Thursday, July 31, 2014

I've Got Fat Stacks...

Of bills.  And not even dollar bills.  I’ve got fat stacks of the worst kind of bills – past due bills.

Prescription bottle shown for sizing purposes - I also have a fat stack of those.
They’re the fall-out of my health meltdown that happened late last year.  I haven’t worked, not even part time, since then.  I continue to receive disability income, but that has never been enough to keep me afloat. The government determines your income based, in part, upon your earning potential up to the point at which you became disabled.  When you become disabled before the age of 30, that earning potential is often not too much above peanuts. I’ve always been in the water, flailing my limbs to try and keep my head up financially – difficult to do when you are struggling against several chronic conditions to achieve some manner of health.  Now the billing departments of several medical facilities, and at least one debt collection agency, are making it rain, as it were, on me in a most torrential fashion.

I don’t blame them; medical treatment ain’t free, as I’m well aware, but the cost, met with my meager income, is enough to make a girl climb a pole.

Believe me, I’ve thought about it. Pole dancing. I’ve thought about it enough to realize that large amounts of quick cash is a fantasy.  The reality?  The reality goes something like this for me: squeaking noises as I slide, akimbo, down the lower half of the pole, burning my thighs, stumbling on my six-inch heels, breaking my ankle, then jiggling unflattering parts of my body as I limp towards the manager’s office for Neosporin and an Ace bandage. 

A stripper with a heart condition, bowel issues, and an anxiety disorder.


I intend no sex-work shaming when I say that I am fully aware of the differences between burlesque performance and erotic dancing.  

The bills pictured are just the most recent – they’re not even a very decent stack.  I’ve been receiving bills for months.  At first, I opened them, unfolded them, read them with a pit in my stomach, and panicked.  I pressed them flat and organized them by facility, by date, by urgency, by how angry they sounded.  Then the panic turned into overwhelm, and hopelessness, and avoidance, and I stopped opening them.  Hence, the stack shown.

I’d like to say a bit about responsibility, and integrity at this point.

I consider myself to be a responsible person.  I also feel that I have a lot of integrity. 

Who would admit that they don’t, though? Who would admit that they’re an irresponsible loser with no personal moral code?

I do believe, however, that there are a good number of people who know me that would check the “responsible” and “has integrity” boxes, if asked: “Please select which qualities Amber exhibits.”

They might also select “ninny,” and “excessively anxious” and “obsessive.”

Excepting one incident with some candy in a supermarket when I was a young child and they were at my eye-level, and they were peanut butter coated in chocolate, what the hell do you expect???, I have never shoplifted.  I have never stolen property, not even office supplies.  I don’t take more ketchup packets than I need in order to save them for later use.  I may overestimate my current ketchup needs, but that is an honest mistake, not menace.  I believe stealing is wrong.

But if I receive medical treatment, and then don’t pay for it, I’m stealing.  And I feel like a thief, a horrible person, a drain on society’s resources.  I feel like The Problem. 

I can tell you most definitely that, several months ago and up to the current date, whenever I receive medical care, whenever I have been loaded up into an ambulance, or had an IV started, or been strapped in to a hospital bed that rises like a carnival ride to figure out why my heart is Really Freaking Out More Than Is Necessary – I have never, ever, not even once, rubbed my hands together, smiled like a devil, and thought to myself:

Aha!  Now I shall steal me some medical care, and make off with all manner of expensive treatments – for FREE!

Yet the fact remains that I have received medical care, and now have the urgent letters and dozen-a-day phone calls from the same toll free number to prove that I have not paid the bills for that care. 

The Question is: What do I do? What can I do?

My income will not allow me to pay these bills and also eat. 

Are there expenses I could reduce?  Yes, and I plan to do just that once I am out of the contracts. If I broke the contracts, I would then owe Even More Money to even more companies. 

Could I work?  Aside from, What the hell is going on with my body? Why is my stomach so angry right now?? Why is my heart freaking out right now??  What nuclear bomb has gone off in my vicinity to cause these sensations??? the question of work is what I ponder most often.

I don’t believe people who are able to work should lay on their asses and let The Government take care of them, or otherwise cheat their fellow citizens by not putting in what they can, only taking. When able, I consider myself to be an eager, willing worker. I take any job I’m given seriously.  I’m not lazy, I don’t have a bad attitude, and I’m on time.  I show up.  I do the work I’m asked to do, and more.  I have crawled into the dark, rotten void and retrieved a mangled, plastic straw – bare handed – so that business could progress.  I do this up to and until my health waylays me for a day, or a week, or months. 

And it always does.  For the past several years, my physical health has eventually become an issue that keeps me from working, at first for short amounts of time, then eventually up to the point that I have to leave the job.  Maybe it starts off with a hard night of binge eating almonds, and the next day I have Hell Shits, and the next day it’s just a funny story, but eventually something real and diagnosable as a problem other than This Girl Is Worse Than A Toddler is at play. First, I gave up a full time teaching career, then most recently, even part time work in a restaurant. My mental health is always at least somewhat involved, usually serving to cause my physical health to be one thousand times worse to the power of a hundred.  My mental health and my physical health are like the worst sort of best friends – they drag each other down. They’re like Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton. (Did that friendship ever happen?  I feel like it did.  I feel like that was The Start.)

So now I wrack my brain wondering what sort of work I can do – not for a few weeks, a few months, or a few years, but sustainably, in a way that would give me some sense of stability, some security,

some way to pay all these damn medical bills.

As of this posting, I don’t know what that work, immediately, in my current situation and status, is.  I’m afraid to go out and “just get a job,” the first job available in a restaurant, or retail, or temporary work (fields other than education where I have experience), though I imagine and feel the pressure of an America that is fed up with me, that angrily shouts at me when they think of me – a young, educated white woman who doesn’t look disabled.  I often shout “You need to get a job! Why can’t you get a job?!” at myself, but like I said, I’m afraid – I’m afraid that my still ongoing health issues will prevent me from being a good employee – I’m afraid my health will cause me to flake out again, further damaging my esteem as a valuable citizen, a valuable person.

I do know that I have talents, but I also know that those talents don’t seem to be among the most highly valued in society, or certainly the most immediately marketable.  Not if you think about my specific talent: writing poetry.

Ha!  Sorry.  I had to just take a moment to laugh – the image of showing up at the Human Resources department of a company with a poem.

Not that they don’t need a poem.

They just don’t know that they do.

But if I broaden the concept of my talent to “written communication,” it’s starting to sound much more like something on a typical resume.  Not a complete resume, but it’s a start.  I have kick-ass written communication skills.  The more I realize and learn what I can’t do, the more clearly what I can do becomes apparent – it’s the thing I do No Matter What, so long as I am breathing, whether I receive money or not. 

If I look back at my resume from ten years ago, there are so many skills that are still there, but that I have learned are hindered by my health.  My health no longer allows me to entertain the notion that I can stand on my feet for any prolonged period of time and tolerate, much less engage and educate, teenaged children, for example.  Or hungry people.  Or shoppers.  Every “day job” I’ve tried to do while waiting to become a Famous, Well-Paid Poet Guru has failed.  It often feels like I have failed: to be a normal human being, to be productive, to just get over it, to suck it up, to not have illness.

Still, I have to believe that I have value, and not just value in the spiritual sense, but value in the sense that I could earn some damn income.  Because you can’t spirit-yoga your ass some money onto a silver platter.  You just can’t.  You can yoga yourself a hernia.  You can meditate some real fine serotonin levels, I suspect, but not food or shelter or cash.

So how about it, world? Internets? Anybody out there have any use for a chronically ill writer? 

Remember: no pole dancing.  Unless it was some sort of comedy thing.  Otherwise, I don’t think it would be very profitable for either of us. 


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