Those of us with chronic illness are warriors. That’s why we like to push ourselves to our limits because we want to show everyone that we can do whatever we set our minds to. We often push ourselves so much so that we end up compromising on our health. This is not a healthy habit. Balancing our health and career goals can be daunting, but it’s totally possible.
When I was first diagnosed, I thought I had to give up my career goals. I was given a list of limitations and I began to apply that to the things I wanted to pursue. Limiting myself only caused me more grief and I started to fall victim to comparison. Truth is, my career goals were not taken away from me due to my chronic disease. They only shifted in a new direction. I thought I knew what I wanted to do before, but now I have a better sense of who I am and what I am passionate about.
With my undergraduate degree in International Business, my intention was to travel for work. Traveling went from being something I truly enjoyed, to something that required way too much extra work. While I still yearn to travel and see the world, I just have to take a few extra precautions that a normal person would not. I was easily pulled into the IBD community and found a way to volunteer for other patients like myself through the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. I have raised money for the Foundation, participated in the spin4 crohn’s and colitis cures event, and I lead the IBD support group in Reno. Through this volunteer work, I began to truly understand my calling of helping patients with chronic illness.
Without my diagnosis, I would not have been put in the position to volunteer for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. Without their support, I would not be as successful as I am today. My volunteerism has made my dreams of starting a non-profit someday come to fruition. While I am still figuring out what I want this non-profit to entail, I feel so much closer to achieving my career dreams than I was before. Luckily, I am still early in my career journey and I know that I do not have to have it all figured out right now. There is so much time to explore my interests and what I love.
It is important to be honest and transparent with your coworkers or managers about your condition. I chose to tell only a few of my coworkers in the beginning because I trusted them and it allowed them to support me when I needed to take a day off or leave early. Being transparent about your disease will give you more flexibility and allow a level of understanding between you and your coworkers. No one is asking you to go into extreme detail but just a simple “hey, some days I don’t feel well and may need to leave work early” or “I have two doctor appointments per month that I have to go to, I’ll mark them on my calendar.” I am lucky to have a very supportive team at work that cares about me. Working from home is also a godsend for IBD patients. I am hoping that in the future more companies will be open to adopting remote work policies.
I am a huge advocate of not celebrating overwork! It is not healthy for anyone to spend so much time working that you forget to take care of yourself. Use your personal days and sick time if you truly need it, and don’t feel guilty for that. You can still accomplish all your career goals, you just need to find the right balance of self-care and hard work. Who knows, maybe your diagnosis is leading you in a new direction that you otherwise would not have explored! Trust the process. You’ll never know unless you try.
Natalie Hayden has a great blog post about the benefits of WFH for IBD patients that can provide a better understanding of where we come from. Give it a read and let me know in the comments how you balance work and a healthy lifestyle.