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:
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
When I first wrote about applying for disability, I mentioned a standard practice of the Social Security Administration: default semi-automatic denials of disability claims. On average, it takes 3-5 years for someone who is disabled to be awarded benefits. This routine dragging out of claims affects me and many others financially and emotionally and also feels immoral and unjust. The disability process has been intentionally crafted to be as difficult as possible to navigate and even survive, yet this program was founded for the purpose of helping people live better lives.
The following letter is my formal response to a denial of my first claim. To be clear, many claims are denied twice before moving to a hearing with a judge. I am sharing this publicly because I want to expose the vulnerability so many go through as they seek disability – as they seek resources so they might live longer, healthier, fuller lives in the face of significant barriers to a substantial work-life.
Before I share my letter, here are some reasons I was told I am not disabled under the rules of the Social Security Administration:
Continue reading To the Social Security Administration About Denying My Claim for Disability Benefits
On April 14, 2015, I was reeling after a week of severe psychological episodes that included a trip to the Emergency Room. I was referred to a group day program that I walked out of because it was not what I needed. An awkward visit to a very clinical psychiatrist began my medication journey – I walked out of Rite Aid with two new prescriptions and new additions to my medical chart. I could no longer take care of myself without medication to help treat severe trauma and depression triggered by recent events. I had officially become mentally ill. I walked home shaking my pill bottles like maracas and finally felt there was help for me, then wrote these thoughts:
I know what it’s like to call out and have no one truly hear me
For the pain flooding my brain
I know the brokenness of a body grieving
The flashbacks of a mind recalling trauma
I also know what it’s like to finally be heard
And the help that comes
Sometimes too late
And never too soon
And the final, often fleeting, feeling of safety
One year later I am finally with a psychiatrist I trust, who provides what I need: one-on-one counseling in addition to superb medication management.
I have Severe Major Depressive Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I do not bow to stigma and I am not ashamed. There is no doubt in my mind that I need medication to help me process trauma and grief on a level playing field with my brain. I am not suicidal and never have been, but one doesn’t need to be suicidal to get help.
I owe a lot to my loved ones and friends who have been with me during the last, very rough, year and a half that began this journey to my diagnoses. Especially to those who have been a physical presence; who have made appointments for me and kept me fed, showered, held, and loved. There are many more from afar who have checked in daily and made sure I’m still going. They all deserve every thanks I can give and more.
I am on a lifelong journey towards being mentally whole again, knowing what I’m battling, and having help.