Going back to Work With Crohn’s Disease
Last updated: August 2019
After an almost seven-year hiatus from working full-time for a corporate entity, I re-entered the workforce. During those seven years of semi-retirement, I worked freelance to keep my skills up to par. Returning to the workforce in a full-time capacity was always my goal. But, going back to work with Crohn's disease meant it had to be the right job.
My disability story
For those who aren’t familiar with me or my writing, here's the quick version. I was placed on disability, back in 2013, at the ripe old age of 31. You may also be rolling your eyes at this because you or someone you know has an inflammatory disease and work full-time. Trust me, I get it. I was declared disabled when multiple inflammatory diseases flared when my Crohn's disease was unmanageable.
A writer with stiff swollen hands, due to arthritis, who could no longer type as she once did. I could barely walk without collapsing from pain; again arthritis. Thyroid disease was affecting my heart rate inconsistently. This made it hard to treat, let alone function or think clearly some days.
I will also concede, I know many who work full-time. What some friends with chronic illnesses inside and outside of the Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel disease sector would give to be declared disabled. I get it. Determination of disability is not easy. It involves not working or earning anything for an indeterminable amount of time, which many cannot afford to do.
Now that I justified my not working full-time to no one in particular, here’s where I try to make them happy.
Job types, hiring managers, and rejection
For the record, I have never stopped looking for a full-time job. However, my medical care team has been pretty specific in what they would approve. Whenever I’ve seen a job or have been approached by a hiring agent, the first thing I inquire about is if it's remote. More times than not, the minute I’ve asked about remote or working from home, the emails or phone calls stopped.
Going back to work with Crohn's
Here are a few things that I’ve learned during the experience of going back to work with Crohn’s disease.
Before starting to pursue a job, speak to your doctor
Why? If your doctor’s filled out disability papers or work accommodations for you, they may want to have a say. This is especially true if they have fought hard to get you into a better place of health. For example, they may want you to ease into working part-time or remotely only. By having this discussion, you will not spring accommodation paperwork on them if you do begin to work.
The interview process
You may have a lapse of time in your resume. The interviewer will ask about it. Come prepared with a good answer. There’s no shame in saying that you took some time off to spend with family, attend workshops, volunteer, or travel. I avoid mentioning my health in the interview if at all possible. What I’ve been told comes off as a negative is appearing idle. Showing you’ve been doing something is helpful. But try to swing this question back around to how it’ll help you be a great employee for their organization.
If your illness is disclosed or known, you don’t have to talk about it. Also, don’t feel like you have to disclose needing accommodations before a formal job offer is issued.
And this one is so very important! It is not appropriate or legal for someone in power to ask about your condition, or how it will affect your performance.
Steel yourself for rejection. It’s not uncommon to have multiple interviews and get a good vibe like you’re “in” and then receive radio silence. I’m not making excuses for people, but ghosting interviewees seems to be about as common these days as it is in online dating.
Tips for once you’re hired
First, congratulations! Next, get a feel for your day-to-day responsibilities and prioritize from there. If you are going to be working in a call- or meeting-heavy environment, you’ll want to make exit plans. I have always emphasized Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are not bathroom diseases. However, needing the bathroom at inopportune times is part of the gig. So, it’s important to have an exit strategy if you need to abruptly get up from a call.
Once you’re working, you can be honest with your hiring manager about this or you can do it through HR. This is where the paperwork comes into play. You may be asked to explain how many bathroom breaks you may need in a day.
Lastly, if the job begins to affect your health negatively, you need to consider if this is good for you in the long run. You can consult with friends and family, or the Internet, but ultimately only you can make that decision.
Know your limits
My two cents, for what it’s worth – trust your instincts. Going back to work with Crohn’s disease is hard. There is no shame in waving the flag if you feel it is not worth it.
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