Does anyone really question that living with chronic health problems makes it very, very difficult to hold a job? I don’t know about you, but no one has ever argued this point with me. Probably, because it seems obvious to most reasonable people.
I’m not implying that we’ve got a lock on the challenges behind maintaining positive and successful employment. I realize that health problems can have a negative impact on a person’s social/relationship life (just look at the 75% divorce rate among the chronically ill) .
But employment impacts financial health, social networks and relationships, self management and organizational skills, and self esteem. Hmm, that’s just about all aspects of our lives. The problem is that employment (particularly being employed by others, not self) means being evaluated on what, when and how you deliver. When your ability to perform job tasks is highly variable and unpredictable, delivering on your commitments can be challenging, wearing and fraught with anxiety.
I’m not suggesting we have a ‘pity party’. But I am crying out for a more robust conversation about this issue since it’s rarely part of any discussion on living with long term chronic health conditions. It just makes no sense when staying employed is crucial to a person’s quality of life (check this spot-on post in Huffington Post – note point #2).
Why am I ranting about this yet again? Because I just listened to a client describe a series of conversations that left her worn her out from frustration and anxiety (and she’s not a woman who typically goes there). It struck me how clueless we all are on how to talk about this.
- Conversations with her doctor whom she has seen 2 times: When she told the doctor that the unpredictable and highly debilitating symptoms were making it difficult to keep her job, he told her that she couldn’t ‘give in’ to this. When she asked what she should do, he responded: “I don’t have any idea but maybe you should find a different job or stop working altogether if this is making you sicker. ” — which she didn’t say it did).
- Conversation with her boss with whom she has worked for 5 years: She explained that her symptoms were getting worse, she wasn’t getting an important part of her job done and she thought they could talk about options. Her boss responded, “There are no options. This is her job and she has to get it done. End of story.”
- Conversation with her best friend: She was crying as she told her friend how frightened she is that she’ll lost her job. Her friend responded: “Everyone has problems at work and you just have to keep your mouth shut and not talk to everyone about this.”
These kinds of conversations would wear anyone out . It’s especially exhausting when you’re dealing, managing and talking about debilitating and unpredictable health.
I recently updated my booklet, “Are You Talking” but I’m wondering, what have I not addressed? What would you say in any of the above conversations?