I'm not a lawyer so I don't know the specifics of each program but I will share with you that I have been on SSDI for about five years. I qualify for SSDI because I have a mental disability which inhibits me from working full time. I would like to share with you the benefits of being on this type of program and some of the disadvantages as well as it has been a long journey for me. To qualify for SSDI, you need to prove that you are not able to keep a job due to your condition so they are very strict with who can receive benefits. As a matter of fact, only 30-35% of applicants get approved on the first try and if you get denied the first time as many do then you can appeal it and go see a judge to see if they believe you are disabled. I was approved on the first try and I believe it was because I had a strong advocate, my sister, who knew when to apply for me and was diligent in obtaining all my medical records in a timely manner that showed my ten year history with the illness.
This article is not meant to tell you how to apply for SSDI but mainly to show you how it has worked for me the past five years and what you can gain and lose from being on this federal assistance program. I hope this article helps you see what being on SSDI is like and what you can expect. I would also like to say that I am beyond grateful that I have been in this program for five years and I always say a thankful prayer every time I get my monthly check because it has helped me tremendously the past five years.
Benefits of being on SSDI:
1. Monthly income
I recently spoke to a disability lawyer and she stated that the monthly average amount a person on SSDI receives is $1,197. In Orange County, that is not very much and it may be hard to live off this amount. I will not tell you my monthly average but it's very close to this number and this money has helped me pay for my daily living expenses and basically all my bills which includes a car payment. Unfortunately, I am not able to live on my own but my parents have helped me by providing a place for me to rent. Check with your local housing office if you want to apply for Section 8, which is a low income housing program. If you are on SSDI, you may have priority however they are very strict in who they help. You basically have to be living on someone's couch or homeless. I have my own room at my parents house so I don't qualify.
2. Time to take care of yourself
While on SSDI my first year, it was very rough for me because I didn't know what was happening to me so I went to a lot of support groups and spent time going through med changes and basically spent a lot of time alone. I did not work this first year and never thought I'd work again because my symptoms were so severe. Being on SSDI allowed me the time to get help without having to worry how I was going to pay my basic expenses such as feeding myself or paying my credit card bills. I spent endless amount of hours at a center aimed at helping people recover from a severe mental illness. I truly believe that year was the hardest for me and isolation would be the word I best can describe it. Being on SSDI allows you the flexibility to spend time taking care of your mental health and for many stress is a trigger that can cause you to spiral into an episode so having that time to recover is crucial.
3. You may work on a limited part time basis
After my first year, I learned that it was possible to keep a part time job while receiving SSDI benefits. There are very strict rules for this but it is possible to work on a limited part time basis. Working for me was very difficult at first but after three jobs I finally found one that was perfect for me. I have now worked at my current job for almost four years now and they have been very flexible when I needed to call in sick because my symptoms got bad. I have not disclosed my illness at work because I don't feel comfortable with that but a few coworkers know a little bit about my story. It is up to you whether you want to disclose to your employer. I have chosen to keep it a secret and when I call in sick, I simply state that I don't feel good. I know several people who receive SSDI and are currently working however I also know a few people who went back to work full time and ended their benefits. It's up to you how you feel and I always say that recovery is different for everyone and it is not a straight line. For some, they may recover faster than others and for others like myself, I keep a very simple life as to not trigger another episode. I can't imagine having to ever go back to working fulltime. It's just not wise in my mind.
4. Spending time with family
I have been very fortunate to be able to attend special school events with my nieces these past five years that I wouldn't have been able to if I was working a high demanding full time job. I am very grateful to be able to take time off to spend this quality time with my nieces and nephews such as attending their field trips, going to their graduations or simply just running errands for my family during the week. I feel like sometimes having a mental illness is a blessing in disguise. You get to enjoy the simple things in life instead of stressing how you're going to make it through your 40 hour work week and enjoy your short weekend. I've learned to appreciate each day on its own and have come to enjoy spending time with my retired father. I am the go to person when it comes to taking him to his doctor appointments as the rest of my family including my mother work full time. My mother also designates me as her official Christmas shopper each year since I have two weeks off from work during Christmas time and I can shop during the time everyone else is at work. I've learned to appreciate my down time as I can assure you that part of my mental breakdown resulted from a very stressful life.
5. Take up a hobbie
Because you may have extra time on your hands, pick up a hobbie that will help brighten your mood. For some that hobbie may be poetry, drawing, running, playing music and for me it has become writing. I enjoy sharing my story with others and write about pretty much anything. I encourage you to think about what truly makes you happy and pursue it. My therapist recently asked me "What is your happy place?" and after thinking about it for a few minutes, I finally said "Seeing farm animals happy." That is what brings me joy in addition to writing. We then brainstormed and I have made it a goal to go see the farm animals at the Orange County Fair this summer.
Disadvantages of being on SSDI:
1. Random reviews
I'm not sure how often folks get reviewed but I recently learned that younger folks get reviewed more often than older folks. I have gone under reviews pretty much every year since I've been on the program. This review period has caused me tremendous stress each time and I go through a period of anxiety every year. I believe I get reviewed because I work part time and they want to make sure I still qualify as disabled. My mother has always advised me to quit my job so I'm not reviewed as often but my therapist and I have agreed that this is not the best option for me. You see, working part time helps my self esteem and gives me structure. I feel like I have a purpose in life as opposed to waking up every day and wondering what I am going to do that day. It is up to you whether you choose to work on SSDI, but again the reviews can be quite stressful.
2. Limited income
One of the rules SSDI has if you work is that you can't make over a certain amount each month to receive your check. This means that you are limited to a small income every month. It's very difficult to live on such a limited income however I have set my life up in a way where this is possible. I shop for clothes at the Goodwill, I don't eat at fancy restaurants and rarely travel. As a matter of fact, travelling is very difficult for me since flying causes me some anxiety and there's always that fear that I will have an episode in a far away place. Sometimes social media can be difficult because you see your friends doing some of the things you wish you could do, but just remember not to compare your life to others as they have not had a life changing experience as you have. Find a way to give back to the community instead. I have a passion for helping others who suffer from mental illness and want to become a mental health advocate since I have so much knowledge now after the last five years. I am even involved in the mental health ministry at my church and I like to attend mental health conferences. I am even going to speak on the panel at the UCI Mental Health Conference this year, my alma mater. I am glad to be a helping hand to those who are newly diagnosed and can feel so lost.
I hope this post helps you see the life of someone who receives SSDI. The best thing I can tell someone who is newly diagnosed is to seek help. Don't do this alone and try not to isolate yourself as your symptoms may become worse. And be patient with your recovery process. It is different for everyone so don't compare yourself to others. It takes time to start feeling great again. I have learned to accept the "new" me and don't try to go back to the life I had. It took a long time for me to accept my new life, but I have learned to embrace it an help others along the way.
If you need more information on SSDI, please visit www.ssa.gov