Last winter, I was declined by five health insurance companies. I am 26, do my preventative screenings like clockwork, and have no physical health problems. As my boss told me when I started working at a small start-up a few months ago that has no group health plan: “You’re young and healthy, I assume you’ll have no problems finding a new plan.” I smiled and weakly said, “of course.”
Five applications and four declines later, I anxiously awaited my last and final letter. The verdict came: Declined. Reason: Bipolar II/ADHD.
So there is my secret: Like millions of other Americans, I have a mental illness.
The most frustrating thing isn’t the insurance—with Cobra I can stay on the plan from my last job for 18 months. It costs $675 a month, but at least for now I have that option, which makes me luckier than many. No, the most frustrating part of my situation is that I can count on one hand the number of people who know about my mental illness. The stigma that surrounds mental health is suffocating, and I don’t feel comfortable talking about it with most of my friends and family, and certainly not my boss or colleagues.
But my illness is a huge part of my daily life. Just shopping for the perfect mix of medications is a full time job, with side effects from drugs tried and failed ranging from the merely awkward (flushed cheeks) to annoying (dry mouth) to incapacitating (flu-like symptoms that last for weeks). To keep my illness secret and managed, I go to therapy every week (for a while I did phone therapy at 6 a.m. so I could get to work on time), sneak to the kitchen or bathroom to take my morning and afternoon medications while at work, and make sure I go to my psychiatrist once a month during my lunch hour—often rescheduling and putting it off a week because a meeting or conference call comes up.