Can You Work With RA?
Both the physical and the emotional impacts of RA can contribute to difficulty in holding down a "traditional, nine-to-five job."
To be frank, some of the most successful people I know with chronic illnesses, RA included, are self-employed.
There are several perks to self-employment, including making your own hours, being able to work from home, being able to work from bed and/or in your pajamas, and not having to worry about potential job issues with missing work due to illness or having to take time off for doctors’ appointments.
The downside to self-employment is that you are responsible for your own health insurance. Another issue is that if you freelance, you might not have a consistent income coming in. I think there is also somewhat of a stigma that comes from being self-employed, so this is something that someone with a chronic illness might feel.
Granted, these tips are coming from someone who is not self-employed, but as someone who has observed many people who are chronically ill and self-employed - and as someone who is currently working a 9-to-5 job with RA - I think that there are definite pros and cons to both types of employment. And this assumes that you have a choice in the matter. I know some chronically ill people who really have no other choice but to be self-employed.
I started working a 9-to-5 job really for the first time ever in October. I wasn’t sure about what it was going to be like. I’ve never had the experience, with or without RA, since I’ve really only been a student since I got sick (and I know that’s oversimplifying things, but in some ways, graduate school provides a more flexible schedule than a typical job does).
I love my job, so that’s helps. But by the time I get home, I am so exhausted that I usually end up falling asleep on the couch around 9 p.m. This means that my quality of life isn’t all that great. I have a great job, but I’m so exhausted all the time that my life pretty much consists of going to work, coming home, eating dinner, and sleeping. And because I am still a student, as well, it means that my weekends are usually full of doing school work and not much else.
Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m lucky to have RA and still be able to do everything that I’m doing. But it hasn’t come without a cost. And working a 9-to-5 job has really helped me see the inherent wisdom in why many chronically ill people are self-employed.
Like I said, I love my job. But missing a day of work means not only getting behind on work. It also means losing a substantial amount of income that inevitably goes toward paying for prescriptions and doctors’ appointments. Missing a day of work, due to either illness or medical appointments, makes me feel like I lose some credence with my employer. It makes me concerned that they will view me differently, and maybe as not as committed to my job as I actually am.
With the amount of doctors’ appointments that I have, it’s almost impossible to schedule them all around work hours. And obviously, RA is an unpredictable disease. I might go to bed feeling fine and wake up the next morning unable to function. So it’s not like I can predict when I am going to feel so bad that I won’t be able to make it to work.
All of this is to say that I see and understand why so many chronically ill people are self-employed. Right now, it’s not a possibility for me. But some day, it might become necessary or it may be the only choice I have. For now, I’m going to struggle through my 9-to-5 because I love it and it’s what I want to do.
I would love to hear others’ experiences about what has worked and what hasn’t, both in terms of self-employment and more traditional employment.
I have not been able to find any statistics about chronic illness and unemployment and self-employment, but I would be really interested in seeing some concrete numbers about how chronic illness impacts ones’ ability to work a traditional job, or the ability to work at all.
Leslie wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).