Friday, October 29, 2010

Disability Leave

Okay, so in a continuation of yesterday's post, I was thinking ...

I found out recently that yet another person I know is off of work on disability leave. That makes 4 that I can think of off the top of my head. All of the people are off work because of serious physical problems that are very hard to pin down. In my opinion, and in some of their doctor's opinions, these physical problems are all due to stress - and their believing that the stress isn't a serious problem, thereby pushing their bodies past a line that they should not be pushed beyond.

This adds to what I wrote yesterday in "no inspiration". Our culture has decided that we need to work harder and harder (and jobs are being loaded with more and more work) for less money (relatively, anyhow). Each of these people was in a situation where they were doing more than they should. Either doing multiple jobs, doing extra work, not sleeping enough, not eating well, having more responsibility laid upon them that they didn't want, political issues at the workplace, etc. Each of them developed a serious physical ailment that prevented them from going to work.

Now, I might get a little "New Agey" on you here, but this is what I believe. Your body gives you hints. Maybe you get gas, maybe a tick in your eye, maybe a cramp in your back, or maybe you get depressed or anxious (or really crabby). But these hints are supposed to inform you that something isn't quite right. Your balance is off. So you ignore the hint because it's not THAT bad and it's ONLY stress.

So your body, in it's wisdom, decides that since you didn't listen to the first hint, it will try for another. This time it will be something somewhere else since you obviously didn't notice the ache or pain in the first place. And this time it will be a little worse. But the first problem went away, and maybe you're so distracted by the new stuff at work that you'll just ignore this one too. So it continues on like this. And your body knows what it needs, but it just can't get the message across to you (because we've been taught to ignore hints from everywhere). So eventually, it makes a point so loud, so serious, so painful or debilitating that you simply CAN'T ignore it. And you collapse and can't work anymore.

Now, I'm not talking from a point of view outside of the situation. I'm also speaking from personal experience. My body goes for depression/anxiety. Ignoring it's hints long enough led to what my doctor labeled: "what they used to call a nervous breakdown". During the writing of my Master's Thesis I was doing far too much. I was writing and trying to get the thesis finished, was the T.A. of an osteology class, moved and was eating horribly. During this time I also got bronchitis which lasted through three bouts of antibiotics (the last being a double-dose of a very strong antibiotic). I can't remember where the "nervous breakdown" diagnosis came in the stream of things, but I suspect it was shortly after the bronchitis. That was the first collapse of my system ... there have been others. (I'm sure I'll get into more of this in a later post). I never was in a job where I could go on disability, but I had to self-regulate my situation and either quit jobs or take breaks when I needed them. It's hard on one's career, believe me.

So, having experienced this myself, I wonder why our society is so blind to all of this. Why we push so hard to keep working so hard to make money when we are getting sick. We are wearing ourselves out, leaving ourselves unable to raise our children, unable to put energy into our relationships, unable to find the time to cook and eat well. Why? Well, initially it was so we could have bigger houses, multiple vehicles, so we could climb the ladder. But more and more it is now just to keep up. It's a vicious circle. Our standard of living has been pushed higher, but now the things that used to be supported by one income need at least one and a half to be maintained. Housing, food and transportation costs are rising as our incomes increase because they can. We will find an end to it only when people realize that they just can't maintain the pace we have set for ourselves.

For me, I'd rather have a smaller house, less stuff, and be sane and whole in body than push myself to make more money and become less sane and/or less whole in body. There is great evidence that cardiovascular disease is created and exacerbated by stress, and there are many people out there that even suggest that cancer can be caused by stress. Personally, I believe that many of our illnesses are caused or at least made worse by stress and imbalance in our lives. And my own personal experience has supported this completely.

Let's re-think this, people. And maybe just cut back a little so that in future you don't have to cut back entirely.

There you go - daily rant done. Now onto the rest of todays to-do list (irony intended).


  1. I think I'm getting better at this as I get older. Stress is a common problem with teachers - in fact, we have two off already this year on leave due to stress - because there are so many demands on us. At my school, we are expected to be "innovative," which certainly puts the pressure on. But I know that I'm the one who puts the pressure on myself.

    In the past couple of years, I've figured out how I can teach without bringing stuff home with me on weeknights. I stay after school to prepare and get stuff done for the next day, but I don't bring stuff home with me on weekdays. I've recognized that I need my evenings to decompress and relax. The ability to let stuff go comes with practice, I think, but in order to do that, we have to be open and willing to go for "good enough" sometimes.

    Something I think is playing in here is society's constant striving for "perfection." If we look at the messages the media is sending us, it's often telling us we have to be PERFECT, in appearance, in work, in family, etc.

  2. Erin,
    One of those very people I mentioned is a teacher. Yes, teaching is a very hard job and a lot of pressure is put on teachers. Be careful out there.

  3. It's how the capitalist free market system works. And it's wrong for 90% of the population, but that's not who controls the whole thing. The very wealthy can only stay that way off of the backs of other people (China, anyone? Slavery? etc.) And, btw, when the heck did I EVER work harder and harder to earn more money????? I didn't, and the amount of time/work I put in had nothing to do with money, or wanting "more" of everything. It had to do with helping those who needed it, keeping up my profile (I had to be the best at something) and my belief that one puts the job first at all costs, and manages. Which, if you ever read "Nickled and Dimed" (I forget the very well known author...), is how most people live. You get a headache, you take Advil and you keep working because you have no choice. And most people don't. I'm very lucky to have the insurance I do, but then again, my profession chose benefits over salary. Which is why I have insurance. And believe me, I paid into it for a long time, and I earned every bit of what I now recieve (which is less than 1/2 of what I would have if I were working).

  4. I said we make people work harder and harder for LESS money, not more. And I didn't say that you personally wanted "more" of everything, but that our culture has gone that way - and if you think that is not the case, just watch commercials on T.V. or go to the local shopping mall. I don't think any of us need more than a couple of shirts or two or three pairs of good shoes, but somehow we DO have more than we need. And where did this belief that you put your job first at all costs come from? Our culture - our fucked up values.

    Listen, in no way was this hacking on people who are on disability leave (which is what your tone seems to infer). I was, on the other hand, trying to point out that we live in a society that puts our values in such a place that people are forced to go on disability leave because their lives have been completely disrupted by the physical toll of stress. I was writing this in your favour, not against. And I'm very glad that you have insurance. I think we all should. It should be mandatory - like E.I.

    So if you go back and read the post with an eye that I'm not attacking you personally, you might see that what I said was very much the way you think.


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