Work vs Chronic illness

There’s something wrong with this title. There shouldn’t be a “vs” there. It shouldn’t be a war. But most of the times it is.

Unlike many people I know who suffer from chronic illnesses, I still work full time. And I don’t complain about that. I wish I will be able to work full time for many many years. I wish to have a life that feels as normal as possible. Then why do I feel like quitting so often?

For one thing, I never really had breaks in my life. I went from high school straight to college and then from college straight to the company I currently still work for. I’ve been working there for a decade. Highly unusual in a world where people jump from job to job and it’s hard to find stability. But there aren’t many jobs for a languages major out there, and global crisis made unemployment rates shoot up. So I stuck with it.

But then there’s MS. There’s the incredible amount of fatigue demanding a break. Or more breaks. And there’s the damage to my optic nerves. Working with books, I spend most of the day reading. Doctors and friends have pointed out that it’s no coincidence that the immune system is attacking the one place in my brain that’s already under a lot of strain. Back in October when I was invited to coordinate my department, I thought that would be a good change because I would spend more time talking to people and managing projects than reading. But it didn’t turn out to be quite like that. I’m managing all the work, plus doing all the work as before. And my boss expected great results only a week and a half after I started. It’s just not possible. At least not for me.

So you get the picture: anxiety symptoms came back in full force. The last time I’d felt my chest and throat really tight was two and a half years ago. Now there it is again. And I haven’t been sleeping well despite the meds. With the anxiety symptoms came the MS symptoms. One of the days, my left hand felt like a claw carved in wood. I could move it, but it was like telling an alien, out-of-body creature to do so. I remembered everything I learned these past years since being diagnosed and drew from experience so as not to let myself lose control, but that too was a hard task – another hard and demanding task – and I found myself reaching for emergency anxiety pills. And thinking – this can’t go on.

Talking to my boss, the alternative is to go back to things as they were before. But that is only a temporary patch, since my eyes are not getting better. Most of the time I just feel like slamming the door and leave everything behind and never think about work anymore. But there’s another part of me who’s just not going to throw in the towel. So I read things to encourage me. One of the most important things I read this month was Re-Entering the Workforce with a Chronic Condition on Healthline News. I highly recommend it to anyone struggling with a chronic illness, whether employed or not. And I know reality in the US is very different from reality in Europe, but I’m taking the positive vibes from the article and letting them push me through this.

Right now I’m too overwhelmed and overworked to make decisions (still have college work to do on top of all), but I’m slowly trying to step back and looking at what this month brought me from a distance. One thing, every new challenge in life is going to bring me anxiety and in order not to drown in it I’m going to have to be faster at picking up the strategies I learned these past years and trusting my wisdom. Another thing, I was afraid I wasn’t going to be good at managing and dealing with people, since I’m shy and tend to be an introvert and always feel like I’m asking people favors. But the feedback was quite positive. People actually enjoy coming to me with questions and working with me in general. That’s something I’m going to need to remember every time I reflect on what kind of job best suits me. Something I need to remember for future job interviews.

I reached out to people and, to my surprise, they were quite supportive of whatever decision I make. Even my father, who is a very conventional kind of person who never takes risks, understood my dilemma. A friend of mine who works in the publishing industry like me helped me with an assignment I had. I see some positive changes in me. Even though I still suffer a lot with physical symptoms derived from stress, I don’t freeze as much as I used to, and I don’t dwell for so long on the negative aspects. I’m accepting that working and having a chronic illness will always be an issue – but how much of an issue, it’ll be up to me.

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