Whether you’re out traveling for your job, sitting at a desk, or standing on your feet all day, you must make your health a priority during the workday when you have psoriatic arthritis.
When I first graduated from college, I had a job that had me working 24/7. I traveled every week to visit clients and worked around the clock to make sure our projects were executed meticulously. Our company may have preached work-life balance, but it was definitely not a concept that many of us understood.
Five years into my career, things came to an abrupt halt when I had to go out on disability for my psoriatic arthritis. I spent three-and-a-half years not working and became accustomed to focusing on my health all day long. When I was able to transition back to the working world, I knew I was going to have to make some modifications to my workday to help me through the fatigue, malaise, and joint pain that come with psoriatic arthritis. Here are five tips I’ve found useful in maintaining a thriving career with psoriatic arthritis.
1. Speak up
If I’m hurting, my work is directly impacted. Because of this, letting my boss and coworkers know how my condition affects me allows me to be on a level playing field.
Having an honest and open conversation with your boss is key to managing your career and symptoms. If there are certain things that are exacerbating your symptoms or causing you more problems, you will be impacted physically, mentally and emotionally. This will then prevent you from performing your best.
By speaking up, you can set yourself up to be the best team player that you can be.
2. Make modifications
As I started back to work, my hands would ache and my body would get stiff due to sitting all day. That’s where my psoriatic arthritis toolbox came in handy!
Do your hands really bother you while using the computer? Grab your compression gloves, ask your employer for talk-to-text software and don’t forget to do your hand exercises.
Does your back hurt when you’re sitting in your chair? There’s no reason you can’t use your heating pad.
When it comes to your workstation, there are many modifications you can make that will help support your body and joints, such as sitting up straight, opting for a standing desk, setting a reminder to get up and walk around.
3. Set boundaries and pace yourself
Don’t work yourself to the bone. You have to live in your body at the end of the day, so pace yourself and set boundaries to ensure that you can still live the rest of your life.
When I went back to work, I knew that jumping right into a 40-hour workweek would wreck my body, so I worked with my employer to start at 20 hours and worked my way up. Work with your employer to set up a schedule that works for both of you.
It’s also important to be honest with yourself about your career path with your condition. Technology makes it possible to work from home in many instances. Talk to your employer about getting these technologies set up so that you can be the best employee you can be. There are also many virtual positions open at companies that might be great options for you.
4. Be realistic
Be realistic and upfront with your coworkers. Some days you will have to work from home and some days you will have to call in sick. It’s important to realize when you can push yourself to get to the office and when you need to completely rest for the day.
The way we deal with pain and fatigue is very individualized. Coming up with my own pain and fatigue scale has helped me subjectively assess my pain.
I challenge you to create your own scale and share it with your employer. Let them know how you evaluate your symptoms so that whenever you do have to call in sick, they’ll be more likely to take you seriously.
5. Arm yourself with tools
First, talk with your rheumatologist about the concerns you have. They can suggest the best accommodations or recommendations for your individual case, and may even refer you to an occupational therapist who can help you function better on the job.
Second, turn to others who have navigated these waters before you! You aren’t alone in trying to manage your chronic condition while holding down a career. Many patients have curated their experiences so that others don’t have to make the mistakes that they have. I published the blog post: “Tips for Transitioning From Disability Back Into the Working World” to share my experiences with other psoriatic arthritis patients.
My friend and breast cancer patient advocate Holly Bertone has penned the book “Thriving in the Workplace With Autoimmune Disease: Know Your Rights, Resolve Conflict, and Reduce Stress.” She gives a legal stance on navigating the Family Medical Leave Act, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), reasonable accommodations, working with your boss, and so much more.
Another patient advocate friend, Ilana Jacqueline, hosted a webinar with WEGO Health on the topic of managing a chronic illness at work. You can watch a replay here. Ilana talks about resources such as chronicillnesssurvivor.com, the Social Security Administration, EEOC.gov, the Job Accommodation Network, “Business From Bed,” by Joan Friedlander and chronicallyemployed.com.
When it comes to having a chronic illness, many think that their careers are over. But that couldn’t be further from the case!