Hudson, North Carolina – Perhaps it was a panic attack that tipped Donna Barnett over the edge that day in 2012.
It caught her by surprise, causing her hands to tremble and her heart to race. Money problems may have been the root cause. In those days, it seemed that she carried the weight of the world upon her shoulders.
As she cruised along the Carolina roads with her daughter, perhaps it was exhaustion that took control of the wheel, turning an ordinary drive into a rollercoaster ride of terror.
“I remember feeling so tired,” Ms. Barnett, 43, said. “All I wanted to do was sleep.”
Next thing she knew, she was barreling toward a concrete pillar. As the car rang with her young daughter’s screams, Ms. Barnett would remember nothing of the near-collision.
“I was having blackout spells,” she said. “I think I was having a nervous breakdown.”
Life hadn’t always been this way. Ms. Barnett had lived a good life, reaping the rewards of motherhood, with two children and a loving boyfriend, whose support would later sustain her. Her job as a security guard for a major Internet company brought tremendous satisfaction, enriching her life with a sense of purpose and fulfillment. It gave her something to look forward to every morning.
“I just loved the interactions with the people,” Ms. Barnett said. “I met people from all over the country; truck drivers, people passing through – you name it.”
In 2012, however, challenges loomed. When management revised her workload, she struggled to keep up.
“We were required to ride on a bicycle for four out of eight hours a day throughout the grounds, and I just couldn’t handle it,” Ms. Barnett said.
Managing her health problems was a constant uphill battle. Diagnosed with both osteoarthritis and spondylothesis, both conditions racked her body with pain.
Characterized by the slipping of vertebra, spondylothesis typically occurs at the base of the spine. A defect or a fracture of one or both wing-shaped parts of a vertebra, the condition can result in vertebrae slipping into various positions, or over an underlying bone, causing crippling pain.
With osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis, the breakdown of cartilage of the joints occurs. Usually affecting the weight-bearing joints of the hips, knees and spine, it creates stiffness because the joints lose their elasticity. As the cartilage deteriorates, tendons and ligaments stretch, causing pain. If the condition worsens, the bones may rub against each other.
“I have no cartilage in my hip at all,” she said. “The doctor gave me a shot to treat it, and it nearly killed me.”
Ms. Barnett also battles depression and panic attacks, which often occur without warning
Although once rewarding, her job now seemed like an obstacle course. It was breaking her down, one weary bone at a time.
“I was constantly wrecking on my bike,” she said.
Despite taking occasional breaks, her declining health continued to take its toll, interfering with her ability to meet work demands.
“Everybody has their limits,” Ms. Barnett said, “and I had certainly reached mine.”
On June 16, 2012, she put her working days behind her. Unfortunately, this presented its own set of challenges. As bills piled up, Ms. Barnett lived at the mercy of her nerves. A strong woman who had always taken pride in her independence, she now faced life without a paycheck.
“I thought that was it,” Ms. Barnett said. “I thought I was going to be living in my car.”
When she lost her home and moved into a two-bedroom apartment, she knew it was time to file for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. This was government disability insurance that she had paid for with FICA taxes while she was working. But she needed help to navigate the complex process.
In July 2012, she found Allsup. Founded in 1984, Allsups has helped hundreds of thousands of people qualify for SSDI benefits.
Having been blindsided by misfortune, it was understandable that her expectations were low. “I’d heard all these people talking about how the process had taken them years to be awarded,” Ms. Barnett said, sounding tired.
Turning her case over to Allsup, she relied on the support of loved ones who insisted, “Don’t you dare give up.”
Fortunately, she listened.
“Allsup was great,” Ms. Barnett said. “I loved how they did the paperwork for me. They always kept me updated on what was going on with my case.”
When Ms. Barnett’s claim was denied, her Allsup representative advised her not to be discouraged. She explained that two-thirds of all initial applications are denied. It was time to try again. That appeal also was denied, also not unexpected.
Ms. Barnett’s case then advanced to the next stage of the process, an appearance before an administrative law judge in November 2013.
“The judge asked me if I thought I would ever see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Ms. Barnett recalled.
She paused before continuing. “I told him, ‘I’m not sure there even is a light at the tunnel for me.'”
Then, as she got up to leave at the end of the hearing, the judge surprised her with his reply.
“Well, maybe you’ll see that light,” he said.
As Ms. Barnett recalled, it didn’t register at first.
“My representative came up to me,” she said, “and asked how it felt to have been awarded. I looked at her, puzzled, and I asked, ‘I won?'”
The favorable decision reduced her to tears.
“I bawled all the way home,” she said. “I was so happy.”
Although life still presents its challenges, things are looking up. Thanks to the monthly disability check, she’s even been able to buy her daughter new clothes.
“She was just tickled that I was able to buy her something brand new,” Ms. Barnett said. She also was able to move into a larger home with her mother.
“I would recommend Allsup to anybody,” Ms. Barnett said, “and I’ve already recommended them to a lot of people. Most people are so overwhelmed by the paperwork, but I tell them that Allsup will do everything for you.”