After over 3 1/2 years of being on disability leave, this past March I began to transition back into the working world officially.
Prior to my disability leave, my work schedule was crazy! I was go go go, 24/7/365. There was no “pacing myself”. My job didn’t understand that concept, yet they preached we needed to have work / life balance. Ha! It’s actually quite laughable.
But anyways. . . what started off as a short-term disability leave quickly turned to much longer term.
My last day of working was June 12th, 2012 on a project in Chattanooga, TN. (I was technically employed until the following September. Read this post to see my thoughts as I turned my things in.)
And my first day “officially” back in the working world (in some capacity) was March 21st, 2016.
I was out for almost 4 years. That’s a long freaking time to be out of the game.
But, to be fair, it’s not like I’ve been sitting on my ass doing nothing the whole time.
The first year I was really sick. Like in bed, everyday, only moving to go pee, sick.
Then, the second year, I decided to make drastic life changes. These changes started to cut down on my sick days in bed. So I went from 5 or 6 days in bed to like 3, maybeeee 4 days.
By the third year, I knew I was on the right path to getting better, because I was starting to feel like a normal human being again (well, somewhere I suppose). I had my stem cell procedure, which helped me get back to moving. Which then dramatically cut down on my pain and ultimately impacted my energy and stamina (in a GREAT way!).
During my time on disability, I became a certified holistic health coach, a yoga instructor, I learned more than I think I learned in my 28+ years up to that point and I decided to use my experience for good and started doing patient advocacy work. Blogging, speaking at conferences, connecting with patients, writing for online publications, health coaching, helping others, volunteering my time . . .
Seriously. I used to joke about how I was the “busiest person on disability” because, if I was feeling well, I wanted to be active. I’m not someone who was going to string out her disability leave for as long as she could. I’m not someone who was going to just roll over and accept disability as the end of my career. I’m not someone who takes no for an answer!
Honestly, I began to see this period of my life as a huge blessing. It truly rerouted my entire life and I started down a completely different path than the one I had been traveling down previously. Along the way, I started realizing I was laying a foundation for my next career. At the time, I just didn’t know what it would be.
As I venture out into a new chapter, I’m so freaking excited!! To use all my abilities together is amazing. It’s almost like I knew what I was doing all these years 😉
BUT, I have to be careful. And I have to remember that at the end of the day my health is NUMBER ONE PRIORITY.
I don’t want to go backwards, only forwards.
I can’t say I’m an expert in transitioning back into the working world from disability, but I can tell you what I’ve been doing to make my transition a bit easier.
Part Time To Start.
This was a decision made by my doctors and I. We didn’t know how my body would react to the stress of working again. Therefore, to ease back in, I started out part time.
Think back to the first time you had a job. Mine was Bruster’s ice cream and we had 4 or 5 hours shifts. Back then, those shifts seemed like forevvvveeeerrrrr. My brother had his first job last summer and I remember the first day he worked 8 hours. I’m pretty sure he slept the whole next day.
It can be overwhelming for a healthy individual to start back to work full-time. Therefore, when I was coming up with my plan to transition off of disability, my doctor was adamant about starting half time.
She said, “Julie, I know you want to just jump right back in, but you have to think of the stress it will place on your body”.
And she’s right. Man, it’s put a lot of stress on my body. Not necessarily meaning that my job is stressful, but more having to be on a regular schedule and answer to others puts a new level of stress in your life.
There are some people in my life who still don’t understand why I’m only part-time. Previously, people just saw me traveling to conferences or blogging and never really saw me day-to-day. No one truly saw how if I traveled to a conference I was down for the count for a few days to recover. Or how I could only spend a few hours a day on my lap top because of my arthritic hands.
But you know what, at the end of the day, I can’t worry about what others think. I have to know that I’m making the best decision for me and my health. And starting off part-time was DEFINITELY the best choice for me. I will be seeing my rheumatologist at the end of the summer and pending my tests we’ll reassess this status.
Don’t Be Afraid To Speak Up About Your Limitations.
This is a tough one because sometimes we don’t feel comfortable speaking up about our limitations. But, having clear communication is crucial. If your boss or coworkers don’t understand what’s going on with you, they won’t be able to help you when you need it!
You have the right to say as much or as little as you want about your situation. For me, I truly believe being up front and honest is the way to go. I feel extremely lucky to be working in an environment which TOTALLY gets the chronically fabulous patient. My coworkers know about my struggles, they’ve followed my blog, they are aware of my conditions. Do they completely get it? Nah. I don’t think anyone completely gets it, unless they have it, but I feel like since I’m transparent about it I feel more comfortable overall.
Disclosing your health is your own right and you have to do wh
at resonates best with you.
I wrote a past post about dealing with social situations with a chronic illness and a lot of them apply in this scenario too! Check it out by clicking here.
Ask For Modifications If You Need Them.
Sitting at a desk all day is HORRIBLE for my arthritis. Honestly, I feel 10000% better when teaching a yoga class than I do sitting at my desk working for 4 or 5 hours. (too bad I can’t get a salary to teach yoga!) You need to make sure that whatever environment you’re in is conducive to you.
Does note taking bother your hands? Ask for an iPad with a keyboard.
Maybe you need to elevate your legs or have a back support in your chair.
Perhaps you need a standing desk or some other modification.
For me, my hands, wrists and really my whole arms, bother me when typing and using my mouse on my laptop. I HAVE to use an external mouse and I ended up buying the Dragon talk to text software for my computer to help me type.
Don’t be afraid to ask for them! There are laws in place which require employees to accommodate your conditions.
Set Boundaries And Pace Yourself.
Set boundaries. This is something I never did with my old job. They would call me at 4am and I’d have to do x, y and z immediately. But now, I have to realize I can’t do that anymore. I have to realize that I need to rest my hands and my body. I can’t work myself into the ground. I can’t do everything. I need to accept that I HAVE to pace myself.
So I sign off at a certain time and try not to check email til the morning to rest my hands. Nothing is going to come crashing down and burn because I have these boundaries set. If anything, it gives my body the time it needs to rest and heal so I can be in great shape when I’m back to work in the morning.
Listen . . . how can you be productive if your body isn’t in tip-top shape? If you’re always running at full steam, you’ll end up crashing, HARD. This can be a hard one because our ego will get in the way. I know mine has BIG TIME. But, you need to work on getting past your ego and surrendering to what’s the best for YOU. We MUST accept ourselves for where we are right now. Love yourself, set boundaries and pace yourself.
Don’t Forget About Your Self And Your Health.
I used to think I took care of myself because I’d have my nails painted, my hair done, outfit put together, etc. But I never took the time to focus on my inner self. Maybe that’s part of the reason I ended up in this position in the first place! When I was on disability, my full-time job was to get better. Now that I’m getting closer to that “get better” goal, I can’t forget about all the steps I’ve taken to get myself here.
It’s extremely important to remember your inner just as much as your outer self.
Balancing your nervous system. Getting exercise. Eating correctly. Scheduling time for recovery and down time. If you wait til you have forced recovery, you may end up causing more stress. Plan this time into your day.
Maybe everyday at 3 you take 10 minutes to do a mindfulness exercise or to get up and get a cup of tea. Or maybe once an hour you stop and check in with how your body is feeling. I like to do a few seated sun breaths in my chair every once in a while.
Also, remember to make self-care part of your weekly routine. Get to the gym, make it to that yoga class, schedule your acupuncture or PT visits. Don’t get too busy and forget about the things that help promote your health.
Self care is the least selfish thing you can do for yourself. If you take care of yourself, then you can show up for others and for your job!
Want some tips on how to add self-care into your routine? Check out this past post.
How’s it going for me?
It’s only been 3 months, but so far my new job is awesome. I get to work from home which is SO appreciated. If I’m not feeling well, no one cares if I’m working in my pjs! And not having to be at an office at 8am every morning is a blessing.
In effort of full disclosure, my psoriatic arthriits has been flaring up since I went back to work. Honestly, my hands have never bothered me this much in my life before. So I’m taking a lot of other precautions and making sure to focus on my self-care. (I’m in the process of writing/dictating a blog post about it- so stay tuned!)
I’ve been trying to make it a priority that every hour I get up and do something to get my body moving. Maybe it’s get a cup of tea or make a green juice, to do a sun salute or even a sun breath in my chair, or I like to just check in with how my body is feeling. Am I holding tension in my shoulders? And I sitting all cockeyed that my hips are going to be out of whack? Am I squinting my eyes too much and putting strain on them? These things matter!! Our body is always giving us signs, we just need to quiet ourselves and listen in.
What’s my new job?
Ummmm it’s a freaking awesome job. I’m the Patient Influencer Network director for WEGO Health.
Want does that mean?
That means, I’m connecting patient advocates with opportunities to help amplify their voice, to share their stories and to get paid for doing it. I get to work with all my friends to help make a change in the healthcare landscape.
Want to get involved? Reach out to me!! Opting into the WEGO Health network gives you TONS of benefits like participating in Truvio studies, community insight groups, conference scholarships, paid freelance gigs and so much more. It’s honestly amazing to work for a company whose mission includes helping to raise the patient voice. SERIOUSLY, I LOVE IT!
So in the end, remember this.
Pace yourself and make sure that your health is your NUMBER ONE PRIORITY.
No job will ever be able to pay you enough to make up for your lack of health.
Health is wealth.
Never compromise that.
Wishing You A Pain Free Day!