26: Disabled but Not Destroyed

26: Disabled but Not Destroyed

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times, Tough People

Disabled but Not Destroyed

You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.

~Walt Disney

On the outside, I seemed great. I was an attractive, youthful-looking mom with a smiling demeanor, and well liked. I had been divorced for five years and many envied my apparent ability to keep it all together—coaching my children’s sports teams, volunteering in the community, working full time, and managing to have a bit of a dating life too. But on the inside, I was literally falling apart and living my life in constant pain.

Because I had long since mastered the art of hiding the hurt, no one knew how serious my condition was. I was in denial about it too. But MRIs, CT scans, X-rays, and nerve conduction studies revealed that my spine, already damaged from scoliosis and two major surgeries, was in far worse shape than I’d imagined. Many ailments, including spinal arthritis and multiple bulging and herniated discs, produced severe upper and lower back pain from which I could find no relief. Pinched nerves caused pain to travel down my legs and arms as well.

On the job, I could neither sit nor stand for long periods and I had a modified workstation so I could do both, constantly changing positions to keep the pain tolerable.

Sleeping through the night did not refresh me. Pain greeted me with its ugly face each morning and sometimes made me cry out in my sleep—I know this because my own cries would rouse me from slumber.

After second and third opinions, I was told there was no surgical cure for a spine as badly degenerated as mine. One disc herniation, maybe two or three, could be surgically helped, but not the multiple conditions I had.

My doctor ordered plenty of bed rest to relieve the toll on my spine, told me to minimize stress in my life, prescribed swimming and physical therapy at least three times a week, and was very emphatic that pain management must become a way of life for me. He recommended books on living with chronic pain and encouraged me to join support groups. He prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs and strong opiate-based painkillers, and advised me to stop working full time and focus on my health. He predicted my conditions would, in fact, worsen with time.

I collapsed in tears as I sat in his office. How could I follow his orders? How could I minimize stress and somehow squeeze three appointments per week into an already packed schedule? Join a support group? How could I stop working full time? There was no way! If I don’t work, my children won’t have food or shelter. He pointed out, even before I burst into tears, that unrelenting, intractable chronic pain produces clinical depression.

I was a mess and could no longer deny or minimize my conditions. For the next few months, I tried to work swimming therapy into my schedule by going during my lunch break. This proved extremely stressful as I was away from the office longer than the allotted time and would rush back to work in a frenzy, hoping I wasn’t missed.

The medications provided a little relief, but they made me drowsy and I had a near fatal reaction to one. I changed medications and was determined to continue living a happy lifestyle, taking care of my children, and going to work every day with a smile on my face despite the constant pain.

Then one day my boss called me into the Human Resources Department. My job had been eliminated as part of a major Reduction In Force. I would still be an employee for the next two weeks, but I was not permitted to enter the building anymore and was promptly escorted to the parking lot without the chance to say goodbye to anyone.

The timing could not have been worse. I was not in any physical condition to begin going on interviews and looking for another job. I had been barely managing this one! Stress multiplied as I worried about my loss of benefits. What would I do about medical insurance for my children? How would I provide for them? I curled up into a ball for a very dark day or two, fearing my ex-husband would try to take my daughters away. Two years earlier, I let my son go live with his dad and new stepbrothers.

I had already lost the marital home and was living in a way-too-small condo. I had lost my health, my job, and I feared losing my daughters too. My lawyers had lost a fight for increased child support and I owed over $10,000, now with no way to pay it. Even love had eluded me as I had not had a significant relationship since my divorce five years earlier.

For a brief period, I lost my smile and wondered what else I could possibly lose? I took inspiration from the Biblical character Job who had lost everything, and remembered that he made it through without losing faith. I had always trusted that my life was in God’s hands and I called out of the darkness to God for help and strength. I did not know in what form that help would come, but I knew He heard me.

Because I was still an employee, I was entitled to all the company benefits, including disability, and my doctors quickly submitted the paperwork. After all, they had advised me months back to stop working.

I applied for government disability benefits and went before an administrative law judge and an impartial medical expert. One look at my extensive medical records and test reports, and my application was accepted. I had contributed to a private disability plan while working, which helped bridge part of the gap between my government benefits and the salary I had last earned. I discovered that my company disability package also included extended medical and dental benefits for me and my dependents. This was all good.

I began physical therapy several times a week and re-joined a gym to strengthen my abdominal and back muscles. Gradually, the severity of my pain began to diminish as my body got more conditioned and my core muscles became stronger. I was grateful that I was able to greet my children with fresh-baked cookies or homemade soup when they got home from school.

I started a small business that I could operate from my laptop while I rested in bed. Although it doesn’t produce much profit, it keeps my mind active. I began writing an upbeat humor and inspiration column for a local newspaper. I took art classes and found that producing artwork for class projects became a form of therapy, providing a distraction from constant pain.

The quality of my life as well as the quality of our family life greatly improved. My children remained in my custody and flourished, making me proud every day. I continued to live frugally, but was able to buy computers, cell phones, party dresses for my daughters, and even take modest vacations.

Over the years the pain became more and more manageable, even though my condition continues to worsen as predicted. I no longer minimize or deny my health situation—instead, I address it.

I am still a busy single mom with a full agenda, but my life is more stress-free than it was before I was laid off. And because I lost my job, I was able to make my health the priority that it should be.

When I first lost my job, I thought it was the worst thing that could happen, but it turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me and my family. Being laid off was only a little story within the bigger story of my life. And my life now, although hard, is a very good thing.

~Monica Giglio

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