Tuesday, July 5, 2011

How ill is mentally ill?

I called the hospital's financial-clearance office today so I can keep visiting my psychiatrist now that I don't have insurance. The last question they asked me was whether I had any particular conditions, including permanent blindness or deafness, cerebral palsy, leukemia...or a permanent mental illness.

Am I really as hampered as I would be if I were blind? Or if I had cerebral palsy or cancer? I just can't buy it.

Is this about likelihood of insurance denial? Did you know that my total medication bill these days runs under $100 per month? It may even run under $75; I can't remember how much the generic Neurontin cost me last time, and I'm not using it as a psych med anyway. Are the insurance companies telling me that treating bipolar disorder -- granted, with generics -- is as expensive as treating cancer?

I know I have a lucky medication lot right now. My mood stabilizer is startlingly cheap to refill; last time, it cost $13.11. (Go to Target for your meds!) If my meds weren't generics, I'd be spending $500 or more. (Which, by the way, is incredibly, incredibly stupid.) Bipolar disorder has become very cheap to treat as far as medication goes.

Then there's the psychiatrist and, for some people, the therapist. And the risk of hospitalization. So all this added together...

I analyze all this in terms of money, cold and rational, because I still can't allow that bipolar threatens my life like cancer would, or inhibits it like cerebral palsy would.

And honestly, it's probably good that I think that way. Like blind bicyclists who employ echolocation -- if they weren't optimistic about their conditions, they'd be on the couch all day.

But I've headbutted the world enough times to know that I have to be realistic, too. Since leaving AmeriCorps, I am stable. I still have some rogue anxiety going on, and I slip into depression once in a while, but now that my stress levels are low, I am functioning again.

Did I head towards adulthood hoping I'd have limited choices if I wanted to be stable? No. But how wonderful that changing my circumstances makes me healthier.

And so how can mental illness be as grave as those other illnesses? But I know it can. I've been to the brink many times. I am okay today, so I don't have a mental illness; I forget about tomorrow. I worry about having children and whether I will fall apart on them.

I choose a job that keeps me afloat but that won't earn me wealth. The illness curtails our earning power. Another reason for financial assistance.

I'm still discovering what having bipolar disorder means for my life. I know it doesn't have to mean devastation, and that financial assistance isn't damning -- it's lucky. I know that without a psychiatrist and meds, I might die. It doesn't feel like cancer-die, but somehow it's true.

And when I feel good, all of this feels like life rather than burden -- like, as I said, discovery. It's interesting. I enjoy figuring it all out.

My cat is sleeping with her foot in her face. For some reason that seems appropriate right now. Being at home on a weekday, sitting next to the sunshine and my cat with her foot in her face.

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