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Managing Chronic Illness and a Career

Surviving a chronic illness can be a job of its own, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up your dream job; it means you have to dream uniquely and learn to thrive despite your illness.

| January 2019

Photo by Getty/Damir Khabirov

Managing a Career and Employment

The first step is to think long and hard about what kind of employment best suits your abilities. By the age of sixteen, few people realize that they’ll probably never be able to work a nine-to-five job. The normal course of employment just isn’t an option for patients with life-limiting illnesses. Setting realistic goals for their careers is something that needs to be taken on with out-of-the-box thinking. The good news is that technology has moved us into an age where your desk doesn’t necessarily have to be in the same building as your co-workers to do your job. Building the necessary skill set to be a work-from-home employee, consultant, or self-employed professional is possible. There are also many adjustments for disabilities that can be negotiated in standard workplaces. In this section, we’ll cover some of the ways you can secure the best accommodations for your needs at your workplace.

Expectations about Your Career

Is a person with rheumatoid arthritis going to be a massage therapist? Is a patient with ulcerative colitis going to have a stupendous career as a food reviewer? What about someone with chronic fatigue—do you think they’d be a quick hire as a physical education teacher? I’m not writing this to slay your spirit or crush your dream, but you’re in for a rude awakening if you expect to go forth into the night with your spandex and your cape jumping from one fire escape to another with inflamed tendons. It’s important for your physical and emotional well-being to test your limits regarding what kind of job you can handle. Want to be a cop? Do a ride-along for a few days to see if you can handle the pace. Want to be a teacher? Assist in the classroom for a few weeks to see if the responsibility of managing students is too much for you. Want to be a food reviewer? Ask for the chef’s specialty without asking if it has wheat, dairy, or shellfish in it.

For patients who discover their diagnosis earlier on in life, there’s a great chance they’ll be able to avoid massive disappointment and turmoil by translating their career goals into something achievable. But what if your disease hits you in the middle of med school or just as you got that promotion you’ve been shooting for all year? Some think of it the way a cancer patient chooses to shave their head before chemo. They know now that something is happening and that to live and have a less painful life, they need to have this therapy. This therapy will cause them to lose all their hair. It’s either going to happen the easy (and potentially less terrifying) way, or they’re going to watch clumps of their hair fall out in the shower every night until they’re bald.

The option to work from home is a growing possibility for many sufferers of a chronic illness. (Photo by Unsplash/@anniespratt).

In your situation, you can choose to fight against the tides of your disease and drag yourself through your work day with all the stress and anxiety it will cause, or you can choose to accept a change in pace and profession and move on. It may not seem like you’re making a career choice when it comes to chronic illness and employment, but you are. Neither of these choices are wrong and not everyone with a chronic illness chooses to give up their day job, even if it means spending ten hours a day on their feet. Some patients’ illnesses can be managed to the point where they can live a completely normal life. But most patients’ lives revolve around flare-ups and remission.

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