Some of you may remember me talking about my disability application in The Longest Road back in 2014. At that time I had filed, been denied and was in the process of asking for a reconsideration.
Of course I was denied after the reconsideration and then moved on to an appeal. While waiting for the appeal to be processed I’ve had a few more surgeries, CT Scans and MRI’s and picked up two more diagnoses as well.
In between doctor appointments and life I met with a disability lawyer who was very up front with me about my case; I’m different than the common cases that come through the courts which is intriguing and with my medical history as expansive as it is I stand a good shot of being approved. The bad news is I don’t really look like the normal case either.
During this meeting I was wearing slouchy lounge pants, a tank top and knit sweater, my hair was washed and styled and I had makeup on. He told me that it was obvious I took care of myself, but that I would need to tone it down for court. He said “you have beautiful hair, I’m not saying you should cut it, but maybe don’t wash it that day and put it up if you can.”
I was a little confused but agreed to his request. He then looked me over and said “whatever you would look like on your worst day, that’s how you need to come to court.”
At the time I was so excited that someone actually believed in my fight that I was on board with whatever he was asking me to do. But things have changed and I’m feeling extremely conflicted.
I understand where my lawyer is coming from, I hear it all the time; “You’re too young to have three kids.” “You look so young, you can’t be 33.” “Are you 18?” “You’re too young to be dealing with these medical problems.” “You don’t look sick.” To be honest, I take pride in that last one.
I would say 8 out of 10 horrible pain days I still get dressed, do my hair and makeup and walk and talk like a functioning, “normal” person. I run errands, make dinner, go out with friends, etc. It takes a pretty fucking awful day to keep me in bed, or even just in the house. So when this guy is telling me to show up to court looking like I would on my worst day I’m not sure he knows what he is asking for.
I suppose I could just go along with his plan and not wash my hair for a few extra days, and sport my PINK sweats and a t shirt for my hearing. But beyond the fact that that is not how I would ever walk into a court room, it comes down to principle for me.
I shouldn’t have to look any certain way for this judge to believe me. My medical history speaks for itself. You guys know the list by now: eight surgeries, four procedures, 37 medications, physical therapy, regular therapy, lifestyle adjustment, diet changes, blah, blah, blah. I don’t need to look sick or as if I have pain 24/7 because I am in pain 24/7.
Should a judge not understand that? Shouldn’t this person, as an extremely educated, non-bias party representing our legal system be able to look at this extremely thick stack of evidence showing I meet all of the criteria for what the government says is disabled and make the appropriate decision without me putting on a show?
Apparently the answer to this question is “that would be nice, but that’s not how it works.” So while my medical history is completely telling of my situation, and the criteria has all been met, I will still most likely be denied because I do not “look sick.”
So now I need to make a decision.
Who am I going to be when I walk into that court room on September 20th? Am I going to stay true to who I am, and ask the judge to make a decision based on my file, not my face? Or am I going to go with what my lawyer insists is the best way to win this fight and “look the part”?
If I don’t take my legal council’s advice I run a strong chance of losing this case for good which would be unfortunate since I earned those work credits fairly and deserve the money that they award me. It’s the only way I have left to contribute financially to my household and it’s the least I can do to take some of the burden off of my husband.
If I do follow his advice I may win, but I still may lose based on my age alone, and I continue to perpetuate the idea that in order to be sick you must look the way society says you should.
This is a pretty heavy decision for me because both sides matter. Of course I want to help support my family, of course I want to bring that money in as long as social security is still standing. More than that though, I feel the need to add to the bigger picture. That you don’t need to look a certain way to be deserving of compassion and assistance.
It’s my job to make it easier for the woman who walks this road behind me to get help, find treatment and yes, collect disability. If I grunge myself up to win this case I feel like I’m losing in the long run.
What do I do?