Frustration drove me to write a book. I wanted to debunk a message that too many of my female clients told me was wrecking havoc in their lives. Family, friends, healthcare team and co workers told them that continuing to work was harmful to their health. The ‘prevailing wisdom’ goes like this: work is stressful (can be — but so can driving in traffic), stress provokes illness (therefore you must avoid getting angry or tense?), therefore work is bad for people (primarily women it seems) with chronic health problems. With almost 35 years of living with illness, I can say from personal experience that this is not a useful equation. In fact, I believe that this thinking can be harmful to your health.
The book that I wrote with Joan Friedlander, Women, Work and Autoimmune Disease: Keep Working Girlfriend! made the case that not only is it possible to continue to work while living with chronic illness, it can improve your health outcomes and overall well being.
A caveat: In writing this, we recognized that there are those who do not have a choice about working. That, however, was not our target audience. We wrote this book for those who believe that they have options beyond not working but either cannot see them or need a motivating prod to push them along.
Recently, several articles have reminded me that healthy people and those who live with difficult health face many of the same hurdles. The difference lies in the packaging and the details. I am also reminded that women are particularly vulnerable to these challenges. The reality is that healthy and not so healthy women face tough decisions about their work commitment just when they need to make strong personal commitment to building a family. Career often takes a back seat during the prime career development years.
A recent article in The New York Times, “The Opt Out Generation Wants Back In“, focused on women who left the workforce to stay at home with their children, and the challenges they faced when they tried to return. Some left because their pay didn’t even cover child care cost, others because their work demanded too much time with too little flexibility. Some wanted to be home with their children and figured it wouldn’t be hard to return to work when they were ready. Others were urged by their working husbands that the family would benefit with mom at home. Regardless of why they left, the article explored the difficulties they faced in trying reenter the workforce.
These were all young, healthy women. Those who contact me face even bigger hurdles. Their health challenges mean that they must find and keep jobs where they can manage their family and their health needs (e.g., flexible scheduling, deadline changes, choosing to be under-employed, etc.). As you can imagine, this greatly reduces their options.
Another article, in the Harvard Business Review, Women Rising, the Unseen Barriers, describes the discrimination women face as they try to rise to leadership positions. Among other issues, women who are deeply invested in their careers experience bias from the male dominated world as they manage the multiple pieces of their lives while trying to prove that they have the capability to lead. The article cites gender bias as the major contributor.
Bias spills into many pockets of the workforce. People, particularly women, living with illness experience this when they ask to work differently due to health needs or speak about debilitating symptoms. As Laurie Edwards writes beautifully in her book, In the Kingdom of the Sick, women and men living with the same disease are invariably treated differently.
In my book, I wrote that chronic illness is an ‘equal opportunity employer’ in that it affects all ages, races, religions and gender. I’ve heard from dozens of men about the negative impact chronic illness has had on their career and personal lives. But none of the men, young or old, with whom I’ve spoken told me that it was ever suggested that they leave the workforce because it is harmful to their health. Mothers living with chronic illness often get a strong push, from many parts of their lives, to leave the workforce, at whatever cost.
The fact is that autoimmune diseases, the largest category of chronic disease, are four times as prevalent in women as men. AD onset typically occurs in the prime career building and child rearing years, between ages 25-45.
In light of these challenges, I have revised my workbook, KEEP WORKING WITH CHRONIC ILLNESS 3rd edition. The same ideas are there but based on reader feedback they’re presented with greater clarification. And I developed new skill sheets and guided worksheets as well.
FYI: This workbook is intended for men and women, those just getting started and those making career changes. The information includes career assessment, job and career identification, and making it happen. For the next month, it’s going to stay at the same price as Edition 2 — Just $44 for all that information and you get a phone call with me, too!
And while you’re at it, check out my Career Change and KickStart Programs, too. These are value laden and designed just for people like us.
You can ‘opt out’ thinking you don’t have a choice. OR you can do yourself a big favor by investing your time and resources into figuring out what you can do for yourself, beyond just surviving.