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6 Tips for Anyone With Chronic Illness About to (Re)enter the World of Work


I wrote about my experience undertaking a postgraduate degree not long after I was diagnosed with lupus. With the degree in the bag, I have just completed an internship – my first experience of full time work since my diagnosis forced me to quit my teaching job. Of course, five months as an intern does not equate to the experience of many who have worked for years with chronic illness, but while it is fresh in my head, I thought I would jot down tips for anyone about to (re)enter the world of work:

Tell your supervisors.

I opted to not tell my supervisors during this internship. Despite telling my university tutors, which really helped when my sickness was threatening my grades, for some reason I decided not to tell the people I would be working for. Maybe it was out of fear of prejudice – I did not want my first impression to be “I’m sick, I might need time off” – even though this was true. I knew people would be understanding, but as reactions to hearing about lupus can be anything from supportive to “Stay away demon!” it makes you hesitate to disclose. But after speaking with a friend who lives with diabetes, she recommended that I tell supervisors in the future and that there is rarely any judgment. So for my next internship/job, my supervisor will know. After all, it is better they know in advance than to suddenly hear, “I can’t come into work today because I’m in the hospital!”

Prep meals when you have the energy.

When you have a little energy, make your future tired self grateful by prepping your work lunches to grab and go. Also, freeze your prepped dinners to heat up in the evening when after a long day the last thing you can think about is cooking from scratch. Have the ingredients for easy to prepare meals when you’re in between (such as a stir fry – always a winner!). But also don’t be too hard on yourself if you succumb and buy a ready-made sandwich or meal.

Don’t overwork yourself in your spare time.

As tempting as it can be to fill your free time with other activities, doing too much can overwork you more than your day job. Learn to pace yourself, and to say no! If you need an evening snoozing with Netflix on in the background, rather than going to the gym or volunteering or taking an evening class or grabbing drinks – don’t guilt trip yourself for doing so.

Wear comfortable work clothes.

Remember that story of the woman who was sent home for not wearing heels? If you have a boss like that, complain. If you’re spending 9-5 or more in an outfit, even if it has to be smart, make sure it is comfy and suits your needs. Heels aren’t necessary to do your job. And there are plenty of loose-fitting but still smart clothes to rock up to work in.

Get up and stretch.

If you are sitting at a desk all day, it is important to move every so often – I always did when I felt my joints aching and stiffening. Office work can leave anyone with back problems, etc., so when you’re a little more fragile than the average person, not only move around and stretch your legs, but if needed look into buying supportive items that might help you when you’re working hard.

Remember you are human.

And not a superhuman (but still super!). Any bad day, any time you struggle with workload or to remember important details – tomorrow is always a new day.

Getty photo by g-stockstudio