Living with disability in a judge first society

It was a crisp winter morning in Montana in 2008 when I first felt the severe radiating pain down my right leg. I was only around 21, and in the active duty military at this time, and I was in the best shape of my life. Despite my overall good health, I found myself being sent home from my worksite where our team had been working on building a concrete pad for a warehouse on our military base. I was in the 819th RED HORSE Squadron in the United States Air Force. RED HORSE, otherwise known as Rapid Engineer Deployable, Heavy Operator Repair Squadron Engineers (Basically they really liked RED HORSE, and needed to find words to fit the acronym), is a “combat” engineer organization in the Air Force and is highly deployed squadron in the Air Force.

At the time of this injury I was back at my home duty station, Malmstrom Air Force Base in Goldsboro, Montana. During the course of this injury I ended up, after about 24 hours, in the Emergency Room due to complete loss of strength in my right leg to the point where I could barely stand. At the time, the ER doctor just did an X-ray, and some movement manipulations and suggested I had a slipped disc and I should go home and rest. Fast forward several years later in 2011 and I was having recurring numbness and tingling in my right leg, and it had progressed to my right arm and shoulder, and the right side of my face. I was seeing a neurologist in the military but nothing ever came of it in the way of a diagnosis.

Here it is 2022, and I am still having severe neurological issues and have little answers to what is happening. The frustrating thing is that this is only one of many health problems I have. On my second deployment to Iraq I was exposed to multiple rocket attacks and had to witness two Army soldiers mortally wounded and ultimately them dying. From that I have been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which I manage better today than I did when that even first occurred back in 2009. I was fortunate (sarcasm) to contract a food or water borne parasite in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that caused me to be medevaced from my deployed location and sent to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC) for evaluation and treatment. Initially, the doctors thought I was having a gallbladder attack and the plan was to remove my gallbladder, but at LRMC they checked my gallbladder with an ultrasound before removing it, and realized I had no gallstones. It took the doctors three months to figure out that it was a parasite that caused all of my problems. In those three months I went from around 135 pounds to 118 pounds.

Those three months were hell between my symptoms and not knowing what the hell was going on. During those three months I found my anxiety increasing rather rapidly. I found myself on WebMD a lot, and googling my symptoms trying to figure out what was happening to me. Once they figured that out and gave me an anti-parasitic I found that while the parasite finally left, I had lingering symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). I left the military in 2013, primarily to pursue Christian Chaplaincy, but it was also because I was in a lot of distress and I had a negative view of disability. I was more fearful that I would be medically discharged then I was to get out of the military on my own.

I kept that pride about a disability label for the next two years, until in 2015 when I started to have severe PTSD and GAD breakdowns that I could not control on my own, and I was having severe physical symptoms as well from both the IBS and the neurological symptoms. I had to finally admit that I could not deal with this on my own, and that I needed to accept both treatment help, and financial help from the Veterans Administration (VA). I have struggled with employment on and off since 2015 primarily, and I have carried that reality as a burden throughout that time. I personally felt completely responsible for my families misfortunes and our chaotic life. I continue to hold a lot of guilt about all of what we have been through and continue to go through. However, I also know that I have put a lot of effort into trying to work through these issues, and I have made a lot of progress.

Despite the progress that I have made, I find myself again unemployed due to my disabilities. I grew up with a parent who was very motivated and not empathetic. They did not do complaints, or personal struggles. You do not show emotion, you do not show feeling, you should just do what you are told and be glad you are alive every day. I definitely grew up in a household that believed in the old adage, “Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.” Honestly, I think in general this is a good self-motivating philosophy about life. After all, it is risky to expect someone else to help you. If you rely on yourself, and always on yourself, then you do not have to worry about the reliability, or lack of reliability, of others. I even remember a time when I, along with other conservatives, were very offended when then Democratic Presidential hopeful, Hillary Clinton repeated a known sentiment, “It takes a village to raise a child.” This unity approach poses a problem for people whose ideologies thrive off of isolation and echo chambers.

The reality is that my story is not much different from many Americans. Disability is a reality in this country and all countries. In 2016, 4.7% of Americans received Social Security Disability (SSDI). This number ranges from 2.8% in Alaska and Hawaii to as high as 8.8% in West Virginia (looking at you Joe Manchin). Honestly, when discussing disability, SSDI is a pretty high bar, because generally you have to be unemployed to receive it. According to the Center on Disability, 34.6% of Americans 18–64 are currently employed with a disability. So, even without a disability severe enough to result in unemployment, Americans have disabilities. It has been challenging to figure out what to do at this stage in my life. I am only 34, and I have no interest in stopping working. I enjoy working, and I have career dreams and aspirations that I would love to pursue. However, I also am getting very tired of going through the process of obtaining employment, only to lose that employment because of all of the time off I end up needing to go to medical appointments.

Even with all of what I listed, that is still not the complete list of my disabilities. It is a lot on me and my family, and it is overbearing most of the time. The judgment that comes with disability is deafening. Many are inconsiderate and lack empathy, even family members and friends can abandon someone who is struggling with disabilities. In the environment we live in, disability is something that is looked down on, especially if you are younger. I am unsure what people of the mindset that everyone is just supposed to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps expects someone to do who suffers from disabilities. I have heard it all probably. People try to suggest that they to have “back problems”, but that they still work. Or someone will suggest that “everyone has anxiety, why does that mean you cannot work?” Showing their ignorance on the different levels of anxiety, and how debilitating anxiety can be for some. Society is relentless about this issue, and until we collectively start calling out people and companies that discriminate against disabilities then the bootstraps are going to remain broken. What would you have someone do with broken bootstraps?






#Dad | Host @FansOfThePitch 🎙 | #veteran | #AustinFC #NCCourage #NorthCarolinaFC #ManU | Everything soccer | Humanity and earth over nations or creeds

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Bill Crocker

Bill Crocker

#Dad | Host @FansOfThePitch 🎙 | #veteran | #AustinFC #NCCourage #NorthCarolinaFC #ManU | Everything soccer | Humanity and earth over nations or creeds

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