4 Tips for Working with Illness

Today I continue my WEGO posts for their challenge, November Health Blog Post Month.  Being really sick lately, participating in this project has invigorated me and given me something to look forward to!  Today’s question is vital especially since many of us, living with daily pain (physical and/or emotional) and fatigue, must work to pay for our medical bills:

First Day on the Job
: Working with a chronic illness can be a difficult balance.  What should you divulge, what should you hold back, and how do you balance it all? Do you have advice for others?

MY ANSWER: The Balance Beam

balance_beamDivulging some essential information and keeping mum about others is a delicate balance beam.  There’s some information we need to divulge in order to get accommodations and yet we need to be taken seriously.  In being honest, we run the risk of people hastily labeling us as incompetent, weak, and inefficient.  At my previous job, I had accommodations (they let me nap during my lunch hour so I had to eat lunch while working).  Here are four rules I learned for walking the balance beam:

1  Divulge the most basic info you need for accommodations:  What can’t you live without?  With Myasthenia Gravis, I needed rest to be productive.  I had to discuss this with my employer once I was offered the job.  They let me take my CPAP machine to work, which I needed for my sleep apnea.  (Because of Reliv, I haven’t used it since this summer.)  When our office moved and it was no longer near my apartment where I would rest, they bought me a Chaise Lounge for my office.  Occasionally I wore medical masks and sunglasses when my eye muscles were strained.  Things I didn’t tell them: every time I was in excruciating pain, the number of meds I was on, and every time I checked into the hospital because I got the flu.  Though my medical problems were hard, they didn’t keep me from being productive so it was irrelevant.  So many people don’t understand chronic illness; most people don’t know what an autoimmune disease is.  It’s important to be discriminating in what we reveal.  Often we learn by trial and error.

2  Stress your accomplishments:  Sometimes it feels like “Myasthenia Gravis” is my middle name.  (And ten years ago, I may have felt the same way about Bipolar Disorder.)  But we are more than the sum of our disabilities and illnesses even when it doesn’t feel like it.  I have learned that in submitting resumes, attending job interviews, and networking, I can’t deny the obvious (everyone will ask me why I carry a cane) but I can’t deny my accomplishments either—even those things that happened before I collected these five illnesses—four without sleep apnea.  I graduated with two majors and honors from Northwestern University.  While graduation day feels like a thousand years ago, it’s still important.  Do you ever sell yourself short?  If so, how?  Working for two years at my previous job I won the highest awards in the mental health industry (Second Prize in the National Council of Community Behavioral Healthcare’s Awards of Excellence).  The mental health podcast and blog that I ran saw a 397% increase in listeners and readers.

3  Have daily stress relievers:  I did Pilates every morning before work.  Even though it was only twenty minutes, it gave me the energy to last the 9 to 5 workday.  Listen to music—try Pandora or Spotify or homemade playlists.  Pray.  Get a stress ball.  Whatever it takes.

4  Stratify tasks by difficulty and urgency:  I make a to-do list almost every night to map out the next day.  When I’m really stressed, I work on “easy” tasks on my to-do lists so I can build enough confidence to tackle the hard tasks.  Prioritize: When I’m overwhelmed, I stratify tasks along urgency (four stars means it must be finished today, three stars tomorrow, and so on).  I’ve used these strategies to deal with depression (I have Bipolar II), physical pain (my Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome), and extreme fatigue (Myasthenia Gravis).

What about you?

nhbmp-logo-300x83Stay Tuned!  Tomorrow I’ll be tackling the next WEGO Prompt.  Do you have any tips about working while chronically ill?

–Your Stylist,

Jessica Gimeno


Hi there! I am a patient advocate, writer, and public speaker most well known for my TEDx Talk, “How to Get Stuff Done When You Are Depressed.” As someone who is juggling 5 illnesses: bipolar 2, myasthenia gravis, endometriosis, psoriasis, and asthma, I’m passionate about helping people who navigate life with both chronic physical & emotional pain. If you’re interested in hiring me to speak at your event, check out the CONTACT tab.

One thought on “4 Tips for Working with Illness

  • March 6, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    This is such an important & relevant piece!! I lost my job a few months ago (I suspect that it had something to do with my illnesses, but they had a loophole to get away with it). I’ve been looking for something since then, but it’s so hard to find that balance – not only figuring out what to say & what to keep to myself, but finding something that will be substantial enough to pay the bills while still giving me the flexibility to work around the 10ish medical appointments I have per month, or to work from home when it just hurts too much to come in. I do my best to stay positive and hold on to hope that things will work out, but it’s definitely not easy.


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