Getting Better Should Not Make Things Worse

January 24, 2011 Becky Oberg

If I ramble or some typos survive my editing process, I apologize now. I am currently involved in a battle regarding my disability benefits. People with severe mental illness--especially when the symptoms are made worse by borderline personality disorder (BPD)--may understand from experience.


Disability and employment discrimination

I spent 13 months in the state hospital system, which left a significant gap in my employment history. This in itself makes finding work hard.

If I disclose the reason for the gap, very few employers want to hire me--one restaurant owner exclaimed "I have knives in the kitchen! Is anyone going to get hurt?" If I keep quiet about my disability, I am not protected by the ADA--which could be problematic since it is difficult to hide psychiatric symptoms.

I went to the Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) office and applied for help I was entitled to receive. VR promised, in writing, to reimburse me for training and certification costs. Midway through training, my VR counselor said "We're under no obligation to help you." I was forced to drop out.

I'm sure that most of this garbage is illegal. But where is someone on disability going to find a lawyer?

The fear of rejection common to BPD can make it much more difficult to handle the stress of stunts like these.

When papers are more important than facts

I was fortunate to find work as an independent contractor. This income, plus my disability benefits, food stamps and help from my church enable me to survive. The benefits and income total less than $800/month; the income limit for me to remain on disability is $900/month.

I was notified this year that I had to reapply instead of be re-certified. During a hastily rescheduled phone interview, I declared my work income and the money my relatives had given me for Christmas. Although my total in savings, $400, was well below the resource limit of $1,500, the case worker told me within seconds that my benefits would be cut.

Due to a paperwork glitch--a form had to be turned in to the government on a Sunday--I may lose all of my Medicaid and food stamp benefits.

The State of Indiana is trying to get people off the rolls. While disqualifying people on technicalities will work, is neither practical nor right.

We should be encouraged to find work. Employers should be offered incentives to hire us, and health insurance that covers us without "pre-existing condition" nonsense should receive tax breaks. As we re-enter the workforce, we should meet with benefits counselors to determine our ability to remain employed. Benefits should gradually be tapered off until we can stand on our own two feet.

This would help us get and stay off of disability.

The future is dim

Sadly, the State does not see the bigger picture. The long-term savings are sacrificed for short-term gain.

If my paperwork is accepted and I retain my benefits, money is going to get tighter. My food--currently $3/day in food stamps plus $15 /week spending money--will be cut. It's almost impossible to eat a healthy diet on that budget. Poor diet leads to other expensive health problems.

If my paperwork is denied, I will not be able to afford my psychiatric medications, medication monitoring, or counseling. In addition to BPD, I have post-traumatic stress disorder and schizoaffective disorder. If I go off my medications, there will not be a happy ending. The most likely scenario is re-hospitalization, which is considerably more expensive than what they'll save by cutting my benefits.

Meanwhile, I'm temporarily on a new anti-psychotic in an effort to reduce stress-aggravated symptoms: severe nausea, abdominal pain, hypervigilance, and thoughts of self-harm. My judgment is poor, and I'm using every resource I can in order to keep from dissociating.

What angers me the most is that this doesn't have to happen. But it does, and most Americans simply don't care. It is easier to believe that people like me did something wrong than it is to realize there is soul-crushing injustice in America.

It's ironic, but trying to recover has made my symptoms worse.

APA Reference
Oberg, B. (2011, January 24). Getting Better Should Not Make Things Worse, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 14 from

Author: Becky Oberg

Dr Musli Ferati
February, 5 2011 at 11:06 pm

To be indignant by Your lamentable story, I support the veracity of ascertainment that to recognize the nature of mental disorders it should understand them in practical sense. First of all, the new inquiries on psychic diseases is worth to observe through misfortune of mentally ill person. Mr. Oberg has right when said: The long term savings are sacrificed for short gain. Against the monumentally scientific researches on medication of psychiatric entities there isn't any serious engagement of the community in the rehabilitation and resocialization of mentally ill patients. Without complete treatment of this grotesque disabilities there is impossible to be an healthy and humane society. Meanwhile, the consequences of an antipsychiatric attitudes will be disastrous for mentally ill persons.

February, 1 2011 at 12:11 pm

Hi, Becky. I saw the SSA emblem an then read your blog. I feel for you. I am fighting "the system" now, also. I have borderline personality disorder, major depression, PTSD and DID. I applied for disability benefits last April, as well as SSI and the obstacles the government has thrown my way are continuous, ludicrous, unbelievable, extremely stressful, financially catastrophic and, ultimately, for those with mental health issues, destabilizing. I live in MD and haven't quite figured out if the battle you have to fight to get any benefits at all is due to large-scale incompetence or intentional maneuvers to discourage us from continuing to fight for the benefits we deserve. What we experience at the hands of our government would be hard for anyone to endure and we are forced to cope with it despite our illness. Obviously, things need to change in a big way but where do you start? I don't know. I wish I could help everyone who has been through the ordeal we have been through (and continue to go through). I some how managed to have my disability benefits approved in 7 months without the assistance of an attorney but my SSI was declined so I am now appealing their ridiculous decision. Hang in there. Don't give up. Fight for the benefits you deserve. I have to give up my apartment and move in with my mother (at age 50) because social security has turned my independent life into a train wreck. "Soul crushing" is exactly what occurs. The spirit is crushed, along with dignity, peace of mind and any sense of self-worth.

January, 28 2011 at 6:37 am

You're awesome, Becky. Borderline Personality Disorder is hard in and of itself, but you're also fighting THE SYSTEM. I am very fortunate to be married to a wonderful man who's held the same job for about 10 years. He provides me with insurance and makes sure that I have food. I am on my own for clothing, but that's what Goodwill and sales at WalMart are for.c
I fought the student loan SYSTEM for many years when I felt better, then would relapse, feel better again, relapse, and the cycle went on. I'd apply and get forbearances and deferments on three different loans. I eventually got myself together enough that I did persist long enough to submit the correct documentation to the correct servicing center. Currently my loans are temporarily forgiven.
I just want you to know, Becky, that you are a wonderful writer and I look forward to your next blog post. I identified with this one. You drew me in. Thank you for writing it.

The Beautiful Kind
January, 26 2011 at 5:56 am

I hope that by putting your problem out here for public view it will get enough exposure and the right people will learn of it who can help you overcome these challenges. I found this post via a tweet. I say you be open and honest about your situation. There will be ignorant people like the restaurant owner but there are many compassionate people out there. The right community can make all the difference.

Holly Gray
January, 24 2011 at 2:57 pm

Great post, Becky.
There are so many people caught in this no-win situation. If you try to work and be a contributing member of society, you lose your benefits and can't buy food. If you don't try to work, you're considered an unmotivated lay-about. And that seems to hold true whether you have a mental illness or not. Poverty alone creates this kind of oppressive loop. Add mental illness in to the mix, and the stakes get higher, the opportunities slimmer, the consequences scarier.
I admire your grit and determination, Becky.

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