Am I Disabled?

March 15, 2010

Someone asked me a question the other day, “Do you really think you’re disabled?”  This came in the context of my recent (and still pending) application to Social Security for permanent disability benefits.

Two things immediately came to mind.  One is, I certainly don’t want to be considered disabled.  And the second was, yeah, I think I am.

I understood immediately what my friend was getting at.  It’s true, at first glance, I may not fit the typical mold.  I don’t have a breathing machine, I’m not in a wheelchair, I don’t have terminal cancer or kidney disease or other visible illnesses.  I can walk and move around, and I’m able to handle most things okay.

I have never considered, and still have a lot of trouble wrapping my head around the idea of considering, myself to be “disabled.”  I’ve always just viewed my handicaps as a part of life.

You learn to live with yourself.  That’s a fact.

The big “but” comes now.  But, having lived with it for so long and dealing with it all my life, why am I disabled now?

I am profoundly hearing-impaired, one step above being declared deaf. Indeed, with my hearing aid removed, I live in silence.  I lost all the hearing in my left ear in 2003, resulting in a new-found, profound world of silence.  My right ear has steadily declined since then. Only a single hearing aid enables me to function.

I also have a seizure disorder, and have to take meds to keep it under control.  They are, in a phrase, mind-numbing.  Literally.  All seizure medications work by basically putting a blanket on brain activity, and not just seizure activity, but indeed, all activity.  Thinking, reasoning, problem-solving, all of these are affected.

A hearing-impaired person has no choice but to use additional input to understand.  As someone is speaking, I have to listen to the words, read their lips, evaluate the context of the words, study the body language and expressions, and so on.  This is very exhausting, and when one is medicated, it becomes very difficult to stay on top of it all.

After I had a seizure last year, I had to make major changes with my medications.  Going way up the dose brought my functional level way down.  It has become very difficult to be functional and alert for more than a couple of hours a day.

Reality set in.  By March of last year, I lost my job.  I won’t rehash my other blog post here, but I want  to sort out some of my thinking here.

I’ve never thought of myself as disabled.  I’ve always been a “pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps” sort of person.  It has not been easy to make the application for disability.  I fully expect to be denied, but even my lawyer thinks my chances are better than fifty-fifty.  That said, I don’t really want this.  But want has nothing to do with it.  I need it.  I find that working for any length of time creates serious exhaustion and functionality issues for me.  I have managed to find a small part-time job for the moment, but that is really all I can handle.  And that’s the crux of the matter.  I’ve lost my edge, my stamina and my drive.

I’ve lost my Git-R-Done.

No one wants to lose something vital.  Helen Keller once said, “Blindness cuts you off from objects. Deafness cuts you off from people.”  She was so right. It’s hard to maintain friendships sometimes, or make new friends.  Too many people don’t get it.  I’m deaf, okay?  I’m not ignoring you.  (Disclaimer, there are times I probably am ignoring certain people. Even I have standards!) Those who get it and make an effort to help me hear what’s going on are my true friends, the ones who make the effort to include me and speak up a little so I can understand.  If it’s too much effort, I understand, but I can’t help the way I am.  And if you can’t accept me the way I am and deal with it, then we don’t have a friendship.  So it goes with work as well.  If an employer can’t deal with my situation, I can’t do the job.  Fortunately, most of my employers have gone the extra mile to accommodate me. 

The deaf cannot learn to hear.

But now, even accommodations aren’t much help.  With the medications upsetting my brain’s ability to move quickly and multi-task, and my hearing being a runaway train on the track to deafness, I have crossed the line that separates the whole and healthy from the disabled. 

My family once had a get-together at Lake Norman. I had put on a few pounds in the 1980s, but slimmed back down. Also cut my long eighties hair to a buzz cut. Karen, my cousin, took one look and said, “Oh my, it’s Morris Lite!”

And I think that’s a remarkably apt description for me now. I’m still Morris. Just Morris Lite these days.

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