As I’ve mentioned before, I am in the process of getting divorced. In my case, it has been over two years, and the divorce still can’t been finalized. Financially it’s been a difficult two years, with a cross country move, knee surgery, and severe worsening of my Behcet’s. I’ve been lucky to have insurance that covers most of my medical expenses, but when I lost the ability to work, things became difficult. After tearing through my savings, selling whatever I could, and doing my best to keep my bills as low as possible, I’ve found myself and an economic cross roads.
I want nothing more than to go back to work. For my entire life, I’ve worked, and being out of work makes me feel bad about myself. When my Behcet’s began worsening, I just job hopped, hoping I could find something that worked for me, while I got my symptoms under control. The problem was that my symptoms never really got better. During chemotherapy, I was getting temporary disability, which made the basics affordable, but not by much. I moved to a more affordable apartment, but then lost my temporary disability, making it just as unaffordable as the more expensive unit had been. My first two applications for disability were denied, and I was told to await a court date. That date would like be 18-24 months away. On top of that I lost my electric discount, and my EBT benefits, because both required an IRS form that I didn’t have. Last year I made so little, that what I did make was technically owed to me. I also expected to get more back on taxes if my ex and I filed jointly, because I had more in deductions than I had in earnings. Too bad he filed without me, and didn’t tell me.
As it all piled up, I began to become more depressed. Lately there has been a lot of anger, too. It isn’t as though I’m being lazy on purpose. I genuinely don’t know from one day to the next, what I’ll be physically capable of. Sure, once I get my wheelchair, my ability to work a desk type job, is more likely, but it’s definitely not guaranteed. Friends have begun pushing me to find something, because they think I’ll be happier once I’m working. What they don’t realize is the level of stress taking a job would create.
For starters, I can’t drive. My work day, even if it were short, would be lengthened by the commute factor. If I’m really sick, I’d end up using Lyft or Uber, which would of course cost me more. When you factor in the lower wages of most desk jobs, it just doesn’t make a lot of logical sense. Then you have my inability to be reliable. The day of my interview, I couldn’t walk because of my pain level. I was also insanely weak. I don’t have an adequate warning for this. Lately I’ve felt bad most days, but the days when I literally can’t function, are hard to predict.
Perhaps the biggest issue is whether or not I’m going to continue deteriorating, and what treatment options I’m going to undergo. Neurology suspects my neurological symptoms are going to get worse, and if the past is any indication, they’re correct. My GI issues are definitely worsening, and that means I’ll likely be getting another endoscopy and colonoscopy. (I’m fighting this as hard as possible because of issues I have with the preparation.) Neurology wants me back on chemo, but as I said in a prior blog, I plan on suggesting other treatment options first. The various treatments I could undergo, would all require days to weeks off of work. At the moment I require insane amounts of sleep, and I suspect treatment would just increase the amount of sleep I’d need, at least around treatment days.
It has been really hard, and then I got word that my divorce settlement went from something I was okay with, to something that would prevent me from being able to pay even basic bills. To say I was crushed is an understatement. I love the city and state that I live in, and facing the possibility of having to move because I cannot work, is heart breaking. I’ve looked into low income housing but the wait lists are 3-5 years. It’ll take about 3 years when all is said and done, to get approved for disability. What are those of us who are unable to work, supposed to do?
Those with chronic illnesses are more likely to face unemployment or underemployment, than others. When you have multiple doctors stating that a person cannot work, and you repeatedly deny based on age and education level, it’s mind boggling. (Those were the reasons I was given for my second denial.) I look at my degrees, gathering dust, and I’m heartbroken. Recently I had to swap from a laboratory focus, to an investigative focus with my Master’s degree, because I could not make it into school, nor could I safely manipulate the laboratory equipment. When you’ve spent decades deciding on a career, falling in love with the career path, and pushing yourself to achieve school goals despite many moves, it’s disorienting to lose it all.
I will be able to work, eventually, but it could be a while before I’m capable of working full-time, unless I can find something that allows me to work from home. Doctors have stated that I may only ever be able to work part-time, and that’s if we get the disease under control. I want to work, and I need to work, but my body just can’t handle it. Financially I’ve stopped opening bills, because I know I can’t pay them. I’ve even contemplated switching banks because of the amount I owe on my credit card. The monthly minimum payment is making me unable to afford food.
This is not unique to me. Most people I know with a chronic illness that impacts their neurological or gastrointestinal health, struggle to maintain meaningful employment. If they do work, it’s at the expense of their health, and that obviously isn’t ideal. I’ve witnessed members of my family, who really shouldn’t be working the hours they’re working, continue to push their bodies to the breaking point. As my divorce slowly works towards resolution, I have to face things like insurance. How will I afford my medications? I need insurance that covers them. Of course I’ll need to buy insurance…
My goal is to find a work-from-home job that is legitimate, and support myself, but it will take time. The issue is that it’s time I may not have. I find out Tuesday what the treatment plan will be for me, and I’m hoping that it’s something effective, but not debilitating. I keep telling myself that plasmapheresis could be the answer, because it’s important to stay hopeful. Perhaps it will work, and I’ll be able to work part-time, scheduling work around my plasmapheresis appointments. Maybe I’ll find work that I can do from my own home. Whatever the case may be, being chronically ill definitely creates a large amount of stress around the issue of financial security. The disability system is definitely broken.