In the last twenty years nearly every insured I’ve ever spoken to, or had contact with, describes emotional troubling times when a physical or mental disability prevents them from returning to their occupations, careers or businesses. Not only are there impairments to manage, but there is also grief about losing one’s job.
If you think of it, American children are conditioned from very young ages to engage in free enterprise such as lemonade or Kool aid stands, having summer jobs during high school, going to college and working in a chosen career field. Unfortunately, we learn to identify “who we are” by “what we do for a living.”
When we look at ourselves through the “looking glass self” we see a doctor, a surgeon, a fireman, a secretary. Unfortunately, when disability comes as a fire bell in the night, most people become confused as to who they are if they can’t continue to work.
In my opinion based on my experience, there is always a saddened adjustment period at the loss of a chosen career or job that follows the five stages of grief. Those of you who have been through this already may recognize what I’m about to describe.
Most insureds who become disabled usually spend valuable emotional time denying the fact that they are medically challenged and cannot return to work. Most of the time people will tell me, “This is only temporary, I’ll be going back to work”, or, “My employer is expecting me back after FMLA is up.” “I will be returning to work at some point.”
There always seems to be some effort on the part of insureds to NOT LET GO of their ability to be productive, or to work. For self-employed individuals the inability to accept disability status is due to financial hardship such as having to give up a well established business.
In short, the “denial” stage of employment grief is characterized by a strong desire to “hold on to jobs, careers, and businesses because there is no emotional buy-in to disability status whether part-time for full-time. My records are filled with cases where IDI insureds “hang on” as long as they can before admitting they cannot work at all.
The truth is that disability can only be managed in the here and now since no insured knows for sure what the future holds.
When the individual begins to realize the reality of their medical disability, anger sets in. “I don’t know why this had to happen to me.”; “I’m sick of this.”; “My insurance company is crap.”; and “My doctor isn’t cooperating with me.”; “I am really angry about not making the amount of money I used to.”
Some insureds yell at the claims handlers and swear that the insurance company is attempting to do them in. Although reactions vary, insureds and claimants often become angry once they realize what is lost.
At this point insureds begin to make deals with physicians, employers and insurers. “I think I can go back to work for a few hours each week”; “If I stay longer in physical therapy maybe I can go back to work.”; “My employer is willing to accommodate me, if I can work full-time.” As insureds begin to think, “Well, maybe this isn’t so bad”, “wheels and deals” begin to appear, unfortunately returning many insureds to work prematurely.
One of the worst things that can happen with a disability claim is what I call “the in and out – in and out of disability” pattern. Insurance companies only put up with that for so long before they deny the claim permanently. Bargaining with part-time work often results in delayed filing of total disability claims, not to mention increased risk of enabling worsening impairment rather than encouraging a return to health.
It is not uncommon for insureds, regardless of their impairments to enter into a state of depression following diagnosis of a disabling disease. In fact, it’s quite common if the 3 previous stages of grief are not successful when insureds “get stuck” in one of the stages of grief. Secondary depression can be relatively brief, or it can continue for as long as it takes the insured to get to the final stage of acceptance.
Eventually, insureds, after struggling periods of emotional upset, do begin to accept they are unable to continue working and will begin a more positive journey of finding productive activity that will give them a quality of life they are looking for.
“Accepting” a disability is never a sign of personal weakness, and should not be seen as a “giving in” to circumstances beyond one’s own control. Acceptance of a disability can represent a period of growth, exploration, bringing new interests, talents and ambitions into one’s life.
Identifying ourselves by what we do (did) for a living causes disabled adults to lose sight of who they are as a person for a period of time. However, the good news is that once “Acceptance” of the disability and loss of career happens, emotionally, the majority of insureds are able to “find” themselves happily engaged in new interests.