It is my pleasure to host today’s stop on the virtual book tour for Women, Work, and Autoimmune Disease: Keep Working, Girlfriend!. I first got to know co-author Rosalind Joffe when I interviewed her for my own book, and I am excited to be a part of this tour—this book is incredibly informative and should be a go-to resource for anyone trying to navigate staying employed in the face of chronic illness. My interview with Rosalind follows:
1. I know you must get this question a lot, but it’s an important one—why did you ultimately decide to write this book?
RJ: I’d seen in my own life and from my client’s experiences that there is a fair amount of pressure for women with chronic illness, particularly married mothers, to stop working. Since I had found that continuing to work as much as possible when possible was essential to my own health, I wanted to encourage those who view this as I do by arguing against some of the prevalent myths.
2. Why the focus on autoimmune disorders in particular?
RJ: Primarily, it helped us narrow our focus. All of the issues we discuss in the book are relevant to any chronic disease or condition but it was too difficult to try to leave it that broad. It was easier to narrow it to since autoimmune diseases affect women 4 times as often as men and, usually between ages 25 -40 (prime childbearing and career building ages). It’s this confluence of factors that make the situation so problematic for women. Finally, both Joan (my co-author) and I live with auto immune diseases which made it easier to speak from and incorporate our own experiences.
3. What are some of the biggest fears or misconceptions women have about the workplace and chronic illness?
RJ: I think that women and men worry that they’ll be marginalized if others know that they have an illness. The reality is that it can happen regardless of how savvy you are. Women also worry that they cannot live with active chronic illness, have a demanding career and raise a family. Here, too, the reality is that it is very difficult and requires a lot of planning and taking a long view of situation, thinking strategically. Finally, many young women don’t think enough about what it takes to balance family and career when they’re choosing a career and that becomes even more difficult when illness adds into the mix. I suggest thinking carefully about your career options when you get a diagnosis and don’t leave it up to chance. I wish I had been smarter about this early in my career.
4. You write about developing a “warrior spirit.” Can you discuss what that means, and why it is so relevant to the issues of employment and living with chronic illness?
RJ: Actually, I worried about that phrase because I didn’t want the term to be interpreted that women should be more like men. It’s a term I use with my clients because I think that chronic illness can leave you feeling as if life is out of your control and can encourage passivity, particularly when you spend so much time seeing doctors and healthcare providers! I’m not suggesting that you become more combative. Rather, I am suggesting that you think for yourself, you seek options even in the face of opposition and continue to build your ability to be resilient.
5. A lot of my readers are younger adults who are just entering the workforce and trying to carve out a career path with the added burden of chronic illness. What advice would you give to the youngest members of the workplace in terms of things they should consider/look for in a career or workplace environment?
RJ:That’s a great question. First, think long and hard about what you love to do, even if you think it’s not your greatest strength, because that interest and passion will keep you going for the long haul. Consider other aspects of this career and how it fits your values and interests in life. When you think about a career choice that requires additional education or training, try to work in that field in some capacity so you can see what it’s like up close and personal before diving in. Choose a career that allows for as much flexibility as possible so if one job turns out to be a poor fit, there are other places where you can apply your skills. Most importantly, you will always be able to find work if you are good at what you do and bring value, so make it your mission to be the best you can be. You might not be able to work at the pace you would most like all the time or make the salary you dream of, but if you plan strategically, you will be able to continue to do something that has value and feels meaningful.
6. Lastly, you’re a patient yourself, and through the years you’ve faced many of the challenges and setbacks as your readers. What has been your biggest challenge in terms of staying employed? Would you say you’ve reached an ideal balance now?
RJ: That’s tough because there were so many challenges to staying employed. I didn’t think about my career in the long term early enough and I was always trying to make a job fit to my needs. My health waxed and waned (I developed several autoimmune diseases over the past 30 years) so it became increasingly difficult to plan. If I’d had a crystal ball 12 years ago when I had an ileostomy (curing the ulcerative colitis) and then went on MS medication (that slowed down the MS progression dramatically), I probably would have taken a path that would have left me more financially secure. But I’ve been lucky to find work that I really love doing and that I can do. No doubt about it, working for myself at home has made it much easier to keep working and I hope to keep doing this for a very long time.
Thanks so much, Rosalind, for writing this book and answering my questions!
Just a quick reminder, while we’re on the topic of reading, that another great (and entertaining) edition of Grand Rounds is up at Musings of a Distractible Mind. Check it out!