All posts by BeingCharis

Fashion, androgynous, and artistic model with Ankylosing Spondylitis Car-free bicycle advocate Episcopalian Vegan Queer

Being Disabled Is a Job

I’ve heard some say disability benefits are unnecessary hand-outs for people who should just die off, and why should hard-working people foot the bill for people who are lazy, whose lives mean nothing?

The disability process itself mirrors these same sentiments – the 3-5 years (average) process for applying, fighting for, and receiving disability (SSI or SSDI) in the USA is by its nature a grueling process, with analysts hired to deny applicants not once, but twice (standard procedure), forcing the applicant to appeal their case twice over several months before a hearing is granted, which then takes years to schedule due to a shortage of judges. It is a process intended to force people to give up.

You usually have to be literally dying to be automatically granted disability in the USA. Continue reading Being Disabled Is a Job

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An Open Letter to Congress from a Poor, Disabled American

Dear Congress,

My father died last September. He was 68. He experienced severe, debilitating pain from his early teenage years until his death. I now experience similar pain from the same disease he had, Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), and I fear daily that my life will follow the same path his did.

My dad looked like this (below) because he did not have access from a young age to effective treatments to slow down the progression of his disease:

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He didn’t have access to the treatments because they didn’t exist until 2003, when the first biologic drug was approved for treating patients with AS. By that time he was already a 90-degree hunchback, his spine fused in a rigid column of bone from knobby, painful bone spurs – he was slowly suffocating. The only thing a biologic drug could do was prolong his life and perhaps reduce some of the symptoms.

He died after two surgeries meant to straighten his spine, relieve his organs from being crushed, and give him a more horizontal line of sight. He’d been looking straight down at the ground for decades, unable to see in front of him unless he pivoted his body backwards with one foot pushed toe-first into the ground.

I learned I had AS in 2013 after a period of sudden, un-treatable illnesses that left me in pain and unable to breathe. Urgent Care doctors blamed my frequent visits on panic attacks and attempted to send me on my way with anxiety medication, but I knew my body better than that. Continue reading An Open Letter to Congress from a Poor, Disabled American

You Should See What the AHCA Has Already Done to My Health

My life is at stake.

You haven’t seen me on social media much lately. This is because the first battle to keep the Affordable Care Act in place – 5 weeks ago – did me in. I haven’t been the same since. My mental health has dipped to depths I never knew existed. I can’t eat. I’ve lost 10 pounds (have you seen how thin I already was????).  I can’t focus on faces, voices, places, things. And I’m in such awful, awful pain. I thought I was broken before – it’s worse now.

I didn’t know it could get worse.

I’m scared for myself; not for what I might do, but for what my body continues to lose. I’m functioning on the surface, but then again, charades was something I always won. My life feels more foreign each day.

You would have thought I breathed a sigh of relief and celebrated when Speaker Ryan pulled the American Health Care Act in March, not having enough votes.

No. I did not exhale. Or celebrate. Continue reading You Should See What the AHCA Has Already Done to My Health

Talking Ankylosing Spondylitis with Imagine Dragons’ Dan Reynolds

I don’t always interview rock stars – it’s not really my thing. But this day was different. This was personal.

It was a chilly morning, much too early for my stiff body to roll out of bed. But this was a big day – I would soon be interviewing Dan Reynolds, the lead singer of Imagine Dragons.

“This wouldn’t be happening,” I thought, “if we didn’t share a wicked diagnosis.”

In late 2015, Dan announced during a show that he lives with Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS). A year later, he partnered with Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation and the Spondylitis Association of America to launch This AS Life Live!, an interactive talk show for and by patients living with AS.

Before I keep going, I want to express how lonely it can be to trudge through life surviving a disease that people do not know about. I spend substantial time and energy educating friends, strangers, and even doctors about my condition, which leaves little room for receiving compassion and empathy – like the supportive gestures people usually offer to someone who has a disease in the limelight. Everyone knows cancer is bad, but AS is not a well-known disease, so for a celebrity to name it on stage is life-changing. Continue reading Talking Ankylosing Spondylitis with Imagine Dragons’ Dan Reynolds

Ankylosing Spondylitis: Are We at a Tipping Point?

And I don’t just mean our bodies.


Recently, during a visit to the pharmacy, I noticed someone wearing the same compression gloves I was wearing.

“Hey, nice gloves!” I held up my hands to show mine.

She responded, “I have Raynaud’s.”

I said, “I have Ankylosing Spondylitis.”

…crickets. I might has well have just ripped off my clothes.

She looked as though I’d spoken another language. For a disease that is oh-so-NOT-rare, it sure feels like it in these instances. Not only is it a difficult pair of words to pronounce, people’s initial thoughts might revolve around names of dinosaurs – Ankylosaurus Spoondywhat?

Continue reading Ankylosing Spondylitis: Are We at a Tipping Point?

I Did Some Math to See if I Could Afford the American Health Care Act. Here’s What I Found.

Let’s say, just, you know, maybe, could be, hypothetically, I’m living under the Republican-proposed American Health Care Act.

And before I begin, I want to note that I did all of this without a preconceived notion of what the outcome would be. I chose pretty (really) conservative cost estimates to give the American Health Care Act the benefit of the doubt, and to see if, in a hypothetical situation, I would be able to afford the healthcare I need under the proposed system change.

Say I’m 30 (as I am) and, for this example, I’m still able to work. Let’s say I earn $30,000 per year. But it doesn’t matter what I make, because the “tax credit” is now based on age and not income (unless I make over a certain amount). So, as a 30 year old, I get a $2,500 per year tax credit to either A) put into an un-taxed health savings account, from where I can draw money to cover medical expenses, or B) go towards paying the premium of any plan I choose that is considered an “eligible individual health insurance policy” (for instance, I wouldn’t be able to use the tax credit for a plan that covered abortion). Let’s just go with option B for this experiment. Continue reading I Did Some Math to See if I Could Afford the American Health Care Act. Here’s What I Found.

The Dangers of Funding Medicaid with Block Grants; a Patient’s Perspective

When the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare) was written, the plan was for Medicaid expansion to provide health insurance for people who made too little to qualify for a subsidy to purchase a plan, but too much to qualify for Medicaid under the rules of the past. The goal was to create a system in which no one would fall into a so-called “coverage gap,” and poor people would have access to care regardless of their income.

It worked – for states that adopted the expansion.

A little-known hiccup (ok, heart attack) is that the Supreme Court declared Medicaid expansion optional for states, rather than mandatory. As of January 2017, 32 states have opted in to the expansion (including DC) and 19 states have not. In states that have not opted to expand Medicaid (because of politics) the coverage gap has caused many people to be unable to access affordable insurance or care. This New York Times Magazine article explores the struggles of some of these people: Life in Obamacare’s Dead Zone. However, in states that have opted into the expansion healthcare premiums have risen less sharply and more people are insured.

Case in point: me. I live with a debilitating disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis. I need specialized treatments and medications to slow its progression and prolong my life. Because I’m disabled and cannot work, I am poor, so I am one of over 14 million Californians and over 74 million Americans who receive Medicaid. It is my only option for healthcare. Continue reading The Dangers of Funding Medicaid with Block Grants; a Patient’s Perspective