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.

FYI:   Laurie Edwards has several posts on the topic of chronic illness and employment   (she’s the author of In the Kingdom of the Sick) that offer more thoughts on this issue,  so check it out.



3 Responses to “What keeps you from addressing the challenges?”  

  1. 1 Jennifer

    I can completely relate to Suzanne’s predicament, however, in my situation I DID seek advice/support, etc. at a young age and got HORRIBLE advice. That horrible advice is a big part of why I am stuck and trapped today. I went to see the vocational counselors (affiliated with my specialized hospital), non-profits for my condition, etc. These professionals gave me horrible advice that was very risk averse/ cookie cutter, one size does NOT fit all advice. I guess my point is I wish I had been the pig headed young person and stuck to my dreams vs. listening to the naysayers. It’s a lot easier to get the flexibility required to deal with a chronic illness at the top of the food chain vs. the bottom.

  2. 2 Rosalind

    Hi Jennifer – It hurts my heart to hear stories like yours. But I’m so grateful that you shared this and only hope that others benefit from your experience. Thank you.

  3. 3 CE

    I think it is extremely important for young people with disabilities to have emotional support and vocational support to improve their careers. Particularly, they need to work with someone who understands their challenges. There is a certain isolation when you cannot keep up with your peers- when everyone else feels limitless- you feel your limits every day. As an ambitious young woman who has dealt with serious chronic health issues, I have lost jobs and opportunities- all which were devastating losses. I think it’s an important thing to address.

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