Stigma In A Small Town

Standard
When waiting for the school bus, children should know not to play in the street and to stay far enough back from the curb so they can’t accidentally step into the street.

I always wondered how I would tell my story if ever given the chance. Having bipolar 1, ADHD, and general anxiety I have so much to share. It was cold out. That’s all I really remember. I had on a stocking cap and I was wearing a sweatshirt. This was my common attire for my then-position as a bus monitor for the school district I lived in. The depression was back and it was hitting hard core. I had lost faith in my current psychiatrist and getting in to see a new one proved to be a challenge. I had an appointment, but it was a month away. I was going to see a doctor who was newly out of school, young, and hopefully wouldn’t, as I called it, “cookie cut” me when it came to medications. I had just found the webcam feature on my new mac, hit record, and “Ramblings of a Bipolar Mom” started to flow from my mouth. After I was done speaking I thought, I am going to use this for good. Maybe someone else needs to hear it. I posted it on Facebook without a second thought. I did a video about every other day, talking about having bipolar illness and how it made me feel and some of the things that it did to me. I got some positive feedback from friends; supportive feedback. “Good for you Tosh, maybe this can help someone else,” one friend said. I felt good about the video blogs. I was very depressed, but I was getting into the doctor and hoped I would be OK soon. I remember getting one message that didn’t make any sense to me until later. It said, “I don’t care what people are saying, I have depression and I am behind you 100%.” It was from a neighbor. I live in a very small town, small enough that it is actually called a village. I just took that comment as a compliment, and it didn’t dawn on me to pay attention to the part that said “what people are saying”. I would, however, find out very soon.

 I was at the bus barn in between runs when my boss asked me to follow him into the offices of the administration building. My chest tightened and my heart sped up as I walked through the hallway leading to the HR manager’s office. On the screen of his computer was my face, my blog pulled up as if I was doing something deceitful on the job. The whole school district was in an uproar over my videos. Some of my children’s friends were on my Facebook page and some of their parents were as well. News of my illness traveled quickly among administrative staff, principals at the schools, and all the way up to the superintendent of the district. They were flooded with calls demanding my immediate dismissal.

 I sat there blank faced. I explained I was trying to help others who have bipolar, asking why there was a problem. They told me I yelled at the students. I said I have never yelled at the students, I talked loudly. There were 70 students on the bus. If I didn’t speak loudly, how would they hear the instructions? I was dumbfounded. I was advised strongly to take the videos down immediately and not do anymore. I was hurt, and ashamed, and worse than that, I worried about my boys and how would this affect them at school. Would the other kids make fun of them for having a crazy mom?

Without thinking I took the videos down and sank even deeper into depression. The shaming, however, had just begun. Day after day I was told of phone call after phone call to the school and the administrative offices. The parents were relentless. The principal, with whom I preciously had a good relationship since my sons were in preschool (now my oldest was in high school) asked me rudely, “Is it worth it for this stupid job?” when I tried to apologize to him for all the phone calls he was having to deal with. I told him yes it was since the school board paid my insurance. I was crushed that he hadn’t assured the parents I was fine to be around their children, that he knew me personally and knew I would never harm them.

 Then the unimaginable happened on the first warm day of spring during an afternoon bus route. Seating on our bus is by grades with kindergartners sitting in the front progressing towards the back with first and second graders next, through fifth graders at the back of the bus. I always sat with the fifth graders because they tended to be the noisiest and needed the most supervision. We stopped in town where the majority of the children and I got off the bus. Seventeen kids got off starting with the youngest. I was the last one off the bus after the fifth graders exited. The snow had melted, the air was fresh and my children decided to walk the two blocks home instead of riding in the car home with me. I remembered that my oldest son had lost his key to our van in the snow a few weeks earlier so I started looking for it along the side of my car. I noticed another van parked across from mine but didn’t see who was in it, just figuring it was another parent picking up their child at the bus stop. My twins called to me, asking what I was looking for. I called back, “The van key that Colton lost a few weeks ago”. After a few more moments I gave up the search got in my car and drove home. The next day my boss asked me to come to his office. He had received a call from a man who said I had pushed his son, a kindergartner, off the bus and then went up to his son and wife sitting inside their van and started growling at them, trying to get into their van, all of which was a complete fabrication. I asked my boss, “Why do they want me gone so badly? I have done this job for four years without a problem. I don’t understand.” I had never dealt with the stigma of bipolar before that moment. Why would someone go out of their way to fabricate a complete lie to try and get me fired from a job that I had done for years for with no complaints from anyone. I couldn’t understand how people, knowing I was already depressed, would try to take something from me that could send me further into depression. I still don’t talk to many people in the town we live in. Fewer than 700 people live there, and most know of my diagnosis. They choose to think I am different because of that. I know that I’ve read somewhere that 1 in 5 people have mental illness. Is it possible the lady who made up that story about me growling at her is dealing with some undiagnosed illness of her own? Then again, maybe she is just that mean-spirited. Either way, I wouldn’t change what happened. It set the course for other things that happened in my life, and the changes that came next were bigger than anything I could have imagined. Although not all of them were good, they all did prove that I have Amazing Strength.

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