I am currently on Social Security Disability. Almost a year ago, on a doctor’s recommendation and some hope that I would get my life back, I quit my job as a banker, hoping we would make it until I was approved. Going on disability was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make.
I started babysitting other peoples’ kids when I was 11. I started looking for a job when I was 15. Nobody would hire me until I was 16. I’ve been working ever since. I’d worked in fast food, retail, a gas station, a hotel, and as a bookkeeper. When I landed a job as a banker, I finally felt like I’d found something I wanted to do long term. So when, at 25 years old, I started having trouble just standing at my teller station, I was worried.
I loved my job. I learned something new every day. There was always a puzzle to solve or a fire to put out. I loved that I could answer the phone call of an upset customer, and hear them smiling by the time we said goodbye. My boss was amazing. My coworkers were funny, fun to be around, and fun to work with. Most of our customers came in daily, or at least weekly. We knew them well and they were fun to be around too. The future was exciting. The career possibilities were endless.
As time went on, standing at the teller station wasn’t the only thing I had trouble with. The distance I could walk grew shorter and shorter. Taking a shower seemed overwhelming. Even getting dressed was difficult. My time away from work was hard too. Getting home, it seemed like the only thing I could do was lay on the couch. On the weekends, when we were supposed to be going to the park or to a friend’s house, we would end up staying home instead because I needed to stay in bed with a heating pad.
To make it easier for me to work, my boss gave me her desk next to the teller counter so I could sit and still do my job, while she sat at one across the room. That meant she had to stand at my teller station when we needed extra help. They let me wear tennis shoes, or even flip flops when I couldn’t get shoes on, instead of following the business casual dress code.
When I could no longer handle walking through the grocery store, my doctor and physical therapist told me I needed a wheel chair and leg braces. Even using those I was still in constant pain, but finally I was told they couldn’t do anything else for me. Surgery wouldn’t fix this one. The only thing they could do was prescribe pain killers and muscle relaxers to ease the pain.
My husband, Sal, and my mom kept telling me I needed to go on disability. The thought of being able to relax when I needed to and not having to put myself in pain working every day – plus being able to stay home with my family – sounded great, but there were too many unknowns. I would have to quit my job just to apply. How would we pay the bills on one income? How long would it take to be approved? How much less would it be than my paycheck? What if I wasn’t approved at all?
At the end I was late to work every day because getting ready for work seemed too overwhelming and painful. I had to take breaks between everything. I would cry at work from the pain, and my coworkers would all tell me to go home and rest. A lot of days I would call in because I literally couldn’t get out of bed.
I wasn’t able to spend quality time with my family. Sometimes I couldn’t concentrate well enough to play a board game. And when my little girl was taking care of me while my husband worked nights instead of me taking care of her, I knew it was time to quit. For the first time, I really felt like “Why me?”
I loved my job. To me, quitting my job felt like giving up. Like my handicap won. I’ve never been one to just give up. What would the future look like without my job? I cried for a long time. I prayed for the pain to just go away.
I had big dreams when I was little. Still do. But honestly, the most important dream to me was having a family and giving my kids a great childhood. And I wasn’t doing that. I was giving my little bit of energy to my job, only to come home and lay in the fetal position until I got up in the morning and did it all over again. I realized that I did not want to look back on my life and say that all I did was work at the bank.
It was a scary decision. It meant an uncertain amount of time on only one income. If I was denied I knew I wouldn’t be able to just go get another job. I would have to keep fighting – without a paycheck – until I was approved.
Finally I felt a peace about not working. I started to see the bright side. While it was closing one door, it was opening up a world of others. I would be able to see my husband more than just on the weekends. I would be there when my daughter got home from school, and our time wouldn’t be focused just on dinner, homework, and bedtime. I had just found out I was pregnant. Now I would be able to stay home with the baby. Maybe it would mean I wasn’t in so much pain. I would be able to do all the things I could never find the time for before – music, writing, projects –maybe this wasn’t such a bad thing. Maybe, it’s an opportunity. An opportunity I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t disabled.
So with a recommendation from my doctor, I put in my notice. I was sad to go. I would miss the challenge of my job, and I would miss the people. But in a way it was an exciting new adventure. Who knows what the future could bring?
It took 5 months to get my case approved. Those 5 months were full of paperwork, interviews, doctor appointments, and anxiety. Being on one income, I would get dirty looks when I pulled out my food assistance card. But it was approved, and it was such a relief.
Life is better now. I can rest when I need to rest, and not worry about leaving them short handed at work. I can do much more, and I don’t have to use my wheel chair as much. I haven’t been completely unable to walk since a few weeks after my last day.
As a former member of the workforce, I know what it’s like to see the enormous gap between your gross and net pay, and think of how much you could use that money now. I know how it is to feel like you’ve kind of been cheated out of a chunk of your paycheck.
I can honestly say I worked as hard as I could for as long as I could. I am thankful that we have programs like Social Security Disability, and other assistance programs that helped us stay afloat while we waited for approval.
Remember, while the person in line ahead of you pulling out the food assistance card might be someone who simply chooses to live off of government programs instead of working, the more likely story is that they were or are paying into these programs just like you. That they are doing the best they can. Be thankful that your family is healthy and doing well, and respect the fact that if that ever changes, there are ways to get help, because you, all of us, have helped fund the programs that help people when trouble comes.