When my chronic illness struck, I was an active 21 year old who worked three jobs. This quickly had to change, as my symptoms made it near impossible to work. Eventually, it did become impossible and I was unemployed and housebound for a year. Because my illness is still undiagnosed, it means I do not qualify for disability support payments and was left with no income.
Around half way through my year of sick, I decided that maybe I needed an office job. Sitting down for a few hours in an office seemed manageable for the most part. My issue then became transport. Because I cannot drive, and I live in a small town with very limited public transport it seemed almost impossible to find an office job that I could find my way to.
I decided to start applying anyway and I’d figure out my transport later. I received numerous offers but they all required physical elements to the job that I knew I couldn’t complete or were positions with too many hours.
That’s when the anxiety began. I felt that there was no way I could return to work because I knew I’d be letting someone down. I knew that they could pay the same to employ an able-bodied person to do a lot more than what I could offer. I was scared that I’d have to call in sick too often and in turn become unreliable. I feared not being able to speak up when things got too much and feel pressured into doing more than I could handle. The thought of going back to work and having so much pressure on me scared the absolute shit out of me, so I stopped looking.
Then one day, just recently, I was approached by someone who knows a bit about my condition. They asked if I would be interested in some reception work. I expressed my worries to them straight away, to which they responded with something along the lines of “let’s make this a trial for both of us; you tell me if you can handle it and I’ll tell you if you can do what I need.” So, all my fear and anxieties aside, I accepted.
My first day was terrifying, simply because I had already put pressure on myself to make it work. I even did three nervous poos that morning – yes, I really said that. When I got there, I asked my employer what they would like me to do. Their response to that question is what makes them so special – “No Ash, you tell me what you can do, and we’ll go from there.” Now, I know perfection doesn’t exist, but I honestly can’t think of more perfect words for someone with a chronic illness to hear from an employer.
Since the end of November, I have been working a few days a week as a receptionist. While this has been the most physically challenging thing I’ve done in the past 18 months, it has been absolutely incredible for my mental health. I have never loved saying “Sorry, I am working that day” more than I do now. I feel empowered, independent and like a semi-functioning member of society again. In fact, I am so happy about being back to work that I have happy tears as I write this.
Thanks to the kindness, compassion and understanding of this person, and my co-workers, I am able to work again for the first time in over a year. I am so grateful to have been given this opportunity which has given me some of my identity back.
The support from my friends and family has been amazing. They have been driving me to and from work, helping me with the chores at home and sending me so many messages of encouragement to get me through the physical challenges I face being back at work.
I can’t write this without giving myself some credit for both pushing through my physical ailments and facing my fears. I am so proud of myself for sticking it out no matter how much it hurts, how exhausted I am or how useless I feel. I am glad I took all that time off though because it has taught me so much about my body and allowed me to learn how to manage my symptoms which is why I am able to work now.
To my chronically ill friends who work, please take a moment to be proud of yourself. I know you’re only doing it out of necessity and it’s hurting you all over but you’re doing it and that’s what matters. To my chronically ill friends who cannot work, don’t be so harsh on yourself. It’s so easy to feel crap about being unemployed but looking after a sick body is more than a fulltime job – it’s damn hard work.