Saturday, July 22, 2017

Ableism: Beaten Down and Fighting Back

Ableism is real. My last several months have proven that to me, painfully, and deeply. The hell I was going through with my insurance company? That was just the warm-up for the hell that was to come. 

My story is in no way unique. It is the norm for disabled people. Someone needs to talk about this. Someone needs to do something about it. I'm doing what I know how to do: I'm speaking out. 


The short version of the story? My insurance company claims I am not really disabled, or not all that disabled, and can work. Therefore, I now have no income whatsoever. None. 

The long version of the story? Full of lies, stonewalling, deception, greed, and profiting off of human suffering - my suffering.

It's not just the insurance company doing this to me. It's also those who are paid to help people in situations like mine. Neither my employer nor my union feel any responsibility to help me in what is turning out to be the biggest fight of my adult life. 

Needless to say, I'm not doing well. I only find myself able to write about all this now that I've finally found a few powerful allies who are willing to help me. I have a little hope, so now I have the strength to tell you about my despair.

I'm choosing to write about most of this hell in the past tense, as if it's all over, but it's not. Yes, I have some help now, and some hope, but I still have no income, and no guarantee that I ever will.

My IBS has let up enough that I can eat some roughage again, though not much. A salad is always a victory.
When last I wrote about this whole debacle, I'd been so stressed about my insurance company's upcoming decision that I'd very sick with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and PTSD for months. I could eat very little without being sick, I was badly dehydrated, and I had the worst panic attack of my life. My insurance company was insisting that a psychiatrist of their choosing "assess" me to determine whether or not I really have PTSD, and I was terrified, both of the appointment and of the possibility of his lying and saying I'm fine.

He did lie, thought not quite in the way I'd expected. He threw a fit and refused to conduct the assessment when he saw that I'd brought a tape recorder. He stomped off in a petulant, childish huff. He then lied to the insurance company and said that I was the one who had refused the assessment and left the room. The company said that I'd been "non-compliant" so they "had no choice" but to cut off my income.

My lawyer wrote a stern letter to my insurance company. I kept receiving my income.

After the psychiatrist's abusive behaviour, after his bald-faced lie, my resolve to record any future assessment was strengthened. I have PTSD. I can not give anyone that much power over my future, that much power to lie and destroy my life. Recording the session is a disability accommodation need, not a request, not a preference.

And then the waiting game began. For six weeks, the insurance company did nothing. They did not even acknowledge that they had received the letter from my lawyer. They had their own deadline for deciding whether or not I would continue to have an income and, while they did nothing, that deadline was looming.

I reached out to the relevant people in my HR department. They chatted a bit with someone at the insurance company but did nothing. I reached out to my union. They chatted a bit with someone in HR but did nothing. Thus began a pattern of little chitchats between these three groups, inaction, and telling me there was nothing they could do for me.

That word came up a lot: nothing. I was treated like I am nothing.

Then the insurance company cut off my income because... wait for it... I had not been assessed by a psychiatrist. Yes, you read right: They dropped the ball for six weeks and penalized me for their inaction!

I needed my employer to tell the insurance company, "You can't do this to our employee! You can't penalize her for your own mistakes. This is a violation of her human rights, and a violation of her contract as a tenured instructor. We contracted you to replace her income if she became disabled. You're not doing that."

But my employer didn't do that. Instead, they said they were sorry I was "frustrated" but there was nothing they could do.

So I reached out to my union. I needed them to say to my employer, "You can't do this to your employee! They can't penalize her for their own mistakes. This is a violation of her human rights, her contract, and our collective agreement. You contracted this company to replace her income if she became disabled. They're not doing that. You need to make it right."

But my union didn't do that. Instead, my union rep, off on a lovely paid vacation, wrote to me and said he was sorry I was "frustrated" but there was nothing the union could do.

Frustrated? Frustrated!?! I have no income. I'm a lot more than frustrated!

After another, $500, stern letter from my lawyer, the insurance company said they'd tried to find a shrink willing to let me record his or her "assessment" of my mental health. I held out little hope for the outcome.

Meanwhile, I had an appointment for yet another assessment, this time with our local pelvic pain clinic. Nice lighting, eh? Do we look happy? We'd already been fighting so long, we were bone weary and could barely think, let alone function.

We waited and waited and waited, ushered from one waiting room to another, each still further into the bowels of this harshly lit, labyrinthine medical building. There were no windows. I couldn't have found my way out if my life depended on it.

I'm trying to join the "hospital glam" hashtag movement, so I took this photo.
I was so scared! To say I was triggered is an understatement. I wasn't the only one. Other women in the waiting room were visibly shaking. Sexual abuse is common. Its after effects are predictable.

At first I refused an internal exam. I had not realized they would need to do one so I had not emotionally prepared myself at all. The doctor and I talked for a long time. When she understood all I've lived through, and all the pain I'm in, she asked in wonder, "How did you keep going for so long?"

I started to cry.

I relented to the exam. It was awful. First with her hand, and then with a long, probing device, she deliberately caused pain by prodding at my insides in every possible way, asking, "Does this hurt? How much? How about this? What about this?"

Like rape. It reminded me so much of the rapists and what they did to me.

She was able to tell me that I'm close to menopause (thank God!) and that my endometriosis is under control. And that all of my pelvic pain now is caused by my back injuries. In other words, my rapists caused all my pelvic pain. Great. That's just great.

Think of all those men, so indifferent to my humanity, so intent on their own ejaculatory pleasure, that they left me in crippling pain for the rest of my life.

In the midst of all this, Trump was trying to give more power to health insurance companies, thus condoning the abuse and death of thousands.
I am familiar with people's indifference to the suffering they are causing me. In fact, I am familiar with people profiting from and delighting in my physical suffering.

A mere week after beginning their supposedly exhaustive search, my insurance company claimed they could not find a shrink willing to be recorded while he or she "assessed" me. They would, they said, be happy to make their decision without a psychiatric assessment. 

I knew that they were either lying or had not tried very hard. In the past, they'd wanted to fly a shrink in from a neighbouring province to assess me. This time, their extensive search had included two local areas. In the past, the woman they contract to find shrinks said, in front of four witnesses, that "lots of" psychiatrists on their roster had "no problem" with being recorded. Now there wasn't a single one to be found? Right. But without any assistance, without anyone to call their bluff, what was I to do?

So I said okay, but only if they'd wait to receive several more documents providing supporting evidence for my claim. They said they'd looked forward to receiving them.

I wore this the day I received the bad news. I couldn't care less what I looked like. I felt like death.
The very next day, without those documents, they rejected my claim, saying they did not have enough supporting evidence that I am unable to work. I would no longer receive "income replacement" - ever, for the rest of my life.

No income, ever.

Obviously, their "generous" offer to make their decision without the aid of a psychiatric assessment was a ploy. Obviously, if I were going to file a successful appeal, or if I were going to sue, I was going to need to get that assessment. But how?

My lawyer told me I should sue. But that would take up to three years, with no income, and no guarantee of a favourable outcome. Though it was more than likely I'd be turned down again, an appeal was at least worth a try.

So, you guessed it, I tried yet again to get some help from my employer and my union. Maybe they could put pressure on the insurance company to give me a fair assessment with a psychiatrist honest enough that they were willing to be recorded. I again reminded both my employer and my union of my contract, my tenure, my collective agreement, and my human rights, and implored them to help me. 

They were sorry I was frustrated but there was nothing they could do for me. 

They urged me to appeal, but offered me no help in doing so. They were entirely unmoved by the fact that I was somehow supposed to survive on NO money for an indefinite period of time.

Meanwhile, this whole time, all these months, the meetings with doctors, the attempts to get all my files in one place, the useless letters to my union and employer, the meetings with my lawyer... These were a full time job. And I'm disabled. I'm not supposed to work! I can't work.

My mental and physical health deteriorated. 

My life by now had become terror, helplessness, anger, hysterical crying jags, and an exhaustion beyond anything I can describe. It was waking screaming from nightmares, trying to quell fears of homelessness, constant flashbacks to being raped to earn money, visions of dying on the streets, my corpse rotting into the pavement. My life was also sciatica, migraines, back pain, constant diarrhea, and stomach cramping.

Ironic, isn't it? The insurance company's insistence that I'm not disabled made my disabilities exponentially worse.

Beau was falling apart too. He couldn't bear to see me so flagrantly abused. He couldn't bear to see me suffering. There were times when he was so afraid for my mental health, he thought he'd have to call 911. 

Not only that, but, if I were to have no income, we would all be affected. Beau would have to support himself, me, and his two teenage children - all in the most expensive real estate market in North America.

An example of the thoughtless ableism I encounter every day. Construction workers placed this metal fence right in front of the accessibility button - and this is a medical building!
Do you want to know the worst part? Virtually every disabled person I know has gone through (or is still going through) this sort of thing - and worse. Most just give up. Who can afford to be without an income for the three years it takes to sue an insurance company? Who can indefinitely bang their head against a wall of indifference? 

In Canada, giving up often means going on medical welfare: not even enough to cover my modest rent. I don't know what it means in the States. Death? And there's no guarantee disabled Canadians can even get government assistance. It's as hard to qualify for medical welfare as it is to qualify for income replacement through private insurance companies. In other words, our applications, no matter how legitimate, are often rejected. If you're married to someone with a job? Forget about it. It seems to be writ in stone that disabled people shalt be destitute, like it's God's will or something.  

This is ableism.

It finally hit me - hard - all this was happening because I'm disabled. People were treating me like this because they can. They can get away with abusing the disabled because we don't matter. We're nothing. I'd had serious trouble with my employer before and the union had jumped to my defense. But now that my problems were about disability? They were sorry I was frustrated but there was nothing they could do.


They just don't care.

This is ableism.

Ableism is real. When I lost my income, began noticing it everywhere, not as single, isolated incidences, but as part of a larger whole of systemic, culturally sanctioned abuse of the disabled. If you're disabled, you already know what I mean. You deal with it all day every day. It's little things like property owners disregarding laws about accessibility, to things as big as my loss of income.

Ableism is relentless.

I can't stop seeing, hearing, noticing the endless ableism we all face all the time. I got to a point where my rage was so overwhelming, I thought I'd die from it. It was eating me alive.

It didn't help that every time I tried to talk about it with abled people, they denied its very existence, even when it was staring them in the face. When someone yet again saw fit to defile my scooter seat, this time with partially chewed food, an abled man kindly offered to clean it for me. But, when he saw my anger, he chastised me, saying, "There's always going to be a few bad people out there. Don't let them get you down." When I tried to tell him that this is part of a larger pattern that I face all the time, he shut down and stopped listening to me altogether, wandering off and telling me to have a nice day.

Abled people have explanations for everything: It was just one bad person who did that; Insurance companies have to do that because of all those fakers out there; I'm sure he meant well when he was rude to you; Medical welfare wouldn't be so low if there weren't all those people abusing the system. They see no pattern of abuse. They see no systemic oppression. They see no cultural prejudice. They don't see it because they don't want to see it. Neither do I. But I have no choice.

More incredibly flattering hospital light. I'm not actually yellow.
In the middle of all this, Beau, who has an ostomy because of ulcerative colitis, had to have minor surgery to prepare for a larger surgery that he needs to have soon, in which the last part of his colon will be removed. He was very scared and very triggered. (Remember, he too was abused as a child. He too has a disability, though it's far less debilitating than mine is.) Here I am waiting for him to come out of surgery. I'm wearing his favourite dress. It was one little thing I could do for him. I couldn't take care of him physically but I wanted to take care of him emotionally and, with the way things have been, I wasn't sure I was strong enough even to do that.

Beau and I were doing pretty well through all this, I guess. I snapped at him more than I should have, but usually stopped myself quickly. Our sex life died, of course; being triggered about sexual abuse will do that. But mostly we were getting along well, turning to each other for the love, support, and providing faith in each other that no-one else seemed to offer. Lesser things this have ended marriages. It's clear that's not going to happen to us. This photo is kind of like us in this nightmare: washed out, not at our best, but still in love at least. 

Any progress I'd been making in my healing was stalled and even reversed. My anxiety was through the roof. I'd been drinking more than I'd like, not a lot because I'm really not a drinker, but more than I'm comfortable with. (My neighbours gave me this homemade wine. They thought I might need it. I did.) Before all this started, I'd already reduced my ativan intake and my doctor and I worked on a plan for me to stop taking daily ativan and to start taking it only as needed. That plan is out the window now, till this is sorted, whenever that will be, if it ever is sorted. Not only am I still taking my daily milligram of ativan, but I'm taking extra, as-needed ativan more often too.

People online and people in my "real" life kept praising me for fighting and not giving up. They kept telling me I'm strong. To them, this seems to mean that I'll be fine. I was not fine. I didn't feel strong. I had no fight left in me. But I had no choice. I can't live on nothing. I can't feed, house, and clothe myself on nothing. I can't be nothing. I must fight - because I'm fighting for my life. But I feel like it's killing me. How's that for irony?

Perhaps I put on too brave a face. I always have, even as a child. People didn't seem to get how hard things were. When I tried to tell them, they'd come back with, "But you're so strong," almost as if they were contradicting my assertion that things were hard. I may be strong but everyone has her breaking point.

Eventually, my anger gave way to terror: pure, fight/fly/freeze terror, with all its attendant strains on my body and mind. 

Out of desperation, Beau wrote to a woman in my union who sits on the disabilities committee. With my permission, he gave her intimate details about the cause and nature of my disabilities. He wrote of gang rapes, vaginal scarring, PTSD, etc. Of course, he asked her to keep this information confidential. 

Not only did she toe the same old party line - "I'm sorry you're frustrated. There's nothing I can do" - but she said she refused to honour Beau's request for confidentiality and forwarded his letter to a male union member! (The male union member's response? You already know. He's sorry I'm frustrated but there's nothing he can do for me.) I couldn't believe it!

I bought this Anubis earring when I was about thirteen. I wear it whenever I am sure there is no justice and no punishment of the wicked on this earth, but I am hopeful that there will be after death. Anubis was the Egyptian god who weighed a dead person's soul against a feather. If the soul was heavier than the feather, it could not go on to the afterlife. I'm sure, completely sure, that the people at the insurance company, and those who turn away from human suffering, have very very heavy souls. So, maybe, just maybe, there will be justice in another place.

Because I'm damned sure it won't be in this place. Throughout all of this, people keep comforting me by telling me I'm in the right. "You're telling the truth," they say. "You deserve the money." What's that got to do with anything? Truth, being deserving? They mean nothing, absolutely nothing, in the face of power. Anyone who thinks they do is naive. I don't have the luxury of such naivete. 

I felt so beaten down, so angry, hurt, and helpless, I thought I could die. In fact, death seemed the only solution to my suffering. I wasn't suicidal; my faith is too strong for that. I just knew in my heart that justice never prevails and, no matter how right I was. No matter how much I told the truth, justice would not be mine. Power and greed always win. I kept thinking: Let injustice rain down like a mighty river.

That silky blackness behind the brooch? Bobby's fur.
I bought this brooch as a symbol of that fact. The soft, rhinestone line is hope and faith and gentleness. The harsh square is human cruelty, suffering, and injustice. One is never without the other. Goodness is always shot through with and impaled upon evil. 

Yes: Evil. Please don't try to offer me another word for it. I've tried them all. They don't work.

In a way I'd never felt it before, I felt like I had a better understanding of what people of colour deal with every damned day in this world: prejudice, injustice, discrimination, oppression (and, yes, other people's denial that racism even exists). Knowing that I'm not the only one, knowing that others have it even worse is no consolation at all. It is just evidence of the fact that injustice reigns.

I talked to a decades long acquaintance of mine about it. She runs a charity shop, the proceeds of which go to help battered women. She's black and Muslim, and she wears a hijab. I mustered up my courage to ask her, "How do you do it? How do walk out the door each day knowing the prejudice you'll face?" She talked about remembering that it's the prejudiced people who have a problem, not her. She talked about learning to let it go at the end of the day so she can get on with living.

I said that I'm seeing all the horrors and oppression different groups face as part of a monolithic whole: of the triumph of evil over good. I told her that I see it in the eyes of the Syrian refugees at the refugee centre near me. I started to cry - again.

"Oh, my dear," she said. "You need to let that go. You need to put all that away right now and focus on yourself and getting what you need. Don't worry about the other stuff." There would be time enough for all that later.

What she said helped. It really did.

I talked with my therapist, saying that now was not the time for healing or self-discovery. Now was the time for survival and coping strategies. I was employing every act of self-care I could think of and they just weren't working. 

After talking for a while, we stumbled on my love of children's literature, especially C.S. Lewis' Narnia series. Beau loves the series too and even made the above map of Narnia for me for Christmas one year! My therapist and I decided it would be soothing for Beau and I to re-read the series together. Since then, he and I have been having a lot of lively, animated conversations about Narnia.

The Dawn Treader enters The Dark Island. By Pauline Baynes.
I told her about the scene in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader when the ship enters the darkness where nightmares become reality. In the middle of all that pain and terror and hopelessness, a dove comes to young Lucy and, in the voice of Aslan, quietly says, "Courage dear heart," and helps her find the way out of hell. 

In Narnia, Aslan is God.

I often wear doves like this tiny earring to remind me of my private but powerful faith. It helps me feel less alone.
Around this time, several of my disabled friends happened to individually converge on my local cafe when I was there. At one point we even formed a little traffic jam of wheeled people on the sidewalk, for once blocking the abled people's way instead of the other way around. I told them all about the hell I was enduring. They commiserated, told me about their own, similar experiences, and, one and all, told me to ask my MLA for help. (An MLA is a Member of the (provincial) Legislative Assembly, something like an MP in England, and a state representative in the States.)

One friend who had fought for at least a year to get a replacement wheelchair finally went to his MLA and, presto! he had his wheelchair. Another had spent a year getting all the necessary doctor's notes to get a special pillow to prevent bedsores but kept getting his "request" turned down. He went to his MLA and, yup, he got the damned pillow right away.

I had already left a message at my MLA's office but my friends gave me renewed determination to meet with him so I called again and set up a meeting.

I was very nervous. I told Beau, "He's just going to say, 'Fuck off, ho!'" In my life, "ho" meant "hooker." I thought he was just going to see a washed up, broken down old hooker who deserved nothing. That's how low my self-esteem had fallen. I didn't exactly feel I deserved abuse, but I expected it, and I felt like I was nothing more than what had happened to me.

But the meeting went well! I explained my situation and "frustrations" (ha ha) to him and he completely understood. We came up with a plan for him to talk to the people in power at my workplace and kindly but firmly make it clear that things had to change.

Our first order of business is to get me a proper psychiatric assessment that I can record. With that, I'll have a shot at a successful appeal, something that is faster and much cheaper than suing. If my appeal fails, my MLA and I will discuss further steps he and I can take.

Finally someone was hearing me, taking me seriously, and using his position to help me in practical ways. He told me he understands how much injustice I've faced and that it's hard for me to separate that from figuring out practical steps to get what I need: my money. He said he would keep himself focused on that goal as his first priority. If he and I tied ourselves in knots trying to get justice too, it would slow down that process. We need to take care of my immediate needs first and then, down the road, I can decide if justice is a goal too, and, if it is, come up with a plan for how to achieve that. 

What would justice look like to me? A public acknowledgement that I have been mistreated and discriminated against as a disabled person. (Sue my employer? File a failure to represent complaint against the union? Sue the insurance company for causing undue suffering? Go to the media?) Dream on, right? I know, I know.

The next day, I received the pelvic pain doctor's report on my appointment. It was three pages of detailed, compassionate, but medically worded confirmation of everything my insurance company was trying to deny! I am, she said, severely disabled by "exquisite," constant pain. I have extreme anxiety, she said, due to PTSD. My body is badly damaged by repeated, brutal sexual abuse. I am not depressed, and I have excellent coping skills, so I can't be accused of malingering or laziness. (She also said that Beau, who was there, is very supportive and we have a great relationship. Aw!)

In short, I've been telling the god damned truth all along! A medical document stating that fact is, in essence, more relevant to my claim than the truth itself. It was hard to see all my suffering listed like that but none of it was news to me so it was more vindicating than upsetting.

Remember, this letter is one of the supporting documents we asked the insurance company to wait for before making their decision. Remember, they said they would do so. And, remember, the very next day, they made their decision without said documents.

But they'll have this letter when I appeal. It's a hard letter to ignore or discredit, though I know they'll try. If worse comes to worst, a letter like this will be damning if I sue them.

It's all far from a done deal yet, but I do have hope. I am optimistic. I think it's possible, maybe even probable that I will receive a satisfactory resolution to this nightmare.

I've been able to relax a bit more since things have taken a more hopeful turn. I took this photo of me and the kitties relaxing, and posted it on Instagram with a brief of explanation of why I was feeling better. Jessie Chval, who's been reading my blog since almost the very beginning, wrote me a series of notes which did wonders in helping me bolster my flagging self esteem. She made me feel like I've been admirable in this fight, not pathetic. When the shame and fear come back, I keep remembering her words, so I'm going to share them here:

"You have done so much to move forward in such a short time. Way to start to see your way through this fiasco, and to do very difficult things to help your case along. You are such an incredible inspiration, and it makes my soul feel more at ease knowing you have more/better support now, some much needed hope, and medical proof of your pain and what caused it. So relieved that your pelvic pain clinic appointment is going to pay off as well. I know how much it sucked and hurt. You fucking did it with your fabulous hubby by your side, and you're a badass warrior woman for fighting these invisible monsters that so many can't even conceive of. I guess I'm trying to say thank you, and also validate how tough it's been to get this far. Sending support, hope for justice, love, and light your way."

I wrote back and said that I could almost believe all these nice things she was saying are true. She replied:

"They ARE true! You're doing so much for yourself while you never stop creating awareness of the chronic pain and sexual abuse survivor/PTSD communities (and there's plenty of overlap between the two) in a way that empowers everyone who comes across your writing, and empowers you, too. I know you're going through a heart breakng ordeal right now, again, but you're making progress and I am so thankful. I'm honored that my words are at all helpful during a shitty time. I look up to you so much and respect your fierce spirit and refusal to give up even when so many (most all) others would never have made it this far... 
I'm such a big fan of your style, your spirit and tenacity, your fierce radical healing mentality, and especially your gorgeously crafted writing. I believe the world needs your words and wisdom. Your writing is what woke me years ago and helped me acknowledge and work to heal old wounds. So I'm going to quietly fan girl over here."

Wow! Wow wow wow. I'd come to define myself as nothing, because I was being treated like I was nothing. But I'm not nothing! In standing up for myself, even when I feel I have no choice, I am standing up for others too. Certainly, in writing about this ordeal, I am speaking not just for myself but for all the others who are enduring similar abuse. Maybe I won't see justice. But others in the future might, and I may be playing a small part in paving the way for them.


So I've been feeling better lately (though, I'll admit, writing this blog has brought me down again). But what helped while I was in the midst of my worst despair? Nothing helped a lot, but a lot of things helped a little.

First and foremost, there was Beau. A few months ago, this gorgeous, Eurasian Collared Dove pair decided to hang out at our place. They mate for life and their love for each other is adorable. They are constantly together, close enough to tough each other, cuddly and loving. They remind me a lot of me and Beau. We cuddle constantly and it helps a lot.

Beau kept working through all of this, as best he could, between ferrying me around to various doctor's appointments, meetings, etc. My scooter even broke for two weeks during it all, so he was my only source of transport. 

And then there was the holding me when I cried, and all the crying he did too.

Despite it all, he finished an amazing chart of world writing systems, including everything from Morse code to Inuktitut. He ran a very successful Kickstarter campaign to fund it. He kept up with the daily tasks of his business. He saw his kids through the end of the school year. He did virtually all the household tasks because I can't.

And he made me feel loved. One day, I was sitting there, head in hand, feeling half dead and utterly defeated, and he just looked at me and said, "You're so pretty. Don't move," and picked up the camera. This is one of the photos he took. 

He makes me laugh every day, no matter how bad things are. This is what happened when I asked him to take a picture of my new haircut. It was silly and a teensy bit sexy and it made me laugh and feel beautiful - to him at least, at not to myself.

Beau knows how much I love my birds so, even though keeping the feeders full makes more work for him, he never grumbles about it. Here, he's deliberately replenishing their water in full view of the crows so they come to know that we're good people, not a threat.

Also, aren't his broad shoulders lovely? I love to lean on them, literally and metaphorically. 

This crow family has been a new addition to our little ecosystem. We put out a dish of water as a birdbath but the crows quickly took to washing their food in it. Here a baby crow, all pink gums and loud complaints, is begging to be fed and his parent is saying, "No! Feed yourself now."

We've had all kinds of new creatures coming to us this year. This Black Capped Grosbeak showed up for a few days, checking us out.

Our doves, not even native to Canada, watched us watching them, with curiosity but not with fear. 

Our old standbys like to watch us too. The male Goldfinches are so beautiful in spring and summer.

Our most common visitors are Goldfinches and Housef inches. It can't get much better than that. Not only are they beautiful to the eyes, but they both have beautiful songs to sing too. By feeding them, we bring more birdsong to the whole neighbourhood.

The birds have come to trust us so, eventually, they all bring their young to us. At first, the crow couple came on their own to wash their food. Then they let their babies sit in nearby trees, squawking to be fed. Then, as in this photo, they brought their babies with them to teach them how to wash their food (in this case, a french fry). See how parent is keeping a close eye on me? Isn't that sweet? Finally, the crows would fly away and watch from a distance as their babies inexpertly washed food, drank water, and fell off the railings. 

This is the goofiest looking baby House Finch I've ever seen. Beau dubbed him Batman Bird.
Baby birds are endlessly entertaining, just like teenagers, with their clumsiness, bad haircuts, and ceaseless curiosity. 

The full moon as seen from my study window
This year, we put an extra feeder mere feet from my study window. I spend a lot of time in my study, either at my computer or lying down, resting. 

A juvenile House Finch
At first, the birds were unsure of being so close to a human, but they're used to it now.

For a while, a mommy squirrel tried her hand at eating from the new feeder. We had a long conversation about it one day, as I took photo after photo. But then she got stuck. Beau and I were busy planning a rescue mission when she finally got herself disentangled and took off. She hasn't tried again, but, just today, another, littler squirrel gave the feeder a once over. I'm pretty sure it was one of her babies!

An immature male, Anna's hummingbird

The hummingbirds, bold little creatures, have long since given up their fear of feeding near us. We talk to them and go about our regular lives while they eat mere feet from us.

I love that the birds trust us. I feel honoured by their trust. It feels like a kind of respect. In the midst of all these people saying by word and deed that my life has no value and they don't care if I live or die, the creatures know I'm a good person. 

Bobby is almost 21 now, entirely deaf, and more dear and loving than ever. We often praise him simply for still being alive. "You're such a good liver!" we tell him. "You're so good at living!" 

His trust is the biggest honour of all. When he sighs a big, contented, purring sigh, just because he's near me, I feel so loved. I know I've done something right in my life. When he puts his little paws on my hand, trusting me completely, I know I'm a good person after all, no matter what anyone else says.

I've barely been able to notice the beauties that usually sustain me, like these roses cascading down the side of our house. But I guess it's almost a miracle that I've managed to notice them at all.

I also managed to get a pretty great new haircut. That was nice.

I found these Sherman earrings in the thrift store downstairs from my lawyer's office. A consolation prize? (Irony? The proceeds from the thrift store go to help abused children.)

I've been letting myself keep buying dresses, but only when they're on sale. If I were to budget too carefully, it would actually cause my terror about poverty to escalate. I have to continually remind myself that, at present, I am not actually destitute. 

Everything but the vintage barrette is real here: coral and gold ring, gold and diamond rings, gold earrings, gold and citrine earrings, and gold and diamond earrings. I was also wearing a gold bracelet. 
And, of course, I've done what I always do: piled on the bling and put on a brave face.

But none of it helped much, not until I had some hope.

Look! The medical building fixed their accessibility problem - after Beau complained to the management about it. That's nice but should it really be up to disabled people to point out such problems all the time? Shouldn't laws be, you know, enforced, so we don't have to?

Ableism hasn't gone away just because I'm feeling a bit better.

My vintage, 1930s, Trifari dress clip. Yes, I do have its mate.
I'm not really out of the darkness, but I can see the light again.

The mountains may be obscured by the smoke from the forest fires burning huge swaths of our province... but the mountains are still there. The smoke will clear. The forests will regrow. And climate change will still be a reality.

My struggles may be resolved. I will heal from this ordeal. And ableism will still be a reality. 

And so I soldier forward, still beleaguered, still fearful and angry, but more optimistic, and a little more relaxed.

May 1, 2018: My MLA was not able to help me. I have received no pay and no union help in over a year. I was left no choice but to hire a lawyer to sue my insurance company. This process will take years - with no pay. For more, read Dead Girls' Ghosts.

February 15, 2020: For the final, brutal outcome of this whole mess, read How My Insurance Company Used Rape Culture to (Almost) Defeat Me.

(I'm sharing this with Not Dressed as Lamb, Honest Mum, and Not Dead Yet.)


  1. You can trust a cat to keep loving you, and they know how much we love them. My cats are my sweetest friends. So sorry you've had to endure this, and so happy you are still "soldiering forward." xox

    1. Cats are such wonderful "spoonie" companions, ie companions for those of us who are chronically ill.

  2. I know I don't comment often (I find child SA stuff hard to read about) but this was a wonderful piece, and I'm glad it ended with hope. You and Beau are for real #relationshipgoals.

    1. I know it can be very tough to read about SA. You're not the only one who says they sometimes can't read my blog. That's okay. I get it. Thanks for commenting this time. Thanks for reminding me that Beau and I are a good couple. We let the stress get to us yesterday and had quite the argument, but we got past it.

  3. I love your chevron maxi skirt (so on trend!) and you look so cute in it.

    i appreciate your bravery. Keep fighting the good fight.

    I have two feline critters myself. They are amazing allies. They keep secrets well. :)

    1. You know, I got that skirt new but on sale for $7! I never feel brave. I just feel I'm doing what I have to do, but thanks. Cats do keep secrets, don't they? Teddy bears do too.

  4. Hi, thought I'd left you a comment last week but didn't seem to send....I found you on #HonestMum but wish it was better times for you! I have some idea having battled the UK benefits system for a couple of years.......anyway this is a great post that I have included on Pain Pals Blog regular feature Monday Magic - Inspiring Blogs for You! Claire x

  5. Hi - my comment didn't take, so will try again. Any update? I am SO glad the MLA got on board. I cannot believe what you have been through. Yes, ableism is very real. It is almost like we become invisible. But I refuse to be invisible or silent. Here's to you - and Beau - and I hope the money you should never have had to fight for in the first place comes to you soon.

  6. I'm praying for you and Beau and I'm so glad you have each other. Things are changing, just not fast enough for the people who need it. They are changing, though, and people like you who demand to be seen and recognized are a huge part of that change. I admire your courage in sharing your struggles with all of us.

  7. i found this blog post linked on tumblr -- i'm so glad you got SOMEONE to listen to you, but it should not have taken that long or that many people to happen. alas, ableism is a thing and this isn't all that surprising. know that this is a thing that should not be happening. no one should have to do an entire year of circus acts' worth of jumping through flaming hoops to get someone to say, "okay, you're having enough trouble working that we will help you." i'm lucky to have not experienced much, but i'm young and still on my parents' health insurance. i did have to fire a doctor last month, because advocating for myself and trying to avoid triggers meant that apparently my "behavior" was "unacceptable" and i was being "childish" (????) and if i couldn't "act appropriately" i was not welcome at his practice. he was not a good enough doctor for me to put up with being treated like i was in first grade. trying to find a female rheumatologist where i live, but there are only 3 anywhere close. i hope everything works out for you okay. i'm going to try to be braver too, even if i get backlash.
    i'm glad the birds are bringing you joy and that your partner is there for you through all this. if you'd like, and if i can figure out how to add a picture for you, i will be happy to share a picture of our neighborhood sandhill cranes, who often bring their babies right up to us. this one includes an overgrown teenage crane. my dad, our older dog, and i often talk to them.

  8. You are awesome. I'm only just reading this now because of all of the stuff that has gone on in my own life, particularly my recent diagnosis. Anything even remotely triggering, I've just had to tune out. (I also have a thing for children's literature. Do you know the author Tamora Pierce?) It's amazing to me that you, with all of this going on, were able to talk to me about my diagnosis. I'm deeply thankful for it and it has been very helpful.