Filing for disability put me in a depressive funk that left me exhausted, and the process of filing the paperwork literally took me weeks because I couldn’t work on it for more than ten to fifteen minutes at a time before I was physically unable to continue.
Filing for disability, in itself, was an emotional trauma, and I challenge anybody to say that it is easy or unemotional when you are the person applying.
The application process is when you are making the idea that you can’t work real.
You are literally putting down on paper what you are no longer physically or mentally able to do, and describing in painful detail your past accomplishments and why you can no longer operate on that level.
It is a visceral and painful experience and one which can strip you of your will to act, increase your depression(or risk of depression), and generally leaves you feeling like a shattered remnant of your former self.
There is no avoiding it.
Even if you are not personally writing your application(due to mental or physical inability to do so), that in and of itself is likely a loss, and you still need to tell the person helping you with the paperwork all of those painful details, and sign your name on an official legal document affirming that you are unable to take care of yourself and are dependent on others for your very survival.
There are a lot of discussions I have read about HOW to apply or Where to apply, so instead, I want to talk to you about the thought process behind the applications, how applying can affect your state of mind, and how you can make the best of the process.
My experiences: where I’m coming from
To begin with, I’m not trying to be discouraging or to tell you not to apply.
I have been supported by SSDI(social security disability insurance) for well over 15 years, and I know that my quality of life would be much worse if I were not on this program.
The disability programs(SSDI and SSI(supplemental security income)) provide a steady and reliable source of income.
The exact amount varies, but generally, SSDI coverage is based upon your work history(you are eligible if you have earned enough work credits through taxable employment), and SSI coverage is lower and based upon financial need and lack of resources.
Both programs supply insurance coverage(SSDI provides Medicare starting 29 months after your eligibility began, while SSI provides Medicaid coverage as soon as you qualify), and you can apply to both using the same form.
They will make the determination if you are eligible based on the information you provide and give them access to.
Applying for disability is a forced intimate experience
Most activities of daily living are things that we expect children to do on a regular basis.
If you need toileting assistance, for example, you are admitting to having less control than a three-year-old in that aspect of your life.
Most kids could make themselves a sandwich if needed, or boil water or count change, or use a microwave.
For many of us dealing with disabling conditions, simple acts like this might be impossible without assistance.
When applying, you often need to not only admit to problems like these but describe, in detail, why you can’t do these things.
It’s not easy or comfortable.
Anything we leave out, or are vague about, is assumed to be something we CAN do, and can be a mark against us as we try to prove that we are “too disabled” to work.
On the other hand, writing anything untrue might be interpreted by the government as committing fraud, which has serious legal repercussions.
The system is broken
These programs are designed as safety nets, which is appropriate, but the way that the whole process is handled doesn’t feel that way.
The employees at social services are more gatekeepers than helpers.
You are assumed abled until you can prove otherwise.
The questions they ask dig into exactly what you are and are not capable of, and there are almost no ‘guarenteed ins’ – no one thing you can say on the application that guarantees that you are eligible, but if you say one thing that might imply that you aren’t ‘disabled enough’ that can be enough for them to refuse to support you.
The application process itself is very demoralizing.
You need to write about your worst days and describe, in detail, all the things that you can’t do, and, to some extent, justify why you can’t do that thing.
It’s about actively arguing that you can’t take care of yourself, which is pretty upsetting, to say the least.
It also has you focus deeply on the negatives and be very descriptive of them.
Focusing on these failures and weak points leaves you feeling more vulnerable, and isn’t exactly good for your self-esteem either.
You need to write this convincingly and in the darkest possible light to have the best chance of getting the support you need.
By doing so, you are also reinforcing those negative beliefs to yourself, leaving you more open to feelings of failure, depression, and anger.
This is a very negative frame of mind and one you are likely already struggling with due to the injury or illness that led you to need to apply in the first place!
Once you apply, you generally shouldn’t work, so you are unable to legitimately earn an income, or you will likely be denied benefits.
The SSDI process takes so long at this point that not hearing much of anything for over a year is commonplace, and apparently, things are so backlogged that even once a decision is made there can be up to six months between the decision and receiving your first check.
That first check is likely to be pretty decent, as it is back pay from the moment they believe your disability began, but the promise of a check doesn’t put food on the table, and landlords will only wait so long to get paid.
It’s a very challenging position and one that is likely to lead to you needing to liquidate assets you might have.
You need to make yourself sound so pathetic that you definitely will get the support you need, without lying in any way, and they are unlikely to believe what you tell them unless a doctor agrees.
You need medical backing for everything possible
You also need to share with social security every single doctor you have seen since your injury or illness and give them full access to your medical history.
You need your doctors to agree you are disabled and share their information in such a way that it’s convincing.
If your doctor’s office doesn’t respond, you get a letter from SSDI asking you to remind your doctor to get their job done.
It’s a lot of work, and it’s all on you.
The threat hangs over you that if you don’t get that information in soon enough, or you can’t get your doctor to do their job either, they might decide you aren’t so disabled after all.
Just seeing a doctor can be quite a struggle, especially when you’re struggling financially and may have lost your employer-based insurance.
In order for social security to believe you, seeing medical practitioners has to be a top priority.
You need to be organized and planful enough to get all that information gathered, reported, and into them, but still convince them that you can’t take care of yourself!
It’s a lot of stress and pressure, when you are at a very weak and vulnerable point in your life. What can you do about it?
You can’t change the process right now, but RIGHT NOW you need help, and RIGHT NOW you need to follow the rules and cross t’s and dot your i’s and give them the information that they need.
Your job: Get that application in!
To help yourself, recognize that getting your coverage from Social Security IS your job now.
It’s your top priority and everything you do should in some way help you with the process(for example you make your meals so you can recharge your energy to go back to work on your application).
You should eventually get paid for your effort and the sooner it’s completed, the sooner you’ll get that support(even though it all feels like it will take forever, and it can take years).
While doing this job, you need to emotionally protect yourself. Do everything in your power to keep yourself upbeat before and after you work on your application.
The actual ‘see how pathetic I am’ work can often be done in one or two sittings each round of paperwork, so plan out some time specifically for that purpose – if possible near the end of your time preparing your application, so you’re more familiar with the writing and how to respond.
Step By Step Advice for filing your disability application(coming soon)
Conclusion: filing for disability is emotionally tough
The process of applying for disability benefits from the federal government is painful and detailed. You need to be able to gather a lot of information about yourself and share it with the decision-makers.
You need to be honest and detailed while giving yourself the best possible chance of getting your benefits.
Focus your writing on what your bad days are like, so they understand how rough it is.
When they are evaluating what you can and can do, assume they are asking what you can and can’t do on a bad day.
If you do mention anything you can only do on a good day, note down that down as something that you can only do then(good days only!!).
Have as much of your work history and medical history gathered up ahead of time to help you fill out the paperwork, and be prepared for additional requests.
This is an emotionally laden process, and one that will likely leave you feeling vulnerable, and could easily lead to you feeling depressed, victimized, or angry.
You need to acknowledge those feelings, and then focus on getting this job done.
As you work on it, go easy on yourself, and remember that what you are sharing is the truth, but you are more than your condition.
After you finish sharing this assessment, it is perfectly normal to be extra vulnerable and aware of your loss, and totally appropriate to grieve over the loss of who you were.
Try your best to not get stuck in that state of mind, because you deserve as much happiness as you can get!
Reward yourself for completing your work, because you deserve it!
Once it’s done, it is a waiting game, so do your best to focus on yourself and your healing after you have done your part towards getting the support you need!