Defining #Disability

In researching the disability requirements for private insurance policies and the SSA, I realized a lot of things­—only one of which is that the actual process of applying for disability is suited more for the abled than the sick.

Applying for disability is a paper-intensive process that involves months, if not years, of work, along with the unnatural ability to convince harassed and harried doctors to spend precious moments advocating on your behalf as well as the uncanny foresight to gather all kinds of documents and “proof” along the way, well before anyone would reasonably expect they’d get sicker instead of better. Basically, it’s an arduous, uphill climb designed to discourage all but the most tenacious from ascension.

But, that isn’t what I realized on the whole.

No, the number one thing I realized while looking into disability benefits was that chronically ill people think of our lives in terms of how sick we are on any given day. How badly we feel. Levels of pain, degrees of nausea, the extent of fatigue.

It’s all very subjective, that kind of thinking, and that’s why so many people fail when they try to obtain benefits. The insurance companies and the SSA don’t give a damn how we feel. They don’t care about how much pain we’re in or how nauseated we are or that we’ve never been so tired in our entire lives. They don’t give a shit.

Nor should they.

That isn’t their job.

Their job is to determine the limitations those symptoms and feelings put upon us. What can we do with that level of pain, fatigue, and nausea? What can’t we? What effects does severe vertigo or pain or any other symptom have on our ability to drive? To dress? To cook or care for our children? To work?

That’s what they care about. That’s what they are tasked with uncovering. And that’s what we need to tell them.

Chekhov once wrote something close to the popular quote, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Filing for disability is much the same.

If you’re trying to win a disability case, don’t tell them how much pain you’re in. Talk about what that level of pain keeps you from doing. Explain how the extreme pulsing in your head keeps you from talking on the phone or being in a crowded place. Explain how the severe vertigo you experience makes it where you can’t drive safely, stand upright without support, or focus on a computer screen.

Discuss your symptoms but only as a way to explain your limitations. That’s how you define your disability. That is how you win your case.

2 thoughts on “Defining #Disability

  1. This is great advice! You’re absolutely right! Having applied for (and eventually been approved for) disability benefits, I heartily agree that such an endeavour is only for the very very strong, physically and mentally. It’s exhausting, discouraging, demeaning and puts a person through the wringer. It’s hard! Your advice to perfunctorily mention the pain, and rather to explain in detail your limitations is very true, certainly in my experience. I always thought it weird that ‘they’ kept asking if I could use the dishwasher – seriously, weren’t they paying attention? I have chronic migraine. Dishes weren’t a big concern, but it reinforces your advice to say what you can’t do. I wish I’d known that sooner. I did eventually figure it out, but I’d have saved myself a lot of time and energy if I’d known that from the start.
    I hope today is a good day in your world. Linda

    • Thank you, Linda! It’s a much better day than yesterday, and that’s always good. 🙂 I’m so glad you finally got approval for your benefits. I know so many have struggled for so long. Thank you for letting me know my words rang true. I like to think we all help each other out when we can. Wishing you all the best.

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