My RA Made Getting a Job Difficult, Until I Wrote a Post on Facebook
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) struck me from nowhere when I was 28. It took a year for the initial shock of the intense symptoms to pass, and a firm diagnosis to be made. It was a year of limbo, a year of intense pain, uncertainty and irritations. If I am honest, the following year since that one has been much the same.
RA has been confronting in many ways, but one of the most significant irritations has been trying to accept that my mind and my body just do not run parallel anymore. My mind runs wild zigzags, up and down, and darting across my body with its boundless energy and enthusiasm of a puppy. My body ambles along, drooping and sagging at the weight of its pain like an elderly, sleepy cat.
I was going through my wardrobe the other day and I shoved all my clothes to one side. Looking past my clothes, I saw a three-page list of goals I blue-tacked to the wall nearly a year ago on a good day.
That’s who I am.
I am the girl with the intense desire to be moving forward, taking adventures, getting the absolute most from every moment within every day. I was in love with life, and I woke up every day blown away by the amount of time and the opportunities there were in a day to achieve the things I wanted.
I started thinking about all the ways RA has changed me and all the things it has taken from me. I started to beat myself up for how unrecognizable my life is now. I started beating myself up over the fact that I should have had 10 times the amount of goals crossed off that list by now.
Seven months ago I gave up the second job I have had to give up since the onset of RA, due to being physically incapable of completing my tasks there. My self-esteem is so intricately woven into having a job ever since my son started school four years ago.
When RA took away my ability to do the physically demanding jobs I have always done, I could have easily given up. I could’ve easily decided that work wasn’t going to work for me. I sat on the lunge and mind began to consider, “Is this it for me?”
But it couldn’t be. I was about to turn 30. I have so many years left. In a way, life is just beginning for me.
So I got up of the lounge and I accepted that as long as I have an ounce of fight left in me, I am going to use it.
I fought for seven months to get a new job. I was in intense pain from my RA, the fatigue associated with it, and my second five-week bout of pneumonia and pleurisy for the year. I could’ve felt sorry for myself or I could’ve given up, but instead I used the time to apply for hundreds of jobs, I hobbled, painful laps of shopping centers handing out resumes and introducing myself with a smile.
I applied for every job vacancy that appeared online, constantly being rejected due to my limitations or lack of skills due to needing to change to a less physical career. People were friendly, but no body wanted me. The rejection stung.
In one of the most dehumanising experiences of my life, I fought repeatedly, in-person at a government organization every few days, for two months, to get access I was entitled to, to a disability employment services provider. I then met with her every two weeks and applied for over 10 jobs every day, on my own, every vacancy I could find.
Seven months later, exhausted, humiliated, on the brink of giving up, I set my pride and ego aside and further humiliated myself. In a last-ditch effort, just short of standing on the side of the road with a sign, I posted a humble, honest post on a local Facebook page – with 50,000+ members.
I wrote about my condition, my struggle to get work, my qualities and experience and I just asked for someone to give me a chance – an interview, or a trial shift. Not a job handed to me on a plate, just an opportunity to prove myself.
I felt worthless and left behind and I was afraid to check the responses when they started to roll in.
The response was surprisingly positive and I ended up being invited to an interview.
I got an extremely good job, a job I never could have imagined. A job with amazing opportunities to grow and advance. I got a job that is the polar opposite to my previous jobs – I now work in a corporate world, wearing beautiful clothing at a desk in an air-conditioned skyscraper in the middle of the city, worlds apart from what I am used to.
In this job my illness is known and my limitations are known. I am in an office with many other people with autoimmune diseases, people who are patient and can truly understand. I don’t feel out of place when I have to wear compression gloves to type or I hobble to the bathroom in front of everyone.
After my first two weeks my boss took me in for a meeting where I thanked her for taking pity on me, after seeing my post and giving me the job. She replied, “Don’t ever think I gave you this job. I didn’t have the right to hand this job to you. I had a pile of resumes and you got this job entirely on your own merits. Your written communication skills in your Facebook post, the qualities you displayed in your interview and the way you showed how perfectly you would fit in with our team. In the last two weeks you’ve already proven yourself over and over again, so, don’t think for a second you didn’t achieve this entirely on your own merit.”
Then something occurred to me.
I still fight.
I still achieve goals. I am slower, the process is longer and harder but really, that should make achieving my goals mean more to me, not less.
With the boundless enthusiasm of a puppy, I crossed, “Get a job,” off my list after seven months. For once, I didn’t wear myself down over the things I haven’t achieved yet. Instead I thought about all the tiny, enormous goals I had to achieve within that goal, to get a job, they would amount to pages, I am sure.
I thought about all the dehumanising appointments and the mornings my self worth was non existent but I still had a shower, dressed nicely, wandered around with a smile that masked my pain and fought for my future.
It took hundreds of little goals to achieve that big one and it was all on my own merit.
I have RA and I always will, but I also want an enormous, full life. I want to make something of myself and tick things off my list. I want to feel fulfilled, and now I know that is possible.
It’s not going to look the way it used to. My body will never consistently be the part of me that zigzags with enthusiasm and energy. It’s not going to take the same amount of time. Sometimes it’s going to feel exhausting. Sometimes I am going to have to take time out and rest for days, weeks or months and give up temporarily, and curl up on my bed like a sleepy, old cat.
But sometimes, if I can set thoughts of time to the side and focus on the bigger picture – I will see the value in my slow, ambling achievements and I’ll eventually get to cross something off that massive list…And I’ll never have to feel like I don’t get to live a fulfilling life.
There is a certain empowerment and pride that comes with having to fight so hard for things that I would have taken for granted in the past.
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