My running shoes shuffle hesitantly by the door, moving in unplanned rhythm with cat hair and dust bunnies that create a grey veil over their silent, still tongues. How long have they been sitting there? They peer at me hopefully every time I open the front door, but I can see they feel more neglected each day, every time I look at them and shake my head: “No, not today. I don’t know when. I’m sorry. I miss you, too.”
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:
Arthritis Introspective 9th Annual Gathering: #GrowTogether16
I’m spending the weekend with a lot of really special people. We’ll drink alcohol, many of us. And take lots of drugs combined. Lots and lots of drugs.
Drugs we wish we didn’t have to take. Did you think this was Burning Man?
No. We’re all sick. We all have some form of arthritis, and many of us brought loved ones with us. We came to have fun – not despite – because we have arthritis.
We didn’t come here to complain. We came to share experiences and be reminded that we aren’t alone. We are a family. We know exactly what it means to survive, and we are determined to be whole humans in the process.
Many of us suffer from multiple chronic conditions because of and/or in addition to our arthritis: depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory conditions, high blood pressure, etc.
And the drugs. Oh the drugs. Did I mention the drugs? Biologics. Corticosteroids. Chemotherapy. Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatories. Analgesics (oral and topical), Disease Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs, eye steroids (did you know there are steroids for eyes?). Sleep medication. Anxiety medication. Depression medication. Blood pressure medication. Insulin. Medical Marijuana. Etc. Etc. Etc. Continue reading We All Need Gathering Places
Chronic does not mean predictable. Chronic does not mean temporary. It also doesn’t mean consistent, monotonous, predictably repetitive, or habitual. It’s not banal or soporific. Except that it is.
It can be seen, yet it is invisible. It’s tedious, at the same time that it’s not. It’s not a routine, at the same time that it is. Everything changes, at the same time that nothing really changes.
Which is why we have such trouble understanding it.
Like the Greek word agápe, with no direct English translation, chronic disease – chronos – does not translate into something we can make sense of at first either. The idea that anything will last until we die is far-fetched (except for happy marriages and twinkies).
‘Chronic’ doesn’t fit our understanding of how health and sickness works. We’ve been conditioned to believe that our illnesses are curable; if we just try enough treatments we’ll get better. Injectables, swallowables, stitchables, chemicals, radiation(ables) can fix anything.
Except that they can’t.
Chronic disease is like a parasite; surviving off its host, always adapting to resist being eradicated. The intense throbbing of an anxious and overburdened body is an unwelcome, yet familiar, intrusion with the dawning of each new day.
Chronic disease is unpredictable and that unpredictability makes it nearly impossible to control. The drugs may not be permanent but some side effects are, and the progressive nature of the disease introduces new symptoms when least expected – symptoms that will be forever crashing workdays, nap times, parties, and vacations.
Imagine every injury or mystery pain is there to stay. No longer are muscle strains and sprains healed with heat/ice and stretching; the pain never goes away. No longer are a stuffy nose and sore throat symptoms of a common cold; they are now permanent. No longer is an all-over, throbbing ache a warning sign of the flu; it is reality 24/7/365.
We who have these forever conditions don’t get used to them. There is a degree of accepting them, and though we adapt to these changes in our bodies with no other choice, we still remember what we used to be capable of. Even if we’d prefer not think about our losses, our medical charts track them for us. We can hope for remission, but anyone who knows anything about cancer understands that remission is a sleeping dragon.
Chronic is the wicked word, not disease. Because chronic is the reason our diseases stay.
Chronic doesn’t go away.
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