I have a very specific coffee order at Starbucks. This is because I am, as my boyfriend says, particular (he is always diplomatic; please read as “high-maintenance”). I am an annoying customer sometimes, and I don’t care. So why am I worried about asking for accommodations for my illness which is, arguably, so much more important than coffee?
We all ask for accommodations, big or small, in our everyday lives. We all have things that when done right can make our day a little sweeter. A great example of this is the type of jobs we decide to work and the hours we keep because of them. Some people like shift work; they like life to always be changing, fresh and different. Some people like to work on the road, like artists on tour, a new city every night. Some people like the 9-5, predictable and steady. Not everyone would flourish in each of these environments, but someone flourishes in each of them.
Chronic illness is much the same. Each person has to try many strategies for coping with symptoms and each person has to eventually admit what works for them and what doesn’t, regardless of what the rest of the world thinks. Bipolar Disorder needs sleep, both on a schedule and a larger than average amount. Lately I have been sleeping in two chunks per day, overnight from 11:30pm to 7am and then a nap from 5:30 pm – 7pm. If I don’t follow this schedule my nasty little friends Anxiety and Panic tend to show up. Without this sleep schedule there is a Bipolar domino effect.
This is where I start getting uncomfortable about accommodations. In the middle of a panic attack I need whoever I am with to acknowledge it is happening, acknowledge it is painful and scary and then I need them to give me a big, strong hug when it subsides. When a panic attack hits I need to take a time out from everything else and focus on survival. However, admitting these are the things I need, admitting I need the other person to focus on me for a little bit feels like a sign of weakness. I feel as though I should be able to hide the panic, or deal with it alone or just stop it from happening all together. When I can’t it feels like failure.
How strange is it that I can admit that too much ice in my over-priced coffee makes me grumpy but getting scared when my heart feels like it is going to explode is a weakness? This is what illness does; it plants seeds of doubt and guilt in our most vulnerable of moments. The trick is to fight those seeds and figure out what accommodations you need to be happy and healthy.
Also, it might be argued, that illness blows things out of proportion; see above for too much ice in my iced coffee.
On second thought, no, that’s not my illness. I’m just particular.
About Sarah Lindsay
Sarah Lindsay is in her mid-twenties and lives in Toronto with her boyfriend and their dog (who also has some anxiety issues). Sarah was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 2005 at the age of 16 and is still trying to figure it out. Follow Sarah’s story on HMC’s Supportive Minds Blog, or additionally you can follow her on Twitter, Facebook or check out her new website: SarahsMoods.com