Federal Disability Retirement: Writing about Medical Conditions

It is easy to give advice about pain when a person is feeling no pain; it is unwise to act upon it when one is in an extreme state of it.  For, the former will often be disbelieving of the extent and severity of it and will therefore view it as involving a lack of fortitude; the latter will be willing to sell his soul in order to rid himself of it.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the problem of pain is representative of the greater difficulties of writing about a medical condition — of the dichotomy and bifurcation of subject-object; of sympathy – empathy; of persuasion and what constitutes effective writing which compels a person to tears.

Of course, as to the latter — we need not expect an OPM Case Worker to be reading your narrative in the Applicant’s Statement of Disability to suddenly burst out in tears, get up, and scream as he or she is running down the corridors of OPM holding your case file declaring, “This one is approved!  This one is approved!” (although such a scene would indeed be welcome and rather amusing).

The problem nevertheless exists — of how one can write about one’s own medical conditions, with a level of objectivity, a compelling sense of persuasive effect, a standard of maintaining a perspective which declines to cross into maudlin overstatement, and a judicious use of adjectives in conveying a true picture of pain or symptomatologies of medical conditions, which paints the picture as opposed to merely narrating a list of diagnoses which may portray unfeeling information, as opposed to the entirety of information, feeling, sensation and struggle — the aggregate of the human condition as encompassed by one in pain.  The problem has no answer; rather, it is one which must always seek a solution, which is a process in and of itself.


Robert R. McGill, Esquire

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