July 1st, 2002
Beth Rothstein Ambler
IT'S OFFICIALLY 5 YEARS since the day of the diagnosis; the day that forever changed the letters "M" and "S" from consonants into burning scarlet letters.
About a year ago, I was notified that I would need to apply for Social Security as a requirement for my long-term disability. These have always been the rules; I guess my case had just fallen through the cracks.
I first applied for Social Security 4 years ago. I applied again 3 years ago and was denied. I think the fact that I was financially stable made the denial easier to accept. In a way, the denial seemed to say to me, "Don't worry, Beth, you aren't so sick after all." So this wasn't about how I was going to survive financially-it was about my dealing with the loss of my career as an executive. In some bizarre way it was an affirmation that I was fine. Still, I couldn't deny that I was unable to work. That must have meant I was doing something wrong, that somehow it was my fault.
The second time the denial letter came, I remember that I knew it was going to be in the mail any day. I remember looking out at the mailbox and thinking that the driveway seemed to stretch all the way to forever. Normal was now seen with different eyes-MS vision. I opened the mailbox and the letter from Social Security was there. I opened it, right there on the spot. It said the same thing: denied.
I just plopped down on the curb and began to cry. Eventually, I realized I was crying because I was looking at a mountain instead of a driveway. The heat was overwhelming me and I was stuck out there at the end of my driveway. I was crying because I was trapped in my own body and had no idea how I was going to climb that mountain to get inside my house. To hell with Social Security, I thought.
A message from Butkus
I might have stayed there forever, crying in the heat, but eventually my dog, Butkus, couldn't take it anymore. Butkus put his nose under my armpit, barking and nudging me. I yelled at him to stop barking, to shut up, to leave me alone, and to go on without me. Normally he is a very well-trained dog, so the fact that he was ignoring me was infuriating. Nevertheless, he just kept nudging and barking.
When I grabbed onto his choke collar, it finally dawned on me. Butkus had a plan. He stopped barking instantly. My husband would say he stopped barking because of lack of oxygen. I know he stopped barking because I finally got the message. If this were a cartoon, at this point I would draw a lightbulb over my head. I was no longer without a career (something that really mattered to me-the career that had seemed to define me but had been chased away by those scarlet letters). I did have a job-me! I just needed to delegate the tasks, just as I did when I was an executive with staff to manage.
I grabbed his choke collar and Butkus pulled me up the driveway. We climbed that mountain together, with him leading and pulling. From that point forward, I used my well-honed business mind to deal with my worst employee-my own body. It was an employee that I had to keep on, one that I had to nurture and teach, one that kept failing me just when I wanted to count on it.
Next month: The author fights back.
© 2002 Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis