10 tips on managing your career with a medical condition

Being a woman in today’s world comes fraught with guilt, competition, judgement and lack of time which is just managed by most women. What about those of us who aren’t hundred percent healthy but are still expected to compete with our healthier counterparts? Do we even admit openly there is anything wrong at all? I’d safely say, the answer will be no for most.

I think a lot has to do with pride, and not wanting to feel self-pity. I have never once felt sorry for myself because of my health afflictions. Instead I have used it as motivation to not only reach my goals, but to smash them out of the water.

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I would safely say that the majority of people I come into regular business contact with have no idea about my medical history because I don’t want to appear weak. But is it really weakness, and when is it appropriate to disclose such matters, and to whom?

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This is not a sympathy vote, it’s my medical history, and somehow throughout all of this I’ve managed to get married, raise two beautiful daughters, study at university and start a business!

Before I give my ten pieces of advice to women in similar situations, I will briefly explain my medical conditions. I was diagnosed with Narcolepsy at seventeen years, had kidney stones several times, allergies to several pain medications and antibiotics, a torn disc and two bulging discs for which I need cortisone injected into my spine to prevent excruciating pain and seizures. I have been hospitalised for salmonella poisoning, have sleep apnoea, a rare blood type, have collapsed twice and lost consciousness, have extremely low blood pressure, Temporomandibular disorder (TMD), two cysts on my jaw that I will have removed and I’m anaemic.

I think that’s everything covered, including the emergency C-sections of both my children. I have been hospitalised once every six months since I was seventeen years old.This is not a sympathy vote, it’s my medical history, and somehow throughout all of this I’ve managed to get married, raise two beautiful daughters, study at university and start a business. It can be done! But there are some things to consider, and if your medical history sounds anything like mine, I hope these pointers can help you too.

1. Accept help. If anyone in your “circle of trust” (people you can REALLY trust and count upon, family, close friends, husband/partner) offers help – TAKE IT. I used to decline any offers of help, wanting to “do it by myself” or state “I’m fine”. Take the help when it’s offered, rest when you can and ASK for help when you need it, whether it is offered or not. Your body is a wonderful machine but if it’s slightly impaired already, extra rest time is crucial to keep it going.

2. Rest. In this day and age, getting quality rest is interrupted by smart phones, people emailing, tweeting, bookfacing (as my husband calls it), texting etc. Put the phone in the kitchen on charge and by an old school alarm clock. Sleep is the time when the body repairs and recovers and energy levels are replenished. Equally it allows the mind to unwind, de-stress and restores mental harmony. If you have trouble sleeping because of your condition, or just in general, make sure you see a health professional. Make sure you don’t underestimate the significance of sleep to your health and performance at work.

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3. Share your concerns with your boss and one other confidante at work. You might not want to, but it is your legal obligation to disclose all medical information that could potentially affect your time at work, as well as your boss’s duty of care to look after you. Even if your condition might not affect you adversely at work, it’s a good thing to tell your boss anyway. It could mean that your sick days aren’t questioned as much, and gives the opportunity to raise possible changes in your hours or working environment (if required). By law you cannot be fired or discriminated against because of your condition, so it’s better to let at least two people know in case something does go wrong.

4. Keep your own medical journal. A pet peeve is that for every specialist I have (I have fifteen at last count), I need to complete a full medical history (usually three pages long) because all my charts, notes, referrals, scans aren’t available on a secure database for all my doctors to view and share. This is something I am working on changing, because of the chances of me forgetting that important detail about that allergy! I have now begun writing in my medical journal, where every symptom, new or old, every doctor’s appointment, test result, scan, MRI, x-ray, blood test is recorded, so I can keep a record for myself, and more importantly for my doctors who are unable to share such information with each other. I suggest strongly you do the same, because in the unlikely occasion where you are incapacitated, the journal will prove to be a valuable reference.

5. Research constantly. Medicine is evolving every day, with new treatments and possible medical advancements happening, your doctor(s) may not be advising you each time something a new breakthrough or advancement happens. Keep researching online, a good source is PubMed. But don’t over think everything you read online either, the WORST thing you can do is to diagnose yourself using online medical information. Keep up with the latest research, join support groups or newsletters that give you up-to-date information about your condition or treatment and be proactive when it comes to seeking information.

6. See your doctor(s) regularly. Do not wait for your doctor to schedule regular check-ups. I know it can be expensive, especially if ‘nothing is wrong’. It’s important to have regular check-ups, even when things seem fine, because that’s when the more serious issues can be diagnosed and caught early. Judge the regularity for yourself, you will know if annually is too often or too little, but do keep in touch with your doctors to keep on top of your ailments. This might also be difficult if you’re like me and have so many specialists, especially fitting appointments in around work and home life. This is another reason to ensure your boss is aware of your condition, and is provided with regular updates. Take sick days when you need them and don’t feel guiltyMost employers provide some flexibility with work hours, allowing medical appointments during normal working hours to be made up either before or after work, so don’t let work be your excuse. If you get sick, and something’s not picked up early, then you’re going to be at work less than you would have been had the ailment been picked up early.

7. Take sick days when you need them. If you have more sick days off than normal, or compared with anyone else in the office, or what you’re eligible for don’t feel guilty. If you have a valid reason not to come in to work, your boss is alerted as soon as possible and is aware of your medical history then you have no reason to feel guilty. Don’t try and work from home, rest instead. The quicker you recover, the quicker you can go back to work. Trying to ‘work from home’ while sick will only prolong your sickness. Be OK about being unwell sometimes.

8. Maintain a balanced lifestyle. My husband, mum, sister – my whole family would scoff at me for putting this in. Not because it’s not a valid point, far from it, but because this is something I really struggle with. I am very passionate about what I do for a living, and have a tendency to forget to stop. I’m one of those ‘all or nothing’ types and find the balancing act of life a chore – I am hopeless at it. I either exercise incessantly or don’t exercise at all. I either cram for studies or I refuse to turn even a page. Recently, I had a day off and instead of relaxing like I should have been doing, I decided to repaint my daughter’s room – for twenty hours straight. Balance is something I am working on. Having a good mix of time with your family, for yourself, friends, health,work and time for the little things in between are all important. How much time is the golden question and I don’t think there is a straight answer. The point I want to make is, don’t lose sight of your life outside of work for your health and you-time (time to get your hair done, read a book etc.). Put yourself at number one.

9. Don’t forget about those around you. With your health and the crazy balancing act going on daily, it’s very easy to forget about the people closest to you whether that’s your husband or partner, parents or roommates.More than likely, they are the ones that cop your exhaustion, your bad moods, your pain, the negative aspects of your condition, and while they aren’t necessarily feeling the pain, or exhaustion, sometimes witnessing it is worse. Do not hide your pain/discomfort/exhaustion, but be aware of and make sure you take the time to tell them you appreciate them and their support. Don’t dismiss their concerns or offers to help, even if you disagree – be polite and remember that they aren’t always getting a smooth ride either.

10. Be practical with your workload and taking on new challenges. Taking on new projects, tasks, responsibilities might be what we want to do, but it might not be what we can do. Sure, we women think we can do anything – but if we collapse into a heap – we do nothing – so try not to get to that stage (as I have on several occasions as it’s something I sometimes struggle with). Know your limits, this might mean exceeding them once or twice, but when you do, you will have a very good guide as to when you’re getting close to your limits and know when to say enough is enough.

I hope my tips can help women in business who like me, have a long medical history, but work just as hard as the rest of them. I don’t think any medical condition is an excuse not to achieve your goals, but it pays to be practical because of them.

Charlotte Caruso

Charlotte is the Founder and CEO of PuggleFM. She is highly motivated and wants nothing more than to create or be involved with positive change. Her goal is to offer a new breed of media alternatives. Media with useful information, integrity, and substance over sensationalism – and aspires to have PuggleFM fully developed by the end of 2013 and branch into other streams of “mummy media”. Charlotte is also married to her wonderful husband Matthew, and has two daughters, Annabelle (five) and Bianca (three).

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