Getting Back to Work With Chronic Illness

Patient Expert
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There are many reasons why a person with chronic illness may be absent from the workplace. It could be related to the chronic illness, or maybe to another life event, such as the birth of a child or taking care of a relative. Whatever the reason, now’s the time to get back to work. But how do you do that after an extended absence?

My story

I lost a much-loved job in equal opportunity — a change in government had deemphasized the type of work I did, and my contract wasn’t renewed. I couldn’t find work for a very long time and then I had the big flare, which made it physically impossible for me to work.

Years later, I started my blog The Seated View. At the time, it was a way to communicate and do some writing practice, but it led to something more. A producer from HealthCentral read one of my posts, liked it, and offered me a job. It was the perfect kind of job for me: freelance, part-time, something I could do around my body’s needs. On good days, I do as much as I can. On bad days, I putter around with some of the less-demanding tasks. It’s ideal for someone with my kind of chronic illness and disability.

When you consider returning to the workforce, there are certain things you may want to keep in mind.

Upgrade your qualifications

Does your field require accreditations, annual memberships in professional associations, or up-to-date skills acquired through regular training? Spend some time (and money) upgrading any qualifications that have lapsed while you were away from work. If your physical abilities have changed and your previous job involves physical activity, you may want to consider going back to school.

Update your resume

Everyone should have an updated resume, even if you are already working. It’s excellent protection in case of unexpected job loss, or handy to have if a brilliant opportunity crosses your path. As you prepare to return to work, updating your resume is a must. Research current resume trends and which kind of format best serves your field. Putting yourself “out there” also includes creating a compelling LinkedIn profile. There are numerous articles on the Internet on how to best do that.

Talk to your contacts

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” We’ve all heard that saying and sometimes, it’s true. It’s important that you have the skills to do your job, but effective networking can help you find more opportunities. Talk to your friends and ask them to talk to their friends and colleagues. Get the word out that you’re looking.

Full-time or flexible

Is your chronic illness fairly well controlled, or do you have trouble getting through the day? The answer to this question will determine the route you take in your job search. Working full-time can be draining, and if you are having a hard time getting through the day even before you’re holding a job, full-time work may not be the best option for you.

If your chronic illness has a fairly significant impact on your life, you may want to consider looking for part-time work, or to get creative.

Explore your options

If it is difficult for you to get an interview in your old profession, or you have to find another type of job, explore your options. This can include seeing a career counsellor for help with narrowing down what kinds of jobs you’d like to try. You may also want to start the process on your own by reading “What Color Is Your Parachute,” an excellent resource for exploring your skills and interests.

Get a job vs. create a job

If a “regular” job isn’t right for you, there is another path: You can create your own. That’s what happened to me — I started writing a blog about life with rheumatoid arthritis and disability. Eventually, that lead to a career as a writer and advocate.

Exploring your skills and interests can lead you to unexpected work. If you’re passionate about photography, you can start a website to sell your prints, and create photo books via print on demand sites, such as Blurb. If you like designing jewelry, you can start an Etsy shop. If you can’t perform your old job anymore, you may be able to train others in how to do it. Gayle Backstrom’s book “I’d Rather Be Working" outlines an excellent process on how to create your own work.

After being away from the job market for an extended period, getting back to work can be a challenging and often frustrating experience. Patience, creativity, and persistence are essential. Have faith. You’ll find something.

See More Helpful Articles:

Accommodations in Rheumatoid Arthritis: Making Work Easier

How to Make Your Office RA Friendly

A Beginner’s Guide to RA: Workin’ for a Living


Lene writes the award-winning blog The Seated View. She’s the author ofYour Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain and 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain.