social welfare (disability) as a means of financial support.
My online dating profile is blatantly honest. I write all the s*** about my life and get the nasty stuff out of the way immediately because it is always tough to bring up later. “By the way, I’m on the ‘insanity spectrum.’” I lay my cards on the table and weed out the materialistic and judgmental types right off the bat.
I often get this response, “I have been in a relationship with a person on disability benefits before, and I cannot go through that again.” So due to an experience with a jerk, one deems all people on disability the same. This angers me, as I feel it is discriminatory.
Disability is merely a source of income. It is a necessary evil we must contend with. However, painting all recipients of government assistance with the same broad brush seems to be more socially acceptable than judging those in other occupations. As someone who worked in construction for many years, I can say there are just as many assholes in that industry as there are among disability benefit recipients. However, you never hear someone say “I will never date a carpenter again because my ex-partner was a carpenter and I cannot deal with the baggage that comes along with carpentry.”
Why is it still socially acceptable to discriminate against those with a disability, most notably a mental health disorder, when we are in an age of breaking down the barriers of prejudice — or at least trying? We still have many problems with racism and sexism, but in general they are regarded as wrong. Ableism remains pervasive, and it’s far too common to see people openly discriminate based on misguided and outright false ideas.
As a recipient of disability benefits over the past 16 years, it has been torture. The traditional view of a person on disability being lazy and merely using the system is mostly false. Yes, we have a few lazy people in our group, but no more than any other source of income. We are not defined by our source of income; our identity is determined by our actions. My mother can attest to all the attempts I have made to reinvent myself to get off the government dime. So far my actions haven’t paid off, but it smashes the stereotype that people are happy to be lazy and do nothing while collecting disability.
My source of income does not define me. I strive every day to get off disability benefits, and advocate with the spare time afforded me to bring awareness to all who have mental health issues. I ask that people respect the personal nature of what I share about myself, and the fact that I am willing to be honest about my difficulties. My challenges are precisely that, my challenges. Everyone has “baggage” (a word I hate), but some struggles are more socially acceptable. How many people out there are emotionally unavailable after a failed marriage? A lot! But this is socially acceptable. I am emotionally stable yet susceptible to anxiety, and I am often shunned by society because I openly talk about my mental health.
In the same way racist comments are no longer socially acceptable, using discriminatory language about mental health even in a trivial conversation must be stopped. It is time we as people with mental health conditions speak up and say we are people too. We may not be normal, but who is? Normality is a social construct — it is not a matter of fact. Too often, we accept some flaws as “normal” while calling others “abnormal” and marginalize people based on a diagnosis without knowing a thing about who the person is on the inside. Just as it’s wrong to judge people by their skin color, please do not stereotype those of us with mental illness based exclusively on our diagnosis.
Income does not determine who we are as people, and classism and ableism must be brought into the public sphere as an ongoing discussion. We must break down the barriers to acceptance that have been placed in our way. If your idea of happiness requires affluence, then I believe your views on joy are skewed and never obtainable. Socioeconomics have no bearing on the integrity of a person, and disability does not define us.
Getty image by Simpson33.