I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (UC) at 25 years old. UC is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation and the formation of ulcers in the large intestine. This triggers abdominal pain and frequent bloody or mucus-filled bowel movements.
Along with my health, my career path quickly changed after receiving that diagnosis. At that time, I was working in the nonprofit field. I then decided to change careers and become a functional nutritionist and health coach. It felt amazing to be able to support others on their health journey.
But despite having a fulfilling career, managing work on top of a chronic condition can be tricky and overwhelming. Here are five of my own tips that I use to balance my career while living with UC.
When you start a new job or receive a new diagnosis, knowing when and how to inform your employer can feel intimidating. Whether you disclose your diagnosis is entirely up to you — but having this conversation if and when you’re ready can ease worries about requesting special accommodations or time off for doctor’s appointments and other care.
If your symptoms worsen and you’re unable to work at the same level as before, you might want to understand your options moving forward. If you live in the United States, you may be entitled to “reasonable accommodations” under the Americans with Disabilities Act. I recommend starting a dialogue with the human resources (HR) department to better understand your rights and options.
Self-care, especially rest, is so essential for those of us with chronic conditions. Sometimes we may experience fatigue, and sometimes we’re just tired and need more downtime.
Identifying when and how to rest with your work schedule can help you be more productive and may reduce flares. Allow yourself to have breaks throughout the day to recharge.
One of my favorite ways of prioritizing rest during the workday is to do a short, guided meditation that takes my mind and body to the present moment. It helps me check in with my needs.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was hard to find remote work, especially for people with chronic illnesses. Now, there are more opportunities to work from home, which can take tons of pressure off those of us with IBD.
Access to your own bathroom, food, and other tools like heating pads can help you get through the workday more comfortably. The unemployment rate for disabled people is much higher than those without a disability.
I found Chronically Capable on Instagram in 2020. This agency works with employers and job seekers to remove the stigma of working with a chronic illness from the hiring process. They have job postings and job fairs, along with a community of professionals with chronic illnesses and disabilities, to connect people to resources and work opportunities.
I used to be the person who had to cross off every task on my calendar. While living with UC, I’ve learned how to be flexible with my schedule and how to forgive myself if I’m not as productive as I hoped to be.
Learn the times of day that you’re the most focused and energetic, and do your best to schedule work during those windows. This helps me know that I’ll be my best self while I work during my “feel good” periods.
Living with a chronic illness like UC is its own full-time job. On top of a career, having to manage appointments, routine procedures, hospitalizations, medication, treatments, and pharmacy pick-ups is its own balancing act.
Some ways I balance everything include making appointments during non-commuter hours, scheduling virtual appointments, and cooking my meals ahead of time. Staying prepared for flares and other medical needs helps me do damage control in other aspects of my life like my career.
UC can be unpredictable, and living with UC can feel scary and confusing. When flares occur or symptoms worsen, it can turn your whole world upside down. It can change your career goals and future plans.
For many of us, UC can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness, especially when we’re hospitalized or homebound. Finding the right group of people who support, uplift, and advocate for you can be a huge source of relief and motivation, especially when you need to continue managing your career.
Sarina Irizarry is a functional nutritionist and certified health coach. She is also a patient advocate and ambassador for Color of Crohn’s and Chronic Illness. In her coaching work, she focuses on improving nutrition and mindset in people with IBD. You can find more about her on her website.