What I’ve learned about work as a person with a disability

It’s the International Day of People With Disability today. In honor of this, and as a person living with a chronic illness (I have multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disorder), I want to take a look at some of the ways that having a condition can affect a person’s working life. This year’s theme is “Inclusion matters: access and empowerment for people of all abilities,” with a real focus on making life better for people with disabilities. Adjusting to life with an illness, disability, or lifelong condition, is already a lot to deal with. But there’s also an inevitable domino effect on other areas of a person’s life, and work is no exception. Staying in work can be difficult when you’re juggling medication, appointments, fatigue, stress and anxiety. These are some of the things that I’ve learned about work as a person with a chronic illness.

You have to figure out what parts of your job you need help with

Being diagnosed with a chronic illness made me reevaluate everything, including work. I realised that the job I was doing was putting too much stress on me which only made my symptoms worse. I decided that shifting my career in a new direction would be beneficial for my health, so I did just that. It was tough to leave that old role behind but overall I feel way more chill now. It’s OK to make choices that put your health first.

You feel like you have to work twice as hard

I put a lot of pressure on myself when I can’t do things that other people can do. It’s been a long process, learning what I’m capable of, and what I definitely can’t do. But these shortcomings do not make me a failure. As a person with an illness or disability, getting to know your own limits is so important. Don’t compare yourself to anybody else. The word failure should not be in your vocabulary. You may do things a little differently than other people, and that’s OK.

You have to take care of yourself first

Everyone has different side effects to deal with. For me, fatigue is a major issue, so moving my working day around, and giving myself regular rest periods, has really helped. I used to feel guilty for not keeping up with the standard working day. Now I realise it’s totally fine to focus on what works best for me and my body, and to make new schedules and rules for myself.

Planning in advance is essential

Planning as much as possible in advance can really take the pressure off. Whether it’s prepping for a big meeting, a lesson, or a new project, getting everything organised ahead of time can help you feel more relaxed, and ready to cope with what the day throws at you.

Eliminate stress

Don’t get me wrong, I hate advice suggesting that you eliminate stress from your life. For most people, stress is a normal part of daily life, and not something that can be eradicated. What I mean here is eliminating any people or things which cause you undue stress. Maybe this is your job, a person who isn’t supporting you, or a stressful work environment. Sometimes, making so-called selfish choices which put you first can really be the best thing.

Don’t worry about the future, and don’t be scared of it either

Finding out you have a serious health condition forces you to think about the future in a new way. Having MS has made me even more serious about the things I want to achieve. And I’ve set to work at achieving this goals as it makes me happy. I finally feel like I’m in control of something. Which is really satisfying when your body has a mind of its own sometimes.

Above all, do a job that you love

Life is short and you have to put yourself first. Finding a career that makes you happy is an important step towards self-care.


What I wish people knew about my multiple sclerosis

[Image via Shutterstock]