I have been on long term disability since April 2009. Technically, I had been off work since the end of December of 2008 but my company did not have short term disability so I went on EI (Employment Insurance) for 4 months until I was able to apply for long term disability.
People go on long term disability for a variety of different reasons. For me, it was a major depressive episode marked initially by a psychotic episode that lasted until the middle of February 2009. I have recovered from the psychotic episode, and I have never had a psychotic episode since first going on a particular antipsychotic medication, but I have a major lack of physical and mental energy due to my depression. My lack of energy does not allow me to work or drive, and I cannot do any major activities such as shopping or going out with friends for more than about 4 hours at a time (including transportation time). I also do not have the energy to do much physical exercise, such as going on the elliptical, weight lifting (as I did before my illness) or playing volleyball – about 20 minutes of these activities would wear me out for the whole day.
Also, my attention span or ability to concentrate lasts about the same amount as my physical energy – after 4 hours I just begin to slow down, my mind and memory become fuzzy, and I just need to sit or rest somewhere for a couple of hours. My Doctor has not given a depressive episode as a definitive diagnosis of my illness, rather, after trying many medications over the past 4 years, we have come to this diagnosis as the best answer to why I have the problems that I do. Unlike many people who have depression (besides when I first got sick) I am not sad or anxious.
Going on long term disability is a process that begins with you and your doctor, filling out a set of forms from your insurance company. You fill out information on this form including general information about yourself, symptoms of your illness, description of your job duties and why you can no longer perform them. As well, a list of the healthcare professionals you have seen, your EI acceptance letter and a lengthy diagnosis from your doctor. For me, my monthly benefit amount for disability was 66.67% of my total salary. So as an administrative assistant (who stupidly had not asked for a raise before she got promoted 3 months earlier), I make roughly $2000.00 a month. Because what I made was below a certain amount, I was not taxed on the $2000.00 a month I made. Long term disability also paid me out from the month I applied for disability.
After a couple years, as designated by my insurance company, I had to apply for Canada Pension Plan Disability (CPP Disability) so now CPP Disability pays about $650 of my benefits and Disability from my insurance company pays the rest of the amount; CPP taxes you on your benefits. Since I only made $34 000 as a receptionist, 66.67% of that salary is barely enough to live off of. So, even though I am 27 years old, I live at home and try to save some of what I make for retirement and future medications/methods that might heal my condition which is due I understand to synapses and chemicals in my brain such as dopamine not functioning properly.
Some of the things I need to do to stay on disability are to fill out forms and have forms filled out by my doctor concerning my present condition for the insurance company. Since I am not healing a great deal from my condition, these forms are quite simple. Also, with my doctor’s help I have tried a plethora of drugs – antipsychotics, antidepressants, bipolar drugs etc to see if any those drugs would improve my condition. After about 3.5 years my doctor and I settled on a combination of drugs that at least has allowed me to live a somewhat normal life, meaning I can take 1 class a week in the Interior Design program I am in, study, do projects and memorize information for exams.
Understand I am just as smart as I was before my depressive or psychotic episode – I only have trouble concentrating for long periods of time. I attempt to improve my mental condition through reading, taking classes and doing a lot of writing – which I have a BA in. A lot of these activities I do not only to pass time, but as work with an occupational therapist. I also have a nurse whom I meet with that helps facilitate communication between my doctor and I; I meet with her every 3 months. I was a part of something called EPIC (Early Psychosis Intervention Clinic) so I have had mental testing and bit of physical testing (blood tests, brain scans, weight measurement) since I first became ill up until the last time I got tested April 2012.
Because of my condition, I spend a great deal of time just resting at home – watching TV, writing or reading. I do not lack energy in the sense that I am sleepy; the kind of tiredness I am talking about is something much different – something probably only people with depression understand. I see some of my friends once a week, I get together with my boyfriend whenever he is down from work up north, have started writing in a blog and have begun writing for Flurt! These are all big steps to get me on my road to recovery. My goal is to be able to work in a job part time, as I do not believe I will ever have the energy to work full time again. What I miss the most about not being disabled is the ability to play physical sports and work out hard at the gym. I loved doing those things before I got sick and regret that I cannot do them now. To balance this out, I have gone on a portion controlled diet, which has allowed me to keep down my weight.
On the positive side, I have never had any trouble with my insurance company. I also have great benefits as I am able to continue on with the benefits I had during the time I was working – I pay my old work about $100.00 a month for benefits. I am also able to treat my income such as I would treat any income I would make from working. If I want to save some of it for a vacation once a year I have been able to do it. Just as everyone else needs a vacation, so do people on disability – we have routines and parts of our life we need to get away from too!
These are my experiences with disability. I hope I will not have to be on disability forever, but for me to make any kind of money will take away from my long term disability payment and basically that money would cancel out the money I make on my own. I would need to be able to have the ability to make a bigger income than I can on CPP and long term disability for me to improve my financial situation and move out on my own. On the flip side, I am guaranteed long term disability income until retirement. As for CPP, it will automatically become a social security payment for seniors at the time I retire, and will be less than the amount I make on CPP disability; that is why I must save money for retirement, even now.
If I have any advice for anybody starting to work at a place, make sure you sign and fill out your long term disability forms right away; they can become very important, as I never would have thought I would be on disability at this point in my life. Also, if you can work at a place that has short term disability, that is a good thing to do to. If you are on disability, ensure you continually fill out the forms your insurance company expects you to fill out, and just as you would if you were working, save your money whenever you can for retirement.