Very often, people with ill health or disability struggle to work and have to face early retirement. It’s not a decision that anyone takes lightly.
My Own Struggle
I had to take early retirement through ill health 25 years ago, in 1994.
I didn’t want to take sick leave due to my pain, but at the end of 1991, I had to give in. I was living in constant pain. I had chronic headaches and a painful face which was later diagnosed as trigeminal neuralgia. But it was my back pain (due to having scoliosis) which forced me to take time off work. After years of constant pain, my back decided that it had had enough of carrying me around. The muscles went into severe spasm and I could hardly move for weeks. I was put into a full body cast, then a plastic brace was moulded for me. I didn’t have a lot of fat on my body, and that brace painfully pressed on my bones and left bruises on my skin. But it was holding me upright, so I wore it every day. After eight months of sick leave, I went back to work wearing that uncomfortable brace.
I managed to work for another two years, but it was a struggle. I kept pushing myself. Most days, I went to work, I came home, I went to bed. It wasn’t just painful – it was exhausting.
The Struggle to Work Became Too Much
In 1994, the struggle simply became too much. I felt as though my body could just collapse underneath that brace. I was at the stage where I struggled to put one foot in front of the other.
I simply couldn’t carry on working. I was trying to fight against something stronger than me.
I had no option but to go off sick again. After a few weeks, I attended a meeting with management who suggested I take ill health retirement. I couldn’t argue with them. I really didn’t have the strength. And I knew they were right.
Taking Early Retirement Helped
I was only 28. I was too young to retire – but it was something I needed to do to help myself. Taking ill health retirement took away a lot of stress and pressure. I was able to start listening to my pain and do what it needed me to do. I could take painkillers without worrying about lack of concentration skills for work. I could rest. I could relax. I could lie in bed all day if I needed to. I was able to improve the quality of my life.
Quality of Life Rather Than Money
Obviously, the main concern about giving up work is money. Sickness benefit was much less than my working salary, but it was enough. And sometimes just having ‘enough’ is okay.
The Emotional Rollercoaster of Ill Health Retirement
Taking ill health retirement can be an emotional rollercoaster. In many ways, it is a relief to give up work when you don’t have the health to continue. In my last post, I spoke about feeling like a failure, but there was more than that. The emotional baggage could be summed up like this :
- Giving in – I sometimes wondered if I could have tried harder
- Guilt – I felt as though I was a burden to my husband and society
- Grief – I had lost something that meant a lot to me
But I worked on those emotions
I realised that I had tried my best and couldn’t have tried any harder. I hadn’t given in. I was actually being kind to myself by taking early retirement.
I had no reason to feel guilty. I was disabled and in severe pain. I wasn’t a burden to my husband. Being a burden on society – well, I know I’m not, but the media and government have a habit of making people feel as though they are. The words ‘benefit scroungers’ appear frequently on television and in newspapers. Every time I read those words, I shudder. The majority of people on benefit due to ill health are genuine.
My pain had taken something from me. Something huge. And, as with any big loss in life, it took time to heal. And it did heal, because the benefits of not working outweighed the struggle I’d had.
Some help if you are struggling to work due to health issues
Support in Work
Perhaps some sick leave would help to rest your body and recharge your batteries. Or perhaps a change of career could help – something more suitable for your health.
You’re not always obliged to tell an employer about health issues (unless safety is compromised or it affects your ability to do your job obviously), but sometimes, it is helpful to do so.
If you are struggling with work, check into equality in the workplace laws for disabled people in your country. In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 means that an employer should help you by making reasonable adjustments to accommodate you if you have a disability.
Reasonable adjustments could be part-time or flexible hours or even working from home if that’s possible. It could mean moving you to a different department or area, or giving equipment such as a more comfortable chair.
Nobody wants to take early retirement through ill health, but if you are struggling to work, it is sometimes the only option. There is normally financial support available.
Don’t be Ashamed to Claim Disability Benefits
Find out about disability payments in your country. Often we need to jump through hoops to claim disability benefits and it can feel stressful and undignified. But when they can’t work due to illness, it’s something that many people need to do.
Applying for benefits can often be a lengthy process, and sometimes you might need legal help. In the UK, Citizens Advice can give practical and free information.
If you have paid into a retirement pension, you may be able to claim that early on the grounds of ill health.
Also check with utility companies as many of them have schemes to give disabled people cheaper tariffs. And there are often government schemes to help people on benefits with electricity or gas payments in winter months. For example, in the UK, people may be entitled to the Cold Weather Payment, Warm Home Discount Scheme or the Winter Fuel Payment.
Get counselling if you need it. Retirement itself is a huge adjustment in life, but early retirement through ill health can bring many emotional issues. Grieving is normal. As well as losing their job, people often feel as though they lose part of themselves. It takes time, and often some help is needed to deal with this.
People often feel they have no purpose in life and suffer from guilt, embarrassment and loneliness. Talk to people, and ask for help and support.
There can be an emptiness where work used to be in life. We can all read books and watch movies, but finding a hobby to take up your time, something which gives an end product, can help. It makes you feel that you’ve accomplished something. If you join groups specialising in your hobby, either online of near where you live, it lets you meet other people too.
Do you struggle to work? Or have you had to take early retirement through ill health? How did you cope?
I’d love to hear back from you, so please leave a comment below. And please click the social media share buttons.
Thank you for reading.