When I saw at the end of this film, part four, before the depressing note that stated all that Indian law might not permit Reshma to do in her life, how she was making a living by painting, all I could think was, WOW! Go for it! At the very least, she is not being held back by the strictures of disability law and Medicare and Medicaid earning limits, or being forced into a permanent sick role because of same, simply in order to have a roof over her head and food to eat. No, she was lucky enough to have a family that both really and truly took care of her in her worst moments and fought for her in the best sense of the word, and also one that let her go when she needed to fly free. Most of us are not so lucky…alas. I think the support that she got all through her illness played an enormous role in her recovery, frankly. And I dunno how many of us get that sort of community or family support, but I wager that it is not many. I certainly did not. I wish I had, but it was very much to the contrary. Instead of support, I was abandoned entirely, both financially and emotionally. Left high and dry, to such an extent that people who met my parents after the break, never knew I existed, not for thirty-five to forty years. Some are only just learning of my existence now, as they meet me when I visit my mother. They didn’t even know or understand that all along Lynnie had a twin!
But I do not wish to dwell on that, except to say that things did not have to be as they were. And we do not have to live as second class rejects in society, except insofar as we accept that role. And take it on, along with the disability status and payments that we are told we should apply for at the first psychotic break. I disagree. If a person has a work history (and history is the single best predictor of the future, if anything can predict it) and has shown that he or she can hold a job, then why after a psychotic break should they be told they will never work again and that they should apply for social security disability? Disability signifies Permanent and total disability, that’s what it is for. You are not supposed to get better, and it’s meant to be “for good.” No, it is not impossible to get off SSDI and you can in fact earn your way off it. But how many people do? Not a single person I know who ever obtained SSDI payments ever got off it or ever even tried to do so. The best they did was earn just below the legal limits of what one can earn before they start counting against your disabled status. Which is to say, they worked, yes, but only a little, and only to the extent that it never threatened their standing as a disabled person.
What a crappy system. Someone a few months back when I was in the hospital asked me why I was so angry at the System, and why I counseled anyone under 50 not to go for disability…and this is why. Because it paralyzes a person into doing nothing with his or her life, it keeps them mired in permanent poverty, and it encourages lethargy and breeds depression and recurrent illness. I believe it does NOBODY any good. Frankly. True enough, I cannot say that I am not grateful as hell that I have had a monthly income for all my adult life, as I have never been able to work an 8-hour day regular job. But if, instead, there had been creative rehab or job counseling and creating, maybe someone would have discovered my artistic abilities earlier in my life and got me going, and using them earlier in a more productive and income-earning capacity.
I was never, and never claimed to be, unable to do anything at all. I simply could not follow a routine of any kind or go into an office or workplace from 9-5pm. Since that made me unemployable in their lights, I was “disabled” and put on the SSI and SSDI rolls. But in truth, while it guaranteed me an income, it also sidelined me for life, because I didn’t have to do anything to survive or even to get ahead. And in fact I was not allowed to get ahead or I would have lost the very disabled status that I now needed simply to qualify for housing and food. It was a terrible catch 22 situation that only perpetuated itself once I was caught in it. I could never get out of it once I accepted the first check…
And it only got worse when I moved into the cushiness of subsidized housing. Now, not only can I not move (it is HUD housing not Section 8 so it isn’t even portable) but I am “used” to a piddling rent of 1/3 of my piddling income. I have stopped knowing how to scrimp and save and live on pennies a day…because I do not have to. Everything is guaranteed here. Everything is safe. But I am suffocating, because I have no life, and no prospects for any change or growth or movement because at age 60 my life is at an end…I will live and die in these measly 2 rooms, living on SSDI and SSI, earning nothing, doing art and storing it away for nothing and no one…What good is that?
That, my friend who wanted to know why disability is such a bad deal, is why I counsel anyone who is not close to retirement not to go the disability route, not unless you want to do nothing and live in poverty for the rest of your life, and are content with a life of watching TV and a strict budget, using food-stamps and coupons. Because it will come down to that, that is, if you have a TV. And lucky you if you have a car and can afford to keep it on the road….If not, think about whether or not you can get rides, because the bus can be a drag when it is raining or snowing and you have a lot of groceries to carry. You better keep the car in tip top shape in any event, because you won’t be buying another anytime soon on disability from Social Security…I dunno about you, but no one I know gets much more than $1000.00/month from SSDI and usually we get hundreds of dollars less than that. One car repair bill can rip a monthly check to shreds.
I dunno what most wage-earning people think a life on disability is like, but it isn’t a cushy life of luxury, not at all. I haven’t bought or been able to buy new clothes in nearly ten years. (I wouldn’t want to anyway, because I like to buy used clothing and not generate new carbon, but do you really think I could afford on my SSDI check the price of any clothing except Walmart’s, that abomination of a store?) I cannot even afford to get food at Stop and Shop, let alone new clothing anywhere. I buy literally everything used, at GOodwill, or I barter or get things free through Freecycle. Or I do without. The only new purchases I make are art supplies, when I cannot get them at tag sales, or through other outlets. And I do not replace my erstwhile beloved pet Eemie, because I know I cannot afford a cat. You make choices in this world. If you choose to go on disability, I believe they should tell you precisely what sort of life you are choosing. Or give you options so that disability is only one of several equally feasible ones. It ought not be simply: go back to work at the same job, at the same level of stress, or go on disability. That is stupid, especially if one has been psychotic. But it also ought not be, You have been psychotic, and we are certain it will recur, so you will never be able to work again. That is double nonsense. NO ONE can predict the future, or tell a single soul that a psychosis will or will not recur. Only time will tell, and predicting a good prognosis has been shown to pay off with better outcomes than telling a patient that the future looks dire.
Okay, enough for now. I hope I haven’t been too oldy and moldy-sounding. I’m just very discouraged about my own limited and stagnating life. I do not feel as old as the system is making me behave. I could have a good life for the next two decades or more and maybe even a career. After all, Grandma Moses didn’t start painting till she was much older than my mere 60 years, and she had a long painting life ahead of her. No one told her she should just hide her head in the sand and wait to die. Or if they did, she ignored them and went ahead and painted and painted. I won’t give up on art, but I am frustrated and feel utterly stymied by a system that has clipped and cauterized my wings.
Finally, this is the large Turtle that I owe Tim, as it looks at present. I am going at it very slowly but surely.