About the Author: Christina works a corporate office job while juggling multiple chronic illnesses. She’s constantly learning how to find the right balance between being a professional and also a patient. She’s passionate about advocating for invisible disabilities and runs a blog page where she shares “the good, the bad, and the ugly” of life with multiple chronic illnesses.
Professional Patient and Employee
I’ve been dealing with health issues almost my entire life. My symptoms started popping up as a child and subsequently got worse as I got older. Managing severe back and joint pain just became a part of my daily routine. Throughout bouts of ill health, I was able to complete three college degrees. I then accepted a job at a corporate office, where I have been working for 3 years now. Working a full-time job while also managing chronic illnesses full-time can be a lot to have on one’s plate. While in the office, it isn’t uncommon for me to find myself throwing up several times a day in the company’s private bathroom. It also isn’t uncommon for me to be found in the wellness center using their blood pressure monitor when I feel like I'm about to faint. I have an emergency plan in place at work and wear a medical ID bracelet every day just in case something happens while I’m alone. There are some moments where I am so overwhelmed by the number of doctor’s appointments to keep up with it feels like I need to hire a personal secretary. This isn’t where I saw myself being at age 28, but I am here and my journey is worth the fight.
With all this going on, how do I manage working full-time? Well, to be quite honest it’s a balancing act. I live at home with my parents right now, which makes things a lot easier and alleviates after-work tasks, like buying groceries and cooking dinner. If I were to work full-time and have my own home or even an apartment, I don’t think I’d be able to balance it. Between my health and my job, I have very little energy for anything else. It’s a choice I had to make. While I would love to live on my own, it simply wouldn’t be feasible. My parents often have to help with simple tasks like ironing, putting a fitted sheet on my bed, and even sometimes blow drying my hair, as doing them on my own could lead to fainting. I also haven’t been in the dating world for several years. It’s another sacrifice I had to make. Between work and trying to maintain friendships, I simply don’t have the energy for a relationship. At this point, it doesn’t bother me that I don’t have a significant other. I'm content enough in life with my close friendships, family, and work.
Having A Flexible Employer
I am extremely grateful for not only have caring parents, but also a sympathetic employer. Prior to working, I didn’t have much of an opinion as to whether or not I should disclose my health situation to my employer. For me, personally, full disclosure has been the best route. I am 100% open about my health situation and have even sent articles to my bosses so they can understand what it is I’m dealing with. I do have FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) protection with my job, so I’m able to take time off as needed for flare-ups or doctor’s appointments, which at the moment are very frequent. Another accommodation my employer provides is time throughout the day to manage my symptoms as they flare. For example, if I need to lay down for a few minutes or take a walk so my hip doesn't get too stiff, I'm allowed to do so. Having this time throughout the day helps me successfully get through the work week and makes having a job attainable for me.
Finding The Right Balance
Although working a full-time job can be extremely difficult at times, especially given my health issues, overall I’m glad to be working. It helps give me a sense of normalcy, as it allows me to follow a routine and socialize with all of my co-workers. Working while chronically ill is an art form in and of itself. It’s a balancing act that requires one to look within and takes coming to terms with one’s limitations. I’m still learning so much about my limitations and how to listen to my body. It’s imperative for me to do so.
Whether it means taking a walk to get some air during your lunch break or skipping out on after-work activities to go home and rest, listen to your body and do what feels right. Honoring your limitations and not over-extending yourself are key to creating a healthy work-life balance. And while I know that not all companies will be as flexible or accommodating, don’t be afraid to reach out to your employer and see what resources are available to help you achieve your goals.
What are some other tips you have for working full-time with a chronic illness? Let us know in the comments or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We love hearing from our community members!