RA & Life Decisions: Is It Time To Quit Working?

Patient Expert

I resigned my position at work a few weeks ago. Friday, the 21st of September, was my last day. It was a good decision for me. It was the right thing to do.

Last Day At Work

I think most of us with RA are faced with this life-changing decision at some point in our lives. How do you know if, or when, the time has come for you to stop working?

There are many things to consider and evaluate when you come to this point in your life. I started preparing for this day two years ago, when I received my official diagnosis. I am sero-negative. Unfortunately, my diagnosis was delayed by years. At the time of my RA diagnosis, I already had bone erosions in my hands, and permanent damage in several joints.

My personal check list of considerations were:

  • How much longer can I go on? Could I work part-time?

  • What about health insurance?

  • Are my doctors on board with my decision?

  • Is my spouse on board with my decision?

  • Do I have a way to "survive" and pay my bills while waiting for my disability application to be processed?

  • How will I adjust mentally to my new life?

How much longer can I work? Can I work part-time?

This question was one of the easiest for me to answer. I had pushed myself to keep working for more than two years. Working part-time wasn't much of an option for me, or for many others with RA. RA is so unpredictable that we never know if or when we will have a good day. How could I tell an employer that I would definitely be at work on certain days for a certain amount of time and be dependable? I couldn't.

What about health insurance? This question took a lot more thought. I carried our health insurance at my work for the last 15 years. I happened to work in an industry that traditionally offered excellent health-care benefits. Health insurance through my employer was much better and much less expensive that what was offered through my husband's place of employment.

I checked into Cobra. It would cost $1,400.00 a month to continue on with the insurance I had at work.

My next move was to have my husband check into his insurance at work. We decided to go with that option for our health insurance. This new insurance costs more than my old policy did when I was working, but it is much less expensive than paying Cobra for both of us to have health insurance.

Are my doctors on board with my decision?

This was something I really didn't have to worry about, but it is an important consideration for anyone considering quitting work and filing for disability. My orthopedic doc is the one who broached the subject with me at an appointment I had with her in August of this year. She actually told me I needed to quit working and file for disability. She said she was filling out the report the Social Security Administration would need, and told me to let her know when I was ready. I left that appointment with tears running down my face. To this day, I'm not quite sure if they were tears of relief, or tears of sadness. Probably both.

I saw my Rheumatologist two days after I saw my orthopedic doctor. She said she supported my decision and to be sure to have the SSA request my records.

Two days later, I had an appointment with my cardiologist. He agreed with my other two specialists. He said it would be best for me stop working.

Is my spouse on board with my decision?

I am blessed to have a husband who is supportive. We have been married for 35 years, and we can finish each others sentences. He has seen me in so much pain I could not move off the couch, or eat, or drink. That being said, there are many spouses out there who do not understand as much as they should about the pain and fatigue we endure every day.

If you have a spouse or partner who is less than understanding of your medical condition, it might be a good idea for you to take them to one of your doctor's appointments. Talk with your doctor first, so that he or she knows you will have your spouse or partner with you at your next appointment. This is an especially effective way of educating our family members about our disease.

In my particular case, I have the full support of my husband. He helped me go through the thought processes needed to come to this decision. We actually made the decision together, and that is as it should be.

Do I have a way to "survive" and pay my bills while waiting for my disability application to be processed?

This is a very practical consideration, and an important one. We have enough stress in our lives. Financial worries are not good for anyone.

I knew this day was coming a few years ago, so I started saving as much as I could at that time. I kept this money in a separate account, so that I would not be tempted to use it for anything else. I was able to save enough money to pay my bills for a year should I lose my job or become disabled.

Don't forget to budget for your medications, doctor's appointments, dental and eye appointments, and unexpected repairs to your house or car. Saving money in this economy isn't easy. Just do the best you can. Any amount you save today, may relieve a lot of stress for you in the future.

I have a close friend who had to quit working quite unexpectedly. She is much younger than I and she had a very good job and was making good money. RA hit her hard and fast, and she was not financially prepared to file for disability.

Thankfully, my friend, did have some retirement savings she was able to access to pay her living expenses while waiting for a ruling on her disability application. If you do not have enough money saved, and you find yourself suddenly unable to work, you might consider using money from a 401K or other retirement savings. This is just another option you may find fits your purposes.

How will I adjust mentally to my new life?

I believe this is just as important consideration as the rest of the questions on my checklist. It is easy for chronic pain patients to become isolated. At least when we are working, we have interactions with our co-workers, customers, or clients.

I was already becoming isolated in my life because it took all of my energy to drive to work, work all day, and drive home every night. There were several times that I had to fight sleep driving home after work.

I have only been retired for 12 days, but I have not felt isolated at all. I can rest when I need to rest. I can use my "spoons" for the things I enjoy.

I have been able to go a few places with my husband since retirement. These were small trips, but big victories for me.

I received my "Function Report" from the SSA yesterday. My husband also has the same report to complete. We will be faxing these forms, and putting the originals in the mail later today. One more step in the process of applying for disability will be completed.

Deciding to apply for disability is a very personal journey. There are so many things to consider. I know I have made the right decision for me. I feel better. I am at peace. I feel free.