My Journey into a New Career Path with RA
I was diagnosed with RA shortly after graduating as an occupational therapist. I was in my 20s, and the diagnosis dramatically altered my career and presented many challenges along the way.
As many of us RA warriors do, I adapted. I managed all medical appointments despite my full-time work schedule and life. I encountered and navigated through many job/boss challenges, discriminatory behavior in the workplace, many missed days of work, numerous flare-ups, much trial and error with medication, and various disease changes. I managed this exhausting dance for 18 years.
RA ended my career
In December 2018, I became physically unable to perform my job duties. The loss of my career led to my inability to financially provide for myself, various levels of homelessness, and an ever-increasing amount of pressure, anxiety, depression, and fear. Also, I experienced an extended period of debilitating illness without an adequate support system. During that time, I went through an arduous process to receive Social Security Disability. To this day, I will never understand how an individual with a documented medical history of RA and homelessness gets denied at first, but it happens.
Coping through mental health therapy
I am happy to report that I am in a much better state with my RA and that it, for the most part, is stabilized with medications, exercise, a healthy diet, and alternative medicine. I have been in stabilized housing for over 2 years now. I have been through a lot of mental health therapy and have a great support system to the point that I have contemplated returning to the career world full-time.
Anxieties and fears of returning to a new career
I fear returning to a new career, getting debilitatingly ill again, becoming unable to work, and ending up penniless and homeless. It is a very legitimate fear; it’s happened before.
So, why in my right mind would I jeopardize my financial stability and potentially have to restart the whole insanely tricky process of trying to obtain social security disability again? The answer for me, after much reflection, was that my health has progressed forward and that I am not done yet. I feel driven to a higher purpose in a new career path that suits my specific abilities and limitations with RA. Let’s face it, had I known I had RA, I would have never entered into the field of study that I did.
State-led job assistance programs
In June 2022, I began working with the Adult Career and Continuing Education Services-Vocational Rehabilitation Program (ACCES-VR). It is a state-run program for individuals with a disability that interrupts their ability to obtain, maintain, or advance in a job or career path. I first met with my vocational rehabilitation counselor, K.S., who is wonderful.
We have set up an Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE). We have very individualized goals that need to be established on that plan. I have been assigned to a person who is a job developer and has a unique talent for matching individuals with disabilities with a career path that highlights their strengths while considering their specific disability-related needs. Additionally, I am being referred to Legal Services to help me manage my current benefits during my transition into full-time employment.
Never let fear overtake your life
I wanted to share this part of my journey because I have felt very fearful and alone in returning to a new and meaningful career with RA. This particular topic is not discussed extensively in literature or support groups. So, this is for anyone in a similar position and struggling to realize there is potential support and help for you. Many trained professionals to help you walk this part of your journey. This is Part 1 of my journey to a. new career path. I am excited about Part 2, where I will discuss my experience working with a professional job developer.
-Just Keep Swimming
Did you have difficulty receiving a RA diagnosis?