What does it take for a person with chronic illness to continue working ? And, if possible, to do so in a rewarding way? I’ve wrestled with this personally for over 30 years, and more recently in my professional life as a coach/writer/activist of sorts in the past 10 years.
A recent New York Times article profiled a self-described “high powered executive” with schizo affective disorder . Against all odds, she discovered for herself that the best medicine for her is an intense work environment. The very idea defied what everyone around her believed.
The article cites recent research on a small group of high achievers living with this diagnosis. ‘“It’s just embarrassing,” said Dr. Stephen R. Marder, director of the psychosis section at U.C.L.A.’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. “For years, we as psychiatrists have been telling people with a diagnosis what to expect; we’ve been telling them who they are, how to change their lives — and it was bad information” for many people.
Sound familiar? So what can the rest of us learn from this?
1. There’s much to learn from others living with a chronic health condition. Don’t be fooled by a diagnosis. In my coaching practice, working with more than 300 people living with all forms of chronic illness, I’ve found that most disease symptoms bring on some debilitating level of fatigue or pain. And it’s these defining experiences that hurt performance. Isn’t that what matters?
(If only researchers shared more of their findings among different disease and branches of medicine, science would move much more quickly to finding sources and cures of disease. )
3. You are responsible for figuring out what you can and cannot do, what is ‘good for you’ to do and what harms you. Yes, that’s hard. When your healthcare practitioner (your psychiatrist, surgeon or acupuncturist, you name it) tells you what you ‘need’ to do to ‘take care of yourself’, you should listen and try it. But as you test this out keep an open mind to question if this is right for you.
3. Stress comes in many forms and each of us has to figure out what it means . We all have different tolerance levels for stress. It affects people differently and it can affect each of us differently at different times. Let’s say you believe that your job makes your health worse because it’s ‘stressful’. Ask yourself:
- Does this mean that all work is “stressful” for you?
- Are you working in a high stress environment (everyone finds it to be so) or is this your unique response to the stress that exists there?
- Is there another way to look at the ‘stress’ so it doesn’t feel harmful?
Bottom line? Life is a teaching opportunity. What are you learning from it?