Coventry, Bob Guter, Tony J , Ken M., Dan Molloie,
Max Verga, Randy Warren, and Blaine Waterman talk about when to
retire and what complications to look out for.
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I'm forty-one and have CP. I've
gone downhill physically in recent years and can't honestly say
that I'm physically unable to do my work without enormous stress.
It's a lot more tiring and a lot less fun than it used to be.
After fifteen years of working
as a librarian, I feel burnt out, sick of the library and sick of
San Francisco. I'm strongly considering retiring on disability but
am unsure a) if I can and b) if I should.
Dan posted a few months ago about
his experience with
retiring. Do others on the list have thoughts on the subject? Can
someone with a lifelong disability pretty easily bail and jump back
on the SSI/SSDI gravy train, or is it hard to do that once you've
And if you were able to retire
have things worked out as you'd hoped?
Enquiring minds want to know.
First of all, and I mean this
gently, I don't like the phrase "gravy train" because it reinforces
the idea that too many people are unjustly taking advantage of a
social safety net. Secondly, I would like to preface all my statements
by reminding everyone I am from Canada, where some things are very
I have a lifelong disability
and, like Blaine's, my physical abilities are deteriorating. None
of the deterioration is life threatening, but it does threaten my
quality of life. Four years ago I left a fantastically draining
job to try and slow down the process and maintain as many of my
abilities as I could. Since then my life has been a nightmare roller
coaster and things have still deteriorated. I realize that I should
have sought a change of scenery and pace. I am attempting to do
that now, but my physical changes have definitely affected my prospects.
In a kind of limbo of forced retirement, I miss all the things I
had access to and could do when working. Although I often hated
my job, in the end, with hindsight, it kept me going.
I just want to point out that
retirement has an intrinsic downside. But if it is what you need
to do for yourself and you believe the decision will improve your
quality of life and physical condition, then go for it. It is something
only you can know. Whatever you decide, the key is to make certain
you own that decision. You will have only yourself to answer for
if things don't go right, but you'll get all the credit if you're
decision was the right one! I know how debilitating exhaustion can
be--just managing to look after myself has become a fulltime job
and I am still exhausted! Keep us posted.
Point taken. I was trying to be
vivid, but you are rightthat phrase suggests undeserved benefits,
while the truth is that many of us are grossly neglected by societies
around the world.
I retired almost two years ago
after having thirty-one years on the job. I was lucky enough to
have the opportunity to buy back into a 25-55 retirement plan at
minimal cost about when I hit age fifty. I did fight off making
the decision until things became almost unbearable at work (I worked
for the City of New York). Once I retired I came to love it. I was
lucky enough to have sufficient funds and a longtime partner who
had retired about two years before me. I am also lucky enough to
have more than enough hobbies to keep me busy. I think that is the
secret to retirement; to have enough things that will keep you occupied.
I can't really offer advice about
finances, but I think the bottom line is that you have to do what
will keep you happy. I know that if I hadn't retired when I did
I would have exacerbated my diabetes. Whatever you decide, good
luck with it.
Thanks for the responses so far.
All have been helpful.
One reason it's hard for me to
decide what to do is that I'm painfully aware of my capacity for
self-delusion. I tend to have absurdly inflated expectations of
people and situations, which crash into bitterness and disillusionment
when I face reality. For example, as a college student in Michigan
I convinced myself that San Francisco would be a nirvana where friendly
cute boys would throw themselves at me from every street corner.
Or that becoming an employed professional would remove whatever
social stigma I was born with as a visibly disabled person. There's
a grain of truth in both fantasies but getting caught up in them
provided only short-term motivation that led to eventual disenchantment.
Even now it's easy to conjure
up tantalizing visions of living like a king in Chiang Mai on $500
a month, or double that in Costa Rica. I'm trying hard to look at
my current situation with clear lenses, not tinted ones
Blaine, I too get excited about
ideas and sometimes jump into things after thinking I have reviewed
all the options, only to discover that the glasses I was wearing
were a little too rosy. After you gather all the answers you are
seeking, take a deep breath, put it away for a month or two and
then revisit it. From what I understand of your posts, there is
no urgency to the matter. Think of your research as looking ahead
instead of as an immediate plan and you should be fine.
Great discussion so far, everybody.
Here's another aspect of retirement I wonder if anyone has thought
about: how will it impact on your personal relations? If you are
in a permanent relationship, does your partner have anything to
say about your plans? If he is still working, will your retirement
create any kind of financial or emotional imbalance in the relationship?
If you are single and still looking for Mr. Right, do you think
describing yourself as "retired" will make a particular kind of
impression, either positive or negative? I guess what I'm after
is, does removing yourself from the workforce have any connection
to your chances when it comes to sex and romance?
I do have a partner, and that
fact is a complicating factor. Greg worries that I'll retire without
enough money to keep up my share of our mortgage, forcing us to
sell. He's also afraid I won't make constructive use of more free
time and could become more bored and depressed instead of less.
I respect all of those concerns but have stuck to my position that
I want to know my real options before deciding either way. I don't
want to cut short my decision making process to avoid upsetting
him, though I've felt the temptation.
His suggests that I should tell
my employers I need to work from home one or two days a week and
not be too concerned with how much I get done on those days. I feel
uncomfortable with this. It seems potentially unfair to my coworkers
in a way that retiring on disability is not. If my repetitive stress
injuries became severe I might have to consider disability retirement
as a survival tactic, something I'm not eager to do.
Bob, your point about the potential
impact of retirement on "sex and romance" reminds me of my attitude
when I was single; it might still be pertinent to those of us who
are unattached. Look at it this way: If a man can get past things
like a power chair and visible differences I doubt if lack of a
lucrative career would be a reason for rejection. At that stage
I think the concerns would simply be over financial independence
and how you fill your days if you are not working. Activity and
engagement are more appealing to most people than hanging out with
a couch potato.
I have CP too, Blaine. When employed
I worked in two different Scottish public libraries. The longest
spell (five years) was in a completely unsuitable environment that
I had to stay in because of my need to maintain a salary grade.
After losing a second job that was ideal for my condition and qualifications
I began part-time studies at the University of Edinburgh on Unemployment
benefit and later also Disability Living Allowance. I acquired other
skills along the way and developed some freelance contacts.
In 2003, at age sixty, I became
eligible for the new Pension Credit, meaning that I no longer had
to look for fulltime employment, which freed me to further develop
my freelance and voluntary work ambitions. For all practical purposes
I am now retired. You may well be better off retired, too, a situation
that could give you the opportunity to develop new skills and opportunities
for enjoying life.
Blaine, I say go for it. As you
all know I retired in April after working for thirteen years. The
first three and a half months were pure hell. I became more depressed
than ever and began taking an anti-depressant, Zolfot. (I have been
successfully taking it for six months, my doctor wants me to wean
off the medication and I fear becoming depressed all over again.)
Now I now love being retired!
These days I am as busy as when
I worked, but I do what I want and when I want to. For example,
I volunteer twice a week (one day at a local pediatric nursing home).
Once a month I serve on an advisory council for New Jersey Transit,
I'm a member of my county's disability advisory board, and I chair
a statewide advisory board for homecare. I could never have managed
this kind of volunteer schedule while I was working. Once I accepted
this huge life transition, I learned to love it. I greatly enjoyed
this holiday season without the stress of work, for example.
I get a pension which amounts
to about 44% of my salary, and SSDI is about 60% of my salary, so
I bring home more on a monthly basis then I did when I worked. Having
no deductions but federal taxes makes a big difference. I will never
be rich, but I manage okay.
I agree totally with Tod. Let
me say a few more things about money. I could not have retired without
knowing I would be financially secure. When I began working in 1993
I knew I could not retire until I became vested in my state pension
plan, which gives me a small monthly check. The reason I am bringing
home as much now as when I worked is because I was able to put away
$600 a month in a 401K-like account. I have no savings, but I have
not dipped into that account, either. Because I receive a pension
and SSDI I do not qualify for SSI, by the way. Lastly, I live with
my mom, and although I do pay rent and other bills, I do not worry
about my bills skyrocketing.
One other funny thing. When I
tell people I am retired, I immediately follow with, "After twelve
years as a social worker." That way people know I did work and earn
a living. When I tell people I retired at thirty-five years old,
they think I am rich.
Dan, telling people you've retired
after working for twelve years is an important psychological tactic.
Not only does the AB world think we're asexual, they think we're
One big reason I retired in 1987
was that I had been unable to find a partner, either personal or
professional. My former colleagues immediately dropped out of my
life, which has remained pretty empty. All that "free" time after
retirement won't be much help if you don't already have the people
in your life that you need, and the dynamics of whatever kind of
relationship you are involved in (partner, spouse, "significant
other") are liable to change dramatically, from what I've seen.
Men, far more than women, identify
with their careers. Those of us who have retired from positions
of responsibility are suddenly stranded with nothing to do and almost
no identity. The volunteer work that so many retired people (of
any age) get involved with might replace the career (I even had
a second overlapping career before retiring again, the one in disability
advocacy) but not the missing personal relationships. If you're
good at what you do, volunteer organizations will take advantage
of you. I found that they used my skills and generosity but wouldn't
invite me to the social things, and then made me unwelcome when
I complained about it.
In 1999 a shrink decided I had
"post-traumatic stress disorder," a diagnosis that isn't much help
except with paperwork; and just last year, I concluded from multiple
magazine articles that "the way I am" is a form of autism and I'm
stuck with it. So now I get by with a cat, a very close friend (who
is neither spouse nor lover, but with legal paperwork making him,
effectively, my next-of-kin), and a couple of volunteer things that
I don't jump into as deeply as I used to. And I spend a lot of time
coping with the management of my assorted minor (except one) disabilities.
I don't post very often, but
this topic hits close to home. I have cerebral palsy and have been
with my partner, who is not disabled, for almost eleven years. I
know retirement is going to be a tricky issue for both of us to
navigate. I am five years older than and throughout our relationship
have made about twice his income in any given year. We split expenses
in proportion to our income, but, even so, I'm the kind of guy that
puts money away in a snowy day fund to back up my rainy day fund,
while my partner has a gigantic wardrobe and movie collection, but
has literally no money saved for retirement or anything else.
He's thirty-four, so he can still
start saving before it's too late, but I don't make enough to fund
both of our retirements, and I'm a world-class worrier, so his inability
to save scares me. I know, though, that one of the reasons why I
haven't done a full-court press to get him to save is that, in my
mind, it equalizes our relationship in a way. I love him and I know
he loves me, but, for me to be in a relationship, I need to be confident
that I'm an equal contributor. Grossly simplifying, a lot of the
day-to-day living chores fall to him disproportionately, so the
fact that I take disproportionate responsibility for trying to make
our future financially secure is my "equalizing" contribution.
I know this isn't a logical approach
and I also know it will break down completely once I stop working
and he becomes the primary earner. I am also pretty sure that day
is coming a lot sooner than I'd planned or my partner expects. I
have one of those jobs that takes at least sixty hours a week of
my time. I like my job and hate making any kind of concession to
my disability, but I can't deny that the hours are wearing on me
a lot more than on my able-bodied colleagues of the same age. I
had always thought that I would be working at a job similar to this
until I was at least sixty, but I honestly think I have no more
than about ten years before I'll have to take a less-demanding job
at a lower salary. I've started saying as much, but neither of us
has faced up to all the implications that this will have for our
~ Tony J
My partner and I always shared
expenses, avoiding the issue of one person pulling more weight than
the other, but when he retired before I did I knew that this might
limit our possibilities, since he would be earning less than he
did before and less than I was earning at the time. Now that we
have lived for two years as a retired couple, we have come to realize
that our values have changed, which precipitated our decision to
leave New York City for a retirement community out of state. I should
add that when he was working, our schedules allowed us to spend
significant time together only on weekends. So far, we have managed
to avoid getting on each other's nerves. The secret is to not be
overly dependent on the other person to keep you entertained.
As for sex, well, by the time
the usual retirement age comes around, the sex drive seems to have
diminished. As with everything else, there's a yin and yang to retirement.
It makes you think about your life in general and how you want that
life to end. It makes you think about where you want to be, who
you want to be near, and if a roll in the bushes has more value
that sitting on a porch watching the sun set.
When we looked a retirement choices,
we found that the few gay communities popping up were a bit too
pricey, and I didn't feel the need to exchange one ghetto for another.
So far, all the places we looked at were welcoming. Of course, we
did not look much below the Mason-Dixon line or west of the Catskill
Mountains. We did choose to head to another "blue" state, one that
sanctions same-sex marriage.
I've had all sorts of reactions
to saying that I am heading to a retirement community, by the way.
I especially love the ones that go "but you're way too young to
retire!" As I look forward to the next stage of my life, I do know
that I have already become enough of a curmudgeon to not want babies
bouncing on the floor over my head or to put up with people who
act-out like spoiled celebrities, so for the those reasons a retirement
community makes sense. Nevertheless, I do have every intention of
being the dirtiest dirty old in my new environment.
I know that a lot of gay men
of my generation are considering whether or not they want to retire
among their peers exclusively, but right now there are so few gay
retirement places that it's not much of an option. I tend to believe
that people are people everywhere and I know that gays can make
as rotten neighbors as straights. I would like to hear from others
on that subject, though.
As this Forum was going to press, Blaine wrote to tell us the
following: "I decided after long consideration that I was
not up for the stress and uncertainty of a yearlong process to
determine if I'm "really" disabled. I'm currently planning to
take normal retirement at 55 unless I become much more phsically
compromised before then."
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