Work, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Adaptations

How do you handle work with your rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis?

That is a recent question from one of our newer members. How do you choose a job you can do physically and mentally with a chronic disease that affects your physical, mental, and emotional well-being? Do you plan for flares or take them as they come? What do you look for in a job and a manager?

Adapting my work life with RA

Before my diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, I already dealt with knee and back pain from injuries and surgeries.

As I look back over my career, I see that I slowly began to switch to jobs that were less physically demanding. I am a registered nurse and I left the hospital 4 years into my current 35-year career.

With each job change, I hoped that my body would settle down and cooperate. It usually did...for a while.
Stress, injury, fatigue, and pain would creep in and begin to overwhelm what I could do. So I would look for a new job with less physical demands and less responsibility.

My current job as a faith community nurse

Eventually, I ended up with a flare that resulted in being on short-term disability for 4 months. Then, I found ministry working for a church as a faith community nurse.

I make visits, provide education and resources, transport members to medical visits and provide a "listening ear", take notes, plan the senior luncheons, and manage our medical equipment lending program. For the first 8 years, I was loved and supported and never questioned about my "tough days."

Two years ago, my boss changed. I now have a micromanager who questions everything I do. She has changed my hours of work and taken away my flexibility. In addition, she has added more to my responsibilities.

RA and the job search: 8 tips to keep in mind

I love my ministry here and the people that I serve. So, I stay. I have looked at other job options and there are not any for someone with my health concerns.

I met with a social security disability lawyer several years ago, and he told me I had adapted so well that he didn’t think I would qualify!

So, what do we do?

1. Look for jobs that allow sitting with some time for walking.

2. Make sure to allow for contact with others - socialization is really important with chronic illness.

3. In your interview, question the manager on their management style.

4. Ask to speak with current employees.

5. Use a search site - such as Indeed or Zip Recruiter - which give detailed instructions on jobs.

6. Avoid jobs that emphasize fast-paced, highly-organized, very flexible, etc.

7. Look for health benefits that include mental health coverage, as chronic illness affects mental health.

8. Make a pros and cons list. Decide which pros are most important and which cons you can manage.

Ultimately, we realize there is no "perfect" job with rheumatoid arthritis. However, there are jobs we can do which provide income, the ability to have purpose, and do not cause increased stress on our bodies.

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