You are certainly not alone in feeling lost due to struggling with a hidden disability. We think of disabilities as belonging to those born with birth defects and old people. I work with a number of people with disabilities and can say without hesitation individuals with disabilities come in all ages, shapes, sizes, and levels of ability or disability.
Many of the people I work with have disabilities which are visible, but a surprisingly large number of people have disabilities are entirely invisible to others. These can include traumatic brain injuries, chronic severe pain syndromes, MS that has not advanced to severe mobility impairment, depression and other mental illnesses, metabolic syndromes and other conditions. Having a hidden disability is a particularly difficult position to be in because many people question whether you are truly disabled or “faking it”.
In truth, it is very, very difficult to receive disability benefits. People often have to apply 2 or 3 times and sometimes retain a lawyer to advocate for their needs even when their condition is quite severe. As you know, you also have to provide a great deal of documentation of your disability from medical and/or psychological professionals and this has to be renewed and re-evaluated periodically. Even after a person is approved for Social Security Disability benefits, it is still 2 additional years before they are eligible to receive Medicare. If you have pressing medical needs, this is an exceedingly difficult period of time to try and get needed medical or psychiatric care. Clearly, the government does not want to pay unnecessarily for disability benefits that are not warranted by true need.
There are several primary issues that people with disabilities confront, whether as the result of injury or disease. This can be especially true if the disability came about during one’s adult life. Moving from a status of being able-bodied to having a significant physical or cognitive disability is a huge shock, engendering feelings of grief, sadness, anger, and sometimes resentment. There is a need to adjust to a new way of living and even to a new identity. It is easy to lose self-esteem and optimism in the wake of the onset of a serious disability.
Family support, support from friends, and participation in groups and community activities directed toward the needs of people with disabilities can be quite helpful. Often, some individual or group counseling can be of particular help, especially if the person’s grief is complicated by depression or severe anxiety which really requires professional treatment. One’s spiritual and religious beliefs can also be a source of considerable support in adjusting to a new, more limited way of living.
Since I do not know the nature of your disability it is difficult to make specific recommendations to you about what activities you might be able to successfully pursue. So much of this depends on your interests and capabilities. It sounds like full-time paid work is definitely not an option for you; if you are on social security disability there are limits on what you are allowed to earn, but this need not prevent you from doing something meaningful. You may be able to locate volunteer opportunities that are truly flexible with respect to hours and frequency and don’t require lifting or sustained periods of sitting or talking. Perhaps working as a visiting companion to small animals at the Human Society of Larimer County or organizing an activity for residents at a senior center or care facility could impart a sense of meaning and purpose to your life. Volunteer opportunities with certain types of organizations can sometimes be shaped to accommodate an interested volunteer’s limitations.
Local resources include Disabled Resource Services for Larimer County (DRS) which has offices in both Ft. Collins and Loveland. Their staff has connections to a variety of organizations and resources that you may be able to plug into for ideas and opportunities for participation in the community. It is interesting to note that this year DRS is hosting the DRS Grassroots Festival, sponsoring Colorado’s first annual Disability Pride Parade and Festival (http://www.fortnet.org/drs ). You certainly don’t have to be an activist to access or deserve these opportunities, but it’s good to know that some people are advocating for visibility, acceptance, respect and equal treatment for people with disabilities. DRS is only one of the resources in the area that you may wish to check out. Having a disability is not a choice but how you cope with the rest of your life is a choice and you almost always can find ways to have a high quality of life. I wish you the best.