The last time I worked a shift as a nurse was in November 2019. Since then, I’ve been unable to work because of my depression, and specifically because of psychomotor retardation. I didn’t want to apply for disability until it got to the point that I was quite sure I wasn’t going to be able to work again. I got to that point a couple of months ago, and I submitted part of my application last month.
Disability benefits in Canada
There are a few options. For short-term (15 weeks), there’s Employment Insurance Sickness Benefits from the federal government, which require you to have been working and paid into EI. The long-term federal option is Canada Pension Plan Disability Benefits. They require a severe and prolonged disability, and you need to have worked and paid in a minimum amount to CPP.
Then there’s the provincial option. In British Columbia, that’s Persons With Disabilities assistance. I’m pretty familiar with that, since a lot of my clients were on it when I worked in community mental health. Besides the disability piece, there’s a maximum level of assets you can have to be able to get benefits. Currently, I have too much money for that, so CPP Disability is the route I’m going.
If I still had a regular position as a nurse, I would have had access to long-term disability benefits through work, but that ship has sailed.
My choices around timing
It’s been 4 1/2 years since I last had a regular job. Since then, I’ve just worked on a casual basis, picking up shifts here and there. As my health declined, the amount I was able to work declined. I last worked at the end of November, but I’ve still got my casual position and I’ve still got my nursing license. I hoped that I’d be able to go back to work, at least a little bit, and it didn’t make sense to apply for disability until I was sure I couldn’t go back to work. Luckily, I’m in a financial position such that there isn’t a sense of urgency on that front.
Part of my decision to apply when I did is that at the end of February 2021, I’ll need to renew my nursing license. It would cost me $400 less to renew it as non-practicing rather than practicing, and I thought it made sends to avoid that extra $400 if I could. My guess is that won’t happen because I’ve delayed getting the medical report done, but we’ll see.
My application process
Earlier this year, I started thinking it was pretty likely that I’d end up needing to go on disability. I started gradually filling out the mail-in version, which at the time was the only way to do it. I’d done the majority of it, and then when I looked online to see what the COVID situation is, it turns out they had set up an online application process, and you have to do it that way.
That should be easy, right? Not so much. The mail-in version asked for months and years when various things occurred, but not days. It also didn’t ask for addresses and phone numbers and those kinds of details for treatment providers. The online version had all of these details set as required fields, so there was no option to leave blanks. I knew months and years, but hunting down exact dates of things, like when I was hospitalized in 2007, was a pain in the ass. A lot of dates I was only able to narrow down because Google Calendar has saved everything I’ve put in it going back several years, and I put pretty much (but not quite) everything in it.
There were a bunch of questions asking for you to rate your functioning on a 5-point scale from poor to excellent. I ended up revising my answers a few times because I was initially averaging my functioning over several months rather than focusing specifically on what I’ve been able to do for the last couple of months, which is sweet fuck-all.
I sent in my section of the application last month, but my application is still incomplete because I haven’t gotten the medical report done yet. My doctor won’t have a problem with doing it, but he doesn’t know all of the details of my history, so there are questions on the form he wouldn’t know the answer to. I’ve mentioned briefly that I’ll need him to do it, but talking on the phone isn’t something I feel very comfortable with to begin with, and more importantly, my speech is really impaired right now, so that longer conversation that’s needed just hasn’t happened yet.
So we’ll see. Depression isn’t an obvious diagnosis associated with significant disability. I’m not sure how they’ll interpret my pattern of work over the last few years, or my decision to wait so long to apply, or the fact that it’s taking so long to get my complete application in. But someone would only need to interact with me for 30 seconds to see that I’m too impaired to work, so I’m not concerned about whether I’m broken enough. I know I qualify, but I’m not sure if the CPP people will be so swift on the uptake. We shall see.