Ill Health Retirement After Years of Struggling to Work

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.

I Had to Take Ill Health Retirement When I was 28

I had to take early retirement through ill health in 1994 when I was 28.

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 had to wear 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.

ill health retirement after years of struggling to work. The picture shows a white alarm clock, a mug and a white plant pot with a yellow flowering plant.

Taking Ill Health Retirement Helped Me

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.

For the first time, I was able to really start listening to my pain and do what it needed me to do. I was able to rest and relax as much as I needed to. And, if necessary, I could even lie in bed all day. I could also keep my pain under better control by taking painkillers without worrying about lack of concentration skills for work.

Of course, I would rather have been working. But my quality of life improved.

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

I had to work on those emotions.

Giving In

I realised that I had tried my best and couldn’t have tried any harder so I hadn’t given in. I was actually being kind to myself by taking early retirement.

I had no reason to feel guilty. None at all. I was disabled and in severe pain. I wasn’t a burden to my husband. He reminded me of that any time I suggested it.

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.

What Help is Available if You Are Struggling to Work Due to Ill Health?

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.

Financial Support

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.

Emotional Support

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.

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84 thoughts on “Ill Health Retirement After Years of Struggling to Work

  1. Marta

    Thank you for sharing your story. The most important thing is to do what is best for you and your health should be on top of your list.

  2. Thank you for sharing! My dad is like this too, he works so hard despite his troubles and pain because he always wanted to make sure he was taken care of and he just never thought retiring early was an option. I think he has views that as the man of the house it’s his job to take care of everything. We’re all grown and out of the house now but he still insists on working too hard and neglecting his health. I’m gonna share this with him and hope it gives him a different perspective. It’s totally okay to prioritize yourself and your health. You can’t pour from an empty cup.

    1. I’m so sorry to hear about your Dad. It’s never an easy decision, especially if you are bringing up a family. I was fortunate that it was just myself and my husband, so I didn’t have children to take into the equation. But, sometimes you do need to put yourself first. Yes, you’re right, you can’t pour from an empty cup,

    2. Steve Nicholaidis

      That story has struck a chord with me. I rang in sick for the last time today. A brief background, I’m British aged 49, ex Army now working for local council.

      I was injured during my service resulting in a triple spinal fusion, my femoral nerve was injected, in error, causing severe pain, muscle loss, spasms, pins and needles constantly in foot. The pressure of all of this caused me to have a stroke four years ago. I need to use morphine to help me with the pain and also 11 tablets a night for hypertension amongst other things. I’m going to apply to my employer for Tier 1 ill health retirement. Has anyone any experience of this? I’d love to hear from you.

  3. You, Me and Benny

    what an incredible story and I know this is definitely helping people out there who are feeling the same as you!!!

  4. Abu Zaid

    This story can be motivated to the others. That the most important thing to do as human being is to keep our healthy life compare with others.

  5. Geri

    Thanks for sharing this. I did not take Ill health retirement but after being on sick leave over a year my employer had to terminate my contract as still had no idea when or if I’d be able to go back to work. Two years later still not working I do get benefits help though thank goodness, although trying to appeal one of them just now which can be stressful. It is just nice to know you are not alone in these situations as I sometimes feel like I am. So thanks! X

  6. I’ve not taken retirement, but I lost my job due to ongoing sickness and seemingly continual surgeries, and now, with how quickly my body has gone downhill, I’ve no idea what I am capable of work-wise. It’s a constant source of worry and stress and there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think about it. It’s the guilt, the feeling of being useless, that gets me the most. But no matter how much you change your perspective, there’s still the very practical implication of needing a job to have an income. It’s hard to accept when your health declines and you’re no longer able to do what you did before and a whole part of your life disappears at the same time. But to focus on your health, your mental wellbeing too, is far more important, as you say. And I’m glad it lifted a weight off your shoulders when you made the very difficult decision to do so. Thank you for so honestly sharing some of your experience with this, Liz – wonderful post that I think many will sadly relate to in some way, but you give such a supportive edge to it to show it’s an adjustment rather than the end of the world.
    Caz xx

    1. Caz, it must so difficult for you and other people in this position. I still think back to my days of trying to push myself so hard to keep going. Early retirement definitely did help me, but it’s never something anyone does by choice. We’d all rather have the health to be able to work, wouldn’t we? I hope things can work out somehow for you.

      1. Absolutely, it’s not a situation anyone wants, nor is it really a ‘choice’ because there aren’t viable options available. Thank you for your kindness, and I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make my comment into something all about ‘me-me-me’! It just resonated with me. xx

  7. hannahthemaddog

    Thank you for sharing this. I have lupus and I am 29. I work full-time as a graphic designer. When I went to school, I couldn’t work at the same time because the stress was causing flares. Last year I was having horrible headaches, vertigo, high fevers and shortness of breath. I had 2 seizures and was in the hospital for 11 days and took medical leave all of May. It was so stressful and demoralizing. Even though I take Cytoxan (a form of chemo) and have progressed overtime with it, there’s always that chance I could flare and be no longer be able to work. It’s hard too because I have a lot of medical bills, credit card debt and student loans.

    Hannah the Mad Dog

    1. It can become stressful and demoralising, can’t it. It must be so worrying when you have medical bills to think about too, along with other financial problems. I’m in UK, so fortunately we have the NHS and don’t have to think about medical costs. I hope things work out for you.

  8. First of all, thank you for sharing your deeply personal story! I’m so sorry about your situation and I hope the best of you! There is no shame about getting disability benefits. Good luck!.

      1. Anne Wilson

        There is a whole civilization comprising people who can no longer work. It is surprising how many of us have worked in the “caring” professions, and rather depressing to see how many of us are being denied financial support from the society we have been caring for!
        I am thankful to have come to know some lovely people since having to give up work. None of us have any money but most of us have rescue animals in our households. You might describe us as being rich in spirit!
        Good luck to all of us undergoing the humiliation of the benefits appeal system.

  9. We don’t get to choose the path our chronic illness takes us on unfortunately. I love the topics you outlined in dealing with the medical necessity of leaving work. There’s certainly a grieving process that one goes through. Thanks for sharing!

    1. One of my friends had to leave her job due to ill health.after some break and treatment she could come back. I suggest focussing on treatments. ?

  10. Thank you for sharing your story. I spent more years as a homemaker than in the world working outside the home. I can relate in a way to problems I encountered with my mental health were worse when I tried to push myself to work outside the home because I felt its what I was ‘supposed to do”. I thought it was the way to be like everyone else and ‘be normal”. Thank you for making me feel less alone and less inadequate.

    1. There’s often a lot of pressure to do what we’re supposed to do and be normal, as you put it. Nobody should feel inadequate because they can’t be like everyone else. You’re certainly not alone, and definitely not inadequate. Take care.

  11. I share your sympathies in the back pain area. I had a herniated disc back in 2015 which resulted in me feeling perpetual sharp pain and numbness down my left leg. Walking was incredibly difficult and at times I would lose bladder control. I eventually had surgery which took me out of work and put under short term disability for 3 months. It wasn’t fun being bedridden and having my parents nurse me during that time.

  12. sjd68

    You have to always do what’s best for you. Money isn’t everything and you need to be happy. Your decision was the right one and you are not inadequate by any means.

  13. Thank you for sharing this. This is what I went through one year back. I am 26 year old and had to leave my job due to pain. I felt so guilty and overwhelmed. Now, it’s better. Thank you for your post.

    1. Hi Arun, I am so sorry that you have gone through this too. It is very overwhelming at the time, and takes time to work through. I hope you’re doing ok just now.

  14. sustainablespoonie

    I am not retired, but I am also unable to work due to my health. It is a huge struggle, and I relate to your post so much. Thank you for the encouragement. 🙂

  15. You are such a strong person & hence despite having had to retire much earlier you still are engaged in doing something so constructive & inspirational. May God bless you

  16. Natalie | Surviving life's hurdles

    I can completely relate to everything you’ve written here. I had to take ill-health retirement too, a couple of years ago now and it was such a hard time in my life. Now though I’m in a much better place and although I’d obviously much rather be able to work I can also appreciate the positives that ill-health retirement has brought me, such as, being able to look after my health and being around more for my son.

  17. Health always comes first. Your post is an eye opener for most who give a thought to early retirement due to illness. As for claiming disability benefits, I think it definitely is your right especially when your government provides you with these facilities unlike where I come from. We don’t get anything health benefits from our government so have to save for any eventuality.

    1. Thank you. I can’t even begin to imagine what life could have been life if I didn’t live here with health benefits. It’s actually quite a frightening thought.

  18. ninanichols1979

    No kind of work is worth any sacrifice of health and well-being. Health is definitely wealth and I learned it the hard way. After years of struggling to work, I am finally at the stage where I am wiser with my decisions.

  19. Thank you for telling your story. As a person with Bipolar 1 Disorder with a husband on military disability, it is sometimes discouraging when people can’t “see” your issues. I have to be careful about pushing myself too much and I have stayed away from higher paying, more stressful jobs. This has led to the impression that I am lazy, which is far from the truth. I love the images with your bullet points…I pray people read and understand what it means to be disabled.

    1. Yes, it is more difficult when your health issue is invisible to other people. It’s such a horrible feeling when you feel people think you are lazy. They simply don’t understand.

  20. Jennifer McCormick

    Thank you for sharing your very personal story. Your practical advice will help many that are struggling with the choice of ill health retirement. You are living your journey with grace and empowerment.

  21. fourcolu

    excellent post. i had an issue with my ribs and it took a year to heal and no one c ould relate to the sharp pains i was having and it was terrible working and sitting on the desk. thanks for sharing this.
    Jerry Godinho

    1. Hi Jerry, sorry about your rib pain. Due to my back problem, and a couple of broken ribs, I completely understand that pain you must have had. I hope they’ve improved now.

  22. Maybe your employer has offered you redundancy as an alternative to early retirement? Speak to your union representative to find out exactly what your options are, or get advice from your workplace occupational health department.

    1. Yes, I was medically retired through ill health. It was 25 years ago and had plenty of advice at the time. Difficult then, but definitely the right thing for me.

  23. Kippi O'Hern

    Thank you for sharing your struggles and hope for those who suffer in pain. I love that you are helping others by sharing. Happy Spring, Kippi

  24. Lyosha Varezhkina

    Thank you for sharing your story and raising this. It is important to consider it too. I am sorry health forced you to retire

  25. Ashlee

    What an ordeal. I’m very similar to how you were in the beginning when I would be sick, but still fighting to go to work because i needed to make the money. Now I totally understand the important and the significance of having a proper support system, taking care of myself and not trying to chase after money.

  26. Elizabeth Nunes

    Awe. I think the hardest part about becoming a senior who is retired, is asking for help. It’s a difficult thing to accept.

  27. My father in law was forced to retire after developing RSD in his dominant arm. He too was very depressed about the situation and they live very tight. His wife isn’t even able to retire because of the cost of insurance for him. I wish there was a better system.

  28. erica3639

    Listening to our bodies and doing what is best for our health can be so difficult. It feels like admitting defeat or simply giving up without a fight. But quality of life is so important too, and that’s what we tend to forget because of all the other pressures. Money, guilt, depression. It’s a tough thing to go through. I’m so glad you shared this story.

  29. I’ve felt a lot of empathy while reading your story. What an inner journey to go through such intense emotions.. We are part of a society which always puts so much value into how many things we do and how much money we make, instead of who we are and how valuable we are as persons; it requires a lot of work on ourselves to do the shift, not only in case of a physical conditions, but in any other circumstance in life where you may need to choose to work differently or not work at all. I believe there are so many more ways we can contribute to this world, and what you’re doing by sharing your stories and encouraging and supporting others is priceless.

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  35. Debbie Holmes

    I’m currently still working, though struggling greatly. I have had thyroid cancer and have fibrillation, osteoarthritis in my whole spine, arms, hands and fingers, hips, feet and toes. The medications I take make me so tired along with the symptoms from my illnesses. I am looking into retirement on health grounds and enjoyed you comment that just having enough was ok. Thank you for giving me the boost to go for it.

  36. Tamar Wildwing

    So good to read this. I had to take ill health retirement a few years ago and I still struggle with feeling like I should work. But I had got to the same point, all I could do was go to work, not perform well, then spend all my non working hours recovering. I had no life at all outside of work, and teenagers who missed out on mum. When I stopped work things got so much better. I can pace and life is much more manageable. Thank you for reminding me that was the right decision to make.

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