Monday, November 24, 2008

Surviving and Thriving with Chronic Illness

Return to work is a challenge that most individuals who have become chronically ill, are coping with an addictive disease, or have sustained an injury, encounter at one time or another or potentially on an ongoing basis. There is ample literature available that documents that the longer an individual is out of work following an illness or injury, the less likely he or she will return to work. In addition, the individual who does not return to work is often found to have increased disability and medical costs, increased emotional and financial stress, poor self esteem, higher likelihood of depression and lower levels of function. All of these factors are negative and can lead to a life focus of disease and disability. This can lead to a snowball effect of cascading health problems.

Nothing is more fatal to our health than an over care of it
-Benjamin Franklin

Therefore, unless you are finically secure, the important thing is that you do try to work. Working will bring about a change in your mind and thoughts to bring about positive feelings of accomplishment, optimism, hope, confidence, strength and joy. Working provides an opportunity to turn feelings of self-pity, boredom, loneliness and depression into positive energy. We can improve our health by return to work and experiencing positive emotions as opposed to focusing on our situation.

Self pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to is, we can never do anything wise in this world.”
-Helen Keller

Striving, not just Surviving
It is important to have a work-related goal, whether it is related to finances, success, promotion or finding work that you enjoy and feel fulfilled while doing. It is important to strive, not just survive at work. The more passionate and fulfilled you are in your work or career, the more successful you may become. Here are some tips on striving in the workplace when coping with a medical condition.

1) Don’t let your illness define who you are. You define who you are. The message you want to portray is that your condition is just a card in your deck of cards. Having a chronic illness or condition is neither a source of shame or pride.
2) Focus on what you can control. You may not be able to control the disease or symptoms, but you can control the direction you take and the choices you make regarding working and your condition. Shape your work environment to meet your needs and to fit your limitations.
3) Don’t consider your condition an obstacle. Consider it a challenge, an opportunity.
4) Be honest. Do not hide your illness, do not be ashamed. But if your illness impacts your work, know your rights. Don’t take on an unnecessary burden of pretending you do not have a chronic condition. Be as public or as private as you need to be.
5) Thrive in your environment. Work with your abilities to achieve success, raise the bar, go for satisfaction not just survival. Use visualization to imagine the work environment that you need and want, stay focused and intend it.
6) Focus on the positive. Workplace success when dealing with a chronic illness or condition can be strengthening and transforming. Many new strengths, skills, qualities and confidence we were not aware we possessed evolve or blossom as a result of our illness.

Definition of Disability
Federal law defines a "Disability" as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits or restricts the condition, manner, or duration under which an average person in the population can perform a major life activity, such as walking, seeing, hearing speaking, breathing, learning, working, or taking care of oneself. However, an impairment or diagnosis, in and of itself, does not necessarily constitute a disability: it must "substantially limit" these activities.” Another definition describes disability as any restriction or lack (resulting from an impairment) of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being.
Many of us shun at the term or label of being “disabled”. Disability infers that we have an “in” ability to do something, or we lack the ability to do something, that the person is not able or less than whole. When outwardly and inwardly we know we are capable of many wonderful things, sometimes we just need to do things differently or with accommodations. Personally, I consider myself “Difabled”.

Definition of Difability
A Difability means an individual can perform specific functions or activities, but does them differently than a normal person would. That such an individual requires accommodations, but with these accommodations is equally effective and productive as a normal, health individual. Difabled individuals have different abilities, not a lack of abilities.

If you are coping with a serious condition, in order for you to succeed, it is critical that you do accept your limitations, identify them, be open about them and work within them. We must be hopeful in our approach to function and change our thoughts that focus on our “lack of ability” or “Disability to our “different ability” or Difability. That is the difference between continued limitations and possibilities. Once you accept your difabilities and learn to work within them, you can achieve success and thrive in any environment that supports you. You can achieve things that you thought were impossible.

Sometimes what we think is so impossible turns out to be possible after all.”

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