Okay...I said I would be dealing with a topic that was a little more serious, and I've been struggling with how to approach it. Essentially it comes down to truth and honesty, those two little words that mean so much...and are often crossed. How far they are crossed depends on the situation...I mean, let's be honest with ourselves. We've all told our share of little white lies; we've all had those moments where we have tried to excuse our actions and our behavior, or attempted to explain the actions of others--it's human nature. I've had those moments as well--I'm no saint. To recognize these moments and try to admit to your failings rather than excuse them doesn't make you a saint...though it means that you are taking more responsibility for yourself, and growing as a person.
But what about the more serious issues that stretch beyond the little white lies? As truth and honesty are personal things to each individual, so is the distance you are willing to cross when you start to move away from them. This was one of the thoughts that was running through my head as I sat in the Social Security Disability office with my father a few weeks ago. The reason we went was to pick up a form that SSD had not mailed to me, so I could complete my 2010 taxes. It's never a fun experience to go there, and something I try to avoid if at all possible...it often requires a lot of sitting, a lot of waiting, and a lot of patience. Though I had exhausted all my other options, such as attempting to get the form on-line...which wouldn't work. I spent quite a bit of time using their automated phone system to have the form mailed to me, and that just wasn't happening either...so that meant a trip to downtown Troy! Luckily it was a quick trip, and we didn't have to sit and wait for very long. And my father went with me, which was very generous of him...I would have gotten lost otherwise!
So there we were, long enough for me to notice something quite troubling...as we were waiting to be called, our number clutched in my hand, I glanced around at the other people in the room. And it struck me at that moment--I was the only person there who had a disability you could actually SEE. Not one other person in that room had braces, or a cane, or a walker...no prosthetic limbs, no adaptive equipment that I could find. This WAS the Social Security Disability office we were sitting in, right? Now, I am not claiming to know the story of every other person in that room...and it wouldn't be fair of me to say that I did. There are disabilities that can be quite debilitating such as mental issues or heart conditions...and those are the issues you can't always see. Some of those people might have had such issues going on in their lives, which qualified them for SSD and/or SSI (Social Security Income.) I can believe that...though ALL of them? There were about 20 other people there of all ages, waiting their turn. It just strikes me as funny that an office dedicated to running government programs such as these, would have at least a FEW people with more visible physical struggles, sitting in the waiting room...this is by no means the first time this experience has happened; in fact, I can't remember a trip to this office that was any different. And I find that very odd. Something about it sits a little funny in my stomach...and as I maneuver my way through this life, it often feels like the disabled population is not fairly represented. I guess I expected things to be different in the Social Security DISABILITY office.
Should this bother me so much? Maybe not...it's possible I'm getting more upset than I need to be. Though I can't help how I feel...it DOES bother me to think that some of the people in that waiting room might not have had a valid reason for being there. I know it shouldn't even concern me that there are people out there who abuse the system, and collect disability payments and other forms of assistance when they don't truly need them. It's dishonest, and it's wrong, but as long as I know what my own truth is and I'm responsible for my own actions, it shouldn't matter what other people do, right? Do I know that any of those people waiting in that cramped little room fit into that category? Of course not...but I know people like that exist. I learned that the hard way, when I fought to win my own SSD...and it was and still is a hard pill for me to swallow. My lawyer was very blunt about the process when I began that battle, that I was in for a long fight...and no matter how valid my claim, I would most likely be denied and have to wait for an appeal. And he was right. It was an embarrassing and humiliating experience, as I sat in a room in front of a microphone, facing four people I had never met...and having to talk to these strangers about all the physical things I could no longer do (and even the things I could NEVER do). I had to admit that even though I had worked my BUTT off for seven years within the school system, for the next two years (at least,) I couldn't physically work at all...per doctor's orders. I felt like a schmuck! And I knew the probability of getting that denial was a big one, and I was petrified...I had lost the occupation I had put 15 years into (college and teaching,) in the short span of about 30 seconds, just long enough for my back injury to occur. And my future was very frightening! I was determined to be the person who walked out of that hearing with these strangers' acceptance...surely they would see that I wasn't faking? I wore braces to walk, for goodness sake! At one point I even offered to take them off and try to walk around the room without them...I was THAT desperate. And they were not impressed.
It took me a lot of years to accept that my SSD hearing really had nothing to do with me. These four people had made their decision before I ever walked into the room...what I said or did really didn't matter. I remember asking my lawyer that often unanswered question, "Why??" when I ultimately received that denial in the mail...and I almost wish he didn't give me an answer--because sometimes there are just things I wish I didn't know. What I was told was this: the process is such a difficult one because of all of the people who take advantage of it...people who truly aren't disabled, physically or otherwise, yet walk away with money in their pockets they shouldn't have been given. How are they able to do this? I have no idea...my best guess is that for them, that line of truth and honesty is blurred. And I can only imagine if the line is blurry, maybe it becomes easier to cross...and convince others of your right to cross it. The sad result is that people who truly need and qualify for these programs, who have come to that scary point of desperation I found myself in so many years ago, have to fight even harder to get them. My own battle to win SSD, as I have mentioned before, took 2 1/2 years. I know other people have faced longer, more difficult fights...I also know that many people in that situation give up before the battle is won, because they just don't have the energy to fight anymore. That is another point of fact my lawyer explained to me...and that I think was the most upsetting of all.
If the actions of others are not my concern; if everyone can only be responsible for themselves and make their own decisions about where the lines are drawn, and when and where it's okay to cross them, then how does the problem get fixed? If this is a noticeable issue to myself and others I have discussed this with, then the problem is obviously not being dealt with the way it needs to be. I continue to hold onto hope...hope that someday the system will work properly; that people who qualify for assistive government programs will get the help they need. And not only will they qualify, but will not have to suffer through exhausting, lengthy battles in order to receive the help. This hope stretches to all people, whether they are disabled (physically and/or mentally), dealing with financial stress, educationally challenged...the list goes on. For we all face struggles in our lives, and in one time or another we may need a helping hand. For now, for me at least, it's a problem I can no longer ignore...I have to continue to question such things when I see them, and talk to others about these issues through word of mouth, and writing this blog. Because that is part of my truth...and I can only hope that it's enough.