I have, by now, completely lost track of how many times I have gone on and off disability over the last five or six years. I think it has to at least be four times, possibly more, thinking that I have my condition under control, longing for the security of a job, the social element of meeting different people, and getting out of the fucking house.
Each time I do, I walk in feeling a bit sorry for myself. I’m different. I’m damned different. Sometimes, my busted body allows me to walk in such a way that you might not realize how much pain I’m still in. The limp-drag of my left leg, or the groan every time I get up might tip you off though. The weakness of my head fighting my condition unable to fully comprehend the cost of not making it through another course of employment.
To be sure, the advantage of collecting some money while being able to nurse my health, to whatever extent I am permitted, is wonderful. However, there’s no chance of a promotion, no chance at a career, no chance of vacation…and you’re forever watching your bank account, drifting deeper into debt each time an emergency arises, and the whole idea of continuing becomes brutally tough.
I haven’t, though, spent all of my time off of work staring at the wall or the TV. Gods know I have written a shit-ton, not all of it good, but it restores to me a kind of routine, a chance at being part of a community. Meeting people virtually has been something of a saving grace. At least, so far I’ve avoided any trips to the psych ward.
Glad as I am not to create additional burdens for the health care system, to be out of work so regularly is not exactly a recipe for one to brim with self-confidence, as if dealing with perpetual health crises wasn’t stressful and depression-inducing enough.
But every time I do go back to work, the realization that there are so many of us out there, struggling through bizarre conditions like mine or worse, hits me upside the head. It’s so easy to feel sorry for yourself, to behave as though isolation and pure difference are the only two things you get really expect out of existence, that when you become cognizant of how many others are out there stepping through the doors to work, to battle the ravages of time an disease, you begin to feel a little different. Last time I read a paper on the subject, I believe there are an estimated 49 million Americans living with a disability. I’m sure the proportion of the population is similar in Canada, and all over the world.
While it wouldn’t be true to say that this fact alone makes the challenge of getting up to go becomes easier, it does help with the feeling sorry for oneself. We’re social creatures. However well some of us do with silence, or a total avoidance of the human animal, we want that connection. We want work and nations and religions. We want to feel caught up in something bigger than ourselves, something that can help us begin to articulate the meaning we’d like to assign our actions, the hope for something, legacy, perhaps, others can look at and admire when we’re finally done.
Courage, my friends. No matter how bad you feel, don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re alone.
J.D. Harms 2021