The less functional I became over time with chronic pain and the more I struggled at work the more useless I felt. The more of a failure as a Person I felt. The more worthless I felt.

This got worse as my life shrunk because I had less usable hours to be able to function in.

Society really values what you DO for Work. And when you are no longer able to work you self-worth, which already took a beating, sinks even lower.

When I became fully disabled due to the vertigo and chronic pain my life has become a lot smaller. Sometimes, like now, very tiny indeed in my capacity to function. It is extremely frustrating that I can’t even do the things that help me cope with the pain. However, I have worked hard on building my self-worth back up and looking at a more broad view of what life is all about. Such that this small, limited life, may seem like it isn’t worth much to someone else… is Full of Value to me. Because I have changed my perception of Value and Purpose and Meaning. I had to. Otherwise, Not working would be something that would continue to eat at my self-worth.

Text: Disability- Fulfilment without traditional work
Image is a illustration of a woman's face upturned. Illustration drawn by Nikki Albert
Illustration in pin drawn by Nikki Albert

Life beyond work

When you find yourself on a long-term leave or permanently disabled, at first this is this sense of stagnation without work. This Lack and Void that must be filled. And that is because despite the fact many of us at that point really struggled to function at work we feel the lack of productivity and purpose without it. But there is a reason we became disabled and that means filling that lack we feel is a difficult thing to do because functionality is still low. What we have to remember is that life Isn’t measured by productive output. However, we can find something to replace that sense of purpose. Although that can take time.

It is a mistake for anyone and everyone to think work is all that matters. For fulfillment in life there are a lot of factors that matter.

The areas of life fulfillment are:

  • Work and career satisfaction/and/or purpose
  • Health and well-being
  • Financial well-being
  • Family
  • Socializing
  • Love
  • Self growth
  • Community
  • Passions

And that list you can add to based on areas that you find add to your fulfillment.

Every single person can look at those areas and know they may not be fulfilled in all of them. It is easy for life to get unbalanced and for priorities to be valued more at different times. Certainly though we value work as far more important often than other factors in society as a whole and that is a mistake for overall well-being. We want to create a balance that helps us feel as fulfilled as possible.


We need to have a sense of purpose in life to have a sense that life has meaning for us. Purpose is one factor in meaning we give to life. What you find that gives you a sense of purpose is very much an individual thing. It is what makes you feel like you are contributing something beyond yourself. It can be hard to find a sense of purpose though because we often put a boatload of value on Work. We have to learn to value what we can do and not what we cannot. And we have to look at our values specifically to find which values we hold actually give us that sense of purpose.

I find purpose in writing. All my writing gives me purpose in this life. And I write no matter my limitations… it just means I choose when I write, how long I can write for, taking breaks… and other things that help me to do this thing that is vital to my sense of self. This fulfills my passions as well. It is both my sense of purpose and doing something I love at the same time. Writing as a passion is my fiction. Writing for my purpose is more my blogging and non-fiction- where I want to advocate, share experiences and information. Whereas for others those can be two separate things.

Purpose can be found in all sorts of things though. All sorts of values we follow and live can lead to this sense of purpose. Although, I found purpose to be the hardest thing to find when I lost work. I don’t think we think about it much… that we lack purpose or how to fulfill this desire for purpose.


Engaging in things and activities you are passionate about also helps with fulfillment. Like I said, mine is writing but it is also doing art. People often diminish hobbies but their value to our well-being is actually quite immense.

Hobbies help with:

  1. decreasing stress
  2. help with mood regulation
  3. keep us mentally active
  4. can help us express ourselves
  5. they can be a great pain distraction and coping strategy

And sometimes when we are disabled we align our purpose with our passion. It could be, for example, someone who loves to knit or crotchet then takes what they make and donates them to charity. The hobby is the passion and the giving fulfills their need for purpose. But remember this isn’t really tied to Productivity because we have varying amounts of usable hours that are significantly less than a healthy person.


We still pursue goals and personal growth. At a different pace and different reasons even but certainly this doesn’t go away just because we are disabled. It changes our perspective on what is important, for sure. It changes how we do things and the pace at which we do them. And it certainly changes what we consider of value. There is a lot of personal growth I find immensely valuable for well-being and coping strategies that a normal person just wouldn’t even focus on or think about… but I certainly do because it is valuable for me to find more balance in my life and to improve my well-being in any way that I can. So any forward momentum and growth is a great thing. And learning from any setback, also important.

Simple pleasures

In many ways we have to force ourselves to look at and enjoy the simple pleasures in life. And value them in ways other people may not. Some of those things mean a whole lot to me. The ability to read a book for a bit? Means a lot.

There are so many little things I find make my day that are just so simple. But my days are sometimes quite… tiny in the amount of time I can function. So I take pleasure in the simple joys I can have or the small joys that happen. Because those things can Make my day.

It’s a small world after all

From the outside looking in, my life looks very small. With a lot of rest and recovery needed. And mobility issues and constant dizziness. Little capacity to function.

But I make use of what I have. I write when my brain is most function which is the morning. (odd for someone that Used to be a night owl but vertigo sort of changed that). Or a read a bit then, if I can. It is peak functioning time… so I do things then. I rest after that for a bit to recover. I sometimes am able to do some drawing later if I rest enough. And maybe that is all I can do in the day. Maybe that’s it. But it is something.

Some days I can socialize for short durations and that is very meaningful to me. We are social animals and we people need people. (Not when we need to self-isolate due the pandemic, but in general.)

Some days I can do housekeeping for a very, very short duration and with a whole lot of recovery time. Right now with my vertigo slump this is quite an ordeal but I assume once I get the vertigo modestly treated I can do my method of 10 minutes a day cleaning.

Life with chronic illness shrinks with setbacks and expands when treatments work and quality of life improves. Right now, I am in the shrinking zone. But it always changes. It will expand again. But when it does, that life will still seem Small to a healthy person. And that is fine. As long as I get a sense of fulfillment from it. Part of that is perspective. I am not looking to be fulfilled by climbing Mount Everest. I am looking for fulfillment in the small things I can value.

And I value the time I can spend with friends. I value the time I can spend with family. I value the time I can spend writing. Or reading. Or drawing. I value the things I can do in a day and never focus on what I cannot do… especially now when that list is a tad long. I value time with my spouse. I value snuggling with my cat. I value the days when I can manage a short walk. I really value Good Days when I have them. I value having a good laugh… at my own jokes. I value any forward momentum I make in my overall well-being or personal growth.

See more

Chronic illness: Everything is not awesome
Creativity and chronic illness
Chronic illness: Savouring simple pleasures

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10 thoughts on “Disability: Fulfillment without traditional work

  1. Hi Nikki
    I hope and pray that in the future better treatments will come out for chronic pain. It’s just a hope but I think to myself maybe maybe in a few years time there will be new treatments to try which will help us manage our symptoms and have a better quality of life even if we can’t work. I was a career person but my priority now is to get through the day with as little pain as possible. Right now I’m just existing, isolated inside my little house. I look at others having normal lives and it breaks my heart that I can’t do most of the things they can. Even walking now it’s a luxury. I hope that some day, some how things might just get better. X

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is very difficult to know we can’t have even a fraction of a normal life. We have to create something entirely different than that. And I don’t know… that isn’t in any way easy. I wish I could have a whole lot more but try to be content with what I can get

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “We have to learn to value what we can do and not what we cannot.” Nikki, this has got to be one of the wisest statements I have every read about disability. Thank you for your insight, and your passion and purpose. I am sending you love and support and hope. I am hoping that the vertigo gets treated soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Learning to value what I can do and at the pace I can do it was a very difficult lesson for me. It took some time. Society simple has shown us to only value that which is work for income that is sustainable for living. And when we can’t do that finding value and worth in things for other reasons takes time


    1. 🙂 I am glad you found and read it when you needed to. It is something that was hard for me to figure out when I could no longer work but when I did, it really helped me with fulfillment and acceptance.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a great post. I have been trying to find my purpose for a while now but it’s not been easy. I think that doing things that you enjoy doing and getting good them can you a sense of meaning and value. For example writing, and for me photoshop. It’s still an ongoing journey though.

    Liked by 1 person

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