I’ve been promising to fill in the blanks as to what happened during April and the first few weeks of May that made me such a low profile blogger. Here it is:
Long Historical Background:
As most of you know, I have been unemployed since March 1, 2012. Due to amazing state and federal programs, I received income – oh yes, gotta count it as income because it was taxable. I received unemployment and then when the initial six months ran out, I qualified for extended unemployment benefits that carried me until September 19, 2013 when I received a sudden notice that the party was over, no more benefits. Mind, that’s fair. I did wish, however, there had been some notice. They claim, she says darkly, that they did provide notice. I disagree.
But that was nine months ago, so…. what did I do for money to pay rent, for food, for bills? Ummm, in a nutshell: I borrowed it from myself a la credit cards and from friends who stepped forward – and thank you to all my family and friends who did indeed step forward in my time of need, against all logic, against any belief they would be paid back.
Sometime in October of 2013, I yielded to those same friends and family who had been urging that I apply for disability. For my readers not of the United States, we have a program run through our Social Security Administration that will determine whether you qualify as being disabled, and if you do, you will receive your Social Security benefits earlier than normal, i.e., age 65, our normal retirement age. Under what disability would I file my claim? Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). I had been diagnosed in 2010 as having COPD, which is a progressive, terminal disease with no cure in sight as yet. I didn’t want to apply. It offended my sense of order, of being independent, of carrying my own weight, despite the almost two years of unemployment I’d been drawing upon. It never occurred to me that I would not work again. I have worked since I was 16 years old and have been paying into the Social Security from my very first paycheck.
I thought if I applied I would be crossing a Rubicon, a bridge of no return. I would be acknowledging to all and sundry that I had COPD, that I was not getting better, but never mind the all and sundry. Most importantly, I would be acknowledging it to myself, to my cellular structure, to that awareness in me that maintains my sense of health, of balance, of rightness with the world. It could go so far as to mean I would be saying aloud the words, “I am disabled.” Break it down, “dis-abled.” No longer capable, no longer able. Out of the running, no longer worth counting. Bill Hamilton of Dealing with COPD, wrote a post recently about how devastating our own expectations of ourselves can be. To our own selves. Have I ever viewed a disabled person in that light? No. I reserved that deep in my bone morrow just for me. As we do. The things we say to ourselves, we would never in a million years say aloud to another. I don’t even think it where others are concerned. I am more likely to admire them than think they are less than. Not so me.
The convincer was the argument that it can take more than two years to be approved. It is almost a guarantee that you will have to appeal their decision three times before it will be approved. Now, maybe I wasn’t wholly disabled now, but I might be in two years and then I’d be looking at another two years delay in getting some help. Hmm. I checked out the parameters of the COPD qualifiers for disability and it is a number based on height and the results of a spirometry test – how fast you can blow out air. In my case, the number I would have to be at or below was 1.15. I knew from the last tests given back in 2012 before I lost my insurance that my numbers had been fairly close to that, but I had no idea what it was now.
It may have been the push of my friends and family to apply, maybe it was a bad breath day, or maybe it was the name and number of a law firm that represented clients filing disability claims and that they did not charge a fee unless the disability claim was approved. So, I called the law firm, they ran me through a checklist of symptoms and the firm and I agreed to their representation. They did another two hour interview, filled out the proper forms for me, sent them to me for review and approval and filed on my behalf.
By April 2014, I was in bad straits financially. I was on welfare, accepting and very grateful for it, food stamps, which is now electronically done by issuing a card, similar to a debit card, that is filled with your approved amount once a month, from which I could go into any market and purchase food items. Not anything else except food. No toilet paper, for instance. But I could purchase filet mignon or bon bons or wheat flour or vegetables or cheese or frozen dinners. The most ridiculous scene took place when I used it for the first time. I’d gone to the market and shopped and the clerk was ringing up the items. It came to $27.32. I crossed my fingers, ran the special food stamp card through the machine, and the amount showed $5.69. I stared at it for a moment and said, “Um… the amount reads $5.69. Didn’t you say it was $27 something?”
The clerk instantly looked at the machine, then to my basket, clearly worried his machine was breaking down. “Oh!” He said in relief. “It’s the dog food. You pay that separately.”
I stared at him in genuine puzzlement. “What do you mean I pay that separately?”
“It’s dog food.” He said.
“Yes.” I agreed, still puzzled.
“Not people food.” He said gently.
I stared at him in horror. “But… the dog has to eat, too.”
I am embarrassed to admit I actually said that, but I did. And in the most plaintive of voices, too. Shudder. I think that was in March and indicative of where I was headed.
Continued in Part 2.