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What I've Learned About Managing A Chronic Illness At Work

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Balancing employment and chronic illness is a challenging experience. My pediatric doctor adamantly believed I would qualify for disability benefits due to being diagnosed with Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP) at age eight, however I was determined to make my own career; my parents instilled upon me a strong work ethic.

I've been fortunate to maintain full-time employment since 2009, although there were times when I seriously worried about my ability to continue working. During the first year back at work I was still learning how to handle 40+ hours a week while maintaining my health. I felt over-worked and my body couldn’t take the stress any longer, so after about six months my health began to suffer.

I've learned a lot about the importance of self-care.

Stress definitely affects my straight pull-through and short bowel syndrome, resulting in bathroom trips every 5-10 minutes for hours when it's a really bad flare. I was experiencing flare-ups almost daily and was forced to quit my job. It's important for my well-being to find a balance and not push myself past the breaking point. The demands of a job and the toll of exertion on a chronically ill body is a balancing act not to be taken lightly.

I still struggle with managing my own self-care. I often accept additional responsibilities or insist upon working just a bit longer even when I’m ill. I've learned that these behaviors place extraordinary stress on me physically and mentally, often resulting in a flare up. It's important to pace myself because there are days when I’m able to work 10 hours and other days when I can only manage 4 hours. Instead of pushing myself past my breaking point, I stop assess my health and my capability. I lighten my load and increase rest days prior to a long work day.

I've learned the importance of having open communication.

My employers are aware of my health issues and work with me to help balance my health and job responsibilities. Working for an understanding employer and openness about my illness has been key to my employment sustainability. I'm able to flex my time as needed, utilize intermittent Family Medical Leave, 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 that I will complete my responsibilities, if not today then within a timely manner. It was important for me not to compare my work level to that of my co-workers, as we all have different strengths and capabilities. With proper care, the right circumstances and a bit of luck, full-time employment can be achieved.

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Check out the Life's a Polyp shop, proceeds go to NORD Familial Polyposis Research Fund.

This post originally appeared on Life's A Polyp.