To Those Who Say Chronically Ill People Are 'So Lucky' Not to Work Full-Time

Have you ever had the “joy” of experiencing a conversation similar to this on a Sunday afternoon?

“What time do you start work tomorrow?”

“Ummm, I don’t work on Mondays.”

“Ahhh, you’re so lucky!”

I lost count of the number of times I’ve had similar conversations. I understand that for most people, not having to work on a Monday would be a gift, a luxury. But I don’t work Mondays, nor Wednesdays, Thursdays or Saturdays. Even the days I do work are only half days. I know many people would love to work only three days a week, but not me.

Many chronic illnesses can cause chronic fatigue, pain, vertigo, nausea, migraines, weak bladder or bowel, overwhelming sadness, debilitating anxiety, low immunity and muscle weakness. On top of the symptoms there are often pharmaceutical side effects: drowsiness, memory loss, reduced cognitive ability, excessive sweating, insomnia, anxiety, nausea, trouble breathing and heart palpitations, just to name a few.

If these symptoms and side effects can impact one’s ability to complete the simplest, everyday tasks, how much more can it minimize one’s capacity to maintain employment? If you have severe, chronic back pain, both manual labor and sitting for extended periods of time are not possible. If you have muscle weakness, you lose your ability to lift and hold things. If you’re always tired, your concentration lapses and therefore, productivity reduces. If you’re symptoms are sporadic, you may feel fine at 7 a.m., but by the time you leave for work an hour later you simply can’t. You have to call in sick last minute.

Personally, if I work more much more than 15 hours a week, my ability to do housework, study, exercise, cook healthily, socialize and participate in leisure activities decreases dramatically. Even then, 15 hours of work does not provide the income needed to live in Australia. Imagine adding the costs of doctors visits, tests, alternate therapies and medications to an already stretched budget. I can’t begin to imagine what I’d do with a full-time income.

I can only dream of a day when I may be able to have sustainable full-time work. If you have the capacity to a maintain full-time job and have managed to be employed full-time (which isn’t easy in itself), I believe you are the lucky one. My full-time job is staying healthy and looking after my body. I don’t get paid for that. There is no financial gain. Instead, my job success relies on hiring a team of people to help and support me. It’s not cheap!

So, next time you are tempted to tell someone who doesn’t work full-time that they’re lucky because they don’t have to go into the office tomorrow, please reconsider. Yes, maybe they do have the best job in the world, but maybe, just maybe, they don’t feel lucky. Maybe they would do almost anything to switch bodies and jobs with you because you are the lucky one.

Follow this journey on Breaking Stigma.

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