How to balance my career and my health!
August 28, 2012 8:25 AM   Subscribe

How can I balance managing a chronic condition with advancing in my career?

About two years ago, I woke up and couldn't move the lower half of my body. I could not walk and was confined to a bed.

I was finally diagnosed with Cauda Equina Syndrome. Surgery was performed, although later than it should have been.

I have had an additional surgery since my initial surgery, and was told that it was a matter of when, not if, additional surgery would take place.

I've had extensive in-hospital and outpatient physical therapy, and I still have a lot of nerve damage. I now walk without a cane, but fatigue and pain are part of my daily life. I exercise as I can, and try to maintain a 'normal' life, but it takes a lot of energy to do so. (I found out about the Spoon Theory early on in my recovery and it helped explaining to others quite a bit!)

Before this happened, I was working towards advancing in my technical career (IT Security), perhaps looking toward technical management. I've been lucky that I've had the same job through all of this, and I am able to work at home to counteract some of the fatigue and pain issues (as well as some of the other unpleasant issues related to CES). I've been lucky to maintain my current position, but I haven't been promoted or taken on significant levels of new responsibility since my initial diagnoses. I have spent most of this year studying for an industry certification, and plan to take that test in about a month. I continue to try to show my peers and employer that I am committed to my job and career.

I work very hard, and do my best to maintain the same level of energy and output as my peers. But I know that I am probably falling behind in some aspects. Fatigue is a huge factor in my day, and I have difficulty sitting in most positions. I also have problems standing for significant periods of time. (The most comfortable position for me is supine, or on my side, laying down.) Most of my days my pain increases as the day wears on, making me less able to concentrate and less able to think clearly.

I sometimes worry that if I were to lose my current position, I'd have great difficulty finding another with the same accommodations. (I've worked for my company for almost a decade.) This makes me anxious and often adds to my fatigue level. I have no reason to think I'd lose my job, but I think my health and my limitations have given me pause to think too much of the 'what ifs?'

Does anyone have any suggestions, hacks, workarounds for this type of situation? I live in an expensive city, so less work is probably not the answer. I don't want to go on disability either. Have you been successful in navigating your career and thriving after a significant event that left you with a chronic condition?
posted by carmenghia to Work & Money (4 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I have a chronic condition that is incurable. After my diagnosis, I got well enough to get my first full time paid job. A few months before I left it voluntarily, I had been moved to a pilot program which was likely to becone a path to promotion.

Some things I did:

Every minute that I was not on the job was spent taking care of myself so I could be my best at work. Every break at work was spent taking care of my condition so I could be my best at work. I tended to be at my worst at the start of the day and did better around the middle of the day because I focused on taking care of myself.

I aggressively pursued dietary and lifestyle changes to ease the stress on my system and get as well as I could. I pursued as much non-drug pain relief as I could, things like herbal anti-inflammatories, hot and cold treatments, and finding ways to do things which were physically easier on my body.

I simplified other parts of my life so maintenance took less of me. I lived more spartanly so cleaning my stuff did not eat up my free time. We learned to cook simple, healthy meals from scratch with the best ingredients we could afford in order to support optimal health without it eating all our time. I got a low maintenance haircut. Etc.

Fwiw: I know someone who was eventually promoted at work in spite of their chronic, serious condition. It took more time than average but if you keep at it, eventually they will realize not promoting you is a form of discrimination.
posted by Michele in California at 8:46 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Fatigue is a huge factor in my day, and I have difficulty sitting in most positions. I also have problems standing for significant periods of time. (The most comfortable position for me is supine, or on my side, laying down.)

This is a challenge I have myself, and I find that working in bed with my laptop on this kind of thing (and an elaborate arrangement of pillows and foam wedges) can boost my productivity. Given the nature of your work, it may not be take-homeable, but if it is think about this as a possibility?

Haddayr Copley-Woods is a marvelous blogger, essayist, and radio commentator on living and working with disabling chronic illness (she has been diagnosed with MS). I find that reading and listening to her makes me feel less alone with these challenges, and also sometimes gives me practical tips.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:18 AM on August 28, 2012

Can you talk to your management about what milestones/achievements/certifications would define top performers in your area of the company?

It may be useful to put in their mind that you are maintaining career ambition.
posted by skrozidile at 10:21 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I struggled with chronic pain for many years, until I really began to grasp that you fight it by adapting to it, and "rolling with it," rather than gritting your teeth and bearing it. Get a nice, comfortable office chair, buy some heating pads, drink hot tea, and plan your schedule around the pain, so that you're not out running around when you know it's going to be bad. If you baby the pain, you will begin to relax some, and your pain will lessen some, you'll relax more, etc. It's good pain management strategy.

As to career management, my advice would be to be open and honest - tell your superiors that you're still looking to advance. That you know you hit a bump in the road, but that you still have the same dedication and brains, and you're willing to work just as hard. If your pain experience is anything like mine, your body will continue to get better at managing the pain, and you will continue to get stronger. Things will get better. You might consider seeing a pain management doctor - mine really helped me.
posted by backwards compatible at 10:46 AM on August 28, 2012

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