Here’s something I haven’t talked about in a long time: my life on Social Security Disability Insurance. Or rather, my life without work.
Four years after that spectacular flame-out at my last job, it still blows my mind that my career is over. I was supposed to work till at least age 66—70 if I’d had my druthers. I loved being a nurse, even though there was a lot NOT to love, like micromanaging managers, poor staffing, and heavy physical labor. Taking care of people and making them better was all I’d really ever wanted to do since I was a small child, and I sailed through nursing school without difficulty. Later on I moved up to management, and proceeded to go back and forth between it and floor nursing for the rest of my career, unable to commit more than a couple of years at a time to one course of action or another. I didn’t know why that was at the time; all I knew was that I’d get restless at a job after a year or so, then quit (or be fired) when I’d had enough.
It wasn’t that I didn’t have a work ethic. Oh, no—I worked HARD and was totally dedicated to the job, often at the expense of my family and personal life. I lived, ate, and breathed nursing, no matter what the job was. I was the first to clock in and the last to leave (often because I, like most nurses, had a lot of charting to do at the end of the shift). I was so devoted that I seldom took breaks or lunch, and sometimes I didn’t even pee for eight or 12 hours at a time. And what did I get for all those years of hard work and sacrifice? A broken body and a broken mind.
Still, it took me a lot of time to accept what was obvious to everyone in my life, including my psychiatrist. My family and friends kept telling me I should file for disability, and finally so did he. I couldn’t believe it. I’d gotten so wound up in my career that I couldn’t distinguish between what I did for a living and who I was as a person. What would I do, who would I be if I couldn’t be a nurse? Be a waitress? Work retail? I couldn’t imagine not working, even though I certainly wasn’t fit to work at anything at that point in my life. But I decided to file anyway, thinking I wouldn’t get it even with the bipolar 1 diagnosis and hospitalization, and continued to look, fruitlessly, for any employment I could find.
So it came as a complete shock when I received my first check six months later. The government had agreed with my doctor and family and friends that I was indeed too impaired to be able to work. I didn’t even have to see a SSA psychiatrist. I’m sure my poor physical condition was part of the decision, but the memory loss, the anxiety, and the medications had rendered me pretty much useless for economic purposes. Now here I am, four years after losing my last job, still wondering if maybe—just maybe—I gave up too soon, even as I realize that my life works only because I lead a relatively low-stress lifestyle.
After all, I don’t have to struggle with getting my butt out of bed and trying to clear the cobwebs from my brain before 10 AM. I don’t have to face other people at an hour when I can barely stand to look at myself in the bathroom mirror. I don’t have to try to memorize things (and fail miserably) or deal with the confusion of multi-tasking and multi-line phones. I don’t have to run in 15 different directions at the same time or manage competing priorities. And that’s a GOOD thing, because I can’t do any of that anymore.
I guess it’s time to stop wishing for something that can never be, and to be content with what I have and who I am. It’s not a bad life, and in fact it’s been a lot better since I stopped throwing myself against a wall every day. I have very little money, but I manage what I do have quite well, and that’s a lesson I might not have learned any other way. When I had money I spent it recklessly, most of it on stupid crap that didn’t last, and never got to do anything really fun like go on cruise vacations. Sometimes well-meaning friends and family say things like “you’re so lucky, you don’t have to go to work”; well, I wouldn’t call it lucky, but it’s a damn sight better than trying—and failing repeatedly—to do what most people can do without difficulty.
It’s all good.