Saturday, March 26, 2016
Working While Chronically Ill
Balancing employment and health is a challenging experience. The demands of a job and the toll of stress and exertion upon a chronically ill body is a balancing act not to be taken lightly. With proper care, the right circumstances, and a bit of luck it can be achieved.
Although my pediatric doctor adamantly believed I would qualify for disability due to my health, I was determined to make my own career. I've been fortunate to be able to maintain full time employment for the last 7 years although there are times that I seriously worry about my ability to continue working. I've learned a lot about the importance of self-care during my career thus far in order to maintain my employment status. My parents instilled upon me a strong work ethic. Combine this dedication to my work with my own hard-headedness and determination and a concoction is created for increased stress and susceptibility to illness.
During my first year of full time employment I experienced first hand the serious threat stress places upon the body. I was over-worked and still learning how to handle working 40+ hours a week while maintaining my own health. My body could only withstand the stress for so long. After about 6 months my health began to suffer and I was experiencing flare ups on an almost daily basis. I was forced to quit my job. I took a month to find another job during which time I recovered my health and have been able to work ever since after learning lessons in self-care.
I still struggle with managing my own self-care as I often accept additional responsibilities for a temporary period or insist upon working just a bit longer even when I am ill. I've learned that these behaviors place extraordinary stress upon myself physically and mentally and often result in a flare up. Therefore maintaining my usual responsibilities and taking time off when necessary are absolutely essential for my well-being.
I've learned to pace myself in my work. There are days when I am able to work 10 hours for the day and other days when I can only manage 4 hours. Instead of pushing myself past my breaking point, I must assess my health and my capability and balance it with my work load not only for the day but for the week before I recover during the weekend. If I need to work longer on a particular day, I've learned to lighten my load and increase my resting period on the day prior to my long work day.
For the past 4 months I have been battling anemia after a trial period without iron or B12 medication. I became so fatigued that I was hardly able to keep my eyes open past 11 am on average. I was experiencing multiple symptoms of iron and B12 deficiency and my daily functioning was greatly impaired. I began to worry about my ability to remain employed as my work performance was suffering and unacceptable in my eyes. I voiced my concerns to my managers and restarted my B12 medication on my own. I had to make a change before my functioning continued to diminish.
My employers are aware of my health issues and work with me to help me balance my health and my work. Working for an understanding employer has been key to my employment sustainability. I'm able to flex my time as needed, utilize intermittent Family Medical Leave of Absence, and continue my efforts to maintain a high work performance while monitoring my health status. My managers work with me on bad days and appreciate my good days. They have faith that I will complete my responsibilities, if not today then within a timely manner.
It takes a combination of effort and measures to maintain the best of health particularly when undergoing additional demands upon your body and health. Finding the correct combination for balance takes time and effort of trial and error. It's important to not compare your level of functioning to another as one person's balance set won't be the same balance set for another. It's vital for our well-being to find our own balance and not push ourselves past that balance in order to thrive with whatever endeavors we're pursuing.
This is my life with Familial Adenomatous Polyposis and Short Bowel Syndrome. I was diagnosed with FAP as a child, underwent total colectomy at age 9. I experienced life threatening complications resulting in 4 more surgeries that year and developing medical PTSD. I had an ileostomy for 6 years before having it reversed into a straight pull-thru that also resulted in life threatening complications requiring an additional surgery the following year. In 2021, I required my 8th surgery to remove my gall bladder due to gall stones and FAP. This surgery exacerbated my at the time undiagnosed Abdominal Migraine which is now being treated.