Some of us who suffer from chronic illnesses may end up facing a decision one day. It’s not a decision that we want to make. It’s a humiliating decision, one that feels a lot like giving up. It may break us financially, force us to humble ourselves before family, friends, and debtors. It’s the decision on whether or not to file for Disability benefits.
Now, I’m not going to lie, I have no idea whatsoever about Disability in any country other than the United States. I don’t know if other countries have Disability, even. That’s ignorance on my part, and I’ll eventually get curious enough to Google it, but I can only talk about what I know.
Disability is something that is paid into. How much you can potentially get depends on how long you’ve worked and how much income you made during that time. What I can potentially receive is about $996 per month based on my work time and previous income. That’s about 739GBP at the current exchange rate for any UK visitors, and 1,285.00 Canadian. It’s not much, but I’ve been living on about $300 per month plus SNAP (Food Benefits) for a while now. It’s how you look at it, I guess.
The decision to apply for Disability was not easy. It was gut-wrenching and fills me with anxiety when I think about it. I’m not old. I’m not really even at middle age yet. The fact of the matter is, however, that I am currently incapable of maintaining a job. Physically, I’m capable. Intellectually, I’m capable. Mentally and emotionally, I can’t do it.
Some people see this as weak and lazy. “Oh, you just don’t want to work,” or, “oh, you’re using your depression as an excuse. Buck up. Grow a pair. Get a grip. Grow up.” I’ve heard it all. If my therapist didn’t agree with my decision, if my best friend, who is always honest and up front with me, didn’t agree with the decision, if the lawyer, who doesn’t get paid if I don’t win the case, didn’t agree to take the case, then I would have to really look at myself and ask if I’m really thinking about things. The thing is though, my therapist firmly believes it’s the right thing for me right now and she’s not going to lead me down a bad path or let me lead myself to destruction. The lawyer did take the case.
I’ve worked, you know? I’ve held down jobs for significant periods of time. I worked at Walmart for eight years before I quit. I attended online college courses, though was not able to finish for various reasons, and I worked for two and a half years, give or take, at my last job. I worked in retail at both jobs.
At my last job, I started out as a cashier, and in all the technical aspects I was excellent at it. I knew what to bag with what (put the bread on top of the eggs, since they’re both fragile, don’t bag chemicals with food – duh – bag meat separately, chicken in one bag, beef in another, pork in another to prevent contamination). My till was never more than a few pennies off – some customers didn’t want their pennies as change. I knew how to operate the register quickly and efficiently. I was comfortable with the old system and was rapidly comfortable with the new one when we switched over. By almost all accounts I was an excellent cashier.
Almost all accounts. I was drowning in anxiety and sensory overload. I felt exposed and flayed open. My heart raced, I would sweat uncontrollably sometimes, hell, sometimes I had flat out panic attacks. Several got me sent home, one sent me to the ER.
It isn’t like my manager didn’t try either. He eventually moved me to stocking. When the store was closed, I was fairly calm, I could drift off mentally and just get my stuff up and once all the aisles were done, I went home, but sometimes even that would get so overwhelming that I could barely function. I’d say I was sick when in honesty I was panicking.
The dread I felt even going to bed the night before work was unbearable. Sometimes I would force myself to stay awake because at least the time passing felt slower. Sometimes I’d have to double up on my medication and deal with the side effects because there was no other way I could force myself to show up for work.
Being gregarious, being cheerful, smiling at the customers, approaching them to see if they needed help finding anything, even talking to them was sometimes impossible. It reached such levels of impossible that I would claim laryngitis for a couple of days just so I had a legitimate excuse to be silent because the effort of communication was so draining I could not do it. Again, I was in retail, 75% of retaining customers is friendly service.
My depression grew worse, my anxiety grew much worse, I was on medication and attending some therapy and I still couldn’t get through my day without tears towards the end of my time there. I started self-harming to get through the day. I would take a box cutter that somebody left in my office. A filthy blade, sticky with tape residue and I’d drag the blade over my hands and watch the blood bubble up.
Finally, I went to my doctor’s office fighting tears and asked to speak to my ARNP, but she was gone for the day. Another nurse called me back to speak with me and the therapist that was there made some time to talk to me, but I couldn’t bear it.
I was in the hospital the next day on an involuntary hold.
What an eye-opener.
I was there about five days and there wasn’t a lot to do, so I thought about things a lot. I was not stable, at all, I couldn’t bear the noise, the chaos of the controlled environment I was in. The thought of going back to work was devastating, but at first, I was determined, no matter how ill it made me. What else could I do?
At first, I thought to myself, maybe it’s just this job that’s getting to me. The overlord (store owner) was a mean man who treated his employees as disposable commodities rather than the people who were the face of his business and without whom he would have no business. All of us were afraid of him.
So maybe it was just that environment. So, I made the decision to quit. It felt so good. A ball of anxiety that was my constant companion at that point just… eased. It was like cold water after a sweltering day. When I left the hospital, I felt good, and I thought okay, this was the right decision, but now I need to find another job.
Then, a little more than a week after I was released, I was in the hospital again.
I felt like I was drowning and suddenly getting well became my priority.
One night, after a lot of consideration and agonizing over the decision, I got online, and I filled out my application for Disability.
A couple of days later, I called a lawyer.
It has not been an easy decision and it continues to not be an easy decision. It is a long, long process. Around 90% of people who apply are initially denied, if they choose to appeal, only about 5% of people are awarded benefits. Then it goes to hearing, which takes forever. In my area the average wait time for a hearing is 19 months. If I try to get a job, and it fails, I have to go right back to the beginning of the process.
I’ve discussed trying to go back to work with my therapist, and she didn’t tell me not to, but she asked me questions and gently steered me into really thinking about it, and through talking to her I realized that my thoughts about going back to work were an impulse decision caused by fear and humiliation.
There’s no money saved up. I’ve been at the mercy of my relatives, who help me but make it known that it’s unwanted and the bitterness is only increasing. I’ve started cleaning houses. Not many, I can’t do it more than twice a week and no more than three or four hours a day before it becomes too much and the anxiety and the fear becomes overwhelming.
Just the little I do is having negative effects on me. I’m considerably more anxious. I’m having trouble with insomnia, I’m more depressed, I’m more fearful about leaving the house and much less tolerant of stimulus. I don’t want to leave the house, not even to run out and take out the trash or check the mail. It’s just this whole giant ball of too much.
I don’t know what else to do.
I feel like I’ve made the right decision, but I don’t know.
All I can do is pray and wait and hope that it doesn’t completely destroy my already rocky relationships with family.
In the end, we have to take care of ourselves. I’m not saying that family doesn’t matter, because it does. Here’s the thing though, if the situations were reversed, I’d help with a glad heart, a grateful heart even, because helping somebody in need feels good and in the end, they’re family. I’d be sad that my family member was suffering, and I wouldn’t add to it by making them feel badly.
Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. The Golden Rule.
Some decisions are hard, loves, really they are. Some decisions are agonizing. Life is made of up choices, pathways with forks in the road and some are clear and obvious choices and others make it look like you’re just going to get lost if you go down them. They look dark and ominous and are filled with hills and valleys and are rocky all the way through. Sometimes those scary paths are the right one.
You’re not alone. We’re all traveling down paths towards a future that we can’t predict. Some we travel together and some we travel alone.
Reach out. If you can afford it, get a therapist, they’re such blessings. Reach out to your peers. I’m on twitter @crystawrites I’m no therapist or anything like that, but I’ll listen to you. Sometimes with just talking to someone you can guide yourself to the decisions you need to make, all you need is a person to listen and a little validation.
Keep on keepin’ on.