Monday, March 7, 2011

An Update on My Well-Being

Over the years I've noticed that people with commonalities tend to congregate together. Whether it be because of race, national origin, or a language they share. Sometimes portions of major metropolitan areas are divided into ethnic neighborhoods, some of them becoming tourist attractions, such as Little Italy or Chinatown.

It seems to be the same way with job descriptions: people who do the same job and/or work in the same departments tend to sit with one another at work when eating lunch in the company cafeteria.

And it seems, the same thing can be said regarding people's marital status: single people and married people maintain different social circles, unlike married couples with children who share a commonality with other married couples with children.

The same could be true with a person's economical status: wealthy people tend to keep the company of other wealthy people. But unemployed people and people who have jobs maintain a separation from one another. The unemployed network with each other, while people who have jobs seem to keep their distance from the though they had a fatal or contagious illness.

I noticed this almost immediately after I was laid off from work two and half years ago. I tried to contact several people I used to work with, but rarely had my emails or my phone calls been returned. When they were returned, they were short and curt, as though they only replied to be polite, seemingly uninterested or genuinely concerned about my state of affairs. (I use to miss the days when I would go out for cold beers with my co-workers after work.)

This further isolated me from the world and made me feel even more sad and depressed about my already miserable situation. After a while, I stopped trying and embraced my unemployed brethren, and even ended up being roommates with one of them - a very special person who literally saved my life. That was a little over a month ago when I was almost at my end - - - when I almost took my life.

For over two years leading up to that time, like most unemployed people that had been laid off for a long time, I searched for work while my resources and hope had been dwindling month after month. And like most, I lost my healthcare insurance as my anxiety and depression worsened over time. I became ever more depressed and stressed as my time was quickly running out.

But even prior to being laid off, I was having some health neck and lower back. I used to take Lortabs that I previously had from dental visits, and I used to take four 500mgs tabs of Ibuprofen to sometimes get me through the work day too. After two years of being unemployed, my condition only got worse as atrophy also set in due to lack of physical exercise, and I also had shortness of breath because of my increased stress-related smoking. Almost any exertion at all had tired me.

I may have already been on the verge of being classified as legally disabled in 2008 before I lost my job, but the thought or the possibility of that was too horrible to ponder, so I never went to a doctor for my back and neck. Maybe I was in denial, so I just took more pain pills to get me through my days, hoping to be able to complete my daily tasks at work, with little to no complaints from my co-workers or boss. I hid my agony as best I could; for some odd reason I felt ashamed.

My first memorable back injury occurred when I was about 17 years old and I was still in high school (while working at a cardboard factory at night). I was treated with muscle relaxants and pain pills and was bedridden for almost two weeks. Sometime before or after that time I also had an operation for hernia (also due to heavy lifting).

I almost always held labor intensive jobs....I only had a GED...and periodically throughout my working life I always had neck and back pain. I just considered it to be "normal" for doing manual labor, so I just suffered while berating myself for not ever going to college.

About 35 years later while at work at my very last job (while on the "extra-board", which is part-time, scheduled, and "call in" employment) I was once asked by my boss after he witnessed me cringing in pain, "Is there something wrong?" When I thought he was genuinely concerned, I complained about my back pain. Then he replied with no sympathy at all, "Well, if you aren't capable or no longer able to do your job..." (leaving the statement hanging, as though it were up to me to draw my own conclusion.) I feared not being called back to work again, so I just said, "Not a problem". Then after he walked away I reached into my pocket for my "emergency dose" of Lortab that I always carried with me "just in case", and went right back to work again.

Occasionally sympathetic (and un-named) co-workers who had a prescription for pain medicine would see my agony and kindly offer me some, to help me through the rest of the work day. (I thought this was especially kind of them because by them doing so was a firing offense for BOTH of us had this been discovered by management.)

At my job previous to that job I once twisted my back (and felt a strange sensation and heard an odd noise) while lifting and moving a heavy tub of iced beer; but I did not report it to security (which would have been mandatory to get any insurance-paid medical assistance) because I feared being terminated due to the company's fear of having to pay me out for an on-the-job injury. Other employees at the time had warned me of this with anecdotal stories. I woke up the next day with severe back pain.

All throughout my career as a casino bartender in Las Vegas for 20 years, whenever possible I bid on and worked the busiest shifts - I was ambitious and wanted to work hard and make money. I didn't aspire to just stand around polishing glasses collecting my hourly wages, I wanted to make tips. So I was usually doing a lot of reaching, bending, lifting, walking, and twisting - I wasn't loitering with my leg propped up on the speed rack gossiping, I stayed busy most of the time. And whoever designed those bars had very little knowledge of ergonomics. If I wasn't making a drink, I was stocking or cleaning. Keeping busy always made my 8 hours behind the bar seem much shorter.

When I was laid off in late 2008, at first I thought I would find another bartender job after only a short time. But who knew then where the economy was going back then? After being rejected for a job at MGM's CityCenter late in 2009, I had already began to admit to myself that I was probably physically unable to stand behind a bar for 8 hours a day anymore. But because I didn't now what else to do (and being petrified with fear) I continued to apply for jobs anyway. And I figured, what the hell...I have nothing to lose if by chance I was ever hired I'd give it a try.

And since being unemployed, even with all the rest in the world, my back never got better - it only got worse, but just not in my back and neck, but in my ass as well! And then there was also the severe and very painful foot and leg cramps I began to experience (atrophy, due to lack of being physically active like I once was while still working?)

And then months later when it was too late, and after I exhausted my unemployment benefits, I never considered applying for Social Security disability. That was because I have always heard it usually takes a year or two to resolve - - - and that the government did all that they could to NOT pay out these claims....and always rejected the first claim anyway. And with all the stress I felt during this time in my life, a fight with the U.S. government was the very last thing I had wanted. And I didn't plan to live that long.

All the job rejections, frustration, stress, and the depression I felt when facing homelessness - and then later after I had finally decided (with my ultimate demise looming) - I became a human "basket case".

After I used up all the cash I had in the bank, and postponing paying my utilities and car payments for as long as I could, just after the last New Year's Eve when I wrote I'm So Tired of Being Tired, I had almost completely given up on life*. I had planned my very last day on earth in great detail, and put all my "affairs" in order. I wrote a LAST WILL.

* For those of you who weren't aware of my situation at the time, I had been blogging and posting at Facebook about the economy and the unemployment situation in America for the previous two years. An anonymous reader of mine had read that article and had reported it the authorities, who sent two LVMPD police officers to my apartment to do a "wellness check" on me. The article was Tweeted and CNN's Ali Velshi and Arianna Huffington from the Huffington Post (and local news reporters including the Associated Press) picked up the story and interviewed me (see "My 15 Minutes of Fame" in the right-hand column of this post for the links). In turn, I received 3 offers for a place to stay.

Then at the last minute, just before I was evicted and my electricity was turned off, a local woman I barely knew (another Facebook member)  took me in to her home, offering me my own room and providing me with food. I left most of my belongings behind, and the few things I could keep, she carried them to her car for me and drove them (and me) to her home.

Since that time I have received about $400 in donations through the PayPal button on this blog. I also qualified for food stamps for 6 months. And a very kind man shipped me a computer with Windows XP because my old computer with Windows 98 had been in a death spiral (just like I once was).

Besides writing and reading and watching TV, my life now consists of an occasional short walk around the block or sitting for a short time on the front porch. But most of my time is now spent in bed, next to a desk with a lamp and this computer. Sitting for any longer than 30 minutes at a time is very painful for me, on my neck and lower back, so I always have to lay back down to rest every so often. I become fatigued very easily. A post like this can take hours to write. I'm tired a lot, feeling constantly exhausted, and I have bouts of anxiety from time to time as well.

No, I'm not bitching, I'm just explaining. Pity won't make me feel any better, only a cup of freshly brewed coffee with French vanilla creamer will. That, and a cigarette.

Now I've come to the conclusion that I'm now living in Purgatory, somewhere between Heaven and Hell; somewhere between life and death. Because I realize that the ordeal of the last two and half years is not near over for me. I just had a short reprieve. At age 55, I'm still 7 long years away for my Social Security and pension retirement. Food stamps and my present room won't last forever. I'll still need an income to survive, but I can no longer work (even if I still had a car and found a job, which is almost impossible now).

But for now, I'm very lucky to be where I am. I have food and shelter, and I have a TV and computer to fill my time. Even though I no longer have a job, money to spend, a social life, or the freedom to drive anywhere I want, I still have most of my mental faculties. And I couldn't ask for a nicer, kinder, or more thoughtful room mate. For now, I'm blessed.

The woman who offered me this room that I live in, is herself out of work and collecting unemployment benefits. Just like people with jobs, unemployed people tend to congregate together too. Her unemployment benefits won't last forever either, so I'm trying to apply for Social Security disability benefits. It pays about as much as unemployment benefits, but it will most likely be much more difficult to qualify for...even though I still can't work "through no fault of my own".

This is the constant state of stress I live in, and writing sometimes helps distract me from my back pain and my writing ABOUT my back pain and my problems. And the odds of finding a doctor to treat me appears to be slim to none without insurance (or cash) unless I use an emergency room. Sitting in a hard plastic chair for hours on end waiting to see a doctor (and with my bad back) doesn't sound very appealing. Just thinking about it gives me stress.

Dealing with the Social Security administration will be more stressful. Just reading the forms and filling out the forms caused me neck and back pain, and even more stress. Waiting for an answer from them will be stressful too. Sleeping doesn't even provide me with complete relief either, waking up with nightmares or from the pain associated with just changing positions. I'm almost a basket case. Now I have to prove to the government that I am a basket case when they try to deny me disability benefits. More stress.

Two months ago I faced homelessness, but that wasn't an option for me, so I chose death. Many women might turn to prostitution to escape homelessness, and women with children can get financial help and healthcare from the State. Single men like myself live on the street and eat from garbage dumpsters...or in my case, if they have a sponsor (a place to live), can live on food stamps for a little while. But without Social Security disability (or a second miracle), my original option is back on the table.

As it stands today, I've been ran through the gauntlet trying to obtain some medical help for various things. Before, when I was first laid off, I had lost my job-related healthcare and dental insurance. Then when I was collecting unemployment benefits, I didn't want to spend the money for the financially prohibitive cost of COBRA. After my UI benefits were exhausted, I couldn't qualify for any free county medical assistance either because I still had cash in the bank. Because I didn't have children, I couldn't qualify for Medicaid. Because I wasn't over 65 years old I couldn't qualify for Medicare. Now that I'm indigent AND disabled, I am presently trying to get some medical treatment through UMC. I've applied for Social Security disability and they will have a doctor look at me, but only to evaluate my condition - they do not provide any ACTUAL TREATMENT AT ALL, not even a prescription for pain medicine. So I continue to take massive doses of Ibuprofen, so eventually I may need a damn liver and kidney transplant too!

If I'm lucky, and at the rate I'm going, I might end up being committed to a state-run elderly facility, where the old folks with commonalities tend to also congregate together. If that happens, then hopefully my only stress by that time will be making it to the weekly Bingo games on time.


  1. Thank you for being open and honest about your state of mind Bud. The thoughts you have are often shared by many of us. Please know you are not alone. You are going through a very rough time, as are many of us. We can blame the very real sources of our issues but that only goes as far as we feel empowered to create change. And it is very hard to do that - but it is by design. We must fight it so we can change the course of our own future.

    Thank you for having the courage to say publicly what many of us feel. You help others by doing so.

  2. Hi Bud,

    I still have a job and am very grateful, in a high-employment part of the country (northern VA/DC area). I am sorry. I read blogs and news and Dr. Krugman's blog particularly every day. I am so disgusted by the people who run the country. All I can say is appreciate what little you have and try to enjoy something - a library book, a warm day.
    best wishes,

    Linda B.

  3. Hi, Bud
    I feel your pain completely..the only difference is I am a single female and as such I do not qualify for housing assistance..I was also denied SSD and I have back problems....I live in Illinois and I cannot get the medical documentation needed to proceed with my case....all I can say is hang in there and hope that somehow you can get your SSD.