Looking at returning to work on LTD

Hello,

I have a bit of a complex question and I’m hoping for some general guidance.

I have been on LTD from a senior management position for the last year and a half due to CPTSD. Currently I am still within the “own work” threshold for disability. My work contributed heavily to the exacerbation of my mental illness, both the type of work and the general work environment.

I currently am starting to do better and while I have considerable limitations (quiet work environment, unable to supervise others, unable to be on call, require additional support with emotionally upsetting situations, require flexible timelines) that preclude me from doing my usual work, I am at the point where I believe I could do some work. Making it more complicated, my care team does not support me returning to that employer due to the extremely toxic environment.

I am reluctant to discuss looking for work that supports my needs re restrictions with my case manager as I’m afraid I will get cut off entirely as soon as I say I may be able to work to some degree. I need to be able to be somewhat choosey regarding employment as a bad fit will likely cause deterioration in my mental health.

Also, am I being foolish pursuing this at all if I don’t have to? No one is pressuring me right now and soon I believe my employer will terminate my employment if I just sit tight, which could be financially beneficial.

Finally, what happens if I get a position which aligns with my restrictions and I deteriorate again? Am I SOL?

Any advice on this situation would be very helpful.

Listen to your treatment team. If they advise against, do not open that door…it will be to hard if you end up not being able to work. Have you applied for CPP-D, and any indication of your Insurer’s position when the change of definition comes up?

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I haven’t applied to CPP-D yet. My care team wanted me to about 6 months ago but I was so overwhelmed with everything at the time it just felt like too much. I should probably revisit that with them now.

They haven’t indicated anything re change of definition. I don’t even know what percentage of my income they would be basing that assessment on. I was making a considerable figure and it is not expected that I will ever return to a position at a similar level.

My therapist is not telling me not to but she has expressed concerns with me wanting yo find a job that fits my restrictions. I am just so devastated at the possibility of not working again. But you are right, I probably should listen and not rock the boat.

Thank you

These are good questions you’re asking. I wish I had asked them years ago.

As someone who was on LTD, then went back to work too early at the 2 year mark (because I felt pressured), and ended up on LTD permanently, I will give you the following advice.

First of all, if you have any guilt about not working, or if you think things like “I should be working!” or “I am lazy!” get those thoughts out of your head. If you are READY to go back to work that is one thing, but if you are only going back to work because the 2 year mark is coming up then that is wrong. A lot of people make a big deal about the 2 year change of definition but it really not a big deal.

Next, I will say that my experience (myself and talking with others) is that it is common for most disabled people to think “I could work, if only _______ (fill in the blank)”. You mention that you feel like you could work but you have considerable limitations. You need to ask yourself if an employer would reasonably hire you with those considerable limitations for the rest of your life at a wage that is similar to the one you were getting. Also, if your limitatons are even possible to work with.

I will say briefly looking at your list of limitations, I don’t know if any employer will ever be able to work with those. Honestly, if I could find a job like that even I might be able to do it. And that’s exactly what being disabled is… being unable to work in a reasonable capacity. It took me a long time to accept that. For years I would say “Well, I am not disabled… I could do my job if only I could work from home, work flexible hours, not use the telephone, etc. etc.”. I had to accept that the very nature of my requests and limitations actually spoke to the severity of my disability.

I think your reluctance to talk to your case manager is justified. A case manager does not work for you, they work for the LTD company. If you are thinking of a possible return to work then you should only be discussing it with your doctor or support team. Furthermore, you are allowed to look for work and go to interviews while on LTD without letting your case manager know. If you think you can find a job that suits your disability then you could try applying. I would encourage you to be fully honest with any potential employer and tell them you are disabled and the exact accommodations you require. Only then will you know for sure if such a job can exist.

Hopefully that makes some sense.

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One more thought - courtesy of my wife. She says that one other thing to consider when thinking that your condition has improved and you may be ready to go back to work again is whether or not your condition has improved because you have been off of work. In other words, are you feeling better mostly because you are not working? If so, going back to work may reverse all of that progress. It’s something to consider. One way to find out is to imagine going to work and walking through the motions of it (e.g. waking up to an alarm clock, eating, driving in rush hour, getting to work, sitting at your desk, talking to co-workers, going to a meeting etc.). How does that make you feel and what emotions does it bring up? Does it trigger your PTSD?

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That all makes a lot of sense. You have really described the thought process I have of “well, I’m not completely disabled, I could work if ABCDEFG… could be provided”. I think part of my problem is comparing myself to how sick I was when I first went off. This is embarrassing, but I was actually delusional and was going days at a time without sleep. I’m doing better than I was so I feel this guilt about not working. But I’m also terrified about ending up back in that state.

You are right about it not being easy to find a job that could accommodate my restrictions. It probably doesn’t exist. Now I’m wondering if my psychologist knew that when she put them in her report as restrictions I will have once able to return to work… was she essentially saying I will never really be able to work. I’m going to ask her that.

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Mentally for the feeling of guilt it may also help to look at the definition of ‘totally disabled’ in your LTD insurance, especially for someone who was at a high level. Although sometimes I wonder if I may be able to do some kind of work sometimes there is no way that I will be able to do enough work of a kind that would make me no longer ‘totally disabled’ under my insurance policy. As hard as it is to not be able to work, I have come to think of it as getting what I paid for with my insurance premiums.

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I like the idea of an indefinite problem. It may or may not be permanent, but it is serious and hard to say for certain permanence.
I am sorry for your struggles and wish you well. It can feel like torture to be unable to work and simultaneously feel tortured to look at the impossible prospect of working. I used to like to ask myself if I won the lotto could I work the way I wanted. My heart always said yes and deeply wanted to, but my brain and body even with all financial pressures removed, knew otherwise. At least for the distant future…

Yeah ironically it was devastating to continually feel on the cusp of being able to work when I woke up only to be slapped down hard by noon. I wasn’t okay until I accepted that I was probably never going to be able to work again. Still cry about it occasionally though (like right now writing this, ha!).

My journey began as yours did. I was determined to get better and get back to work, any way possible. One day I was speaking with the Insurance Rep (monthly follow up call). We were talking about my daily morning self care, if I was back to ‘normal’. In that moment, I realized that I did not want to go back to that ‘normal’. I did not want to go back to spending 2 1/2 hours per workday getting myself ready to go to work. Why would I want to go back to what contributed to my illness? I knew that I needed serious help.

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First of all, it is good you are thinking this way. If you handle things correctly you can try to return to work and protect your right to ongoing disability benefits.

I recommend you contact us for a free case review. If you were employed in a senior management position, then your “any” occupation is going to be nuanced and likely will have an income threshold component. So, in theory you may be capable of some work but still be under the income threshold and therefore still “totally disabled” as defined by the policy.

We often work with people to help work transitions while also protecting your right to ongoing benefits if the return to work fails. Its better to speak confidentially on this and we can help come up with a plan.


David Brannen

Disability Lawyer with Resolute Legal

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