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Most of us expect to set a date for our retirement, and hope it goes according to plan. What if you’re forced into retirement by a disability? This is about how to get your feet under you in that case.
You’re still you
First order of business is to clear your head. Being taken out of your normal life disorients you. Try not to lose track of you, your biggest asset.
To begin with, don’t be a diagnosis collector. The names doctors give what’s wrong are not your names and you shouldn’t be intimidated by their number or their sound. Instead, find out how your conditions are treated, and how people live with them. Apply what you learn.
You will find that you are unable to do some things you used to do. Maybe you will find new things to do instead, tapping into parts of you that you didn’t pay attention to before. You may have heard that people who go blind develop better hearing to compensate. They aren’t alone. Abilities you didn’t know you had can emerge if you let them.
Check your resources
Once you have cleared your head, you’ll need to get busy with finances. You will not be working; you may have short-term disability income through your job if you’re lucky. That usually pays a fraction of what your regular paycheck is, and it only lasts a few months. But it’s a start.
In addition to whatever savings you may have for this rainy day, you will likely have some work credit with Social Security. That is, unless you worked for a long time for an exempt municipal organization that organizes retirement outside the Social Security system.
At any rate, you may be out of work and without an income for quite some time before you can get long term disability benefits. Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income are both administered by Social Security. Both require that you prove you’ll be disabled for at least a year, for starters. Often they just deny you till you have built up enough medical history on your disabling condition(s) to exceed a year. Check the Social Security website for more details.
Persistence is key
The key to Social Security claims is keeping track of the doctors you saw, the hospitals you were in, and therapies you had for your disabling condition. That, and a clear idea that you cannot work because of your condition, make your case. If they deny your claim, appeal it until all appeals are exhausted. Get a lawyer if you feel the need. They will work for a share of your back pay.
What if you have a Workers Compensation claim? Again, you have a case to make involving medical records, like with a lawsuit. You should probably have legal help with this.
Health insurance for people with a disability
What about health insurance? It depends on your finances and age. Medicare, unless you are 65, won’t start until after two years from the start of your disability, if you get on Social Security Disability Insurance. But if you get onto Supplemental Security Income, you don’t have a lot of assets so you can qualify for Medicaid. In most states, Social Security helps you with Medicaid also.
If neither applies, you’re on your own in the market, and you are developing a preexisting condition if you haven’t already.
Whatever you start with, plan on a long haul getting a disability income and expect you will not be living as you did when you worked.
By now you are working on your recovery from your disabling condition. Recovery may or may not mean getting over your condition. In many cases, the condition is here to stay. Living well in spite of it becomes the task.
Part of recovery involves treatment. It could involve medication, therapies, exercises or a combination. Reading up on your condition and discussing what you learn with the professionals involved is a good start. When you understand what is going on, you can participate much better in your treatment decisions.
Recovery also has to do with lifestyle changes. Diet, exercise, and managing stress all help you to be as healthy as you can be, condition or no. A healthy lifestyle gives you the strength to deal with the changes in your life. You feel better overall, so your outlook is better too.
A social life
Another part of recovery involves social interaction. You need people in your life apart from your treatment team. If there is a group or peer support organization for people with your condition, check it out. It could be a source of information for you as you recover, and you might like some of the folks there.
Don’t forget your old friends and activities. You are still yourself with the same interests and knowledge, if not all the same abilities. Keep doing the activities you’ve been sharing with your friends, as you can. It might feel weird at first but as you and your friends adjust, it will get better.
A life with meaning
Eventually you may decide you want more in your life, something to really get you going, give you a purpose. You might want a job that fits your abilities and energy levels. Many people with disabilities find that part-time work fits their lives well. They find new friends and make a difference. Your state’s Vocational Rehabilitation or a supported employment program can help you find the best fit for you and brush up on your job hunting skills.
You might find meaning as a volunteer, through church, or peer support, or a nonprofit organization in your area. As you may have been helped while getting started in your recovery, you could help others start theirs. Or you may want to contribute as an advocate for people with disabilities through an organization that you found helpful. You might help raise money for medical research, or you could raise awareness about a social problem.
Hobbies give many people satisfaction in a variety of ways. One lady I know makes beaded ornaments, keychains and bracelets in her own designs. She started selling them to raise money for a man who was injured and had no insurance. Another found a volunteer program that gives knitters yarn to make into items to give to the poor. She knitted while watching her favorite TV shows and her products kept kids warm in winter.
Disability is a hard way to retire early. But it is a change you can manage. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. You’ll find that you can build a new phase of your life in spite of the changes you went through.