Saturday, October 29, 2011

How'd It Go?

Last Wednesday I had my Social Security disability hearing for my vertigo, covering the period from March 2009, when I got sick, to July 2010, when I started working as a phone sex operator. Beforehand, my lawyer prepped me what to expect, and we went over the evidence to ensure my she had the important findings at the top of her notes.

We discussed whether to tell the judge I do the generic "phone consulting" or to tell him I'm a phone sex operator. The reality is, I chose this profession not only because I'm a giant slut who loves playing with callers' sexual energy, but also because I can set my own hours, I can rest when I need to, and I can't sustain any visual effort longer than about an hour. That leaves... ummm, well, phone sex! My lawyer advised me to play it by ear, but if it came to a choice of "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" then of course, I had to tell the judge.

Five minutes into the hearing, I was saying, "I'm a phone sex operator, Your Honor." He snortled, blinked, and asked, "Excuse me?" I repeated myself, "I do phone sex, Your Honor." I could feel myself blushing, and panicking slightly about whether or not it was the right choice. He raised his eyebrows at my lawyer as if to say "Nice curveball, counselor", but declined to comment.

I answered questions: Could I work from home as a PSO? Yep. Why could I be a PSO in July 2010? A combination of physical therapy and medicines improved my condition enough. Why couldn't I be a PSO between March 2009 and July 2010? The vertigo precluded concentrating long enough to sustain intense dialogue. How much do I make as a PSO? I've averaged only a few hundred dollars per month more than if I were still disabled and collecting Social Security disability benefits (my monthly average has been decreased by all the time I've taken off for my moves, but also, my monthly benefit amount was substantial because I made a lot / paid a lot into Social Security before I got sick - I think I maxed out my SS contributions for the last 8 years of my IT career).

Why can't I do my old job, be an IT Manager? I thought about opening a wall of SQL text, reviewing discombobulated spreadsheets with inconsistent data to import into a central database, reading hundreds of emails a day, running a project team meeting starting with "guys, we have a problem, and I have no clue how to solve it"... and I started to cry. Crying made me panic about seeming disingenuous or manipulative, and made me embarrassed to be crying, which, of course, only made it harder not to cry. Great.

There were more questions. The judge had clearly read my medical evidence, and knew what he wanted to uncover during testimony. I didn't interrupt him, I tried to stay on target, summarize without missing critical subtle details, and not let it distract me that I was starting to spin, stutter, feel foggy, drop words. The timing was horrifying, yet poetically impeccable: I was having a concentration-triggered vertigo crash in the middle of my disability hearing. Things were getting blurry, but I had to hang on enough to answer questions.

The judge thanked me for my creativity and willingness to work, which I thought was odd until I considered it later: I'm sure he sees a lot of people who are just trying to scam the system or get out of working to be lazy. But there I was saying, no, I really genuinely couldn't work for 16 months. But then I could work, so I did. I work, making less than a third of what I used to make. I work, making only 10% more than I would make if I were not working and on disability. But I can work, so I do.

Then he said "I'm granting disability for the closed period of March 2009 to July 2010. Counselor, are you all right with that?" My lawyer looked surprised, stammered, and said, "Yes, Your Honor". And then she was gathering her things and the judge was saying "This concludes the hearing" and I had the feeling I should leave the room, but there were things we had reviewed before the hearing that had not been stated, and my attorney hadn't given me the chance to tell the narrative I had been practicing... and what the fuck was going on?

Thankfully, something in my rational mind overruled my panic and said "follow your lawyer" so I packed up, stood up, turned around, stumbled into the wall, and drunkenly made it into the attorney consultation room. "What happened? Why didn't we... my narrative..."

She said calmly, decisively, and slowly, "You won. He said yes. He granted your disability. You're done."

"What? When? You said that wouldn't happen..." Then she laughed as my brain caught up, and trying to look professional instead of delightedly happy as she explained that the phrase "I'm granting disability" means he affirmed my total disability in the months I couldn't work, and granted me benefits.

My legs gave out; I had to sit. For two and a half years, I faced repeated denials of benefits because neurological vertigo is wickedly hard to prove. A part of me didn't believe the day would ever come when anybody would give me any disability benefits whatsoever.

Over the past few days, I keep having a feeling of dissociation from the reality of what has happened, followed by huge rushes of emotion: relief, gratitude, anger, joy, frustration, peace, and giddy giddy giggling.

The money will be exactly enough to: repay my mom and sister the money they've loaned us, pay off the last of my student loans from my MBA classes (I didn't finish my MBA because I got a management job without one), pay for the last step of the dental work I've been putting off for months, and then pay for about 10 celebratory dinners at in the $50-and-under range. Perfect.

So, how'd it go Wednesday? It went perfectly. I'm barely starting to come out of my shock at how perfectly it went.

I deeply appreciate each and every note of support I got. Thank you. Thank you more than you know.

So. Now I need to figure out how to get this damn blog back on track. Phone sex, Galiana. That's what people are here to read about, phone sex. Try to write about phone sex next, would you?

You know I don't make promises, but I'll try.

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