Working Full-Time with Chronic Illness

Working Full-Time with Chronic Illness

As our social media followers may know already, I started a full-time (albeit remote) job this summer. Before this, I worked about 60 hours per week, on average, as a freelancer in addition to blogging, writing, and running my small press. That was even less sustainable than the thought of working full-time with chronic illness! Fortunately, my role allows a lot of flexibility, rather than a strict 9 to 5 workday.

That being said, this isn’t making the process of balancing a full-time job with the unpredictability of disabilities any less of a challenge. On the contrary, it’s been nearly a full quarter since I began this role, yet I’m still struggling with the adjustment! In the past few months, though, I’ve learned a lot about working full-time with chronic pain and other conditions. In particular, I’ve been working my head around how to do so successfully, simultaneously being a successful, reliable employee while managing my health and symptoms. So, of course, this is the sort of thing I can’t help but share here, too.

Take advantage of the good days.

As a freelancer, I found myself in a never-ending cycle of burnout, leading to a severe health crisis this past spring. In particular, Arianna Huffington’s experience hits home, along with the lessons she learnt in the process: change is absolutely necessary. In my case, this means I must make more time for rest and—despite my overly ambitious instincts’ protests—recreation, as well. I’m still learning how to reach this balance, but I’ve quickly learnt that making the most of those days when symptoms are minimal is a crucial aspect.

Fewer hours doesn’t mean less effort.

This may be particular to my situation, but I’m technically working far fewer hours as a full-time employee than freelancing. Nevertheless, I’ve also been struggling over the past few months while I adjust to a 40-hour workweek (or slightly over, in most cases). Much to my surprise, working full-time with chronic illness has led to more exhaustion despite being fewer hours than my freelance efforts previously. I know that starting a full-time job can be exhausting, but I had no idea just how tiring it would be!

Having the right team is key.

Of course, you can’t always change the people you work with. But, when that is something you can control, your supervisors and colleagues must be supportive. I’ve been ridiculously lucky on this front—my supervisor and colleagues might not know the innermost details of my diagnoses, but they know that I’m disabled. They’ve been incredible in understanding the struggle and trying to make this job work for me.

Be upfront about your needs and limitations.

I’m still grappling with this point personally, but I’ve realised that it’s essential to be pretty frank about the accommodations you need and the challenges your diagnosis might present. In my case, this was part of the reason I struggled to find a remote role and even failed to get some freelance clients before this. One particular difficulty, for me, is difficulty making phone or video calls. Fortunately, there’s a lot of technology in the modern days that allow me to manage with text-based platforms, whether it’s online ordering or chat service.

Remind yourself of your strengths.

One part of my new job that I’ve especially struggled with is meeting a weekly quota. On difficult days, that struggle has been enough to leave me questioning my abilities and having this job. I’ve had others tell me that I was a perfect choice for this role, but I can’t help but question it on the hard days. When this happens, I stop and try to remember why I’m here. Then, for a few moments, I’ll look through high scores or positive feedback my previous work has received.

Listen to your body.

Arguably, this is just a crucial tip for life with chronic pain or illness more generally. Flexible hours mean that, when I can’t keep my eyes open one afternoon (thanks to what’s thought to be myalgic encephalomyelitis or chronic fatigue syndrome), I can sign off and take a nap, then return when I’m feeling a bit more functional. Likewise, when I’m feeling better than usual, I can push my limits a little more, leaving space for another day to be shorter when I’m struggling.

Take complete breaks.

Working through a bowl of chips between paragraphs doesn’t count as a lunch break. Ideally, I try to maintain a schedule with a full lunch break and two coffee breaks (morning and afternoon). At the very least, I make myself step away from the screen for a few minutes. This is vital to avoiding more significant flares, like a screen time-induced migraine, and staying productive when working.

Find Productivity Tools that work for you.

As spoonies, we can’t always thrive with conventional productivity methods and tools. However, I’ve found that a few productivity systems and productivity tools, in particular, help me get my work done with less stress. Of course, some days require different methods than others, and plenty of trial and error is involved. What matters most, though, is that you find what works for you and take advantage of your newfound productivity.

Keep notes and a to-do list.

If your chronic illness comes with brain fog, this is crucial. I keep an array of to-do lists between GoodNotes, my favourite task management apps, and my pen-and-paper lists. Not everything that comes to mind throughout the day is a task, though. So instead, I keep notes, too. Sticky notes are ideal, while the iOS Notes app or similar programs offer digital tools that do the same.

Create and utilise a flexible routine.

The benefits of routines are vast, especially when you’re dealing with conditions like autism or ADHD. At the same time, disabilities make that sort of consistency difficult. You never know when a pain flare or other symptoms will throw your routine aside! Tiimo is a great tool, particularly for neurodivergent schedulers, and Google Calendar is another fan favourite. I use these to outline my routine (there’s little chance I’d remember otherwise!), but allow myself to adjust it as needed. Leaving a few “free spaces” in my week ensures there’s room to accommodate those adjustments!

Embrace the unconventional.

I use this tip for productivity more broadly, too. Does having a stim toy or weighted lap pad make the workday easier for you? Never mind what others might think. Do what works for you! So long as your unconventional tool or method isn’t harming you or someone else, there’s no reason not to take advantage of it.

Find workarounds when needed.

Sometimes, your illness just won’t let you do the tasks at hand. For instance, when migraines affect my vision, I’ll struggle to type an article, much less edit and format it. In these cases, I turn to Otter.ai to dictate my assignments. I was surprised by just how accurate their transcriptions are! I’ll just have to make edits and format the text once my eyes are working properly once again. Think of where your symptoms cause a struggle and see if a similar workaround can help you thrive despite your illness.

Adjust your expectations.

Chances are, you’ve long since realised that you can’t accomplish things with the same speed and ease as someone healthy. This is especially true when working full-time with chronic illness. So remind yourself that sometimes good enough is plenty. As much as you want to be a reliable employee and impress your boss, you can’t expect every single task to be done perfectly—at least not if you expect to stay [relatively] healthy.

Know your limits.

Some people can’t work full-time with chronic illness or disability, despite their best efforts. If that’s the case, you might consider part-time or other alternative working hours to work with fewer complications. In some cases, you might not be able to work at all. This is undoubtedly a mental and economic challenge, but it’s essential to do what’s best for you and your health. If you need to decrease your work hours or step away from your career path, it’s worth considering whether these are compromises you can make for the sake of your well-being.

Do you work full-time with chronic illness? What helps make it easier?

Mini - An Ideal Life

My Mobile Office in a Bag

My Mobile Office in a Bag

As a full-time freelancerbloggerpoetpublisher, I was working from home long before COVID-19. In fact, I’ve done exclusively remote work since graduating college! With my various chronic illnesses, it’s the best way by far to earn a living without harming my health. Along the way, I found that keeping my most important tools in my very own mobile office in a bag is key to being as productive as possible.

I’m fortunate to have a small section of the living room to use as a workspace. But being a small corner of a room that’s used by the rest of the family, it has limited space for supplies. With that in mind, my mobile office in a bag has become all the more critical.

Really, my office in a bag is used in conjunction with that workspace and a bit of storage space dedicated to my various businesses. With the latter, I can swap out supplies as needed to blog from bed or reach out to clients from my “office.” Not only does this system keep me organised, but it also keeps me from trying to carry more than I should.

My Mobile Office in a Bag

I use this colourful Vera Bradley tote I got in a Her Campus survival kit years ago. It’s slowly starting to show its age with some fraying on the straps, but I absolutely adore it still. It’s the perfect size to hold all my essentials without getting too heavy to manage. Plus, the vivid pattern adds such a (literal) bright spot to my workdays!

What’s in my mobile office in a bag?

As I mentioned above, I swap out certain supplies as needed for the day’s projects. But there are a few pieces that stay in the bag consistently—unless, of course, they’re in use at that moment!

Laptop

When it comes to remote work, a computer is priority number one. This caused some problems last year, as the Chromebook my sister had passed on to me met its fate. For the time being, I’m using an HP Stream to work each day. It’s not perfect, but it gets the job done! And, just as importantly, it was affordable in my desperately-need-a-working-computer-right-now crisis. I plan to upgrade to a Macbook down the road but, for now, the Stream handles my day-to-day business needs. I’ve added plenty of stickers, too, to let it bring a smile to my face!

Stream - My Mobile Office in a Bag

Computer accessories

In addition to my laptop itself, I keep a variety of accessories in my bag to get the most out of my digital efforts. Right now, the list looks like this:

  • Charger (always important!)
  • MicroSD card – a simple microSD card makes up for the Stream’s lack of storage space and lets me salvage files if another computer crisis arises.
  • Laptop sleeve
  • Bluetooth mouse
  • Headphones – I actually use a few, depending on the context! I’ll use my Beats or these wireless Bluetooth headphones for transcription projects or needing to block out noise for focus. On the rare occasion I have to hop on a Zoom call or the like (I’ve only done one, actually—my disabilities aren’t fond of phone/video calls), I switch to these simple earbuds. Hopefully, I’ll be adding a set of AfterShokz to my arsenal soon, too (use my referral link <- to save $10 on your first purchase!).

Blue Light Headphones - My Mobile Office in a Bag

Blue Light Blocking Glasses

From the minimal research I’ve done, there’s little strong evidence to support the need for blue light glasses. But, placebo or not, I seem to see a difference. I snagged a four-pack of blue light glasses on an Amazon lightning deal and keep the pink pair in my mobile office in a bag (inside a simple plastic case from Dollar Tree). The clear pair lives next to my bed, for nights when I can’t resist scrolling until I start getting sleepy!

Planner

After testing out some of their downloadable pages, I knew I wanted to try a Day Designer planner myself. Mine is a part of the Day Designer x Blue Sky collaboration (this one, to be exact!), but reminds me so much of the higher-end flagship planner. The Blue Sky collab is a bit simpler, but the affordability is perfect for my current plans! I pair my planner with these pens to colour-code to my heart’s content—I even keep a colour key washi taped to the inside cover!

Day Designer - My Mobile Office in a Bag

Bullet Journal

In its current stage, I’m not using my bullet journal as a planner. But I am utilising it for a lot! I keep my bullet journal in my mobile office in a bag, as well as an assortment of Sakura Pigma microns, Zebra mildliners, and my favourite Papermate flair pens.

Bullet Journal - My Mobile Office in a Bag

pens

In addition to the pens I use with my planner and bullet journal, I keep others on hand for various note-taking and similar tasks. Right now, I’m absolutely adoring these minimalistic rose gold pens and a Bic Atlantis pen I got as a free sample with a recent Walmart Grocery order.

Pencils

Sometimes you need something erasable! That’s where a trusty pencil comes in—my go-tos are Dixon Ticonderoga or Pentel mechanical drafting pencils.

Highlighters

Zebra mildliners are popular within the bullet journal community, but I use them for so much more than my bullet journal itself! Lately, my most common use for them is with some printables from The Budget Mom. But, really, hardly a day goes by that I don’t pick up my pouch of mildliners for something! More recently, I’ve added a few Stabilo BOSS highlighters and a pack of Pilot FriXion erasable highlighters to my collection, for when I’m looking for a little less variety or greater flexibility.

Notebooks

I have yet to order an entire case of these 3×5 notepads, but I probably should! I insist on having a few of these notebooks (or these similar notepads) on hand for everything from to-do lists to noting important information. They’re so darn convenient! I also try to keep a basic legal pad or two (whether they’re simple white or pretty colours) and will sometimes add a mini composition book for sudden bursts of creative inspiration.

Beyond the bag

I try to keep as much as possible in my mobile office in a bag, for convenience’s sake. But I can’t always include everything! A few essentials that I use daily but don’t necessarily include in the bag:

  • Cell phone & charger – my iPhone XR has pretty good battery life, but I’m on it so consistently that I still need to recharge at the end of the day!
  • Water bottle – I’ll often keep a few different water bottles throughout the day! Most often, I’ll be sipping from my Brumate winesulator or Cirkul bottle.
  • Coffee – if you’ve been following me a while, you know this is a necessity!

As of this writing, these are the must-have items I keep in my mobile office in a bag. And, as I balance my freelance work, blogging, small press, and writing efforts from this tote, I have to say it’s working!
Mini - An Ideal Life

Mini - An Ideal Life

Do you use a mobile office in a bag? What do you include in yours?