Five Basic Rules for Dealing with Chronic Illness and Your Career

Nobody Has to Know Your Business Unless You Tell Them

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There’s a long list of people you don’t have to talk about your disease with. Your employer is on that list. Legally you don’t have to disclose shit about your disease. And hey—if your illness never has and never will affect your job performance you go on with your bad self, baby. Nobody needs to know your business.

But before you try to shove that bag of saline and IV pain killers in your purse, ask yourself one question: am I being an asshole?

Continue to talk to yourself by asking the following:

  • -Do my symptoms ever interfere with my work projects?
  • -Do I sometimes need days, weeks or even entire months off because of out-of-control flare-ups?
  • -Does my high pain level mean I might be at a higher risk to lose my shit with a rude customer?
  • -Do my sleep attacks make me an unfortunate candidate to drive the school bus?’
  • -If the plane is crashing, and I’m in the commode because of the runs associated with my chronic disease, did everyone else on the plane die because they didn’t know how to attach their oxygen masks?
  • -Does my immune deficiency disease mean that my position as a secretary at a pediatrician’s office is probably a very bad, very germ-ridden idea?

If you think your disease might impact your job performance down the road you should think about saying something. You might say something like, “Look. I have narcolepsy which means I’m going to have to create my schedule around my fatigue—but I can tell by the content on your website right now that your copy-staff are sleeping on the job anyways. They misspelled “synergy.”

With that being said, you can’t do jack shit if a company eliminates you in their search for an employee because of your illness. They can just blame it on something else, like you didn’t seem motivated enough, didn’t have enough experience, or maybe they just don’t hire Jews. What can I tell you?

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You Don’t Have the Luxury, Deal With It

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So I’m guessing that at this point in your chronic illness you’re already putting up with a lot of shit you have zero control over. Here’s another thing you can add to the list: Unlike many other people your age and in your field—you do not have the luxury of slacking off, being a bad employee, or not working hard at your job.

Sorry kid, you didn’t win the genetic lottery and I’m afraid you might not win the real one either.

The truth is that you will always have to work hard. You will always have to put all of your effort and heart into what you do for a living because you need to make a living more than most people, you need to keep your insurance more than most people, you need, more than many others you know—to not have to subject yourself to an even less accommodating position. But the good news is that when you’re good at what you do and you it’s something you like to do—the hard work is all worth it.

 

Do Something You’re Good At and Something You Like

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See it’s funny, but some people just can’t understand this concept. I think the thought process goes: oh shit, I need a job. I need a job right now, so I should apply to a lot of jobs and go with whoever takes me. I’ll apply for jobs everywhere.

And before you know it they’ve handed over their resume to the bathroom attendant for a potential internship.

DO SOMETHING YOU LIKE. Follow this train of thought. I think I either have a talent in something or I really like something or I would feel good about myself if I could help with something—I should study this thing, either at school or on my own. I should then apply to jobs within the general area of this study.

And before you know it you’re a cop, arresting somebody for trying to lure hopeful bathroom attendant applicants into a underground intern fighting ring.

Accomadate Yo Self

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Is that not the best episode of Parks and Rec or what? But seriously. This rule is about saying, “Hey! Is no one eating this doughnut right here? Good. Cause I’m hungry and I want to eat that doughnut.” It’s about realizing that the only person who can make you comfortable in your every-day-life is YOU. You control whether you sit or stand, take a break every two hours, or for two minutes every hour.

Take care of yourself by either taking or asking for things to make your life easier.

Hey Boss—can I have an upgraded desk chair for my back pain? Can I work my last few hours today from home? Can I stay a little later today so I can take off a little earlier tomorrow? There’s a lot of changes that can be made at jobs to accomadate your needs. When you choose a job that you are qualified for, good at, and make an effort in—it’s okay to ask for help. Companies want to keep good employees. And good employees can usually be found at companies that honor their requests for a comfortable work environment.

 Plan for Shit to Go Down

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Some people are alarmists. Some people are hoarders. Some people have nuclear fallout shelters underneath their kid’s tree house. I’m not saying you should be any of these people. I’m just saying that you should have a healthy sense of reality when it comes to your job security. (Just without the hard hats and twenty piles of classified ads in your car.)

Here’s a truth for you: Remission is a blissful period where your life comes together in all the empty places.

Here’s another truth for you: Chronic doesn’t mean “just that one time.”

So prepare for that worse case scenario. Prepare for the idea that you could lose your job, because your illness might return. It can happen.

Here are some great ways to prepare: constantly be updating your resume with new skills, always be on the lookout for jobs that allow you to telecommute or create your own hours, talk to your boss BEFORE you flare to see what might be appropriate in terms of accommodations.

*I realize that not everyone will agree with my advice on what to tell your employer during an interview. Share your stories and thoughts in the comment section!

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