General Question

prolificus's avatar

For folks with chronic health problems, at what point do you consider pursuing going on disability?

Asked by prolificus (6583points) October 4th, 2010

I’ve had bipolar since age 18 (I’m in my upper 30’s now), but I never went on disability because of it. It is managed with medication. However, when things are off for me, my ability to work productively and professionally are diminished.

In additional to mental health issues, I also have physical problems. I have lower back problems. Several years ago, I had surgery to remove half of a disc. Two years after that, I got another herniated disc and have had treatment for it (medication, chiropractic, epidural injections, etc.). Once, for a whole summer, I was on short-term disability because of the pain in my back—I could not sit or stand for more than 5 minutes without being in debilitating pain. Since then, I live with constant back pain. Some days are mild, some are severe.

On top of this, I have psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. The arthritis developed last winter. It had become so severe that my feet became unbearably swollen and walking became excruciating. Medication helped to alleviate the pain (doc gave me Naproxen). This past summer was relatively mild with the arthritis, but now that the weather is turning cold, I feel the aches and pains returning. For the past month, I’ve been having blurred vision, pain, and spots (like the spots one sees when they’re dizzy) in my left eye. The skin lesions associated with psoriasis have been spreading like multiplying rabbits. I’m a bit miserable.

In spite of all these medical issues, I usually suck it up and carry on with my life. Only my close friends know to a small extent how miserable I really am. Sometimes I feel like cashing in on my medical issues and pursuing going on disability because the pain (both physical and mental pain) is just too much to bear.

I have a doc appt today, and I plan on discussing with her the possibility of going on short-term DX. At what point does one consider pursuing long-term? Should I just continue to suck it up and carry on, or should I give in and deal with my medical issues in a more concentrated effort?

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18 Answers

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

I went on disability when I was unable to be productive in any kind of work.

Tuesdays_Child's avatar

My doctors applied for disability for me when my chronic condition caused me to be unable to know from one day to the next if I would be able to work or not. It is a hard decision to make, especially if you are someone who has always worked, like I was, and, honestly, the process of getting disability isn’t easy or pleasant. I was turned down two times for no other reason than my age. I couldn’t believe that I got two letters that literally said that they knew there was a chronic disabling condition present and that there was absolutely zero recourse for me as far as employment but, due to my age, I was not going to be disabled. It was a very discouraging process. You also might want to give some thought to where your income is going to come from during the approval process, that’s another tough spot.
Not trying to discourage you, just giving you some things to think about.

wundayatta's avatar

I think your goal should be to recover as best you can—I hope enough to be able to comfortably go back to work. Clearly, you are in bad shape. I can’t imagine that going to work is helping you. In fact, I can’t imagine how you’ve managed to hold it together so far.

I think we want to be these warriors—and never take advantage of anything, but to soldier on through it all. It’s the same thing as people refusing to take unemployment insurance or workers comp or any other kind of insurance.

I think people forget what insurance is for. I think they don’t understand that it is to spread the risk over everyone. You’re not taking anything from anyone else. The insurers charge everyone enough so they can pay for you and everyone else they deem to be disabled and make a profit, too. You don’t need to feel like you have to prove yourself, and how you truly deserve to take the benefit. If they approve you, then you deserve it.

It sounds to me like it might be time.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

I’m sorry for the terse answer above. I have a bit more time now to answer fully.

I was working full-time and being highly productive at the time of my first nervous breakdown. From that time on, my ability to function in any kind of work rapidly decreased. I went from a high paying job with a Fortune Top Ten corporation to working at home proofreading manuscripts off the Internet for pennies a page.

All this was due to my ability to concentrate and apply myself. It was a direct effect of my mental illnesses, and the condition that many of the medications left me in.

It honestly sounds to me like it’s time for you to pursue the process. You have chronic conditions which are debilitating. Best of luck to you.

greenengland's avatar

You might not have experience of the changes in the benefit system fairly recently. It used to be that you had two choices…to go out to work or claim some kind of sickness/disability benefit and stop work altogether.

People who aren’t sure how much work they can do..can now claim employment and support allowance.

I wonder if this could work for you. The first few weeks of the allowance is an assessment period where you can find out what kind of work you can do and for how many hours. Your GP will be the one to contact for back up as their input will be useful to any assessment

prolificus's avatar

@Tuesdays_Child – I’m sorry about your experience. I know applying and receiving approval for disability is no easy thing. Both my parents applied for it and were approved, but they were in their late 50’s and early 60’s at the time. I can understand young age being a factor to consider because disability is really expensive, especially over the long haul. I don’t understand, though, how some people get it and others don’t. I know quite a few people who are on disability because of mental health reasons (ranging from depression to bipolar). They live otherwise full lives – it is not as if they are remanded to an institution for life. I know another person who is one disability due to a physical condition – it’s like he’s on full-time vacation! Sometimes it seems like there’s no rhyme or reason as to why some people receive approval and others don’t. I wonder where’s the fairness in it all.

@wundayatta – thank you! It meant a lot to me to be “heard.”

@hawaii_jake – thank you. It must have been ultra frustrating to go from high to low in the corporate world. I guess we all do what we have to do in order to survive. I’ve been known to work in mindless occupations while dealing with mental health stuff when the going got unbearable.

@greenengland – thank you for the link and info. However, I see it’s directed towards U.K. law. I don’t know what the laws are regarding this stuff in the U.S.

BratLady's avatar

The turning point for me was at age 41 I could no longer squat down when I had a patient go into cardiac arrest. I wanted a desk job or something to keep me from giving up my nursing career but even holding a pen was becoming painful. I found I had degenative joint and disc disease. The fight was long and I was denied the first time. I called one of the disability lawyers I saw in my local newspaper and he handled everything. Even went to court for me. I got my settlement dating back to when I first starting having trouble sitting or standing for long periods. Been on disability since Jan.1998. Keep trying if you’re unable to do a productive days work.

YARNLADY's avatar

My daughter in law has chronic pain from her back which was first diagnosed when she was a child. She cannot properly care for her two children and cannot keep her house clean. She cannot hold a full time job, and has applied for disability. They turned down her first application, since there is no readily seen cause for her pain, and she has appealed.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

When you feel that you it’s affecting your life adversely – it is your choice and don’t listen to anyone who says otherwise.

Tuesdays_Child's avatar

@prolificus thanks for your commiseration but I have adjusted by participating in an inline degree program. I just can’t sit and watch TV all day or play solitaire on the computer, that would drive me nuts! :~) You are right, though, the tough part is watching people get disability who really have never held a job or people who are bilking the system so they don’t have to get a job, and on the other hand know folks who are truly disabled who can’t get through the system. I am, in my spare time, attempting to assist people through the system.

prolificus's avatar


So, I am short-term disability because of a recent medical issue. I doubt the STD will be long, but I won’t know until my specialist turns in the form to HR. (My family doc has estimated two weeks, but she does this for everyone.)

I took the pre-qualifying questionnaire at the gov’s SSI website. Because of my month income, I do not qualify for SSDI. So, this is no longer an option for me unless things dramatically change (which I do not expect they will).

I wonder what people with disabilities do when they earn too much to qualify for SSDI, but cannot afford to cut back their monthly income in order to qualify.

I think, for me, I will need to figure out how to continue toughing things out no matter how painful and difficult things become for me. Yay! ~

Is there a support group for people with physical and cognitive disabilities who work even when things are unbearable?

Every day (until recent STD) I go to work in pain, both mentally and physically. I know people do this all the time, and there are people in far worse conditions. Sometimes, though, I just want to give up “presenting well” and show what I actually think and feel. I learned a long time ago the art of presenting well with bipolar and physical pain. It was something I had to do in order to survive. However, sometimes I feel like I’m running out of the willpower to present well. Yet, I’ve done it for so long, to not present well would almost feel inauthentic to me – as if I was acting. (If that makes sense.) Sometimes I just want to put it out there that I’m hurting and I cannot take it anymore. Help!

augustlan's avatar

@prolificus {hugs} Is there a way you could be deemed completely disabled? If so, and you couldn’t work at all, wouldn’t you then qualify? Good luck to you!

prolificus's avatar

@augustlan – thank you. I’m too functional to be deemed completely disabled. I’m just miserable in my body. The good news is.. My specialist authorized short-term disability for a month. Yay!! Hopefully I will use this time wisely to regroup and repair myself through medical care and a multitude of healthy lifestyle changes. So far, so good. I quit smoking on Nov. 1 (first smoke-free day was Nov. 2). Few days later I started a gluten-free, high fiber, low-cholesterol, low-fat diet. I’ve been eating better than I ever have, and I am starting to notice some differences!

Also, I’ve got some up-coming medical appointments that will hopefully include medication to treat a condition for which I’m on short-term disability now (I’m being vague in case HR decides to google me… lol). Another appointment I have next week is to manage psoriatic arthritis. I’m hopeful about these two appointments, if not just to treat the conditions, but also to figure out a game plan for long-term improvement.

I need to remember to make an appointment with my psychiatrist. I refilled my last meds today, so I’ll need to see him asap.

I’ve been doing some reading on the effects of gluten. I learned gluten sensitivity negatively affects arthritis, skin disorders (I have psoriasis), and mood disorders (I have bipolar). It will be so lovely if sticking with a gluten-free diet helps with these conditions!

Tuesdays_Child's avatar

@prolificus I’m glad to hear about the STD, and I hope it does help. It is frustrating that bureaucracies feel that in order to be disabled a person must be non-functional. Don’t back down an inch, just keep on sailing through and it will finally pay off. Keep us posted on here so we know how it is going. :~)

prolificus's avatar

Update (4/26/14): I’ve been on SSDI (permanent disability) since last August. It was a long and grueling process, but things worked out well.

GracieT's avatar

@prolificus, YAY!!! Congrats! It will help, and take a big problem off the table!

GracieT's avatar

I’ve been on SSD since March, 2011 and it has given me medical insurance, which is a BIG relief because I couldn’t get it otherwise.

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