31 August 2009

The Last Paycheck

I got my last paycheck today.

Aside from a couple of years as a freelance writer in the mid-80s, I've had a full-time day job since I was an undergraduate in college -- back at the dawn of time, seems like. I always told myself the Protestant work ethic wasn't much of a motivator for me. My job was what I did, not who I was. I liked my work and I was good at it, but it was just a job. It paid the bills. One of my favorite quotes was: "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money." (Samuel Johnson). So, finances aside, leaving gainful employment shouldn't be any big deal.

I half expected to find out, push come to shove, that wasn't true. 

Turns out, I don't miss going to work every morning as much as I thought I would. My last real day on the job was June 19. After burning through eight weeks of accumulated sick leave and vacation time, I'm not (yet) in withdrawal. It's still a relief to realize I won't have to spend the day struggling to do things I never used to have to think about.

I will miss the talented, creative, witty people I worked with, even though it's been years since I saw them in the office every day. I know I won't do a good job of keeping up with them, once I'm no longer in the e-mail or IM loop. I will miss the geeky toys and new technology. And, with my 401(k) barely adequate to finance a long weekend, much less early retirement, I will really miss that paycheck.

I will really miss that paycheck.

In other news, a very cheerful person from the insurance company called to say my short-term disability claim has been approved. At my next doctor's appointment, they want me to get my doctor to estimate when I will be able to return to work. That strikes me funny, even though I realize most of their claims are for people who are likely to get better, not worse. And if I called my neurologist today to make an appointment, it would be six months before I got in to see her.

29 August 2009

Rollin' with the Homies

Introducing the other members of our pack:

Bareit the demented whippet and Ernie the greyhound, on a recent walk (roll) around Green Lake in Seattle with greyhound pals Brite and Buzz.

28 August 2009

Is That Me?

I don't spend a lot of time in front of a mirror. In fact, I don't spend any time in front of a mirror. All the mirrors in my house are at standing-up height, and I'm always sitting down. This is not an accident, or a failure of planning. I like it that way. It's no inconvenience; I don't wear makeup, I can't brush my own hair anymore, and I don't need to look in a mirror when I'm brushing my teeth. I can go for long periods without seeing my reflection.

So when I do happen to catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I'm always surprised. It takes me a moment to realize that I'm looking at myself. I'm neither particularly gorgeous, nor particularly hideous. Kind of average-looking, and I'm okay with that. The person in the mirror wears her surprisingly gray hair tied at the back of her neck, a style that does not particularly suit her long, narrow face.(Scarecrow willingly brushes my hair and ties it out of my way, but styling and blow drying would be asking a bit much.) She could stand to moisturize more. Her hands look particularly crippy -- bony and wasted, clenched into fists, covered with age-spotted elephant hide. They don't look like they're good for much. (They aren't. But I guess a little hand lotion wouldn't hurt, either.) And that chair! Or is it a tank? (It's a tank. A Permobile C300 power chair. I'm sitting on it, so I guess I forget what it looks like. But hey, it's basic black.) She looks like she was poured into it. Why doesn't she sit up a little straighter?

It must be like going to a high school reunion, and finding that everyone else sent their parents. (My 40th would be this year, if they were having one, which they aren't, and I were going, which I wouldn't.) One of my best buddies when I was a kid sent me a recent picture of herself. I was gobsmacked. She looks just like her mom.

It's kind of like that. Every time I look in a mirror. The crippy hands and the power chair I can blame on MS. I think the gray hair and general decrepitude is just gettin' old. I guess I could spend more time on my appearance (Correction: I could have Scarecrow spent more time on my appearance.) But I really don't give it much thought. It's not a problem as long as I don't look in a mirror.

Just, please, don't tell me I look like my mom.

Scarecrow just stuck his head in to tell me we have an appointment to apply for SSDI next Friday afternoon. I'm so looking forward to this. Really. It'll be fun.

27 August 2009

Not working is hard work

Queen of Procrastination that I am, I fiddled around all morning, getting nothing much done. I really did not want to go back to the next step in preparing to file for SSDI -- itemizing everything that's wrong with me, and describing how it keeps me from working. It wasn't fun yesterday, and it wasn't fun today either. But I finally did it. At least, I worked at it some. I got to where I can put it down for a day or so, and come back to it. If Scarecrow gets around to making us an appointment with Social Security (which ain't gonna happen today, because it's getting on to 4:30 and they close at 4:00) I'll be seriously motivated to take another run at it.

The insurance company called to verify some dates on my short-term disability claim. It's really not that hard. My last official day at work was August 14, but I actually stopped working June 19. I've been using up accumulated sick leave and vacation time since then. But when the insurance guy asked when I became disabled, I didn't really know what to tell him. Five years ago? Two months ago? Last week? It's not like I got hit by a truck. Anyway, we managed to get each other thoroughly tangled in terminology. The HR lady at work finally got it straightened out. I think. But this is a good sign. They got my claim, and they're thinkin' about it.

Who knew not working would be such hard work?

26 August 2009

Fun with Forms. And applications. And worksheets.

My insurance company called to tell me they received my short-term disability claim. They say they'll need to ponder for 10 days or so, and they'll get back to me. So, for the moment, it's off my desk and on someone else's. Step one: Apply for short-term disability -- check!

Since I had a head of steam up, I downloaded the SSDI Starter Kit from the Social Security website, and started filling out an Adult Disability and Work History Report. I don't intend to apply online, but I have to get the information down somehow, and an online form lets me use voice recognition. The alternative is printing out a PDF, but the whole pencil and paper thing just ain't workin' for me anymore. So I start filling out the online form, but I'm totally put off by the limits they put on the amount of time you can spend on each page. It's plenty of time, really -- it just bugs me. So I started working through the Social Security Disability Benefit Guide from the MS Society instead.

After spending much of the day thinking about all the doctors I've seen, all the medications I take, all the procedures I've had done, all the symptoms I have, and all the reasons they keep me from working, I've got to tell you I'm feeling like one pretty darned pitiful remnant of protoplasm.

It's not that I ever forget I have MS. Since April of 2002, I've been aware of it every second of every day. I just don't think about it that much, if you know what I mean. I'm not your cheerful, optimistic, silver lining-type person, always looking on the bright side of things. Most emphatically not. I'm just usually focused on whatever it is I'm trying to do, rather than all the ridiculous hoops I have to jump through (metaphorically speaking, of course, since my actual hoop-jumping days are long past) to make it happen. So when I have to spend the day itemizing everything that's wrong with me and listing all the things I can't do anymore, it makes for a reasonably crummy day.

My usual response would be to put something like this on my "Put off forever" list, but Scarecrow is, at this very moment, making us an appointment to talk to the nice folks at Social Security. So I will come back and work on this again tomorrow.

But I'd rather stuff earthworms up my nose.

25 August 2009

In the beginning...

I set up this blog three years ago. This is my first post. I hate to rush into things.

There never seemed to be a real reason to start, you know? No major event or decision or transition significant enough to trigger my running off at the pencil, blathering about insignificant details of my insignificant life to all and sundry... until now. This is the story of my retirement from gainful employment, and whatever happens after that. Secondary progressive multiple sclerosis has finally kicked my sorry butt.

They say that if you drop a frog in hot water, it hops right out. But if you put it in cold water and gradually increase the temperature, the frog will stay in the water until it overheats and dies. I think that's what I was doing. I had my first MS symptoms in 1988. Over the next 14 years, I had two brief, minor episodes of optic neuritis. I was a poster child for the disease modifying drugs -- except that I wasn't taking any. In 2002, my hands went numb. In 2004, I started walking with a cane, then using a wheelchair, then a scooter, then a power chair. I gradually lost the use of my hands and arms. I couldn't walk, or stand, or use a pencil or a keyboard, or shuffle papers on my desk. But my symptoms progressed so gradually that there was never a point at which I could say "Yesterday I could work, but today I can't". And my employer bent over backwards to allow me to keep working. I worked from home, used voice recognition software, teleconferenced, whatever it took. It was a totally sedentary job at a network software company, for Chrissake. If I couldn't telecommute, who could? But even making every possible accommodation, I couldn't do it anymore. After a particularly interesting weekend, I finally convinced myself that I could no longer do my job. I'm done. This frog is boiled.

So. What next?

Well. Today I submit my Short Term Disability insurance claim form. Kind of like a warm-up for my SSDI application, and I really can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to doing that.

The adventure begins...