I’m on disability. I receive a check from the government once a month so that I have money to live off of.
This is OK.
While I’ve never encountered this in person, I am constantly living in fear that the people I know who disapprove so vehemently of people on welfare will assume that disability benefits are the same as welfare. I am afraid that someone is going to look at my iPhone 5 (which was paid for by someone else; I contribute $50 for the phone bill), or look at my nice clothes (some of which I have had for years, some of which were gifted to me, and some of which I got at Wal-Mart or The Salvation Army – yes, they have nice clothes), or see my pedicure (which I do myself) and assume that I am “taking advantage of the system” or that I don’t deserve the nice things that I have because my income is below the poverty line and comes from the government.
This is not OK.
While I don’t know when my review is, I am constantly living in fear that someone will assume I am taking advantage of the system and I will be kicked off of my disability benefits before I am ready and able to work. A family member once DVR’d a 60 Minutes special about people who scam the system with fake disabilities to make easy money. I’m not sure why they did this – maybe they assumed, “Oh, she’s on disability, she’ll be interested in this;” what I’m afraid of is that this person was thinking, “She seems fine and she looks high functioning; she might be scamming the system”. I’ve had conversations with people who know other people on disability and who assume, because their disability is not visible, that they must be faking it. It makes me cringe inside knowing that perhaps they are passing the same judgments against me. I had a woman at church tell me that, had I not told her I was on disability, she would have assumed I was a lawyer because I dressed well and came off as intelligent. I worry that because I don’t appear “disabled”, people assume I am taking advantage of the system.
This is not OK.
A few months ago on the blog “Megan Has OCD: The War in my Brain”, the blogger, Megan, was contacted by a woman from an organization who works to spread awareness and help people understand how disability works (please check out the article). While the post highlights obsessive compulsive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, the process is similar for people struggling with other mental health conditions. When I contacted a local organization for help with the application process, I was told that most people who apply with accurate proof of a mental health condition receive a decision on their application within six months. I received an approval of my application within two months, and I’ve heard through the grapevine that it’s often easier to provide proof of a mental health condition and receive benefits than it is to provide proof of a physical condition and receive benefits.
I’ve received assurance from my doctors and from people working at the Social Security Administration that I don’t have to worry about being kicked off of my payments before I’m ready or able to work. However, since I have a generalized anxiety disorder, these statements don’t exactly assuage my fear. It’s difficult to be in a place where I’m high functioning enough to enjoy life while not working, but not high functioning enough to hold down a job. I’ve done short term volunteer work in low-stress environments, but I don’t know how well those experiences would translate into a long term work environment. I’m constantly feeling guilt and fear over my situation, which contributes to my feelings of low self worth and suicidal ideology.
I don’t know if that’s OK or not.
Ideally, we would live in a society where people didn’t have a problem offering monetary assistance to people who can’t work due to a physical or mental disability. I wouldn’t have to spend a decent chunk of my time worrying if I’ll ever be able to work again or when my review is or how I would handle the stress of working to provide for myself and my family if I were forced to before I was ready. I wouldn’t have to worry about putting myself out there in order to fight stigma, and I wouldn’t tear up when being honest about my situation. But this is not the world we live in. This is my reality. And so, until it is OK for people to admit being on disability, I will keep writing posts like this. I will keep fighting for visibility in the invisible world I live in. I will not let people shame me or make assumptions about me or my condition or my income. I will do my best to make a difference.
This is OK.
This is better than OK.
This is good.