The Financial Challenge Of Living With Chronic Illness

RA Guy Adventures of RA Guy

Okay, so my decision to stop taking medicines was in no way financially motivated…but since I’ve done so, I’ve noticed that there’s more money than usual in my bank account.

This makes sense, as I’m no longer spending the equivalent of a nice laptop computer, sometimes even a MacBook Air, per month! I’ve always known that I spend a lot of money on all my different medicines and health care treatments, but it wasn’t until recently–when I stopped spending a good part of this money–that I realized exactly how expensive it was to live with chronic illness.

I mean, this lesson was first driven home to me soon after I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. I couldn’t work, my medical expenses were skyrocketing (I don’t have health insurance, mind you…), and it sometimes came down the point where I actually had to decide between buying medicines, putting food on the table, and paying the monthly electrical bill. Sure, I had played the starving student more than a decade before, when I was at Columbia and Harvard…but back them, it was perfectly acceptable to be short of money at times. And if push came to shove, I could always call home and ask for some money.

Now, I was a grown adult; a person who entered into a series of very successful corporate jobs soon after finishing graduate school. For the longest time, money was never an issue. New cars and foreign trips were the norm, and I never had to worry about not having enough money in my account. Don’t get me wrong, though, having money was nice…but it certainly wasn’t what I was living for. I eventually became less and less happy with my jobs, and with all of the internal politics and backstabbing that accompanied them…so much so, that on my 30th birthday (on the exact day, I’m not even kidding) I submitted my letter of resignation. At the time I didn’t know what was next for me…I just knew that I needed something different; something that really made me happy.

Within the year, I moved to South America so that I could study historical and contemporary adobe construction. I originally planned on staying here for maybe two years (this was eight years ago), but I’ve been here ever since. Part of the reason why I’m still here is because I really like it. I love the different cultures and the snow-capped peaks of the Andes Mountains. I really enjoy the long lunches at mid-day, and the slower pace of life. I love the lower cost of living, and the fact that most items are hand-made and not mass produced.

Part of the reason I’m still here, though, it because I can no longer afford to live in the United States. Without insurance, I can no longer afford all of the physical therapy sessions, medicines, and doctors visits that I need in order to just keep moving. Yes, down here I pay for everything I that need 100% out-of-pocket, but at least it’s possible for me to do so, as everything costs only a fraction of what it does in the U.S. (One month’s supply of brand name Arava: $95.)

Soon after I was diagnosed, however, I didn’t have nearly enough money to pay for everything that I needed. In addition to already feeling like a huge failure because I couldn’t even walk, I felt like an even bigger failure because my life was one big financial mess. As soon as certain family members in the states found out about the predicament that I was in, they immediately started sending money. Accepting this money obviously helped, but it also made me feel guilty as hell. Like I said, I wasn’t a college student away at school…I was a grown adult…and it was hard to accept that I was not able to support myself, financially.

But if we fast-forward to the present, I’m happy to share that over the past year, I’ve finally been able to get back on my feet…in more ways than one. It’s taken me a while to learn to live within my new means, but now that I have, I’ve been able to take pride in the fact that I can now afford the basics, without having to choose between medicines, groceries, and monthly bills. I no longer feel bad that I can’t afford a lot of the things that I once was able to. I no longer feel guilty about accepting certain offers of financial help that continue to roll in. Instead, I’m happy with the fact that I can afford to pay for my current healthcare and costs of living…and as long as this continues to be the case, I know that everything will be okay. I might not have an iPad, or trips around the world…but I do have my health…and for this, I am grateful.

Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rhuematoid Arthritis Guy!