May 20, 2009, is a very significant date in my life. It was the day I had my Social Security Disability (SSDI) hearing. The day it was confirmed I am "fully disabled," the day it was verified I am not an able-bodied person, the day I "won" my case due to chronic pain from my fall 12 years ago.
I guess I should be relieved, happy, or even excited. I won! Finally, as the judge read his decision and said ,"you are fully disabled," it became official that someone other than my doctors realize I am in pain all the time. No more explaining or defending why I am unable to work. Don't get me wrong; I'm truly grateful my family will be receiving the much needed financial help.
Then why does it feel so bad? Not being prepared for these feelings has left me with a renewed sense of loss. Feelings of worthlessness and ineptness due to chronic illness I thought I had already dealt with came flooding back. In my mind, having a judge tell you you're disabled, and say "no wonder she is depressed," is not one of life's most shining moments.
On a clear, sunny day in December, 1996, while carrying my son Sam to the car, I slipped and fell on our concrete driveway. The back of my head took the brunt of the fall so I could protect my son from harm. As I lay unconscious for 20 minutes, with my son on top of me crying, I had no idea how dramatically my life would change. My head and neck immediately began to hurt horribly, and poor Sam had a sprained ankle.
This one event has rendered me a totally different person. I am no longer able to multi-task like I did. Simple things such as cooking a nice meal for my family became very problematic. Attending school functions was very difficult. My children missed a lot of their mom due to chronic pain. The final toll is our marriage. We have just begun divorce proceedings. One fall, one day, four lives changed forever.
Counseling began to combat the guilt I felt when Sam was hurt as I fell. Learning coping skills to manage my daily chronic pain, short term memory loss, and how to deal with large groups of people so I wouldn't be overwhelmed... Looking for an answer to why I never had a day without pain... And maybe accepting the fact that I may never be pain-free. As the years went by, the pain did not go away. New diagnoses were made - fibromyalgia, herniated cervical discs, Idiopathic ntracranial Hypertension (aka pseudotumor cerebri), and Lupus. The chronic head and neck pain fits in nicely with all of these.
Another family move, this time out of state, another counselor, and new coping strategies. Apparently I had to "come to terms" with the fact I had multiple chronic conditions before I could move on. Taking the time to do this was not on the top of my to-do list. This seemed like a waste of time, and to be honest, something I just didn't want to admit. But I went ahead. I felt the pain, anger, sadness, grief, and loss -- admitting to myself that I have limitations that others will just have to "get over." This was very uncomfortable for a long time.
It was only after a failed part-time job at a veterinarian's office that I decided to apply for Social Security Disability Benefits (SSDI). I knew I was in trouble after just a few weeks on the job when I had get an IV infusion for a Migraine. In October, 2007, I filled out the application, was denied about nine months later, then approved at my hearing on May 20, 2009. It has been a very long journey, which leads me to this odd, almost defeated place. These SSDI benefits are truly needed as they are my "income." I am trying to put the "you worked for it, you are entitled to it" spin on this whole thing, but I just keep coming up short. Our entire family has a strong work ethic, and I feel as if I have let them all down, even though a judge says otherwise. Maybe I need time to get used to this new title. Or here's a thought -- it IS just a title. Maybe I won't let it define me.
© Nancy Bonk, 2009.