By Crystal Lindell, Columnist
I was already living paycheck to paycheck before I got sick. I mean, rent in the Chicago suburbs doesn’t pay itself and journalism isn’t the lucrative job I think it used to be back when Clark Kent got into the business.
But then, I woke up one day with horrible pain in my ribs and my bank account somehow got even worse. Is there a number below zero? Because that’s about where I like to keep my balance.
I’m not telling you this in an attempt to solicit any type of personal donations. I just want the world to know what those dealing with chronic pain are actually dealing with financially. I want to give a voice to all of those people out there who are too sick to take a shower and, as a result, are too broke to upgrade their tacos to supreme.
I can still remember the first time I went to pick up a name-brand prescription at the local Walgreens, and being completely horrified by the fact that they wanted a freaking $50 co-pay. That’s a tank of gas. Or a cell phone bill. Or like three dresses at Kohl’s during a good sale.
Now, I’d kill to get all my drugs for $50.
I’m an American. I have insurance. I have a job. You wouldn’t think getting some random pain in my ribs would completely ruin me financially.
There are the co-pays for the doctor visits and the drugs; the money I owe before my deductible each year for the MRIs and the ER visits; and the vain attempt to find cures from snake oil salesmen offering alternative medicine that’s never covered by medical insurance.
I have so many medical bills that I can’t even keep track of how much I owe which doctor anymore. Let’s just say, it’s “a lot.”
But it’s not just the medical bills that have to me too broke to buy fresh fruit on the regular.
It’s kind of hard to keep a job, when you literally don’t know from day to day if you’re going to be able to get out bed.
I’ve been very lucky in that my full-time job has been extremely accommodating, allowing me to mostly work from home and even take breaks during the day as needed. I know that if I had any other job, I would have had to file for disability a while ago.
That doesn’t mean I haven’t lost anything though. Back when I was healthy, I was able to maintain a side job as a part-time youth leader. I had to walk away from that when it became obvious that I couldn’t be sure I’d be able to get out of bed and make it to church most Sunday mornings. And when I resigned, I also gave up $10,000 a year.
Now, I’m barely making enough to make ends meet.
I spent the entire second week of June with $0.00 in my bank account.
And I can’t exactly go looking for a new job to make up for that $10,000 pay cut. I mean, where else am I going to work that allows me to make my own hours and write feature stories in my pajamas on the couch?
So, I’m stuck. I’m stuck in job I can barely hold onto that only pays me barely enough to eat on a daily basis.
When you’re well, it seems like you’re constantly hearing about fundraisers for sick people. Someone, somewhere always seems to be walking for cancer, or hosting a fancy ball for MS, or doing an ice bucket challenge for ALS.
But there are no fundraisers for people like me. Nobody does a 5K for chronic pain — maybe because most people with chronic pain are too sick to walk 3.1 miles.
I think there’s also still a lot of stigma associated with chronic pain. A sort of, “Well if you would just give up gluten and go to a chiropractor, you’d get better, so it’s kind of your fault.”
I get it, I mean watching someone lay on the couch all day with an illness nobody can see doesn’t exactly scream, “I’m super sick.” It’s easy for people to assume you’re just too lazy to get better. After all, if it’s just a matter of will power, then they don’t have to worry about the same fate becoming them.
And, I’ve noticed that people never like to use the word “sick” to describe chronic pain. They much prefer, “I’m in pain,” to “I’m sick.” It’s a way of separating those suffering with daily pain from the “truly sick.”
The thing is, having chronic pain does make you sick. It’s an all-encompassing chronic illness just like any other all-encompassing chronic illness. And it steals little pieces of your life in exactly the same way.
Sometimes, when I’m in really bad pain, when I’m literally so sick that I can’t even get to the bathroom, I think about a world where I would be forced to apply for disability. But then, I’d be even more broke than I am now.
I’m not sure what you’ve heard, but Social Security isn’t exactly paying people with bags of gold. Everyone I know who’s living on disability payments is barely living. It’s not exactly the kind of life I thought I’d end up with back when I got my freaking master’s in journalism.
But I guess that’s the thing about chronic pain. It completely destroys everything about your life that you thought you’d end up with. It wipes out all your hopes and dreams, and makes you start all over with nothing. And then, it sends you a hurricane just to make sure you got the message.
Being broke all the time only makes it that much worse.
Crystal Lindell is a journalist who lives in Illinois. She loves Taco Bell, watching "Burn Notice" episodes on Netflix and Snicker's Bites. She has had intercostal neuralgia since February 2013.
Crystal writes about it on her blog, “The Only Certainty is Bad Grammar.”
The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.