Working When you Have an Autoimmune Disease

Girl thinking

Article by Wendy McCance

There has been something on my mind this week that I would like to address.  I have been wanting to write about autoimmune disease and working.  Having an autoimmune disease (fibromyalgia) really has an impact on your life.  My personal experience has been of trying to adjust my lifestyle in a way that will allow me to enjoy my life without pushing myself to hard.  It’s really a ridiculous statement.  I want to feel invincible.  Being able to do what you would like with friends, family, activities and so on is much more difficult and downright frustrating when you have health issues.  I would give anything to be able to take on any project I would like without having to consider my health.

Fibromyalgia wears me down.  If I spend the day really cleaning the house the way I’d like (for instance), I pay for it that night and sometimes for a few days after.  I end up in a lot of pain and feel wiped out.  It feels like you have the flu.  Your body aches and is too sensitive to touch.  Your exhaustion is like someone who hasn’t slept in days.  Not a fun feeling.  An all day outing with friends can trigger this reaction.  Spending a day in the sun can do a number on me as well.

This brings me to the topic of working.  Working is difficult without a delicate balance of knowing how much you can take.  I have come to realize that I can’t sit for eight hours.  My body tightens up and I end up in horrible pain.  If I were to do physical activities as part of my job, it can’t be too strenuous or for too much of my day.  Standing all day isn’t any better.

The economy is awful right now and finding any job is a challenge.  What does a person do when finding a job is tricky and trying to accommodate a health issue makes job prospects much tougher?  What I have found is that there are a few things I can do to make my chances of having a successful working life possible.  Here is a look at what I needed to consider as I looked to find employment.

Job Considerations:

1.  Can’t stand or sit for long periods of time (several hours).
2.  Being in hot temperatures triggers symptoms
3.  Flexibility is needed in case I have a bad day.  I need to be able to take care of my health without worry of losing a job.
4.  I need a career not a job.  I don’t want to make $10.00 an hr. for the rest of my life.
5.  I have children and need some flexibility around important events in their life.
6.  It would be nice to actually find a career that I have an interest in.

It is true that not all of the above items have to do with my health.  I want to give you an accurate picture of all of the things that are important to me and were contemplated.  The last few items aren’t as important as the first few, but if I want to be happy, content and look forward to work, these items are truly important.

So taking everything into consideration, I chose real estate.  I won’t be standing or sitting for incredibly long hours.  I can tailor my time around my health to some extent.  This also works in my favor when it comes to my kids.  I have the possibility of making a good living.  I won’t have to stress about needing a nap or starting my day a little later if needed.

This last week was the ultimate test of how badly I wanted this career.  I had a one week class for my pre-licensure for real estate.  The hours were 9-5pm Monday-Friday.  I spoke with the teacher ahead of time to let her know that I would possibly need to get up and stretch my legs every now and then.  She was remarkably understanding and said she had health issues to and could relate.  I sat next to a side door so that if I got up, I wouldn’t disturb the class.  I’d also like to note that there were several people in this class that had health issues that limited them.  I was so surprised and at the same time, it was comforting to me.

After school, I had to study like I never have before.  I would come home and sometimes take a nap before jumping into my studying.  Every night as I came into the house I looked like I had been run over by a bus.  I was dragging and in pain and it sucked.  My wonderful husband took over the cooking, cleaning and taking care of the kids so I could put all of my effort into this crazy busy week.  My naps would last an hour or two.  When I got up I would study until midnight and then go to sleep.  I would be up each day around 6am to get the kids ready for school and then go to school myself.  I did it, barely.  I passed the final exam.

Over the weekend, I crashed, hard.  I haven’t been able to sleep because I am so overly tired and hurt so much.  Even so, I can tell you that it was worth it.  Now I have to study for the state exam so that I can get my license and start my job.

I have come to realize that you can’t let an illness get in the way of your life.  I am determined to be a success.  I won’t let this dreadful ailment get the best of me.  It terrifies me that it could ruin my life if I don’t push myself and stay stubborn about having what I want in life.

My message here is that things happen in people’s lives that aren’t fair and make life rough.  Your challenge is in deciding how much your health issue will rule your life.  Health problems are like horrible bullies that continuously knock you down.  Cry it out if you need to.  Shake out the frustration and then get mad.  Learn to push it around and take over your life.  Decide what works and what doesn’t and find a way to make the necessary changes.  Much easier said than done, but I hope that the words in this post can inspire you or someone you know in this predicament to find the strength to make life as close to everything it can be.

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Wendy McCance

Wendy McCance is a Michigan based freelance writer and social media consultant. Wendy has gained attention as the founder of the popular blog Searching for the Happiness which can be viewed in 9 local papers online, including the Oakland Press. The combination of writing skills and social media knowledge is what makes Wendy such a powerhouse to work with. Stay tuned for opportunities to advertise, guest post and as always, have your questions answered.

To contact Wendy McCance about a writing or social media assignment, interview or speaking engagement, please email her at: mccance.wendy@gmail.com

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30 thoughts on “Working When you Have an Autoimmune Disease

  1. Although I don’t have an auto immune disease, I do have a broken neck. I’m good most of the time, but limited on how long I can walk or how many stairs I can go up at one time. Also, my doctors told me not to lift more than 10 lbs. Congratulations to all of you for coping with and often conquering your limitations.

  2. I have fibromyalgia too. I work a full-time day job and I am a self-employed tutor and I write. I am a bit unconventional in lots of way with my fibre – I need heat to help ease my pain. I have hot water bottles in summer!

  3. As a fellow sufferer of Fibromyalgia I have to congratulate you. I recently wrote a post that will be up on my blog soon asking what others are managing to do for work when they battle Fibro each day. I work in a bustling industry and have been trying to figure out how much longer I can keep up with the 50 hour a week job description. Congrats on passing the class and best of luck with you state exam. I am hoping to figure out what my next move will be so that I can accommodate my list of requirements.

    • Thanks for your wonderful comment. I can’t even wrap my head around a 50hr work week such as your describing. When you get your post up, please let me know. I’d love to read the article and pass it around to others who could benefit from your thoughts. 🙂

  4. Oh my friend, you make my troubles seem small in comparison. As you know, I am dyslexic. I agree that it takes courage, determination and stubbornness to push through to the other side. You my friend give us all the knowledge that it is possible. Rock on girl friend. :)))

    • Thanks. Honestly I can’t even wrap my head around what you go through. Words are everywhere. You need to be able to read signs, read directions, use the internet and on top of everything you were teaching and writing? You are the one who amazes me.

  5. I know what you are going through because I was diagnosed with Scleroderma/Polymyositis last year after suffering in pain for over 18 months. The doctor had no idea what it was and said maybe I had done some excessive exercise and had shin splints because I had such agony in my legs. By the end I could hardly walk or go upstairs. I hardly had any strength left. Luckily, the surgeon who did a carpal tunnel operation noticed some symptoms on my hands and I told him about the pain I had been having. He referred me to a rheumatologist and I have been having treatment for a year. I am now back at work after a year off. It is hard but I feel most days that I am getting stronger.
    I wish you the very best in the future.

    • Thanks for your comment. I’m so glad you are doing better and that your doctor figured out what was wrong. The worst is when you bounce from doctor to doctor without getting any answers or help. Every comment means the world to me because there are so many people who could use some support that they aren’t the only ones. Thanks so much.

  6. Hi,
    I have suffered from Rheumatoid Arthritis now for eight years. I’m 68 years old and retired.. Fortunately I have not had to experience the disease you describe. RA however can be somewhat debilitating if you let it. What I have discovered, if it is any help, is that I have to take control of my body and my medications. Not all specialists are as smart as they think, although there are a few good ones out there, and their advice can be sound. Luckily I also I have a good GP who has been a great help and is a good listener. Anyway, I can say I fully understand the frustration and the need to keep changing position etc., as well as the pain. My personal way of handling this auto immune disease has been to get back to my old exercise routine, and watch my diet closely. Although unable to do what I used to, I make sure I walk at least 3 miles a day, or more often if I can, and do some limited strength exercises. I also keep my mind and body busy doing a lot of physical work around the garden, digging and building various things. I have found that in so doing, I have, so far, been able to keep the demons at bay, and live a relatively normal and to a great extent pain free life.
    For me at least keeping both the mind and body busy and exercised, has helped tremendously. I would certainly recommend it.
    Hope this is helpful!

    • Hi Roy, I know someone who has RA and it can be quite a challenging disease. Your advice is great and you are truly inspiring. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  7. What a struggle having an autoimmune illness has been for me. But it did become easier once I learned that I couldn’t do as much as before, and to accept my limitations. Thanks for your encouraging words. I’m glad you found a career that works.

  8. As a woman who has suffered from fibromyalgia for many years now I want to say, “Well done”! It is so difficult at times to keep going when all you want to do is curl up into a fetal ball and sleep…I applaud you for your efforts. Please keep us up to date on your progress… Best of luck with your new career!

    • Hi Sylvia, I’m sorry you are going through this as well. It’s always so reassuring to hear from others who know what it’s like. Thanks for the kind words. 🙂

  9. Wendy I am very proud of your for pulling yourself through phase one. It is such a ‘aggrevation’ for lack of better words, to force your body to do something. It ticks you off more when you can see the little gremlins laughing at you from the corner, thinking they are going to win the round. But continue forward and keep your mind strong while nourishing your body. I know you will ace the state exam! You are going to be one helluvan agent!

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