Facing Employment Barriers with a Disability

by Jack Bragen

Most people in the U.S. in their 20s don’t need to think about the harsh realities of life. Their parents are probably still living, and from what I’ve seen, most, are willing to support them as they make their way through the last transitional stage into adulthood. Most people in their twenties expect good health and have their needs met—and this means that usually, desires and dreams are in the driver’s seat. 

But if you’re disabled, the picture is different, and more so when you reach past 40 and you’re living in poverty. Things might begin to feel pressured. And while most Americans in their 40s are at their peak of physical, mental and money-earning condition, those of us with disabilities are usually not as fortunate. I had a friend who died at 50. Fifty is a young age to die. 

My friend had type 2 diabetes. One day he showed me his teeth, all extracted, which he kept in a glass jar. He had bipolar disorder, and he would become dangerously violent. He was also, in calmer phases, a mental health advocate. His example was exceedingly bad for the mental health self-help movement, because of his violence and other destructiveness and because he was so against psychiatric medication. This man’s behavior might have been responsible for the end of the consumer movement in the East Bay.

Unfortunately, in modern times almost all mentally ill people whose conditions are publicly known have few prospects, and most of the prospects are jobs that the treatment system creates to give to mental health consumers. 

Those who hire usually discriminate against people with neurodivergence. I believe this makes it much harder for me, individually speaking, to rise out of poverty. 

I’m currently trying to increase my income, meet my basic needs and establish security in my life. Most of my money is from government benefits, and this amounts to having very low income. This is not a reassuring way to live. 

When I’m fired up and trying to accomplish something, I encounter various forms of opposition. Some of it is internal, consisting of mental and emotional resistance and self-doubt; some relates to time usage, logistics and similar constraints. 

Some of the external opposition comes from individuals who don’t want me to succeed at what I’m trying to do. In many instances, the strategies of an “enemy” include the need to gather information to be used against me.

My objective is to create economic security for myself. It would be one way of alleviating my housing fears. And I don’t know yet how this will play out. My thoughts of how to create wealth—or to be more precise, not be poor—entail creating something good and offering it to people in return for income.

There are villains in the picture. Many people can’t stand it and dislike you for doing something they can’t do or haven’t been able to do. Then, you are dealing with people coming after you because they resent something good you have created. Unfortunately, this has been the pattern—people have seen me create something good, and then they knock me down. Each time this happens, it is harder for me to get back on my feet. 

If you have a psychiatric impairment, there are numerous barriers to employment. You might have developed symptoms before you could get some college or other training under your cap. Even so, after being diagnosed, you could still go to college and/or training. Yet your parents or other people in a position of advising you might dissuade you from schooling because they believe you wouldn’t be able to do it,  and thus persuade you to aim lower. That’s what seems to have happened to me. My parents at some point gave up on me obtaining an education. I think it would have been an ideal time to do this when I was in my 30s. 

But I did not think ahead. The responsibility of this belongs on my shoulders. 

Now I am approaching sixty, and I can’t conceive of starting afresh with new education. Most of those who my age are probably looking ahead toward their retirement. Others are still going at it full bore—but they’re not starting at the bottom, they’re at the top and they’re making big bucks. 

It’s great to be a “famous” author. It really puts a feather in your cap. But you can’t eat a feather or live in it, it won’t fill your gas tank and you can’t use it to invest in the stock market. 

Being in treatment for a psychiatric condition most of your life can badly hamper the ability to competitively perform at most jobs. Medication does a number on you. Though medication is designed to suppress some of the symptoms of mental illness, I guess it is also intended to keep us manageable through keeping us numbed out and sedated. Honestly, I don’t know what goes on in drug companies, but it seems that their agenda isn’t necessarily that of making us high performers. Drug engineering has probably evolved enough that a much better medication could easily be invented that treats mental illness without its side effects causing other impairments. 

I have a psychotic illness. I have difficulty adapting to various environments and circumstances. My symptoms make me more fearful. I also have delusional tendencies that make it harder for me to remain in touch with reality. Medication just lowers the volume of my symptoms—it doesn’t eliminate them. So, my ability to be hired and to work is that much harder.

Still, I encourage mentally ill readers to give it a shot.

Mentally ill people deserve a piece of the pie. We may not get the entire pie, just a small slice. Just because it might be twice as hard for us to get half as much is not a good enough reason to give up. I’ve mostly failed at things but succeeded at a few, and this is good enough for me to keep trying. 

Jack Bragen lives and writes in Martinez, California. His work has appeared in many publications, and he sells indie books on Amazon.