DISABILITIES

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By Daniel J. Vance


If meeting 54-year-old Rita Dinquel in public, you likely would see her as confident, intelligent, and articulate. She would look “normal.” Yet doctors over the years have diagnosed her with major depressive disorder and borderline personality disorder, conditions significantly impairing her ability to function. She reads this column in the Pekin (Illinois) Daily Times.

“When people find out I'm on disability, they say I don't look sick,” said Dinquel in a telephone interview. “Personally, it's taken me a long time to come to grips that I have an illness and not a character fault.”

Dinquel began experiencing depressive episodes at age 18, but started self-injuring (cutting her body) when she was 14. Beginning in 1978, she has been hospitalized 12 times for depression. Her other diagnosis, borderline personality disorder, has involved since early adulthood her lacking the ability in part to effectively self-regulate her emotions, relationships, thoughts, self-image, and behaviors.

She said, “While in a depression, I have inattention, inability to focus, sleeplessness, feelings of wanting to be alone, and feelings of extreme worthlessness. I have had suicidal thoughts and one suicide attempt.”

She worked as a paralegal for about 25 years. Early in her career, she said she “cut my arms in the morning and put on an expensive suit for work with my arms bleeding under the sleeves.” The depression had so deadened her emotions, she said, that the pain from cutting herself made her feel alive. (She no longer cuts.)

In 2002, after submitting a four-inch stack of paperwork detailing her lifelong struggles, she applied for disability benefits and was accepted on her first try. “When I got my award letter, I sobbed, and thought I was really sick and didn't just have a character flaw,” said Dinquel.

Her experiences with depressive bouts and hospitalizations have greatly contributed to the breaking up of her marriages and to employers firing her. Though no longer paid for working, she does participate in some volunteer activities.

“There is a stigma that comes with having (a mental) illness,” said Dinquel. “It's taken me a long time to realize I have one. I have periods when I can't function no matter how much I know what to do. But I do know how to take care of myself. I know how to ask for help.” She strongly advised people diagnosed with depression to stay in therapy.

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