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When a Stranger Gets to Decide If You’re Disabled

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No one wants to be disabled, and no one wants to go through the disability process. I stopped working two years ago and applied for disability. I worked for as long as I could and pushed myself day in and day out just to get through each work day. I was sick and exhausted, and there were plenty of days that I cried on my way to work or on my way home because I felt so terrible.

When I applied for disability, I knew the process would take awhile. I thought to myself, “I have plenty of medical records, and I know how sick I am so that should be enough, right?” Wrong. I was denied. Then, I was denied a second time. Then I went for my hearing in front of a judge. I tend to be a nervous person, and this experience made me feel worthless. I’m young and have complicated chronic illnesses, and I knew this stranger was going to spend 20 minutes with me to decide whether or not I was disabled. 

Having a chronic illness is a constant fight with your pride. It does everything to steal your life away from you, and all you can do is hold on for dear life. There’s no way to show the people in your life or strangers you meet just how tough the battle you’re fighting every day is. 

The disability process has made me question myself on more than one occasion. On my “good days” I would think to myself, “Maybe I can do this. I don’t feel well, but maybe I can figure something out so I can work again.”

Then I would have a flare day. A day that was so miserable that I questioned how I could live the rest of my life this way. These days remind me why I’m not working and brave the humiliating disability process.

After my hearing, I was denied again. I wasn’t surprised. Mostly, I was disappointed. It’s difficult to get to a point of accepting your illness without identifying yourself as your illness. You put on a brave face and pretend to feel better than you do while still facing the reality that you’re disabled. Living this way is your full-time job. The balancing act of being disabled and identifying as yourself — that is a full-time job. And then someone tells you that, according to them, you should be able to do light work, as if all of your challenges are just minor inconveniences.

If you’re fighting this fight, stay strong! You know who you are and how your life has been affected. I hope the process will be easy for you and that you have great medical professionals who keep real records. 

Either way, I know how hard you’re fighting, and I believe in you!  

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Originally published: December 31, 2016
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