Living and Working with Disability

During this past year, I sought out and was granted a disability accommodation at my job. My work is about to start back up after a natural break and I am filled with constant dread. I’ve searched for years for an alternative to working where I do and I’ve concluded that my disability (primarily PTSD but other issues as well) is so severe that I may need to seek permanent disability status. If I knew that I would be granted this if I sought it and that it wouldn’t be taken away from me, I would have applied for it yesterday. That’s how difficult it is for me to make it through each day at my job.

I am about a decade and a half from the earliest at which I could potentially retire with some benefits. I cannot imagine how I can possibly get through this as I feel that I’ve been running on fumes for the past three to four years and am about to coast to a full stop. The triggers that are present at my job are constant and intense and, as such, they overwhelm my capacity to cope. I’ve had time off and have done nothing but worry about what is to come in the next year; even away from it, my job consumes nearly all of my mental and emotional energy. Coming out as trans and non-binary has only escalated the situation and increased the likelihood of triggering situations.

I feel less stuck now that I’ve come to accept the reality that there isn’t another type of job that would alleviate my symptoms. I both can’t do my job and I’m choosing to do my job for right now as I weigh the pros and cons of applying for disability. I do not feel any shame about getting to this place, but it is bewildering to think back to my early 20’s where I never would have imagined I would be at this place (in fairness, I was frequently suicidal so I often saw no future at all for myself during that time).

I’ve told people again and again that getting up each day and taking care of food and shelter has felt as though it has taken everything I have in me, but I didn’t actually hear what I was saying because I couldn’t imagine a world where I wasn’t forced into an impossibly stressful and overwhelming experience every workday. I’ve significantly reduced my commitment at my job to the bare minimum of full-time work; in doing so, I’ve given up tens of thousands in income every year. This change has helped but, when a person is running on fumes, pushing with less intensity on the gas pedal still uses up whatever fuel remains.

I would be extremely grateful to read about your experiences if you’ve been on disability or thought about pursuing it. There are so many stereotypes and judgments about “not working” and I’ve definitely fallen for them myself for far too long. It took a lot for me to apply for disability accommodations and I regret not going down that path earlier, so I want to keep an open mind about my options now as well.

A Brief Update

I’ve been absent from writing here for a few months. At first, I was overwhelmed with work and then, more recently, I’ve felt stuck every time I try to write. I know how healing this process has been in the past for me, so I want to at least post here and there even it is to say that I don’t know what to say.

I am struggling on a daily basis with feelings of judgment. I feel so angry at others for not doing their part in facing what we are dealing with as a country and as part of the human race. My rage shields me from the helplessness of the moment in which we are living (at least in the U.S.). I cannot control so much of the systems that are failing the most vulnerable at every turn.

I’m someone who can’t shut off from reality for very long because I fear losing myself back into a state of denial as I did in regards to the abuse I endured as a child. Oppression and the genocide of indifference sit with me. I feel called to hold vigil for all whom we are losing and who have been lost. I want to hold space for the collective suffering that is upon us. Only then will my rage be transformed into whatever grace finds me.

Air after Rainstorm

I have been posting less frequently as of late. I thought I would be entering a time of rest and relaxation and have instead learned that I will likely have to begin a lengthy period of intense focus and large amounts of unpaid labor related to my job. I’ve gone through pretty much all of the stages of grief in relation to this. I was at first furious and then depressed that my plans had been dashed; I’ve now adjusted to the news as best I can and finding glimpses of gratitude.

In the context of this time of transition, the weather where I live has been equally unpredictable and out of sync with what it would normally be for this time of year. Today, though, we’re getting late-spring heavy rain. I went outside during a break in the downpours and was blessed by the intense earthy and floral perfume that seemed suspended in the saturated air. I have a pine tree and I noticed drops of water clinging to the end of each needle–the moment before, now and after co-existing in the surface tension.

The most joyous part of my meditation was the birdsong. It was bursting from trees in every direction and I felt that I’d stumbled into the middle of a sing-off between rival bird groups. For once, there was more non-human than human noise where I live and I relished the moment. How is nature showing up for you today?

It’s Not Normal and It’s Not New

I hate the phrase “the new normal.” Implied in it is an expectation of psychological adjustment, without any of the requisite grief and mourning that adjustment will require for many. For some, their life narrative may have a framing of “life before COVID” and “life after COVID;” for others, this may not be the most significant shift in their story. Although the event is universal, the impact is unevenly distributed. I think it reeks of privilege and a shallowness of one’s capacity to feel to assume everyone, including people who are being disproportionally affected, should instantly absorb earth-shattering change and move on having potentially redefined nearly every aspect of their life as though nothing happened.

As a trauma survivor, the framing of the “new normal” is all too familiar. We have mantras like “forgive and forget” in our society as a way to absolve the bystanders of a need for collective grief when any one of us is harmed. This moment and the moments to follow deserve a witness. They deserve a deep grief, if not for our personal pain, for our collective suffering. I think we vary in terms of how much of this we can individually bear, but to mock and label cowardly those who do so on behalf of us all reveals much about one’s character. I hope life grants you the space and support to feel what you feel and to adjust to what is unfolding in your way and your own time.

Little Losses, Big Complaints

Can I get a refund on today? I’m sure almost everyone has had one of these days, where negativity and frustration seem to be waiting around every corner. I won’t bore you with my list of “all the things that went wrong out of nowhere” but it is growing by the minute. I’m searching for grace and it seems to be as elusive as ever, although I’m noticing that my body isn’t physically reacting as intensely as it normally would be by this level of ridiculousness.

I feel like complaining to someone and then I find myself swinging internally to a feeling of guilt for not being more grateful for the blessings I do have. The phrase “in the grand scheme of things…” feels like a necessary preface to everything that isn’t 100% positivity during the international crisis we are facing. I find myself judging others as harshly as I judge myself in this regard, having little empathy for those who are complaining about the celebrations they don’t get to have while others are forced to endure the lose of the opportunity to properly mourn their dead. How do we hold our own disappointment and give it the space it deserves without conflating it with trauma and grief? Can something one person might consider a mere disappointment be a real loss to another? (The answer’s yes, I just needed to write it out to see the truth). Is it alright to complain about a bad day when others are suffering more severely? (Yes, but how?).

I’ve found myself biting my tongue when people post “woe is me” style about minor inconveniences, at times wanting to insert a “check your privilege” in response. I don’t know that asking permission before complaining always sets things right, but it feels like one measure that can reduce an “I’m suffering–get over yourself” exchange. I also find tapping into the emotions that a situation is causing to be a way to connect. “I’m sad/angry/anxious because I no longer get to…” is slightly less obnoxious than “Can you believe I don’t even get to..!”

As I sit with my own anxieties and disappointments of the day, what brings things home for me is distilling the situations I’m facing down to the core fear they provoke–being rejected, being impoverished, going hungry (I’m pretty sure you would roll your eyes HARD if I shared the situations that are leading to these base fears). If I get to the heart of why something sets me off, it is easier to feel sympathy for myself for being upset by it, even if the connection to the fear is irrational. Complaints and “complainers” often give away more than intended. Listen hard enough and you might hear the child-level reaction the person is hiding through their blustering.

I think there is a lot to unpack on this topic and I will need to take more time with it to get there. If you’ve felt grumpy and then subsequently guilty for feeling grumpy, know that you aren’t alone and that it doesn’t mean you don’t care about others who are suffering. Unchecked rage at a small slight is one thing, complicated agony at life’s grind is another. In the grand scheme of things, my life is alright today. On a truth level, I’ve had a shit day that’s stirred up a lot of anxiety and feelings of inadequacy, and it’s okay to acknowledge that too.

Home-Grown Herbs and Pasta (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

I enjoyed a homemade beef, soybean and veggie pasta for lunch today. My dish also included a variety of snipped herbs that I’ve been growing, as well as artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, crushed tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, honey and abundant amounts of olive oil. The pasta is a whole wheat rigatoni; the tubes were perfect for holding all the sauce.

Part of my inspiration for this dish was Gaby’s sandwich on the latest Bon Appetit video. She included lemon juice and vinegar, but I realized the tomatoes I added brought the acidic brightness the dish needed. I also added capers which I feel often take any dish I’m making to another level of sophistication.

Soybeans are an unusual inclusion in this type of dish, but I’d never cooked them before and wanted to see how they would taste. I actually loved having them in the dish, as their texture was almost like that of a cooked peanut (more snap than the mush of a typical bean) and they complimented the pasta without altering the flavor. I can tell I haven’t been getting enough protein lately so I’m trying to find ingredients that boost my intake.

All in all, this dish was hearty and I felt proud that something I grew actually made it onto my plate. I have been avoiding grocery stores and getting items delivered, so I worry that my food is going to become boring or lack creativity because I can’t grab special ingredients the day of cooking, but I felt pleased with how it turned out. What’s your latest culinary creation and what inspired it?

Rising to Morning Dew (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

This week I’ve awoken and walked outside into springtime. There are dandelions running riot over my lawn and the air is warm and humid. A favorite moment in greeting each day has been to witness the dew clinging to the blades of grass as the day begins. It rained last night so everything was permeated with hydration and the promise of sunlight; together, they form live-giving and sustaining necessities. It’s been the type of memory that I want to imprint on my soul, a brief moment where the season feels encapsulated in a dewdrop. What sensory memory speaks “springtime” to your heart?

Grumpy Self, Wise Mind (Today’s Daily Presence)

I’m feeling highly irritable today. My thinking mind wants to attribute what I’m feeling to the extremes of injustice and ineptitude to which I’m bearing witness every day in how my country is handling the pandemic. As I sit with how I’m feeling for a longer period of time, my body mind–the part of me that is aware of my physical state and rhythm–is conscious of signs that there are shifts in my hormone levels and how much my emotions tend to swing as a result. In my inner wisdom, I’m noticing how much I focus on analyzing the cause of my emotions as well as how to regulate them (mostly, how to turn them off).

What would happen if I let them be without intervention? Thinking mind worries that I would become consumed by them. Body mind feels like I might collapse under the weight of them. My wisdom instructs me that they would pass; they are ephemeral no matter how granite-like I perceive them to be. It is rare that I grant myself even this small clearing to acknowledge and give voice to what I’m feeling, much less to try less rather than more to do something about it. It feels like grace. What is your thinking mind focused on today? Your body mind? Your inner wisdom?

Relaxing Rhythms (Today’s Moment of Gratitude)

Today I am grateful that I have nothing to do and nowhere to be. Days like this can sometimes depress me, but today I’m feeling cozy and calm as I relax. The shift in everyday life in the pandemic has strongly impressed on me how much internal variation I have in mood, desire for socialization, body rhythms and pace. I am most stressed when there is a mismatch between what my body and mind need and what life requires of me. Everything is lining up for a day of lounging around and I am here for it. What’s your setting today? How well are your internal and external worlds lining up?

A Chew Toy A Day (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

Because I’m spending all my time at home, my dog has relaxed into a routine of playing with his toys more frequently in the afternoon than he previously did. He will chase a ball briefly and loves to “kill” certain toys. I purchased two new ones for him and they were delivered today. Before I could even remove the tags, he stole a small fox plush with a squeaker and ran off in delight. He has been playing with it for hours now and is semi-seriously guarding it when I get near. The joy and excitement it has brought him is making me smile from ear to ear and was well worth the money spent. I also bought him a small bull plush toy and he is loving gnawing on its ears. It was hard to judge the size and feel of each toy through a computer screen, so I’m pleasantly surprised at how well they have been received. If you have a pet, what is its favorite toy?