I have lost two careers due to chronic illness. My academic career where I was going to go for my Ph.D. but due to unmanaged migraines that had become chronic and unmanaged fibromyalgia I could not. I took a banking job then but that just made the situation much, much worse and adding in Major Depressive Disorder. So that went downhill no matter how hard I tried to push through the pain. I work as a part-time teller now, although have been off for a year now due to a vestibular disorder that should be treated this year.
So I know how it feels. The first time, that hit me hard in the feels. Then when I thought I found a reasonable replacement to satisfying me, well, I tried to hold onto that Hard, man. And failed and failed and failed.
This results in:
Which goes hand in hand with low self-esteem. Because try as hard as you might and no matter what you do, you fail. And you feel in your heart of hearts that was a Personal failure. Not that you were not capable of doing it but you personally failed at doing it. The more times this happens the less self-worth you have and the less confidence you have to ever try something again. Because the fear of failure that has become so well known to us, holds us back from trying something we might be able to do. But also might not. And that might not is the one we are keenly aware of.
When all of a sudden you find yourself unable to work you have to fill the void of work during the day. However, you are limited by your health and not capable of much and everything you can do comes with a cost. But we need something to occupy our time and keep us interested, motivated, and productive. Because not working, when we feel that we should be, but can’t, can lead to depression. And isolation. How we fill that void differs between us all. For me, it is blogging and writing. And socializing every once in a while to stave off the isolation.
Productive years of our lives
We are often chronically ill and disabled during the most productive years of our lives. This naturally means loss of income. It means income instability. It means we feel we are not productive members of society. We get comments like:
Must be nice not to have to work
I wish I didn’t have to work
It is like a vacation every day!
You’re wasting your potential
I still go to work and I’m sick with blah blah blah.
Which are all hurtful ways of saying… you Should be working according to societies standards. And you feel stagnant. And functionally useless. And not utilizing your full potential.
There is always a period of grieving when we lose our capacity to work. And this process can be short or it can take years. We mourn who we were and we mourn who we will never be.
Due to the financial insecurity, a lot of guilt comes with chronic illness and loss of work. Like if only we could force ourselves to do it, we wouldn’t be in that situation. And our significant others wouldn’t have to deal with our failure to provide income.
It isn’t just one day we were working and the next we were not. It is a decline in our capacity to work overtime, sometimes a long time if we really push ourselves (which makes things worse) and this can lead to ‘issues’ in the workplace. And we can resent a lot of the pain and hardship they caused us while we struggled so hard every day. We have to let that go though. People often do not know how to deal with chronic illness in the workplace… and a lot of people get it wrong. So wrong it is incomprehensible. But you are not to blame for it. Their failure to understand and compromise and accommodate is to blame for a hostile working environment when you are ill.
Fact is, we place a lot of our self-identity in what we do for a living because society does as well. One of the first damn questions you ask someone to start a conversation. And then the sudden lack of that can cause us to founder for a bit trying to determine who we are with illness. We certainly feel like we shouldn’t define ourselves by our illness. That seems like it belittles who we are as a person.
We all have struggles like these when we go off work for short-term, long term, or forever. Takes us a bit to orient ourselves to be chronically ill and unable to work. And ways to fill the void of work while at the same time improving our self-worth and adjusting our self-identity. But all that takes time. And in the beginning, we mourn and we feel guilty and we blame ourselves for something completely out of our control.