Twenty years ago, at age 42 and after 22 years of continuous employment, I exited the workforce. I’d been living with a diagnosed illness and then second one for 13 years. But I had never made any conscious choices regarding my career plan based on my increasingly limited health. Now within a matter of weeks, I left a job that I loved because I was too sick to even get myself to work. When I made that decision, and for a short time after, all I felt was tremendous relief that I had at least eliminated one source of stress in my fragile world.
But ’retirement’ didn’t produce the desired results. Although I had a full and satisfying life with two young children, a husband, friends and extended family, I sorely missed what I no longer had, my life as a ‘worker’. That person had a predictable schedule, daily socialization with colleagues, and was valued and compensated for her ideas and performance.
No longer employed, I volunteered in ways I hoped would be rewarding and give me the flexibility I needed. I found the former but not the latter. I still had to show up when I made a commitment and volunteer work felt like a ’job’ rather than the career I had always aspired to.
I became desperate to return to the workforce, in whatever way I could. It seemed like my lifeline to improving my overall well being. This time I approached career with care and thought, thinking strategically about my limits and my options and setting clear intention around my purpose.
Over the following years, I developed a business in coaching people with chronic illness around career challenges. My clients’ stories reinforced my own experience regarding the value of working, particularly when you live with chronic health challenges. That notion propelled me to write my book, Women Work and Autoimmune Disease: Keep Working, Girlfriend! While doing research for the book, I found several studies to support my experience that working promotes better psycho/social/health outcomes in those living with chronic illness.
Recently, I found a study that says: retirement results in the ‘drastic decline in health in the short and long term’ Specifically, the study found that:
- Retiring may ‘increase one’s risk of developing clinical depression by 40% and the risk of suffering from a physical ailment by 60%.’
- These risks increase with each year of retirement.
- Researchers recommend that people consider staying in the workforce beyond the average retirement age for health and economic reasons.
Most people who are not at “retirement age” think of retirement as a choice. Unfortunately, too often that’s not the case. Many organizations have mandatory retirement ages and others have ‘expected’ (not required but it’s obvious) retirement ages. If you keep working when you’re an ‘older worker’ and have difficulties doing a job the way you once did, you can easily feel like you’re being forced out.
There are striking similarities among the healthy but ‘aging population’ to those who leave the workforce due to debilitating health problems.
Clearly, it’s a different story if the work you do or the place that you work in is toxic — a highly pressured or extremely negative environment, the tasks are deadly boring or too difficult. If that’s the case, then leaving, even if you don’t have another employment opportunity, may be the best way to promote your well being.
But if you live with a chronic illness, it is typically a gradual increase in symptoms and debilitation. Actual aging is more predictable. It seems that it’s in anyone’s best interest, healthy or not, to look at your future and prepare. Consider all of your options, create plans that offer you flexibility and maximize your sense of resilience — before you reach a dead end.
The email asked why I limited my new program, Kickstart, to ’young adults”, ages 20-30. Really?
The age designation isn’t intended to limit anyone. I did this as my own personal ‘shout out’ to young people. Why? Because the opportunity for change is that much greater when you’re starting out, less encumbered by personal responsibilities and choices you wish you hadn’t made. (But please, don’t let my arbitrary age bracket limit you. I have a friend who insists that she’s a young adult at age 40!)
I created this program because, frankly, it pains me that so many folks find that illness has meant that their work options are severely limited. Just this week another person showed up in this tough spot.
Suzanne (name and details are changed) signed up for my Just in Time program, a short, highly focused, single-topic series of 3 sessions. She’d given three months notice at her current job because she believes that the nature of the work and the lack of support is making her sicker and more debilitated daily. She said that she wanted to identify what to say in an upcoming job interview to determine if she could get the accommodations that she believes would allow her to keep working.
But Suzanne was unable to focus on the interview in our first call because her challenges overwhelmed her. Although she’s lived with chronic pain for 20 years, it’s become severely debilitating since she started her current job three years ago. The pain is so bad that she no longer drives, lifts or carries anything beyond 2 pounds, and can only use computer for a few minutes at a time. Adding to her sense of burden, she’s in serious financial debt from her medical bills.
As we spoke, she was stuck when she considered what she might ask in the interview. The worry was so great and the barriers so large that she had trouble thinking clearly, the negative tape in her brain went into ‘play mode,’ and the roadblocks left her speechless.
Suzanne is an example of someone who, by her own account, should have addressed this years ago. Now in her late 30′s, she has spent 15 years struggling to stay in a career that has become increasingly difficult to sustain. Unfortunately, she’s backed into a tight corner and lacks the wiggle room she needs to make the kind of changes that would improve her quality of life. In a good moment, she hopes to find a better job. But her experience leads her to feel trapped. She fears that she’ll take any job she’s offered to pay the rent and have health insurance. Even worse, she fears that she won’t be able to keep working. She doesn’t see choice. She’s so exhausted from the years of just ‘getting by’ that she has neither the time, energy nor resources to develop techniques for living with pain or new skills that give her greater employment flexibility.
Suzanne isn’t alone. Too many struggle to find employment. But a chronic health condition adds a dimension that can make this a seemingly impossible task.
I don’t believe this has to be the case. But when you’re young, you’re less likely to want to view challenges created by difficult health. It’s hard to believe that anything can stop you — if you really want it.
And that is the conundrum. People who are young, because of their age and life phase, would greatly benefit from addressing and exploring these issues in a guided and supported program. And those same ‘young’ people are unlikely to think they need this or seek help.
Your thoughts on this? I’d love to hear them.
It’s never easy to live with a debilitating chronic health condition. But when you’re in your 20′s and 30′s, it’s particularly difficult.
Why? Because everyone else is ”living the life ” that’s expected — launching careers, building long term relationships, planting seeds for a promising future.
Meanwhile, you’re juggling health appointments with unpredictable, demanding health needs and the daily question of ’what’s today going to be like for me?’. Every day is a struggle to just get by. It’s not so easy for you, is it?
I know how hard this can be because it was for me. I developed a chronic illness in my late 20′s. Although I’d carved out a career path and had my successes, it quickly became clear that I couldn’t sustain it. I felt frustrated and confused, searching for help that I couldn’t find. That was over 30 years ago. I’ve since learned that that my story is neither unique nor unusual.
Yet, my professional experience has shown me that few are willing to tackle these issues at this time in their life. That’s understandable. The idea that living with illness could upset your career dreams, especially when you’re just getting your life started, is not pleasant.
But I’ve seen how that kind of thinking can be a recipe for disaster. In fact, I believe that this is precisely the time to do just that. Why?
Because people living with chronic health challenges are more likely to create work success when they:
- Have concrete, marketable skills that they know how to apply in a variety of settings.
- Have the mental tools that allow them to stay focused and take care of themselves when illness and life collide.
- Have the clarity to see the challenges and identify the opportunities that will allow them to manage unpredictable health in a difficult work environment.
Most importantly, I’ve found that the earlier in your life that you develop these competencies rather than spending years going in a direction that leads to nowhere, the better off you’ll be on a psycho/social/financial and health level.
That’s why I created this unique new program, specifically designed for those between 20-30 years old (approximately) and live with chronic health challenges. Have you:
- Graduated from college or a technical program with no idea for the next step other than what you can’t do — because of your health?
- Completed advanced education or training but find that you can’t do the jobs that this leads to — because of your health?
I’m delighted to announce Kickstart Your Career, an eight session program that offers a value laden opportunity for you to craft a concrete plan that will improve your situation. This is your chance to take charge and create your career path with a carefully crafted road map that incorporates your strengths, your dreams and your health. Want to know more?
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts, especially after you look at the program. Are there things you’d like to see included?
Oh, and feel free to forward, tweet it or fb this post!
When I developed a urinary tract infection and numb fingers at age 27, I didn’t know that these were the first signs of what would become a lifetime with chronic illnesses. Two years later, severe fatigue and optic neuritis led to the multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis. I had no idea what it would mean . Over the following years, I switched career direction several times searching to find something I could keep doing in spite of periodic debilitating symptoms. When I developed a 2nd autoimmune disease, ulcerative colitis (UC) 13 years later, I had a job I loved and two young children. Over the next few years, I became very ill and unable to do anything ‘well’. Very reluctantly, I left the workforce.
But I desperately wanted to work again. I didn’t feel whole without it. When an ileostomy cured the UC and MS drug therapy slowed down the course of the disease, I was ready. I couldn’t return to my former career path so I ‘reinvented’ myself. By age 50, I was in the best health I’d been in for 20 years and self employed, coaching people with chronic health challenges around their work life.
But in my late 50’s, old neurologic “damage” worsened and once again, I started to lose chunks of time to debilitating symptoms and illness management. This time, however, I could continue to work because working for myself gave me the flexibility I needed.
Over the past 15 years in coaching people with chronic health challenges, I’ve learned that my story is not unusual.
In the Kingdom of the Sick, by Laurie Edwards, takes it’s title from Susan Sontag’s book, Illness as Metaphor. I read Sontag’s book when I was first diagnosed but I couldn’t grasp the magnitude of most of what she said because I was a newbie to this Kingdom. Now I do.
Edwards quotes Sontag, “Illness is the night side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use the good passport, sooner or later each of is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.” Turning the pages of this beautifully written, highly informative and very important book, I seemed to pump my fist in the air, signaling affirmation and gratitude.
For many years, there was little written on the subject of living with illness. That has changed and now there are numerous, useful books for those of us living with illness (take a look at the left column of this blog, Books on My Mind). But In the Kingdom of the Sick offers up something different. It gives us the tools to develop a societal context for how we perceive ourselves and the perceptions we encounter.
I share the top 5 points in her book that I found particularly compelling (this is pretty arbitrary since I bookmarked almost every page):
1. Chapter 1, p.16 : “This rational, observational medicine centered on the patient, not the disease, and Hippocrates and his followers were interested less in the specifics of singular diseases and more in understanding the natural course of an illness.” “The Hippocratics’ view was actually quite simple: health represented equilibrium, while illness represented an upset to the harmony.” (I know that’s really 2 but…)
2. Chapter 1, p.17: “…the Middle Ages, influenced by the spread of Christianity, reflected a spiritual understanding of disease and plague as wrought by sin. This Chapter resonated with me because it offers an explanation for the development of bias toward illness .
3. Chapter 2, p.34: “the very nature of chronic illness…. is antithetical to the cult of improvement and enhancement that so permeates pop culture.”
4. Chapter 4, p.85: “…if the main focus and success of the women’s health movement was in redefining the doctor-patient relationship, then why are there still so many instances where women in pain have such unsatisfactory encounters?”
5. Chapter 8, p.163: “Participatory medicine is a model for moving forward within the medical establishment as empowered patients – and the very tools that make this change possible are the same ones that can distract from this forward motion.”
I’ll close with 3 questions I posed to Laurie:
RJ: We both know that your life is full with college teaching, your writing projects, your family and, your own health numerous health challenges. What propelled you to do the copious research and writing that this required?
LE: Quite simply, we can’t afford to ignore chronic illness. An estimated 133 million patients live with chronic illness, and by 2025, that number is expected to reach 164 million. It is responsible for 7 in 10 deaths, as well as ¾ of all health care spending. But it’s so much more than that. Chronic illness is not something that just happens to other people. It will happen to most of us, and there are still underlying problematic assumptions and misconceptions about chronic illness. For example, there is still this idea that people who are sick are sick through their own fault. Consider HIV/AIDS or type 2 diabetes and the underlying idea that people with CI are somehow weaker. This is also seen in the way we treat women with pain, for example, who are often told their pain is either in their heads, or that they should just be able to push through it. We’ve seen some wonderful books that look at pain, cancer, and other diseases, think Melanie Thernstrom’s, The Pain Chronicles or Siddartha Mukherjee’s, The Emperor of All Maladies. But no one has really taken stock of chronic illness as an entity, with all its complexities and competing agendas, and that’s what I wanted to accomplish.
RJ: What do you think makes this book important now?
LE: In the Kingdom of the Sick is a social history of chronic illness in America because I found it was impossible to extricate the experiences of living with physical illness from the competing forces of culture, social norms, and technology that surround patients. Inevitably, this became as much a social history of activism as it is a social history of disease because it was equally hard to tease out advancements in treatment and research from the patients and advocates who fought for them.
RJ: Is there one BIG message that you hope people will get from reading this?
LE: The definition of chronic illness as something that is treatable, but not curable, chronic has changed so much. What are the consequences of that, both positive and negative? That’s where I started.
I wish I’d had Laurie’s book when I started this journey.
This guest post contribution is from Richard Munn, how2become.com.
Recruitment has been going increasingly digitised in recent times. No matter what sector, there are plenty of opportunities to be found online, whether it is through virtual career fairs or by being part of professional social networks such as LinkedIn. A profile on LinkedIn is like a glimpse into your experience and skills, including your educational background and overall professional journey. Recruiters and head hunters have increasingly begun to use LinkedIn and other social media to find the best talent for the job.
A LinkedIn profile can prove to be useful in multiple ways in a straightforward job search. But how can professional platforms like LinkedIn be used when the situation is a little bit tricky? How can you use LinkedIn when you cannot continue doing what you have been doing because of changed circumstances, such as chronic health problems?
Let’s look at a situation where you are considering making a career switch. This could be directly after working within a particular sector, or after a break in your career. A good way to use your LinkedIn profile effectively while making a career switch is to include this ‘search of new direction’ in the title of your profile.
Your profile can have a headline or title which is what people see when they are searching for talent. Including this will make it clear from the outset that this is your professional motive. Include any previous experience within the title in a concise form. For instance, if you have work experience within sales, and want to change your direction for any reason, then your title could be ‘sales professional with 15 years’ industry experience seeking new position’ or ‘open to new opportunities’. This can help head hunters identify you as someone seeking a new direction rather than a position within the same sector. It also helps recruiters instantly get a glimpse into your story, previous experience and where you want to go.
Using a LinkedIn profile can also prove to be a bit of a problematic area if you have been out of work for a certain period and want to step into the professional world, as it were, after a long break. In this situation, not only is your previous experience unrelated to your new career interests but there has also been a gap in your CV. In such a situation does it help to have a LinkedIn profile or would it be better not to have a profile and not to mention any of your previous experience?
The fact is that a LinkedIn profile can be used in very versatile ways to communicate exactly what you are all about. So in a situation like this, it makes sense to explain this in your LinkedIn profile summary. Your title could mention how you’re seeking new opportunities and you could go on to explain a bit more about where you are coming from in the profile summary – this will help recruiters and potential employers, or collaborators understand exactly what your situation is.
It is important to explain in simple and honest terms why this gap has occurred, and how you are now interested in stepping back on the professional ladder and using the skills and experience within a professional capacity again. If you happen to be changing careers because of a certain change in your lifestyle needs, for example if your health demands it, it may help to include this in your profile, perhaps simply by mentioning seeking new office based opportunities due to lifestyle changes.
If you have decided to take any courses to brush up on your knowledge and professional skills, it is important to include these, even if they are on-going, in your profile. This will allow recruiters etc. to understand the situation and get the complete picture through your information in LinkedIn.
Another situation which can prove a bit tricky and not as straightforward is having two different jobs or careers, especially so if they not related to each other. In such a situation, should you try and weave them into one profile? It is possible to do this by including a slash in your title or headline. For instance, let’s say you are an experienced professional tutor and also do freelance copy editing, and are seeking career progression within both sectors, your title can be professional tutor/copy editor with so and so years of industry experience. This tells a true story of your profession and showcases both your activities. You can structure the rest of your profile in such a way that it addresses both your professions separately.
Richard McMunn, is the founder and director of the leading career website, how2become.com . His aim is to help as many people as possible pass the recruitment process they are applying for to secure the job they really want. The website offers a wide range of books, dvds and courses for those who want to ensure they have every stage of the process covered. You can also connect with Richard at How2become on YouTube
Last week, I was feeling down in the dumps. I couldn’t shake my mood. I tried my usual bag of tricks but I couldn’t lift myself out of gloom, which is not typical at all for me. Finally, on my weekly call with my Focusing partner, I sensed it: I actually don’t like myself when I’m sick and I’ve been sick (chronic and acute stuff) a lot lately. I easily understood why I feel this way – I’m exceedingly frustrated with me and everyone around me for what I can’t do.
I thought I could change this with this reminder: Love yourself when you are sick.That “affirmation” reminder worked for a day–though I think I just felt better having Focused on it. But then the feelings crept back in when I developed yet another virus. My affirmation wasn’t helping me a bit. It wasn’t “dialing into a channel” I could listen to.
It was when I was exploring with a client the nagging wish to regain her former, healthy life that the light bulb when off. She knew techniques to stop the thought once it crept in but she struggled to shift out of that space that held her in psychic pain.
I suggested she try this:
1. Set an Intention for yourself –: e.g., I want to focus on the positive things I can do to create work for myself today.
2. When you notice you’re feeling badly– about yourself or others — for no identifiable reason, reflect back on what has happened recently- was there a trigger? Write down what happened.
3. What did you think with this event? Write that down.
4. Reflect on your intention. What thoughts can you put in place to allow you to more fully fulfill your intention?
5. Create an action — something you can do — that will help you solidify these re framed thoughts inside your being.
5. Give yourself a day. Review results.
I did it myself and found it remarkably helpful. So did she. Try it and let me know how it goes. Building our sense of well being in the face of chronic health problems is a marathon, not a sprint. And there’s no science as far as I’m concerned to doing it – it’s just trying one thing and then another.
This post first appeared last week on Big Tent Jobs – Don’t know it? It’s a value laden site created by 2 people who are mission driven! My thanks to Adam for giving me the chance to speak to his readers.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Did you get that question when you were still in nursery school? In high school, more likely you were asked, “What college do you want to go to?” And once in college, maybe you turned that question inward, asking, “What ‘s next?”
We’re supposed to be thinking about big stuff from a young age – – make your dreams, plan ahead. But if you’re looking at the career landscape and feeling really confused about what this means to you and what you should do about it, you’re not alone.
And, if you live with a chronic health challenge, this can be daunting. You know unpredictable health can make even the simplest planning complicated. Do you ask yourself, “How can I plan my future when I don’t know how I’ll feel tomorrow?”
When you’re feeling stuck or unsure about what you’re doing, a good place to start is to acknowledge your thoughts because they have a direct impact on your actions.
Are you thinking:
I’m no different from any of my friends and I’m going to approach my career plans just like they do – probably take the first job that comes up.
I’m totally different from anyone I know and there’s no point in trying to figure out a career plan with my health.
How’s that going? What’s that thinking doing for you?
There is a third option. You can approach your career path by setting a clearly defined intention as you consider options, take action and make decisions. For example, you might say: I will take care of myself, physically, emotionally and mentally, as best I can as I do the best I can. With that as your your guidepost, you’re ready to lay down the foundational Building Blocks that allow you to maximize your strengths, create choices based on who you are (not what you aren’t) and influence your life where you can.
Building Block: Your career plan starts with a Strategy, your approach. Everyone, healthy or not, should consider how to acquire the skills, competencies and experiences that are needed to be a valuable asset. This is especially true when unpredictable and debilitating health symptoms impact your performance and could put you at a disadvantage. When you think about your strategic approach, think big picture, rather than specific jobs.
- Ask yourself and write down the following: What kind of career do I see myself in? Just brainstorm about this this – whatever comes up is fine.
- Now write down: What do I know? What do I need to know? How will I get the information I need? Include any time frames that might be important.
Building Block: Identify the Adaptive Skills you’re developed thus far. Living with chronic health problems teaches you that just wanting the pain to go away doesn’t make it go away. On the other hand, what actions can you take to try to lessen the pain, or, at least allow you to do what you want to do? When you think about it, your successes occur when you’ve figured out how to do the best you can with what you’ve got.
- Identify and write down at least one time that you were able to work within the limits of symptoms an/or illness to achieve a goal or something you desired, not necessarily work related.
- Write down the health challenges and what you did do to work around them. This is your own reminder that you can work with what you’ve got to achieve both small and big successes.
Building Block: Know yourself. Below is a simplified version of a career assessment designed to put you at an advantage when you’re networking, researching opportunities, and talking to potential employers. These questions can be helpful when you’re choosing a job but they’re most valuable when you’re preparing to invest your time and energy in developing a career for the long term. They are the key components of your strategic picture.
- What do I like to do? (Interests, hobbies, skills – let this be wide ranging.
- What do I dislike doing? Be honest.
- What do I want from employment? (e.g., am I just looking for a paycheck, do I want a situation in which I can learn new things, do I want to feel responsible without answering to anyone else, etc ?
- What kind of organizational culture do I want to work in? (e.g.,large or small organization, family friendly or driven to produce, mission driven, etc.)
- What kind of work life do I want? (e.g., self employment, contract work, work for others on a permanent and full time basis, etc.)
- What are my symptoms and how do they typically impact me? (e.g., do they vary, are there triggers or adaptive measures that help)
- What kind of tasks, schedule, or environment would be more difficult for my health?
When you start with a Strategy, identify your Adaptive Skills and learn enough to Know Yourself, you’re prepared to create what’s ahead. In all likelihood, the course of your health, your personal life and your livelihood will shift over time. Obviously, none of us can predict the future and health is only one factor in the picture. But why not be prepared where you can? A strategic approach gives you the tools you need to respond to inevitable changes with resilience, buoyancy and hope so you can keep going, even when you hit the inevitable roadblocks.
For a much more detailed exploration for career change, Susan Strayer’s book, The Right Job, Right Now, has some very useful models for finding a new career path. My own workbook, Keep Working With Chronic Illness Workbook, is designed specifically around the issues people with illness face, and it offers concrete ideas and systems you can use.
I don’t typically post about a book publication but Donna Jackason Nakazawa’s work is unique.
Today is the official pub date for her new book, The Last Best Cure.
“The Last Best Cure will change lives; it may even save some.” –Katrina Kenison, author of The Gift of an Ordinary Day
“This is a genuine page-turning science/non-fiction thriller!” –Sylvia Boorstein, author of Happiness is An Inside Job: Practicing for a Joyful Life
“Nakazawa has written a moving account of her recovery … it will certainly inspire others.” –Andrew Weil, M.D., author of Spontaneous Happiness
And here’s a teaser about the book itself:
One day Donna Jackson Nakazawa found herself lying on the floor to recover from climbing the stairs. That’s when it hit her. She was managing the symptoms of the autoimmune disorders that had plagued her for a decade, but she had lost her joy. For years, she’d been living on what she’d come to think of as the “Pain Channel.” She wanted to tune into the “Life Channel” instead. As a wife and mother of two, she was determined to get her life back. As a science journalist, she was compelled to understand why her brain might be her last best cure.
Donna’s writing is a must-read for anyone living with chronic illness and autoimmune disease, and The Last Best Cure is a compelling and enlightening extension of her previous work. Click on over to her site to read an excerpt.
She was having a bad health day with debilitating ulcerative colitis symptoms when a coworker commented, “I hope you feel as good as you look.”
My client shared this with me because she was surprised by how good it felt to hear this. At least, she said, someone wasn’t making assumptions based on how she looks – ’like judging a book by it’s cover’ .
If you’re living with a chronic illness, do you know that disconnect between how you look and what you’re experiencing? When people assume how you’re feeling based on how you look, it can be so isolating and uncomfortable because you typically don’t feel as good as you look. It’s even more difficult when someone asks how you are, you say that you’re not feeling so well and the response is, “But you look so good.”
Once, when I shared that how hard this with a ‘healthy’ friend, her response was, ”But wouldn’t it be worse if you look as dreadful as you feel?”
Neither is good. But when you’re told you look fine, how can you say, “But I feel like crap!” without others thinking you’re being a drama queen. The truth is we don’t have a window into anyone’s internal experience, emotional or physical. The only way we know is if they share it. But unlike an acute problem, such as a back strain or a dissolved relationship, a chronic health problem will not heal. This disconnect between your internal experience and what shows externally doesn’t change.
Which is why my clients talk about this as much as they do. We, who live with chronic health issues, spend an inordinate amount of time on this issue. There are times when you can explain that you don’t feel the way you look. But when the relationships are relatively impersonal, such as work, that’s often too much detail. It’s easy to create misunderstanding and even more psychic distress for yourself.
So, the next time you greet someone, try out, “I hope you feel as good as you look”. You’d be modeling it for others. And you must know someone who could benefit from hearing this, too? Forward this post on.
“Do people with chronic health problems have different challenges from those who are healthy in keeping their jobs?” This question came from a journalist who had told me he didn’t personally know anyone with a chronic illness. (Really?)
Not sure where to start, I gave him examples.
Let’s imagine Susie Q. A healthy 30 year old, she woke one morning and was blindsided by an unexpected physical problem. Could be she felt extreme fatigue (the flu). Or maybe it was disabling pain (she’d injured a muscle working out or sprained her ankle ). Susie’s day wasn’t going to be what she’d expected. It might mean she’d miss a key meeting, fail to deliver her quarterly report or not finish the memo her boss was waiting for. Naturally, this would create disappointment and/or a momentary problem. But it’s highly unlikely it would be a game changer for Susie.
A virus or an injury, although unpredictable, are acute problems that resolve and are gone for good. Chronic health problems are also unpredictable. But where the acute health incident is unusual, the chronic problem is frequent. The chronic problem doesn’t ever go away (that’s why it’s chronic). Also chronic symptoms are typically invisible and rarely objective (as in fever or broken leg). They can also be difficult or uncomfortable to describe (try explaining poor bowel control, spastic limbs or pelvic inflammatory disease).
Now, let’s look at Tim, who lives with ankylosing spondilitis. On Monday, Tim was a ’busy beaver’ at work. On Tuesday, he woke with dragging fatigue and pain that creates brain fog. The challenges Tim faces?
- When you feel poorly and that means that you’re not getting something done or don’t show up to work, you not only have to experience the lousy feelings but you also face a tough conversation explaining yourself to others.
- These conversations are particularly difficult because you have to explain your situation to someone who most likely is unfamiliar with this kind of issue and your problem could be an added burden on them.
- Finally, unlike the Flu or recovering from surgery, you can’t reassure anyone this won’t happen again.
The conversations that this requires is something that most of my clients struggle with. For detailed suggestions , check out ”Are You Talking” (Career Thrive Series) . I can’t promise it’s ever easy but it can get smoother.
For many of us, however, the toughest part is what we say to ourselves and how we manage that internal conversation. As a client said to me just yesterday, ”…even if no one questions my absence to my face, I’m constantly worrying about what they’re thinking”. Negative thoughts like these can be very distracting and damaging.
Still wondering about my response to the reporter’s question?
Yes, people with chronic health problems face the same challenges as healthy people. But for us, life’s challenges include an additional layer that requires a carefully honed skill set. People with chronic illness confront this question on a daily basis: Am I able to do this today? If not, what then?
What would you have said to this reporter? Anything to add? Do you agree with me?