Forced FI vs. choosing FI


I’m a swear-y unicorn so my coworker made me this for my desk

(This is the third post in a series about being diagnosed with Primary Lateral Sclerosis. See “I’m sorry, you have motor neurone disease…” and The financial burden of disability)

Ever since reading Your Money or Your Life in my early 20s, I knew I didn’t want to work until I was 65. Although my goals and career changed a few times over the past 22 or so years, early retirement was always on the back of my mind.

Of course, last fall we got the news that we wouldn’t be able to buy the home we lived in, as promised, but we still did manage to buy a house with a low mortgage. In fact, our new home was probably the best move we could have made as we aren’t settling at all for a subpar property that needed expensive renovations. Still, this blow set back our early retirement plans. I re-finagled the budget and still managed to have Mr. Tucker seeing early retirement in about 5 years, and me shortly after.

Why shortly after?

Here is the deal: despite wanting to not be tied to paid employment, I love my job. I love that it is creative but analytic at the same time, I love interacting with people, I love being able to help Canadians access government services. I love everything about working in social media. I also had an incredibly bright, innovative team full of amazing people who I looked forward to seeing every day. My bosses were supportive and kind and were really invested in their employee’s success. I got paid well, had amazing benefits and so I had really won the job lottery. It was still work, and of course there were days where I hated getting out of bed but for the most part if I had to work for money, working at this job was the best option out there.

You’re my new boss now, MRI

So needless to say that when my neurologist told me to go on leave all these feelings rushed to the surface. You don’t realize how much you identify with your career until it is taken away from you. I certainly didn’t. Despite realizing how exhausted and how difficult it was for me to work full time, not being able to work left a huge hole in my identity – a hole I didn’t even know was filled by my career.

Realistically, my disability insurance covers 70% of my salary so really, a lot more money than we had planned to live on post-FI, so theoretically I should have been happy that I had this safety net that would cover my family. YOU’VE REACHED FI, HUZZAH! But despite being grateful for that contingency, I was still angry and resentful.

I don’t know what kind of rehab they do here but I am in

It was only after I had been able to catch up on sleep and heal from exhaustion that I realized the reason I felt so lost was because the choice had been taken from me. When working towards FI it was always a goal that I acted on. I made the choice to plan for early retirement just like I made the choice on how to spend money in order to reach our goals. Having that agency taken from me was like someone had pulled the rug out from under me. I was no longer free to choose my future, my illness now dictated it.

Of course, 5 months have now passed since the initial shock and I have had time and space to work my head around our new reality. The first couple of months were full off fear about whether or not my disability claim would be approved, what the trajectory of my illness would be, and what the future held for my young family. It didn’t help that everything happened right after a stressful period in our lives and during the darkest days of winter. I spent my days googling frantically trying to find whatever information I could about my diagnosis. I started various therapies and changed my diet up. I’ve joined online communities of people like me and have discovered that while we all have different trajectories, some people are statistical outliers and that there is some hope that I may have little change over the years. I’ve gone from feeling like I was spiraling out of control to taking control of the aspects of my life I could control.

A smarter woman just would have used an iPad but I was 1/2 through a movie and didn’t want to find it again and FF to the right place

In the end, our lives will be full of curveballs. We will suffer job losses, relationship challenges, basement floods, stalled cars, and a myriad of big and small obstacles we can’t control. Right before my diagnosis a friend of mine went to sleep and didn’t wake up. She left behind a 9-year-old child. No one could have predicted that would happen. Things will not always be in our hands but the sooner we take control of the things we can control, the better our lives will be.

I miss my job and I am still hopeful that I can go back to work someday soon. Until then, I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to work on physical therapy, stress reduction, and other healthy habits without having to worry where the money is coming from. Taking control of my life may not mean having control over my career right now but it’s allowed me to take better control of my health, an area where I didn’t have much control before due to work stress. It did take me a couple of months to switch gears but now I see what a gift it is to not have to worry about money.

My next post will discuss how we are (still!) pursuing FYI, and why….

3 Comments on “Forced FI vs. choosing FI

  1. Pingback: If we are FI, why do we continue to save? - Working Undertime

  2. Your blog just rang a bell with me. I was also forced into early retirement because of a progressive neurological disorder. And I will also be talking about my journey in some of my posts. I had to quit mid career. I was diagnosed with Episodic Ataxia at the age of 14.

    Thks for sharing, This gives me the to write about my journey

    • Thanks so much for reading. Yeah, I am still reeling from my diagnosis because no one expects it. It really turns your life upside down.