People who’ve experienced having to take a lot of sick leave or be off work for long periods of time know only too well that this is one of the pet hates of most employers. Large companies are often better equipped to deal with staff absence than smaller firms, but no boss is ever happy to hear you ring in and say you’re too sick to work.
Knowing how your boss feels adds to the pressure you’re under because you’re worrying about letting your boss down, your colleagues, maybe customers if you’re in that kind of business. Then there’s the stress of having a reduced income at the same time as some of your expenses are rising; it all adds to your stress at the very time when you need to be relaxing and focusing on your recovery.
If you have an invisible illness like fibromyalgia or a mental illness like depression, it can be even worse. You can’t show people the evidence that you were in so much pain you couldn’t get to work; a cast on a broken leg or lab results that name your illness and confirm its seriousness is ideal because the evidence speaks for itself. Invisible and mental illnesses are far harder to quantify, and unfortunately still meet with prejudice and suspicion.
Not going back
Sometimes mental illness or invisible health problems go on for so long you either lose your job or decide to quit before that happens. Although it can be frustrating and disappointing when this occurs, it can sometimes be a kind of relief, because at least you lose some of the feelings of guilt and stress, and can focus more on getting better. Stress is a serious enemy of recovery from both invisible and mental illness, yet is so commonly felt by people who have these conditions.
In time, with the right treatment, support, and self-love, you’ll recover and feel able to get back into work. Working gives people a purpose, boosts self-esteem, and obviously helps with income, so finding a way back into work once you’re recovered is a good idea.
The problem is that you now have a horrible gap in your resume that you know employers are going to mark you down for. They may not say so outright, but if they have to choose between two candidates who are equal in every way, they’re unlikely to choose the one who’s been off with long-term sickness. This is dispiriting and can knock you back just when you need a lift.
You can’t escape the fact you’ve been sick, but you don’t have to let it dictate the rest of your life. Think of ways to turn your experience into a benefit. Maybe you could explain the empathy you now have and the appreciation of people in similar situations, which could be a valuable asset in the caring professions. Or you could point out that the experience has made you stronger and more determined, and that you have the skills to manage the problem in the same way a person with diabetes manages their condition, making you less likely to need time off in future. The way you spin it depends on your circumstances and the nature of the job you’re applying for, but you can usually find a way to play down the significance of time off, or use it to your advantage.
Another way to approach getting back to work is to look at training and education, either to advance your skills in the field you’re currently in or to retrain for a new type of work. You could, for example, undertake an online course that adds to your qualifications and demonstrates your readiness to return to work. Or you could pursue a different direction, training for a new career that suits you better.
You might be able to do both, for example, if you were a registered nurse before your health problems, you could complete one of the online RN to MSN FNP programs to gain the qualifications you’d need to move from being a hospital nurse to a primary care nurse practitioner, working in the community.
Another alternative that many people who have experience of invisible and mental illness choose is to work for themselves. You don’t have to worry about pressure from a boss, you take the work when you want to and manage it in your own time, and you take breaks whenever you need to. As long as you have the focus to be self-employed and get the work done, the drive to market yourself, and the ability not to overdo it, this can be a perfect solution.