Content Warning: The following article contains graphic depictions of domestic violence.
For 22 years, I did what many Americans do: I worked, I attended college, and I worked some more. I paid my taxes, I voted with my heart just as much as with my mind, and I obtained a career. I did everything right.
Then, on June 30, 2016, my fiancé shot me in the back of my head at point blank range.
As I lay dying, I watched the man I loved turn his gun on himself and take his own life. I was left for dead, but I fought for my life through unimaginable darkness, hurt, and pain. I survived. I am broken, but alive.
I think about that night a lot. I think about it because it shapes everything about my life now, and not just because the bullet fragments in the back of my head and neck leave me in pain. I think about it because the disability I have now, that I acquired with a one-second pull of a trigger, turned my life upside down.
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I used to be a senior court clerk within the New York State Unified Court System. My fiancé was a New York State Court Officer-Lieutenant. Together we earned well over $150,000 per year. My career offered great benefits, a pension, and health insurance—and I was privileged enough to take them for granted.
I lost everything because my fiancé decided my life was not worth living. For the past 14 months, I fought to prove that it is: first by surviving, then by working to regain my dignity, self-worth, and independence.
Now, I find myself fighting the same battle with a different opponent. Once again, someone is deciding my life is not worth living. Except this time, it’s my president, and it’s the senators and representatives of my country telling me I have no worth.
Right now, President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans are working to pass a budget that takes desperately needed resources from the people who need them the most. In his 2018 budget, Trump proposed cutting $70 billion from Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which would take away income from up to 1 million Americans with disabilities like me. The House budget, which lawmakers are trying to pass this fall, isn’t as specific but the effects could be the same.
Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director, justified these cuts by calling SSDI “very wasteful” and suggesting that not everyone on it is “truly disabled” and people need to “go back to work.” The thing is, I’d love to. This is not a life I wanted, this is not the life I worked for. It is the life that was forced upon me. But I’m at the mercy of those who think this was a choice.
There are a lot of things about what happened to me that I won’t ever understand. I don’t understand why my fiancé got his service weapon back after he’d struggled with his mental health, or why he decided to shoot the person he said he loved. And I don’t understand why any intelligent, self-aware individual would think that my life was a choice—a choice to live a life where food is not a guarantee, where I am never quite sure if I’ll be able to visit the doctor for life-saving treatment or if I’ll have to suffer in pain forever, until the pain paralyzes me.
I live in fear every single day that the people I elected to help me, to help America, will take my life and the lives of millions of other Americans. We are failing as a nation if we continue down this path, if we take from the weakest to feed the strong.