When They Tell You You’re Disabled . . .

When they tell you “You’re disabled”, it’s a hard word to hear. You may not even know what it means. Disabled from what? That was my first thought. What can’t I do any more? 

For one thing I was told I could no longer work. Until when? I loved my job. I was a reading specialist and enjoyed working with the children who were not learning to read as quickly or as well as expected. The children loved me too, and we enjoyed our classes together. At the time I was told I was disabled, I was over-loaded with students. The “norm” for Reading Intervention Teachers was around 35 children total, divided into eight daily groups. I had 48 children total and taught ten daily groups. Sometimes I wondered if I would have become disabled, if I hadn’t been over-worked? We had a new principal who came to the school at the beginning of the fourth semester. When I talked to her about how many children I had been assigned since she got there, and how it kept me from being as effective as I could be, she said with me having 48 children, it would show that she needed another Intervention Teacher next year. I guess now she needs two more Intervention teachers next year because they’ve told me I’m disabled. 

When I looked at the forms my doctor filled out, it said I could return to work in 2023. It is currently 2015. She put on the form 10/30/2023. Well, Happy Halloween. I may be in the cemetery by 2023. So what’s next, now that I’m disabled? Did it mean I was waiting to die?

I had disability insurance through an insurance company and filed for their benefits. I filled out forms for something called FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act). I had used up all of my sick days (and then some!) and had a few extended sick days to use. I was told they could ask my co-workers to donate a leave day they had earned, but not used, to me. I thanked the HR person who was helping me and asked her to ask them. I got enough days donated to carry me into the next school year, when my workdays should resume.

But they won’t resume. I am disabled. That thought bothered me a great deal. My mother had polio. She was disabled. I’ve always felt like I could do anything I tried to do. Now I can’t? For two months, until school ended in June, I sat around depressed and angry. I felt like they had told me my life was over and now let’s see how long before I die.

Once my co-workers were no longer working and some shared how their summers were going, I quit thinking where I should be and what I should be doing. No one was working.

I saw a podiatrist because part of my disability involves my feet and he told me twice that I was never, ever, returning to work. I mentioned how my co-workers all told me they hoped I felt better soon and could be back with them. He sat there tending to my feet and twice he stopped what he was doing and looked me in the eyes and said, “You’re not going back to work. You’re disabled. This condition may worsen, but it will never get any better.”

I came home and googled (again) my condition online. This time I looked for ways to repair the damaged nerves they said I had. Not much information for doing that. There was information about controlling the pain from the damaged nerves. The doctor had prescribed three strong pills a day. I’d take one, go to sleep, get up and eat, take another, go to sleep, get up and eat and this repeated all day long. I felt like I was in a fog and I wondered if the people in the cemetery felt more than I did? I told my son, who was living with me at the time, that I was going to stop those pain pills. He advised against it, so I was more determined to do so. I still have to take one or two on my “bad days”, but I’ve found that some days are better than others. I’ve also found that I have to take my time starting my day so that hands and feet wake up and I am steady enough to walk the dog or cook my breakfast.

My dog has been a life saver. She knows something is wrong with me. Heck, something is wrong with her! She’s 14 years old and has arthritis and together we totter around the yard while she relieves herself in the mornings. On good days, when I “get my feet under me”, I take her for short walks. We each have to stop from time to time, but it’s ok. We’re together, the sun is shining, and life is still good.

I am also trying to get other income to help me as I live in my disabled state. My son had planned to move out in May. He’d found an apartment. On Mother’s Day he said he was waiting until August and hoped I’d have some kind of income coming in and would feel more settled in my situation.

It is now July 4. I hired a man and his son to mow my yard and cut down the kudzu that had grown out back. My son had been working six days a week and was dead on his feet on his days off. I went out and tried to work in the yard and after 15 minutes’ yard work put me in bed for two days, I realized I can’t do yard work anymore, even though I always enjoyed it.

That’s what disabled means to me now. It means there are some things I have to accept that I can’t do any more. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing I can’t do . . . just some things. I will probably never cook a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal again. That makes me sad. I love to cook. I will never walk the dog around the block again, but hey, she can’t make it around the block either.

I’m seeing specialists and getting advice and help from doctors. I’m figuring out what disabled means. For me, it means I can no longer do certain things, but there are many things I can do. I can’t walk up and down every aisle in the grocery store shopping, but on good days, I can walk up and down about three or four of them. Sometimes I can’t sit still in the same chair too long. My son thinks I’m losing my attention span, but I just can’t sit still some days. If I don’t get up and move a little, I have pain and end up taking a pain pill.

So I’m learning (and thank GOD I’ve learned much already) what being disabled means for me. I’m focusing on the part of the word that is “abled” now.

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