Coerced unemployment has drastic consequences. Sadly, people do not realize this until they try to find a job after an absence from working. Statistically, one in 200 who were put on long-term disability ever make it off disability. The Ticket-to-Work program and other initiatives have had no positive influence on this grim statistic as more and more sign up for the lucrative disability benefits. The very fact that these payments are called “benefits” makes me shake my head in disbelief!
There are many complex reasons for the permanence of disability. I believe the reason we stay hooked on it has to do with the original reasons for accepting one’s fate as “disabled” in the first place. For me, as a woman composer back in the 1980s I didn’t have much in the way of job possibilities in a field that was at the time overwhelmingly male-dominated. I had no clue what I could possibly do for work as graduation approached. If I recall correctly, my college did not offer readily visible career coaching for music students. I was literally going to be thrown to the wolves, left to figure out the career maze on my own. Some students opted for grad school. One student I knew was going to work for the family business. Several were taking up jobs in fields other than music, knowing that the money wasn’t going to be there if they chose to stay in the creative arts. I was at a total loss. The one thing I didn’t want for myself, the thing I feared the most, was that I would end up waiting on tables.
Calling myself disabled was an easy out for me, an easy excuse for not having to go through with the job search. I could avoid the inevitable sexual harassment on the job that I had experienced in the past. It was so easy to just say, “I can’t do that anyway. I don’t qualify,” and then, I was suddenly off the hook entirely.
Calling myself mentally ill made me feel special, an exception to the rule, because, somehow, I was an artist who didn’t fit in, and that felt okay to me for a long, long time. I avoided reconsidering the fact that this was an illogical and therefore, incorrect conclusion.
I wasn’t “special.” I wasn’t “entitled.” The payments weren’t “benefits” either, nor some kind of scholarship or award that I had won for being odd or unique, even though some therapists would have wanted me to believe this (to keep me coming back!).