(CW: mentions of child sexual abuse, altered states, suicide)

Two years ago, I had a major mental health crisis—a manic episode complete with psychosis, delusions and hallucinations—that blew my life apart. I impulsively quit my beloved job, thinking that I had billions of dollars reserved for me in Europe. Because of my paranoia, I made an ass of myself on social media, thinking that everyone was out to get me. My poor friends were confused and bewildered to see me acting so wildly out of character. At the height of the episode, I was involuntarily hospitalised for two weeks and gradually returned to my normal self thanks to a regimen of lithium and antipsychotics. I didn’t have much time to recover after being discharged: since I’d quit my job in haste, I needed to hustle to ensure my financial security. I took a job a few months later, with a title similar to my previous one, but wildly different responsibilities and expectations. Things went fine at first, but I’ve been struggling to keep up for the past year. That was the first time I’ve ever received a bad review—the grown-up equivalent of a D on a report card. I’m used to doing well at work.

What I really needed was a year away from full-time work to recover from the psychosis. I needed intense therapy to process both the trauma of the psychosis and all the other traumas I’ve undergone, especially child sexual abuse. I was not ready to go back to full-time work two summers ago. But because there was no other choice (other than being evicted and living in a shelter), I did it anyway, and my mental health has suffered for it. Later that year, I was a hair’s breadth away from ending my life.

Last year I was too paralysed to focus on my work as much as I should have, and I felt terrible for letting down the team. I would try to focus, but I kept freezing up. There were times that I was nearly catatonic, but I didn’t want to use up all my sick days—and sometimes I was too frozen even to ask to use them. And this year I had yet another manic episode—right after my dissociative amnesia lifted and I was flooded with a series of harrowing memories. (I’m not sure about all these memories, but there’s enough consistency between them and what I remember aboiut my later life that a lot of them add up.) And through it all, I was bumbling my way through work—and it showed in my boss’s feedback.

I hate being “the load” at work. Hate, hate, hate. It’s not about laziness; it’s about struggling to survive after experiencing one of the most catastrophic events in one’s earthly existence. I was battling autistic burnout, PTSD flashbacks, OCD compulsions, free-floating generalised anxiety and refractory bipolar depression. I feel so inadequate and useless, and it’s especially painful because I know what I’m capable of when I’m at my best. But I was in no condition to work full time in 2023.

There’s no good way for people to recover from mental health crises if they’re not rich. There’s no such thing as short-term disability outside workplace benefits. (I would have used disability leave at my old job if I were sane enough to tell I needed it, which I wasn’t—I thought I was the fucking Messiah, for god’s sake.) Social Security benefits are designed for people who can’t work at all, not people who can work but can’t find the right job, or who will be able to work again but can’t at the moment. The SSA would laugh at my application. Unemployment insurance, on the other hand, isn’t for people who are temporarily unable to work, since you’re supposed to be able to take a job immediately if you claim benefits. High-quality residential treatment, from which I would have greatly benefited, is for the well-heeled. Affordable housing is hard to get, especially where I live. (And don’t tell me to move somewhere with a lower cost of living—if you’re queer, trans and disabled, that’s often a bad idea. Bigoted politicians and no social services? No thanks.) If I didn’t push myself to get a job after discharge, I could have ended up homeless again if I were evicted, which would have just made my mental health problems worse. (Been there, done that, wouldn’t want to repeat it.) I didn’t get services from my state’s Department of Mental Health until I started this job.

In a socialist society, this would not have happened. I would have been able to get disability benefits as soon as I came out of that hospital. I wouldn’t have panicked about possible eviction while I was waiting for my rental assistance application to go through. I wouldn’t have been felt pressured to take a job that was mostly unrelated to what I studied in grad school. I would have been able to find work suited to my abilities and needs at the time. And, most importantly, I would have been able to do what I needed the most: recover. Instead of getting workplace D’s, I would have been able to rest until I could do A-quality work.

It’s socialism or barbarism.