I recently had the pleasure of reading “Women, Work, and Autoimmune Disease: Keep Working, Girlfriend!” By Rosalind Joffe and Joan Friedlander and it reminded me that I am not alone in the issues that affect and consume my work-life because of autoimmune disease.
Two years ago when I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, after ten years of signs that something was wrong, I had hit my all time low in dealing with my diagnosis. I had just given birth to my son when my body told me that it had enough. I awoke a few days after giving birth with the most unimaginable joint pain and stiffness. My fingers were curled up and my body felt like it weighed five hundred pounds. The words “rheumatoid arthritis” sounded like a death sentence, and the new diagnosis forced me to hit one of the lowest points of my life.
Those first few weeks and months after diagnosis, my refusal to accept my diagnosis wore me down to the point of depression. So many questions consumed my time and led to many sleepless nights. Could I take care of my family? Could I return to work? Would I become disabled? I never once believed that two years later, I would be standing up for awareness and teaching others the meaning of strength. One day I realized that I had a choice, and I choose to be the same person I was prior to my diagnosis. I was a working mother before and I would still be a working mother after, despite RA and because of RA.
It is estimated that 60% of the United States population of adults have at least one chronic condition. More 23.5 million Americans suffer from one or more autoimmune diseases. In fact, autoimmune diseases are the leading cause of death and disability. Autoimmune diseases can affect anyone, but women of childbearing age have much higher risk than their male counterparts. Autoimmune diseases don’t go away, but symptoms can be treated and the disease can be managed. The more a person learns about the disease, the more they can enjoy life. Women with autoimmune diseases can lead full and productive lives through treatment and adoption of healthy lifestyles.
Flares are a sudden and severe onset of disease symptoms. The longer a person deals with the disease, they learn to understand what triggers cause flares. These can include things like stress, overexposure to sun, and lack of sufficient sleep. Knowing what triggers affect your condition, following a treatment plan and seeing your doctor on a regular basis can help to prevent flares and/or keep them from becoming brutal.
What we do know is that the current employment trend is that people are staying in their jobs even though they suffer from chronic illnesses such as arthritis, diabetes, cancer and/or autoimmune diseases. Further, research is finding that the number of people in the workforce with chronic illness is increasing. There are several factors to explain the rise in chronic illness, including a rise in obesity and the aging population. Moreover, the last decade has brought with it an advance of diagnostic approaches and treatment options. For that reason, many women and men are working despite chronic illness.
That process of deciding whether to continue to work for any person, but in particular, women and mothers, is long and difficult decisive process. As Joan Friedlander explains (at p. 15), “As with everything in life, nothing is universal or absolute. However, the trends and findings of recent years start to tell an interesting story. Autoimmune diseases, chronic and unpredictable in nature, are a woman’s issue, and as such, have serious ramifications for women in the workforce.” With this, Rosalind Joffe adds an important message, “Figure out a way to keep working.”
Simply wanting to continue to working is not a simple task but there is always a way to make it work out according Friedlander and Joffe. The authors both speak from experience. Joffe has multiple sclerosis and ulcerative colitis and Friedlander has Crohn’s Disease. Because of autoimmune disease, they have had to adjust their careers. The authors address a variety of issues to consider when working with chronic illness including disclosure and dealing with flares on the job. One of the things about disclosure, as noted by Joffe, is that there is a time and a place. The only time to bring up disclosure of your illness to your employer is if it gets in the way of your work.
If disclosure is the best-case scenario, then your employer must also know that you are capable to enough to do your responsibilities but you must make time for appointments or medications. Bring coworkers you can trust into the know because they will be able to help out if you must miss work. You can offer them the same in exchange. If you need your employer to make reasonable accommodations to your workspace or in the way you do your job, remember that it is a give and take scenario so do not make unreasonable demands. If your employer is unreasonable, then the law is on your side depending on your condition. The Americans with Disabilities Act covers those with conditions that make persons disabled from certain functions, whether permanent, sporadic, and some cases, temporary.
A person with a chronic condition can do a number of things to make their work-life easier on a daily basis. These can be things like taking breaks, stretching often, changing your posture, getting enough sleep, exercising and eating right. There are also many options for working women with autoimmune disease, including flexible hours, working part-time, working from home, or starting your own business.
For women struggling with autoimmune disease and trying the make a reasonable work-life balance, the decision to continue working or not, is a difficult one, but at the same token, it is neither unreasonable nor unrealistic. Through “Women, Work, and Autoimmune Disease,” Rosalind Joffe and Joan Friedlander explain how women can weigh the options they have on whether to work or not and to work towards being successful in their careers. This book is a great resource for working women living with autoimmune diseases and their final chapter, “Developing Your Warrior Spirit: Hope and Resilience,” says it all by bringing together all the important aspects of the book.
Hope is the belief in your ability to recover from whatever has knocked you down on any given day. Resilience is the ability to recover from the punch and the land on your feet, or on your own butt, or whatever supports you at that time. To cultivate your physical resilience, you must have mental resilience that comes from a place called hope.” (Joffe at 205).
Women, Work, and Autoimmune Disease: Keep Working, Girlfriend! By Rosalind Joffe and Joan Friedlander is available through Amazon.com for under $13.00.
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My next book review will be on “FibroWHYalgia: Why Rebuilding the Ten Root Causes of Chronic Illness Restores Chronic Wellness” by Susan E. Ingebretson and I also have an upcoming review for a couple products from CSN stores to offer assistance to those with weak or arthritic hands.