I’ve been sitting in front of my laptop, trying to force my mind to focus long enough to allow me to write something. I’ve been posting on Facebook, hoping that any writing would spark something. I finally just started my fingers moving, without thinking about what’s coming out of my brain.
I’m not worrying about structure, grammar, or word usage. As a thought occurs to me, I type it out. Sometimes I sit for long periods, fingers hovering over the keys, hoping the scraps of thoughts bouncing around in my head will form into something I can put on the page.
I’m hyper-sensitive to everything going on around me. Zoey is sitting on the bed behind me, watching DanTDM on YouTube. His clipped British accent should be soothing, but it’s not. Every so often, Zoey starts talking to me, even though she knows I’m irritable and most likely, I’ll snap back at her. When I look at her, my anxiety softens, because even if I get angry, she doesn’t want to be anywhere else except next to me.
It’s been this way with Zoey since the first time we met when she was a year old. Around my wife’s 6th month, I left the Philippines to go back to the U.S. It was bad timing, but I had left the States with a decision up in the air about my Social Security. It turns out, a month after I arrived here, they cut my benefits because they somehow thought that I should’ve been able to work.
They decided this even though I provided my medical records from the past 20 years. I’d seen multiple doctors who said I shouldn’t be working. But they had their own doctor on the payroll, that spoke to me for 5 minutes and decided I wasn’t ill because my memory was decent and I could count backward from 100 by threes.
Yes, that’s exactly the reason they gave for cutting my benefits.
I traveled back to the states to get my benefits reinstated. I had no money and no chance of getting any more. I couldn’t work in the Philippines. Flora was about to have the baby, and I didn’t have money to pay for that. If it weren’t for my parents, Flora and her family in the Philippines would have starved to death, and I would have been homeless in the States.
Even though I wasn’t well, I got a job in phone support. I did fine in the first month because it was all classroom and tests. But once I got on the phones and had to deal with the rude people, I had a breakdown and quit.
Yeah, but Social Security said I could work.
Zoey was born while I was 8500 miles away. One of the lowest parts of my life was sitting at home knowing my wife was having a baby, and I couldn’t be there to support her. She did fine because she’s strong, but I will always regret not being there. My parents paid for the birth and the hospital stay, which turned out to be about 1000 USD.
A month later, I was working graveyard at a quickie mart. When your resume has a ten-year gap in employment because of mental illness, employers aren’t lining up to hire you. I took the only job I could get at minimum wage. I worked through back pain and anxiety. I worked when I was depressed. I worked even though my mind was worse off than the homeless guy who used to come in at 2 am and talk to me every night. I gave him free coffee, and we sat outside, smoked cheap cigarettes, and talked about life.
This crappy job wasn’t much, but I was able to send money to Flora and Zoey, support myself, and give a few bucks to my parents.
All this time, I was sending documents, going to doctors and hearings, and doing everything I could to get my disability back. I was fighting a broken system that was keeping me away from the people I loved most in the world.
After nine months, I had to quit my job. Even though I wasn’t getting money from Social Security, if I worked longer than a few months, they will have proof that I can indeed work, and take away my benefits permanently. The whole system sucks, but my disability advisor said I was very close to getting my benefits back, so I had no choice. My mental health was at a very low point anyway, and I was close to breaking.
So I quit and took the chance that the U.S. government wasn’t going to fuck me again. I had to rely on my parents to support my family and me again because I had no income. I’d tapped all their resources, and they were at the end of what they could do for me.
Things were looking grim, and I still hadn’t met my daughter Zoey in person.
One day, I was on Skype with Flora, trying to figure out our problems. I had no money to send her. Flora, Zoey, and the close family who they were staying with had no food. They had been foraging for edible leaves and grasses near the farm, but not finding any more. My mom and dad had nothing. We were lost.
When I hung up with Flora, the mail came and in it was a letter from SSA. My benefits had been restored, and I was even going to get back some of my back pay.
The news couldn’t have come at a better time.
I sent money to Flora. I paid back some of what I owed to my parents, and booked a ticket back to the Philippines — the only place I wanted to be.
I arrived back in time to help plan Zoey’s first birthday party. The first time I held her was at the airport that day in 2013. She somehow seemed to know who I was immediately, and she wouldn’t leave my arms. I still cry as I think about how happy I was to see that little munchkin smile at me.
She’s always called me “Tatay,” and it’s almost like I don’t have a name anymore. I am Tatay and have been since the first time Zoey said it.
I didn’t think I could write, but I ended up telling this story, which happens to be one of the more painful ones of my life. Dredging up all these memories makes me want to start seriously thinking about writing my memoir again. Two people in the last few days have told me I should be writing a book and I know it’s a sign that I should be working on it.
I don’t know where to start, but I think writing down these experiences may be a good place.
This may be a new chapter of my story.
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Jason Weiland is a writer, blogger, vlogger, and mental health advocate living a dream life in far-away destinations he only dreamed of as a kid. He talks about difficult issues but has never lost his sense of humor or willingness to understand others and help when he can.
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