Jessica Magoch, 34, New Hope, PA

GG | RARE: What sort of job did you have before getting sick (or were you a student, or fully unemployed?)

Magoch: Regional VP of Sales for a Health Insurance Company.

GG: What is your disease/disability and how does it specifically stop you from working a full time job outside of home?

Magoch: Crohn’s disease. Daily symptoms involve stomach pain, frequent bathroom trips, fatigue and restricted diet (there were a lot of dinner meetings in my business). When flaring, I can be in and out of the hospital with bowel obstructions which take about five days to fully clear. I have had three abdominal surgeries all requiring a two month recovery period.

The drug that affected me most caused hair loss to the point where I had to wear a wig to work because I looked so ill.  That was the most difficult to deal with for vanity reasons, but others caused puffiness and weight gain, as well as aches and pains, insomnia coupled with fatigue. I was able to manage by working remotely when I was in the hospital, but I learned later, that this wasn’t exactly an honorable thing.

I should have been giving my body a chance to heal. After the birth of my first son, my symptoms went into full swing again. The situation at work was such that the company had undergone a merger while I was on maternity, and they needed me in the office five days a week whereas before I had the flexibility to come and go as I needed.

I decided not to go back. I remember having phone interviews from my hospital bed (I was admitted six times over six months) and thinking, “How am I ever going to hold down a job?”  At my other position, I had at least already built up a reputation and had a support team to carry me through when I couldn’t physically be there.

GG: How does the job you created allow you to work from home and on your own terms?

Magoch: I started an online grocery store and resource center for those following the very restricted diets of PALEO, SCD or GAPS for auto-immune diseases.  I can do it all from home and even enlisted the help of freelancers so that me being sick would not interfere with the growth of the business. Since I am now in remission, I can commit to telephone coaching sessions as I got certified (also online) as a holistic health coach. I am currently working on an online “Get Healthy Boot camp” which includes phone support.

GG: Do you still encounter any challenges with your new profession because of your illness? How did you work around it?

Magoch: I’ve taken preventative measures such as having a great group of freelancers that I can just shoot an email to and they will do great work for me. Since the health coaching practice is on my own schedule, I can easily make it work. Plus, since the business is focused on people going through the same thing as me, when I do have challenges it only connects me to my followers more.

GG: Do you work alone or with other people? How did you explain your situation to them, or did you have to say anything at all? 

Magoch: Mostly alone. My freelancers know very little about my personal life as they are all virtual, except for what is public on my blog. I am actually very public about my disease as now it comes up in every dinner or cocktail party that involves the question: “So what do you do?” I have never been embarrassed by it because, even though the symptoms are gruesome, most people don’t know what it is (that’s changing though with all those Humira ads they’re running!!).

GG: How do handle necessary benefits like insurance that comes with normal 9-5 jobs? Did you use a spouse’s insurance, a parent’s, or did you use government funding?

Magoch: Thankfully, my husband’s employer is very generous with health benefits. Our deductible is only $1,000 per year and I fulfill that quickly. It can be so much worse. Prior to that I couldn’t have fallen ill at a better place… I worked for a health insurance company. The owners were doctors. They took an active role in my health care, sending me to “the best” even if it was out of network. However, I did look into what insurance would cost individually and in PA I would have to go on a special plan for people with pre-existing conditions and wait a year for any benefits to be effective. This is with the new health care mandates in place. Before, I wouldn’t have been able to get a plan at all, even though I’ve never had a gap in insurance since I was 18. In New York, as long as you don’t go more than two months without a gap in coverage, every plan has to accept you, and they have to cover your pre-existing conditions from day one.

GG: What is an average day like for you at your new job? 

Magoch: Most of my day is spent as a mom. Besides the flexibility for when I get sick, working at home has allowed me to be a full-time mom. This has actually attributed more to my healing than anything else. Deep inside I wanted to raise my son full time but my close family thought it would be a shame if I didn’t go back to work considering the income I was sacrificing. Living the life I want has done more than any drug for me. I work during nap time and have a mother’s helper come a couple times a week so I can get work done. When my husband comes home, the work day ends. Sometimes I feel like I get more done in a two hour time period than I did in a full day at the office. By the time you get there and do the coffee and the meetings and the meals and chit chat and checking 100’s of emails, conference calls, etc., the day is gone. Here I am incredibly focused, and I prioritize my day so that I make sure I have a max of three things on my to do list for the day that must get done no matter what, even if it means we go to the McDonald’s playground where they have wifi!

GG: What advice do you have for other patients looking to start a new kind of job that fits around their illness? 

Magoch: You don’t have to start your own business to have flexible hours. It is essential that you have flexibility and are not limited by a certain number of sick days. You need the option to work remotely, even if it’s not right away. No matter what, you still have to prove yourself and your value to your employer before taking advantage of benefits. If you can transition your current skills into a freelance or consultative position, that’s great. Choose something that requires little face-to-face unless you can Skype. No one has to know if you are working from bed because you couldn’t get out of it that morning.  Get a virtual assistant before you think you need it. If you are sick, it helps tremendously to delegate tasks so you can do what you’re best at with the limited energy and time you may have in a day. You can have one in the states to work in your time zone and schedule appointments or do writing, and another outside of the states for less time restricted tasks like research.

And why not take this time to find your real passion? Even if you thought you were “happy” before, take a minute to examine your life before you jump into the next thing because you’re scared of not knowing what the alternative might be. I know from my own experience and as a health coach that illness needs a certain inner environment to thrive. If you are not living what you feel is your purpose today instead of putting it off until tomorrow, your body will react and not function properly, and it was naturally meant to heal itself. Take it as a sign and an opportunity to live out your full potential.

If nothing else, take a minute to relax and heal. Our culture tells us to work through the pain and not give in to our weaknesses, but this should only be applied to your thoughts, not your body. If your body is screaming at you that it needs a break, take it! Rest is a very important part of healing and you are just putting it off by go- go- going. Even a simple illness like the flu will go away faster with a day in bed and some chicken soup than drugging up and going to work through it.

Jessica Magoch

Certified Holistic Health Coach, AADP
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