I’ve been fighting with some very big forces over the last seven months, and it’s made me impossibly tired. Still, I pressed on. I called my insurance company multiple times a day. I practically had my claim number memorized. I knew exactly what numbers would get me where in the automated system. I developed an insistent, vaguely angry tone of voice that I used on anyone who tried to transfer me to the wrong people.
I became very aware of the fact that I, as a privileged, high-functioning person with a severe mental illness, was having a brutally difficult time trying to get disability benefits from either the government or the insurance company. There are rules about filing for claims that I did not know about, and therefore I have found, after being directed to four different agencies, legal aid to help me challenge the denial of my claim with the government. There is an infinite rabbit hole of insurance snags that require infinite resources of patience, persistence, and resources such as a fax machine (which I don’t have, and use eFax for; but of course, this requires a scanner, and I am fortunate enough to have a scanner available).
After a particularly stressful day of talking to officials who told me things employing circular logic that Kafka would have rejoiced to use in a Kafka-esque short story, and after I received a “letter” in the mail that the officials told me was not actually a “letter” (I cannot challenge the decision before receiving an actual “letter”) but a “notification” stating that I owed the institution almost a thousand dollars, I broke down.
I now know why there are so many mentally ill homeless. I mean, I knew before; ironically, I’d written a paper on the topic in high school. But now I know this viscerally. I know how difficult it is to navigate the system. I have experienced the shock of being told by my case manager at the hospital that after being on the phone for three hours, she could no longer help me, and that I had to refile my claims myself — this despite the fact that she had not so long ago found me crying in a corner of a random office, babbling about the government invading my brain waves through a computer that I’d seen being delivered while waiting for my next group therapy session. I had been working on fighting the fight of changing the way higher education treats its mentally ill students, but now there was the fight of changing the way that insurance companies and the government enforce applying for disability benefits.
From the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s National Helpline:
“What are the chances of receiving benefits?
“Good, if you are willing to be persistent. Two out of three persons who apply for disability benefits are initially rejected, although the rejection rate varies widely from state to state. These applications are often rejected for what appear to be arbitrary reasons. If you appeal an initial rejection until you get a hearing with a judge – and most persons do not appeal – your chances of obtaining benefits improve. In 2004, over 60% of disability cases that were appealed to an administrative law judge were won by beneficiaries.”
One such “arbitrary reason” is that in California, claims must be filed within 41 days of the onset of illness. Why 41 days? How is anyone supposed to know this, especially a very sick mentally ill person? Because of reasons, as my friend JSA would say.
But as I fumed and fought and cried and kicked and screamed, I also had a call with my coach and friend Ashley, who focused on my mental health, and the fact that it was being negatively affected by my stress levels. We talked about my feelings of injustice and my desire for control. I talked about a long-ago friend’s mantra, which seemed particularly apt at this point: “I have only one life, and one pair of hands.”
There are, of course, so many injustices going on in the world. To fight them all is unthinkable for a single person. I can do my best to fight the battles that I currently have support to fight. I can do the advocacy work that I am already in place to do. I can research who is doing the work that I want to be able to do, and write to them. Perhaps at some point in the future, I’ll have the energy and the resources to engage in that battle.
But right now, I need to remind myself of my one life. My one pair of hands.
I need to fight, but I need to remember that I need to do so without sacrificing my own sanity.
I need to remember to rest.
And if you are in need of this message — if you are in a place where you feel you are being overwhelmed by the weight of whatever work you need to do, whether it be with your own business, your personal life and relationships, and so forth, with consideration given to all of the heaviness that human beings need to live with on any given day — please remember this.
You have one life. You have one pair of hands.
Early-bird registration for Rawness of Remembering: Restorative Journaling Through Difficult Times, closes on Sunday, September 15. I couldn’t be happier about the extraordinary roster of registrants that have already signed up. In order to qualify for early-bird registration, for which 10% of proceeds go to the stigma-busting program SOLVE (read an interview with SOLVE coordinator, Terri Byrne, here), please visit the Rawness of Remembering page to register.