Working with Chronic Illness

This morning was a bathroom morning, which always means disaster and incredible pain and nausea for me.  An hour or so afterwards when my head started spinning a little less, and I felt able to get up I realized that if today was a normal work day I’d be hours into my day.  As I wrote in my last post work in a lot of ways keeps me going.  It’s a complicated dance with my illness and work but learning the steps has been more than worth it.  Every job has its own politics and issues, and every illness creates its own barriers and problems.  Though I hope that some of what helps me make the relationship work may benefit someone else.

Dealing With the Boss

This Thursday was the first time in two weeks that my boss and I were in the office at the same time, which meant it was the day for the talk.  I’ve been at my job for over four years, and have built up and amazing rapport and reputation with my supervisor.  I learned very early on that when I needed to come to her with a problem, the next step was to quickly follow with a proposed solution.  I keep an attitude of responsibility over my job duties and personal issues.  Though my supervisor also always wants to be in the loop. so I always keep her up to date, and allow her into any plans I’m developing (work or personal) that go beyond “business as usual”.  She knows no matter what she can count on me.

Even so I was nervous for the meeting on Thursday, I needed to tell her that nothing was working out medically, and my next course of treatment was likely to cause several months of problems.  She knows my diagnosis, she always knows what my current status is.  Thankfully I work in the health industry, while it is mental health it’s all the same language, so in my case I go into the same detail as I would speaking to my doctor.  Which honestly can feel a little uncomfortable!  Though in my work setting this is the norm and I go with it.  I laid out what I had tried, what symptoms resulted, the plan to start Lupron,  and what issues that might cause me.  I informed her that it was likely in the next year I’d had surgery again, and just be prepared for that.  I let her know that the first month on my injection would be rocky and I’d likely need to take some time.  She was fine with that plan.

The Takeaway Points:

  1. No Surprises.  Most supervisors hate surprises, she now knows my status, how I’m feeling and my plans to take off.  She will not be blindsided, and that is the easiest way to get on an employer’s bad side.
  2. She knows that despite whats going on with me, that I’m thinking about the job.  She knows I consider work in my treatment options, and am actively trying to minimize the impact my illness has on work.
  3. She has insight into how I’m feeling and how I’m doing.  She knows why I look fatigued, pale, irritable, in pain, etc.  She doesn’t have to guess, and I have found overall at my job a thankfulness that I’m there on the bad days, rather questioning my behavior and performance.

Managing Time Off

Whether or not there is a backlog of vacation and sick days doesn’t matter, I have to be considerate in how I use my time.  When I’m not at work it affects my coworkers and the care of my clients.  So I consider a number of factors whenever I use time.  Also, I am able to flex time, so when possible I work a few hours on a Saturday or work longer days.  Saturdays so long as my pain is moderate have been a great way to make up time, no office stress and usually my body can handle being out and about for 5 hours.  Another consideration is that most offices allow sick days to be partial.  Sometimes coming in a little late will allow me to be in good shape, or more often I bit the bullet and come in and leave early if I have to.

Considerations on taking time off:

  1. How scheduled is that day?  If I have inflexible appointments that would require asking for lots of coverage from my co-workers, or would cause meetings to be rescheduled I do what I can to be available for those tasks.
  2. How useful will I be?  If I’m riding a pain level above an 8, especially if that is effecting my leg, and my pain medication is doing nothing I am next to useless, and at times a liability.  If I also have been getting poor sleep and having a lot of fatigue (often the case) I go ahead and call out and turn off my phone and sleep.
  3. Will time off benefit my health for the rest of the week?  Sometimes I’m just too run down, and if I don’t have any obligations that can’t be rescheduled it’s worth taking a day and catching up on rest.  Often if I have ridden through a few bad days due to having lots of work obligations as soon as I can I take a day to catch up with myself.  Also, when my pain and other assorted issues are maintaining I don’t take time off since the benefit is limited.

Being considerate of how your time effects co-workers and the job itself goes a long way to maintaining relationships and job performance.  With chronic illness just about any day can feel like taking off for, but learning to balance taking time, maintaining health, and continuing to do the job is a good way to protect the job.

Dealing with Coworkers

I work in a team setting if I am not on the right side of my team my job becomes impossible.  Though no matter what the job is we are not islands.  How we treat others, and how much we have collaborative relationships with those we work with definitely affects our stress level and job performance.


  1. I don’t hide what I’m feeling, if a coworker asks how I’m doing I give an honest answer.  In personal conversations I talk about my illness and treatment.  However, I also LISTEN.  I take time to hear about what my co-workers are going through.  I show genuine concern and do my best to look out for them on their bad days.
  2. I only ask for help when I really need it.  To not need a lot of help I carefully schedule my time, and balance my activities to easily be something I can do.  I try to do more of the things that are easy for me (e.g. I’ll take a long drive over a long walk).
  3. I do what I can to help out.  Whenever I can easily add something into my schedule, or if I am having a good day I pitch in.  Especially if I have recently needed to take time or call in favors.
  4. I keep my word.  If I had to have someone cover on a day off, I readjust my schedule to do that same task the next time it comes up.  If I promised to do something for someone else that day, and I called out I flex some of the sick time and make sure I keep my obligation.

One of the blessings of my illness is that I have come to appreciate the people around me more.  I’ve recognized I am vulnerable, and fallible.  Since becoming ill I’ve become a better person to those I work with.

No Matter How I Feel There is a Job to Do

Sickness can easily make us selfish, we become focused on our own pain and self-protection.  This mindset can easily cost us our jobs and personal relationships.  The rest of the world still needs and expects my contributions, and if I don’t step up I just lose out.  I do my best to remember what I love about my job, be mindful of how my performance affects those around me.  I do my best to remember that if I’m feeling sick most of the time I’d feel that way regardless of where I am and what I’m doing.  However, I also remember I am not invincible and do what I can to take care of myself while having the least amount of impact on those around me.

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