The ChronicBabe blog carnival is up and ready to go! The topic is one to which I have given a lot of thought, especially lately:
“I can bring home the bacon: Thoughts about work and chronic illness.”
Right now, I work two demanding jobs, though they are demanding in different ways. I am a reporter at a small, weekly newspaper and an associate at a national retail chain, which some of you may have fallen into from time to time. Working only one of those jobs is right now not an option; the terrible economy has left my husband and I with no other choice but to work four jobs between us (and no, we’re not rich because of it).
Being a journalist is certainly hard work, and for my entire journalistic career, I have suffered from symptoms of psoriatic arthritis. Being a journalist means a lot of things. I work long hours, often upwards of 60 hours per week in days that stretch into the double digits. I don’t make very much money for those long hours (see: working a second job); in fact, I only get paid for slightly fewer than 40 of those hours. I endure hard deadlines and deadline pressure and, of course, the people who try to push them, stretch them and otherwise dismiss them.
Because I work at a community newspaper, I’m also a copy editor, proof reader, page designer, photographer, receptionist and PR person. I corral recalcitrant freelancers. I take classifieds, and I’m the de facto editor of a small, monthly publication we put out on top of two weekly products. Because of my various roles, I come into contact with a lot of people, and because my beat is primarily education, I work with a lot of kids. And kids get sick. A lot. That means I get sick. A lot.
Being in newspapers means I deal with a lot of stress, and stress definitely aggravates my PSA. That, in turn, aggravates my stress. Which, of course, aggravates my PSA even more. Et cetera, ad nauseum. There are days when my hands are so swollen, stiff and painful, I can’t even type, much less grip a pen to take notes. (Yes, I know I could use a digital recorder, and do on bad days. I still take notes, though. What if the recorder breaks down? Where would I be then?) There are days my body hurts so much sitting is excruciating, much less getting out in the field to track down stories. There are days my brain is in such a fog I can’t string a sentence together, much less a story.
As for retail, many of the same concerns apply: I work with the public, I’m on my feet for hours at a time, I have to move quickly to address customer concerns, I have to be alert and positive at all times. These are all difficult on days when merely taking a step or picking up a T-shirt or smiling are simply too painful. There are days when pretending to care whether you’re one of the 80 percent of women whose bra is the wrong size is too much to ask.
Certainly, scheduling is also a concern. Last month, I worked about 20 days in a row, with no days off. Many of those days I worked from 8 or 9 a.m. until 11 p.m. I could feel myself disintegrating, in a way. I was snappy, peevish, sore, stiff, resentful. I could feel my usual optimism slipping away, moving beyond reach.
Still, I wouldn’t want to stop working. Getting up every day, getting dressed, going to work — these actions are crucial to my emotional well-being, despite the sometimes disastrous effects on my body and my health. I am guaranteed a flare after the holiday season, but slow, lazy summers are to be cherished as a time to recover. I almost feel as though my body will do what it will, but I can take steps to make sure I still feel like me. And working is definitely a part of that.
Though, I won’t lie: If my husband told me tomorrow he was offered a job that meant I only had to work one job, I wouldn’t think twice. I would certainly cut back the number of hours I work. But to quit working altogether? What, and admit that there are things I can’t do anymore, things my illness have robbed me of?