8 tips on juggling a chronic illness and work


juggling chronic illness and work


“Take a pain pill and come to work.” Words that made me realise that having a chronic illness was going to be more of a battle that I expected. This was my boss telling me to come to work even though I felt like I had hot charcoal running through my veins. I have a medical condition that makes me suffer from debilitating pain in my right arm and I happen to be right handed. I have carried my pain for almost 2 years now and there are no breaks. The pain usually increases when it gets even a tiny bit cold. I take large doses of pain killers that sometimes manage to lessen  the pain a bit but does not take it away completely.

That job helped me understand enough to advise someone who might be struggling with a chronic illness an/or chronic pain.

  1. Work with a pain management specialist. Depending on how bad or rare it is, your condition may need someone more specialised that your GP. A pain management specialist will know what to give you for what type of pain what else you can try to aid the medications.
  2. Study your body and how it responds to different medications. I take a pill that helps me sleep at night but I know that I have to take it early in the evening and sleep early otherwise I will be drowsy the whole morning the next day. When a type of medication does not seem to work for you it may be that it’s just the wrong type of medication for your body or you are taking it together with some other medication that may be interfering with its effectiveness. You therefore need to work with your pain management doctor to get to which ones will work. Sometimes this may take time and a few trials before you get to the right one. You need to be patient with your doctor and remember that they are not God. They don’t always know what will work so don’t always assume that they are out to get your money by trying different drugs on you.
  3. Inform your employer or prospective employer of your condition and how it affects you. If they decide to hire you then make your life difficult it means that they are not the people you should be working for anyway. You don’t need stress in addition to your physical pain. If they do fire you after you have informed them in advance and they agreed to let you work, you have legal remedies but I still think walking away will save you a lot of hustles. Always make it clear that illness doesn’t have a timetable so you can’t really predict when it will be worse.
  4. If you can, find a ‘work from home’ kind of job. I am an online marketer so I do all my work online. This helps because I don’t have to go out in the cold in the mornings and evenings and I can pace myself according to how I’m feeling. I do realise that no everyone can do this but it may be worth giving some thought to a hobby that you can monetise if it’s going to give you an income instead of being on sick leave all the time. A change of profession is always something that people don’t want to consider but if eventually you will realise that there are some things that you just can’t do. You have to obey your body and do what it can take.
  5. Find a job that allows you rest as much as possible. A body in pain needs all the sleep it can get. If you can afford to work short hours or at least take a nap at work to recharge then that’s the job that you need. I don’t know about other people but my medication makes me sleepy quite a lot and the only way to deal with that is to take a nap. It’s not something I can ignore and I can’t just wash my face with cold water to make it go away.
  6. Try to save money as much you can. With chronic conditions you never know when they will take a turn for the worst and you can’t work as much as you would like or you have to pay someone else to do certain things that you would do yourself. Sometimes just being sick means you constantly have to buy some things that medical insurance won’t cover just to make yourself feel a little more comfortable.
  7. Find support. Regardless of how you feel now you have to know that you can’t do it alone. Thank God for the internet because now there are online groups for any medical condition. My Facebook group keeps me sane. I feel like I take my friends everywhere I go and they advise me, support me, comfort me and laugh and cry with me. These are people who know what is really happening to me. Being in that group makes me feel less of a freak because everyone else around me, even though they love me, will never really understand, no matter how much I explain. That’s just me but if you can find support in your family or friends or even colleagues then don’t take it for granted. The saner you are, the easier it is for you to work.
  8. Don’t stop working. You might have to change the type of work you do. You might have to change the hours you work. But waking up daily with a purpose, a schedule, keeps you wanting to live one more day. If you stop working and spend your time focusing on the pain, chances are you will find no reason for living. So keep doing something, keep earning an income so that you don’t feel like you are a financial burden to anybody and so that you can feel useful and in charge of your own life.

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