How Do You Work Full-Time With Rheumatoid Arthritis?

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Question:

I read about all of these RA (rheumatoid arthritis) patients that are very motivated about being able to work full-time and possibly even a part-time job. The pep talks are really great, but the reality for a lot of us is that it is just not an option. Is it just me or are there others out there that feel the same? I do not receive any type of disability, just trying to readjust our way of living. Could there be a difference in the degree of one's own disease that would affect one's ability to work a full-time job? I battle with RA and fibromyalgia. When I read these posts, I sometimes can't help but feel like: What is wrong with me? Is it just me? Does anybody else feel this way? What kind of jobs do people with RA have?

~ Frustrated!!!

Answer

Dear Frustrated,

I am sorry to hear that you are struggling so much with work. I completely understand — in a world where the first question you’re asked is “What do you do?” it can be difficult to maintain your self-esteem when you have trouble working.

Many people with RA are in the same boat. It’s a progressive condition, which untreated can lead to disability that can prevent you from working. But there are things you can do to make it easier to keep your job.

Tools can keep you working

The first way to help you keep working is treating your RA. There are many medication options now, which means that most rheumatologists use a fairly aggressive approach to treatment. This means that more people than ever are doing better. (This explains all those people you hear about who are still working.) You may want to talk to your doctor about treatment options that can help you feel better.

The other tool to help you keep working is workplace accommodations. Legally, your employer is required to accommodate you. By changing the way you work to make the job physically easier for you, it may be possible for you to stay in your job. Examples of accommodations include flexible work hours, the ability to work from home, an ergonomic workstation, a parking place near the front entrance, the ability to take frequent rests, and much more. You can check the Job Accommodation Network website for more information.

Consider a different type of job

You may want to consider changing what you do. For instance, if your current work is very physical, you may look for a job that is more mental and can be done at a desk. If you work for a large company, your human resources department may be able to help you with professional development courses or a transfer.

You may also consider going back to school. That can sound daunting, especially if you’ve been out of school for decades, but it can be a good investment in your continued ability to work. As someone with a chronic illness, you are also entitled to accommodations at school. This can include longer time to take tests, taking classes part-time instead of full-time, help with notetaking, and more.

People who can’t work in an official job because of their chronic illness are not stuck doing nothing. Many of us have found a way to keep working by thinking creatively. I haven’t been able to work for someone else for a long time, but I am now self-employed as a writer and author, which I can fit around the requirements of my chronic illness. You may have skills that you can utilize to create your own career.

Accepting your inability to work can be a relief

At the end of the day, though, sometimes you have to accept that the time has come for you to stop working. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this. If your RA has progressed to the point that you no longer have the energy or ability to work, your best option may be to apply for disability. It can be a hard choice to face, but it can also be a relief to no longer have to push yourself to do something that makes it impossible for you to enjoy your life.

See more helpful articles:

The Struggles of Finding a Job With Rheumatoid Arthritis

Tips for Getting Through Your work Day When You Have RA

How to Make Your Office RA Friendly

 

Answered by Lene Andersen, MSW