Monday, December 19, 2011

How I came to learn I was disabled...

I am outraged by this article: A migraineur entrepreneur: yes, it can be done! This is another example of someone claiming disability and then setting an unrealistic goal of achievement, when by their own admission, they do not display the characteristics of a disability at all. It's the equivalent of saying Kate Moss is an average beauty, and all women can be her. This woman claims she couldn't work a full-time job but then goes on to say she managed 100-hour work weeks. Um... No.

I learned I was disabled when I went into a mandatory unemployment seminar. There, I was told by the leader of the session that if I'm not able and available to work from the hours of 9am until 6pm, I could not count that as a work day. That is, if I was sick in the morning and had to come in late, that would count against me. I went up to the leader and talked to him afterwards. I told him that I'd never been able to do that in my life. He said that I had been improperly collecting unemployment and I would have to pay that back to the state. He also suggested that I talk to VocRehab to see if there was any way to find a job that would work around my regular illnesses.

I went down the hall and I spoke with VocRehab. The lady there was very nice. She asked me, "Well, what can you do when you're sick?" I replied, "Sit in a dark room with no noise and pray for mercy? I get migraines." She pondered that a moment then asked, "When you're at your worst, can you look at a computer screen?" No. "Can you read a book?" No. "Can you answer the phone?" Sometimes. "Can you talk to someone in person?" Sometimes. "Are you in pain right now?" Yes. She looked at me blankly and said, "Yeah, we can't retrain you for any job that could handle that. You need to go talk to Social Security Disability."

I was shocked. I lived in Seattle at the time, and I was part of the IT industry. The culture there, thanks largely in part to Microsoft, was that 10am was a perfectly acceptable time to roll into work. My boss regularly didn't show up until noon. But it was also understood that we worked long hours and a speeds that put 3rd party companies we hired to shame. They had always been willing to work with me and work around my doctor and chiropractor visits, my need to end the work day early or start it late. As long as I put in my 40 hours, they didn't care. So I never knew. I never realized.

And then it all became moot as the migraines went daily. I had, sometimes, a small window of a few hours where I was not in pain. But mostly I was in pain, every day, all the time. Sometimes the pain would even invade my dreams and my sleep. It still does on occasion, like last night. My migraines are triggered by barometric pressure changes. Seattle was a terrible place for me to live. The constant rain six months out of the year was generated by low pressure systems sweeping in from Alaska. The barometric pressure was in constant flux, like a roller coaster: up one day, down the next. That roller coaster would manifest as a migraine.

At first, if I'm lucky, I'll get a visual effect: a little white dot, about the size a a pixel, starts to fly somewhere in my vision. It moves like a fly, but it's tiny, and bright white like it's made of light. In it's wake is a black tail. Then all the lights get brighter. All sounds get louder. It's as if someone is turning up the volume on the world. I can hear my cats walking on carpet and it sounds like children romping in piles of autumn leaves. The squishing of the carpet fibers make a crunching noise. With light, it's like when you walk from indoor lighting out into the afternoon sun on a snow day. The sudden light from the sky and the ground is too much for us. We squint. We recoil like a vampire. The day star is mighty. Headlights in the dark are like that to me. Throw on top of this mix the regular, base-line pain of the migraine... that pain is very much like your worst hangover headache. But add in there random spikes of pain that suddenly strike like an ax blow to the head. Thinking becomes near impossible in those moments. Parts of my language center will shut down so that it's difficult to remember even the simplest words. I'll have to say things like, "make the head hurtiness stop," because I can't recall the word "pain." Or I'll have to make new words like, "Where's the ca-chunka-chunka?" for, "Where's the stapler?" (because that's the noise a stapler makes). Oh, and I won't even go into the associated nausea & its consequences. Yuck.

Working? Not an option. Not even part time. I was offered a paying job with Wego Health to help manage their migraine community. They were fully aware of my migraine disease and were willing to work with me anyway. All I had to do was manage a small blog, log in to the system four hours a week. If I couldn't manage that some weeks, they would understand. I still had to bow out because I was just too unreliable at the time. Every day I was trying to make the pain stop or lessen in any way I could. That was the only thing that mattered. If I could get free of the pain, all things were possible. When I was in the pain, nothing was possible. Even with a prescription for oxycontin, I still had to go to the ER on average of once a month, because the pain got to more than I could deal with at home.

So when someone says: "In the very early days of my blog, I talked about how my headache specialist recommended I not work a full-time job right out of graduate school. My migraine episodes were frequent and severe enough that a 40 hour/week job was not for me---at least that’s what was suggested to me." And then goes on to say, "I spent the first few weeks of business working well over a hundred hours a week..." and, "I was in the shop from 9 until 9 every day..." I call foul. You have got to be effing kidding me. Do you not see what you even wrote??? Normal full time hours are only 40 per week. Not 9am to 9pm every day.

Unreal. And that this story would be promoted as a "you can do it too!" just breaks my heart. Something like that is difficult for the average person, let alone someone who really is debilitated from migraine disease. That they would set the bar that impossibly high from the word go and then claim that it was done by someone who was disabled? I'm only glad she was so boastful of her accomplishments! I would have been feeling pretty miserable if I thought I should have been able to do that too.

Real dreams and accomplishments are possible in disability, but not what this lady is talking about. When I am able to do the same, I will let you know how I got there. But in the meantime, caveat emptor---let the buyer beware. Not everyone out there is giving you the real deal. Whenever anyone tries to tell you, "you too can...", take a look at how they themselves did it and see if it's reasonable. Look at their actions, not their words.

My hair is on fire. I'm going to go put it out now.

Special thanks to Brigg Baldwin for editing.

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