While convalescing I took a correspondence course and became certified as a Medical Language Specialist, a job that I could potentially do at home. I got a part-time job but it required working at an office, and soon the same issues with recurrent infections, pain and extreme fatigue interfered with my work, to the point that even four hours typing a day became too much. I was so weak that it was a major ordeal just to take a shower, brush my hair and drive to work, and by the time I got there every day I was already exhausted. When State Disability ran out, the doctor informed me, "You will never work again, we need to transfer you from State to SSDI."
The DDS will base their decision on laboratory evidence (which there is none for CFIDS, the causative pathology as yet unidentified) and objective "functional limitations." The latter are specifically defined relative to your job duties and measurable in terms of weights and range of motion. For example, if you had a shoulder injury and you cannot reach over your head or lift a certain weight above chest level, or if you had knee or back surgery and you cannot bend, squat, lift, climb, etc., or if you have nerve injury impairing the use of your hands, or some other physical limitation, this will be documented by DDS. They will ask your employer to accommodate you, and if the employer refuses, they may send you to vocational rehab to train for another type of job. If you have foot pain due to flat arches, or knee pain due to some injury, and your job requires being on your feet all day, you will be fitted with orthotic shoes or knee brace, sent back to work and told to sit down during rest breaks. If you are "merely" in pain without any fixable injury, they will tell you to take NSAIDS and return to work.
"Brain fog" (a common symptom of CFIDS, fibromyalgia and some related illnesses) will only be considered as a functional limitation if it interferes with your "ability to understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions." So, for example, if you are a Ph.D. college professor and your brain fog prevents you from publishing or being able to lecture successfully, no problem; DDS will say "you can still work at the grocery store" alongside of the developmentally delayed bagboy. Again, Disability is not based on whether you can continue doing your normal profession, but rather, if your functional impairment prevents you from doing "substantial gainful activity" of any kind.
Now, I probably should mention at this point, the criteria are slightly different for Mental Disability, but the same general standard of "functional limitation" applies. The interviewing psychiatrists will carefully evaluate whether, for example, you are able to interact with the examiner and answer questions in an appropriate manner, understand, remember, pay attention, and follow simple instructions. They will also make note of antisocial, irrational or psychotic personality traits which would interfere with your ability to get along with bosses and coworkers such as combativity, impulsivity, poor judgement, narcissism, delusions, paranoia, etc., and document your prior history of job losses due to such factors. Although these are not physical impairments, clearly if you are unable to follow instructions, communicate effectively, or get along with others, or if you consistently panic, burst out in a rage or tears under any kind of pressure, your functional ability to hold down a job would be extremely limited.
How do the above considerations apply to my current situation? Keep in mind that when I applied for SSDI over 20 years ago, I was utterly sick, weak as a kitten, suffering from chronic opportunistic infections, and documented as TPD by the State of California, and yet because I could still talk on the phone at home, was deemed "not disabled" by the Florida DDS. Thanks to holistic medicine I am now much improved! The fact is, on a good day I am probably in better shape than many "normal" people. In terms of "functional capacity" I can carry 5-gallon water buckets (50 pounds) one in each hand while walking through deep mud, throw around hay bales and sacks of grain, saw boards, set fence posts, dig ditches and shovel hundreds of pounds of shit, sand or crushed concrete, and perform other farm activities.
Of course, good days are sometimes followed by very bad days, as overexertion can leave me bed-bound for 48 hours thereafter, a key identifying symptom of CFIDS reflected by the new term, "Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease." But on most days, if I were to be tested for range of motion and physical strength per DDS functional standards, I would pass with flying colors - especially since my current job as Spiritual Advisor demands no such abilities. It is difficult to imagine a degree of "functional limitation" that would preclude sitting in a chair talking on the phone, which I was able to do even at my sickest. I will admit I've missed a few days of work due to excessive "brain fog" which interfered with my ability to communicate effectively with my callers, but thankfully such days have been few and far between. If the "brain fog" were a constant condition then yes, it would indeed be a "functional limitation."
So that is what happened with my original SSDI claim, why I can't qualify for Disability now despite not being well enough to work a "real job," and why I am so extremely thankful for my current position as Spiritual Advisor which I can do from home via phone.
In summary, then:
1. My original claim was denied by the State of Florida in 1994 despite being very, very sick. At that time I met all the requirements for SSDI. I had been unable to work for over a year and was already on California State Disability, with complete medical records, laboratory studies and documentation of Total Permanent Disability by the California Chief Medical Examiner. I had a great lawyer who specialized in CFIDS. Nonetheless, my claim was denied because I had no "functional limitations" that would prevent me from working by phone at home.
2. I am currently in vastly improved condition, physically quite strong, and have been working very successfully nearly full-time since December 2014, doing exactly the job that Social Security determined me "functionally capable" of doing: talking on the phone at home. I now have no medical records, cannot afford to see a doctor and have no treatable complaints to document. Do I still have a disability? Yes. My immunity is impaired, I have "Systemic Exertion Intolerance" and on a bad day I feel like total shit. Does that qualify me for Social Security Disability? No.
3. As for the suggestion that I ought to reapply for SSDI anyway on the very remote chance of being approved the second time around, this would require quitting my fabulous job, which would result in losing my home worth approximately $350,000 because I have no other source of income with which to pay my mortgage, property taxes and other bills during the 5-month waiting period. Even if I did manage to make it to the sixth month and somehow miraculously qualify for SSDI benefits, the amount would not be enough to pay the bills and certainly not worth the trade-off of losing everything I own. Obviously, it would not be a good gamble.
* I could not, in fact, work as a telemarketer, but only because I suck at sales. I actually did attempt to work as a salesperson for a couple of outstanding companies whose very high-quality and affordable supplements had helped me, and I failed miserably despite their providing me with thorough training. My current job as a Spiritual Advisor does, however, involve exactly that: Talking on the phone.
** Although interestingly, you can get SSDI for panic attacks.