Fear and Loathing in Recovery

I was overpaid last September, no fault of my own, by Social Security. I was hospitalized and largely unaware, other than noticing the deposits and adjustments in my banking app, but everything seemed in order on my Social Security account pages, so I paid no heed. I didn’t anticipate a four month hospitalization and no access to my snail mail – which was where the notification went.

Social Security decided they wanted their money back.

As I’m not working (hospitalized) it’s my only source of income. So logging into my social security account to ensure my payment was still there, I saw the collection notice. And freaked.

My Social Security was halted by accident and I put off my medical care while my toes were rotting off last summer and fall. I was facing homelessness, having used up my savings while hoping for reinstatement. I finally went in. I no longer cared if I had Medicare coverage or not. I had informed my Social Security caseworker, Mary, multiple times of my declining condition, and curiously, she finally called me the day after amputation to say she was expediting my reinstatement. I just said thank you. I was too weak to investigate why she finally got on point that late in the game.

Somehow, I was reinstated twice. Thus, overpaid.

I used to think of government as a bureaucracy of people making decisions, and taking action. Now I know it to be an army of data entry specialists, and a huge system of computers and algorithms. Mary (or someone) said “pay him twice” and it took time for the beast to sort it out and say “that won’t work for us”. So, it did.

Like I mentioned, Social Security deals in snail mail. I accidentally obtained my caseworker’s email and she said not to contact her that way. So I didn’t. However, I was soon swooped up in hospitalization, amputations and complications, with no access to my snail mail.

Which brings me to this afternoon. and sheer panic. Last fall, I kept thinking ‘Its all gonna work out, I’ve been through trying times before in recovery, and things do work out if I apply the basics”. So I didn’t bitch. Or whine. Or snivel. Not a peep of fear or mistrust in the process. I had taken action. My caseworker would sort it out, eventually. I was gonna do this on faith.

I ‘faithed’ myself into the hospital, actually closer to death than I thought, according to the ER staff, but what do they know?

Back on topic. I hate fear. Fear has a function. It’s a warning of danger. Nonstop fear – anxiety or panic – might have prodded me into action soon enough to save my toes, had I not decided to consciously, cognitively approach things ‘fearlessly’. I actually took a measure of pride in my ability to quell my fears at length.

Not this round though. I immediately called Social Security determined to sort it out if I had to call the top boss around. The whole process, from call to completely sorted, was around 2 hours. Anxiety gone. No need to enter a special state of mind to overcome it.

I see a lesson in it all. Several actually.

Had I bypassed my caseworker, last summer, and just called the main line would I have had Medicare reinstatement and not gone through this? Why did I put medical costs ahead of the value of my life? Was the achievement of peace of mind over it really an accomplishment?

Time will tell.

I loathe anxiety. It settles in on my chest like a vise, and starts to squeeze. It lingers, and slows me down – I second guess everything. It also can turn to panic. Panic attacks are their own poetic discussion though. Possibly several.

I feel relieved things are sorted. I’m a bit disgusted Social Security’s computers are so antiquated, along with their policies. But that’s a fight for another day.

I’m not afraid, this time from action not faith. Fear, however, has a valuable function. I lost sight of that last fall.

Now if I can just get past my loathing…

-Steve

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