No Boundaries Photo Project: Anupa Iyer, Legal Intern & Recent Law School Graduate
No Boundaries Photo Project: Anupa Iyer, Legal Intern & Recent Law School Graduate

Categories: Employment, No Boundaries

Photograph of Anupa Iyer

By any standard, Anupa Iyer has accomplished more than the average person her age. She graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) at the age of 19, spent three years as a technical recruiter placing high-level IT contractors at Fortune 100 companies and worked for nearly five years as an organizer for one of the largest labor unions in the country. She also recently completed an internship with Commissioner Chai Feldblum at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and received her degree from the Seattle University School of Law, where she concentrated on disability and international human rights law.

What isn’t apparent on paper is the fact that Anupa achieved all of these accomplishments despite her 12-year struggle with mental illness.


Anupa first experienced symptoms of her illness during an internship in Geneva, Switzerland. Initially, she dealt with her emotional turbulence through self-medication and intense shopping sprees. But as her illness continued to spiral out of control, Anupa attempted suicide. Throughout the next few years, she was voluntary and involuntary committed to various psychiatric institutions and prescribed anti-depressant medications, which left her unable to read, write or hold conversations. “I was defined as a patient, not as a person and not by my potential,” says Anupa.

Tired of living as “an over-medicated zombie,” Anupa realized her only option was to make a life for herself outside of the institution. Without disclosing her current situation, Anupa reached out to contacts at her previous employer about returning to work. They helped her find a job in Seattle. Then against medical advice, she left the institution. Anupa admits that reintegrating into society was difficult, because she had to learn how to balance her recovery with the demands of her career. Despite the stigma of mental illness in the workplace, Anupa was determined to show others that she was capable of success.

“It took me eight years after my first hospitalization to gain the confidence to share my story,” says Anupa. “Work and school helped me recreate my life. With each passing day, I shed my identity as a patient and rebuilt myself as a student, advocate and future attorney.”

Today, Anupa works as a legal intern for the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law in Washington, D.C., a position she obtained through the American Association of People with Disabilities Summer Internship Program. In this capacity, she researches mental illness cases, attends meetings and prepares summaries for her colleagues. Anupa says she manages her hidden disability by being aware of her needs. She also sees a therapist when she is feeling stressed and sometimes asks employers for a sick day if she is feeling “off.”

Anupa plans to continue working in the field of disability law and advocating for individuals with disabilities, especially those with mental illnesses. “Personally, I want to live in a world where one day people don’t have to be embarrassed about who they are.”

This October, she will start a one-year fellowship with the Mental Disability Advocacy Center in Budapest, Hungary.

23 Responses to No Boundaries Photo Project: Anupa Iyer, Legal Intern & Recent Law School Graduate

  1. Som G. says:

    I am praying that you win the battle against the disease. The mind is so complex that it is very difficult for even our best doctors to find a cure. Even in this space age we still do not fully understand how our brain works. To fix the problems in our brain is a challenge. We try to do it by trial and error. The person who is suffering the illness can feel how agonizing and painful and helpless it feels to have such an illness. When I first experienced severe depression and anxiety disorder out of nowhere, my only hope was my brain would find a way to fix its problem somehow. One has to wait and take all the medicine religiously and pray to get better. I have been doing this since 1998. I am better, but not recovered fully. I hope someday I can give up all the medicine and live normally again. Until then, stories like this really bring my strength back to fight. Please do not let the disease win.

  2. Jenn says:

    In reading this story, the symptoms that it describes suggest that Ms. Iyer is bipolar, though her exact illness is not listed. However, it states that “anti-depressants” were/are prescribed for treatment – which are highly unlikely to be taken on their own and have been losing their popularity as new options are becoming available. Now, if it said “anti-psychotics” rather than “anti-depressants”, that would make sense – I just can’t shake the feeling that this article was ‘edited’ because -depressant isn’t quite so stigmatized in comparison to -psychotic. Every individual who has a specific mental illness – bipolar, schizophrenia, major depression – is still different in terms of which symptoms/severity, behavioral responses, etc…so while there will be some people like Ms. Iyer, or Dr. Kay Redfield Jameson (a well-known psychiatrist who has bipolar disorder), there will also be some people for whom the typical examples of academic/career/personal success (such as a 4-year college degree or even a graduate degree, relevant-to-college major-employment or at least a position paying more than the minimum wage, marriage and starting a family) are elusive and/or absent through their whole lives. Society has and always will have its ‘over-achievers’, and some of them will also be mentally ill by the medical profession’s criteria – it’s not terribly inspiring to read about an over-achiever that continues to achieve – that’s pretty much expected to happen. What about people who haven’t always done a great deal but with the right person who got them the right help – they’ve surpassed anything that was ever expected from them because of earlier performance?

  3. Darcie E. says:

    I have a 43 yr. old daughter who has suffered from ADHD from the age of 4 or 5 years old. I just wanted to believe that she played hard. At that age she wasn’t out of control or didn’t disrupt class at school, I did notice she had a social problem, she had to have constant attention from me, it was like she loved me too much. She was a cute, well mannered and was naturally funny, but the kids at school picked on her. I knew that she was a little hyper and I checked into HDD – there wasn’t a lot known about it at the time and I definitely was not going to put her on those strong drugs. I felt at the time I made the right choice, she was a little different,”that’s all.” In her teenage years she became depressed and had problems following through with anything. I taught her how to make lists and try to accomplish her goals, she could never follow through with a project. She was about 19 when her mental Illness started to show, she had some extreme behavor problems. She would loose control of her temper and scream at everyone she was around, she became a big bully. She was in her early 20’s when she realized she had mental problems and needed help. I wasn’t in a financial possession to help. She got married at 27 and had a son, the marriage failed and my daughter had a nervous break-down and lost touch with reality, became violent, went to jail a few of times. Her son was taken away from her and adopted at 5 yrs. old. Our family, my oldest daughter, my grandson and I have been tramatized by her and scared for life. She has developed phobias because of her untreated HDHD and has self-medicated with illegal drugs. She’s a very beautiful, smart, charming, funny, creative and I’m her mother and it breaks my heart that I can’t help her!! Is there anybody out there for my daughter?

  4. cohrun says:

    As a person with ADHD, bipolar II, depression and anxiety, I found the article to be a little invalidating because she miraculously recovers and heads back to work and regains her life. It makes it seem like anyone with a mental illness only has to try harder to fix themselves and they’ll be back to normal. This is exactly the kind of impression that makes people think it isn’t really a disability. I’ve worked for 17 years but never held a job for more than a year. “Recovery” is never quite permanent for me. My bipolar II diagnosis came later in life after having been on antidepressants for over ten years. It is now known that being on antidepressants for an extended amount of time often causes bipolar disease. I’ve been in therapy for almost 20 years, tried many different medications, and am now seeing a holistic psychiatrist and feeling better than I ever have in my life, but am still unable to handle the pressures of both childrearing and working. So I don’t work now that we have two young kids, and we are in financial straits. I think I am trying as hard as I can. I do think a person’s life can be greatly improved with proper medication and counseling as mine was, but I wish it were only that easy to “overcome” it.

    • Christy says:

      Cohrun, just what I was thinking. I don’t think this story is written well to serve the best interests of those suffering from depression. I don’t find many articles that answer the basic who/what/when/why/how/and where.

  5. Tom says:

    Employment with no boundaries. I am challenged in my place of employment. If I do not pass the ASWB Clinical Social Work Test, I am only able to hold a limited license for 6 years. I have not been able to pass the 170 standardized multiple choice test questions, after 10 times. I will lose my job as a clinical therapist, since I will not be able without a license to bill Medicaid and Medicare. I got a disability diagnosis. The last test was taken without the 4 hour time limit, I was given 6 hours. I still did not pass. 101 needed to pass, I scored 95. The screen at the end came up to say, Failed. ASWB says it is on your state to make the requirement. However, the state says ASWB designs the test, no exceptions, no appeal process, you have to have a passing score. I’ve been n the field since 1981, Bachelors degree BSW, licensed in 1993 with an LSW, licensed social worker. The state I reside in does not offer “resisprosity”. In 2004, I went back for my Masters degree, and the state I reside in past licensure in July 2006. Those before me who had Masters degrees and other degrees were “grandfathered” in with a LMSW, licensed master of social work degree. As well there are others who slipped through the system with a Bachelors degree, awarded a LMSW. Disability and discrimination, I am in the fight of my life, caught up in ASWB politics, and the state licensing board policy, there is currently no process of appeal. I have been attempting to pass this test since 2008. NO ONE WILL LISTEN. I just wrote my representatives and senators, and just mailed yesterday a packet to President Obama. Will someone listen, when we want to employ people? A 170 multiple guess test, is not fair in determining one/s 31 years of service as a degreed social worker from accredited college programs of social work, certified by national standards.

  6. Linda B. says:

    Thank you, your article (as well as your recovery) is amazing. For the longest time…tenaciously, I tried to hide my disability and finally “came out.” Only my schedule “A” was mocked as I was mocked and my employer pulled me aside and strongly encouraged an early retirement pending a disability retirement. Having been ridiculed and embarrassed, plus to save my lifetime medical benefits, I did as they wished and at 52 I plan to reenter school and do more for myself and others. Only the first step seems to be the hardest. Your article has moved me and today I pray tomorrow morning when I awake my vision becomes more clear. As the hardship I am now under is unimaginable and I have become despondent and less likely to believe I am capable.
    Mentally incapable of facing another employer like my last serving a public community and government I believe in. Linda B.

  7. Hiwote T. says:

    This story literally brought me to tears because I can relate to the hardships of mental illness. Truly inspiring!

    • Nelson says:

      I work a job, 40 hour weeks, two ten minute bearks a day, despite having gastroparesis. This means I have to make 3, 4 or 5 bathroom runs a day when I have attacks. Vomit up all the food, and do this for 10 minutes or so. Then go back and clock back in until I have to go again and pray to any god who will listen to please not let any calls come in when I’m sick. I’ve already had pay docked due to the nausea/vomiting/etc, since I take more breaks than I’m allowed. I cannot afford to be on disability I had been getting it for mental illness issues, $375 monthly, which is about what I get for one weekly paycheck. But I’m in too damn much pain – the pain in my midsection keeps me awake all night, many nights I get NO SLEEP and go in to work the next day. My fiance is sweet and understanding, but most others are not, including the doctors who maintain it’s a psychosomatic issue. Or that I need counseling. Yeah, I need counseling, DEATH counseling. I’m not getting any damn help and I’m getting sicker, and soon I’ll need to start preparing for the end. If this is what it’s like to die, than I wish I’d never been born.

  8. Harpal S. says:

    Hello dear friends. I am Harpal S. from India. Congratulations on your accomplishment. I have always said to god make each of us with a unique ability. God loves you and helped you to overcome anything negative placed in your life…. God bless you.

  9. Gwen S. says:

    Thank you for this feature. My Psychologist told me that my mental illness was a disability. I was surprised. When I told my close friends and family, they said you don’t have a disability. Mental illness is invisible. People don’t understand how mood swings and depression can impact your quality of life and ability to function at your full potential. Thank you again for sharing Anupa lyar’s story. I will now move forward and ask my psychologist to fill out my Schedule A.
    Regards

  10. clarence says:

    The stories are good.

  11. Advocate, MPH says:

    As one who has similarly fought and now manages mental illness for the past 16 years, I have obtained a Masters degree and should be finally starting a career any day soon in DC. I can probably relate to the struggle and the triumph of Ms. Iyer.
    What is most inspiring is that Ms. Iyer has the courage to share her story publicly! YOU ARE AMAZING!!! I hope to run into you one of these days in DC! Congrats!
    Mental Illness is a chronic disease and can be managed, no one should EVER give up hope.

  12. Disability.Blog Team says:

    @ADAguy For now the images have been released on our blog and Facebook. http://www.facebook.com/Disability.gov We hope to have the photographs and stories on Disability.gov soon.

  13. Disability.Blog Team says:

    @Melinda M. Have you contacted your state Protection & Advocacy agency? Many states are addressing the issue of restraint and seclusion in schools. Visit the National Disability Rights Network website for a directory of P&As in your area: http://www.ndrn.org/en/ndrn-member-agencies.html
    Also, you may want to contact your local chapter of the Autism Society of America. Find contact information by visiting http://www.autismsource.org/ The Autism Society’s Vice President of Public Policy, Jeff Sell, actually wrote a guest blog on the topic of restraint and seclusion last year. You can read it at http://blog.govdelivery.com/usodep/2010/04/restraint-and-seclusion-in-schools-that-dog-just-dont-hunt.html

  14. Disability.Blog Team says:

    @Maurice We are releasing the stories of the No Boundaries Photo Participants every Friday throughout September and October. This week, we will share retired Master Sgt. Jeffrey Mittman’s story. We hope to add the photographs to Disability.gov soon, but for now, you can view the photos on Disability.Blog and Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/Disability.gov.

  15. ADAguy says:

    Where are the project photos posted?

  16. Atma L. says:

    Your story is very inspirational. Thank you for sharing.

  17. Melinda M. says:

    I have a situation that my family and I have lived with for the past 7 years. It concerns one of our children who has autism and was being punished for manifestations of his disability by his teachers. They were forcing our child into a broom closet in which they had turned into an “isolation room” and would not let him out. The school did this for 4 yrs. and denied that they were doing it. Our child has been deeply harmed and affected by this cruel and inhumane practice.
    There have been two children, one out of KY and one in OK, who have committed suicide because of this evil practice. How is it that a government institution can force these practices on an individual, even though it is against the parents’ wishes and the IEP team, especially when it is harming that individual mentally and physically? It has proven to be ineffective, but yet they continue! A parent can’t even legally put their child in a closet!! And why would they want to?
    How does one get these rooms banished? What is it going to take? Children are suffering! This has been life changing and altering for our child and our family!! We will never be the same! My child has suffered great loss and will continue to do so for probably the rest of his life!
    Would like to know what this lawyer would say about this situation and if she would be willing to go to bat for these children to see to it that these rooms are no longer allowed to be used to abuse a very vulnerable and fragile population. Who will be their voice? My child screamed in terror, day in, day out, for 4 yrs and no one listened and no one cared!!

  18. Angeline K-W. says:

    I am truly amazed by your accomplishments. I have always said that God makes each of us with an unique ability. God’s love for you has helped you to overcome anything negative placed in your life. Keep striding because God and you have it all in control.

  19. Maurice E. P. C. says:

    Dear Blog Coordinator,
    Are there any more encouraging true life stories like:
    Ms. Anupa Iyer, Legal Intern & Recent Law School Grad.? I am impressed and proud of her. She seems to have a lot of inner strength coupled with a wonderful supportive group of professionals, friends and hopefully family in this positive life story; which is continuing overseas now. I am more than just interested. I have a personal stake in learning more by successes like her and those in other age groups and demographics.
    Thank you for your time.
    /S/ Maurice E. P. C., BA, MSW, ACSW, LCSW
    Dis/Ret. Assoc. Director (Hospital) for SW & Nsg/PCS – HR/LR NYC/HHC-BHC & NY/SUSB UH/HSC, & Lecture/SUNY ESC/etc.

  20. Victor B. says:

    Anupa very good! You’ve got a good heart, you’re on the right track!

  21. Mickey Q. says:

    This is an incouraging story. As a blind person with a small business I’ve just started, I work with clients who have more than one disability.