As follow-up to my recent Beginner's Guides to work and going back to school, I interviewed Gayle Backstrom, author of I'd Rather Be Working: a Step-By-Step Guide to Financial Self-Support Review with Chronic Illness. Gayle also wrote When Muscle Pain Won't Go Away, the first book for laypeople on fibromyalgia.
The first in her family to graduate high school, Gayle joined the Navy during the Vietnam War and developed fibromyalgia after a service-related injury. She has had a number of different jobs including high school librarian, college instructor, photographer and writer. Gayle shares her home in Denton, Texas with five cats. Her next book will be a novel.
What inspired you to write I'd Rather Be Working?
Because of my chronic health problems I have often had to be creative in supporting myself. Even when I held traditional jobs, I lost several because of flare-ups of my chronic pain. Many job-hunting books have been published, but very few of the books addressed the needs of those with chronic illnesses (CI) or disabilities. I felt that there must be others who could benefit from my experiences.
Did anything you learned researching your book surprise you?
The main surprise was that although one in five Americans has a disability, only 32% of those with disabilities were employed in 1998. By 2007, that figure stood at 35%, according to the National Organization on Disability.
You wrote about the importance of honest self-evaluation, not just of qualifications and experience, but of limitations. Do you have any recommendations that will make facing your limits easier?
[P]erforming an honest self-evaluation is one of the hardest actions that anyone with a CI or disability will take.
Step outside of yourself and try to describe your symptoms and your limitations as if they belonged to someone else. When you do this strive for honesty, but also fairness. If you must take a 15-minute break after every hour or hour and one half of work; state that. Don't try to push yourself.
It can be done but it requires honesty within, first. Then you can begin to find adjustments at home and with your family, the community and finally within your work place.
What's the hardest part about working and living with a chronic illness?
Pacing is the most vital part of managing your chronic illness, [it] enables us to better manage our energy and ability to work and function and at the same time is the most difficult to achieve. I wasn't always able to manage the combination. That is one of the reasons that my employment history is so erratic and the housework suffered along with any social life.
Tell us how you managed chronic pain and fatigue at work.
I found work that was flexible and which allowed me to rest around the work. Sometimes I had to push myself through the pain and fatigue to teach a college class or schedule photograph sessions. Sometimes I came home and spent every evening and most of the weekends in bed.