Working With Chronic Illness

Written by two working women with chronic illness, Keep Working, Girlfriend is a blog to help other women (and men) continue working and enjoying the benefits of work. The driving force behind the blog is that “it’s critical to your health — mental, physical, emotional and financial — to keep working.”

At first I didn’t agree. My last job was horrendous, partly because of the work environment and partly because my chronic daily headache was so bad. Far from improving my emotional and physical health, I despaired my lack of productivity and was constantly exhausted. My headaches and migraines were far worse than they had ever been.

Now that I’ve been blogging for nearly two years, Keep Working, Girlfriend resonates with me. It’s hard to believe I didn’t lose my mind during the 18 months I didn’t work. (Or perhaps I did — that period corresponds with one of my worst depressions.)

I have days that I’m not up to any sort of work and I still can’t write as much as I’d like to. Nonetheless, when I can work and have a specific, productive task with a deadline, I’m so much happier and more productive in other areas of my life.

However, working with chronic illness is not always the most healthful approach. If the job is too emotionally or physically draining, it can cause more harm than good. Work itself is not the key: the work has to be enjoyable.

“Work” doesn’t have to be defined as earning a wage. If you’re not able to work a paying job, get creative about what work you can do. Maybe it’s gardening, knitting or writing in a journal. Even taking a shower can be a big accomplishment. Anything that’s satisfying to you and has a clear result.

And lack of stamina isn’t a good excuse! As I’ve learned, committing to just 10 minutes of a rewarding activity is better than not doing it at all. So you only weed two square feet of your garden; it’s more than you would have done otherwise.

I write this on a morning where I struggled to get out of bed, so I hope I don’t sound preachy. I just know it works for me. I’m also aware that if my only aspiration is to lie around and read all day, I need to actively decide whether I’m showing signs of depression or truly feel too horrendous to move.

Are you able to work? Is it rewarding for you? If you don’t work, how do you motivate yourself to work?