Disability, disabled … these are loaded words. These are words that change a life completely, forever. They move a person from the category of “everyone,” and put them into a misshapen, ugly box that confounds both the disabled and the everyone.
The disability box is a bit like Pandora’s. All sorts of things spill out, many completely unexpected. And when you’re overwhelmed and wondering why the hell you bothered, look to the bottom of the box where Pandora found hope. There, you’ll find yours: the disability parking permit.
Despite being a certified genius, creative as hell, having a monster of a work ethic, being able to meet deadlines anyway, migraines destroyed my career. I was a professional writer, editor and graphic designer.
I’ve had migraines for 18 years; I worked for 14 of those in seven different jobs. Of those seven, I was fired from three and left two others because of my migraines.
But for many, many years, the thought that I was disabled never crossed my mind. Sure, by job three the migraines had grown to be blinding, I vomited constantly, and I had both severe depression and anxiety disorders. So, I was fired from that and the next job.
It was so important to look perfect on the outside. Make-up? Check. Hair? Check. Outfit? Check. But that meant no one knew what was going on, that I needed help, that my pain was real. If I had been able to ask for help a million years ago, I wouldn’t be where I am now. Poor Barbie. I squish your head just to make me feel better.
It wasn’t for two more jobs that I finally took the word “disability” out and looked at it. I was about to be fired again. It was just after the tech bubble burst. I needed to keep that job, even if that job was horrible, destructive, and making my migraines worse every single day.
The organization, the Texas Society of CPAs, was the most abusive, crooked place I’ve ever worked. It took five years of therapy to build back up what they tore down. I still dream of a meteor crushing the building so I can dance with glee on the burning ashes. I still hope they get a painful, drawn-out cancer and die. I still hope everything they did to me is visited upon them threefold. I name them so that anyone applying for that position might Google the organization and be warned.
But I digress.
To keep that job, I looked at that word. Disability. Disabled. Was that me? I was missing a lot of work. I was still hitting my deadlines. If I could work at home sometimes, I thought I’d do better. There were some other, minor accommodations that would help. TSCPA said no.
I have mad research skills, so I figured out what the next step would be: I would file a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the EEOC. There was paperwork, then an interview with a woman crumpled in a wheelchair who looked at me like, “Seriously? This is disabled. Go home.”
But I had evidence. Back then, blogging was just starting to be a thing, and I was venting and grousing and bitching and whining on mine. The company had documented my rejected requests for accommodation.
So the EEOC said my claim was valid; I had the right to sue. Which left me boggled. What the hell did I do next? My husband at the time, now affectionately called “that idiot,” and I made reasonable money, but certainly not enough for a lawyer to fight this out.
It turned out the threat and the weight of the EEOC was enough. They couldn’t fire me for my disability.
Instead, they made my job as miserable, as unhappy, as impossible as they could. They did everything to make me quit. A day wasn’t finished if they hadn’t made me cry.
But I was made of some tough damn stuff. I was raised to believe that You Do Not Quit. So I hung in there and fought. And my migraines spiraled out of control.
I ended up in the hospital for 11 days with a migraine they couldn’t break. CT scans, MRIs, two spinal taps … they were sure I was dying. But I didn’t. And as soon as I was on my feet, sooner then the doctor wanted, I was back at work.
And work was worse. And the migraines were worse.
My neurologist finally told me he wouldn’t give me any more painkillers unless I went to a pain management doctor. Kicking and screaming, I went. That first intake interview …
He asked about my job. I ended up hysterically sobbing about how I had put out the magazine alone that month, and the only error was in a caption. Someone’s title was wrong. And for that, they were writing me up, putting it my personnel file.
And the good Dr. Cohen said, “If you don’t take some time off from that job, you’ll be dead within two months.”
It was a miracle. It was the light at the end of the tunnel. It was my saving grace.
Someone finally told me it was okay to quit. Someone finally told me it was okay to stop.
What constitutes reaching the light? When exactly do you say, “Yes, I’ve made it out of that tunnel, and I’m fully in the sunlight. No more dark tunnels for me, sir.”
More on this later. I suppose that makes this Part I.
It’s okay to stop, so I am,