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Hawaii_Jake's avatar

For those with disabilities, how do you keep a job?

Asked by Hawaii_Jake (30237points) May 7th, 2012

This question is mainly for users who have a disability, but it’s open for assistance from anyone.

Please note this is a general section question.

As many of you here know, I have been diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder, and I live on government disability. My ability to hold a job steadily decreased from the time I was diagnosed. I was declared totally disabled in 2007 and attempted to go back to work for two disastrous months in late 2008. That job left me catatonic on my sofa.

I’ve recently heard about a job in the mental health field that I believe I could try. It’s called a peer specialist and seems to basically be one person with a mental illness coaching others with the same problems on life issues from choosing to live a healthy lifestyle to filling out bureaucratic forms. The job would be part-time.

My question to others with disabilities is how you do it. How do you manage your life so that stress does not overwhelm you? How do you maintain your work-life balance satisfactorily? How do you stay healthy?

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17 Answers

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

With my disabilities, I am unable to do the kind of work for which I was qualified. What I need to do is keep more mentally and physically active (within the limitations my body can tolerate).

Part-time jobs in a rural area typically make physical demands for which I am not suited. I haven’t worked since April 2004.

That peer counselling job sounds promising. I hope that can work for you.

Bent's avatar

I’m physically disabled but if I couldn’t go to work at all it would drive me completely mad.

I work part time (sedentary and rather boring office job) but I have a flexible arrangement with my employer which means that as long as I work the required number of hours over the month, it doesn’t matter when I work them. So if I am unable to go in one day due to pain or some other problem, I can just make up the hours on another day. It works pretty well for me and I’ve had to take very little actual sick time off.

I hope this peer support job works well for you.

wundayatta's avatar

Several people in my group have taken the peer specialist training and have worked, part time, as peer specialists. For one, it has been something of a disappointment because no one calls them. They haven’t marketed the “warm” line very well. As you might guess, she counsels folks who call in, but she gets fewer than one call a day.

The other person in my group who is doing this seems to enjoy it. It is about the right speed work. He is a very tentative person. It is very strange to me because he is very bright and should be very capable, but due to the bipolar and what it has done to him in the past, he just won’t try much.

Well, he is also a kidney transplant and I guess he can get physically tired very quickly, so that plays into it, as well.

But if you can act in a play, I think that the peer specialist position is likely to be very comfortable for you. I would be surprised if you have a lot of clients, and those you do have will be people you are comfortable with. They will have problems like the ones you have dealt with. However, mostly you’ll be listening. You do not have to change their lives.

As to stress. Well, I have a job that is very easy. I don’t have to work too hard, so I can stay healthy. This is a good thing, obviously. I do think finding a low stress job is key, and that this peer specialist job is likely to be low stress.

janbb's avatar

Gee – I know my new bipolar friend is managing his stress at this point by not working so I can empathize but not help. He is on permanent disability too. I may pass this idea on to him at some point.

Charles's avatar

While I can’t add to the original topic – I would mention the value of having disability insurance. A person is several times more likely to become disabled than he is killed. I have my own private disability insurance that I bought when I was young – in my 20s. The premiums remain low forever. Buy it when you are young.

wundayatta's avatar

@Charles what do you consider to be low premiums for life? I got mine in my 30s. It’s affordable, but I wouldn’t say it was low.

bewailknot's avatar

My disabilities are physical in nature so my coping mechanisms aren’t quite a match for what you might need. I work full time and have excellent attendance, which seems to be something employers believe a handicapped person will not have. I work for a political subdivision of the State of California.

The biggest stress source for me was when we moved into a larger building. I had to get a mobility scooter just to get from the entrance to my office. The whole building is full of security doors, some of which I cannot operate without assistance, and even the restroom doors are hard for someone using a walker. The answer I got about the doors was that they were to code, with no more than a 5 pound pull, but it sure seems like more to me.

I guess management’s attitude does bug me if I let myself think about it, so I usually try to just go with the flow. I am an extremely laid back person 99% of the time.

Kayak8's avatar

I think mental health related disorders can add extra stress to trying to return to the job market. I have a hearing impairment and mobility disorder and I work with folks with disabilities every day. I think working in a field where your own disability is better understood helps a bit.

I also recommend that anyone talk to their state’s vocational rehab office (in Hawaii—it is here) as there are provisions for your doing a trial work experience without losing your disability benefits. This is often helpful to try on a job to see if it really fits you without threat of losing benefits.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Just in case anyone is still following this question, I wanted to report that I have been accepted for training for a Certified Peer Specialist. It will be twenty days of training conducted over the next three months. I am thrilled, humbled, excited, and scared. (Added Sept. 28, 2012)

chyna's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake I am thrilled and excited for you! Congrats and keep us posted as to how it is working out for you. You will do great. You have your Fluther friends behind you.

wundayatta's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake Let us know how it goes when you get a placement. There are several people in my group who are certified peer specialists, with differing experiences. It’s not clear to me that the people who are organizing this know how to use the folks all that well once you’re trained. One had a placement in a call center that never got any calls. The other is constantly uncertain about his ability to do even the simplest of things, which is surprising given his intelligence, although there is no doubt the disorder has done a number on his confidence.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

(Added February 17, 2013) If you’re still following this question, I want to let you know that the job training has started. I’ve completed 1 week and start week 2 tomorrow.

I have been greatly helped more than I can express by building a WRAP. It’s a tool to help people with mental illness recover.

I’m no longer concentrating on remaining stable. I’m recovering. :-)

wundayatta's avatar

Congratulations, @Hawaii_Jake. That’s great to hear!

I have several cps folks in my group. It will be interesting to hear how your experience compares. They both seem to still be excited by the work.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

To update this old thread just in case anyone is still following it, I found out I passed my written and oral exams. I am now officially a Hawai`i Certified Peer Specialist Intern.

I’m both nervous and happy. This will be challenging and exciting.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Updating this old thread:


I will start work as a Hawai`i Certified Peer Specialist in mental health at our state community mental health center in my town as soon as I return from a trip to the mainland for a family reunion and to visit my parents.

GracieT's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake, Yay! Congratulations!

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