“I’ve had a job that offered me a manager position that I had to turn down because they were going to pay me an amount that exceeded what disability was giving me,” said Christina, a mother of four from San Antonio, Texas.
She was being offered a promotion because of her strengths and skillset, but the policy restrictions of her disability benefits stifled her chance to move up. It’s a choice that too many hardworking individuals in our communities face—the need to accept less in order to maintain, knowing that often the pursuit of better opportunties could present more financial hardship. In Christina’s reality, she went from enjoying physical work at an inventory job to filing for disability at age 33 when doctors determined that she needed a pacemaker.
“I know that I don't look as sick as I am. I'm physically limited on what I can do. A year ago I was in a wheelchair… I wasn't able to walk without my cane,” said Christina as she explained an 8-year struggle with declining health. “It started with heart problems. I was very tired all the time, to the point where I wouldn't wake up for days.”
She began to faint unexpectedly and her extreme fatigue made it challenging for the dedicated mother of two daughters and two sons to actively participate in their lives.
“There were times where I couldn't take them to school. I wasn't able to get up, I wasn't able to attend any of their school functions,” shared Christina.
She underwent surgery where doctors installed a pacemaker. The device regulated her heartbeat, however, other aspects of her life were taking a real beating.
“After that, I went through PTSD. I went through panic attacks. I was calling the ambulance two to three times a day because I was so scared,” admitted Christina. “My anxiety took me into a very dark place where I became depressed, I became suicidal.”
In the darkness, she says she found light in a church parking lot. Christina shared that when she felt the suicidal thoughts lurking, she would park her car in a local church parking lot and sleep in her car—convincing herself that the bad thoughts could not win on religious grounds. Those extreme measures worked, and soon positivity and faith began to beam from her smile.
After finding a way to cope with heart conditions, Christina met a new health challenge.
“About four years later, I ended up with uterine cancer. That was very emotional. That wasn't an easy thing to go through,” shared Christina. “I now have 19 [auto-immune disease] diagnoses, that is basically taking over my body.”
She credits her children as the source for her strength and resilience through it all.
“They witnessed me going from a full blown mom, which I've always been, to not being able to be a mom anymore and basically struggling to live. I'm willing to push and fight, and just be as normal as I can for them. I don't have any issues with any of my kids. I've been very blessed,” said Christina.
Since then, her job history has included remote work for a car dealership and even teaching at a preschool, but the Texas native is still limited in how much money she can earn. She shared that she balances raising her family on $1,800 a month.
“That's not something that you can support a family on,” shared Christina. “Disability is not something that I ever thought that I was going to be on at this age. So if I were to work any amount over that limit that they give me, they take my Medicare, which takes away my doctor's appointments, which takes away my infusions that I have to do in order to survive.”
Christina’s journey within the UpTogether Community began on the insistence of a friend who had recently joined. Her positivity and faith have evolved into prayer ministry and numerous opportunities to share her own experiences as a resource for others facing health challenges of their own.
“I would love to form a support group [for] young people my age that are disabled. People that are my age that are struggling with just a sudden change in their lives. It's hard not having somebody to talk to,” explained Christina.
“It's hard to talk about my life, but I know that it's going to help somebody. And that's really what my focus has always been—just to help somebody, anybody.”