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When the Judge Said, 'You're Disabled'


In January of this year, on my 26th birthday, at the end of my disability hearing, the judge declared me permanently disabled after two-and-a-half years of appeals, lawyers and anxiety. I had mentally prepared myself to not get an answer that day, and even though I knew I had a rock solid case, I wasn’t expecting to hear him say it.

“You are disabled.”

He told my lawyer and I that he didn’t even have to look at all the evidence. I walked out of the room dazed; my husband met me and walked me to the car. As soon as the door closed and I saw the disability placard hanging in the mirror, I broke down.

This is what we had been fighting for, right? To get the financial and insurance benefits that I need? So why did I feel like I got punched in the stomach by Muhammad Ali?

The reality of being labeled legally disabled for the rest of my life was overwhelming, even though I already knew it. Hearing a federal judge deem me disabled felt different. Coming to terms with being disabled on your own is different than a judge or doctor or anyone else telling you that you are disabled.

I thought back 10 years, hell even five, and never thought I would be legally disabled. Ten years ago I was an invincible force that was going to be a Marine for eight years and then move into law enforcement and be a K9 handler. Of course that didn’t happen. But 16-year-olds can dream.

Twenty-six-year-olds can dream too. I have different dreams. I want to be an advocate, a photographer and be more independent by being a service dog handler. I realized I have to take baby steps, accept the cards I have been dealt and work with them. I will get there. I will achieve my short-term goals, work on making long-term goals and go from there.

Getty image by Pattanaphong Khuankaew.