The disability hearing last Tuesday was terrifying. From the moment I walked in the door to the waiting area, it was all I could do to keep myself from hyperventilating. KR took the entire week off of work last week. He needed a vacation from his job, so he took it. This also meant he was able to attend the hearing with me. My disability advocate decided to use KR as a witness for my case at the last-minute after speaking with him privately before the hearing. I was asked to leave the courtroom during his testimony, so I have no idea what was said other than a couple of brief comments KR shared with me. Feeling a full-blown panic attack coming on as I sat in the waiting area while KR was in the hearing room, I retreated to the restroom to calm myself in privacy.
My disability advocate did a good job in working with what he had as far as evidence of my condition, but I got the distinct impression from the judge that she didn’t believe anything I had to say. She seemed exasperated, as if I was wasting her time. I struggled to answer the questions asked of me, fumbling over words, stuttering, and feeling so “on guard” that I failed to articulate clearly and concisely exactly what I intended to say.
I had no good answer for why I left treatment back in 2008 while previously on SSDI. I don’t quite understand it myself. I agree. It was a stupid mistake. When asked, I stated that at that time I was struggling to leave my apartment at all, let alone get to therapy appointments. I should have said that I took the break from therapy that I felt I needed to regain my bearings, but I didn’t. I couldn’t think straight. I told the judge that it was never my intent to leave treatment altogether. It just happened that way.
The agoraphobia and severe anxiety I developed while living in Nashville didn’t completely, magically disappear when we moved to Cookeville, either. I still struggled with these issues greatly after the move. It took me until July 2013 to work up enough courage just to seek out treatment again. Even though I had asked around prior to that for help in finding a treatment center, it wasn’t until then that someone at DHS told me where I needed to go. I’m fairly certain that neither the judge nor my disability advocate believed me when I told them I began treatment at PMHC in July 2013 (specifically, July 17, 2013 was my intake appointment). The records the court received began in November 2013, a full 3 months later! The discrepancy in records made me look like a liar.
Also, the judge questioned why my counselor and I agreed to terminate therapy in January of this year if I was still struggling so much. I interrupted her at that point (not a good idea, but no such agreement took place, and I panicked) telling her, “NO! I did not agree to anything. My counselor simply dismissed me from therapy with no further contact.” I also told her that I tried for months to get another therapist through my case manager to no avail. No one was listening to me then, just as I felt no one was listening in that hearing room.
And THIS is probably the main reason why I left treatment to begin with in May 2008 — feeling re-victimized and unheard by a screwed up mental health system. The worst part is I don’t know what would make it any better.
The fact of the matter is that the most damning piece of evidence against me in my attempt to get back on SSDI is that I failed to remain in treatment, regardless of the reasons. It feels hopeless that this judge saw anything other than that. It feels hopeless that neither the judge nor my counselor nor KR recognize that I am seriously struggling right now to keep my head above water in the kiddie pool, let alone swim out in the ocean with everyone else! Even if I did get back on SSDI, there’s always the possibility that I could simply be rejected from treatment again like this past January, causing me to lose the SSDI yet again.
My disability advocate made a few good observations in his closing statement. I don’t do well under pressure or with change. Feeling pressure causes me to shut down, retreat to my mind for solace. Change sends me into a panic, causes everything to feel out of control and overwhelming. He said that I have managed to create a home environment that feels safe and manageable, where I am able to do what I need to when I need to in order to manage the symptoms of my illness and to maintain, at least, some control over my mental health.
I was only able to do this by taking the time I needed while on disability to figure this out for myself — without the influence of constant pressure and feeling bombarded by outside sources. Receiving SSDI gave me the chance to catch my breath after years of chaos and constant overwhelm. I haven’t figured out how to do that in the “outside world” yet. I need more time to figure out exactly what will work for me so that I can use my talents and abilities to the best of my ability and provide an employer with a stable work flow. I’m just not there yet. I apologize for being so slow, but pressuring me to “hurry up and get better” sure as hell isn’t helping. The pressure I’m feeling from everyone around me is only making matters much worse!
Right now, my self-confidence is shot. I’m coping to the best of my ability, perhaps not in the most healthy manner, but coping nonetheless. I feel helpless, like my life is in the hands of people who couldn’t possibly give a rat’s ass about my well-being. I’m scared. I’m frustrated. I’m overwhelmed. And as always, I don’t know what to do with any of it except block it out, distract myself, or self-soothe.
— C’est la vie. —