As a woman turning 30 this year, I have been employed and living with a chronic illness. I have had a full-time job in several different fields with my chronic illness. There have been ups and there have been downs, but I have never felt discriminated against because of my illness. Over time I have come to realise two very important things about being able to have a job and live with a chronic illness. One is that I did not ‘have it bad’. The other is that if you are open in your communication with your employer and co-workers, and diligent in your job, there is no reason for you to ‘have it bad’. Was this the case for me? And if so, why?
Selecting a job, or career path
In our society, here in Australia, equality does exist. For the better part in some instances employers even try their hand at equity. I have defined these two before, but in case you do not want to read this here, I will briefly clarify. Equality is providing the equal opportunity and access for all peoples. Equity is taking this opportunity and providing the individual details to each person so they can equally access their opportunity. You must make the first move yourself. The first responsibility when applying for work is to ensure you are applying for a position you can actually do.
The obscurity of some careers
This is a very new and difficult topic for me. You can be as self-aware and as honestly realistic as possible, and still trip in this section. I have spent the past five years of my life proving time and again that mentally and academically I make a great candidate for work in the education sector. Now in the final semester of my degree I have had to concede defeat. Whilst I am academically capable of this job I am not mentally able to handle the stress. How that stress impacts upon my thinking and ability to move is not great. It is only in these last few months that this has become clear, which means that for years my performance was acceptable. I could have done the job.
Flexibility and Adaptivity is Crucial
Learning that the thing I had been studying and excelling at for so long was just not accessible to me anymore was crushing. Nevertheless, I had to quickly determine how all of my knowledge and desires can be best used in a way that means something other than my original aspirations, teaching. My illness is such that I cannot teach. If I am not able to now, at what is likely the peak of my health, then living with a chronic illness implies I may not get there in the future. Some jobs you will just want so badly to do but you will need to accept when to move on. I spoke to all the people in my wider circle of confidantes and mentors and was provided with some avenues. All of them were difficult and meant a longer, harder track. I will never be able to fluidly find a direct path for my degree, but that was not a reason to stop, sit down and cry, or give up. I learned that the money won’t come as easily, if at all. I also have learned what it is like to write a resume and attend interviews with a chronic illness resume.
A Chronic Illness Resume
This is not a thing, but you do need it on hand when looking for a job. You are now applying (presumably) for positions you can legitimately fill, but what do you look like to your future employer? As well as submitting a CV for a position you may need to casually but confidently introduce them to your medical history in a way that doesn’t scream ‘too hard’. If you are epileptic, your driving licence can be questioned, or how to ‘manage’ you during a seizure. Your past dates of seizures, if they are semi-frequent, is pertinent. The regularity of your medication consumption, especially if you need insulin checks or cortisone injections. Any allergies and your potential cardiovascular episodes, or the like should be discussed. This doesn’t need to be scary or fill you with dread. In Australia, we are so so lucky to have a government that has established equal opportunities for employment. Many companies and workplaces are now ‘Equal Opportunity Workplaces’ and therefore cannot discriminate you unjustly if you disclose this information during an interview. Yes, they may still, but with proof you can take it to the Fair Work Ombudsman. Otherwise you may think to question if you applied for a position that it would be unsafe for you and others to work in.
Your Job and Your Medicalert
Wherever I travel, I take with me a small purse. Inside are the business cards of my ‘next of kin’s as well as my Medicalert document and a resuscitation mask. The Medicalert document comes with your subscription and safety bracelet/ necklace/ dog tag. It lists your medication, your illnesses, your next of kin and doctor, and your allergies. You get one of these when you purchase your Medicalert safety bracelet/ necklace/ dog tag and if you have an illness and have not yet got one then please do so, mine has saved my life three times in the past four years. The resuscitation mask is a little red bag you can buy for a few dollars from St John’s Ambulance and really should have it regardless of if you feel you need it personally. Safety in emergency situations mandates you protect both yourself and injured parties, and you should never give CPR to a person without a resuscitation mask. ANYWAY, the point of this purse overall is this: I always have it on me. If anything happens to me there is always at least one person near who knows what to do if I ‘go down’. I introduce everyone I am with to it always and every time. The Medicalert document that comes with it should be copied by your workplace and kept in a place First Aiders and First Responders can access.
In the end
The potential for a person with a chronic illness to gain and retain full-time work, if they so desire it, is high. I was a person who was once fully able-bodied and mentally capable of work in all fields and areas. So, I can attest to the feeling of loss that comes over you when you realise you need to be selective, adaptable and flexible with your job opportunities. Work is possible, but you need to be realistic about what you can do, where you will fit and how you will make it work. I stress you because it is you who needs to do this. It won’t be easy. But that is okay, it still can be done. Next week, I hope to share a bit more with you about how I have introduced flexibility and elongated time on the road to my desired outcome. Hopefully through seeing how I have overcome my situation, career-wise, you too may be able to come up with ideas? Who knows, maybe I will be able to offer you exactly the ideas and answers you need?