How Developing Chronic Illness at University Enhanced My Career
When I first started to experience chronic illness while studying for my undergraduate degree, I was overwhelmed. I was no longer able to participate in my studies, work, and social life in the way I was used to. This left me feeling very uncertain about my future and the big career goals I had set for myself. Fortunately, this was only the beginning of my story.
My experience with chronic illness at university felt like a huge burden at the time, but it turned out to be the catalyst for the career and life in which I thrive now.
I will be honest — it was a rocky journey completing my Bachelor of Journalism. I pulled out of units, completed study from home, and extended my degree more times than I can count. I remember submitting an online exam from hospital and thinking it was some kind of miracle I made it through that semester!
The more I encountered both physical and mental health difficulties, the more I found myself writing about health issues in my journalism studies. I was fascinated with the complex web of healthcare locally and globally, and what this means for people who experience disability. Ultimately, I decided to build on this interest by following my bachelor’s degree with a Master of Health Promotion. I absolutely loved learning about public health systems, preventative health, and how to use communications to create change in the health industry.
While my passion was very clear, I was unsure if I would be employable given my difficult journey and ongoing health needs. I would compare myself to others and question whether I was good enough. As I learned to manage my chronic health conditions, I became more confident with my skills and knowledge. I started off small by taking freelance writing work and building up my portfolio of communication skills. Before long I started to “back myself” and was offered my first job in health promotion. Not only was I able to get work, I have since been able to excel and really just enjoy my career in health promotion. I am good at my job and I am more than capable to have the career I envisioned.
Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to take on additional casual work with a lived experience program co-designing resources and training for women with disabilities. It has been an amazing experience collaborating with other women who have similar experiences of illness and disability. I would not have had this opportunity without the same experiences I was so worried would hold back my career.
Even in my other work across different health issues, I am grateful for my own lived experience of disability. It has not only enhanced my compassion for others, but it has also given me a broader perspective of healthcare.
The perspective of lived experience is actually sought-after professionally. Many organizations recognize lived experience as a vital voice in healthcare — and those that don’t are absolutely missing out.
My life and career may not be exactly as I envisioned when I started my Bachelor of Journalism all those years ago, but it’s something pretty special. I would encourage anyone experiencing disability or other barriers to education to embrace their experiences. You never know where it might get you.