Anyone who lives with a chronic illness comes to a point in their life where they begin to ask a simple question: how does this impact on my employability? Our place of employment is where we spend most of our day, week, month and year. Not only does someone with an illness worry about getting a job they can do and enjoy doing, but there is a heightened dread of being discriminated against. So, what happens when you can’t fully access your ‘maximum’ as far as employability is concerned? Have you had to think about what kind of job ‘you suit’ as well as what kind of job ‘suits you’? I cannot talk to you about the serious side, regarding your rights and ‘whatnot’ sorry, basically because that content can fill the better half of a business degree. What I can do is tell you how I have fared in different work environments, as well as how I feel my illness has and will impact my future employability.
Are you employable?
If you are not, and have never been, health-incapacitated then you may not have asked yourself this question. And yet, it is a question that I cannot get out of my head. Am I employable? If so, how employable am I? I do not know how to truly impress upon you the depth this question is embedded in my mind. While I am mentally capable of many jobs, I am not able to work in high-stress situations, or in transport, with large crowds, and enclosed spaces. I panic whenever I meet a potential employer, as I am new to the whole ‘epilepsy thing’. How soon do I tell someone that I have epilepsy? Worse, how soon do I disclose the possibility that lesions will form in my brain, impacting on my epilepsy, speech, coordination and memory? These may seem obvious to some people, yet I am filled with such a dread that these facts will be used against me in the application and interview stages.
How Much Does Health Interfere with my Employability?
My first position after I was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) was in sales in home living room furniture company. I was late often, and in fact the only reason I feel I could get to work at that time was the 9am opening hours. I spent most of the time at work in one comfortable armchair or another, to compensate for the heels I wore. In the role I took on next, I was strictly data entry, which appropriately suited the needs of the disease. The hours were 9am to 5pm, for 5 days a week and were only so taxing as to require a good tint on my reading glasses and comfortable shoes for a lunch-break stroll in North Fremantle. Now, as we know though, I am coming to the end of my degree in Education and only just received the news that I cannot be a teacher due to the impact of my Lupus Cerebritis on my brain. There are times when you know you need to fight, and times you just need to step back and bow gracefully. This news of the extent of my brain damage is one of the times when the disease wins.
Am I employable?
For me, considering my SLE Lupus, I am very employable, brain fog and all. It is the same for many, I feel, when you are passionate or confident about something you are able to prioritise things in your mind. In my mind I often managed to prioritise me over my body meaning most of the time the everyday bothers of Lupus SLE didn’t seem as bad. When your mind is the piece in question, and this interferes with your memory, speech, movements and overall composure, you cannot let your health take the backseat. It will rear its’ head out at you and take any steps it feels necessary to function as best as it can. And if this means meddling with your mind a bit then so be it. So, am I employable? Physically there is nothing wrong with me finding work, if I choose a practical, low-impact, low-stress, mostly sedentary position within a company. You know, the type of work that is rational and logical for someone with a body like mine. If that work is not; close to home, close to public transport, largely sedentary, asking me to communicate with large amounts of people, asking me to be upwardly mobile, asking me to be in charge of large-scale projects and operations, then it is not for me.
In the end I am employable for many jobs, except the one I have been studying and training at university for these past five years. I do not cope with stress now, not since my breakdown last year. Nor do I recall large portions of what I have learned in my degree. That information is probably what hurts me the most. The technical knowledge is there but the practical implications for applying this have gone. My ability to perform is just not there, when children are around and I am expected to draw them in and create my learning experiences for them I just fall flat. On paper, I am for flipping employable for my field it isn’t funny but in reality, I only have what it takes to be a passenger.
I am not the only person who has lost their capacity to perform due to their illness and I will not be the last. Sometimes the way we lose our abilities is not the way we had anticipated or expected. All we can know is that the law is structured to give everyone a fair go. Every person is employable and can, at the very least, try. There is a way that we can all do what we want to and people you come across do want you to succeed. If you have an illness you are employable. While my Lupus, SLE and Cerebritis, have only affected my employability so much, this is a good indication of how much your illness or disease can have an impact on your employability.