Friday, September 28, 2007

There is nothing as lucky

Horrible headaches. It's funny how pain in the head feels so much more a part of me than, say, pain in my foot. They often hurt about the same. Well, not feet so much as hands and shoulders and the muscles all up my back, hurt as much as a headache often does, or sometimes more. And yet, somehow, there is always the impulse to get away from body pain that isn't there with headaches. Like a headache is the only pain that my subconscious isn't convinced I could jettison, if the pain was so bad that I had to, you know, amputate.

Not that I could amputate my back with any success. It doesn't make sense. But I don't know how else to describe this feeling.

If I could write poetry again, I would write about being trapped when you need to fly away, about being trapped by no one but your own self.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

an after dinner sleep

I've been reading a lot lately, because I'm beginning to believe that if there is any hope that I will ever be more than an invalid it lies in writing. I used to be a good writer, I wrote poetry and stories that I could imagine other people enjoying if I ever let them read them. All that is gone now, I feel like I've had a lobotomy; I am empty of whatever spark I used to have.

But if it's possible to train to be a good writer, when you don't have a natural skill for it, then I think that the only way to do it is by reading the work of great writers. So, I read. It doesn't seem to be doing any good. If anything, it seems to be swamping my own words with those of others... but since my own words aren't anything much, well.

When I used to write poetry, I worshiped T.S. Eliot; still do, although I have not read much of his work lately. Eliot and Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath have been my favorite poets for a long time. For every point in my life there has been a bit of poetry from one of them that has expressed my thoughts better than my thoughts express themselves. For now, that poem is "Gerontion" by Eliot. I'll put a few lines of it here, in honor of T. S. Eliot's birthday- which is today.

HERE I am, an old man in a dry month,
Being read to by a boy, waiting for rain.
I was neither at the hot gates
Nor fought in the warm rain
Nor knee deep in the salt marsh, heaving a cutlass,
Bitten by flies, fought.
My house is a decayed house,
And the jew squats on the window sill, the owner,
Spawned in some estaminet of Antwerp,
Blistered in Brussels, patched and peeled in London.
The goat coughs at night in the field overhead;
Rocks, moss, stonecrop, iron, merds.
The woman keeps the kitchen, makes tea,
Sneezes at evening, poking the peevish gutter.
I an old man,
A dull head among windy spaces.

Signs are taken for wonders. “We would see a sign!”
The word within a word, unable to speak a word,
Swaddled with darkness. In the juvescence of the year
Came Christ the tiger

In depraved May, dogwood and chestnut, flowering judas,
To be eaten, to be divided, to be drunk
Among whispers; by Mr. Silvero
With caressing hands, at Limoges
Who walked all night in the next room;
By Hakagawa, bowing among the Titians;
By Madame de Tornquist, in the dark room
Shifting the candles; Fräulein von Kulp
Who turned in the hall, one hand on the door. Vacant shuttles
Weave the wind. I have no ghosts,
An old man in a draughty house
Under a windy knob.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Hairy Legs

I've been wiped out and incoherent the last couple of days, feeling like I got run over by a bus. I haven't even managed to read the political blogs like I usually do; I hate this feeling like I'm so dissociated from the world, wrapped in clouds and unable to connect with words on a meaningful level.

One thing that has crossed my mind and stuck long enough for me to grab hold and examine it, though, is the American insistence that women shave their legs.

For some reason- I really have no idea why- the skin on my legs has suddenly become quite sensitive, and whenever I shave I get razor rash, which then gets infected in places and gets all nasty and red, like so:

This is quite annoying, because although it doesn't really hurt that much in the grand scheme of things, every time I shave it happens, and it doesn't heal up between shaves, so it kept getting worse. The obvious solution was to not shave my legs until they get better, so I decided not to. This was about two weeks ago. As the picture above illustrates, they got quite hairy for a while, until my husband expressed his intense discomfort. My hairy legs, he said, were unnatural.

This response is about what I expected, although I did hope that he would relent once I explained that I was just doing it so the oozing sores on my legs would heal up. No such luck. He's a good guy, mostly, but not a liberal hippie the way I am. Questioning everything about the status quo doesn't come naturally to him, and I guess women with hairy legs are so out of the ordinary these days that the average man sees it as unnatural. So I shaved my legs again, so as not to cause a huge fuss.

It puzzles me that a society can get to this point, where the way things would be without outside influence is strange and offensive. People grow hair, it's in our genes; both women and men both, once they go through puberty, are naturally hairy. But if I grow out my leg hair, I'm not a normal American woman, I'm a freak, a butch dyke. When I complain about this in the hearing of my husband or other friends of mine who are male, they always come up with some variant of, well men who don't shave their faces are scary mountain men, so stop thinking you're especially persecuted. However, plenty of men grow out a beard at some point in their lives, just to see what it looks like. Growing a long flowing beard might make people look at you oddly, but men who do this are still men. They're not freaks, their sexuality isn't questioned.

I don't know of a single woman who has ever grown out her leg hair, just to see what it looks like. Even when I was in Africa with TMI, no one's leg hair grew out to it's full length; at one point a group of us girls grew our hair out long enough to wax it off, but mostly we all shaved at least a couple times a week. Even in Africa, we couldn't escape the cultural conditioning that says: body hair on women is disgusting. Its a curious disconnect from the way the world really is, and it puzzles me that more people don't sit back and ask why we do these things. Who decided that female body hair is so awful? Why do we all just sit back and agree to spend so much time and money shaving our skin so we look like infants?

It makes me wonder what other strange ideas might be hidden in my culture, what absurd assumptions lurk just beyond my detection.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

More medical drama

This week is shaping up to be quite unpleasant. I had an appointment at the VA on Tuesday, for my claim for increased compensation based on unemployability. The doctor who interviewed me wasn't unpleasant, but they didn't have my records and didn't know where my records could possibly be, so I don't have any confidence in them reaching a conclusion about my medical history that's based on fact. I have another appointment tomorrow morning, with a psychologist I think, where I'm going to have to lay out my theory about how unending pain and crushing fatigue can lead to mental distress and hopelessness. Who knows if they'll buy it; even if the shrink thinks it's reasonable, without my medical records they're likely to conclude that my medical history doesn't uphold a diagnosis of depression stemming from my fibromyalgia.

On top of the loss of my medical records, my appointment tomorrow is at 9am, which means I have to be there at 8:30, which means I have to leave the house at 8:00, which means I have to get up at 7:30 at the latest. Last time I tried to get up so early on bad sleep, my body went into freak out mode. I was getting adrenaline rush ickness from standing in the bathroom brushing my hair. Its like any deviation from a set schedule makes my body think I'm in mortal danger; unfortunately, the irrational reaction to mortal danger makes me nauseous, shaky, headachy, fatigued, and weak to the point where I can barely stand up.

To try to counteract this effect, I've been getting up half an hour earlier each day for about two weeks now, to try to spread the ill effects out and thereby dilute them. It's worked to a certain extent: I have certainly felt ill the whole time I've been doing this. The last few days have been the worst, as I get up earlier and earlier. Its starting to feel like I never actually wake up, I only dream about getting up and feeling ill while trying to go about my life. This morning, I got out of bed, walked to the couch and sat down, and then sat and stared at the carpet for about half an hour. Then I went outside to the porch, sat down on the steps, and stared at the grass for a bit. The fresh air helped some, but I still don't feel like I'm actually capable of thinking more than one coherent thought in a row.

Maybe being half-asleep during my psych appointment tomorrow morning will actually work in my favor; if I can't understand speech due to my inability to comprehend whole sentences at once, surely they will see that something is wrong with me.

I have another appointment on Monday morning, even earlier but closer to home, so I have to get up about the same time. This appointment is for SSA, not the VA, which I think means I'm not eligible for federal disability. If they can't find me eligible based on the 10-page report they got from Laurel Hill saying that I was not able to work in any capacity, I don't think an hour-long medical review is going to do anything but convince them that I'm capable of working. I guess I never really thought they would find otherwise, but it's frustrating. If the people who are supposed to help disabled people find work say they can't help me because I'm too disabled, and the people who are supposed to support disabled people when they can't work say they can't help me because I can work, what do I do then?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Because not everything is dark.

It's a Traffa cat!

There's a shadow just behind me

I used to be the kind of person who was sure that I was right. Always, no matter what, I knew that I had thought things through and seen all the complications and formed the right opinions based on The Way Things Really Were. I was able to get away with this because I was young, and because I was intelligent and eloquent enough that people listened to me with respect even when they thought I was wrong, which only proved to me that I was right. Like many young women, I was not confident about myself in many ways: I thought I was overweight and ugly, and I thought that I was obnoxious and no one would want to be friends with me if they knew who I really was. I still don't know how much of this is true or not; these are things that are hard to determine from the inside, sometimes. But I was always sure that when it came to ideas, I was competent and capable and I knew that people should listen to me.

And then I went and made a series of the worst decisions I could possibly have made in the circumstances; I joined the Army, which was not only a totally stupid thing to do as someone who had ideals about how power should be used, considering the timing of it all, but was also a bad idea on many other, more personal, levels. Then I got hurt, and the whole medical farce played out, and as much as I hate to blame myself, I didn't insist on the kind of treatment I needed, because I didn't know that I was allowed to insist, and here I am today.

Even if I didn't have the fibro fog to deal with, I think I would no longer trust my own judgment. The irritability, inability to concentrate or make small decisions, and poor short term memory are difficult, of course. The impression that my memories are being erased, leaving me without a past longer than a few months, the feeling that nothing that happens is permanent because I know I won't be able to remember it in just a few weeks, is worse. But even if all I had to deal with was the pain, without the doubts about my mind, I would not trust myself. I got myself into this mess all while thinking it was a grand idea; I can no longer be sure about my ability to determine the wisdom of any course of action.

This state of mind has hindered me from accepting that I am disabled, or rather from getting used to the idea. Disability, and the circumstances around it, have destroyed the basis for all the confidence that I had in myself. It seems as though now I'm going about without any skin on, so that everything that happens causes me pain. My body and my mind mirror each other; it is a feedback that can lead very quickly to despair, and I do not know the way out.

Friday, September 14, 2007

My cousin-in-law was paying a handyman to come by and take care of the yard here, before we moved in. After we moved in, he was supposed to still come by every so often, and then she paid him to drain the pool, because it was a stagnant swamp. This was like a month and a half ago.

He finally came by today. The pool is disgusting. It didn't smell before it started draining, but it now smells pretty rancid; in this picture, you can see the mark on the tarp where the water level used to be, and the concentrated sludge of leaves and other dead things that collected since last fall when they closed it up. There's water underneath the tarp, too, and I'm scared to see what it's going to look like when the handyman comes by again tomorrow to finish the job.

In the course of cleaning out the pool, he completely removed all the plants from around it, which I guess is his job. You can see the decimated remains of those beautiful white flowers on the ground here next to the Shop-Vac.

Good thing I'm so emo about plants. It really turned out to be useful in this situation.

Not only did he rip the plants out of the ground, but he chopped them into little pieces as well. I transferred most of the big pieces from the grass to my compost pile. At least one they're composted they can contribute to growing more flowers, someplace else. Like in pots inside.

The side garden was another casualty of the pool-cleaning. I'm not sure if this was planned, or if it got run over by pool equipment first. This one is actually not so bad. The bushes here were really out of control; except for the daisies, which were pretty much done flowering anyway, they would have had to be pruned or replaced next spring. Mulching like this is not much loss, although it was messily done, and looks like a battlefield.

I'm thinking about attempting to turn this spot into a vegetable garden next spring. If we're still living here, I will almost certainly do it, and if we move someplace else but are still in the area I may try as well. I've become rather enthusiastic about gardening since I've moved someplace that seems to consist mainly of concrete and car exhaust. It's really not that bad here, but I do feel a little out of balance without as much green as I'm used to.

Plus cheap fresh vegetables would be neat. Even if it did turn out like amateur gardens often do, with 100 lbs of zucchini and nothing else.

In spite of my pessimism, there are still places where slightly wild things grow. The handyman is coming back tomorrow, but I don't think my cousin-in-law is going to be there; if she isn't, I will do my best to make sure that this remaining ivy is left in peace. It's not even anywhere near the pool.

Our Strategy in Iraq is Revealed

President Bush's reaction to the presentations given by Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker has been surprisingly deft. Not that he's not capable of feeding his cronies talking points and then crafting his own speeches all as part of a master plan; most politicians can do that. What surprises me is how utterly sly he must have been to put this plan together so far in advance.

Clearly, the lesson Bush and Co. took from the Republican defeat in 2006 was that the White House had to provide political cover for Republicans in 2008 or the Republican Party was toast. Of course, the big issue that needed to be covered was the Iraq War, specifically, why American boys were still dying over there instead of living at home with their families. Large majorities of Americans want the war to be over with, want our troops to come home; this is what the Democrats at least pretended to offer, and that's why the Democrats got elected in 2006.

Bush's plan- the surge- seemed totally counter-intuitive when he introduced it. Not only was it not a good idea militarily for a dozen reasons, it also contradicted what every sane person wanted. It turns out, though, that this plan was complete genius. By increasing soldier levels in Iraq to the maximum the military could handle, and then decreasing again to the prior level over the course of 18 months or so, Bush ended up with exactly what he wanted: his propaganda mill will spin this as Bringing the Troops Home while leaving exactly the same number of soldiers in Iraq that were there in 2006.

Even the newspaper headlines are calling this reversion to the situation we had before the surge "troop cuts;" the LA Times headline reads, "Bush says he'll start bringing troops home before Christmas." Who's heart wouldn't lift after reading a headline like that? This masterfully re-defines the situation as a petty political debate about how many troops we should withdraw, and when. For people who don't read their newspapers entirely, who don't troll the internet for clues to what really went on behind all the spin that gets spewed out, it will seem like the President has agreed to leave Iraq, when of course he's done nothing of the sort.

It's almost enough to make me wonder if that stupid smirk Bush always wears is just a tactic to make his enemies underestimate him. He has clearly out-maneuvered the Democrats this time. It's too bad all his slyness is being used to harm the country he swore to serve, instead of to protect and nurture it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


I kind of feel like I should comment on Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker's testimony before Congress the other day, or on my thoughts on the surge, or on Republican sex scandals, or on any number of significant events that have occurred on the national scene on the past few weeks. But, I operate always on a limited energy budget, and so I'm not going to waste effort saying what so many have said so well already: there's a major crisis in leadership going on right now, and if someone doesn't step up to fix it, we're all screwed. Or maybe we're all screwed anyway.

Instead of going on about that, though, I wanted to write about the plants that are growing up through our deck. My husband and I are currently living in his grandmother's house while she is in assisted living, nominally so we can take care of the upkeep of the house but really because we're dirt poor and she's helping us out. It's a nice house, 3 bedrooms and a finished basement and a pool out back. Around this pool, there is a deck, with fencing to keep out small children and make the insurance happy. And since no one lived here for about a year before my husband and I moved in, there are plants growing up from underneath the decking, through the boards to where they can get sun. If it all was left alone, I imagine eventually they would swallow the deck, it would rot down to dirt like dead wood is supposed to, and you'd have a thicket of bushes. Instead of allowing that to happen, I've pulled out most of them (and by pulled out, I mean chopped off, as I don't have the muscle strength to actually pull roots out of the ground).

This one, though, I've allowed to stay.

I've told myself that I'll tear it out once the flowers are gone. I don't know if I will; its my job, sort of, it's part of what I've said I'll do in exchange for living here in a nice suburban house instead of a crappy inner city studio, but it breaks my heart to think of destroying something so beautiful.

I wish I knew what kind of flowers these are. I'm sure they have a name or two, and if I was educated I would know what it is. On the other hand, maybe knowing its name would take away from its beauty. This is a plant that grows where it isn't supposed to grow, life in defiance of order; a name would impose order on it. I think that in some ways, things are less alive when they're more orderly.

All my life until now, I've lived close to wild places. I grew up surrounded by mountains; we weren't that far into the sticks, but the sticks weren't that far from us either. The major attraction of the town I grew up in was the hiking; the next nearest town was famous for its waterfall. When I went to school in Seattle, the ocean was always close; Puget Sound is as domesticated as ocean gets, but that's not saying much. Even when I was in the Army in California, the ocean was right there, you could walk down to it, and hear the seals calling at night from all over the peninsula.

Now, in St Louis, I don't get that sense of wilderness anywhere I've been so far. It's all paved over, settled, obedient land. Even the river is brown and slow and tamed; maybe when there are floods, its different, but I have yet to see it. It doesn't feel right to walk, or, more accurately, drive, around the city, and not see a single thing that isn't firmly under human control. I can't help but think that living without wilderness is a kind of poverty.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I just finished reading Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, by Jon Krakauer, a history of Mormon fundamentalism leading up to the murder of Brenda Lafferty and her baby daughter Erica in Utah in 1984. Its a complex book, and has started me thinking on a variety of subjects, from the nature of religious belief, to my religious upbringing, to the priorities of human rights groups that condemn inhumane practices in other countries while our own government turns a blind eye to the sexual slavery of girls in polygamist communities in Arizona. Unfortunately, my mind works slowly enough that I don't have anything very coherent to say on these topics at the moment.

I will say, though, that this book reminded me that secular people who get hysterical about the Quiverfull movement, or who see it as some kind of right-wing conspiracy to take over the country by breeding little fundamentalists, are way overreacting.

I'm not saying that people who refuse to use birth-control because God Said to Have Kids aren't crazy; they are; they're also incorrect. If you're not allowed to use birth control to regulate pregnancy, you shouldn't be allowed to use vaccinations to regulate child deaths, or cars to regulate how your legs hurt when you walk ten miles. Trusting the Lord to decide the size of your family by doing nothing about it yourself makes no more sense than trusting the Lord to feed you when you refuse to raise your hand to work at growing food. The racism that proponents of these theories often spout is also disturbing. Hectoring white women to have more white babies to save the white race before little brown babies overrun the world is the stupidest reason to have a child that I've ever heard. And people who say things like "They don't believe in God, so they think we have to conserve what we have. But in my belief system, He's going to give us a new earth," to explain why overpopulation isn't a problem, are tragically detached from reality.

However, I've read the Bible, and I'm somewhat familiar with the history of the church, and it seems to me that the one thing you can count on about kids is that they're going to do things that you don't expect, particularly when it comes to religion. Great prophets throughout the Bible are shown again and again to have no control over what their children believe, say or do. Krakauer tells the history of numerous Mormons who decided that their leaders were wrong about essential doctrines, leading to more sects of Mormon fundamentalism than I think anyone has counted. He also tells the stories of girlchildren who grew up brainwashed to believe that they were supposed to be married off as a third or fourth wife at 13 or 14 in order to save their souls, but instead of cooperating talked back, called the cops, or ran off.

I guess what I'm saying is, if you're trying to produce a religious army, having children is a foolish way to do it. Children have a way of growing up and becoming their own people. It's no easier to convince your child that what you say is true than it is to convince anyone else; sometimes it's even more difficult, because children live with you, they grow up in your presence and they know all your mistakes and weaknesses and lies.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Here is no water but only rock

I'm reading this book, A Desert Dies, by Michael Asher, an Englishman, about his travels in northern Sudan in 1982-85. It's quite interesting, and puts me in mind of my earlier post about how humans preserve our habitats. I am beginning to think that Jane Jacobs is overly optimistic in (at least) two ways: she professes a belief that humans are able to preserve habitat in the long run, and she doesn't count genocide as one way we reduce pressure on our habitats.

Desertification is a huge problem in sub-Saharan regions, partly due to climate change but also because of human activity. I first really saw the impact of this when I visited Timbuktu, a city that once was one of the richest in Africa and now can barely sustain itself because the desert has crept down around it and buried it. Overgrazing, changes in plant species and other agricultural techniques, and climate phenomena such as drought or major erosion of topsoil work together to create desert out of fertile land. In Africa, the hardest hit area is the Sahel, the area between the barren sand-sea of the Sahara and the fertile jungles of the south, as shown on this map. The effect is even more clear on this satellite map of Sudan. The dry, yellow north blends into the soft, green south along a ragged border.

Interestingly, if you look at maps of the current genocidal conflict in Darfur, the areas of conflict neatly line up with the area where the desert meets arable land.

There are obviously more factors involved in the Darfur genocide than only the presence or lack of water. Religion is a powerful force in the region, as it is everywhere. The north of Sudan is primarily Muslim, while the south is a more diverse collection of animists and Christians, who are less fond of sharia law. There is a significant ethnic divide between the southern black African tribes and the northern Arab-African tribes. This ethnic divide has a long history: before European colonization, Arabs took black Africans as slaves, and Asher wonders whether the practice continues clandestinely. The party of Arabs with whom Asher traveled always refers to their non-Arab countrymen as 'slaves.' On top of that, the northerners are primarily nomadic herders, while the southerners are primarily farmers. This economic division may be the most severe.

Asher quotes one older member of the party:
I do not like this country. These slaves stop us watering our herds. They hold us back at the watering-place and say, "The wells are dry!" or they tell us, "Pay us money and we will let you water!" Curse their fathers! In the old days the Kababish would not come near this land of blacks! The grazing was good in the north then. .... The best ranges are gone and we come further south every year. ... Every day we remain here, we run the risk of losing stock [to theft]. Those [farmers] have no honor and they do not fear God.
This makes me think that no one division can be separated from the rest. If the racism were eliminated, the religious bias would remain. If the religious bias were eliminated, the economic bias would remain. If the economic bias were eliminated, the historical injustice would remain. And if all else were eliminated, still the desert would remain. It is entirely possible to view the situation as an environmental correction, as evidence that the current population cannot be supported on the failing land, and the pressure on the habitat is causing the culture to burst at the seams.

Which raises the question: should we try to stop the genocide? Can we even hope to stop it, try as we may? If desertification leads to war, should our efforts go to peace or to responsible stewardship of the land? Or perhaps, instead of trying to broker a peace deal so that all tribes can live peacefully together, should we forbid anyone from living in this area? If the pressure that causes conflict is so fundamental to the area, perhaps the only way to solve it is to remove everyone from the area until the land can recover. If our natural impulses that work to preserve the land are too horrific, maybe humanity as a community needs to approach the problem rationally instead of instinctively, and consider major changes to the way we deal with crises of all types.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Storm

I remember once when I was 13 or 14, in the fall, there was a series of violent thunderstorms in the Valley, huge crashing storms, that felled trees and flooded ditches and roads. I was fascinated by them, as I've always been fascinated by storms, and one evening I slipped outside to go for a walk in the rain, without a jacket or umbrella. I was soaked through in seconds, the rain came down in sheets and blurred my glasses so I couldn't see, and the wind made it difficult to stand upright. It was glorious. The sheer energy of it was amazing, I could smell it in the air and feel it on my skin, and somehow it drew me outside in spite of the miserable cold and wet. That storm had an essence of wildness, of alien, other character. I stood in the middle of it and couldn't touch it, no human could tame it, it was purely out of mortal control.

I'm still in love with storms. The smell of thunder on the air is one of my favorite smells; in all the world it is the only thing that makes me alive when I'm tired.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Serving Your Country

Sometimes, when I feel like making myself feel sick- you know, when my GERD/IBS isn't doing that for me already- I contemplate my outstanding disability claims.

It's been two years now since I was medically discharged from the Army. As soon as I got out, I put in a disability claim for the stomach problems I had pretty much the whole last year I was in (and which I still suffer from). Throwing up all the time, cramps, bloating, gas and heartburn aren't enough to make you totally disabled, of course (although the esophageal cancer GERD can cause will often actually kill you), but the VA, unlike Social Security, grades disability on a percentage scale, and will often give small payments for minor things. A retired Sergeant Major I used to know gets 10% disability for a tiny scar on his ear; visible scarring is considered disabling, even if you can barely tell it's there. So I had a legitimate hope that even though I was not a Sergeant Major, someone in power would think that I was entitled to something for my constant illness.

It's been two years, and I still haven't heard back from the VA about whether or not I am entitled to disability on this matter. First they told me that because I didn't have a clear diagnosis, I didn't actually have anything wrong with me. I was tempted to go and vomit on the desk of the person who made that decision, but instead just appealed it. They got my appeal paperwork and treated it like a brand new claim, telling me that I would have to prove that I'd had the condition since I was in the military. Never mind that all of my medical records are either military or VA, I had to request copies- from them- and then provide them with those copies.

I'm back in the waiting phase, again. I suppose sometime they will have to make a decision, and I assume that if they even glance at my medical records, they will see that I'm entitled to compensation, because I am. I joined the military in good faith and got wrecked while trying to serve my country, and I know that that's true no matter how many bureaucrats deny it.

When I'm not vomiting bile (ha!) over frustration with the system, I daydream about what I could buy with the back pay I would get if the VA found in my favor. I am fully disabled by my fibromyalgia and unable to obtain or keep employment, according to two government agencies and one non-profit tasked with helping disabled people find work, but VA regulation only allows a finding of 40% disability for fibromyalgia, so I live on $556 a month. A finding of only 20% disability for my GERD/IBS, just one step up from a tiny scar on your ear, would net me back pay of $5400 for the two years I've been waiting.

There are a lot of things I could spend $5400 on, but I think my highest priority is dental care. I daydream about getting my teeth cleaned; I could even get a few cavities filled before that money ran out! Screw new clothes and a tattoo and a haircut from someone other than my mother, dental care is my big dream.

Sometimes I wonder what life would have been like if I hadn't joined the Army. I probably would have finished university a couple years ago, maybe gone on to post-graduate work if I found something that I found more interesting than the rest of the world. Maybe I'd be working at a real job, with health insurance and so on. Maybe not. Maybe I would still worry about not being able to save my teeth, maybe I would still be disabled in some way. There is definitely enough doubt in me, though, that whenever I see ads enticing young people to join the military, it makes me see red.