• Myriame Lyons

Finding a Job with Chronic Pain–and Navigating the Workplace


Living with a chronic illness is hard enough. Appointments, treatments, and your day-to-day routine all take a significant amount of effort to maintain. Managing your chronic health condition can feel like a full-time job in and of itself. So adding in the extra stressor of finding a job with chronic pain or illness and navigating your career can be overwhelming.


While it would certainly be easier if work wasn’t a factor in your chronic illness journey, many people have no other options. Going on disability is just not feasible. Financial reasons keep folks grinding forward even when health problems make it extremely difficult. Beyond the money, many people find pleasure and fulfillment from their careers–they don’t want chronic illness to control or change that part of their identity.


Still finding a job with chronic pain is stressful enough, not to mention the difficult situations that you might encounter once you actually land a job. You might worry about how to tell your boss you have a doctor’s appointment or when you need to tell your manager that you are sick and need time off.


No matter your unique situation, we can provide you with some helpful tips for finding a job with chronic pain and navigating all the challenging conversations at work related to having a chronic illness.


Let’s dive in.


Finding a job with chronic pain

Just like with managing your chronic illness, there’s no one-size-fits all approach. However, if you feel lost about how to find a job with chronic pain, this is a good place to start.


Be honest about what you need

When coming to terms with your chronic illness, it can be hard to accept that you have different needs than others–or even have different needs than you did before symptoms appeared or you were diagnosed. While it may be difficult to come to terms with that fact, it is crucial in your job search.


If you’re not honest with yourself or potential employers about your needs, it may create unnecessary stress later on. By reflecting on what you need (i.e. remote work, an accessible office building, onsite parking) to be successful in your career before you take a job or even apply for it, you allow yourself to get the support you need and deserve.


Be kind to yourself

As you likely already know, life with a chronic illness can be difficult. Don’t make it even more difficult by shaming yourself or talking down to yourself. You deserve kindness as you navigate the stressful process of job hunting.


Here are some adapted words that I love from Kristin Neff's self-compassion meditation:


This is a moment of pain.

This is really hard for me right now.

Pain is a part of life.

Many people also experience pain.

I can be kind to myself right now.

I can get through this moment.

I am here for myself.


If you feel consumed by negative thoughts and feelings during your job search, consider therapy. Chronic illness counselling can help you improve your self-compassion, build a different relationship with your chronic pain, and help you feel better about yourself. I offer online therapy in Canada, and I help folks navigate life with chronic illnesses. Know that you don’t have to do it alone.


When do you need to tell your manager that you are sick?

Calling out of work is another nerve-wracking scenario that often happens over the course of a person’s career. However, it may happen more frequently if you live with a chronic illness. If you’re wondering when you need to tell your manager that you are sick, consider this:


Find the courage to be vulnerable

It can be tricky to figure out when to disclose information about your chronic illness. You are the only one who can decide how much you want to share, who you want to talk to, and when to give them information.


If this seems daunting, start by exploring others’ stories. Discover how other folks talk about their chronic illness and take note of what language resonates with you. Keep what works for you and leave what doesn’t–with practice, you’ll find your own voice.


Expressing yourself–and advocating for yourself–takes courage. There is no simple answer to the question of when you need to tell your manager that you are sick, but it can feel empowering when you choose to share your experience in a way that’s comfortable for you. It might be during the interview, after a probation period, or once a symptoms worsens or flares up. Taking this courageous step can help you get your needs met and feel more confident in owning your experience with chronic illness.


How to tell your boss you have a doctor’s appointment

Unfortunately, work-related stress doesn’t usually stop once the job search is complete. There are plenty of difficult situations that crop up in the workplace, especially as a person with a chronic illness.


It can be terrifying to think about how to tell your manager you are sick, but it can also be stressful to tell your boss you have doctor's appointments. However, you deserve to have your health needs met. Here’s some tips that will help you get to your medical appointments-without having to share the news of your chronic illness.


Use direct communication

If you’re worried about how to tell your boss you have a doctor’s appointment, the best approach is to be straightforward and honest. Using direct, clear communication is typically the most effective way to express your need in any situation.


Instead of saying something passively such as “I was wondering if maybe I could leave a couple hours early on Wednesday so I can go to my appointment, but no worries if not!” try using a more confident tone (even if you’re feeling anxious). Here’s an example: “I have an important medical appointment on Wednesday afternoon, so I will be leaving at 3pm.”


Consider your timing and delivery

While there’s no formula for exactly how to tell your boss you have a doctor’s appointment, you may feel more heard if you think about when and how you’ll talk to them.


For example, will your boss see the email you sent at 5pm on a Friday? Even if they do, will they give it their full attention? If this seems unlikely, consider speaking with them in person at a time you know they’re available.


Get support with finding a job with chronic pain and navigating work stressors

Having a career while managing your chronic illness is stressful enough–don’t make it harder by suffering alone. I provide chronic illness counselling as a psychotherapist in Vancouver, and I help people like you navigate life (including work!) with a chronic illness.


Reach out today to learn more about how I can help.


Stay strong,


Myriame


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