Once the acute phase of a chronic illness passes and you have some sense of stability, the desire or need to get back to work usually arises with it. It’s easier to return if your leave has been relatively short, but what if it’s been a year, two years or longer? What are your options? Do you dare try?
Before I tackle these questions (which are much bigger than their simplicity implies!) I’d like for you to understand what has happened to you. You have been on a hero’s journey, and there’s no way you’re the same as you were before. You are no longer an uncontested “normal” healthy person for that matter. Whether you were the patient or the caregiver in this situation — who you are now is a warrior.
Body vs. Mind – The Long-Term Impact of a Chronic Illness
The Body: A long term, chronic illness consumes a lot of energy. Not only is the body doing its normal work of staying alive, it’s simultaneously working overtime to try to try to heal the areas of the body that have been compromised by your illness.
I’ll use my condition, Crohn’s Disease, to illustrate. For about thirteen years, certain areas of my large intestine were often in some state of inflammation. (This is where the disease gets me; some people get in the small intestines and a rarer few, in the esophagus, too.) At times it was mild and manageable but at other times things got really bad. Flare-ups of the disease were accompanied by severe diarrhea and my intestinal lining was ulcerated in places, so there was bleeding resulting in low-grade to severe anemia. At one point my T-cell count was so haywire that I developed surface infections in my foot and on my forehead. I also developed a fistula, which is a tunnel in the wall between one organ and another that is not supposed to be there!
That’s a lot to combat in a biological system that is central to everyday functioning. Whatever your illness is, your body has been waging a similar war. It takes a lot of energy! And, it takes time to fully regain the abilities of a normally functioning body, if ever.
Now let’s look at the Mind.
What’s happening there while the body is going through all this?
Keeping your wits about you when your body breaks down and “betrays you” for months or years at a time is not easy. Let’s not forget the foggy brain that arises when pain and/or medical treatments interfere with your chemistry. It’s normal to fluctuate between fear and hope and victimhood and frustration and determination. Anger, depression and even apathy? Yes, those too. And, these are just your feelings, never mind the feelings of those around you.
At some point in the recovery process you notice…what’s this? I feel better! And, oh my God, I can think again! It’s right around this time that the desire to BE A PRODUCTIVE HUMAN reignites in earnest. Cautiously excited? Those are good words too.
Can You, Should You, Dare You?
Once your mind is freed from the survival concerns it, too, goes through a healing process. It either races ahead into the future, impatient to get back to work, or it lingers in reluctance and worry. It will probably do both. That’s its nature.
Can you, should you, dare you? They’re big questions! ….And vague.
So let’s get into specifics:
- Can you, and do you even want to, go back to what you were doing before?
- If you are interested in getting back into to the same field, have advancements in technology (for example) made some of your skills obsolete?
- How are you going to explain the gap in your resume?
- Can you got back to a full-time position, or would part-time or self employment be better for you?
- What kind of working conditions are important? What, if any, accommodations do you need?
- Do you need to rebuild your network of contacts or can you seek assistance from people you already know?
- What kind of health benefits do you need? Is this an important to your employment decision?
- If you’ve been on Long Term Disability, what happens to your benefits? What happens if you get ill again?
The Employment Plan Blog Series – Better with Your Input
I can write from my own experience but I’d prefer to write in response to that which most concerns you- now, today. Your comments are invited! If you can, please say something about your situation and what question seems most pressing to you. If you prefer to do this privately feel free to use the contact from on my website.
Which of the 8 questions mentioned above most concern you?