On December 2nd, 2013, Dan and I had an appointment at the local Social Security office to go over our application for disability benefits for Ryan, and to hand in requested documentation (medical, financial, personal). Even though the caseworker we met with assured us that Ryan’s application would most likely be approved due to his disabilities (autism/Asperger’s, anxiety, PICA) and our extensive documentation (all sorts of medical documents from all sorts of medical professionals going back to his first evaluation in December of 2007), I was still steeling myself for an initial denial, because:
a) that’s how Social Security works (did you know that roughly 65 percent of applicants are denied the first time around?)
b) this is how life has been for us for the past couple of years, and this past year especially
Then, last week, we received a letter instructing us to bring a slew of financial documents (paystubs, W2s, bank statements, VINs for our vehicles, any life/burial insurance policies, etc.) to an appointment. The key phrasing of part of the letter, “We have received enough medical evidence to begin paying SSI benefits to you”, really stuck out…we tentatively allowed ourselves to get excited at the prospect of Ryan being approved. But still, we kept ourselves in check.
We had our appointment this morning. Last night I painstakingly printed out, highlighted, post-it-noted, and stapled all of the required documents together, plus extras (monthly financial statements and yearly, for example) just in case, and put them in the purple file folder I put Ryan’s original Social Security application in. This morning, after Dan saw Ryan onto the school bus (Alyssa is home sick), we took ourselves and that purple file folder to the Social Security appointment, and went over the documents one by one (and laughed at the values Social Security assigned our vehicles – I’m sure that the $1,075 value they assigned my car was overly generous – it’s 12 years old with 143,000 miles and various cosmetic issues, not to mention the finicky transmission and sporadic battery problems that have me double-checking that I never leave home without jumper cables and a fully charged cell phone).
Ryan was approved for the maximum Social Security benefits.
No questions asked, no requests for additional info, no delays, no denials… just approved. APPROVED. APPROVED. This lovely bomb was dropped on us nearly four hours ago, and I’m still reeling. In the short-term, our lives will improve significantly. In the long-term, we have the peace of mind of knowing that Ryan will be taken care of, both financially and in terms of medical insurance (Medicaid coverage has never been a problem due to Pennsylvania quickly and painlessly acknowledging his autism and related needs, but it’s nice to know that with Social Security, he’ll have an extra guarantee).
His benefits are back-dated to the December filing, and we’ll receive his first check — the months of December, January, and February combined — within the next 12 days. And then we’ll receive his Social Security benefits every month thereafter, first by paper check, then on a debit card or direct-deposited into a checking account that we’re going to open for him.
I can’t find the words to describe my relief and elation, and when I sit here and try to find them, my eyes well up, and all I can think about is how terrible 2013 was…we almost lost everything, and by everything I mean everything. We came so close to that edge, and only loans, luck, hard work, and sheer fucking willpower by both Dan and I kept us together and moving forward. We dealt with way too much stress, anxiety, uncertainty, and outright fear. I popped Lorazepam like Tic-Tacs because they kept me sane and stable enough to go through the motions of looking and sounding and acting calm and serene, and sleeping aids like even yummier Tic-Tacs because that’s what it took to shut my brain off at night long enough for me to fall asleep and stay asleep. I hardly let myself relax for fear of falling apart; and the one night — in late December — that I did and indulged in a little too much vodka I went way off the deep end and spent an hour sobbing to Dan about our problems and just how much they were eating away at me and threatening my threads of sanity.
We begged, we borrowed, we sold, we bartered, we worked hard for every possible scrap of money available, we went without… we had no heat until early December, and then only because of a state-funded crisis fund; we’ve put off replacing my car’s battery or taking it to be looked at because there have been weeks when we had to decide between money for groceries or money for the laundromat; even now we keep the house’s thermostat in the 64-66 range to conserve and we’ve had my battery tested to eliminate that as a source, so we’re looking at spark plugs next…
But anyway. We came so close to falling off the edge, but we managed to edge back. Slowly, carefully. One step at a time… and it seems like for every step forward there were three steps back. But now finally, in January, we regained our footing, and have been able to plan, and not panic. And now we have the Social Security approval, and the guarantee that every month there will be no question about paying our mortgage, putting gas in both cars, buying a battery or a set of spark plugs if one of the cars needs it, and maybe treating ourselves to 66 or even 68 degrees instead of a chilly 64 degree overnight setting.
With Ryan’s initial Social Security check we are repaying two loans – one of which will give me back my non-human baby, my Nikon DSLR, which has been on hold as collateral since last September. The rest of the money will be used to purchase a new washer (our old one broke in August; I’m not overly picky about a new one so long as it’s Maytag or Whirlpool, a HE front-loader, and has good reviews), and the remaining amount will be put into our savings account. And the little bit of good that we found in 2013 — finding coupon sources, the best places and times to buy discounted groceries, brands I’ve partnered with in order to eliminate the cost of purchasing personal and household products, little ways to conserve energy and resources and dimes — will all be implemented going forward, so those frugal ways combined with a little more financial padding will hopefully pave the way for the stability and peace of mind we have so desperately needed for way too long.