My mind feels like a twisted pretzel. I don’t have a clue who I am anymore. I thought I was figuring out the puzzle, until April 1st, when the Social Security Administration notified me that I fit their definition of disabled. In addition, they don’t anticipate my condition improving sufficiently to warrant a review until 2016. That was a kick in the gut.
I was completely stunned. I didn’t think I’d be approved until the next level of appeal. But SSA thought my case strong enough to make their decision after only one appeal. Holy cow.
After all this time, all the adjustments I’ve made, all the work I’ve done to come to terms with my health issues, and all the writing I’ve done about it; I realize that I still haven’t acknowledged and accepted what’s happened to my life. As I often say, “’De Nile is not just a river in Egypt.”
Reading the SSA letter, I wept with relief. The unknowing, waiting, and sense of financial instability were gone. At the same time, I felt really weird being excited that I’m considered “disabled.” Me? Disabled? Really? What does this mean? Does it change who I think I am?
I’m still me. I look healthier and younger than I have in a decade. My issues can’t be seen from the outside. It’s the insides that don’t work correctly. No matter how hard I try, I can’t get them back to what they were. This is the hugely painful part of the joyful news that I’m approved for Social Security Disability (SSDI).
I know that other people have successfully walked this path before me. Eventually I’ll untangle the pretzel. I’m still the same me I was before. Except that I’m not. My health issues were a catalyst for important growth and change. If the slate were wiped clean of those aspects of my life, I’d regret losing them. Other than my physical health, my life is healthier and more balanced than it’s been in a very long time.
Part of the problem is that I want it all: the new parts of me that have come from living with my particular set of issues…and the good parts of my former life that I’ve lost. I don’t want the stress, the exhaustion, the lack of spiritual balance, and the unhealthy lifestyle of those years…but can’t I have the good parts back and do away with the bad?
I guess not.
Lost in this conundrum of identity, I couldn’t find an authentic voice with which to write last week. Committed to authenticity in my writing, this is my first blog post following SSA’s notification.
I don’t know how to respond when people ask what I do. None of my answers feels satisfactory. I’m no longer employed, but not retired, laid off, starting a family, or beginning a consulting business. I don’t think of myself as a homemaker, although that’s primarily how I spend my days. I’m on disability but have no outwardly visible health issues. I’m still a minister, wife, and mother, but these roles have changed.
If asked what I’m excited about, however, I can respond easily. I’m excited about learning to write for the eye and the internet. I’m excited about learning new skills and exploring the world of technology. I’m excited about one son’s upcoming wedding in June and the other’s pending fatherhood in the fall. I’m excited about the time my husband I now have together. I’m excited about trying new recipes, doing house projects, finding bargains, and reading more than just Bible commentaries.
These are good aspects of my life that will eventually help me understand who I am at this time in my life and into the future. But that hasn’t happened yet.
I used to think I was a quick study. Yet, six years after my heart diagnosis and 18 months after leaving my pastorate, I still haven’t figured out how to be the new person I need to be. So much for being a quick learner! I want to have gotten it all figured out by now.
The Social Security Administration is correct, as much as I don’t want to admit it. I’m trying to use recent experiences to incorporate this into my consciousness. For example, I attended two lovely bridal showers recently that exhausted me so much I cancelled all my plans surrounding them. Last week, I left a Lenten study group halfway through the evening because a skunk had sprayed nearby and triggered my asthma. If I’d been leading the group, or making a pre-funeral visit, my asthma would have been problematic.
Darn. After all this time and evidence, I still hope I’ll wake up in the morning and discover the last six years were just a dream.
Wisdom says that isn’t going to happen, however. So instead, I’ll be a new shoot sprouting from a seed. The shoot is of the seed and wouldn’t exist without it, but looks quite different from the seed as the leaves stretch above the ground.
I will awaken from the dream I’m in, but my waking won’t negate what has happened to me. It will be like the morning dawn that brings light to the world. Dawn doesn’t change what exists. It gradually illumines what is already present, makes the shadows flee, and nurtures life. That’s the dawn for which I hope and in which I trust.
It took me a long time to adjust to being a stay-at-home mom, too, even though that’s what I wanted. It involved loss of a career, financial difficulties, and a major adjustment in mindset. Then when I went back to work–that took even longer!
Even quick learners don’t always adjust quickly to lifestyle changes.
When people ask what you do, you can still say you’re a writer and a pastor. That’s not just a job, it’s a calling. If they ask what church, you can say your ministry now is writing. Or you can just say, “I’m exploring new options.”
Or you can say, “I don’t know what in the heck I”m doing, but neither do most people, so I’m in good company!”