Charles 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 been working?

And if you were able to retire have things worked out as you'd hoped?

Enquiring minds want to know.

~Blaine Waterman
California

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 different.

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.

~Randy Warren
Ontario, Canada

Point taken. I was trying to be vivid, but you are right—that phrase suggests undeserved benefits, while the truth is that many of us are grossly neglected by societies around the world.

~Blaine

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.

~Max Verga
New York

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

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.

~Randy

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?

~Bob Guter
California

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.

~Blaine

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.

~Charles Coventry
Scotland

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.

~Dan Molloie
New Jersey

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

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 unemployable!

~Bob

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.

~Ken M.
Minnesota

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 relationship.

~ Tony J
New York

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.

~Max

 

UPDATE
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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BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/March 2006