Saturday, May 10, 2008

No More "Dumbing" Down

So this morning I finally met with a disability attorney. For about ten years, until 2006, I worked for a large mortgage company in a senior position. I was lucky and had a boss who came to appreciate my hard work and so was willing to overlook some inconsistencies regarding days and schedules. I had lots of alone space to work and help with the public parts. The work lent itself well to the particular issues and obsessions within my disorder.

In 2005, the company went through a reorganization. In order to keep my job I was required to accept a transfer to a new department with a new boss and co-workers, in a new town, in a much more conservative part of the country. Most of the understanding and flexibility I had had previously, vanished the moment I walked in the door. After a year of uprooting my family from the comfort of our home of ten years, trying to acclimate myself to new people, new rules, and new social expectations, and the new division moving me from department to department, I was laid off.

Next came numerous months of facing my fears and interviewing with new companies, trying new positions, and slipping into either the anxiety and panic that comes with new things, or the depression accompanying my feelings of failure. This, on top of getting used to new doctors, a new city, a new regime of meds, and our declining financial situation, eventually led my psychiatrist and my therapist to both recommend that I look into state disability until I was able to get stable once again.

This turns out to be the most demeaning experience I have ever had. My friends and previous co-workers are all wondering aloud why I am still not working. The social security office, a fund that I have been paying into throughout all my life of hard work, looks at me as if to say "What's wrong with don't LOOK disabled?" There are people who assume I am just lazy and trying to get out of work. I get no credit for the previous 20 years I have worked. There are people who tell me to just "get over it" or those that want to "help me to do it" rather than let me admit I can't right now. They tell me its all in my head. Duhhhhh!

And the worst of it is that so far everyone I met with regarding the disability claim expected me to "dumb myself down" in order to be eligible. I do not believe that the person coming in with a wheel chair is expected to do that. Anyways, after what seems likes months of jumping through SSI hoops already, I finally received my obligatory denial letter....the golden key to the attorney's office. My person is not actually an attorney but an advocate and she is wonderful!

The very first person who not only did not want me to be LESS than I really am but instead stressed the importance of my background and encouraged me to be the real me..... including my intelligence. She assured me that it was ok to take some time for get back to a place where I am feeling better. And now that she is now working on my behalf I am beginning to feel better already.



Butterfly said...

Your post represents the fear for many a person.

People with mental illness are always assumed to be lazy and attempting to "get over". But who are more lazy than those disability workers with ther loooong lunch breaks. Please.

Kudos to you for receognizing when you needed help and seeking it. I applaud you.

Wandering Coyote said...

I had to go on our provincial and federal disability up here in Canada, and I also had a very dehumanizing experience when going through the application process. I almost felt like a criminal when my bank accounts were were gone through with a fine tooth comb...It was awful. I should almost do a whole post on it myself. Now that I'm on, I have had some negative feedback about being "disabled" but I have learned to ignore the comments. But still, I live in a small community and everyone I meet who's known me for a while are like "so, what are you doing these days? Where are you working?" I say I'm in transition and am taking some sabbatical time.

Coco said...

Yes. I too often feel like people think I'm 'lazy' because I don't work at the moment. There's so much ignorance out there, and so much ground to be gained as far as public awareness re mental health issues. I'm happy to hear that you've found some sense of relief and hope in this process. I'm rooting for you.

Amanda said...

I'm very sorry you had to go through this. If it's any comfort, they are the same the world over. Maybe they think this behavior keeps away people who "don't need it", but in truth the real cons don't care.

Inferno said...

It is an unfortunate thing about our wonderful health care system that mentally "disabled" people are not deemed worth to be legitimately "disabled". I am 35 years old, willing to work my butt off at just about anything that will pay the bills. But as the bipolar progresses, I find myself unable to interact with people as I used to. I am a full time potter/artist, with my own business of 10 years. I am failing now because I no longer have the ability, or the nerve, to face people which I need so badly to interface with, in order to market my work. Because of the medication, I have lost much of my creativity. I do it now, because I have too, not because I FEEL it. I am not on disability, because facing that process as well, unnerves me. And so, I live like a peasant, a hermit, a failed artist with a loss of self identity thanks to the medication. If only the general population knew what we went through to carry on each day, they would no longer even question our need for a little relief, financially, and otherwise. I sympathize with your situation and wish you the best. Kudos on having the nerve to face it.