uncle sam? is that you?

Context matters:

I live in the US.
I receive Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, because I am disabled.
I do not receive Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI. I will explain why that is.
The Social Security Administration administers both SSI and SSDI, determining eligibility and overseeing the continuing disbursement of benefits.

please sirs and mesdames may I have another:

Less than a month ago I received a letter from the Social Security Administration saying that I needed to come in and apply for SSDI to make sure I was not eligible for it, because if I were, that would affect my SSI payments. They had scheduled me an appointment. The day I got the letter, the appointment was a week away. It did not contain any other clues as to why SSDI had become an issue in my case.

I did not go to the appointment. I wish this had been a casual oversight; it would have been much less painful that way.

Depression and PTSD can–and usually do at the slightest opportunity–make it extremely difficult for me to keep any sort of engagement on anything like Earth time. It took me six months and three consecutive appointments to finally be able to appear for a CT scan this past spring and summer. Part of the holdup–but by no means all of it–was that it took me several weeks to be able to begin to take a shower. Once started, the shower itself occupied the better part of three days. Well, as far as I was concerned showering was in fact the worst part of those three days. Figures of speech do not always line up exactly the way you want do they.

I should mention that the CT scan was ordered in part to rule out cancer. So you see what it looks like when I am highly interested in getting something done while that something happens also to set off a variety of emotional/physiological disturbances despite my best efforts to remain undisturbed–or sufficiently undisturbed that I can see to the doing of the something. Thus, seeing to it will take a very. very. very. long time. And that is with lots of help, lots of rescheduling, lots of no it’s okay let us know if anything would make it easier. Absent the help and yes this extremely slow response time might be what kills me. Chronic problems are chronic.

So that is an example. To keep an engagement with an entity holding a great deal of power over me entails a great deal of anxiety management, behavior management, cognitive management, and autonomic nervous system management–short of heavy sedation, this last is hit-or-miss at best. These all require very careful planning to prevent, where possible, and manage, where not, unrelated stressors that inevitably pile themselves on in obeisance to the sheer randomness of the universe.

The chances of me being able to keep such an engagement when issued one week in advance without the slightest warning or indication are, practically speaking, just about zero. This is something I have learned I cannot beat out of myself, shame out of myself, berate out of myself, or even softly cajole out of myself. The only way to work around it at all is to proceed slowly, attentively, and without coercion, whether internal or external. You could say I have a hair trigger for coercion. The slightest hint of it and I just, sort of, stop.

In that week’s time leading up to the appointment I was able to: consider emailing my former advocates for advice; notice on their website that they strongly suggest calling instead of emailing if time is short or the need urgent; decide instead to call them; spend a few days trying to move myself to pick up the phone and make the call, without success; ask myself whether I might just email them anyway; reach no conclusion on the email question other than that maybe I was not supposed to do that so I should try one more day to call; figure out for myself why I was finding it so difficult to call them when I had done it before without having to overcome quite this much resistance; realize that I needed to change tactics; and then to–ok, by this time the appointment was three days in the past. I did not make it to the step of finding someone to call Social Security for me to request a later appointment. This would have occurred just after I considered whether or not I could do that without help. I did not get to that step either.

I should probably add that during this time I was also confronted with some bare hint of return of the mental phenomena that Zyprexa had been medicating me against (nominally or presumably or in effect–no idea which) up until just about a year ago, when I had to be taken off the drug after developing tardive dyskinesia. That whole episode is not over yet, but the week with the whirly thoughts turned out ok only it required nearly all of my concentration and energy to ascertain how best to respond to the whirly thoughts and it left me a little jumpy about how the whirly thoughts might respond to my response as time goes on. I did not spend all that much time trying to call for help with the Social Security appointment because there was not all that much time left over. I was also sleeping ten to eleven hours a night but still waking up exhausted.

The next week and a bit more consisted mostly of what now and how fast or how slow should I go and what do you suppose will happen next and I wonder what I need to do about that appointment. While I was looking into all these questions, another letter arrived from Social Security.

Paraphrase:

Your SSI benefits are being suspended beginning next month because you did not do as the law required, which was to apply for all other benefits for which you might be eligible. You have ten days to file an appeal to keep from interrupting your payments. You can have someone represent you but you should probably get in touch with them very soon because we are not fucking around.

love, your friends at the SSA

ok.

uhm,
ok.

well.

[insert here several days of immobile freakout ending with one very short very intense very impromptu surprise extra therapy half-fifty-minutes. no spinning headlines but maybe some black and white noir-psychedelic effects to stand for confusion and distress and then thick cloud cover but for a tiny pinprick of sunlight]

1. I actually did apply for SSDI in 2010. I was determined not eligible because in my entire working life I have not paid enough into the system to be able to get anything back out of it. Have they forgotten? Did something change? I have done no paid work in the last three years and thus have not paid any more taxes of any sort. I will take SSDI if they want to offer, but why is this being held over my head all of a sudden as though I have been neglecting some essential duty for some very long time?

2. I have PTSD from childhood emotional, spiritual, and sexual abuse/rape. There simply is no way for me to approach an authoritative entity without fairly involved preparation. Without preparation I am looking at extremely painful and possibly dangerous physiological cascades that among other things dump so much cortisol into my bloodstream so quickly that I can feel it overflowing its well-marked trenches–the ones it has eroded out of my nervous system over the last fifty years and which we are working constantly to fill back in so that my neurons can more easily reconnect in less alarming ways. Sometimes these reactions occur despite our best efforts to stem them, but usually they can be mitigated in some way if we have some time and space to work with them.

Given this–that is, given the nature of my disability–why and how is it ok for the Social Security Administration to send me these kinds of communications? This whole sequence could not be any more restimulating of trauma-produced neurological pathways if it had been planned expressly for the purpose.

And this was their opening move.

3. I don’t even know. I seem to live in some insane unintuitive upsidedown opposite land. Or I got moved here at some point. Which is it and where is the reasonable universe.

 
 

not an epilogue because time is weird

Today is Sunday. Two days ago I walked downtown to the office of the organization that helped me apply for SS(D)I the first time around. It looks like they will help me now but I still have to figure out how best to light a fire under someone in a very short time when the most I personally can do is say help. um. help? help. With just about that much volume.

Somewhere not too long ago I read something about how the fight/flight/freeze response can become “stuck” in PTSD and that many abused as children learned to freeze and so this is where they get stuck as adults and if this is so then it explains a number of things about weeks like the one that just passed.

I have people. I said to one of them yesterday: I guess I am lucky. And it is true. I am. On my own, I would already be on the street.

post-post-epi-script-logue

To be clear, I am complaining here about how the Social Security Administration is making my life unnecessarily stressful by thoughtlessly taking advantage of my disability to try to shake me off their rolls. But I want also to emphasize that I am lucky because I have help. I will be ok, one way or the other.

See, I do not know if this is a procedure that ticks off every few years for anyone on SSI, where the computer says oh it is time to harass this person for a little while to see if they can be got rid of, and so happens regularly, or if this is a one-time push to see how many people they can cut costs on at one time. But either way it seems abundantly clear to me that it is a deliberate effort to cull people out of SSI benefits, whether they are taking us one at a time or targeting several in one go.

I will leave to the side the complex and worthwhile problem of whether this sort of bureaucratic action is being taken actually to trim payments to people who might no longer need them. It does not look that way to me; they want to see if another agency can fund my benefits. Paper money shuffling. The point, though, is that this sort of maneuvering will undoubtedly cause people like me to lose their benefits quite aside from any question of whether any of us are in need of them: and it will do so by exploiting the fact of our disabilities. They are betting that I will not be up to the challenge of taking them on. They would stand a very good chance of winning that bet very quickly if I did not have access to external resources. Many disabled people do not.

And so this letter is not something that just happens to upset me. It is a manifestation of a systemic failure to address disability in terms that are appropriate for addressing disability without causing further harm.

I do not mean to make claims about some grand conspiracy to bully disabled people out of their benefits (even though my definition of “conspiracy” is shifting these days to include those that are enacted without any well-organized and deliberate agency to guide them). But there certainly is a widespread mythology about disability benefits being abused and individuals getting rich off their Social Security checks. In response to this mythology we certainly can see an array of forces trying to make it harder and harder to obtain disability benefits. And further arguments over who should and should not get how much money for what.

What there is not, that I am aware of, is any conversation in the US that looks at how the Social Security Administration itself treats disabled people, and whether it treats us equitably in its administration of SSI and SSDI.

killing you softly

What defense against the apprehension of loss is at work in the blithe way in which we accept deaths caused by military means with a shrug or with self-righteousness or with clear vindictiveness? To what extent have Arab peoples, predominantly practitioners of Islam, fallen outside the “human” as it has been naturalized in its “Western” mold by the contemporary workings of humanism? … After all, if someone is lost, and that person is not someone, then what and where is the loss, and how does mourning take place?
… If violence is done to those who are unreal, then, from the perspective of violence, it fails to injure or negate those lives since those lives are already negated. But they have a strange way of remaining animated and so must be negated again (and again). …Violence renews itself in the face of the apparent inexhaustibility of its object.
Judith Butler, Precarious Life 32-33

Today being the day it is I decided that rather than participate in the public spectacle we seem intent on creating out of our inability to mourn whatever it was that we in the US think we lost ten years ago–although we may well have never had it to begin with –rather than go along with the ruse of our fallen, long-mythologized invulnerability to attack or even decay, that I was going to re-read Judith’s Precarious Life, since in it she addresses violence and mourning in direct response to the war that we imagine only began in 2001. I wanted to try to understand what it was exactly in our fetishization of the images of destruction that I find so frustrating to deal with, beyond even practical and political concerns over the extent to which we seem to be willing to give up every last shred of dignity and “freedom” (were we “free” before?), if it will help us to reestablish our illusion of security and safety from political violence.

I am also thinking a bit about death and the multiple, complex relations between life and death–not only in the realm of the human, but even in whatever cycle it is with which the forces of the whole universe are engaged: materialization out of potential, animation out of elementary energy, and any and all inevitable returns to entropy that we might also be undertaking as moments of complexity and approximate coherence in a system characterized by violent destruction in creation, and creation in destruction.

As is usual, I managed to get about thirty pages into my chosen reading before I felt compelled to begin writing. The questions that arise upon reading anything with nuance or subtlety are irresistible to me, and so I remain in interminable study, never able to finish much of anything but always starting again to reformulate this process in which I have, for most of my life, been chasing after ways to express the inexpressible and to narrate that which defies language. To put it all too neatly.

It is not a simple coincidence that the refusal to integrate our national experience into a humane course of action causes me to pause over this question of what it is to live in close proximity with death–even here in the US where death is sequestered and hidden away beneath neatly manicured lawns and behind antiseptic curtains. And it is not simple coincidence that this question occurs to me at the same time as does my perennial questions concerning the limits of language and sense, for death is one name for an ultimately senseless way of going along: it is the primary way in which I myself have been and will be related to all that is for all but the tiniest sliver of time that I claim as my uncertain lifespan. I do not mean by this that ultimately I will be dead, but rather that my being dead, or my not being, or something inexpressible that has to do with never having come to be to begin with despite my apparent sensible existence at the moment, constitutes the primary and primordial relations that ground this current state in which, for now, I seem to be here.

To put it in a Zen Buddhist sort of way, I am already dead and always have been. There are infinite other ways of putting it, for it will not be put, or it will not stay put, or in other words there are no other words and so there will always be an ongoing stream of other words. What we in the US seem unable to comprehend is that our ideal of individualism and consequence-free domination of whatever it is we damned well feel pleased to dominate has been bound from the time of its conception to meet, eventually, its limiting case, its moment of mortality realized, its susceptibility to destructive forces and its vulnerability to the violence that it so easily calculates as acceptable expenses for a political economy that will admit no peer. That is, empires are destined to fall. Are we falling now? Have we not already fallen?

To the degree that we must recognize the unrecognizable–that is, our “primary vulnerability” to that upon which our very being falters, even disastrously, in its attempt to circumscribe itself as independent and individualistic –in order to be able to mourn whatever is lost in a violent encounter, in a disaster, then to that degree, one who suffers loss might attempt to disavow one’s own vulnerability to loss by virtue of the fact that injury is instigated by an unrecognizable force. Thus is rendered impossible the question of any sort of narration of loss or resolution in sensible language of the insensibile moment of trauma. But rather than pausing to consider what might be the consequence of our all being exposed in this way, by virtue of our primary vulnerability, if we decline even to pause in the face of what undoes us in violence, if we attempt to master our vulnerability, we only manage to deny the very conditions of our existence and are immediately closed off from the possibility of our own future. With the unrecognizable other, we also die, or are discarded, or are disavowed, or are visited in the continuing cycles of violence that serve the interests of this denial of vulnerability, which is a denial of life itself.

We are thrown here on a sort of paradoxical demand: that the unrecognizable not be consigned to illegibility or, worse, to unreality, because we are not prepared to acknowledge that we might not be able to conceptualize, chart, categorize, or comprehend the nature of our own being exposed to an other. That is, this would be the ethical demand of living itself: not to deny the fact of our helplessness, not to foreclose the possibility of incursions from unpredictable sources–incursions which may cause us pain or pleasure or both, which may occasion the possibility of our being able to live in a more lively way, or which may frustrate our desire to keep our lives in order. One cannot predict which it will be, or whether all of these moments might be bound up together in such a way that pain is the precondition of pleasure and vice versa, or, more precisely, in such a way that the distinction between pleasure and pain is lost in the very potential of coming to life as terrestrial creatures.

Relegating to the unreal that which threatens the security of the self, denying conceptual meaning to that which breaks the bounds of conceptualization, is a form of impotence in the face of the other. This impotence is realized as the impossibility of negating that which, conceptually, one has already negated–as well as the impossibility of negating that which is not subject to the workings of negation! But although the workings of negation or exclusivity or ideation cannot bring this other into any sort of domesticated, enforced “peace”, this other remains naked and vulnerable in relation to the subject of the act of negation. Our impotence, or inability to erase what is not, to begin with, legible, visits upon the other a violence without end, a real violence that incurs real atrocities precisely because its mission is impossible, and thus must be repeated indefinitely, so long as the subject inflicting that violence seeks to immunize itself against what is crucial to the being of that very subject: its other, against which it attempts to define itself. And fails.

This is how, or one of the reasons why, totalitarian violence is in the last analysis suicidal: an attempt to destroy the other which faces me and makes my utterance of “self” possible in that primordial encounter, the effort to sever relations with that in which we are already entangled and always were, from a time prior to memory and thus prior to time, is, in a very real way, the destruction of ourselves. It is not only that the balance of an interconnected ecosystem can be fatally disrupted by exploitation to the point that exploiter and exploited both perish, although to conceive of the relations between living things in the universe in this way makes our fragility in the faceless face of our own exploitative appetites quite clear. But it is also that without those relations we are, quite simply, not. Or rather, not simply at all: those relations’ being the anteroom of history and discourse renders them both foreign to and constitutive of our ability to try to name them as such.

I have no idea how to end this, but it seems as though it might be worthwhile to pause at the point of our own suicidality as it emerges from militaristic efforts to secure our place in eternity. There is no such place to be had, of course, and we only hasten our own demise in struggling to erect for ourselves a line of defense against every possible enemy. Again, this is not only because we are happy to relinquish our ideals for the illusion of safety, but it is at least that and also our current relation to that which has, in the “West”, so long been designated as inadmissible: vulnerability itself, subjection itself, fallibility itself, interdependence and the possibility that our ideals themselves are inadequate and provisional.

fly me. or not.

I am trying to find a way to Seattle and back that involves as little money as possible. For reasons about which I can only begin to speculate air travel is less expensive than both rail and bus but no matter which I were to choose I cannot really afford either one. So this may all be moot in my particular case but it still seems pertinent to say:

Looking at the anecdotes posted at tsastatus.net for SEA and SFO sent me diving for a Klonopin. These stories are not particularly graphic and do not consist of the most horrible cases of TSA personal encroachment that have been passed around, but imagining myself in the place of the people describing their experiences as they went through the security line was enough to send a cascade of cortisol through my body. And so I do what is necessary to counteract it.
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why greed is now closer to godliness than ever.

Sometimes you wake up and facebook dares you to write a blog post. I won’t reveal the name of the person who posted this quote, since facebook is, you know, that place where privacy is paramount. No really, I don’t share full names with the Internet at large without permission. The pointer, though:

“Why is the Christian right so enamored with the slash and burn capitalist system? –Capitalism: Take all you can. –Jesus: Give all you can. — The connection fails me.”
–fnordlord, commenter on huffpo

Sometimes the asking of a question is meant to be a pointed rebuke, as it is here. And this particular rebuke certainly has a very important point: why do fundamentalist Christians worship “all-for-me, nothing-for-you,” greed-driven, planet trashing consumption-driven capital above just about any other kind of economic system?

It seems contradictory on the surface of it and it probably is just as hypocritical if one pokes at it a little more closely. When I see questions like this, though, they make me want to raise my hand and wave it around and say “Oh! Oh! I was one of them! I know a couple of answers to this question and you all aren’t going to believe what they consist of!”

So, allow me, if you don’t mind: what is it about a deeply exploitative and self-interested economic system that appeals to a religion supposedly founded on principles of generosity and selflessness?
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Just kick some ass and everything will be fine.

Another story about what can happen when assumptions about gender collide–you have probably heard about this already, that a transgendered woman was denied emergency medical care in Muncie, Indiana precisely because she is transgendered. That is to say, the hospital staff actually told her that they could not treat her “condition.” However, by “condition” they were not referring to the medical emergency she was presenting with; she had to ask, though, for clarification, and, no, they would not give her medical care because she was transgendered. What she came in for had nothing to do with gender–or at least not in any direct way that I can imagine off the top of my head, and I doubt they had anything in mind either–but they refused to treat her because of who she was, not because they were incapable of helping her with her presenting symptoms.

Go. Read about it. Do whatever you think you can do to bring some rationality to the situation. Then come back here and find out why going directly there and “kicking ass,” while a perfectly understandable wish if you were brought up on the American cowboy myth, would not help anything. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Well, no I won’t. I’ll write this and then some time after that maybe you’ll read it. All three of you.
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"Helping" Iran– or first, some historical humble pie

Warning: this is a political blog entry. If you came here looking for poetry, you will have to wait until next time I write some. I promise I am trying to do so more regularly and recent events are encouraging in that connection but right now I have a political opinion I would like to speak about.

I do not follow world news all that closely for several reasons including a rather fragile mental health that does not bear up well under sensationalized gloom and doom but I have been watching events unfold in Iran from a more or less medium-distance. Today at What Tami Said, Tami notes that some right wing and even moderate voices in the US “seem eager to see some saber-rattling from the President [of the United States].” To those taken in by that sort of useless testerical exuberance she points out precisely the problem with this idea–bad memory: “How soon we forget that it is our intervention that has helped shape several of Iran’s current problems.”

I am just going to explain briefly why I Agree With This Post.

It is not America’s job to come running in to save the day even when a country’s own people are appearing to be trying to choose a government we believe would look something like whatever our ideal for, say, Persian Democracy in this case would look like if we had our way with it. The Iranian people want their own independence, especially from foreign intervention. Anyone can read Iranian history and figure that out within just a few hours. We already monumentally fucked them over when we thwarted their bid for democracy after WWII; if you have a few minutes, google “Iran Mossadegh” or just go and read All the Shah’s Men for a sobering look at how the United States entered a colonial partnership with the UK to overthrow one of the most popular leaders in recent Iranian history and install a puppet regime to maintain control of Iranian oil.

In 1980, when Iranian students and political activists took over the American embassy and held 52 American diplomatic workers hostage, our reaction was one of outraged surprise. The average Iranian reaction to our outraged surprise was something like “so do you all learn your own foreign policy history?”–because of course we don’t, and few non-Iranian Americans had any idea that resentment towards us had been building there for nearly thirty years before they decided to rid themselves, once again, of a foreign-installed and -supported dictator.

I think most of us do manage to remember what happened next, but the historical lens through which we view subsequent political developments in that region is badly distorted by a lack of supporting context. We have already ignored the Iranian people more than enough to risk running roughshod over what they want in order to try to prove once again that the world really needs Western leaders to show them how to live.

I think it is safe to say that chances are, few Iranians want our active involvement this time around.

There are ways to support popular movements there, like sending funds to organizations that are not mainly headed by Western interests but which are poised to offer material aid rather than come barreling in with soldiers. avaaz.org is worth a look, for instance.

Tired interventionist policy will not only not work here, but it would almost certainly backfire, as it almost always does. If the Iranian people ask for our help, we should ask them exactly what they need, listen to what they say, and give them what they ask for to the best of our ability. Otherwise it is not our place to decide for them how this will play out, and we do not know better than they do what they need to successfully find independence and self-determination.

It is difficult for Americans to grasp, but sending in cowboys to shoot things up a bit is a mistake that we keep repeating because we do not learn from our own history. I could talk about the state of American historical “knowledge,” but that would take a whole new post filled with fresh examples of absurdity. You want to help? Listen to Iran rather than to the dinosaurs who still believe in the White Man’s Burden. Then go and do some research on what you did not learn in schoolroom American history.