Young and Unemployed with Rheumatoid Arthritis
After completing two Master’s degrees and a PhD, I find myself in my late 20s, struggling to find work. Naively, I thought that this would be easy. I thought my degrees would speak for themselves—I guess they aren’t. But degrees aside, I also have to take RA into consideration.
RA is a sneaky bugger, always threatening to ruin the party, and employment is no exception. When I started working part-time (four days a week) – in my first real job – I realized that there were a lot of challenges that came with a 9-to-5 job. I was getting home and crashing all the time. I’d eat dinner and be in bed soon after.
Even though school is stressful, it’s a different kind of stressful than what I experienced in the work world. With school, I could usually arrange doctor’s appointment times so I didn’t have to miss class. When you’re working most of the time, you don’t have that luxury. You have to actively take time off to take care of your health.
That’s a big change. You don’t want to upset your employer because you have to take time off, but in order to be the most successful in your job, you need to take care of your health. If you don’t, it’s likely that you will be even less productive at work.
To tell, or not to tell
Another issue when it comes to working with RA is whether or not to disclose your disease to a potential employer. For me, most of the jobs I am applying to are related to healthcare, and I feel that my experience as a patient is not only relevant, but also gives me expert knowledge that other people don’t have. Because I blog and am active on social media, my illnesses are not really something I can hide, so I find it’s better to be transparent up front, but that doesn’t work for everybody.
That said, I think disclosing depends on a variety of things:
- It depends on your level of disease activity. Do you have a few bad days here and there, or is it difficult for you to get up and get going every morning? Do you have a specified time you have to be in the office? Can you come in later and work later or come in earlier and leave earlier (depending on what time of day your illness impacts you the most)?
- Do you have to be in the office all the time or can you work from home?
- Do you need special modifications made to your workspace? Can you make them yourself (i.e. using a seat cushion) or is it something that you would need to vet through your employer (i.e. a standing desk)?
- Is fatigue a significant problem for you? Do you require daily naps? Would your employer allow you to take additional breaks throughout the day? Is there a place where you are able to get rest in your workplace?
What are the pros and cons of disclosing/not disclosing your illness? I don’t think it’s as simple as saying, well, if there are more pros to disclosing, I’ll disclose, and if there are more cons to disclosing, then I won’t.
Remember, you have rights when it comes to employment. While the Americans with Disabilities Act does not specify specific illnesses, potentially anyone with a condition that limits one or more major life activities should be eligible for reasonable accommodations.
Research has shown that RA can have negative effects on employment. For example, people with RA are 53 percent less likely to have a job than those who do not have RA. That’s a pretty sobering statistic.
Most of us desire to be productive members of society. For me, I want to be working. I want to be doing something that I love. But finding a job is hard. And finding a job while living with a chronic illness like RA can be even harder.
There are practical reasons to work. Getting paid allows you to be able to pay for your medications, and pay for insurance if you aren’t insured through your job.
As a young person just entering the work world, finding employment can be difficult and the job search alone can wear you down. It doesn’t help that stress exacerbates RA, so a stressful job search has the potential to increase disease activity.
The best advice I can give is to find your passion and
This isn’t always instantaneous, but if you have limited time and energy, you should use that the way you want.
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Leslie wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).