Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Knee Deep in Shit: Insurance Companies and My Fight for Survival

Shortly after a brutal encounter with a shrink hired by my insurance company. You can read about it below.
Insurance companies are evil. So evil that I've been an ever worsening wreck for a about two months now. I was planning to write a "just fashion history" post to cheer myself up. But then I thought about how my blog has helped me create an online community, and how supportive that community has been lately, and I thought I'd just tell you straight out how rough things are for me right now. 

In short, my insurance company is threatening my income. I'm been afraid of losing everything. I'm deeply triggered. And it's made me very sick.

A male Goldfinch in mating glory.
We have socialized medicine in Canada, which means that most of our basic medical expenses are covered and, if illness or disability make it impossible for us to work, we can receive medical welfare. But it's not much. In my city, it's definitely not enough to live on. 

Through my job as a college instructor, I receive "extended healthcare" insurance: more of my medical expenses are covered, and my disability income replacement is about three times what I would get on medical welfare. 

I am now at the point when my insurance company "decides" if I'm permanently disabled and cannot work in any occupation. Since this would mean they'd have to keep paying my income replacement till I'm retirement age, they are, of course, making things difficult. Because my claim is primarily for my PTSD and secondarily for my physical disabilities, they insist that I be subjected to a psychiatric "assessment" -- by a psychiatrist of their choosing

Red flags. 

I've  been extremely anxious about this "assessment." Insurance companies are notoriously cruel, and shrinks can be bought. It's so bad that, as I write this, concerned parties, including lawyers, are fighting to have the process of insurance mandated "external" medical "assessments" changed.

In addition to all my other physical problems, I have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), something that's normally a mere annoyance but, when I'm badly stressed, can become a real problem for me. I'm badly stressed! So I'm sick. On a good day, I "only" have diarrhea three or four times. On a bad day, well, you can imagine. 

Virtually everything I eat makes it worse. I've been living mostly on bland, tofu, rice noodle, miso soup. If I'm feeling very courageous, Beau adds tiny pieces of kale. I'm losing weight. I'm dehydrated. I fear I'm malnourished. My body is depleted.

A week before my mental health was to be "assessed," I had the worst panic attack of my life. I was overwhelmed by vertigo so severe, I could not lift my head off the ground. My entire being was terror. I screamed. I yelled. I cried. 

And (remember my IBS?) I had to go to the bathroom, badly, urgently. It took me about an hour to drag myself the fifteen feet across the floor to the bathroom. But I simply could not lift my head to get myself onto the toilet. I was too dizzy. There on the cold bathroom floor, crying with shame and terror, I shat myself -- repeatedly. 

Beau was, as always, amazing. Remember, he's had ulcerative colitis and was a single dad to his two young children. He knows about poop. He murmured reassurances and told me not to worry, not to be embarrassed. He comforted me as much as anyone could. I think I would have died of fear if he hadn't been there.

I kept thinking that this was the worst night of my life, but I knew it wasn't. It was the worst night of my adult life. At least this time, no-one had purposefully put me in this terrifying, humiliating situation.

When I was about eight, my many abusers decided to perform a sort of ritual to convince me that I was forever filthy, forever evil, and that they could therefore do anything they wanted to me. In a tiny, rural community, with outhouses and private septic systems, they took me out to the edge of the woods, near a black lake at night and covered me with shit and piss. They left me there alone, all night. I was terrified and I was freezing. I thought I would die. I could have died. 

And here I was, 38 years later, freezing and terrified, covered in shit, unable to move. 

It was so triggering, I don't think I could tell if I was 46 years old or eight years old. It was all one. I took a lot of ativan. It didn't work.

If I hadn't been under so much stress in general, I might have realized earlier that this was not "just" a panic attack. Beau and I finally figured out that I was also having a BPPV (Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo) attack. In other words, something had dislodged in my inner ear, causing vertigo much worse and much longer lasting than that which I often get with panic attacks. We made an emergency call to my doctor and Beau raced off to the pharmacy, leaving me in a shivering, unmoving heap on the hall floor. (That's when we took those two sad photos.)

By now I'd been on the floor for several hours. 

Eventually, I managed to inch myself along the floor to the bed, but the minute I crawled up onto the bed, I threw up - a lot - all over myself and all over the bed. It was awful!

Beau was brilliant, cleaning the bed, cleaning me, and changing the sheets with the skill of a trained nurse -- while I just lay there, immobilized. 

Finally, I fell into a drugged half-sleep. As always, my sleep was filled with nightmares.

From my post: Emerald Green for the Haunted Heart
And I woke to the reality that I still had a psychiatric evaluation to look forward to in a week. I felt like I was barely hanging on by my fingernails. 

I reached out to my friends and to my online community, especially on Instagram, where I found myself posting a lot of little photo montages, often illustrating how I was feeling. Looking at some of these photos, I thought, and asked others, "Is it not obvious that I have PTSD? You need only look in my eyes to see it. Why do I have to prove it to anyone?" 

A Northern Flicker, straining for food
But I did have to prove it. And that was going to be traumatic. I kept telling myself, "If I can just hang on for a week, it will all be over. In a week, I can relax and start healing from that horrible night and all the memories it raised."

But I was wrong.

From my post: On Being a Hero: Aragorn's Cape and Me
On the day of the assessment, I arrived with a tape recorder and my two advocates -- Beau and my trauma psychologist. We were told that Beau could not accompany us because it would be "too stuffy." When we went into the room, it was clear that we'd been lied to: the room was huge and airy, with several free chairs. So I said I'd go get Beau. The psychiatrist immediately became aggressive, bullying, and rude, telling me that he, not I, was in control, and that I was "forbidden" to bring Beau into the assessment with me.

When he saw my tape recorder, he said, "I'm outta here," and began packing his things to leave. When I asked why, he said it was his (unwritten) policy to never be recorded. I asked what he could possibly do that would be so damning that he did not want it on tape. He did not answer me. When I asked if my therapist and I could have a moment to discuss whether or not to proceed without recording the session, he said "NO!" and stormed out of the room.

And that was that. Less than five minutes after I met him, he was gone -- and I still had no idea when this ordeal would be over. When would a new assessment be scheduled? How much longer would I be hanging on by my fingernails? How much longer would I be sick? How would I endure this for one more minute, let alone days, weeks, or even months? 

What if they eventually rejected my disability claim? Remember, I have DID. Parts of me, most of me, believes that, if my claim is, I'll be homeless and on the streets, with no choice but to turn tricks again, like I was forced to do as a child. And it would kill me. This crippled body couldn't handle that, and I'd die, right there, on the streets. 

I cried so hard, I gave myself a migraine.

Then I hired a lawyer. 

A year ago, when my father died and left me an unexpected inheritance, my first thought was, "I'll be able to afford a lawyer to fight the insurance company." And here I was, doing just that. Most disabled people don't have that option.

On the day Beau and I met with my lawyer, I felt relaxed for the first time in months. We both did. We could even smile.

He's a good lawyer, himself disabled, with a great brain, lots of legal experience, and a long history of disability and poverty rights advocacy and activism. I knew who he was long before I was disabled. 

The meeting took place four days after the fiasco with the psychiatrist. We had not yet heard anything from my insurance company. On my lawyer's advice, Beau wrote to the company, asking them what to expect next.

Their reply sent me crashing down into terror all over again.

The shrink lied. Of course he did. He said that I was the one who had refused the assessment! If, said the company, I continued to "refuse" an assessment, they would have "no choice but to terminate" my monthly disability coverage. 

They were threatening my livelihood. And they couldn't have cared less if I lived or died as a result. Profit. It's all about profit.

Now, there was another time in my life when my body and very life were threatened for profit. Child sex traffickers and insurance companies seem to have a lot in common. 

Triggering? Just a LOT.

I felt like this little tree here, trying to flower and flourish in the worst possible filth and imprisonment. 

The garbage a complete stranger deliberately dumped on my mobility scooter a few days ago.
But that wasn't enough. I had to be reminded even more blatantly that, to many in the world, I am nothing but garbage. Two days after the shrink lied about me, I tried to cheer myself up by taking myself to my local cafe. When I left, I found that someone, I don't know who, had deliberately dumped garbage and old coffee on my mobility scooter. 

Why?! Why would anyone do that? The only possible answer I could think of is that they hate disabled people, hate us so much that they want to humiliate and degrade us even if they've never met us. That hurt. A lot. I've been deliberately humiliated and degraded before.

At least this time it wasn't shit. But it was close.

From my post: The Ditzy Dress and the Dirty 30s: Honouring the Women of the Great Depression
I'd recently seen the movie Scoop, about the epidemic of child sexual abuse in the Catholic church in Boston, and about those who colluded to cover it up and discredit the victims. In it, a lawyer, played by Stanley Tucci, says, "If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one." I don't know if that has ever felt as true as it does right now. Once a person is beaten down in childhood, she is beaten down for the rest of her life. 

I did everything I could to raise myself up. I stayed clean and sober, I got a bunch of degrees, I took good care of myself, I built a respectable career with extended health care. But none of that really mattered. I was slammed down by disabilities, the seeds of which many pedophiles had planted in my body all those years ago. Because of that, I had to turn to my insurance company, who are now also abusing me for their own gain. 

Abuse doesn't end. Any rape survivor who has sought justice knows that. I know that.

I'm not the one in control.

From my post: The Girl Next Door in Hell, or, You Can't Tell By Looking
This doesn't mean I don't try. I'm doing everything I know how to do. I've assembled a pretty great team: Team Charlotte. The team is not just my lawyer, doctor, and therapist. It's also Beau, my friends, and all my lovely readers online who have been bolstering me up through this ordeal.

I am proud that I have assembled that team, proud that people who have never even met me are rallying round me. I just don't know if it will be enough -- enough to win this fight with the insurance company, and enough to maintain my mental and physical health.

I don't know if I'm strong enough. I do try to be strong. I try to appear strong. People constantly tell me I'm strong. They even tell me I'm the strongest person they know.

But they don't know! They haven't seen me lying in my own shit, screaming with terror. They haven't seen me shaking and crying till I can't breathe. They haven't heard my cries of fear in the night. 

If that's strength, what the hell is weakness?

My health remains terrible. I'm running to the washroom in pain several times a day. My back hurts so much that I can barely walk a block, even using a cane and leaning heavily on Beau. I'm still very afraid of a recurrence of vertigo and/or panic attacks, so afraid that I don't dare do my physio exercises. I don't even dare roll onto my left side in bed for fear of dizziness. I've been taking extra ativan. I've been having an extra drink a little more than I'd like. I've been having even worse nightmares than usual. If I my screams don't wake me, pain does. 

I feel like a Northern Flicker, acrobatically and impossibly contorting and straining myself to get what I need to stay alive.

But the Flicker's body is designed for such contortions. Mine isn't. Her body snaps back. Mine doesn't. She may look like she'll break, but she's just fine.

I'm not. 

The best I can say for myself right now is that I find some things help a little. It feels like putting a dab of polysporin on a huge, gaping wound. I'll tell you about those dabs of balm.

Notice in the above photo I'm wearing my diamond earrings while I'm lying down to rest my back.

This photo is from my last post, in which I explained at length how diamonds and fine jewelry help me heal.

I've been wearing my earrings and staring at them ... 

... a lot. It's led to a lot of selfie fails, and increased activity on Instagram.

You can see more of this Edwardian, peridot brooch (here worn as a pendant) here.
You can generally tell how upset I am by how much jewelry I'm wearing, especially if it's fine jewelry

See more of this dress here.
But costume jewelry will do too. Beau gave me this parure the night before our wedding. 

I wore this outfit for Easter. I'm a Jew, but I can't resist and opportunity to dress for an occasion. 

I found this quintessential, 1980s, Easter egg coloured dress for $20 and wore it over the Easter weekend too. I don't really like Easter. I find it incredibly macabre and gory, and Jesus' suffering on the cross reminds me of the tortures I endured in childhood. But I like the spring colours associated with Easter, so I wore them to try to cheer myself up. 

I usually find hope and promise in spring. That's been harder this year.

I haven't had to force myself to keep dressing up though. It feels necessary for my sanity. This is even more true if, as with my Easter outfits and this outfit, there's some humour in what I wear. 

I wore this outfit the day I voted in our provincial election. Orange is the colour of my chosen party, the one I think is most likely to fight for the little dog, like me. 

We lost. I expected it. I was too upset about my insurance woes to really care. I had no more energy for grief. I hadn't had any hope for a positive outcome anyway.

A darling children's bracelet from the 1930s.
I don't have much hope in the present, not in my own present anyway. There's a recurring theme in most of what I'm wearing these days: time travel. 

I'm not the one in control of my present, or my future. But I can control the elements of the past into which I choose to retreat.

I choose the pretty ones, real or imagined.

Vintage Coro scatter pins. The larger brooch is a replica of one of Queen Elizabeth's brooches.
If it makes me feel better, it doesn't really matter to me right now. I just need to survive.

I wear a pendant and earring set from the 1940s, and, in a tiny way, I am transported away from all the muck and mire of my present day and into an imagined, better past.

For more of my outfit here, read Ration Fashion: A Wartime Dress
If I actually look like a real person from the past, all the better. I was happy to find this lovely Jewish lady from the 1930s, shaped just like me, probably a literal long lost relative. 

Being Edith Bunker
I've been emulating comfortable women, women I respect ...

... and admire, more than elegant women.

This Mary Tyler Moore outfit was one ... 

... of many in the last few months. Her death has brought that out in me ...

From my post: The God Question: What I Do (and Don't) Believe
... repeatedly. 

From my post: Versatile, Feminine Frills: the 1930s Day Dress
But, really, I prefer to disappear into a past long before my time, one I can't remember. That way, I can pretend it was light, loving, and just.

This preserved old elevator is in the same building as my lawyer's office. As tense as I was, the sense of time travel it provided soothed me a little.

But I had to look at it through bars. Feels like the story of my life these days.

From my post: Spring Flowers, Diamonds, and Real Women in the 1930s
I've been trying hard to find hope in the images from the past, lessons about hardship and happiness and love. I'm not sure I'm succeeding.

So I seek comfort elsewhere too.

As always, our cats are another source of comfort for me. Milo and I have had a fraught relationship since we met. You see, he loves Beau at least as much as I do and tries to compete with me for his affections. He growls and hisses at me sometimes, so he's not my favourite feline. 

But, one day, in the midst of my terrors of losing everything, I looked at him curled up on our bed and my heart broke as I thought that, if I were homeless, I would lose him too.

Since then, we seem to be getting along better.

But, of course, Bobby's my baby. He's twenty now, but he still brings me his toys every night, often more than once. Sometimes in the morning I find that he's lovingly placed his favourite mouse toy on my day bed for me. 

When I took him in for a checkup recently, I asked the vet how he was doing. He just said, "He's alive. He's doing great!" 

Now Beau likes to pet him and coo, "Good for you, Bobby. You're still alive. You're a very good liver."

Just looking at him makes me feel better. Touching him soothes me right down to my heart.

And of course there's Beau. I took this photo one day when he came into the room and said proudly, "I fixed it. I fixed my hair." He's spent a lot of time trying to make me laugh lately. He's really good at it. I think he even made me laugh once or twice the night I was lying in my own shit on the bathroom floor.

He's been doing so much for me, both practically and emotionally! He drives me everywhere I need to go as I sort out the insurance problems. He holds me when I cry. He cooks and cleans because I can't. I've been hurling myself into his arms for a big hug a lot these days.

I don't feel like what I'm going through is my fight. I feel like it's our fight. I've never had that kind of love before.

And he keeps doing sweet little unexpected things for me, like leaving this little dish of flowers at my place at the table.

He doesn't really enjoy it, but he's been taking me second hand shopping a lot too. It hurts my body like crazy, but it helps my heart. 

I found the Crown Trifari brooch on the right for $8. I already had the other one.

I've found some fun things, like this great, mid-century modern scarf.

I've bought a few new things, like this atomic age shower curtain, but I've been so worried about money ...

... that I've mostly stuck to cheap, second hand stuff. This is a ring!

I found these two brooches at two different stores in less than a week. What are the odds of that happening? 

I'm trying to find hope wherever and whenever I can, like in these birds.

But the truth is, I'm scared, really really scared. I have to remind myself over and over and over again that, no matter what happens, I won't end up on the streets. I won't ever have to turn a trick ever again. Nobody is going to pound into my body and hurt it even more -- again. I won't lie down beside a dumpster and die in an alley strewn with used needles and condoms.

Beau and I have been talking about what we'll do financially if the insurance company does the cruel and unjust thing -- if I lose my income, and lose a battle in court. The short answer is that Beau would have to find a way to support me. He says he could, if he had to. But I know it would be hard. Extremely hard.

I know that he's already worn to the bone by all we've been going through. It hurts him to see me suffering. It hurts him to see others treat me so cruelly and selfishly. He does everything he can to help me, but I worry that he's doing too much. 

I've been pretty good at not getting snappish in all this stress, but I do sometimes find myself getting snappish in my attempts to get Beau to take better care of himself. I don't want him to sacrifice his own health for mine.

Beau's not entirely alone in caring for me, of course. The other day, his cousin sent me this hummingbird because he knows I'm going through a rough time.

I've been talking a lot on the phone to my best friend in Toronto.

And many of my readers have been pretty great. One reader, only just turned 18, made this sweet illustration of the day I proposed to Beau. She did it to cheer me up. It did.

When I started Sublime Mercies, it never occurred to me that I would make friends and gain support through it. I guess I was thinking of it more as I thought of my role as a teacher. But my readers are my peers, not my students, and some of them really do care about me.

A lot of them share at least some of my experiences. They know, say, about spending most of life in bed, with heating pads and special pillows, and cats. Others know about what it's like to be a trafficking survivor. Many know what it feels like to have PTSD. Virtually all of them, especially the Americans, know about how evil insurance companies are.

I didn't plan to create a community. I didn't plan an online Team Charlotte, but it's happened. 

I'd give you more specific examples but I don't want to betray any confidences. Many people have written to me privately, saying, in essence, "Me too. Thanks. I'm here for you." That means a lot to me.

Thanks. Keep it coming. I need it!

And that's my reality at present. I'm hanging in there, but only barely. 

(To find out what happened next, read Ableism: Beaten Down and Fighting Back. And to read about the final outcome of my battle with my insurance company, read How My Insurance Company Used Rape Culture to (Almost) Defeat Me.)