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Disability Dialogue-- Deciding When to Apply & Coming to Terms with Disability

Last week, we introduced our new blog series—Disability Dialogue. For this series of posts, we spoke to a group of Social Security Disability recipients about their experience with the application process. We thought that these interviews would provide you with realistic expectations, improve your experience, and potentially prepare you to submit your own application for disability benefits.

During our first interview—which you can read here—the claimant expressed frustration with the Social Security Administration and the doctor’s they appointed to examine him. Today’s interview, however, touches upon more personal challenges. Take a look!

Disability Dialogue—A Look into the Social Security Disability Application Process

Today we’ll be speaking with a woman who was approved for benefits with a Compassionate Allowance condition. Overall, it took her about 6 weeks to be approved—though she had to wait the standard 6 months to receive her first check. Here is what she told us—her answers in italics.

  1. What was your overall experience like applying for benefits?

    The experience working with SSA was good. Using the website and making a few calls to the office was easy. They were very friendly toward me. My application was in process during the recent government shutdown, so it may have taken a while longer than I had anticipated.

  2. What were the biggest challenges you faced throughout the process?

    The biggest challenge for me was having to acknowledge that I am disabled. Realizing that I did not have the same energy for work as before and coming to terms with that took me a year. By the time I was ok with my disability I wished that I had started the process sooner. One can always say no to the benefits. This delay is costly in terms of income and future insurance costs such as being eligible for Medicare one full year later. (As long as I stay alive)

  3. What advice do you have for those who are thinking about filing for disability?

    So my advice is apply as soon as you are eligible and then come to terms with being disabled, not the other way around.

Our Thoughts

During this interview, we encountered a topic that isn’t often addressed when discussing Social Security Disability. Generally, we stick to the technicalities of disability benefits, but this disability recipient brought up a good point.

Not all of the challenges that you face will be physical, some will be emotional. It can be very difficult to make the transition from working full time to being unable to work at all. And, as this applicant experienced, it can be difficult to accept.

As soon as you become unable to work you should consider applying for Social Security Disability benefits—especially if you have a condition that is expected to last a full year or longer. This could potentially shorten your wait for benefits and can be useful when determining the amount of back pay you are entitled to.

As for coping with a disability, each person’s experience is different. What might help one person come to terms with an illness or injury may not be the same as what helps another person. If you are disabled, we’d love to know more about the emotional journey you went through or are going through. If you are comfortable sharing this information, please let us know what helped you cope with a disability in the comment section below.


I am currently awaiting a decision on my disability claim. I waited longer than I should have before applying because I didn't want to accept the fact that I am disabled. I have wrestled with feeling worthless because because I am no longer able to do things that once seemed effortless. The process has been an emotional and financial strain. I am sure many people are facing similar circumstances.

I have just applied too and the overwhelming amount of paperwork and information I am expected to provide is exhausting and making me feel very stressed and frustrated since part of the reason I can't work is extreme fatigue! I feel worried and worthless and scared a lot. Our finances are in the drain, and I don't know what would become of me if it weren't for my kind husband, or if he were to ever tire of this situation! I couldn't bring myself to apply sooner because I kept trying to work, and it was admitting defeat to myself to even apply. *sigh*

I hear that. I have been unable to work for the past ten years and am on social security disability. I want my old, independent, strong self and life back so bad everyday. I think of it multiple times a day. This is no life.

Accepting I am disabled and will never make a 6 figure income again has been and is still heartbreaking.

In February of 2004, the company I had worked at for 13 years put me on mandatory disability due to my mental state. Unable to accept being disabled, I sought employment elsewhere and was "let go" after 7 months. That didn't stop me, I kept trying to work. I went from one company to another only to be "let go" or "fired" within a couple months at best.

In March of 2009, I decided to file for disability expecting to be denied. That didn't happen. I was approved immediately, no hassle, no lawyer, just close friends and family.

It wasn't until I read the approval letter detailing my true mental conditions, Major Depression Disorder, Panic Disorder, PTSD, Bipolar, Dissociative Disorder, ADHD, etc. Reading that is when it hit me...I was or more accurate, AM disabled and incapable of holding down a job.

Devastated, I tried to kill myself because for me being disabled and not able to work meant I was useless and nothing more than a burden to my parents whom I live with and a burden to society.

The worst things about being disabled: having to live with my parents, feeling alone and wishing I was dead, I'm not going to kill myself, but I would willingly trade positions with someone who died while being a contributor to society. Hearing comments like I'm a freeloader and why don't I get job! It's humiliating.

On a more positive note: I wish I knew what benefits I'm entitled to. It seems like people on disability should have the same discounts that senior citizens get. I'd like to have a mentor, sponsor, who would talk to me and give me resources I'm eligible for. There are so many things I don't understand, like how it's calculated, why don't I get SSI, but my friend does and we both had similar incomes.

Hi Jodie, I don't know if you will get this, since it was written a couple of months ago. I just got onto this website as I've been considering for years now if I should just throw in the towel and file for disability. I am struggling the same way you probably feel. It sucks to be/feel disabled. I'd give anything to be working, feeling great and doing what I love. Sometimes life throws us curves, though, no doubt about it. I have fibromyalgia, chronic fatigues, messed up hormones, thyroid malfunction, 2 herniated disks from car accidents, etc. I'm sure I missed some things. I want you to know though it's not a hopeless life to live, however. You can feel good about yourself and disregard those who are less than kind. You know inside you are a valuable person to society, but right now, you just need a break and someone to understand what you're going through. Just know I believe the world is transitioning into something better. I do believe that. So, hold on. Things will be rocky and then smooth out. You'll find that peace if you believe it. I'm not a woo-woo kind of person but take the time to do some research online and that might help you find peace. You are not the only one suffering right now, so you need to tell yourself to be strong. You can be strong, if you say you are. And you are a lovely human being, that has worth. You are not a burden to society. I will tell you there are those who love nothing but to make you feel that way. Don't believe it. Hang with your parents and friends for a while. Meditate. Believe in yourself and a brighter future. See what happens. Peace will come to those who trust and believe it's possible. I hope something I've said helps. I just feel better saying all this because it reminds me that I'm also not the only one suffering and now is not the time to give up! And I agree about more resources being available that help explain the benefits and how to access these things without hiring a lawyer or a mediator. Maybe someone will come up with a site that is easy to follow. Good luck, Jodie. My thoughts are with you.

I too suffer from major depression and anxiety and not able to work right now, I need someone with me to go to the grocery store. Some family and friends shake their heads like I am a freeloader which is downright humiliating and makes the depression worse. I used to be an outgoing person with friends and interests and don't understand HOW something like this happens. Friends back off cause they don't know how to act around me, as some family, that think it's an act. I would not willingly go through electric shock therapy if my DR didn't think it would help. Which in the long run didn't feel like an experiment with different drugs to see what helps. There are times it just doesn't feel worth the living life this way. The income I get from disability is not much considering I was a stay at home mom for 15 years, but the little bit I get helps. I had a lawyer in the beginning just to get my disability but don't know if or when I can try working and if it doesn't work out can I get back on disability. I'm scared to try. In this way I don't know where to turn.

I am physically disabled, since birth. Any person can see it without searching. I was never on disability before. I applied for disability benefits, after applying for jobs for 3 years and constantly turned away because of my disability, and I was told " you can take tickets at a movie theater, you don't qualify for benefits" or "change your last name to a Hispanic name and you qualify right away". It has been 12 years and still, I am told I do not qualify. I refuse to go thru that again and get rejected again. What am I doing wrong? That I am denied for years and others are approved immediately?

I am trying to come to terms with the fact that I am no longer able to perform in what was a very successful and satisfying career path. Find this forum that not only shares what I am going through but also encourages comments has truly touched me. I have not filed for disability yet and am still hesitant to do so because it makes me feel like a failure. Four years ago I started battling depression that affected my job performance and last year found that I had a massive growth on my thyroid gland that required immediate surgery. This made me feel so much better to know there was a physical cause for the mental fog I had been dealing with. Unfortunately a year later I am no where near back to the emotionally healthy and independent person I once was. After surgery I lost yet another job due to my forgetfulness and lack of concentration. I lost my apartment then my car....I am now living in a motel as I watch my savings disappear....I know that I am going to have to reach out for help soon but have no energy no motivation and most days no desire to even open my door to the world outside.....So as I started looking for information on what might be available and found this invitation to share I want you to know how very grateful I am. It makes me feel a bit better about the inevitability of facing the fact that I am (at least currently) "disabled" to work and be a productive member of society who takes care of herself without asking anyone for any type of assistance. It breaks my heart...but you have lightened that ache for me. Thank you for allowing me to share.

I have recently been approved for ssdi I am only 42 years old and I have been working since I was 14.. I honestly have been trying to come to terms with the fact I am disabled and I cry all the time I do thank God for my wonderful husband and children who try everything in there power to make me smile, but I feel like a failure. Getting approved is a big sigh of relief financially but it is no where as near what I was making working. I suffer from ptsd, anxiety, depression, ibs, migraines cts in both hands and ulnar nerve damage, at the time of my hearing I was waiting to see what kind of jobs where available that I could do and was told there are no jobs available and was approved at my hearing... a lot of people look at me and say how is she disabled look at her she looks fine it's comments like these and comments on how your lazy that makes living with your disability even harder..

I was disabled 13 years ago with two conditions Fibromyalgia and Thoracic outlet Syndrome and was advised to apply. I could not face up to the fact that I would have the label "disabled" because I could still do so much compared to someone else and I got used to my disability and adapted to it with a good attitude but as I got older, the disability did not go away and I have had to give up on my main career as a translator and consequently have done jobs way below my education so that I can survive if I can find them. When I considered applying last year, I found out that I no longer qualified even though I worked for close to 25 years and my benefits where there even two years ago when I got my summary from Social Security. Now I realize I should have been less proud and applied when the doctor encouraged me. I also think that when employers background check an employee, a person who has been injured under Worker's comp as I did, is less likely to be hired for the obvious reason that employers fear they may get sick on the job, or not function as well. I am pretty sure I was sometimes ruled out by this factor. My advice, get emotional support around that issue so that you are looking at things realistically not as wishful thinking. Some conditions do get better, some are stationary (like mine) and others get worse.

Why you can't you get a refund on everything you paid into SSD, if they refuse your benifit claim? SSD was to be like and investment to cover you if you were disabled? Where does all that money go and why can't you get a refund?

Hi Steve,

Health insurance is the same way. You pay to make sure you're covered if you get injured, but you don't get a refund if you reach age 90 and were never sick once. The money that you pay into SSD goes to widowers, children, retirees, and covering the costs of medicare. If everyone who was healthy got a "refund," the system would collapse.