How To Guide: Your Career & Autoimmune Disease

Work is a major part of life. It is tough to keep up with it when you’re healthy, add an autoimmune disease on top of everything and it can be incredibly stressful and demanding to perform well at work.

So how do we make work, work? First things first, you need to select a job that is going to fit your personal needs as a person fighting an autoimmune disease.

Here are some questions to ask yourself and factors to consider:

  • Will this job cause a significant amount of stress in my life?: Stress is the number 1 trigger for autoimmune diseases. A job that is going to be a big source of stress is definitely a job you should avoid at all costs.

  • Is this job too physically demanding?: Depending on your autoimmune disease, you may suffer from muscle, bone, joint problems. If that is a case, a labor intensive job might not be a great fit. Even a job that requires a decent amount of standing time can be a problem, so make sure you take that into consideration.

  • Can I realistically keep up with this schedule?: Across the board, fatigue is a major issue for most autoimmune fighters. A job that requires a lot of overtime, has a long commute, or generally long hours might be too difficult to keep up with.

  • Is the job/employer flexible?: Flexibility is key when it comes to working with an autoimmune disease. It’s important to have a supervisor that understands your needs and is willing to be flexible as long as the job gets done.For example,  this might mean having the ability to work part time or work from home.

Realistically, you might have to make a sacrifice when it comes to your career. Your dream job might be one that is impossible for you to keep up with. But don’t be discouraged! I believe that everything happens for a reason. There are always other paths to take that can bring you happiness. I never in a million years thought I would end up working in the healthcare field. After I was diagnosed, my priorities shifted and I’ve ended up in jobs I am passionate about and making a difference in. Had I not gotten sick, I likely would have never explored this career path that I am on in the healthcare and biotech industry.

So you’ve chosen a job and are ready to start working! What now?

  • Be upfront and honest with your supervisor: If your disease has a significant impact on your life, it is in your best interest to talk to your boss about how it affects you. You don’t have to get into detail if you do not feel comfortable doing so, but you should definitely make sure you cover the basics. Explain that you have an autoimmune disease which is a chronic disorder that causes you x, y, and z. X, Y, and Z might be that you get tired easily, or you have to go to more doctor’s appointments than the average person, that you have good days and bad days etc. Make sure you explain the parts of your disease that will ultimately interfere with your job. (If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your supervisor, get in touch with Human Resources at the company and they will be able to help facilitate an arrangement to fit your needs).

  • Don’t be afraid to be candid about your needs: Help your boss to understand that you might have different needs than others. Whether this be working from home one day a week or being allowed to get up and walk every 20 minutes – don’t hesitate to ask! As long as your work gets done, your supervisor isn’t likely to mind adjusting here and there.

Why be open about your disease in the workplace?

  • It’s for your benefit: Being open about your disease is going to lead to a more healthy and productive work environment for you. If everyone is on the same page and you have the proper accommodations you are less likely to be stressed and be overall happier at your job.

  • Your supervisor will appreciate it: Your boss likely doesn’t want to be in the dark. It could end up being a source of frustration for your boss if you have to work from home frequently because you are in a flare or you often seem tired at work. If they are in the know about what’s going on, they are much more likely to be understanding.

  • You’re raising awareness about autoimmune diseases: I not only tell my boss about my autoimmune diseases – I usually share with my co-workers! Being open about your disease is a great way to help others understand autoimmune diseases (which suffer from a major lack of awareness). The more people who know and understand what they are, the stronger the fight against autoimmune diseases!

I hope that my fellow fighters find this guide useful! I’ve been fortunate enough to work at some amazing companies with extremely understanding supervisors and co-workers! I wish you the same luck that I’ve had. Get out there and inspire people by showing them how awesome you are even while you’re fighting a chronic illness!

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