Symptoms of RA can make it difficult to work, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still have a successful and rewarding career.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that affects the small joints of your body, which may include your hands, feet, wrists, ankles, and neck. This can lead to chronic pain, swelling, and a limited range of motion.
RA doesn’t stop at these obvious symptoms, though. The condition can also cause chronic fatigue, mental fog, and even affect other organs like the heart and lungs. These symptoms can impact your ability to work — and we all have bills to pay.
Some days, you may be able to work, exercise, and be productive. On other days, you may be unable to shower, prepare food, or drive due to severe pain and stiffness. Some people even experience nausea as a result of their medication.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one complication of RA is employment. Adults with RA are less likely to be employed than people without RA. They also find they have more physical limitations and fatigue.
But with the latest RA treatments, medications, and research, more people with RA can return to work and stay in the workforce.
I worked as a nurse practitioner in the intensive care unit for over 5 years. I loved my job. I had a passion for the field and the people I served. When I was diagnosed with RA, I had no idea what the future had in store for me, but I knew that I could not keep doing what I was doing every day. My joints wouldn’t allow it.
So, I made a big move that forced me to challenge myself in so many ways. My chronic illness helped me optimize my health and grow in my career.
Here are some tips for maintaining a successful and rewarding career with RA.
Decide who you’re going to share your diagnosis with. Sometimes, an empathetic co-worker can help with productivity.
Other times, no one needs to know. It’s your business.
Make a schedule and stick to it. If you need 90 minutes to get ready before work, 3 hours to get ready for bed, or a midday nap, plan for it.
Planning appropriately can help you optimize your time while at work. Plus, by listening to your body, you can improve your body’s ability to function.
“I need to spend at least 30 minutes in a hot shower in the morning to get my joints moving. Once I do this, I’m ready for my day!” – Mary, who lives with RA
Take a lot of breaks. Even people without brain fog or medication side effects need to take breaks every 1 to 2 hours. This is especially important if you’re working on a big project or working long hours.
Lose the guilt when you call in sick because you are sick. All too often, we tie too much emotion to calling in sick.
If you’re sick, you shouldn’t be at the workplace anyway. You are human!
Find the right job that fits your lifestyle. There are specific careers to consider more heavily if you have RA. Start with these questions:
Have questions about the Americans with Disabilities Act? Check out the Job Accommodations Network. It is against the law to discriminate against a disability. For further information on filing a complaint, check out the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Make sure that you’re working shifts that align with your schedule. Sometimes, it’s not a matter of what you’re doing, but when you’re doing it. For example, if you’re not a morning person, working at a coffee shop probably isn’t for you.
Are your best hours in the afternoon and early evening? Maybe a dance school is a good fit. Try to find a career where the hours fit your natural sleep schedule.
Consider looking into self-employment options. Can you break off and start your own company if you have the ability and passion to do so? Working for yourself has its benefits. Be sure to do your research before deciding if this is best for you.
Use adaptive devices and furniture when needed. Upgrade your office chair, purchase the ergonomic mouse, and adjust your monitors or other equipment for the least amount of strain on your joints.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, some tips for improving your office space include:
Manage your pain as best as you can. Bring your medications, compression gloves, ice packs, and anything else you may need with you to the workplace whenever appropriate. If it helps you to be more productive, have it available to you throughout the day.
There are many ways to have a fulfilling career with RA. If your current job situation isn’t working for you, you have the power to change it. Change can feel scary but is often better than staying in a career that isn’t a good fit.
Stay in a healthy mindset and find something you love. If you love what you do, it will never feel like work.
Medically reviewed on March 31, 2022
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