Congratudolences You’re Disabled

After nearly two years, multiple denials, and multiple appeals, I finally got approved for disability. Woohoo! To say it’s a relief is an understatement. While the monetary income will help, especially the over two years of back pay, the mental/emotional relief is honestly greater.

The disability process is tedious, inefficient, slooooowww, and would (and does) give anyone post-traumatic stress. When numerous “experts” hired by the federal government who don’t know you and will never meet you determine your approval or denial, and there’s nothing you can do but wait (and wait), it’s very stressful.  For many applicants, the decision will make or break their ability to pay for basic necessities, let alone the medical care they not only need now, but needed in the years of going through the disability application process. It’s not always fair, and no one should have to go through it the way it is set up, with automatic denials at least the first two or more attempts. These denials likely weed out those applicants who Social Security doesn’t think are serious, willing to put up the fight, or hire a disability attorney. If you’re considering applying, know that you’re in it for the long haul, and need all the help you can get. I’ll share some practical advice for those considering the process in a future post, so stay tuned.

When I shared the approval decision on social media, there were a lot of congratulatory comments, but one that I think sums it up best was “congratudolences.” Yes, congratulations for winning my case and getting the compensation I deserve (that’s what the system into which I’ve paid is for), but condolences for a) officially, legally becoming disabled; and b) for having to go through this horrible process. As one of the members in the traumatic brain injury (TBI) support group I attend said, “It’s never really ‘great’ when someone is disabled, the ‘great’ part is when government officials finally recognize it.”

When I had to stop working in January 2020, I started to process that fact that I was/am disabled. Despite having had nearly three years to process this already, it’s still a bit of a realization to have it in writing and receive the official label. There is still grief, as I truly loved my work, but the approval is also validating, especially since one of their “experts” invalidated me in their report, which the judge did not find convincing. The approval makes me feel seen, heard, and believed. There were times when I thought, “Am I really disabled enough, even though I can be crashed on the couch up to four days a week?” Answer: yes. Any doubts that I had of myself have been lifted, and since even a former friend invalidated me years ago, telling me all my problems were in my subconscious (they are not), it’s truly a relief.

Not everyone around me knows how to respond, which is understandable. For someone who hasn’t gone through what I have or anything remotely similar, they don’t get it. A family member said something to the effect of, “Welcome to not having to work,” to which I promptly added, “Not by choice.” It can seem to some folks out there that we who “look fine” and have less noticeable disabilities must be lazy, stupid, free-loaders, frauds, or somehow less than able-bodied people. Yes, there are some who have abused the system, which has made it that much harder for those of us with legitimate disabilities to get approved, but believe me, those wrongful assumptions are just that: wrong.

I might now be legally disabled, which is sad, honestly, but I am still:

  • Smart
  • Educated
  • Proactive
  • Wanting to be included
  • Capable of making a difference in the world (just in different ways that even I might expect)
  • Me

Note the last bullet point. I am still me, and I am not ashamed of being disabled. It’s not a character flaw, something to hide, cover up, or ignore. It just a fact like the color of my eyes or any other fact about me. One family member said, “I’ll just say that you’re ‘retired.’” Um, no. There’s no need to downplay it, use a euphemism or try to sugarcoat it. If others have a hard time coming to terms with it, then that is their challenge, not mine. I’m okay with it.

Of course, I’ll keep being proactive in my care and making the most out of any given day, even those days where I can’t get off the couch. Now I feel like I can simply be and process all of this, without the intense weight of the disability case on my shoulders. Here’s a toast of “congratudolences” for making it through the process with the help of my attorney, Nicole F., and the support of my incredible husband, validation, and the ability to now focus on moving forward, day by day, in hopes of making a difference in the world, even if it is from the couch.