Reassessing Your Career When You Live With Chronic Illness

Living with a chronic illness while working a full-time job? Sometimes unbearable. It might be time to scale back.

Patient Expert
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From a young age, I have measured my value by my accomplishments. Right or wrong, it’s been a lifelong pattern for me. I’m almost 34, and my chronic illness has prompted me to consider how much longer I’ll be able to work full-time.

For someone like me, this is earth-shattering. It has made me question not only how I’ll earn a living, but also what will be my value to society in the future.

Chances are, a lot of other chronically ill people have been on this road or will be at some point, so here are some thoughts about creating a new game plan for your career.

When to consider changing your work life

This is about much more than just quitting a job. Considering your future career options often involves a lifestyle change and can affect more than just you if you have a family (or even if you’re single).

I recently had my first multiple sclerosis (MS) relapse in seven years, and it made me slow down and reconsider some of the things I’m doing in my life, my career being at the top of that list. I have a stressful job with quick deadlines, which triggers high anxiety for me. I realized after this last relapse that I couldn’t continue in a high-stress workplace anymore. I decided it was time to move on.

The luxury of quitting altogether isn’t one many people have, so for most of us, it’s a conversation about what kind of work we can do, and how much of it we can do.

Being honest with yourself isn’t just about acknowledging a toxic workplace, it’s about coming to terms with whether you’ll work full-time, part-time, or not at all. What is your body telling you?

What are your options? There may be more than you think.

You may have to go outside of your chosen career path, or do something you never dreamed you’d do, but there are options. Before you make any major changes, take a few weeks to really pay attention to your body and your mental capacity to do your current job.

Post-relapse, I found that my brain was shutting down for the day much earlier than it used to. It was taking me twice as long to complete simple tasks. For me, that was a sign that long, stressful workdays weren’t going to cut it anymore.

If you have an employer you can be honest with, talk to them. There may be a way to change your role or cut your hours to accommodate staying in your current job. If this isn’t an option, consider finding a part-time job or a work from home job. There are websites that can help you find real work-from-home careers.

There are also non-specialized jobs such as data entry or customer service that could make for an easy transition to something new. Many “call centers” are now remote, which can eliminate the strain of commuting.

You may have to take a pay cut. You may have to switch fields. You may have to get outside your comfort zone, but this is about compromise.

If I quit my job, I won’t have insurance

It may not be cheap, but there are a few ways to get insurance if you lose it through your employer upon quitting.

First, check to see if your employer offers insurance for part-time employees if you’re considering staying put, but cutting back hours. Next, think about anyone in your life you can share a plan with — maybe a spouse or your parents if you’re under 26.

The federal government offers options, too, such as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — an option I’ve used and appreciated over the last couple of years. And depending on eligibility, COBRA or Medicaid are options to consider.

But how will I pay for stuff?

If you’ve made it this far, I’m sure you’ve mentally asked me a few times now: “Yeah, but how am I going to pay my bills or take care of my family?”

My best tip is to make a budget to see where you spend your money, where you might be able to cut back, and to help you monitor your spending going forward. There are so many budgeting apps available to make this task easy and kind of fun.

Another thing to consider is: How does cutting back on working fit into your life goals? Do you want to buy a house? Remodel your bathroom? Travel the world? Buy a new car? Take a moment to prioritize what you “need to do” and what you “want to do.” This won’t be the first time you’ve had to make tough choices because of your health and it won’t be the last.

This process is also not saying you’ll never have enough money to take a trip around the world, but it may mean it takes you longer to save or maybe you only go halfway around the world. You’re looking to make compromises with your day-to-day self, so you can preserve the quality of life for your long-term self.

Closing pep talk

Your job does not dictate your worth. Read that sentence again. Your job may dictate your wealth but not your worth.

If you need to quit due to illness, you are not any less smart, kind, emotionally capable, etc. It is so easy to entangle your worth with your job and your contributions to society, but you are more than your job. If you can figure out a way to continue to sustain yourself by working less, and it will preserve your physical and mental wellbeing, please consider doing it.

See more helpful articles:

Sharing Your Condition at Work: Is Honesty Truly the Best Policy?

Navigating Healthcare.gov for Health Insurance

Challenges and Successes of Being Employed With IBD