When you’re not the “right” kind of poor and disabled

August 7, 2019

I just learned about a program for low income and disabled folks to get internet access for $10 per month from Comcast. Too bad I wasn’t eligible, despite meeting all of the criteria. You see, I’m not the “right” kind of disabled and poor.

I looked at the list of requirements for the program. Despite only needing to check off one box, I could check off many: I am on Medicaid, getting SNAP (food stamps), on Section 8 (a housing voucher), and in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (for help paying utilities.) But I’m not eligible. Why? Because I’m not a new customer. You see, it doesn’t matter how little money you have coming in, if you aren’t new to the internet, then you aren’t eligible for this program. Comcast is the only option for internet service where I live and the least expensive plan is $79 per month. It bothers me when I pay my bills every month, especially since the service I had in my last apartment was better quality and only $45. Still, it’s the only choice for internet here, and I consider internet a necessity for as long as I can afford it. Lowering it by $65 per month (accounting for taxes and fees on the new plan) would make a huge difference, though!

I’m not the “right” kind of poor and disabled for a lot of government and other programs either, though I have managed to get quite a few accommodations, for which I am very grateful.

I am so not the “right” kind of disabled according to a lot of people out there. After all, I can mostly walk without any assistive devices, and that’s their only consideration. I mostly look healthy, especially if you don’t look too closely. That’s all that “counts,” as far as they are concerned.

But that’s not the reality. The reality is that I spent all day feeling like crap, not even managing to get dressed until 2pm, because I had to be out of the house most of the previous day for medical tests. The tests were easy, but the travel too and from, plus being alert and interactive, was just too much for me. I came home exhausted and in a ton of pain, and had to spend the next day recovering.

The reality is that I have a lot of money in the bank, and I am so grateful for that. But I also know that the only reason my totals appear to go up is because my investments have gone up. It’s not real. When the market turns, as it always does, those numbers will go way down, and I won’t have any job income to offset the fall. I am thankful for my social security payments, but they don’t cover enough.

For a minute last summer, my benefits covered all of my basic expenses, which meant if I earned a little money from dogsitting or something, I could use it to go out to eat or buy clothes, and not have to take money out of savings. I would need those savings for a bigger expense, like to replace my car or to move, but for everyday things, I was ok. And then a couple months later I lost my food stamps. I had to start taking an expensive medication that insurance didn’t cover. And once again, for basic monthly expenses, I was taking money out of savings.

My savings are my safety net, but I know they won’t last forever, especially if I have to take out money just to cover the basics. So no, I’m not really poor in the typical sense. Yes, there are people who need the help more than I do right now. On the other hand, without these benefits I receive, I would quickly run through my savings. Then I would be in a dire situation, because the benefits wouldn’t cover all of my basic expenses and I would no longer have savings to make up the difference. Then what would I do?

And that is the crux of the issue with the “right” kind of poor and disabled. By the time we meet that definition, things have deteriorated to the point where the help no longer helps the way it would have earlier on. For example, one day I will need knee replacement surgery. Right now I do physical therapy and wear knee braces in order to put off the need for the surgery. If the problem was caught sooner, I could have avoided years of pain. So now I could ignore my exercises and forget the knee braces and get the surgery right away, knowing that it will have to be repeated every decade or so. Or I can use the supports I have now and put off the surgery, in the hopes that I will only need to have it done a couple of times throughout the rest of my life. I choose the latter. But imagine if I didn’t have a choice. Imagine if my only option was to repeatedly have the surgery. That’s what these programs want. They want us to get the point where we no longer have better options, and then maybe they will help us.

I am lucky. I have the option to keep pulling money out of savings to pay for basics. These days, my basics are rent, utilities, groceries, medical expenses, gas, car insurance, and car maintenance. Everything else is an extra, including a meal out, a gift for a friend or relative, or a new sweater. I get help for some of those necessities, like rent, utilities, and groceries. Still, my benefits only go so far, and my medical expenses are high, since a lot isn’t covered by insurance. Without savings, I would be choosing which of those necessities to get rid of and frankly, I don’t see anything on that list that I’m willing to live without (the car is necessary where I live now and even before, when I lived near public transportation, I was often too sick or in too much pain to take it and would have to drive instead.)

So screw the folks who only want to help the “right” kind of poor and disabled people. We all deserve help, and these programs should be available to those who need them.

I want to add a final, important note. I doubted myself. Maybe I was being too harsh? Maybe it’s good to limit these programs to only the most needy among us? Maybe I’m being selfish? Self doubt is a big problem for a lot of people, and it comes up a lot for folks with chronic illness. Personally, I was told for years that I wasn’t “sick enough” to get help, and that ended up making me a lot sicker. If only I had been diagnosed and treated a decade earlier, I might not be disabled now. I might be able to work full time, and these money issues wouldn’t be on my radar. So yes, I still doubt my needs. And then, while I wasn’t sure if I should hit “publish” I went over to Facebook, and saw a bunch of comments on a post I had made about this program. Several folks were really excited to see it, then disappointed to learn they weren’t eligible because they already had internet through Comcast. Those who were able were already talking about switching to another provider, with the plan to switch back in three months in order to get on this program. Because yes, there are people with internet access who have health and money issues and who need the help. We need help, not gatekeeping. This is a federal program, and should be open to everyone. And that is what made me decide to publish this post after all.

What do you think? Should programs like this be available to everyone who is low income, even if they have internet access already? Are the restrictions reasonable or bullshit? Please comment below, because I would love to know what you think.


My wheelchair does not give you permission to touch me

June 13, 2018

Last weekend I marched in Boston’s Pride Parade and it was wonderful! I had a fantastic time. But it wasn’t all perfect.

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There were a few things that bothered me about being in a wheelchair, and a big one was people touching me without permission.

It works the way many other parades do: we marched, and people on both sides of the street watched us. Some waved, some cheered, some yelled, some smiled excited smiles. And some high fived the folks passing them.

I didn’t want to high-five people. There were several reasons. One is germs. It would be hours before I could wash my hands. Also, gluten. I wanted to eat the sliced apple I brought with me. With my hands. I couldn’t contaminate them with the gluten that was probably on strangers’ hands. Also, I didn’t want to eat an apple after high fiving dozens of strangers because ew. Germs again. And then there was the pain. It hurts to high five 1 or 2 people, never mind dozens.

I love to wave at folks as we walk in the parade, but I quickly learned that people used that opportunity to give me a high five, so I had to stop waving. That was sad. I picked it up again in areas where the crowds were behind barriers, but most of the streets had the crowds practically on top of us. As we went by, I tried to keep my hand in my lap. (My other hand was already holding the large 45-foot flag that our group was carrying.) Sometimes I would say, “I’ll pass” or something similar. Often that was good enough. But not always.

Too many times, the person would then touch me. They would touch my shoulder or my arm. One touched the bag in my lap. It was weird and awkward and gross.

It could have been worse. Luckily, I wasn’t in so much pain that even a tiny touch was excruciating. But I could have been. Thankfully I’m not generally adverse to touch, but I could have been.

I love Pride. I yelled “Happy Pride!” to so many people in the crowd that my voice was a bit hoarse by the end. I adore Pride. I love seeing tens of thousands of people celebrating who they are and who they love, supporting their loved ones and our community, and showing the world that who we are is not “wrong,” despite what so many people (and governments) say.

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I love Pride, but that doesn’t mean I want to be touched by strangers without permission at Pride. Or any other time.

I know I am not alone in this. So many people have similar experiences. There is something about having a visible physical difference that makes people think they have a right to your body. It’s like when strangers touch a pregnant woman’s belly without asking. WTF?! Just because you can see that someone is pregnant or in a wheelchair, doesn’t mean you “get to be part of the experience.” It doesn’t work that way.

Part of it is also that people want the “poor woman in the wheelchair” (that’s the attitude, if not the conscious acknowledgment) to be included. Here’s the thing: including me means giving me control over my own body. It means accepting my wishes for my body. Touching me without permission is not including me. It is disrespectful and gross. You don’t do that to others, so don’t do it to me.

At the end of the day, one of the women who had pushed my wheelchair for part of the parade told me that she felt bad for me. She saw what was happening but didn’t know what she could do. No one high fived her, because she didn’t have a free hand – they were both on the wheelchair. Yet, strangers didn’t touch her. Think about that for a second.

Many people looked awkward in the moment. Their hand was up, and they had to do something so instead of putting it down or high fiving another person, they touched me. Did they later realize that was an odd thing to do? I hope so. At the very least, maybe they will read this (or one of the other things I have written about this incident) and think twice next time they are tempted to touch a person in a wheelchair without permission.

Because again, if you wouldn’t touch the person pushing my chair as she passed by, then you shouldn’t touch me, either.

Maybe next time we’ll talk about all of the photographers along the route who took my photo only because I was in a wheelchair. Not cool, folks.

By the way, I want to give a huge shout out to all of the awesome folks who made it possible for me to attend Pride! The local Council on Aging loaned me a wheel for free (many do, so check your town’s Council on Again if you need to borrow a wheelchair, cane, walker, commode, etc.) Several folks volunteered to push my wheelchair during the parade. At the last minute, someone volunteered to push my wheelchair around part of the festival that follows the parade (and thankfully I was able to walk and push it the rest of the time.) Someone volunteered to take the wheelchair out of my car and get it downtown with me. A stranger in the subway station helped me get the wheelchair onto the train. And stranger on the train offered to help me get the chair off the train and then put it in my car for me. I can’t lift the wheelchair into or out of my car and I can no longer walk as much as I would need to in order to march at Pride, so without these folks, I couldn’t have attended Pride. I was exhausted afterwards and spent 2 days at home recovering, but it was totally worth it. Some folks were weird, but many others were kickass, and it’s important to remember them!


How bureaucracy continues to screw with me for being disabled

May 31, 2017

Remember this post from a year and a half ago when I was told I was nearing the top of the waiting list for Section 8? Well, a year and a half later I found out they were just screwing with me.

The other day I was thinking about what I would do if I suddenly got Section 8. At this point, it would make a huge difference. I could stop trying to work, and stop feeling overwhelmed all the time. I could actually cover almost all of my expenses. I could focus more on my health. Good things, right?

The last time I asked about my Section 8 status I was given vague non-answers. A year and a half ago they said I was near the top of the list and I spent hours filling out paperwork, some of which they lost, and I had to redo. A few months later they had me do more paperwork with my financials for the latest year. And then I heard nothing.

I checked in a few times, but they didn’t tell me anything.

After thinking about how helpful it would be, I decided to try again. I recently moved, so I called the housing office in my new town. I learned a few important things:

  1. When I signed up the waiting list was 4-5 years long. Now they’re saying it’s 10 years long.
  2. Because I moved, I’m no longer going to get a voucher from my old town. I mean, it’s allowed, but it won’t happen. Every town gives priority to people who live and work in that town. So my new town will give me priority over others, but of course, a lot of people are ahead of me on that list.
  3. I have another 2-3 years to go. Maybe more.

The woman I spoke to was confused as to why I was brought in to fill out paperwork. She said I was far too low on the list for that. And that was yesterday. I was obviously much lower on the list a year and a half ago!

This means a few things to me:

  1. Filling out that paperwork was a waste of my time.
  2. Filling out that paperwork was a waste of the housing office staff’s time and therefore money. Certain politicians say that people like me are wasting taxpayer money. Nope, not me. Believe me, I’d have rather not done all that work for nothing! The office wasted the money.
  3. I have no chance of getting Section 8 any time soon so I have to continue to try and earn money myself.

This sucks. A lot. At a friend’s urging, I will contact my state rep, and maybe my U.S. rep, to see if they can find out what’s going on. The thing is, they might find out, but I doubt it will help me.

I was jerked around. I was given false hope. And there is no discernible reason for this other than incompetence.

I am so sick and tired of poor and/or disabled people being screwed with and disrespected. This has to STOP!


When even medical professionals don’t get it

March 30, 2017

There are the medical people I know in my personal life: a distant cousin, an aunt’s in-laws, friends of friends. Sometimes it’s just a random person I meet to hears about my health issues and lets me know they work in the medical field.

Some of these people are awesome: understanding, supportive, helpful. And some make me want to scream by thinking they can offer me advice. People I barely know, or maybe don’t know at all, tell me what I should do for my health. Or worse, they don’t understand that I really am sick.

But then there are the worse ones: the medical folks I see for my own treatments who Just. Don’t. Get it.

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Usually I walk away. If they don’t understand, then I don’t want to waste my time. But this latest one is a tougher situation.

It’s my physical therapist. For one thing, she means well but she’s scatter-brained. She asked me if I’d tried a particular yoga pose. I said no, I was told not to do yoga. She was surprised. I pointed out that she told me not to do yoga just a few weeks ago. Things like that. When I walk in, she has no recollection of what we did last time, even though I know she writes notes after every visit.

She also does a good job overall. And there’s no one else to see. It took years for me to find her! I searched for ages for someone to do this particular type of treatment (easy) that my insurance would cover (almost impossible.) One of my insurances covers her and she’s giving me a break on the other. I really appreciate that. She’s been so kind about it. And she does a good job.

But then she wants me to exercise more, to make sure I build up a good sweat. I try and explain how adrenal fatigue works, how that could be dangerous. She wants me to talk to my other doctors to make sure I’m really not supposed to be doing it. You know, in case we hadn’t already had this conversation 80 bazillion times. In case I misunderstood. In case I don’t know my own body! So frustrating!

And then yesterday she grabbed my wrist for the millionth time. I know this is just a typical maneuver. I know she does this automatically because she’s done it so many times before with countless other patients. But she’s a physical therapist and she needs to take each patient’s needs into account and I don’t know how many more times I can tell her not to do this before I completely lose my shit.

Because I’ve been clear. I’ve said it hurts. I’ve explained that I have a long history of pain there. I’ve said that it upsets me. Yesterday I calmly talked about it after the appointment. I explained the emotional trauma a bit. She tried to say there was no need to explain, but I figured hearing it might help her to fucking remember! 

I don’t usually swear on this site, even though I do in real life. Not a lot, but enough. I can hold back when I think it will offend people. Usually. But not today, because this is SO UPSETTING to me!

I have 25 years of pain in my wrists. It was my first symptom. But that’s not the reason it upsets me so much. No, it’s because of how I was treated. Doctors did horrible things to that wrist and to me. I had to start off my explanation by saying, “I don’t have PTSD but….” Because while it’s not PTSD, I do have a panic response. I told her that there is no one in this world I trust to touch my wrist, and that’s true. There are some people I trust to touch near it, and some don’t make me panic as much, but I don’t trust anyone. Not even my mother, my best friends, my past lovers. And certainly not medical professionals!

So we’ll see if she listens. If not, I might have to take more drastic action. But for now, we’ll see.

I try to be patient but she’s a medical professional. She should know better.


Stairs mean I’m not welcome – even if you disagree

March 28, 2017

Last night I went to an event and I arrived to find that the only parking was down the street, and the entrance had 3 stairs. Are you kidding me!?!

This is far from the first time, but I admit it was more surprising than usual. After all, this event was big on promoting inclusivity. Apparently that covers a lot of minority groups, but not those who are disabled. I was lucky I was able to do those stairs last night. Some days I can’t. And what about everyone else who can’t? They would have shown up, only to have to turn around and go home.

I remember going to my 10 year high school reunion and arriving to find a flight of stairs. I was pissed. I almost turned around and went home. I was in so much pain that I had almost stayed home in the first place, and now stairs! They were basically saying that no one who had developed health issues that limited their use of stairs was welcome, not to mention our classmate with cerebal palsy who was in a wheelchair all through our school years together. WTF, organizers?! I know she wasn’t in your “cool” circle but that doesn’t make her any less a part of our class!

I said something to the reunion organizers at the time. Now our 20 year reunion is coming up. I should probably say something again, just to be sure. Is this really so hard?

Last night I said something, too. The organizer immediately tried to point out a tiny back door that of course I hadn’t known existed. I told him, “If there’s no sign, it’s not accessible! If there’s no parking, it’s not accessible!” Because if someone can’t walk far, they can’t get from that parking lot to the building. And how is someone supposed to know to come around to the back door? Never mind not everyone can walk that far. And I’m not sure the path is wide enough and even enough for a wheelchair. And it’s not lit. So yeah, really not accessible.

And the truth is, there was a sign. There was a big, huge, blatant sign: “Disabled People Not Welcome!” That’s the sign I saw when I looked at those stairs.

Would you go to an event that had a sign saying “No Jews” like the signs my grandparents literally saw years ago? How about a sign saying “Whites Only” with a door for racial minorities around back? No? If those aren’t ok, then why does our society feel it’s ok to have figurative “Able-bodied Only” signs? They’re everywhere, and I’m completely fed up. THIS IS NOT OK!!!

The one bright spot was that at the end of the event, I mentioned something to the other participants. It was disheartening that they hadn’t noticed something, but at least their response was better than the organizer’s. They didn’t try to justify anything. Instead, they immediately started brainstorming where next month’s event could be held that would be accessible.

That made me happy. Then again, the bar has been set super low. We need to raise it, because no one should be able to get away with that attitude unchallenged.

How do you handle these kinds of situations? Please comment!


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.


Because I have chronic illnesses too

June 9, 2016

I have a problem setting boundaries. I know this, and I’m working on it, but it’s still a problem. The thing is, I like helping people, and that sometimes gets in the way.

Part of it is altruistic – I like seeing others benefit. Part of it is selfish: when I feel like there’s so much I can’t do in my life, it feels so good to do something that others find useful. But whatever the motivation, I have limitations, just like anyone else. I have limitations of time, ability, and energy. But on top of those, I also have limitations because of my health.

Lately this has come up a few times, and I’m handling it poorly. I know I could do better, but I’m not sure how.

We all have differently limitations and abilities, and that includes those of us in the chronic illness community. One person has more energy, another can climb stairs, another can walk more, another has greater cognitive function. It’s easy to forget that those abilities don’t preclude other limitations. I’ve been guilty of it myself. I see someone who walks a lot, and I forget that while they don’t have fatigue, they do have pain, for example. And now I’m on the receiving end of that.

I’ve been volunteering to help people in my chronic pain support group with a few things. I want to help, but I also have to be careful of my own limitations. I try hard not to commit to doing more than I can reasonably handle. The problem is, sometimes people ask for more. And that’s where the boundary issues come in.

Several times lately, people have assumed that I would do more than I had offered to do. I think they see me having certain abilities, and they forget about my limitations. Then when I say no, they ask why.

I offered to teach an informal class on using Facebook. There are so many great Facebook groups for people with all sorts of chronic illnesses, and I’d even set up a Facebook group for our support group. I knew a lot of people struggled with it, so offering a lesson seemed like a good idea. The problem was that several people said, “I can’t make it to that lesson, so when else can we meet?” I was stunned! I couldn’t give private lessons to everyone! Just that one class was exhausting. I didn’t leave the house for two days after that. But no one saw that part.

Finally I sent around an email saying that I’d be happy to give private lessons on a schedule that worked for me if people wanted to pay me. That ended most of the discussion, though one person still said she couldn’t afford to pay me but still wanted to meet because she needed help. I get that. I often need help that I can’t afford to pay for. So I don’t do it. I simply can’t help so many people. It’s not within my abilities.

I’ve been doing a lot of other tech support for the group. One person asked me to do some things and I finally said no, but that I’d be happy to show her how to do it. She asked why I couldn’t do it. I finally was direct: “Because I also have chronic illnesses and I don’t have the energy for it.” She said she’d find someone else to help.

I wasn’t trying to be rude or difficult or uncooperative. But I think people forget that doing seemingly easy things, like typing into a computer, can be downright exhausting for some of us. It can be painful for others. For some, it’s both. And just because I can do 10 things, doesn’t mean I can handle 11. Just because I can leave the house for 1 lesson doesn’t mean I can handle 5.

Many of my friends with chronic pain and chronic illness have visible illnesses. Mine isn’t visible unless you really look. You might notice a wince, a limp, or a stumble, but most of the time, I look just fine. So in some ways I understand why people forget and expect more of me.

Then again, when it’s someone with a chronic illness who asks me why I won’t do something extra, I just want to shout: BECAUSE I HAVE CHRONIC ILLNESSES TOO! JUST LIKE YOU!

Do you encounter this? How do you handle it? Please comment and let me know your experience!


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