Mental Illness is not a Disability

I discovered in my experiments that academia discriminates against those with mental illness.  At this point, I am giving up the fight and accepting defeat.  Any further engagement with the American University may prove to be destructive.  I need to walk away from the ashes and let the corrupt live in peace.  I wrote this back in Febuary before I started the job as a warning.  I got a green light.  Big mistake, should have stayed out.  This kind of job is horrible for me.   


Have you thought about working with the protein assignments that Dorothee Kern just published?

I think that it actually would not be that expensive to work with the proteins she published on.  All you would need is N15 for the protein part to get a really good idea of what is going on with the protein.  I’d like you to consider me writing a proposal for you (and myself) and trying to get it to Dave Wemmer to get some feedback on the ideas before you commit to anything.  If you’d like to do a NMR project I’d be willing to converse and do some serious homework ahead of time about feasibility and cost.  I also would be willing to make inhibitors with specific labels in them.  Fluorine 19 for example.  I have some organic synthesis experience.  I am willing to write grants ahead of time if that is something you are up for.  

I have been thinking about how to reenter science and would like to talk to you about ways of doing that.  I really miss the lab.  I’d like to share my story with you, as a friend, to give you an update of where I have been.  It has been a long time since we talked and wanted to reach out.  You know, the condition that I struggled with is now called bipolar disorder and was called called manic depression.  The funny thing about this whole past few years is I started studying about neurobiology in 2007 because of a mental illness diagnosis in my sister.  I ended up auditing immunology, genetics, and molecular neurobiology in 2008-2008 and that is what led me to write Susan Lindquist for a postdoctoral fellowship position.  Some where in all that process of trying to find a way to contribute to neurobiology I forgot what I am good at, protein NMR and chemistry.  I ended up chasing something that put me out on a limb in the lab.  I started at MIT in an entirely new area without really any experience and proceeded to go through a really nasty divorce with my now ex-wife Betsy.  Basically, I had been chasing this nebulous dream of helping my sister at the expense of my marriage.  The way the illness manifested for me was that I did not sleep but for 2-4 hours at a time for long periods because I was always bouncing between different ideas.  Some of that makes someone successful in academia and being creative, etc. but too much of it leads starting more than one can finish.  At MIT, I found myself between Jeff Gore and Susan Lindquist, which could have worked but I needed some time to deal with all the personal dimensions of the illness and its fallout (marriage falling apart and depression that followed).  At the beginning of 2010, I ended up in the hospital and that is where I got the initial diagnosis of bipolar disorder and was introduced to the field of psychopharmacology.  I ended up leaving MIT to return home to be with my family while I underwent the couple year process of “titrating” my thoughts with medication.  I never thought in a million years that I would be the equivalent of a test tube.  

As a scientist, the small molecules are fascinating to look at and wonder how they work in the cell but as a mental patient they are a whole other thing entirely.  With bipolar disorder, lithium carbonate is the compound that is famously prescribed for treating the condition but it does not work a lot of the time.  When it does, it can damage your kidneys seriously in the typical doses.  I ended up trying it and it did not work and began a several year process of trying to find something that did work.  I ended back up in the hospital two more times in the process of this trial and error process.  There are no blood test, brain scans, or reliable genetics tests to date for bipolar disorder and the whole “treatment” process if it can be called that still basically is at the behavioral observation level.  Really the key thing for me is sleep.  I’ve been on the medication cocktail that I worked very hard to find for about three years now.  It is working very well, except I do not have health insurance at the moment.  I am exploring public mental healthcare options as fragmented and flawed as they are.  

The illness has put me in touch with a different set of people entirely.  Once I thought I was part of the intellectual elite.  Now, I am more in touch with the average person and see the world through a different lens.

I wrote this a while ago after finding the right medication that helped me sleep again as an answer to the question, “What is ‘mental illness?”  This little fragment below came from a conversation about starting a mental health awareness blog.  I think it reveals a lot of what has changed about me.  

“A question that emerged from the conversation, that seems fundamental to the establishment of such a blog, is the question, “What are ‘mental illnesses’?”  As the title of the group NAMI contains the words “mental illness” you would think we would be able to immediately come to a precise definition of the name.  Not so…  No one in the meeting could provide a good definition.  Some candidates were:

1.  The Oxford English Dictionary definitions for “mental,” “illness,” “mental illness.”[i]

1.  Mental illness is a social construct.

2.  Mental illness is an excuse to sell psychoactive medication.

3.  Mental illnesses are brain disorders.

4.  Mental illness used to be called “demon possession.”

6.  Mental illness is a Western concept.

5.  … anything else you can come up with (please provide in the comments) …

     Mental illness is both a subjective experience and an objective reality (at least for those who live under the veil of modern Western medicine).  For those who have been given labels such as schizophrenic, anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, manic depressive (bipolar disorder), schizoaffective disorder, etc. it can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to separate the subjective suffering from the objective Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders diagnosis category.  One of the goals of this blog is to decipher, outline, and explore our various perspectives on this definition.  As provided above, it may be possible to throw out various objective possibilities for what mental illness is.  Therefore, upon reading these ideas of what mental illness is it one might say that they understand.  However, the subjective experience of those who suffer from diagnoses are much more intricate, personal, and some might say twisted. 

     To me, mental illness means:

… on the negative:

1.  Social isolation and divorce. 

2.  Losing jobs.

3.  Deep depression.

4.  Being disowned by my father.

5.  Having to move back home.

6.  Seeking pharmacological intervention and regular psychotherapy. 

7.  Feeling high above the clouds with ideas, writing projects, the cure to the spiritual condition of Man, and scientific advances. 

8.  … anything else I come up with on this blog …

… and on the positive:

1.  Feeling in touch with the suffering of my fellow human beings.

2.  Reaching out for spirituality as a way for seeing the world.

3.  Exploring the worlds of philosophy and religion to seek out social frameworks for dealing with how society treats the weakened “other.”

4.  Realizing everyone is, deep down, experiencing just as much suffering as me.

5.  Learning how to write not just technical scientific papers, but also to write subjective narratives about various subjects I care about. 

6.  Learning to see through the deep evil that is capitalism (anything that puts a dollar sign on Life mind as well be called “Satanically evil.”)

7.  Feeling in touch with those who are the targets of American war, racism, and sexism.

8.  … anything else I come up with on this blog…”

The positive existential searches for the meaning of life that sort of flowed out of the experience the past couple of years were good for my soul but bad for my career.  I know one thing and that is I do not belong in a pulpit or a public school classroom.  I’ve tried both at various stages of the past few years and only learned from those experiences that I belong in the sciences somehow.  As a friend, I wanted to share this with you so that you can see where I am in life to get a better idea of the back story of my resume.  I do not know what a return to form in science will exactly look like.  I am willing to do anything to work with proteins again.  

I think that a return to form is possible with the right help, preferably in something I know and love like protein and small molecule NMR.  It has been a rough road these past few years, but I think that a bright future is ahead.  I am willing to work with you on a draft of a grant and see where it goes for free.  I just left a six month period of trying public school teaching in a poor, all African-American high school.  It was a harrowing experience that I ended up realizing was may beyond my range of gifts to do well.  There was a large fight in my classroom a couple of weeks ago and I decided that is was best if I try to find something else to do.  I worked too hard for my Ph.D. for it to go to waste in a high school classroom.  Currently,  I am without a job.  I have been debating hiking the Appalachian Trail, but I wanted to reach out to a couple of people before I go that route to see if there is not some ways to reenter chemistry research.  I wanted to reach out to people that know what I am capable of and get their support.  I remember us trying to hike Mt. Shasta and thought of you.  I Googled you and saw your website at U. of M. and reached out.  So, that is the back story.  

How have you been?


About kayaerbil

I am a Berkeley educated chemistry Ph.D. who is moving into the area of working on developing appropriate technology for communities that are subjected to socio-economic oppression. The goal is to use simple and effective designs to empower people to live better lives. Currently, I am working with Native Americans on Pine Ridge, the Lakota reservation in South Dakota. I am working with a Native owned and run solar energy company. We are currently working on building a compressed earth block (CEB) house that showcases many of the technologies that the company has developed. The CEB house is made of locally derived resources, earth from the reservation. The blocks are naturally thermally insulating, keeping the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Eventually, a solar air heater and photovoltaic panels will be installed into the house to power the home and keep it warm, while preserving the house off the grid. A side project while in Pine Ridge is a solar computer. I hope to learn about blockchain encryption software for building microgrids. In addition, it is an immediate interest of mine to involve local youth in technology education.
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