Returning to Full-time Work With RA

by Cathy Kramer Patient Advocate

I’m scared, nervous, and excited! I have lots of feelings inside me and I don’t quite know what to do with all of them. Why? I am heading back to work full time for the first time in 22 years.

Working part time for so many years has served two benefits. First, it allowed me time with my kids. Second, it gave me the downtime to recuperate from a life with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). I could teach a class one day and then have the next day to deal with whatever RA wanted to throw at me. At one point though, I wondered if even part time work was too much for me, and I might need to stop working completely.

Luckily, a lot has changed over the last eight years. My body has reacted well to my current medications and lifestyle changes. While each day I know RA is a part of me, it no longer controls my decisions about life. Part-time work was never part of our financial plan and at 50 years old, I am fired up about going a new direction with my career.

Unfortunately, anxiety is another feeling I have. It grabs ahold of me when I least expect it and says: “What if your RA gets out of control again? How will you manage?” RA anxiety makes me question myself even while I know I am in a good place right now with my blood work, medications, and overall maintenance.

While feelings of anxiety whirl in my head, RA has taught me a valuable lesson over the years: I am strong. I can do this! Therefore, I am being proactive, thinking through all that my body will need when I start working full days. I have spent too many years letting the “what-if” fears of RA take over my life. Instead, I am creating a checklist of things I need to do as a full-time worker that will benefit my RA.

Ask for help

“Can you help me?” This somewhat simple question has been the hardest lesson I have learned from RA, but the one I appreciate the most. I know I cannot return to work full-time without help. Luckily, I have a husband and two young-adult children who are aware that they will have to step up a bit in making dinner, walking our dog, running errands, cleaning, and doing other household chores that I have managed over the years.

Plan downtime in the day

Having time to rest my body has been one of the best lifestyle changes I have made since my RA diagnosis. As I start longer days of work, I need to set good habits right away. That means planning time on my calendar to put my feet up, find a quiet place to rest my mind, and to make sure I am keeping my stress levels under control. Another lesson I have learned from years of living with RA is that it is entirely up to me to make sure I set time aside to practice self-care.

Set boundaries

The busier we are, the easier it seems to keep adding on more. Life with RA doesn’t allow for this type of habit and as my days become more hectic, I need to keep that in the forefront of my mind. Before making commitments, I have to check in with my body and see what it can handle. In addition, now that my days will be spent at work, I need to make sure I keep it there.

Keep supplies on hand

As I plan out my first full week of work, I imagine myself up and down from my chair a lot. As a teacher, I am used to movement, but I have to remember I can’t go home in the middle of the day and take a quick nap. Instead, I need to take care of my body as the day unfolds with beneficial supplies.

  • stool for my feet

  • heating pad

  • bottle of Advil

  • knee brace

  • compression gloves

  • snacks that nourish me

Listen to my body

My body is amazing. When I listen, it doesn’t hesitate to tell me when I am taking on too much. As I prepare for my first day, week, and even month, I am making notes in my planner to check in with my body often.

I feel proud! I am leaving a part-time job that I know I am good at and that works well with my RA needs into a job with many unknowns. I have been working toward this day since the day I was diagnosed 14 years ago. I have met each challenge that RA has thrown at me, getting stronger over the years. A new job? Ha! Compared to the challenges of RA, I’ve got this one!

Cathy Kramer
Meet Our Writer
Cathy Kramer

Cathy Kramer has been married longer than not and is a mom to two young adults plus an aging border collie. She splits her days/nights between two community colleges as an ESL/ABE instructor. She is a strong believer in gratitude and attempts to leave a smile everywhere she goes. Cathy shares her positive voice as an advocate in the rheumatoid arthritis (RA), chronic illness, and self-care communities. Her ongoing journey with RA can be found on her blog The Life and Adventures of Cateepoo. She often hangs out @cateepoo88 on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Cathy is also a Social Ambassador for the RAHealthCentral Facebook page: