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When Your Luck Runs Out: Knowing When to Leave Work

As I write this, we are a couple of days removed from one of the NFL’s premier quarterbacks, Andrew Luck, shocking the sports world by retiring at the young age of 29. The Indianapolis Colts’ signal-caller had been enduring what seemed like a never-ending cycle of injury and pain, mixed with long stretches of rehabilitation. While he could have continued on that path, he took a step back and made the realization that not only had his body failed him, he mentally could not take the anguishg it would take in order to continue playing. As someone who had to leave their own career at a young age because their body finally failed them due to Multiple Sclerosis, I sympathize with his decision. Not only does Luck’s retirement demonstrate the difficulty of living with pain, but it brings up the difficult decision of recognizing when your body has failed you to the point that you can no longer work.

A few more words about Andrew Luck

Before I go on, let me address what many may be thinking, that his situation doesn’t compare, that he is probably rich and very lucky. Yes, chances are, he is not in the same financial mess many of us would be if/when we leave our jobs. He is, however, estimated to be walking away from somewhere in the neighborhood of half a billion dollars (yes, billion with a “B” – no matter how comfortable you are financially, that’s not an easy decision to make). Now, I doubt he will struggle financially, but I can’t be sure. Anytime someone takes a sudden and unplanned hit like that financially, nothing can be assumed. If he had planned to keep playing and expected to be making a certain amount, then that could very well impact him.

Leaving behind his passion

Still, I get it, he’s coming from a very different tax bracket than most of us. That doesn’t mean his decision wasn’t difficult. If you think otherwise, I encourage you to watch his press conference regarding his retirement. He is also leaving what was not only a passion, but the only real job he’s ever known. As I’ve said recently, pain changes you, and it did for Andrew Luck as well. Pain not only made him walk away from a tremendous amount of money, but it also took the joy from one of the things he loved most in life, the game of football. That says a tremendous amount about the effects that pain can have on us, both mentally and physically.

My story

While it was nothing compared to an NFL player’s salary, I too left a well-paying career because of my body. Suddenly and unexpectedly dropping from what I was making at my job to what I get from disability was a massive change for me. No matter who you are, the amount of money you get on disability is paltry compared to what you previously made. While I left my career fairly early (in my mid-30s), I didn’t leave on my own terms. I was at work one day, then not the next, and I never went back.

How my abilities began to falter

One of the things that haunts me to this day is that I look back and realize how my abilities began to degrade. By the time I left the workforce, I was far from the skilled person who once loved and excelled in his career. Over the course of a few years, my cognitive issues stripped me of any talent I’d once had. Pain and fatigue made every day difficult. I began to not only hate my job, but myself as well. I was still effective at it for a while, but I knew I wasn’t what I had been, and that messed with me. That effectiveness eventually disappeared, and I know I had coworkers who helped me along (and would later admit that at one point, my work just changed. My work didn’t even look like it was mine). I’d been in denial for a long time: I kept thinking that if I could get through this rough patch, maybe I’d bounce back. Except I never did. The end of my career was more like Brett Favre’s than Andrew Luck’s, and that bugs me to this day. I feel like I let a lot of people down.

Agonizing decision

Knowing when to leave the workforce is a difficult decision. I often get asked how I knew, but because of the way it ended for me, I really don’t know. I do my best to make the most out of my post-career life, but it’s still a source of depression for me. I tell my story because I want people to be prepared, to consider that they may one day be unable to work. I’m happy to say that advances in medication are minimizing that risk for many people. That said, there are still a ton of folks who never had access to those medications and they may be struggling with life and work right now. For most, there simply isn’t the luxury of being able to retire. Knowing when you need to go on disability is important though.

Making the decision on your terms

I’m not entirely sure how you make that decision, but I can tell you from my experience, that it’s a decision you want to make and not have your body make for you. If you feel like your body is beginning to betray you, begin to plan for it. Talk to your doctor and family about it. It’s important for your future to not ignore the possibilities. A situation where you can no longer work doesn’t have to be the end of the world, as long as you own it, prepare for it, and be ready to make the best of it. In short, make sure that decision is on your terms and not your body’s.

Thanks so much for reading and always feel free to share!

Devin

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Comments

  • Toddlius
    3 weeks ago

    Devin Garlit – I feel like a total disappointment to those with MS who continue(d) to work for years after being DX’d. I managed to work for another year, then moved to another state with my family, but never resumed work (well, once for a couple of months). Honestly, I wasn’t that happy working my long-term career (13 yrs), or my short-term post diagnoses job anyway (2 mnths). Maybe I was in denial, but it didn’t bother me to have to live on SSDI income for going on 20 years now.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 weeks ago

    Thank you @Toddlius, no need to feel like a disappointment! MS has a different effect on everyone, we can drive ourselves crazy making comparisons!

  • brewlabs
    3 weeks ago

    Devin – your posts always resonate with me. My colleagues around the world describe my job to be “being the smartest guy in the room” – so cognitive function decline is one of my biggest hurdles and fear. Over the last 3 years, there has been a noticeable decline for sure, but I am still able to work fairly effectively. My job also requires about 20% air travel so that bodily stress exacerbates all my symptoms too.
    I probably feel more prepared for it because I lived through a major cognitive disruption 25 years ago (i’m 55 now) when I had a minor stroke but lost verbal abilities, focus, concentration, along with my sense of humor. I had to relearn how to think and speak – and I do both very differently than I did prior.
    I think the big difference is that this time, age and MS progression are not something I will overcome and I will have to accept a new normal.
    I am using every edge I can find to make every task (work and daily life) as efficient as possible to maximize my cognitive and physical energy. Working smarter not harder. My workspace is highly optimized and ergonomic with lighting, high-res large monitors, voice translation software, etc.
    I take daily measurements of my cognition – by taking a set amount of time to do 3-4 different puzzle activities. They not only help gauge my level, but also the daily non-stress “exercise” for my brain helps with focus, concentration, and energy for me.
    Like I said – your articles always seem to be about a topic that I have been pondering at the same time. Thanks for sharing – and to everyone else who posts and comments – I find inspiration in all of our life stories.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 weeks ago

    Thanks so much @brewlabs. I know exactly how you feel. I too was always that “smartest guy in the room”, it’s incredibly difficult to see that go. Even when we can still be effective, you can still notice the difference. It’s great you are monitoring it though, I used to do the same thing.

  • Deana
    3 weeks ago

    I am going through this now. Tomorrow is my last day of work. The next day is my 10 year anniversary date at this job. The last 2 years my cognitive abilities has been greatly reduced and fatigue has really kicked my ass daily. I am filing for disability and hopefully it doesn’t take years.
    It has been a battle for the last 3 years to try to hang on, I love my job and my bosses have been so accommodating.
    It will be a big adjustment, I am 51 now and have worked since I was 14.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 weeks ago

    Thank you @Deana, I wish you the best of luck! It can be a challenging thing to adapt to, but, if you keep an open mind, you can still find a rewarding life and ways to even help people.

  • zeus73
    3 weeks ago

    Years ago, I worked briefly in the insurance industry, frequently wrote auto policies. Often, an elderly person or a family member would call to cancel a policy due to age getting in the way of driving skills. Conversations with these folks gave me pause to consider the difficulty in surrendering a drivers license as it is synonymous with surrendering our mobility and independence. Like knowing when to leave work, wiser is the person who surrenders before options expire. But either way, it’s a loss we have to feel, process and go forward changed.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 weeks ago

    Thank you @zeus73, I am someone who ended up surrendering my driving before being forced (https://multiplesclerosis.net/living-with-ms/driving-realizing-potential-dangers/), it is an incredible loss, but, I most certainly feel better about it than when I left my career unwillingly.

  • Mike H
    4 weeks ago

    Hi Devin
    You always written posts I could relate to. Now this one again, yes.
    My recent job was at a power plant in NJ for the state’s largest electricity supplier. I started there 10 years ago as an outside operator. A six figure job. Physical work it was. Did it for 8 years. Wasn’t a problem, I made it happen. (Oh I forgot to say this was a 12 hour rotating shift job) In last 2 years the physical work got too tough for me so they were able to accommodate me with a sedentary position by moving me into the control room to learn to start, monitor & stop these multi- million dollar turbines. It was a step up with a moderate pay increase as well. I thought I’d have no problems. There were other experienced guys there to teach me. In the period of the last 10 months I went through the routine of the normal start/stops. Taking notes & repitition is key to success here. Upon doing this over & over I got to the point that when I was put to the tests of doing these procedures on my own ( which was required to become qualified) I realized that I was having too many cognitive issues with remembering the steps & multi-tasking with watching about 12 monitors & clicking mice on 4 different systems in order to do this job. Was still a rotating 12 hour shift job. After getting through the routine of a start with 3 units one night about a month ago I was very upset. I pushed back from the monitor board realizing that this process was just too overwhelming for my brain to “sponge in” as we can say. Mentally I was having too many problems. I got up, walked into supervisor’s office & told him I couldn’t do it any longer. Was so upsetting for me knowing my mind is not cooperating for me anymore like it once did. I’m currently out on a short term disability claim through my employer. Will most likely lead to long term, then to permanent. It is so so hard for me to accept this part of the disease Dev. I have family that depends on M&D now feel like I’m failing them due to this MS shit that has been taking a toll on me. Dude I’m only 56 years old. My wife works full time, & we have all our 3 kids in college. All my symptoms are also not good physically. So hard for me to deal with this point I’m at.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    4 weeks ago

    Thank you @Mike H, very sorry to here, I know exactly how you feel, much of your story very much echoes my own.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 weeks ago

    Thanks @Mike H, I’d like that

  • Mike H
    3 weeks ago

    Dev maybe one day you & I could get together for a beer. I’m in the state next to yours & my daughter also goes to the University close to you……Mike

  • Janus Galante moderator
    4 weeks ago

    Devin,
    in my particular case, it was my body that made the decision. After years & years of extremely physical work which required exacting dexterity, the ability to mentally lock in many different instructions and requests from not only the boss, but different employees that needed my assistance all at once, as well as putting on many miles going back and forth, up and down steps, climbing on ladders, countertops, etc.
    My mind and body said “no more!”
    The thing about it was and still is I loved every minute of it. That is, I love the memory of having been able to do it.
    I sure do miss those days.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    4 weeks ago

    Thank you Janus, I miss those days too. Like you, my body made the decision for me. Sure wish it could have been my choice though or I had at least prepared for it.

  • FindingRee
    4 weeks ago

    This resonates with me so much. I also was working, until one day I was out and wasn’t able to ever go back. Yeah it definitely didn’t end on my terms. I was 47 years old, and was not ready to give up a career that I loved. I’m a year and a half out from going on disability and I’m still struggling with the fact.
    Thank you for always seemingly writimg about the things that I have problem with expressing myself.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    4 weeks ago

    Thanks so much @FindingRee, I’m five or six years out and I still miss it. That doesn’t mean I haven’t found a rewarding life, that can happen, but I sure do miss my career.

  • vvxjr9
    3 weeks ago

    Devin, I really miss not being able to go to work and the camaraderie every day. I liked going to the bus stop and talking to the usuals. The work was tough, but it was stimulating and rarely boring. When I was no longer able to go to work every day, I tried volunteer work for one or two half days a week, but after I fell, I was afraid to go back again. Now, I look at others getting in their cars to go to work in the morning and wish I could go with them.

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