When you look at me, what do you see?
Do you see my pretty face smiling at you? Maybe you see my caramel colored skin and wonder what is she- Hawaiian? Indian? African? Maybe you see me in my suit and see a professional. Yes, that girl looks like a lawyer ready to take someone to court. Yes you look at me but you don’t see me because if you really saw me you would know that I am a person living with mental illness.
As a person with a hidden disability I have often struggled with the issue of whether to “come out” and disclose my disability. Whenever I ask people about disclosing, I have received a mixed bag of answers. Some say it will be difficult to be accepted in the legal profession if I disclose. Others say I should be proud of my disability and my past. For nearly ten years I kept my mental illness a closely guarded secret. Initially, disclosure was on a “have to know basis”: I am in the hospital and someone needs to be my emergency contact. As things improved, I started testing the waters by telling a friend and an employer. My friend was supportive; on the other hand, my employer called me “crazy girl” and used it as a basis for office pranks. That experience made me less inclined to share my story. I thought “if I can pass, then why bother making my life more difficult through disclosure.” Through law school and my internships with various disability organizations I started developing disability pride.
As an AAPD intern, I have embraced identifying myself as a person with a disability. I disclose because the disability movement gives me a sense of community and acceptance. Here, I don’t feel weird talking about my hospitalizations. I am not looked upon as an outsider, for once I feel like I fit in. In this group, regardless of disability, there is a shared experience of marginalization of one kind or another. More importantly, there is a resolve to create systemic change for people with disabilities. For me, the first step to create change is to shout loud and proud “I am a person with a disability”!