I found myself out of work and also unable to work because of my bone-crushing depression…a rather vexing combination. My depression was behind the wheel during this time and getting out of bed was a chore.

My psychiatrist, who is by far the best doctor I’ve had, suggested that I apply for disability.  “You certainly qualify and you deserve it.”

I looked at her like she had suggested I sprout wings and fly out of the appointment. “It’s been five years since I’ve worked. I’m sure I’ve long passed some deadline.” “You never know and it would help with the money problems.” That’s what convinced me. Because I felt like I was contributing nothing to our family (because depression makes you feel that way). And there was a potential way to bring something to the table.

Before I go any further, something that helps during the process is good record-keeping. Keep receipts from doctors. Keep track of medications you take and what changes you’ve made. Write down any surgeries, hospitalizations or other major medical procedures. So you can get started ASAP, the number for the Social Security Administration (SSA) (the people who give out disability funds) is 1-800-722-1213 and the website (you can apply online!!) is http://www.socialsecurity.gov.

I applied and my psychiatrist wrote some wonderful horrible things about me. I got denied the first time (as most people do. Its like a universal rule…thou shall not receive disability on the first pass.)

So I went to, what I affectionately call a Lawyer In A Box who appealed for me. I’m speaking of those special law firms that shoot up on television warning you that your case warrants professional help. Typically, these law firms take 25% of your settlement (more on what a settlement is in a moment). This might seem like a high cost, but it is so worth it to have professionals in disability take care of your case because disability is a game of arcane rules that nobody but people who deal with it daily understands.

Most people are turned down the first time they request disability and it is almost always necessary to appeal. So don’t lose hope if you are denied at your first request. The other important thing to know about disability is that there is a huge caseload backlog and it will probably take several months for your case to come up.

My attorney appealed for me and a video hearing was set up. Disability judges are in high demand and, most times, you won’t see one in person. My attorney got me ready for my video hearing by telling me what to expect.

I went before the video judge. He asked me less than 10 questions, none of them difficult. Then he asked my lawyer some questions. And in 15 minutes, I was done with my disability trial.

My lawyer said I did I good job. At that point, I didn’t care, I just wanted out of there and into the relative safety of my car. I sat in my car taking deep breaths. I had done it. I applied for disability and gone before a judge. Now it was time to wait.

In a few weeks, I got a letter from the Social Security Administration. I had won my case! I was to receive a settlement for the five years that I didn’t receive a disability as well as a monthly amount.

Here’s a little side note. That settlement? It was taxable income. Do you think I remembered to tell the Internal Revenue Service about it? No, I did not. As silly as this sounds, I figured they were all in government and that the IRS would get word of my settlement via the Social Security Administration. Wrong. About two years later, I got socked with back taxes, interest and penalties.

Luckily, they didn’t take away my monthly stipend. It is not a lot, but it sure helps my self-esteem.

Collecting disability leaves me feeling both proud that my disease has been recognized and embarrassed that I qualify for payments. It doesn’t help that everywhere I go, people are blasting those on government assistance. But, to that, I say that I have lost the ability to work and earned the right to collect disability. But I admit that I still do not tell very many people that I collect disability. Some of our friends don’t even know.

About every three years the SSA, reviews your case to determine if you still qualify for disability. I have had one review and it basically involved my doctor saying, “Yep, she’s still loony tunes.” and me filling out a one-page form.

Some people are denied and have their appeal struck down. SSA will typically tell those that are turned down why they were denied. If you are truly disabled, don’t give up.

Applying for disability requires a good doctor and a lot of patience on your part to fill out the paperwork. As I said before, I suggest hiring a Lawyer in the Box because the process is way too confusing to try to navigate on your own. And you’ll still have plenty to do because there are reams of paperwork to fill out.

Seriously, though, good luck and I hope that you receive the benefits that are rightfully yours.

What has your experience been with the SSA?  Are you on disability?

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