Why ‘What People Think’ Matters
Permanent Limited Duty is an option that a service member has to being fully medically discharged. It allows the member to stay active duty on a strict schedule and with very strict limitations of duty. It allows them to fulfill their contract obligation as opposed to being released from it early. There are specific criteria that must be fulfilled, including proving a need to be allowed to placed on PERMLIMDU Status. For me, things like having a minor child who needed insurance and being unmarried and without another source of income would have been sufficient for me to prove a need for PERMLIMDU. There are other factors involved, including approval from your CO and CoC.
In the year leading up to my Medical Board and subsequent discharge I was in so much pain and so tired all the damn time and overall not coping well with what was going on with my lack of medical care. On top of all of my work and training and single motherhood was Physical Training (PT), which was increasing because as my body was struggling my readiness standards were falling due to my inability to push through the pain. As I was forced to ease up I gained a little weight which meant I had to increase my PT. Increased PT increased my pain, which increased my problems overall, and somewhere along the line something broke completely inside me. It was a vicious circle of some of the most cruel means of my life. I needed more PT, but increasing PT caused more injury that meant I had to decrease the type, intensity and amount of PT my doctors would let me do. That decrease caused weight gain…you can see where this is going…
Long story short, I had to be put on a day shift and have my hours reduced to half days because I was not doing so well. While the rest of my friends and peers were moving on to the things that we had now spent over three years training for, things that were going to expand their careers, the actual finish line of all we had worked for, and I was riding a desk. To be fair, it was a job I really grew to love and something I could see myself doing again. My direct supervisor was awesome, and our division boss was incredible. To date he is the most wonderful Senior Enlisted person I have ever had the honor of working for who also happened to be very supportive of my medical process. But it wasn’t what I had trained for, and the sudden disappearance of all of my friends made that even more heavy for me. I was devastated that I was missing that. I felt, once again, like a failure, like my body was a failure. The career I had worked for was crashing down around me and it seemed I had no one to support me through it.
When you are going through a serious medical Thing (for lack of a better…whatever) you start to notice that people tend to disappear. I don’t know if it is too hard for them to handle or if they don’t give a fuck or what…but you run out of people who you can call to take you to a doctor’s appointment because whatever medication you are on makes you so dizzy you really shouldn’t drive, or people who you can call to watch your children while you go to physio. You can’t get someone to hold your hand during an X-ray, let alone get them out for coffee. While I adamantly maintain that my medical problems and disability were not brought on by depression as some would have you believe, being utterly alone during this time cause me an at the time crushing depression. Sometimes I still feel it. I literally did not hear from my former friends. Sometimes if you run into people you used to have energy to club or shop with they bring it up as a polite thing to say, kind of like when people say “How ya doin’?” and never really expect you to answer. So when they would say “How’s…all your…stuff?” I would tell them, “Oh, it’s a big boring mess, how’re you doing?”. If I actually did talk about it I would notice that they tended to not really want to talk to me again (even though most of them had to eventually because of my new job).
I still had to take my yearly training. During my yearly training our annual Evaluations came out. I was pleasantly surprised to receive a relatively high mark on mine. My boss apparently thought that I was doing a lot in the hours I was allowed to be there during the day. I worked as hard as I could with what I had to give, and someone noticed. I was beginning to feel as though maybe I could still do something productive in the Navy, as if the thoughts of PERMLIMDU Status wouldn’t be the end of the World as I knew it. I began to seriously consider it. I was in my annual training with the sister of a friend whom I still had occasional contact with, and who was unhappy with her own eval. As much as I sympathized with her situation, I understood that due to my circumstances our peer groups were different, and my evaluation was not competitive with hers. I made it a point to not discuss my eval with her or even bring it up. But when she asked me point blank about mine, my refusal to answer made her assume that mine was better, and this caused a riff between us that I had hoped to avoid. I felt awful, because she was a really great person whom I had actually though I had made friends with. It is such a tricky thing to make new friends when you are going through so much…
It was very difficult. Nothing I could say was good enough. It wasn’t fair, she said. It was wrong, she said. I was on the same fitness enhancement, she said, and I didn’t even work shift work, she said. I only got that mark because I sucked up to my boss, she said, and because I “lucked” into a job above my pay grade, she said. All she could see were the positive outcomes of what was, for me, a really shitty situation. The one good thing I had going for me was that someone had need of a body to fill a position when my world fell apart, and that it could have been a semi-permanent thing.
That night I received a phone call from my friend, inviting me to meet her for coffee…something that we hadn’t done in I don’t know how long. She certainly hadn’t had time for socializing in a long time, it seemed, and I was pleasantly surprised. We met at the Starbucks near my house, another nicety, so I didn’t have to go far. She treated and we split a big chocolate brownie, because we shared that superhuman tolerance I brag about. We had polite chit chat and I really felt great getting to talk to her.
Until she brought up my eval.
She brought me there to defend her sister’s side of the whole thing — to tell me that she didn’t think it was fair that I would try to stay on in an office where I could get unfair evals when the rest of my peers were doing real jobs in the Navy. I was so ashamed that I didn’t even think to argue on my own behalf. To tell her that it would have been the best thing for me to do so. That it would mean that I could still give my Kid insurance and have an income and finish my obligation. That I would still have some connection to all the work I had put in. But again, all anyone could see was how my situation was unfair to them (even though, in reality, it wasn’t, since my evaluations had no effect whatsoever, on theirs, in case I haven’t made that clear). No one else could see beyond how they felt, to what it meant for me and my family, to me and all the work I had done. Instead of a legacy of nothing finished, I could give something back. So, I lied. I said that I didn’t have that intention — I said I intended to quit and just go away.
But now I was just ashamed.
I was so embarrassed. I put on my Brave Face and finished up the visit as well as I could. I cried the whole way home. I remember deciding that night that if I chose PERMLIMDU that people would all think that I was some big lazy slacker. A Bad Cripple, even though some people would never see me as disabled at all, and why should they? I hadn’t even considered that label for myself yet. They would all see me as someone who was there to milk some system and gain some unearned privilege. I had let someone who was supposed to be my friend shame me into giving up things that I needed for my life. So, when the choice came up with the Medical Board Liason and my Division Officer, I turned it down. Again, I lied. I said that it wasn’t something I thought I could do. It wasn’t what I joined the Navy to do, I said.
It is easy to say “who cares what people think” because we all want to assume that we don’t make decisions based on the feelings of others. But the guilt and shame we feel at the stares and hands of other people is hard to take, so much so that we will often expend our spoons to make the feelings go away — even if it is not to our own benefit.
One thing I should add: Through it all, I learned the value of the friends who come out of seemingly nowhere to support you, just when you least expect it, and the value of friends in Bloglandia. Never let anyone tell you that your blog world friends aren’t as good as Meat World friends. They are all appreciated, especially as the wounds of the lost friends heal. The Meat World friends who held on might be few and far between, but they have been a much needed comfort through the many tears.