For Those Who Are Imperfect and Still Struggling: You Are My Heroes

In a land of inspirational TED talk speakers, those who’ve gone through the chaos of mental illness and come out the other side as motivational speakers, do you find yourself still struggling in your 40s and trying to keep it together? You aren’t alone.

I’m not bashing those TED talks either. I applaud each and every speaker who stands up there to motivate and inspire the masses. It’s amazing and I listen often. What I am saying is that sometimes, for a lot of us who are still struggling, it’s okay. I’m not saying that every speaker has their lives in complete order either, but there are times when I listen and it feels like an auditory version of Face Book or Instagram. It’s their filtered, selfie-version. Sometimes, I want to hear someone up there saying that life is fucked up and they don’t have it together and every day is a struggle but they are managing. They are managing day-to-day and hour-to-hour and it’s okay. Because those people- they’re my heroes too.

As I brain-stormed about this idea I reflected on my own posts through-out my blog as well as other writings I have done for other sites. I wondered if I appear the same way that some of those TED talk speakers do to me. Flawless? Put-together? Was I only allowing my readers to see a fraction of what is my challenging life? The answer, I think, is a complicated one and maybe a complicated one for a TED speaker too.

Whether it’s a PodCast, or TED Talk, or a Blog post; Instagram or Twitter Post, the audience is never getting the full picture. They don’t see us 24/7 (thank goodness!) and so there is never going to be a complete image. I believe the whole point of TED talks are inspirational speakers. I know my blog is meant to be uplifting and while I have received comments from readers who’ve called me inspirational, I didn’t set out to be and I certainly don’t feel it from day to day. I am just a girl who is trying to get by, from one day to the next, successfully. There’s a lot that goes into that.

My purpose in this slightly rambling post is this: It’s not all sunshine and rainbows for anyone. Don’t let anything you see, hear or read make you feel badly about yourself. Don’t sit there and compare yourself to someone who maybe had similar things going on and wonder why you haven’t made it out to the other side of that dark tunnel. Your circumstances are never the same as someone else and so you shouldn’t add anymore pressure or grief into your life. I know it’s not easy. Here I am all judgy on TED talk speakers like they set out to shame us when what they are doing is quite the opposite. But I think it is very easy for us to see only part of the story and maybe that is human nature.

As I said right from the start, you aren’t alone. I am no where close to living an idyllic life. I have not yet reached enlightenment! Each day is a renewed effort to make it through, what is, a very challenging life. Like you, I have many imperfections and flaws, some of which I was simply born with, like my mental illness and health issues. Others, are of my own doing, like my brooding, or my inability to say no even when I should. I have external challenges like you too. These are things like my children, who while adults (in varying stages), and still living at home, continue to test my parenting skills as I navigate from being parent-to-child, to advisor-to-adult, while always remaining that loving Mom to them. It’s tough. I have bad days, just like you do and sometimes…I fail miserably. But when I do fail, I try very hard to learn from that situation so that I do it differently the next.

One of the things I don’t talk about as much as my chronic illness and pain, are the mental health struggles. I think it’s easy to forget when it’s not brought up, or when we hear an inspirational talk about how they put their lives back together, that the mental illness is still there. It didn’t go on vacation, or disappear and it certainly hasn’t been cured. What has changed is how the person has learned to deal with it, recognize symptoms and use tools that they have learned to cope with it. Don’t be sucked into some false idea that because they are up there talking about it, almost as if it is in the past, that it is in the past. The only thing in the past is the chaos that was because they didn’t know how to deal with it. That is what changed. I deal with my bipolar every day. I live with my anxiety and OCD and PTSD every day. I haven’t quite gotten to that place where I cope with it and know how to deal with it. Some days aren’t great and I forgive myself for that and go on. Each day gives me the opportunity to learn how to deal with my mental illness and that is all I can ask for. A new day.

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The Big (not so) Beautiful Lie

When you are first diagnosed with chronic illness/pain, you are very quickly acquainted with dread and fear which are inextricably linked, in addition to overwhelming anxiety. Chronic illness and pain are something which are uniquely foreign to that which we are accustom to. These are not the flu or a cold, or a twisted ankle from tripping on a dog toy. This is something long term (hence the chronic), for which there is no easy remedy or medicine to cure it. Once you’ve been able to process the diagnosis and conquer the dread, you become more optimistic, regardless if you are naturally pessimistic. I think there is a natural, human desire to want to look at the most positive outcome when you are sick and especially, if you are in pain.

Research mode, typically follows this period of distress and positivity, and when I say research, I mean research. Whatever the ailment maybe you are delving into books, diving down the rabbit hole of Google and looking for anything you can find that might help you battle whatever it is you are fighting. You search for groups on Face Book where you can meet people who are going through the same thing, in hopes of not only finding some comradery, but maybe some clue in how to battle this thing and win. You become a person, previously with no knowledge on the subject- maybe not even knowing it was a disease at all, to someone who might as well have an honorary PhD. However, after all that fervor for learning, what happens next is very anticlimactic; nothing. You may find some things that alleviate some of the symptoms; you may walk away with a few new friends who become an extension of your support system, but you find little in the way that makes a dent in how you feel from day to day. (This can vary from person-to-person.)

Weeks go by; months go by; and sadly, for many of us, years go by with little change. What began as a moderately optimistic journey toward recovery becomes a portrait of self-criticism. What I mean is, doubt creeps into our psyche. Did I do something to cause this? Should I have changed my diet? Become Vegan? Should I have switched all my commercial cleaning agents to essential oils? Stopped drinking soda? Drank more green tea? The questions posed in this self-interrogation are endless and the questioning can continue quite a while, covering your entire childhood through your adulthood. It is this idea that if you were just able to do something different, either through your diet or what you are exposing yourself to externally, that you could get better, or better yet, cure yourself. This is the big, not so beautiful lie. This is what many of us zone in on, trying to assign blame to something, not being able to accept it might be the luck of the draw and that sometimes we simply don’t have control over what makes us ill.

Part of the fall-out from this is when strangers or even extended family members issue us advice on how to get better. There is an inward clenching and mental eye roll as we try to maintain our manners. It’s not their fault that they don’t understand, right? I wish I could be more forgiving when someone advises me on the fine attributes of turmeric, but the fact is, if I haven’t already tried it, it’s likely I know about it, courtesy of my intense research. This isn’t an effort to bash those that mean well, rather, it’s an effort to help them understand and by changing the way they word something, come across less assuming and more genuinely interested to help. Example: “You should be taking turmeric. It will help you feel a lot better. I read…” Instead, “In case you haven’t heard, I read turmeric is really good for inflammation…” or “Have you heard about turmeric? I learned it might help bring down inflammation…”
Lastly, if you are struggling with chronic illness/pain, remember it’s not your fault. Stop telling yourself these big, not so beautiful, lies and be kinder to yourself. You are already going through a lot, and self-blame will not help you.

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What I Hide

(from my friends and family)

About My Anxiety

Though any group gathering can make me worse, what stands out right now is the holidays. That time of year when people have parties, families get together and the stores become a treacherous gauntlet. There are some people who thrive during this insane season, while others, like me, need to ready the mithril armor in preparation.

In my head, I know it shouldn’t be so difficult. Unfortunately, the rest of my body doesn’t seem to be aware of that; they didn’t get the memo, I will have to send a stern letter to management. Oh, wait! That’s me. At any rate, the moment I find out there’s some kind of gathering I have to attend, friends or family, the panic sets in and there’s an incredible amount of mental prep involved. This is partly because I’m ashamed of my anxiety and partly because I feel guilty for it.

1.)  Mental Prep

Here’s how a typical mental prep goes:

“Alright, Liza. Auntie and Uncle are flying in. Mom’s having a bbq and you need to look decent. Enough to pass Mom’s critical eye and enough that I won’t provoke any questions about my mental health. I also have to make sure I fly under the radar of Auntie and Uncle, which I am never certain I do, but they’re always good about not saying anything.” The scenarios will change, but it’s always the same basic idea. I want to appear as normal as everyone else. But I also want people to see that I do have limitations, but that I am still me. I’m a girl. I’m complicated! The mental prep, all humor aside, can be exhausting in itself.

2.)  OCD Worrying

I fret for weeks what I am going to wear. And that is if I know way in advance. If I don’t and it’s something sudden, where I didn’t have time to play, it’s worse. Even when I finally decide on something, I’m not happy. Too tight, too hot, too frumpy, or the always popular, I look fat. Anything to criticize myself and my choice. But no one, aside from my darling Mister, will know how much I worried over everything.

3.)  Gearing up for Conversations

This sounds benign right? I assure you that it is far from it. It’s basically three parts. The first, questions about my health. The second, what I plan on doing with my life. The third, casual, random conversations that should be easy but because I am hyperventilating about one and two, it never is. And, it’s always worse when I don’t know the people I’m around. Alright, so the first question about my health always stumps me. Do I answer honestly? Or will this provoke to much pity? Do I lie and possibly elicit the opposite response which is anything between apathy and skepticism? You might think this is harsh, but t is universally known that someone trying to acquire disability shouldn’t be happy, shouldn’t enjoy anything and definitely shouldn’t laugh. Let’s slide into home with the last, my life’s work- which couldn’t possibly be writing because I don’t get paid for it. Basically, this is just some glorified hobby of mine too keep me busy while I wait for disability. This is truly my least favorite topic of conversation because there is no winning. I could tell them I was being featured in Time or that I was Oprah’s newest favorite thing, and the reaction would still be, “That’s nice dear. When are they going to pay you?” Finally, I don’t do small talk very well. I hate, hate, hate, having to do small talk with someone I do not know. I have no problem sitting in silence and staring at them uncomfortably until they leave.

4.)  Can You Bring Something?

I am lucky that I do not typically host any event at my house. We’re far too small a space for the six people already occupying it so there’s little reason to torture everyone else too. But it usually means I have to bring food and while I don’t mind, I often worry about what to bring. Thinking about it as I write it, I am cognizant of the ridiculousness of this worry and what I put myself through, but it is what I do. I worry about the dish pleasing everyone even though I consider it divine intervention of some kind when I please every palate in my own house. I worry that if it is too simplistic of a dish it won’t be pleasing enough and yet, if I make anything too complex, I know that I will need help or that I will end up exhausted.

5.)  The Anxiety Over Having Anxiety

Finally, and I made this the last thought not because it’s the least of my anxieties, but because I want it to linger in your thoughts.

It’s hard for people who do not understand anxiety to comprehend all the stressors we go through, sometimes just getting out of the house. Yes, just to get out of the house. I’m now sharing a little-known fact about me that not even the Mister knows. On bad days, I can’t leave my house. When I used to work, to compound my misery and guilt over missed days because I was sick, there were days I just couldn’t leave my house because my anxiety was so bad. And, what is worse, is that logically I get it. I’m willing to bet we all do on some level. Stepping out of the house won’t kill me, but my body and the racing heart and the inability to breathe and sickness and nausea I feel, tell a whole different story to my brain. I’ve tried to leave my house and gotten as far as my car, locking the doors as I sit inside and hyperventilate myself into feeling that impending doom. I don’t want to feel like that and I just jack up the anxiety and stress even more when I try to logic my way out of it. I wish there was a way I could be free of it and maybe I will find it one day, but until then, remember that we don’t want this. Remember that before you make fun of someone for being anxious or diminish what they are feeling by trying to rationalize it for them, as though they didn’t already try. Saying things like, “It’s all in your head.” I may know that. I may know it in every cell of my body, but when my heart is pounding and I’m struggling for every breath and the tears are rolling, I just don’t give a fuck. I just want you to hold me.

High Functioning and Disabled

What you see

is not how I feel.

A carefully crafted exterior

ghosting past 

friends, family and strangers

with that perfect smile-

doing everything I’m supposed to,

or close to it.

While in private, I collapse.

In private, I cry.

In private, I fall to pieces.

But before you see me again,

the pieces are taped together,

the smile arranged into place,

and the carefully crafted façade

is all you will see.

 

I first realized how dire my personal battle with pain was almost 15 months after I stopped working and I didn’t feel a noticeable difference. There had been some hope I’d been harboring, mostly in secret, that a little rest and relaxation would somehow, miraculously cure me. That truly brought the complex nature of my chronic illness/pain, into sharp focus for me. What was worse, was that now that I was considered a “house-wife” (and while I could write a whole other blog on the misogynistic origins of that term, what I simply mean here, is: not working outside the home) it seemed that I was even more busy than when I was working. There is this pervasive idea, that not being employed outside the home makes your life easier, when in fact, it does not. It does afford me some luxuries that working did not, such as: being able to take a nap when I need it, or the ability to spend a lot of time in the bathroom when I need to, but much of the time I am just as busy, or busier, than when I was going out to my job. Oh! And I do not get paid! However, this ill-descriptor leads both men and women to look at you with a measure of contempt, as though some great weight has been lifted from your shoulders and you should be elated and profoundly grateful for your situation. Oy…

 

Let me start by saying that I do not feel any resentment toward my “outside-working-counterparts.” I can’t fault them for their perceptions, however skewed it might be, partly because of how all facets of the media portrays those of us who stay home. I’ve mentioned before that lovely, turn of phrase, “staying at home and eating bon-bons.” Makes me grate my teeth till my jaw hurts, but I get it. At the same time, it’s those ill-conceived notions that make life so much harder for us who are struggling with chronic illness of chronic pain and spend the majority of our time at home. To bring this all together (finally) is that people, including friends and family and a good number of strangers, see me and many of us in the chronic world, as “high functioning.” Let me add here two things. The first, is that those who actually go out to work have an even harder time than I do. Their peers only see an individual who functions at work like a healthy person. The second, is that I added my situation within this definition of high-functioning because I consider my blog and my free-lance writing, my work and I also manage my house and everything that goes with that, from grocery shopping to cleaning and I also have all four of my children still living at home, in various stages of adult-ing. We are all seen as “high-functioning” though I would use “surviving” in its’ place. Many of my fellow warriors have no choice but to work. I have the luxury of being able to stay home, though “luxury” is not the word I’d use because we struggle a lot. I have a good partner, an empathetic partner, who knows that working outside the home was not only physically difficult, but mentally draining. I don’t want to be the kind of employee who misses work all the time or can’t keep up with my share of the work. It kills my self-esteem.

 

My biggest problem with “high-functioning” is that it fails to acknowledge my daily struggle. It fails to acknowledge the vast number of us that are defined this way solely because we’ve mastered the art of blending in. We’ve become as adept as a chameleon in masking how we feel because life does not simply come to a halt because we are having a bad pain or flaring. There is also a fear, for some, that if they are open with their situation that they might not have a job in the future or, that their employer may begin to scrutinize their work, looking for an excuse to let them go out of fear their job performance will eventually suffer. Slyly hiding within all this is the blind-eye we also feel from family members and friends and even strangers, with regards to our pain/illness. It never fails to surprise me how even those closest to me, evade the obvious.  It’s as though if they ignore it, it’s not there. There is also the continued attempt at comparing how I feel to how they feel after they’ve had a bad day. It puts me in quite a pickle because on one hand I am mentally screaming at how obtuse they are while on the other hand, I don’t want there to be this conversation about how I feel so much worse and ticking over the infinite number of symptoms and reasons why it’s not the same thing. Finally, there’s the pity that seems to be the go-to when they don’t know what else to say. I don’t want your pity, I don’t want to hear some cookie-cutter sympathy. I want you to stop for a minute and try to have some empathy. I want you to try to understand that while I might look “fine,” I’m far from fine and you don’t have to be psychic. What I have will never go away. You sprain your ankle or twist picking up a box, you might hurt for one or two weeks. I won’t ever wake up and feel better. You ache and feel miserable from the flu. A week later you’re up and around feeling better. I flare and feel like a train hit me sometimes and that won’t go away. It might for a few weeks, but it will happen again and again, no matter how hard I try. But I’m “high-functioning.”

 

It seems ridiculous to label someone “high-functioning” when all we are doing is living. Is there another option? Maybe I am being too sensitive about a label that implies I am doing pretty well for what is going on with me, but when that definition misleads people and gives them the wrong impression? Yeah, I take issue with it. I might look like I have it together, but I’m still disabled, I still struggle and the pain is very real.

Chronically Seeking

I began the day writing about one thing and after a doctor appointment, decided to take a different route and write about something else. Something that I think many of my Spoonie friends out there understand. I am sitting here feeling frustrated and angry and like I am not being taken seriously. I feel like I have little in the way of choices and I wonder how many of you feel the same way I do. I am talking about our doctors.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not on a doctor witch hunt. I have and have had, excellent doctors. In fact, if it wasn’t for a few doctors I have had, I might not be here writing about this. So this is not a hate filled rant against doctors; this is, instead, something inspired by frustration and feeling very much like I am caught between a rock and a hard place.

This doctor that I speak of has not been terrible, either. In fact, for the most part, has been very good and very helpful. However, I feel that we haven’t been on the same page for a long time and in recent months, I’ve felt our paths diverging even more and also feeling as though they, too, are feeling the frustration of a patient with no clear “fix.” There is also a sense that they are focusing on me in parts and not as a whole and the problem with this view, in my opinion, is that these parts cannot be fixed because they are part and parcel to a much broader issue- Chronic illness, which, the majority of doctors do not know enough about. Instead, they look at parts. I can’t tell you how many surgeries I have had that were needless, because no one was seeing the broader issue. While I do have a doctor treating me for the broader issue, I still have other doctors who are integral to my treatment who don’t always have the same opinion.

This is my question and why I am writing this: if you don’t agree, how do you go about getting a second opinion, or looking for another doctor completely? For me, the first place I look is always my insurance. Are they on my insurance? Then, I typically look at where the doctor is located, because I am relying (most days) on my two eldest to drive me. It can be complicated with kids who are working and going to school to find an appointment, but I manage. The next thing I will look at is if there is any kind of feedback on Yelp or other doctor rating sites, because they help in deciding whether or not this might be the right doc for me. I understand that not all the reviews are honest or fair, but I try to come to my own conclusion. After considering all these things, I am not left with many choices. Using this as an example, only three. Two of which I have already seen and have proven to be as horrible as their reviews, and then my doctor. So, what is a patient left to do? Grin and bear it? That seems to be the motto among chronic patients everywhere because I think besides being limited in who we can see, there is also an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion because we have had to see so many doctors. We’ve had to weed out the good from the bad, sometimes after extensive testing, only to have to start from the beginning again. It’s tiring and emotionally exhausting.

What to do about it? I was sitting here brainstorming what I could do and then something funny struck me. Want ads. They should have want-ads or maybe a website catering to the chronically ill who are seeking physicians. I can write a great one. It would go something like this:

I am a 44-year-old, chronic pain and chronic illness patient. I am looking for a kind, empathetic physician who understands my plight and who can think outside the box. Moreover, I am looking for someone who isn’t afraid that I know more about my illnesses than they do, who will integrate a holistic approach, meaning looking at me as a whole person and not just parts that might be damaged. An added bonus would be someone who isn’t offended that I want to be a part of my care and not just simply follow directions based on their advice because I understand my body and how I am feeling better than anyone.

I think that is a brilliant ad, if I do say so myself, but I am not sure there would be any takers. Still, if anyone is considering an app that pairs up doctors to their patients and vice-versa, I’m all in. Until then, I remain, chronically seeking.

 

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The Trouble with Spoonies and Fun

Prepping for a Concert and the Flare to follow

Every Spoonie out there understands the consequences of doing too much. I think most of us try to balance work and home and any fun we do so it won’t stress out our body and we won’t have a flare. But sometimes flares are unavoidable. There are things in life we have to do, even fun things that we want to do and we weigh the options and go for it despite the likelihood of a flare. For instance, a recent early Anniversary gift from my hubby that I have known about for months: Evanescence and Lindsey Stirling tickets. The concert was this past Saturday and I’m still recovering. It was well worth it the seats were amazing and I enjoyed every minute of it, but the venue was difficult for me though it is a beautiful place. It is outdoors, the grounds are sprawling and unfortunately, I found their accessibility lacking. Handicap parking was first-come-first-serve and even our very early arrival, several hours before the first set, we still found nothing. The venue is out-doors and from the drop-off point to the actual pavilion where the concert takes place was quite a walk for me with my cane. It is also August, in Texas, which means it feels like you are just a few inches from the surface of the sun and I fall into a category of people whose body is not agreeable to the warm temperatures. I am not sure if I am in the minority, especially when you are talking about the heat here in Texas, which I think could offend even the most tropical of people but, I seem to fare better in cooler weather. I think I must have sweat about a gallon, no joke, even after 8pm when it was dark, it was still around 85 ̊. Even after living here almost 23 years, the heat just takes your breath away. You don’t get used to it, you just tolerate it and are grateful that most of the time you are in a/c. After the concert there was some difficulty in picking me up because I had wandered too far in migrating with the throngs of people leaving and I ended up having to walk around quite a bit in meeting up with the hubby, who ended up having to park in BFE. This post is a combination of two things that occurred to me afterwards: Things you can do to ease a flare the day after and, how you can prepare for an event (like a concert) better than I did.  I don’t go out much, in truth, so I suppose that is why I’m pretty shoddy at preparing. But where I fail, you, my friend will reap the benefit of hindsight!

5 Ways to Prep Before a Concert

1.)   The Venue: Do your homework! You can’t determine where a concert will be held but you can recon the venue so when you show up it’s not all a big -inconvenient- surprise.

2.)   Parking: Make sure you know where the disability parking is if you are able to use it. If you don’t have a placard or plates, try to find the most convenient place to park that day.

3.)   Call the venue: This one is the most challenging for me. I don’t like feeling like some prima-donna who needs special treatment. Don’t be like me. I mean it. I may have suffered quite needlessly all because of my own stubbornness something that may have had a solution had I called. Having a disability and needing special accommodations doesn’t make you spoiled. You are just wanting the same, reasonable access as everyone else. So, call the venue and see if they offer any services that can assist you in getting around better.

4.)   Clothing: Make sure you are comfortable for the event and season of the event, if it is outdoors. I must have changed four times before I settled on something that I felt would keep me the coolest and I am grateful I did. The black leggings that was my first choice, while comfy, would have been the death of me in the heat department. You want to enjoy yourself so don’t sacrifice comfort for style.

5.)   Ear Protection: This is huge. Typically, we always bring ear protection with us but this time we forgot and by the end of it I was not alone in my ear pain. Not to mention it triggering a migraine that luckily, I had brought meds for just in case. We use the squishy ones for the shooting range and they do not impair your hearing of the concert, just your ears. Even two days later, I am still experiencing ear pain.

I’m sure there are more ways to prep before a concert that I haven’t addressed. Please, feel free to share them with me.

5 Ways to Self-Care the Day After

1.)   Rest: This is the biggest and most important thing you can do for yourself. There is absolutely no shame in it and your body will recover faster if you take the time out for it instead of just trying to jump back into life.

2.)   Crock-Pot-Rescue: When you plan your meals for that week of, make sure to include a crock-pot dinner, or something equally easy, for the day after the concert. This is part of self-care and resting.

3.)   Netflix and Cuddle: Or Hulu, or Amazon or Crunchy Roll! It doesn’t matter, just grab your favorite cuddle bug, sprawl out and indulge in your favorite movie snack and relax. It’s amazing what cuddling can do in combination with relaxation.

4.)   Bath or shower: Grab your favorite essential oil or bubble bath and sink in. If sinking in is not an option you can still drop some essential oils into the shower and just luxuriate in the hot water and soothe muscles and psyche while inhaling the fragrant scent.

5.)   Pamper yourself: Pick that one favorite thing you never indulge in and do it. It doesn’t mean you have to go out anywhere either. Love getting your nails done? Grab your favorite color and set up a comfy spot and paint your nails. Never have time to read? Here’s your chance! Make a nest on your bed and curl up with that book you’ve been meaning to get to. Sky is the limit and remember, you don’t need to wait for a flare to do these things either. Self-care can be any day of the week.

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The Demoralization of Not Working

I stopped working almost two years ago now. I had been working for the school district for a before-and-after school care program. It was a pretty good gig at the time. It paid well and while I had to be at the elementary school at an un-Godly hour, I was done at 8:15 and didn’t have to come back until 3pm and I liked the kids. It wasn’t day-care and the kids were always engaged in an activity and I really enjoyed it. My reason for leaving was surgery. I had sacro-iliac joint fusion and not only was it a painful recovery, but I did not have the success with it I was hoping for. My reason for not returning was in-part because of the less than satisfactory result of surgery, and because of the nightmare that my chronic illnesses had become and the pain I was in and still am in.

I decided to move forward with disability and (at least in my state) I could not be working while trying for disability. Two years later, and a lawyer involved on my behalf, I still am waiting on a hearing date and have not worked. Making the decision not to work was not an easy one. I think that even those closest to me may think it was the easiest decision in the world, but it wasn’t. It was the hardest decision I ever had to make and I’ve made some pretty tough decisions. Having a job is not only something that provides for your family, but also makes you feel like you are a capable and functioning adult. When you have to decide that you can’t work, not only are you cutting out a paycheck that helps your family live better, you are cutting out something that makes you feel independent and complete.

I deal with a lot of guilt over my decision to quit working because of my health. I see how my husband has to pick up the slack and how hard he works so we don’t feel the impact of my not working as harshly. Still, when life happens and we are faced with unusual expenses like when one of our dogs became extremely and suddenly ill, that absence of a paycheck is acutely felt. It’s not just guilts about the lack of a second income, it’s guilt about not doing my part. I have two parents who worked extremely hard all throughout their lives well past the average age for retirement so they could live comfortably and because all they’ve known is work and if they were hale enough to work, why stop? I think retirement was hardest for my dad and even know he keeps himself busy at 81 years old and volunteers at the local hospital in their ICU. I am 44 years old and looking at disability and feeling like crap because I don’t feel like I am doing my part.

Not working has a unique way in demoralizing you. There are simply so many things attached to having a job or career. Self-esteem and independence and pride you feel when you do well at your job, a paycheck that is yours and that you can spend as you see fit, and the benefits that come with a job that can help to secure a comfortable future when you do retire. Not working at 44 years of age brings skeptical looks from people as well as pity. “Oh, you poor thing.” Or “Isn’t that a shame.” My favorite, “At least you’re married.” I feel as though I am no longer ranked among the adults of my age. I am an adult, sure, but an adult that has to be taken care of. I am a burden on those that I love. And don’t think I haven’t considered some very frightening possibilities, like what happens if something befalls my husband? Would I have to rely on my daughters to help me live? Would I be forced to work despite all my issues and would I be able to keep a job or would I be jumping from job to job because I get fired because I am sick? It’s humiliating and keeps me up sometimes worrying.

As I said earlier, the decision not to work anymore and seek disability was not easily made. I looked at every issue that I struggle with on a daily basis and the many jobs that might be available to me, with my education and skills and determined that the unpredictability of a couple of my issues alone makes it extremely difficult to be relied on as an employee. Debilitating migraines that come on suddenly and cripple me for anything else but laying in a dark room and praying that it will pass quickly. The IBS-d that doctors can’t treat effectively because I take opioids and so every couple of weeks I am in agony and running to the bathroom. The seizures I have, that even though I am on meds I still have absent seizures that make it dangerous to drive. The pain I am in daily, whether it is all over my body because of the fibromyalgia or specific to joints because of the RA make my life unpredictable and makes simple things like getting out of bed hard, never mind going to a job for 8-hours a day. The opioids I take for the pain which make me a risk on the road and dull my mental acuity. There is nothing I can do for long periods of time that don’t cause me pain. Standing, sitting, walking and even laying down for too long hurts. I am at risk for falling because I have balance issues and I use a cane for both balance and because my SI-joint hurts all the time. All of these factors and more were brought into consideration when I decided I just can’t work. The more? Looking at it from an employer’s point of view. Who would want to hire me? And if they did hire me how long would I last before “reasonable accommodations” became tiresome and before my absences became something they could not overlook anymore? I don’t think it would take long. Employers kind of like hiring reliable people. I am the antithesis of reliable.

I suppose my final thought would be extended to those who are able to work, to not look at those of us who can’t with disdain. We’re not being lazy. We’re not sitting around at home all day eating bon-bons. Chances are that we feel horrible about not being able to work. Chances are that we feel extremely guilty that our partner is out there working every day and we can’t help. We make a great effort to do what we can at home so that we can feel useful but it will never compare to going out there day-after-day and working, sometimes over-time and holidays to make up for the other partner needing to stay home. And understand that we are grateful. That we understand the great sacrifice of our partner has made so that we can be home. Staying home is tough.