When Social Security Asked About My 'Typical Day' With Chronic Illness


It’s always scary to get an envelope in the mail from the Social Security Disability office. Recently, one of those showed up in my mailbox. It was time to recertify my disability. It’s been three years since I was awarded benefits. The Social Security Administration has the following guidelines on when and how often someone would be asked to recertify their condition: If medical improvement is:

  • “Expected,” your case will normally be reviewed within six to 18 months after your benefits start.
  • “Possible,” your case will normally be reviewed no sooner than three years.
  • “Not expected,” your case will normally be reviewed no sooner than seven years.

I fit into the “Possible” category. I rely on these benefits and can’t afford to miss anything in this process. I spent countless hours gathering up all the information I had so there would be no doubt my chronic migraine disease was still stopping me from being able to have a “regular” job or lead a “regular” life.

Out of everything that was asked of me, I found answering this question to be the most important. “Describe what you do in a typical day.” But our days aren’t typical, are they? Here was my reply.

Describe what you do in a typical day.

I do not have “typical days” anymore. I have low, medium, or high pain days. I have functioning, semi-functioning or debilitating days. With chronic migraine disease, I am never able to fully escape the pain as it is an everyday occurrence. My day depends on how intense the pain is and for how long. I will illustrate how my days vary widely and without any warning. I make adjustments to my schedule throughout the day depending on the intensity of the symptoms which I experience daily on varying levels. These symptoms include head pain, aphasia, allodynia, fatigue, phonophobia, photophobia, impaired cognitive dysfunction, nausea, akathisia and visual aura.

Low Pain / Functioning Days – When I wake up around 9 or 10 am with a pain level 3-4, I know this is the best I am going to feel all day. I am most productive for about an hour after waking up. I eat breakfast, usually yogurt and fruit. I take a handful of medication, both prescribed and over-the-counter, just to maintain a tolerable pain level. I respond to emails and check the daily news. I may take some time to write, a practice that has become helpful to me in dealing with my illness. I also take this time to make doctor’s appointments and deal with insurance issues, which is a never-ending battle.

Even on good days, if I do any housework I usually only focus on one area of my one-bedroom apartment, as this can be exhausting. During the day, my pain level spikes around 6-8, which forces me to take a nap for an hour or two mid-day. When I wake up, the pain has decreased slightly to about a 5. I try to get in some form of exercise every day after napping. That may be taking a 30-minute walk, going to a yoga class or going on a bike ride. After one of these activities, I usually shower for the day. On a good day, I am able to run some errands, which I usually break up throughout the week in order to not increase my pain. The grocery store and laundry are two tasks that generally wear me down.

While eating healthy is part of my life, making dinner can be challenging. I spend little time making dinner and my partner often helps in making meals and with clean-up.I spend the evening watching TV, however, my pain increases and I become fidgety. With newly diagnosed restless leg syndrome and periodic limb movement disorder, I find it very hard to sit still. Even with medications to manage the full-body, uncontrollable twitching and jerking movements, nighttime is very hard for me. The head pain generally spikes as well back up to a 7 or 8, making getting to sleep difficult. I take another handful of medication to prevent worsening migraine attacks and to control the symptoms for the next day.

High Pain / Debilitating Days –  I try to stick to a normal sleep schedule so I wake up between 9 and 10 a.m. I eat breakfast depending on how nauseous I am. On these days, leaving the house, driving and exercise are out of the question. It is rare that my symptoms improve throughout the day; they typically get worse even when using rescue medication. Some of the medications I take to cut down the pain and inflammation on high pain/debilitating days cause side effects that make me sleepy. That, coupled with the excruciating pain, cause me to spend the majority of the day in bed. I spend little time on the internet or watching TV.

I use sleep as a coping mechanism. Even while sleeping, my body is tensed up to battle the pain. I curl into a ball to protect myself and often find fingernail marks in my palms because I’ve been clenching my fists while I was asleep. I also grind my teeth and need to wear a mouth guard. During long stretches of time with high levels of pain, my sleep cycle is interrupted, my food intake is altered, showering is a chore and my body feels like it has been beaten up. I can be in this state for days, weeks or even months at a time. I rarely see friends or spend time outside when this happens. It can take weeks to build my strength back up.

Summary

I spend 80 percent of my time in my apartment. The 20 percent I try to venture out has to be carefully planned out. Will there be any noise, lighting, food or other triggers that will make the migraine attacks worse? I have to take medication before I leave and have all medications with me for any possible scenario when I leave the house. I need an exit strategy. Will I be able to lie down if the pain is suddenly unbearable? Do I have a way home if I feel I can’t drive? Will my impaired cognitive function cause me to become disoriented, forgetful, or lost? I always carry a notebook with me because I can easily forget my tasks or what people tell me. I build in extra time because any task now takes me twice as long to complete. I have a small radius (about five miles) around my house where I am comfortable going by myself. Anywhere outside of my comfort zone, I prefer to have someone with me no matter what my pain level is that day.

These questions and considerations dictate my “typical day.”

Follow this journey on Golden Graine.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by Jacob Lund.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Related to Migraine

watercolor painting of a woman with red lips and a fur coat

Just Because I Do Things With Migraine Does Not Mean My Pain Is 'Lesser Than'

My migraines are better managed than they have been for over a decade. Not great by a long shot. They still pretty much happen every day, with no-pain days snuck in there every once in a while. But the intensity is better, so I cope with them better. And I have to function to work. [...]
20 Things People With Migraine Want You to Learn During Migraine Awareness Week

20 Things People With Migraine Want You to Learn During Migraine Awareness Week

This week is Migraine Awareness Week, so it’s especially important during this time to raise awareness, correct common misconceptions and promote empathy and understanding of those who live with migraine. Although a migraine is sometimes mistaken for “a bad headache,” it is actually a neurological condition that can manifest in various forms (hemiplegic, vestibular, with/without aura, [...]
A woman holding her head in pain, due to a migraine.

What I Need From You When I Have a Migraine

“I should warn you when I’m not well I can tell Oh, there’s nothing I can do To make this easier for you You’re gonna need to be patient with me” – Jeff Tweedy It was New Year’s 2009 and I was at a party. A cardboard cutout of Barack Obama stood in the middle [...]
doxon the dachshund

How a Rescue Dog Reminded Me I'm Worthy of a Future, Even With Chronic Illness

It can be incredibly difficult to make big life decisions as an adult with daily (and unpredictable) head pain. Things like marriage, starting a family, cross-continental moves or even switching career paths seem out of reach and shrouded in indiscernible hieroglyphics. You get to a point where you don’t even recognize yourself or your life anymore. Chronic pain can be [...]