I have a question for all of you chronic pain sufferers out there… How do you get/keep a job?
For me this has been a struggle. My migraines have had me switch goals and careers more than once, and has made it very difficult to get a job, and if I’m lucky enough to get a job – keep it.
When I first graduated high school and started university, I had this idea that I was going to be a musician. I was a semi-decent oboist, and I truly enjoyed making music more than anything else. While this might have been a lofty goal that I probably wouldn’t have achieved to begin with – it was disappointing when my migraines and pain made it physically hurt to play my oboe. It still does, I still have my instruments, even though they cause me pain to play, but I keep them around like a security blanket, maybe one day I’ll be able to make music again. Anyways, I switched goals, I was going to be a teacher.
I went to teachers college to get my B.Ed after I completed my Fine Arts degree. I somehow managed to get into one of the toughest programs in the province and I had some great teachers, unfortunately my migraines made the school work difficult. After finishing my degree it took me a year to get hired, and I had a great 2 years working for my local school board. My migraines were difficult, but I was able to push through. The following year my migraines got worse, and as the schools music teacher, it was difficult to keep up, and to not let my pain get in the way. I ended up having to take a leave of absence for the last month of school, as I was home more than I was at school.
The next year I interviewed at 42 schools before I found a position. My contract with the school board was year to year, so if I hadn’t found a school to hire me, I would have been stuck supply teaching. It was so hard to find a job, because who wants to hire someone who has a known medical condition that caused them to miss so much work the previous year. Somehow the principal only contacted my first 2 references (from the 2 schools I did amazing at) and never contacted the last school. I thought that I was better and would be able to have a successful year… that did not happen. I ended up missing so much school, it was almost a shock to everyone when I was there. I ended up having to take a sick leave for the last 2.5 months of the year.
After that it became impossible to find a job. I stayed on with my school board as a supply teacher, but the calls didn’t come that often.
I began working for a friend of my dads. He is a lawyer and required a legal assistant on a temporary basis. I took that job and found it wasn’t as much a migraine trigger as my job as a teacher (probably because I wasn’t listening to 30 kids play instruments all at the same time) so I decided to change my career goals again and become a paralegal. I went to a community college and graduated with a paralegal certificate and shortly after did the provinces licensing test and became a licensed paralegal. Unfortunately I had a lot of difficulty finding a job. My dads friend no longer required my help, other places I had worked for while I was in school didn’t want to hire me as I had missed work so often due to illness, my references, while good, could always mention my illness/habit for missing work. Between school and this past week, I was unemployed for the better part of three years, which put a lot of pressure on my partner, my parents, myself, and my relationship with the same people.
Last week I got hired for a job as a junior legal assistant. I am over qualified, between my experience as a senior legal assistant, and my education as a paralegal, however they were the only place that would hire me.
The pay isn’t that great, but because I am so over qualified for the position I am not stressed about the work. I don’t have to talk to clients, or listen to students or parents. I sit in a quiet cubical in a quiet office and do my work. I’m hoping that this situation works out for me, because if it doesn’t I have no idea what I will do.
I know many people with chronic illnesses/chronic pain go on disability… because my work was few and far between, I never qualified for disability, because in Ontario you need to have worked a certain amount of hours just before, and half the jobs I had didn’t pay into EI.
I have decided to reward myself for working. Every week I go to work every day, I get a prize. If I go every day next week, I get to buy a lottery ticket. The following week are BINGO scratch cards, followed by a facial, followed by flowers if I go every day this month.
I’m hoping with the incentive of prizes, I’ll be able to work through the pain I will most likely experience in the upcoming weeks.
How does everyone else deal with work and bills? I’m terrified of being in debt and not being able to pay it off because of my illness, so what do you do to keep yourself from getting into debt, paying your bills, and keeping yourself clothed/fed/sheltered?