help me write disability
February 13, 2018 7:52 AM   Subscribe

Writers of mefi please hope me! I'm applying for disability, and since I have an unusual set of disabilities I'd like to add a letter with a description of what my life/day looks like. I could use writing help (inspirations, tips, prompts, questions, ESPECIALLY slant suggestions)! Specific questions after the jump.

(BTW this is NOT for disability in the US, so please do not send me to guides or tell me to lawyer up)

1. How do I stay in the right state of mind?

I want to write from a place that is honest, open and vulnerable. Any tips/imaging that could help me get and stay there? I find myself easily sliding into self-pity, anger and/or desperation (left unattended my heart would like to shake the doctors while screaming "YOU HAVE TO HELP ME!" until they give me disability...).

2. What would be a good slant?

The doctors who go over applications are short on patience, so I need it somehow to be extremely readable. Any slant ideas I can use that will grab and hold attention? (but not be dramatic. these guys are used to seeing people in terrible physical conditions, so being dramatic about my totally-not-fun-but-not-life-threatening condition is likely to put me in a ridiculous light)

Also, my disability has been years in the making. If I go into details, I have too many, and it's likely to become too long or technical. Any ideas for describing my limitations without it becoming too long?

3. Lists/exercises/inspirations to get me moving

The object of the piece is be to have anyone reading it see me as a person, grasp my limitations AND (the hardest part) care enough to be on my side.
That's pretty daunting. ! I could use exercises/questions to unblock me. Inspirations would be great too!

posted by mirileh to Writing & Language (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If I go into details, I have too many, and it's likely to become too long or technical. Any ideas for describing my limitations without it becoming too long?

End notes, a la David Foster Wallace, so that those seeking additional detail/evidence can find it, without the flow being interrupted. Incorporate a few examples into the text so those who skip the end notes still get your points. Consider a sentence up front explaining the purpose of the end notes.
posted by carmicha at 8:21 AM on February 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

To be blunt: If your goal is to get approved, do not try to make the reader see you as a person or to sympathize with you. Try to make the reader see you as a constellation of symptoms. Anything you write should be brief, clear, specific, and relevant.

Any extraneous information has the risk of distracting them from their job, which is to quickly understand the information that they are required to use. E.g., don't say, "The agony of my back pain has made me despair about the loss of my ability to live as I did before." Say, "When I stand for more than 30 minutes, I get a burning sensation centered around my 7th vertebrae, which can be relieved only by lying completely flat and immobile on my stomach for at least two hours."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:40 AM on February 13, 2018 [11 favorites]

When friends did this for disability they were try to take the emotions out of it and go over their entire day and sort of list how their disability has affected each area. So bathing/cooking/cleaning/shopping/dressing/socializing etc. They also found that their anger was coming out and in the end they rewrote it a couple of time. The first just to get the anger out and then again with an attempt at being less emotional and then finally with cold hard facts. Getting someone else to look at it helped them see any underlying FU that was coming out.
posted by kanata at 8:41 AM on February 13, 2018 [5 favorites]

You might find it useful to look at the inverted pyramid model used in news writing - basically, the most important facts are in the first sentence. The next most important facts are in the second, and so on, until you get to the end and you're really just reading optional background.

It was originally designed for two purposes:
1. Most readers don't read a whole article, so you want it to work as an article in itself, whether they stop reading after the first sentence, the 10th, or the 30th.
2. In print, the amount of space available for any given news article could be suddenly reduced at the last minute if a fresh story broke and needed space on the page, so ideally the story should be capable of being cut at any point, but still make sense. No hiding crucial information two thirds of the way through.

Might be a useful focus for you if you're worried about busy doctors who don't have time/inclination to read a lot. So I'd imagine yours might open:

My disabilities limit my day to day activities, particularly [insert most significant limitations here]. I am also limited by [insert second-tier limitations].
My conditions have lasted [x] years, and are currently worsening; this trend seems likely to continue, based on [evidence].
The treatments I have tried are [etc.etc.]
The emotional toll is also significant - [insert factual description of emotional difficulties]

And so on, down to the stuff that you want to get in there but is less relevant right at the end. And then put it aside for a day or two (or as long as you're able), go back to it, and consider, if you had to cut it in half - really had to because there was no space on the page - what would you take out? Not saying you have to remove anything from the final version, but it's a useful exercise to consider what is absolutely vital and what could, in a pinch, be left out. Often you'll find that once you've written the shorter version, it's fine and the original looks unnecessarily verbose.

Bear in mind the writers' maxim that the first draft is you telling the story to yourself. As kanata says, the first time you write it is for your own benefit, splurging everything onto the page that you want to say. After that, you go through and remove all the stuff that won't actually benefit you in this specific context.
posted by penguin pie at 8:54 AM on February 13, 2018 [8 favorites]

When my disability (that I got without help) was ripped away from me I hired a lawyer, who said that these perverse shits in approval deny people who sound "too competent" in the written portions of the application because they could clearly work. So. Just the facts, no slants, no emotion, no florid descriptions.
posted by xyzzy at 2:29 PM on February 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

The advice about leaving out emotion is right on. It's inhumane, but that's what works, unfortunately.

In terms of details, assume the people reading are not doctors — so don't put in too many medical details beyond the diagnosis and the treatments. Make sure to describe the exact symptoms and name treatments, and rather than focusing on the progression/complexity of your disease, put in a lot of detail about your daily life and physical function as it currently is. Include lists of the activities of typical daily living, household maintenance, self-care, transport, and work that you can no longer do, and name the physical loss of function that causes each one.

Like Mr. Know-it-some says, concrete details, with examples, are best. E.g., not "I am too disabled to take the bus," but rather, "I cannot use public transit because I cannot walk one block without assistance, due to exhaustion and pain. If I do try to walk one block, I must rest lying down in bed for the rest of the day."

Highlight the long-term nature of your disability, especially if it's worsening or hasn't improved for many years. If the application questions seem to call for it, draw attention to all the treatments that you are doing, or have tried, to improve your condition. The idea is to show that you're not "lazy" and emphasize the fact that you're doing everything you can do, but that it hasn't returned you to functionality. Not that any disabled people actually are lazy, or want to be sick — but you're pre-emptively fighting stigma, here.

Do you have a friend or family member who could help you with this? For the sections/questions that were making me really emotional, I sat down with a family member and had them type out the answers, "translating" them into neutral language as I spoke. It helps to not have to be the one to write the final words — takes the stress off, some.

Hug from an internet stranger — I applied for disability (in Canada), and I know how emotionally taxing the entire experience can be. It's like staring down a mountain. Open invitation to Memail me if you have any more questions, need a second set of eyes on your application, or just want some support!
posted by fire, water, earth, air at 7:13 PM on February 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

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