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How I Learned to Balance Work With My Chronic Illness

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Balancing employment and health is a challenging experience. The demands of a job and the toll of stress and exertion upon a chronically ill body is a balancing act not to be taken lightly. But with proper care, the right circumstances and a bit of luck, it can be achieved.

Although my pediatric doctor adamantly believed I would qualify for disability due to my health, I was determined to make my own career. I’ve been fortunate to have been able to maintain full-time employment for the last seven years, although there are times when I seriously worry about my ability to continue working.

I’ve learned a lot about the importance of self-care during my career thus far to maintain my employment status. My parents instilled upon me a strong work ethic. Combine this dedication to my work with my own hard-headedness and determination, and a concoction is created for increased stress and susceptibility to illness.

During my first year of full-time employment, I experienced firsthand the serious threat stress places upon the body. I was overworked and still learning how to handle working 40 plus hours a week while maintaining my own health. My body could only withstand the stress for so long.

After about six months, my health began to suffer, and I was experiencing flare-ups on an almost daily basis. I was forced to quit my job. It took a month to find another job. During that time, my health recovered, and I have been able to work ever since after learning lessons in self-care.

I can still struggle with managing my own self-care as I often accept additional responsibilities for a temporary period or insist upon working just a bit longer even when I’m ill. I’ve learned these behaviors place extraordinary stress upon myself physically and mentally and often result in a flare-up. Therefore, maintaining my usual responsibilities and taking time off when necessary are absolutely essential for my well-being.

I’ve learned to pace myself in my work. There are days when I’m able to work 10 hours a day and other days when I can only manage four hours. Instead of pushing myself past my breaking point, I must assess my health and my capability and balance it with my work load, not only for the day but for the week before I recover during the weekend. If I need to work longer on a particular day, I’ve learned to lighten my load and increase my resting period on the day prior to my long work day.

For the past four months, I have been battling anemia after a trial period without iron or B12 medication. I became so fatigued I could hardly keep my eyes open past 11 a.m. on average. I experienced multiple symptoms of iron and B12 deficiency, and my daily functioning was greatly impaired.

I began to worry about my ability to remain employed as my work performance suffered and became unacceptable in my eyes. I voiced my concerns to my managers and restarted B12 medication on my own. I had to make a change before my functioning continued to diminish.

My employers are aware of my health issues and work with me to help me balance my health and my work. Working for an understanding employer has been key to my employment sustainability. I’m able to flex my time as needed, utilize intermittent Family Medical Leave of Absence and continue my efforts to maintain a high work performance while monitoring my health status. My managers work with me on bad days and appreciate my good days. They have faith I will complete my responsibilities, if not today then within a timely manner.

It takes a combination of effort and measures to maintain the best of health, particularly when undergoing additional demands upon your body and health. Finding the correct combination for balance takes time and effort of trial and error. It’s important to not compare your level of functioning to another as one person’s balance set won’t be the same balance set for another.

It’s vital for our well-being to find our own balance and not push ourselves past that balance in order to thrive with whatever endeavors we’re pursuing.

Follow this journey on Life’s a Polyp.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.


Originally published: March 28, 2016
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