Chronic Illness: A Driving Force to Financial Independence

When you think about life after financial independence what do you think about? Most of us envision an adventurous future full of possibilities.

There are so many exciting reasons to save money and stick with an early retirement plan, but joyful reasons aren’t at the top of everyone’s list.

Among the crowds cheering for early retirement is a quiet subset trying to save for other reasons. Including those preparing for a life of chronic illness: an attempt to save all the money they can before their bodies fail.

Many of us get to choose our early retirement dates, but for those with chronic illness the date is not so easy to control. Sometimes we are forced to walk away from work before we are financially ready to go.

Chronic Illness

At FinCon 2019 I made a promise to myself. I decided to write blog posts only if I felt inspired to do so. If I’m not feeling particularly enthusiastic about an idea I simply don’t type one up. If I feel motivated but the words come out flat I toss the post into the garbage pile and move on with my life.

The last time I wrote a post was January 3rd. Unfortunately, this time it wasn’t motivation that kept me at bay. It was my health.

I’ve had so many things I wanted to say, but not an ounce of energy to type them up. I didn’t intend to wait so long before writing again, but unfortunately my pain has kept me idle these past few weeks.

Over the years I’ve managed to control my aches relatively well. When my body hurts I run through a bulleted list of techniques that previously helped. If they don’t work I go back to the top of the list and try all over again.

This is life with chronic pain.

Limited Possibilities

My youngest son will start kindergarten next year. I’ve thought about this pivotal juncture many times over the past few years.

What will I do with the time while he is in school? Should I volunteer? Get a job? Write stories? Work on this blog?

Having reached financial independence I don’t need to find paid employment, but I wouldn’t mind solving problems and making an impact on the world around me. In my spare time I enthusiastically search job boards and volunteer opportunities.

Then I have a month like this past one filled with aches, pains and a large bottle of Tylenol. Suddenly my dreams dissolve before my very eyes. I’m abruptly reminded that I don’t have the luxury to do whatever I want, because sometimes my body won’t let me.

I am lucky in so many ways. My parents paid for my undergraduate education. I earned a six figure salary as a software engineer and I married a highly motivated and talented partner who is sensible with money. We are born savers who earned high salaries while living well below our means.

For all of those reasons, and so many more, I don’t need to work. I may wish to find fulfilling ways to spend my day, but I am lucky that I no longer need to put extra stress on my body to earn a paycheck.

Earning When I Could

Some people will say I wasted my youth and good health on a 9-to-5 job, but my medical saga began just six years after I graduated from college.

I needed a steady job that would permit me to work from home, provide incredible health insurance and long term disability if my body began to fail me.

My job granted all of those things and more. I am fortunate for all that my employer gave me. Many employees are not so lucky.

A Pity Party

This post is not meant to be a pity party although it sure sounds like one. It is a reminder to myself. Wallowing in my sorrows will not change my situation or dramatically improve my health.

Despite my medical issues, or perhaps because of them, I made the choice to become a stay-at-home parent after my first child was born. I willingly walked away from my high paying job to spend time with my son.

As I reflect back on that decision I wonder if I really had a choice to continue working as a software engineer. In retrospect I’m not so sure my body would have allowed me to work a 9-to-5 job and raise a child. I didn’t think about this when I left my high paying career, but now I wonder if the pain would have overtaken my life much sooner.

There were many times when a headache derailed my evening plans. When I would immediately climb under the covers after a long commute and not wake up until the next morning. That’s not so easy to do when kids need to do their homework, eat dinner and get ready for bed.

Honestly, I’m not sure if I could have continued to function. Would my health have failed me long before now?

The Dream of Financial Independence

Reaching financial independence and retiring early should be a cause for celebration, but we aren’t all marching to the finish line for the same joyful reasons.

Chronic illness is rarely talked about in the FI space, but the goal is so important to those who know their bodies won’t support them forever.

The twenty-two year old version of me had absolutely no idea that I would face a life of chronic pain. I started saving for endless possibilities, but in my naive mind I never could have imagined this.

The Future

I might not be able to go into an office each day and endure a long commute, but I am grateful to be able to work from home in other capacities if I choose to do so. Compared to others with chronic illnesses mine is mild.

There are ways to manage my pain and hope for longer periods of relief. I’ve tried a plethora of ways to heal my body using acupuncture, stretching, massage therapy, craniosacral therapy and healing training.

I am grateful for the wake up call my medical mysteries created. Without them I would have continued pushing through a job that didn’t make me happy. I would have reached for bigger promotions and raises instead of taking care of myself or my family.

I may not be able to do everything I want, but thanks to financial independence I don’t have to push my body through the pain of going to work. When I walked away from my 9-to-5 I was financially ready.

Reaching financial independence is incredibly difficult. Chronic illness adds an invisible, extra heavy burden.

We all want to think of early retirement as a joyous occasion, but for some financial independence seekers nothing could be further from the truth. We are racing to the finish line before the clock runs out on good health.

14 thoughts on “Chronic Illness: A Driving Force to Financial Independence”

  1. I can relate to this. Chronic illness runs in my family. I have it to a mild degree that doesn’t affect my ability to work in an office (at the moment) but I’m always conscious it could get worse. It may not, but looking at other family members I know the importance of making hay while the sun shines.

    • I’m sorry to hear that your family members are suffering and that you are suffering to some degree too. It is a reminder to live our best life now.

  2. I love your posts as they are unflinchingly honest and sometimes very emotional. This one was hard to read.

    My husband came down with shingles this weekend and I watched him fumble through every day activities in obvious pain. It must be difficult not only functioning through the pain, but knowing on the good days, that the pain could return at any time. I hope it passes quickly.

    • Thank you for your comment. I actually wrote a lot more about this and then deleted it. It felt a little too raw if you know what I mean. I hope your husband heals quickly.

  3. I’m right there with you, obviously. I wish to heck that we weren’t having these flareups but I’m so glad that you have the freedom to rest and take care of yourself without the 9-5 job that I don’t. (Thank goodness at least one of us does!)

    I know I’ve pushed really hard in my career (ill chosen though, I should have gotten into something more lucrative that didn’t take me 12 years to his six figures) because I knew my time was running out faster than most on some invisible clock. I wonder if I would have been quite so intense and sacrificed so much if that hadn’t been a pressing concern. But we’ll never know!

    • I thought of you as I pushed publish on this post. I am sorry that you are suffering. As you said you can never know the alternative course in life. You can’t get too down about the choices you’ve made. We can’t foresee the future and sometimes I think we wouldn’t want to see even if we could. Who knows how you would change course if you knew exactly how it would go and how long you would get to live?

  4. At age 48, I suddenly couldn’t work or do much of anything due to chronic pain for 3 years. No help or answers from multiple visits to medical and alternative doctors and reading tons of physical and mental health books.
    What started me on the rode to relief and working again was from reading the book ‘Medical Medium – Secrets behind chronic and mystery illness and how to finally heal’.
    I recommend checking it out to anyone struggling with chronic illness and pretty much everyone else because truth is power and urgently needed today.

    • Hi Lisa, Thank you for the comment. I am always saddened to read about others who suffer from chronic pain. As someone who has suffered for more than twenty years I know just how difficult and invisible that pain can be. I have never read the Medical Medium book, but I will check it out. Acupuncture and massage have helped alleviate my aches, but neither are covered by my insurance. In my case alternative medicine and treatments provided much more help than modern medicine ever did. It sounds like your experience may be the same.

    • Thank you for saying that. Sometimes I cut out the parts that are too difficult to read. I chopped out a few paragraphs from this post that I now wish I left in. Parts of the story are still too difficult to share.

  5. I’m glad to stumble on to your blog. I just started writing again today after a long hiatus. I also have a chronic illness and I plan to FIRE in a handful of years. It’s a sucky situation but glad that I’m not alone in it.

  6. Thank you for writing this. I’m not in a great place financially but I do have a budget. My chronic illness is making working part time and raising two toddlers really difficult. I had to make a tough decision and I will leave my job come May. It will slow down paying off our crippling debts but having the mental and physical energy to parent will come first for me. I’m thankful to have a partner that works and provides for us but I’m going to miss contributing financially to the household.

    • I’m sorry you are dealing with health issues, but it sounds like you are making a wise decision to take care of yourself and your children. I can understand your desire to continue making a paycheck. It’s been nine years since I left the workforce and I still miss it, but sometimes we cannot get better until we step away from work so we can focus on our overall well being. I wish you the best of luck moving forward. I hope that you are able to find better ways to manage your health without work looming over your shoulder. I also hope that staying home will give you more strength and energy to deal with your ongoing health issues.


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