When I first started to think about retiring due to ill health, I did what I always do, and googled it. And very little came back. There were lots of results about specific pension plans and how to apply for ill health retirement. But that wasn’t what was looking for. I wanted to know things like how much would I get from my pension, how would interact with benefits, and perhaps most importantly what on earth would I do and how would I cope.
Work doesn’t just provide for us financially, it gives us routine, a sense of purpose, routes towards achievement. We have relationships at work, we have challenges and problems to solve and all of these are really good for us.
There’s lots of advice out there about transitioning into retirement, my employer even runs a course about it! But it’s all aimed at people of retirement age and I was 28. And ill. My experience was inevitably going to be very different.
I don’t know anyone else who has retired at 28. It felt like I was the only person going through this. Obviously I wasn’t, but it felt like it. And it was that feeling of isolation and feeling that I was taking a path no one else had trodden that motivated me to pull together some of my thoughts and experiences about this process. Whilst it’s a path that very few people will take, I hope that my words will help that minority.
I shall be gradually posting about my experiences but if you have any questions, please ask (obviously I don’t know any details about pension plans etc, I’m really meaning questions about the emotional side of things).
Should I retire?
The decision to retire on ill health is not always an easy one. Well, I don’t think it’s never an easy decision but in some circumstances it’s a much clearer path. For example, if you’ve been off sick for a year or your health has suddenly changed, it may feel more clear cut. If on the other hand, you have a degenerating illness like myself, it can be so hard to know where that line is.
For me, I finally admitted to myself that I could no longer do this over Christmas 2015. I had had some time off and then went into work for a day. By the end of that day I was completely and utterly exhausted. I didn’t have the energy to sit up and I struggled to talk to my carer. I don’t mean make polite conversation, I couldn’t even find the words to tell her what I wanted to eat. Not that I had to mental space or energy to make that decision. It was that day I realised the impact work was having on me. Despite having had some time to rest and prepare for my day in work it had still destroyed me.
In terms of options, I guess the main question to ask yourself is is there a way of adapting my work circumstances which would then allow me to continue in my job. This includes things like access to work assessments if you’re in the UK, working from home, reducing your hours or changing your work hour pattern etc. Your HR department or union representative should be able to advise on this. If it’s feasible, you could try taking sick leave and seeing if having a period of rest helps your health.
If the decision to retire is not a clear-cut one, then I would recommend getting an estimate for your pension because this might sway you one way or another. Financial insecurity was one of my motivators for pushing myself to keep working.
It turns out my pension payments are actually higher than my wages were – I had to reduce my hours due to my health so my pension reflected the full time wage. However, also check if you will need to pay for care. I assumed that because I didn’t pay for care whilst I was working that I wouldn’t when I retired. Turns out that’s not the case…. But that’s a story for another day!