Oct. 7th – Living With “Hidden Disabilities” – Daniel Angelis

2019 NDEAM Celebration:
Right Talent, Right Now!

October is here, and once again we are celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month (#NDEAM). Reflecting a commitment to a robust and competitive American labor force, the 2019 National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) theme is “The Right Talent, Right Now.” Observed each October, NDEAM celebrates the contributions of workers with disabilities and educates about the value of a workforce inclusive of their skills and talents.

Please help us in highlighting the accomplishments of all people with disabilities who are employed or have their own business by submitting success stories.  We had a great response last year, and are now in search of more great stories as well as updates!

Success stories can be submitted through the following link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/666Z55P.

October 7, 2019 – Living With “Hidden Disabilities” – Daniel Angelis

My name is Daniel Angelis. I’m 43 years old and I work in the CHOP Foundation in the Wanamaker building in Center City Philadelphia as the IS Support Technician. My primary responsibilities include providing tech support to CHOP Foundation staff and working with IS on their behalf. I have lived with what are referred to as “invisible disabilities,” which are HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) for 22 years and Social Anxiety Disorder, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), and Major Depressive Disorder. I started taking medication for HIV that included the first protease inhibitors, and AZT was still prescribed as part of my regimen at the time. The medications have improved, but have left me with mild neuropathy in my legs, fatigue, and other issues. The anxiety and depressive disorders were a result of experiencing homelessness and a violent early childhood, bullying during my formative years through adolescence, then HIV stigma and discrimination in my work and adult life. I don’t share details about my life with others much because it can be quite the conversation ender!

Picture of Daniel Angelis
Daniel Angelis

My life was not easy but I fought back with the help of my step-dad who saved my mom, my sister and I. I put myself through college and finally got a job at CHOP who I credit with helping me manage these disabilities a little better because of the AARG ( All Abilities Resource Group), who have been incredibly supportive. I don’t think I would still be at CHOP without them. The challenges I face with my disabilities are physical and mental with the biggest obstacles being related to my Social Anxiety Disorder and PTSD. I have a hard time relating to most people in any environment. I struggle being exposed to groups of people, and long-term HIV exposure has left me with some mild cognitive and memory issues, so I need to take really good notes!

Disclosing and figuring out the right accommodations in the workplace is also a huge challenge. Psychological safety is paramount. The problem with mental illness in the workplace is that people don’t like to discuss it. I often hear people tell me not to share it in different forms (even at CHOP) even though sharing it actually helps manage it. How does one request an accommodation for something that permeates interactions with people who do not know you live with a mental illness? Since people with mental illness are more likely to experience violence and discrimination from people who do not have mental illness, disclosure is a risk in itself. To put this in perspective, the unemployment rate for people with mental illness is 80%, but in Pennsylvania it is much higher at 90.6% according to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). The risk of disclosure is the same even within my own LGBT community who are not as accepting of disability. I basically have to always have a plan B in place in case of job loss.

I really credit CHOP and my manager with creating a safe environment in the CHOP Foundation. My manager has mostly just listened and has constantly offered reassurance and support when communicating with me about anxiety or events that trigger it. I have never had this kind of support before, but I still have bad days and no work environment is perfect.

I would advise others who are working at CHOP and have a disability to SHARE their story – you never know who will need it. When I shared about mental illness two people stopped me afterward to thank me for sharing my thoughts because it helped them know they were not alone, which is one of the biggest challenges living with mental illness. It is not easy, but there are people out there who will support you and you find them by sharing your story. I think sharing our story also helps kids who experience trauma know they are not alone and that things do get better. 

There are things that would be helpful for my colleagues to know to help me with managing my disability. My anxiety can make things challenging. Other things that would be helpful are to probably give me time to formulate responses, not rushing, sitting near the door during meetings, and most importantly, knowing that I am in a safe place. To help put Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia) in perspective, imagine taking your worst phobia like a fear of spiders or mice and being exposed to those things non-stop. This is what social interactions are like for me on a daily basis; it becomes difficult to hide and it becomes physically exhausting.

~ submitted by Daniel Angelis