Desperately wanting to get off benefits

February 26, 2017

As I started to write this, it felt incredibly familiar. So I did a quick search and what do you know, I wrote this almost identical post a year ago! So much has changed, and yet so much has stayed the same….

My health has continued to improve. No one is more surprised than me! It’s not like I’m well enough to work a full time job, or even a part time job from home that requires set hours. But I’m doing some part time work from home for myself (doing some consulting) that isn’t paying much yet, but there’s some hope. Still, it’s hard to aim for a very specific amount of money, knowing that I can’t earn “too much” because I’d lose my benefits.

Lately I’ve been more desperate than usual to get off of benefits. I hate the feeling of enforced poverty, and I’m not even poor! The income is way too low, but I have a ton of savings from back when I worked, and by cutting out all of my unnecessary expenses and getting a bit of help from my parents, I’m making it work.

The thing is, I don’t want help from my parents. They’re lovely and I adore them and they never do anything to make me feel bad about needing their help. But I was financially independent the day I graduated college (they paid for it, bless them.) I had a job, an apartment, and savings from all of my previous years of work. They might occasionally give a generous check as a birthday gift, but that was. Now, they pay for my cell phone, pick up groceries for me, and do other little things, in addition to helping out in larger ways. I love them for it. But I hate it.

On top of that, I miss luxuries! I don’t need anything too fancy, but I’d love to go out to dinner without having to worry about it. I want to buy a sweater or two to replace the 5 that are threadbare. I hate that everything I spend beyond my rent is coming out of my savings, with the knowledge that I’ll never be able to replace it. Once I was out of work for a while, and I spent money from my savings. Fine. Because I knew that once I got a job, I’d put money back into my savings accounts, and I did. But this is different. If I stay on this path, I will never again be able to save any money at all. And that sucks so much.

My new consulting business is financial coaching. It’s something I started doing ages ago, back when I had a full time job, but now I’m trying to do more of it. It sucks to advise people on how to build up their savings when I can’t do that for myself. I read books and blogs about effective ways to save, thinking about which principles I’d like to apply myself, and then I remember that I can’t, and I never will.

I feel trapped. And lately I’ve been trying to escape from the cage. But there’s no way out.

I do the math over and over. After all, that’s my thing: calculating money. I figure out how much I would need to earn in order to support myself without Social Security, fuel assistance, food stamps, MassHealth (Medicaid), Medicare, or my new affordable housing situation. I multiply for taxes. I do the math and it feels impossible. But what if….?

And then just as I begin to think it might be worth trying, I remember that even if I can manage to work for myself from home for a while, chances are good that my health will take a dive at some point and I’ll be unable to work again. I could try applying for benefits, but it took over 2 years the first time, and I there’s a good chance the next time I wouldn’t get them at all.

If I’m going to get off benefits now, I have to earn enough that I can save huge amounts every year to defend myself against needing benefits again in the future. I have a lot of savings now, but not enough to last the rest of my life, which could be another 50 or even 60 years. I would be too nervous to go off benefits until I was saving large amounts of money. That would be in addition to the money I’d need to earn to pay my regular bills.

This isn’t impossible. My odds are better than 0. It’s just that right now, at this moment, it doesn’t feel that way at all.

Still, I’m aching to get out of this cage.

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I couldn’t remember how I “got better”

February 23, 2017

It’s not like I’m “healthy” by any means. But compared to 5 years ago, I’m a different person.

If you were reading this blog 5 years ago, you know that I was struggling to get through each day. If I went grocery shopping, I’d be so exhausted that I wouldn’t leave the house again for the rest of the day, or the next day either. I’d rest up for 2 days so I could spend an afternoon with my family, then I’d need 2 more days to recover. I didn’t leave the house much, and when I did it was really tough. I researched my health issues and began to find answers. I would read 3 pages in a book, fall asleep, wake up having forgotten what I’d read before, and have to start over. The brain fog made it hard to understand any of the medical concepts and I often had to read the same paragraph 5 times. It took ages to get through one book, but I did it. And I learned from it. And then I started the next book.

So how did I get from there to here? Here, where I can go to the grocery store, read a chapter in a book, and cook a meal all in one day, while still feeling ok. It’s like a miracle!

Someone asked me today about medications I’d taken. We’d just met, but I’m obviously open about my health conditions and she’s in the medical field, so she was curious. But the thing is, I couldn’t remember.

Later, it started coming back to me. The diets. The supplements. She asked about prescriptions, but those weren’t what did it. Except the thyroid medication. I’d forgotten about that. Oh yes, that helped a lot. Getting rid of the daily nausea did wonders. And the supplements, slowly over time, began to work. Of course, I forgot about the sleep apnea diagnosis. First the CPAP machine, then the ASV machine (similar to a CPAP, but with different air flow) did wonders for me.

I guess the brain fog still rears its ugly head, because I honestly could not remember any of that in the moment that she asked. I think every day about how much better I’m doing. I am so happy, grateful, appreciative. There are a million “What ifs” for how I might not have improved. But I did improve. Thank goodness.

So the next time I can’t remember how I did it, I will remember to read this blog. These 5.5 years of writing are like my medical diary. It covers all of the big moments, good and small. Not to mention the hell of dealing with benefits (my food stamps got cut off again last week! For crying out loud! I got them back, but come on….)

The thing is, I couldn’t remember today how I managed to improve. But I didn’t forget that I had. I didn’t forget February 2012 when I first cut out gluten. I didn’t forget falling asleep while I struggled to read a book about hypothyroidism. And I didn’t forget how grateful I am for the improvement.

I remembered the important parts. I blocked out the struggle.


I need help but I’m not helpless

February 13, 2017

Maybe it’s because I have a disability. Maybe it’s because I ask for help. Maybe it’s because I’m a woman. Maybe it’s all 3. Whatever the reason, it’s irritating.

It’s winter in Boston. Winter in Boston means snow on the ground. Not every day, but enough of the time.

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It’s beautiful. It’s picturesque. And it’s a pain in the ass.

I love the snow when I’m indoors, but then I need to go out. It’s slippery, and I’m terrified of falling and further hurting myself. I’m not steady on my feet, so a fall is more likely. I need help shoveling out my car due to my back and wrist pain. Suffice to say, it’s difficult.

Luckily, friends and strangers have been kind over the years, and in my new home, that hasn’t changed. Folks have helped me shovel out my car, and for that I’m grateful.

What I could do without is the “explaining.” Today a neighbor helped to shovel out my car while I cleared the top, which thankfully I’m still able to do. It was really sweet – we’d never even met before. I was really appreciating his efforts. Then he told me to “try moving back a bit, don’t gun it, if you get stuck you’ll want to…” and he proceeded to tell me how to back out of the parking space. I’d already told him I’d grown up here and lived most of my life here while we chatted about Boston winters. So why did he think I couldn’t back out of a parking space in the snow (if you’ve never done it, yes, it’s tricky. But once you’ve done it for 20+ years, you usually know what you’re doing.)

The other day it was someone else telling me how to back out of a space. A couple weeks ago, someone warned me as I got in my car that the roads would be getting slippery soon. What the $%#@?!? I learned to drive in this stuff back in the ’90s! I know how to tell when roads are getting slippery, for crying out loud.

I need help. That’s true. I won’t deny it for a second. But I’m not entirely helpless. There’s a lot I can do and there’s a lot that I know. Driving in the snow is one of those things. So I wish people would stop condescending to me.


Tapping into my extrovert side

February 6, 2017

img_20161223_091955I’m an introvert. If I’d known that about myself and understood it, my teens and 20s would have been a lot easier, that’s for sure! It turns out, it’s ok to want to stay in and read a book on a Saturday night. Go figure.

I also happen to be a social introvert. I love being with people. I even feel like I need to be around people from time to time. And on the days I’m feeling more extroverted, I’m good at it. I can have pleasant conversations with good friends and with total strangers alike. As long as I get plenty of breaks for alone time so I can recharge.

The thing is, when you’ve got a chronic illness that creates so much fatigue you can’t work and can’t always leave the house, and so much pain that sometimes getting to the bathroom takes everything you’ve got, social time can be hard to come by. Friends sometimes come over, but not so much these days. As my friends have begun to have kids, visiting has become difficult or impossible. I understand and I don’t blame them. But it still sucks.

Six weeks ago I moved. I can’t believe it’s already been 6 weeks! I knew moving would mean that some friends would visit less often, since I’m not on public transportation anymore. Still, it’s not like I had that many visitors anyway. It was worth the trade-off, I figured. Little did I know!

This is the first time since college that I’ve lived in an apartment complex, but I’ve never lived in a complex like this. People are so nice and friendly!

First there was the complex-wide holiday party. It was less than a week before I moved in, and I should have been home packing boxes, but I knew it was important to meet people. So I got slightly dressed up, drove all the way out, and put on my extrovert costume. I met several people, including a few who lived in my building, and traded phone numbers with a couple of them.

After the move I made a point of talking to neighbors. I introduced myself to everyone I met. I knocked on doors in my hallway. I chatted with the woman clearing snow off the car next to mine, and the random person passing walking past me on the sidewalk. I smiled and was nice and friendly.

And it’s paying off. A neighbor and I have been taking walks in the evenings when she gets home from work. We have done this at least a half dozen times, and it’s really nice. Another neighbor invited me over for game night. That led me to meeting more neighbors. I hit it off with one right away, and we’ve now hung out a couple of times. Today I saw a neighbor I’d spoken to a few times walking by my patio door so I opened the door to say hi. She and her puppy (so cute!!) came in and I invited her to sit. We chatted for a bit as the puppy sniffed around and then returned to me for petting. As she left, I saw another neighbor who I knew, so I invited her and her pup in, and they hung out for a bit.

None of these are life-altering per se. But they matter. On a day when I wasn’t going to socialize, I socialized. It didn’t last long, but it happened.

I have spent many days being home alone and feeling lonely and sad. I know I will feel that way many more days. It sucks, but that’s my reality. A lot of the time I won’t want visitors. But on the days that I want to see people but don’t feel up to going anywhere, how amazing that I have neighbors right here who I can hang out with! It might not happen every day, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s always possible. In time, I will get to know more of them. Some will become friends and some won’t. Just having people to say hi to, though, makes a huge difference.

I knew this was a good move for me. This just makes it 10 times better.


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