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I Can’t Hold a Job! What Do I Do?

Understanding Disability Benefits: SSDI and SSI

By Kimberly Read & Jonathan A. Abbott

Updated June 15, 2014

For many people with bipolar disorder, the ability to maintain substantial gainful activity (SGA) -- the ability to work -- is seriously compromised. Debilitating depressions, manic-based bad decisions, struggles with medications and side effects, as well as psychotic features, panic attacks and other extreme symptoms of this illness, make it difficult for some to obtain or hold a job.
  • Why do those with bipolar disorder have so much trouble working? I get so anxious thinking about it. How many times have I quit and walked out? How many jobs have I had since I was a teenager? I’ve been stressed even being a cashier ... watching the clock, anxiety, anger, irritability, depression. When I am hypomanic, I get all the jobs. I take a job, go to work happily, but then it starts to go downhill. I sometimes have 4 to 6 weeks, sometimes 1 to 2 days before I end up quitting or getting fired.
    ~ Wendy, a member of our Forums

  • My problem is usually attendance -- getting to work on time or at all. I've been either almost or actually fired from every job I've ever had for that reason. I do good work when I'm there (and well), but getting my act together well enough to get there is the problem.
    ~ MJ, a member of our Forums
The problems with loss of gainful activity are obvious. No work equals no money and no insurance. No money equates to unpaid bills, late fees, compounding interest. No insurance means accumulating medical bills and missed prescriptions. All of this adds up to additional stress with the possibility of exacerbated or triggered episodes. The cycle spirals.

So what can be done? In the United States, a possible solution may be disability benefits from Social Security. In this series of articles, we explore this option.

Understanding Disability Benefits – The Series

  1. I Can’t Hold a Job! What Do I Do? – Introduction
  2. What is Disability?
  3. Do I Qualify for Disability?
  4. Is Bipolar Disorder a Qualified Condition for Disability?
  5. How Do I Start My Disability Application?
  6. What Information and Paperwork Do I Need?
  7. What Happens with My Application?
  8. How Long Will It Take to Get Benefits?
  9. What Benefits Will I Get?
  10. Who Can Help Me?

A significant portion of this material was contributed by Jonathan A. Abbott, a lawyer specializing in Social Security and SSI disability benefits advocacy. Abbott is also an active member of our Forums who regularly contributes to the discussions in the Work & Disability Issues folder. Material written by Abbott is indicated as such.

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