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Why Success Looks Different for Me as Someone With Chronic Illnesses

I used to think success meant following the “typical” path the majority of the people I knew went on – graduate college, get a good job, become financially secure, move out of my parents’ house to my own place and continue my education, to name a few of my personal ambitions. For a long time, I thought this sequence of events in life was the only option for me. I never pictured any other situation in my future. I never really had a reason to imagine these things would not happen for me. I figured if I worked hard and displayed kindness to everyone around me, I could build the life I envisioned.

When I graduated from college in May of 2015, I honestly had no clue what I really wanted to do, or even what field I wanted to work in. I knew I wanted to help people, and I felt confident that my psychology degree was going to help me do so.

I didn’t realize how difficult finding a job would be until I was actually searching. The process of submitting applications and interviewing for dozens of jobs was extremely anxiety-provoking. I felt constant — mostly self-imposed, but also societal — pressure to find the perfect fit and make money as soon as possible. Finding that right fit has been and continues to be an extremely stressful and difficult task.

Over the course of working in a variety of positions, I faced many obstacles, primarily due to my anxiety. For example, I learned I cannot tolerate a high-stress, fast-paced environment or highly stressful job responsibilities. Multitasking is nearly impossible for me, and I don’t deal well with confrontation. Since my fibromyalgia diagnosis in 2017, I have to forego performing highly physical work. It may sound like I’m being too picky, but I want to be successful in a job, and I know the above things will not result in success. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for another.

In all honesty, the longest job I have held lasted three months. I used to be ashamed of that, thinking I was a failure for leaving jobs for which I wasn’t suited. I now know my choice to leave these jobs was necessary, and despite my thoughts, not my fault. I didn’t choose to have anxiety, depression, chronic pain and other mental and physical health issues. I’ve learned to accept that. However, I am frustrated by the fact that my resume reflects the opposite. A resume doesn’t tell the whole story. It doesn’t reflect my strong desire to work. It doesn’t reflect the reasons for the multiple gaps in my employment history.

I would have much rather been working than in treatment for my eating disorder or spending years with symptoms no doctor could diagnose. I really struggled in college, and fought tooth and nail to earn my bachelor’s degree. I even earned my personal training certification last year, but my physical pain flared up and has left me unable to exercise for the time being. I volunteer, keep a blog and am even working on a book. I am doing all of the right things. I just wish employers would see beyond my resume and actually give me a chance. I was talking to someone about this recently, and I said, “I feel like I’m being punished for something I didn’t do.”

I know I am not the only one in this tough situation, and that is why I want to bring this topic to the public eye. If this story resonates with you or a loved one, please know I empathize with you, and you are not alone.

Getty image by Fizkes.