When I Got 'the Letter' About My Social Security Disability Application
The letter I never thought I would be waiting for at 53 years old had finally arrived. It wasn’t the type of letter I waited on with the excitement and nervousness of a would-be college student. But this letter would determine my entire existence. For this was the official letter from the government offices known as the Social Security Disability Administration. This letter contained the decision on the evidence I had spent weeks and months working on and submitting to justify my disability caused by, number one, fibromyalgia, and then eventually, osteoarthritis, chronic venous insufficiency, neuropathy, paresthesia, chronic neck and shoulder pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, PTSD, depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue Syndrome, IBS, and sleep apnea.
My symptoms all started at the very young age of 28. I felt as if I were an extremely overweight 80-year-old woman, unable to walk and in a wheelchair or bed. Finally, after five long years of testing and research, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I was relieved I finally had a diagnosis, but now I had to learn about it and how to cope. I also opted for gastric bypass surgery in 2003, thinking this would surely help my health and everything would be great. I did lose over 200 pounds, but over the years I developed more and more illnesses. With each diagnosis, I just kept going, determined to fight them with every part of my being. I would research and read on how to cope with each one, and I slowly began stocking my own personal pharmacy with each prescription the doctors gave me. It had to be this way because I had my children to raise and bills to pay. There was no option, and it was working, or so I thought.
At 46, osteoarthritis began taking its toll on my body and my knees were replaced with plastic and metal. My thumb joints were replaced with metal and rubber bands that could hold a 300-pound. person. I was turning into the Bionic Woman! I still rose above, beating all the expectations of physical therapy, bound and determined to not let these illnesses kill me. I was beating the odds, had gone from 371 pounds down to 165 pounds, and was taking my medications and doing what I was supposed to, thinking “I got this.”
But the years passed and with each year I grew older, more and more illnesses were diagnosed and I felt my fight begin to fade. The pain was overtaking my ability to work full-time, go places and do all the fun family things. The pain was ruling my world as it dictated what I could do and how far I could go. Everything revolved around the pain. I couldn’t escape it, even with my personal pharmacy; it was winning and I didn’t know how to fight it anymore.
I finally had to come to the realization I couldn’t work anymore. At 53, I had to bring myself to realize that my fight was over, my body was taking over because my brain was failing at providing the fight I needed to go on. The kids were adults now and I wanted to save what mobility I had left for my grandkids. If I continued to push and push my body at work, I could end up in a nursing home. So, after long bouts of depression, anxiety, stress, frustration and feelings of failure, I made the decision to apply for disability. And so began a new fight, the fight of proving I truly am disabled.
I spent hours and hours over weeks and months researching everything I could find about filing for disability. What to do, what not to do, what documents to send, what documents not to send, you name it, I read it. After assembling a 3” binder with all my medical information, I submitted it with my application and waited for the outcome.
Six months later, the letter was now in my hands waiting for me to read the outcome of my entire existence. My existence because if the outcome was not good, I would not have an income of any kind, and how was I going to live? I gave up everything as I knew it. This one letter held all the stress, anxiety, depression, and failures that I dealt with before applying. This one letter held my acceptance of the fact I was disabled. Would they agree? Would they see how hard I fought over the years to continue with my life as I knew it? Would they know how hard it was for me to do this? Would this letter be my ultimate failure in life?
This “would be” fearful disabled person, slowly opened the envelope, slowly unfolded it and began to read these words “fully favorable.” They agreed! I allowed myself to decompress by letting out a huge scream, followed by tears of joy. I was officially a disabled human being on this earth for however many years I have left. All my hard work I did to file had paid off!
I now had an overwhelming sense of a new fight coming through. Yes, I am still going to have to live with the chronic pain the haunts me daily, and the fear of more diagnosed illnesses as I age, but I now have a renewed strength to make the best of what I do have. To be thankful I now have the extra time to spend with my grandkids. To visit them with a reserved source of energy that is no longer spent on working. To give them and my other loved ones 100 percent of me.
Yes, I am a disabled human being, but I am not dead. And I realized it’s not a failure to admit you can no longer continue as you once did when you have a chronic illness or illnesses in my case. It’s a matter of deciding which fight you want to use your strength on and which fight you will win in the end. As for the letter, I never thought I would be waiting for at 53? I approve!
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Thinkstock photo by Andrey Popov.